Economy: We’ve stopped the bleeding – Presidency
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr Laolu Akande, says in this interview that the economic revival is taking a while owing to the damage caused by the immediate past administration. Excerpts:
Many Nigerians believe that the economy, being coordinated by the Vice President, has not taken a good shape.
As much as we try not to say this, we know as a matter of fact that most of the members of the past administration have come out to say they did not save for the rainy day. So, we're dealing mostly with situations caused before this administration took over power. The President and his team have worked hard and planned not only to save cost and tighten public expenditure, but to also diversify the economy like never before. So, we're sure and belief that going forward, things will begin to pick up again. It's taking a while because of the extent of the damage. If the country took a sharp drop as much as 70 percent drop in its foreign earning, you can understand some of the difficulties the country is going through where states used to share a huge sum of money which has come down incredibly. A lot of what is happening right now in the country is as a result of some of the decisions taken in the past. But this administration has clearly changed the direction of this country and going forward, we expect better things.
The first fruit is already in place because we’ve started rebuilding. I believe that a huge factor in the way Nigeria is today economically is corruption. We can’t run away from that, and the President has made it clear. I think everyone in the country now understands that, and it’s not going to continue. Effectively, he has reduced corruption in Nigeria
Rather than continue to hold the past government responsible for the current economic woes, why not specify when Nigerians will reap the first fruits of this administration?
The first fruit is already in place because we've started rebuilding. I believe that a huge factor in the way Nigeria is today economically is corruption. We can't run away from that, and the President has made it clear. I think everyone in the country now understands that, and it's not going to continue. Effectively, he has reduced corruption in Nigeria. The Treasury Single Account, for instance, has managed to save over N3trn that would have been lost if we didn’t have the TSA implemented. Mr President tried to cut cost with many ghost workers in the federal payroll detected and the process is continuing. So, one of the things that the President has delivered is that the bleeding has stopped and that is so important.
The constitution requires that whatever money made is deposited in the Federation’s Account, in which case, you can’t keep aside any money. So, how can this administration accuse the past government of not saving?
There are several ways of managing your resources adequately in a prudent way. First, when a barrel crude was being sold for over $100, what did we do with the money? It's a very simple proposition. How many infrastructural projects were implemented for the betterment of Nigerians? How many were delivered? And how many roads were built for instance in the last 8, 9, 10 years? These are the ways you would say whether you manage your resources well to take care of the future. That's why we say Nigeria would've safeguarded much more than what we've. When you spend your resources adequately on your people and infrastructure, in that sense, you're saving. What I’m saying is that we had a lot of wrongs in the past.
Why is it that Nigerians are yet to benefit from the much-publicized social welfare scheme of this administration?
We've some delay in the whole process because of the timing of the budget approval. For instance, when we came in at the end of May, there was no way the government could implement some of those social welfare schemes because it was not budgeted for. So, we had to wait for the budget process to begin so that we could begin to put our ideas forward which was done and since the budget has been signed now, we're taking off. For instance, we've started the 500, 000 jobs for unemployed graduates, and people have been applying. The project will continue for the rest of July, and the application process should end sometime at the end of this month. We'll then go to the next stage of picking the 500, 000 graduates selected. The school feeding is also in the process. We're in the process of sitting down with the states that will start the first phase of it, trying to work out the modalities of how that is done.
Given the present harsh economic realities, do you think the N23,000 salary for the prospective graduate teachers is enough?
The way we conceived the allocation of 500,000 jobs for the unemployed graduates is not so much to see it as a full-time permanent job. It is like a volunteer job and then people get paid. The idea is to intervene. The idea is to say that N23, 000 is better than nothing. They'll stay in their communities and help to teach, help in health sector. N23,000 is not a lot of money, but it's an intervention to reduce the situation. We planned to pay N30,000, but an idea came that why don’t we actually do more in terms of preparing and equipping those selected 500,000 graduates by giving a laptop or an iPad that would be equipped with different kinds of Apps that can help them to develop new skills? So, N7,000 would be taken out of the N30,000 and would be used to give them maybe an iPad or a laptop. We're working with Microsoft and some technology firms abroad on how to give a good and useful skill that people can be empowered through. By that, even though he/she leaves in two years, he/she will take away that iPad or laptop and be allowed to continue to improve himself/herself. We intend to create conditions that would give opportunity to people to actually discover their hidden talents by exposing them to better technology in different aspects of life.
There are feelings that the the National Directorate of Employment ought to have been allowed to handle the graduate teachers' recruitment, instead of the Vice President' Office, to ensure transparency.
The first thing about this process is transparency, and that's why we're using a platform that everybody can go and check. That's why we're insisting on applications. The NDE and the ministries are involved. When we've a project that cuts across ministries, we need co-ordination and that's what the Presidency is doing. So, it's for the reason of bringing about effective co-ordination that Mr. President has asked the Vice president to coordinate this programme to bring the ministries together. It's not just something that's done by one ministry and you don’t want a situation where everybody is going in different ways. The Presidency exists for the purposes of coordinating the job of government.
How are you coping with a Vice President seen as a workaholic?
The truth is that the Vice President himself is inspired by the President. Before giving me the job, he told me he had always regarded the then General Buhari for his frugality, honesty and clean desire to touch people's lives. So, seeing this as an opportunity Nigeria has to have a leader of President Buhari’s calibre, the Vice President has to throw in everything he has got to make this administration work. The Vice President is working endlessly because he believes that having someone like President Buhari at the helm of affairs of this country is a great opportunity that shouldn’t be lost.
Mr Laolu Akande