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Details of Buhari’s meeting with 36 governors

President Muhammadu Buhari has challenged state governors to pay more attention to the areas of security, health, education and agriculture so as to address the menace of poverty in the society.

NAN reports that the President gave the challenge when he inaugurated the 2019 to 2023 National Economic Council (NEC) and its maiden meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Thursday.

NEC, which is established by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), as amended, is chaired by the Vice-President.

Membership of the Council includes governors of the 36 states; the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); the Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Agriculture, FCT and the Minister of State, Petroleum.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning serves as Secretary to the Council.

President Buhari said: “I want you to pay special attention to the four major issues of security, education, health and agriculture in the coming years of this tenure.

“As you are no doubt aware, our successes in these four areas will go a long way in lifting our people out of poverty and secure our future for sustainable growth and development.’’

According to him, if these four areas (security, education, health and agriculture) are actively implemented and closely monitored by NEC and the Governors’ Forum, “we shall in the near future see a more peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.’’

The president enjoined the States to find ways to increase internally generated revenues, improve VAT collection and increase agricultural output without disrupting business activities.

He also charged them to work with the Federal Agencies and the service providers in ensuring that broadband infrastructure is made available all over the country.

According to him, Information and Communication Technology is the future of work and “we must not allow ourselves to be left behind’’.

President Buhari observed that the Federal Government in the last four years had demonstrated unwavering inclusiveness in dealing with every State, notwithstanding the political leaning of the Governor or the predominant party in power at the State level.

“I want this to be your model at the State level. No matter which party we belong to, let us shun divisive policies and join hands together for the upliftment of our people,’’ he said.

He restated the high expectations on NEC as a veritable source of articulating policies and programmes that are expected to drive growth and development, secure the environment and take the country to the next level.

He also noted that the challenges confronting the nation in the next few years, especially in the areas of security, human capital development and employment for the youths are monumental and historic.

“But we are more than equal to the task,’’ he added.

On Security, the president assured that the government would continue to rate security of lives and properties as top priority on its agenda.

He said government was firmly committed to securing the territorial integrity of the nation, while confronting the remnants of terrorists, bandits and other criminals across the country.

He further maintained that there must be collective and deliberate efforts by all to improve the security of lives and properties across the country, saying that “security is a bottom to top operation.

“Everybody must be involved for total success.’’

On education, President Buhari stressed the need to take very seriously and enforce very rigorously the statutory provisions on free and compulsory basic education.

“Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended places on all of us here an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education.

“Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides that every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.

“It is indeed a crime for any parent to keep his child out of school for this period.

“In my view, when a government fails to provide the schools, teachers and teaching materials necessary for basic education, it is actually aiding and abetting that crime.

“This is therefore a call to action. I would like to see every Governor rise from this meeting and rally his local Government Chairmen towards ensuring that our schools offer the right opportunities and provide the needed materials and teachers for basic education, at the minimum.

“If we are able to do this, the benefits will surely manifest themselves.

“Ensuring proper education during the first nine years of schooling means that our children start off their lives with some discipline and education. They will be safeguarded from roaming the streets, and protected from all the evil influences that assail idle hands and idle minds,’’ he said.

President Buhari, therefore, urged the governors to make a firm commitment to be personally involved in ensuring that every child of school age actually goes to school throughout the crucial nine years of basic education.

He opined that, on its own part, the federal government would strive to extend the school feeding programme which will not only encourage school enrolment but also enhance the health and learning capabilities of pupils.

He said the government would also assist states as much as possible to access the counterpart funding provided by UBEC for the development of basic education.

The president, who also spoke extensively on the nation’s healthcare system, identified lack of adequate funding as major obstacle to the realization of the nation’s goals in the health sector.

He said: “As I already indicated, public healthcare is also a major sector of concern where States and Local Governments have crucial roles to play.

“Health is an area where the neglect of one person quickly amounts to the neglect of many.

“It is in our collective interest that each and every citizen gets at least a minimal access to healthcare, including primary, preventive and emergency care.

“Funding is again a major problem in this regard, so we must take more seriously the idea of universal health insurance and strive to make it work in our respective domains.

“We must also find ways of assisting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, who cannot even afford to pay the premium.’’

President Buhari said the governors must resolve to increase budgetary allocation to health and ensure prompt fund releases to keep the hospitals and primary healthcare centres in operation at all times.

According to him, the Federal Government is now implementing the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund.

“By this, we hope to achieve at least 65 percent increase in the share of the population covered by primary healthcare by 2023, up from the 12.6 percent we cover at the moment.

“Accordingly, it is imperative for us to do more on diversifying the economy, and this necessarily entails the sustenance and even acceleration of the agricultural revolution, which is already firmly rooted in some States.

“Of our nearly one million hectares of land, about 77% is confirmed suitable for agriculture.

“The potentials are therefore huge, both for the domestic and international markets. Mechanisation and agro-allied industry are very big areas still largely untapped and awaiting investment, both by government and the private sector,’’ he added.

He, therefore, urged the governors to take agriculture most seriously as a very viable developmental enterprise.

While the federal government has primary responsibility for security and will not shy away from it, the president said the governors also have a critical role to play in ensuring security of lives and property across the country.

“You can definitely make a difference, not just by assisting the security agencies in your respective States, but also by keenly pursuing policies and programmes that forestall communal, tribal, religious and societal conflicts; policies and programs that promote education, information, dispute resolution, vocational training and youth employment,’’ he said.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier highlighted the role of NEC, describing it as “an important body that advises and sometimes implements economic and social policies that affects the livelihood of Nigerians’’.

Osinbajo said Thursday’s meeting would be focusing on the crucial issue of national security and the meeting’s recommendations would be forwarded to the president for his possible consideration.

He announced that the meeting had 12 new members, which included the Governors of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Imo, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Oyo, Yobe and Zamfara States.