Enabling a Smooth Ride For the Transformation Agenda

‘President Jonathan Will not Accept Excuses on Implementation of Projects’ – Turaki

Dr Turaki flagging off 2013 constituency projects in Kubwa, AbujaUnder the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the Ministry of Special Duties is barely one-year-old having been established in February, 2013, with the vision to serve as a platform for the effective and efficient delivery of the gains of Transformation Agenda through the implementation of projects performance of special duties as assigned by the President and conducting inter-governmental affairs. The following four agencies fall within the ministry‘s purview:

  1. Nigerian National Merit Award
  2. National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally displaced persons
  3. National Lottery Regulatory Commission
  4. National Lottery Trust Fund

The ministry is mandated to, among other things, monitor and evaluate the implementation of constituency projects, as well as Federal Executive Council-approved policies and projects by other ministries and reporting to the President in council. One other major aspect of the mandate is, to conduct, coordinate and promote good and harmonious relationship among the three-tiers/arms of government and relevant international bodies. No wonder some people refer to the ministry as the ministry without borders.

For many Nigerians, before now, the name Ministry of Special Duties connotes a warehouse of sleaze, of shady deals where the Man Friday that is, the minister, handles and perfects the Presidency’s underhand deals. But from all indications, this perception is many miles away from reality given the clear mandate handed down to it and the positive result of its engagement thus far.

Without doubt, the tension that attended the executive/legislature relationship particularly in the area of constituency projects had assumed a worrisome level before the establishment of the ministry especially in previous regimes.

The ministry has justified its establishment in this regard so much that many of the legislators have written letters of commendation to them eulogising their efforts within the short span of their operation so far. If this legislature that used to be on the warpath within the executive on this issue is now commending them, then the ministry responsible for this rapport and positive development of our constituencies deserves applause.

Dr Turaki, Min of Special DutiesWithout unnecessarily belabouring the issue, for a ministry that has no budget to have put up such a good performance in terms of capacity building for local government personnel, in terms of constituency projects monitoring, in terms of interventions in the security challenge ravaging the North-east, in terms of providing support, direction and leadership for the agencies under its jurisdiction, is worthy of commendation.

Definitely in 2014 the ministry has been factored into the budget process which means that the Nigerian people are entitled to demand greater performance. All they need is encouragement and support.

It is therefore appropriate at this point to call on Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, Honourable Minister of Special Duties, and his team to gird their loins for greater performance as it is said that “the price for success is more work”. In this interview, Alhaji Turaki talks passionately on the impact of the ministry on President Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda, achievements, challenges as well as much needed intervention to foster better understanding and cooperation among the three-tiers of government. Excerpts:

What are the functions of Ministry of Special Duties?

The Ministry of Special Duties, as some people jokingly put it, is a ministry without borders. We are special because we are a ministry in the Presidency and so an extension of Mr. President’s office. We are special because we have the mandate to look at what other ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, of government are doing, to supervise so to say, and report to the President whether in council or not. We also have the mandate to follow up in the implementation of decisions of the Federal Executive Council and whenever any MDA is involved in any project, we have the power to go and evaluate it, to inspect it, to monitor it, particularly because it has been budgeted for, to ensure that the money is being appropriately used. Even then, to ensure that work that has been done is in tandem with money that has been released. This is very important to ensure that government and indeed Nigerians are not shortchanged. Also in cases of special interventions for instance when there is flooding, or other natural calamities which we do not pray for, the ministry can be asked to make special intervention in that regard. We also try to help government to implement policy in certain special issues such as anti-corruption drive.

We manage intergovernmental relationship in the three arms and three tiers of government. We also manage and supervise states and local government department. That is the kind of work we do. It is something that has critical relations with what other MDAs are doing. That is why this ministry is Ministry of Special Duties.

Based on what you said, it means you are working with and through so many other agencies and persons. Does that come with resistance? How much resistance have you experienced from those you have had to work with?

In government, everybody has a mandate but the key mandate is that of Mr. President because it is Mr. President that was elected by Nigerians and so every minister is holding office at the behest of Mr. President. He has the power and discretion anytime to say Minister A move to Ministry C and so on.

So whatever we are doing as ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we are very conscious of the fact that we are there as agents and lieutenants of the President. So I do not think that there is anything that will create any tension within us. We work together, in tandem; we cooperate with each other, because we know that without cooperation we will not be able to work effectively for Mr. President to deliver on the promises he made to Nigerians. So there has never been any resistance. It is not about winning ground or territorial rivalry or being in competition with one another.

As the first minister to pilot the affairs of Ministry of Special Duties what have been your experience in the past one year?

The past one year has been as challenging as it has been rewarding because the Ministry of Special Duties had existed before but it was scaled down.

When I was appointed minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and posted to this ministry I practically had to start from the beginning: no permanent secretary, no staff, and no offices. But I thank God when I look back, the support I received from Mr. President in all ramifications, the cooperation of both the outgone and current heads of civil service in terms of posting and deployment of qualified staff – professional and technical – to come and assist us in doing our job, particularly the first Permanent Secretary sent to us who is an accomplished civil servant with the support and cooperation I received from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and my other colleagues is fantastic and it has helped us to meet Mr. President expectations.

So we thank God that we have been able to achieve so much given the daunting challenge which is not unexpected in a situation of this kind.

What achievements have you recorded within the period?

I think for us we would rather people assess us than for us to say this is what we have or have not done. Even the fact that we’ve been able to take off as a ministry and begin to function as a ministry is a great achievement for us. Now beyond this, we have been saddled with the responsibility within our mandate by Mr. President primarily to manage the inter-governmental aspect of this government. In doing this, we’ve taken serious care to ensure that we manage the relationship between the various levels of government, that is, the executive, legislature and judiciary. What we have done is to foster better understanding and better cooperation.

Since our coming on board you do not hear the kind of things that used to happen as far as the relationship between the three tiers of government are concerned. The tension between the executive and legislators is no longer there. The interference that was often alleged on the activities of the judiciary is no longer any more. So this is part of our achievement. Mr. President charged us also to take over the management of the implementation of constituency projects which has also assisted in fostering better understanding between the executive and legislature. But before we came on board, there was this thinking among the legislators that their constituency projects which are their baby projects were not being well implemented by the executive; that the government was more interested in bigger projects and even where they are done, they were not well done. Since we came into the space we’ve ensured that not only are the projects implemented, but they are well implemented. We make sure that we supervise from conceptualisation to the final execution of these projects to ensure that the clear intentions of the National Assembly members of having them well situated in their constituencies so that Nigerians can have value for their money is achieved. At the end of the day, members of the National Assembly that used to complain of poor implementation of the projects are now writing letters of recommendation to us to say that since the commencement of the execution of constituency projects, they’ve never been so well done. For us we have no alternative, because Mr. President has charged us saying “that he will not accept any excuses” as far as the implementation is concerned.

We in turn have informed all implementing agencies for the 2013 projects (about 114 of them), that we will not accept any excuses for poor implementation or failure.

So the fact that the projects were well implemented is an achievement for us.

We believe that Mr. President and members of the National Assembly share the same constituency and so we took time to ensure that everything was done in line with international best practices.

In terms of fostering better relationship among the tiers of government, apart from a number of seminars we organised to build capacity at the local government, we have also taken pain to attend and become a very active member of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum. We attended the last conference held in Kampala, Uganda and the Commonwealth Local Government conference in Ghana and by the grace of God; we are going to organise the next world Local Government Conference in June this year. This has assisted us in providing local government chairmen the opportunity to share ideas with top executives and administrators at that level of government. This has been very rewarding. The experiences and challenges which other people have gone through are shared so our chairmen don’t have to go the whole hog of repeating the mistakes of others. There are a lot of other assignments of special nature that were given to the ministry by Mr. President which we have carried out diligently.

On that note we recall that last year you were appointed chairman of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Insecurity Challenge in the North. Tell us your experience.

Yes this is one of the most challenging assignments that Mr. President has given us. We in conjunction with other accomplished Nigerians deliberated and went into the field to find out where the genuine members of the insurgency group and to establish a link with them. It has not been easy, but it has to be done and somebody has to do it and so we resolved from the beginning that we will do it and with the total support of Mr. President we’ve been able to do it. We have been able to do it, in the sense that we have been able to trace where some of the insurgents are, we established link with them and built confidence. From building confidence, we have established trust. This provided us with an opportunity to sit down with them and begin to discuss with them how to resolve some of the issues. That committee has since submitted its report and government has started implementing some of the recommendations of the committee For example, it is part of the recommendations of the committee that led to the setting up of the committee on continuous dialogue for the resolution of the security challenges. We now have a standing committee as opposed to the ad hoc committee that we used to have. Again, Mr. President has asked me not only to continue in the standing committee but also to chair it. For me this is a great mark of confidence. Also, when you look back from being appointed minister just for two months or barely three months and then being given this onerous and challenging national assignment is a mark of confidence and so we are determined not to fail Mr. President and we will not disappoint Nigerians. I cannot speak in details about some of the issues because they are issues of national security and we are in a very volatile situation now but government and some individuals are aware of our achievements in this regard.

Last year the ministry was seriously challenged by paucity of funds, what are your expectations for 2014 since not much can be achieved without funds?

The issue of paucity of funds is a challenge to every government not only in Nigeria but virtually everywhere in the world. The needs of the citizens of every country are so much that the resources available may not be able to take care of them, so you have to prioritise. But even when you prioritise then you will discover that for a country like Nigeria where the large chunk of our resources comes from oil with a highly unstable market, you may make your budget on the basis of a particular benchmark and then there could be fluctuations and this puts government in a situation of paucity of funds.

Last year when we were created, the budget had been passed so we were clearly not in the budget. You can therefore imagine, for a ministry of this size to operate outside the budget is not an easy thing. The consolation has been that Mr. President has been most supportive to us. Each time there was need for us to go looking for money, Mr. President always ensured that we got what we wanted and this has largely been responsible for the successes we achieved in this ministry. For this year (2014), we are part of the budget, the budget processes are ongoing at the National Assembly and we hope that once we get funding as we should, we will be able to surprise Nigerians by surpassing their expectations.

Is there any other information you would like to share with us?

The only thing I need to tell Nigerians is that Nigeria is a wonderful country. For God to bring us to where we are and for us to have lived together for 100 years now is a clear testimony that God wanted to create a country that is different from any other one. We need each other, we must work together. Nigeria is bigger than any one of us and so at all times whether we are in the private or public service, we must have at the back of our minds, that Nigeria’s interest must take precedence. We must subordinate our personal and selfish interest to the larger interest, the larger cause, the national interest. On security, we have never had a challenging time until now. Issue of terrorism is a new phenomenon and it will take us time to really understand the complexities involved. So what we need to do is to appreciate that the issue of security is not just the business of security personnel alone. It is the business of all of us. So we must do whatever we can in our own little ways to assist the security agencies. When we key in all our efforts by providing information and assisting in other ways, we will be able to conquer the situation. Of course, conquering the situation does not mean we eliminate it 100 per cent. Even other countries that have had these challenges for decades like Afghanistan, United Kingdom, and America are still grappling with it but we can do better because of our antecedents of being our brothers and sisters’ keepers.

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