The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, says the achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the past three years will make his campaign for second term very easy. He spoke with Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Senator I
Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed
Three years down the line, APC-led federal government is celebrating democracy. But, some people believe there is no cause for celebration. What is your take on this?
Anybody that believes there is no cause for celebration is just being negative. Where were we few years ago? Where are we today? Let’s talk about the issue of security; four years ago those of us in Abuja couldn’t sleep with both eyes closed because before we came in, security in Abuja was breached. United Nations Headquarters was attacked, with scores of lives lost; THISDAY Office in Abuja was bombed; the Police headquarters was attacked; the Nyanya motor park was attacked twice, and scores of lives were lost. Before we came in, churches had to draft soldiers and police officers so that they could hold services. So even if you were not from the North East, in Abuja alone there was that palpable sense of lacks of security and peace. Since we came in there have been no single breach of security in Abuja. Now let’s talk about the North East, where as I said before 2015 some communities were under the control of Boko Haram; schools were closed; banks couldn’t operate; roads were blocked; but today we can say with all sense of honesty that we have completely degraded Boko Haram; not a single inch of our territory is under their control. Schools have reopened; roads are reopened, and banks are now operating.
What kind of peace are we talking about when the numbers of people that have been killed in the last three years are more than the people that were killed during the five-year tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan? Is that not a statement of fact?
You see, nobody has come to say this is the number of people that have been killed until they bring out that figure; but I know for a fact that over one million people who have been displaced have been resettled. We have freed about 16,000 people from Boko Haram’s captivity; but suggesting that more people have been killed in the last three years, I think that is not true. I will just give you one example. One day, under Jonathan, we lost 7,000 lives in Baga in Borno State. Do you remember that Christmas period? We lost 7,000 people in Baga. In just one day, 7,000 lives were lost, but I am not going to go into that. Anybody that wants to make such statement let him come out and tell me this is the number of lives we have lost under Jonathan and this is the number of lives we have lost today.
For example, international humanitarian organisation, the Red Cross Society, came up with a figure recently that in the last three years the number of persons that had been displaced was about 3.8 million due to insecurity. Is that not a statement of fact?
Displacement was as a result of Boko Haram insurgency. Even when you recover a place before people can go back, you have to rebuild those places. I had a first-hand experience when I went to Bama, in Borno State on the 5th of December, 2015. Out of over 6,000 structures built in Bama, not one was standing; they were all destroyed. So, it is one thing to free a territory from Boko Haram insurgency and it is another thing for people to go back there. For them to go back you must rebuild and rebuilding is very expensive and it isn’t a thing you just do with the snap of the finger and that is why we are hoping that with presidential commissioning of the North East Initiative to rehabilitate the IDPs, things will get better.
You keep on making this statement that Boko Haram has been degraded; but the daily deadly activities of Boko haram in the last three years don’t suggest that the terrorist group has been defeated, especially in the North east part of the country. What is your take on that?
Anybody that has an understanding of what it was before and what it is today will, agree with me that it has been degraded. Anybody who understands the phenomenon called insurgency will also understand that it is not the usual kidnapping or suicide bombing in the market places that determines if insurgency has been degraded or not. What determines it is whether they do hold any territory from which they operate, which is happening in other parts of the world -- where they are yet to be degraded. They have their own empires from which they launch attacks. The headquarters of Boko Haram in Sambisa forest was taken over by the military and they have been flushed out. You can find them in some areas in Lake Chad now but not one inch of area in Nigeria.
Another concern of the fight against insurgency is the scandal associated with it especially the ones that concern the IDP camps, how funds meant to get them out of the conditions they are have been diverted. Has it come to your knowledge that such scandals occur and how are they being addressed?
Unless you come out with specifics!
There have been several reports over the issue. And just yesterday the opposition PDP asked the APC-led federal government to account for N10 trillion allegedly misappropriated.
These people are jokers. What is the budget of Nigeria in the past three years? When you want to make allegations make sensible allegations; N10 trillion is our budget of 2015 and 2016 put together. When people don’t come up with specifics allegations I don’t comment on them. I deal with facts and figures. Come and tell me that specific amount of money is missing in this area then I will come and tell you what the federal government is doing about it. What I can tell you is that there is no corruption that
is committed anywhere that the government knows about and doesn’t bring the culprits to book.
Tell us what you have done in the last three years, because most people believe that the war against corruption is failure.
It is unfortunate that we don’t even understand what war against corruption is. War against corruption is not just about prosecuting people that you have found to be corrupt. War against corruption starts by stopping people from being corrupt, and that is what the government has achieved. We are the only government that has faithfully implemented Treasury Single Account. This used to be the area where there were a lot of leakages and where different government organisations will have multiple accounts. As of today over N8.9 trillion has come into the TSA .
If you go to the public offices, government agencies, it appears that the war against corruption has trickle down to the public offices. It is generally believed that there is still corruption in the Police, the Customs, the Ministries, and that the process of awarding contracts is still done in secrecy and there is no transparency. Do you agree?
I have not heard that; unless you are talking about contracts under N100 million; for contracts above N100 million, it must be brought to FEC. They must be approved by the Public Procurement Bureau and they go through all kinds of processes and tests. You see, people make funny allegations about corruption. but I know that at the council every Wednesday, contracts that are were awarded follow the due procedures.
There are some people who have relied on the Freedom Information Act and requested for information concerning many contracts that were awarded but their requests were not granted, which shows they have some things to hide. Why this lack of openness in government?
I have also read the Freedom Information Act and I think that there are also some restrictions, that is conditions under which you may not release certain information but I can tell you by and large that there is no request for FOI that has come here that we haven’t attended to and even many ministers; but if you can give me specific ones I can take it up.
The Attorney General of the Federation in his recent report to the National Assembly confirmed that over 96 of federal government agencies refused to comply with the requests for public information.
I don’t know about that. You said it and I don’t know about it.
What do you make of this assertion by a senior member of your party and senator from Kaduna state that your government appears to be fighting this corruption using insecticides against opposition elements and using deodorant when it comes to APC members?
I don’t think he is right. Our president is one person that even if you are his daughter or son and you are accused of corruption, he will not stop the relevant anti-corruption agencies from investigating you. Nigerians at times are not fair. The issue of naming of looters were as a response to the PDP’s challenge to the Vice President. The Vice President was in Lagos, he delivered a paper in which he said that in one day, $259 million was shared by the last administration -- few days to the election, and everybody challenged him to name the looters and I named them. So I was responding to a specific challenge. If you ask us today to bring the list of looters we will do so.
Recently the EFCC filed cases against the PDP leaders in some states over money given to them by their party for 2015 election funds, allegedly that the due process was not followed in releasing the money and accused them of money laundry. When are we going to see APC’s leaders being charge to court for same offences?
I know a politician who was charged to court for money laundry and what is money laundry? Money laundry is when you take money from an illicit source and you now try to launder it, make it clean. That is my own understanding of it. Most of those that are being prosecuted today are either from the Dasuki fund. I don’t know who you are talking of, give me their names.
For example in Edo state, the governorship candidate of PDP in the last election, who was also former President Jonathan’s campaign director in the state, Pastor Ize Iyamu, is facing charges, along other leaders for receiving money from their party’s coffers and distributed it among members in all local government areas for logistic on the day of election. And there are similar cases in other states like Kaduna, Zamfara, and others. Is that not political persecution?
I have not seen the EFCC’s charges; but I think they are being tried for money laundry; unless you bring the facts to me.
What people are saying is that this government seems to be reluctant in ordering investigation, when such allegations are against its men?
It is not true.
Let’s look at the current crisis enveloping your party, APC, especially the recent outcome of the state, ward and local government congresses. There were a lot of parallel congresses in many states across the country. In your state for example, Kwara state, you conducted a parallel congress different from the one the governor and Senate President Bukola Saraki conducted. What is responsible for this?
It is democracy in action.
But your party seem to be giving Nigeria a bad image in politics, as the ruling party?
There is no government that has been affected by any problem in APC. The government remains focused and committed. Whatever they are doing; the party wrangling is purely party’s affairs; so it is wrong to say it is affecting governance. Which governance is it affecting?
The 2019 election is just few months away and there are critical projects that are yet to take off. Will this project take the back seat as politicking sets in?
Honestly, I wish you were at any of our Federal Executive Committee’s meeting. If anything, we are even more fired to ensure that we continue to invest in infrastructure. The cabinet is insulated largely from politics and we are committed to our promise to Nigerians and our agenda is increasing at every FEC’s meeting by the day.
The government you speak for had repeatedly claimed that it inherited 2,690MW, when it took over power on May 29, 2015. But these claims are at variant with peak generation figures from the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), which at that time, was 3,205MW. How come you keep talking about this figure, which by records comes incorrect?
I am quoting the minister of Power, Works and Housing, and I will rather quote the minister, who is the final authority. I still stand by this figure of 2,690 megawatts, and until the minister says he has made a mistake, I stand by the figure. I insist that I will rather take the figure of the minister than that of any organisation under him.
Can the minister know more than the operators of this system? They feed him this information and the figures are still there.
I will rather take the figure of the Minister than that of any organisation under him.
I also want to talk about the petroleum sector. We are seeing oil prices rising and that means government is going to have more money come to it and also the price of petrol that is used in Nigeria will also have to increase because we don’t refine products that we use, no subsidy in the budget, the NNPC is under recovery, how is the government going to balance this?
When you talk about under recovery that is actually saying that NNPC, my own meaning of under recovery, is that it cost x amount of money to bring in PMS but this is what we recovery from it and we don’t recovery the exact amount of money from it.
What it means is that the NNPC is spending money it should bring back to the federation’s account.
Are we not saying the same thing? I said if I bring in fuel at 150 and I have to sell at 130 have I not under recovered because I have to recover 150 million and I recover only 130 million.
Does this now mean that the NNPC will continue to operate at a lost because there is no such provision on the budget?
Actually I am not aware of the subsidy policy at the moment but what I know is that the NNPC under recovery to me is just another way of talking about subsidy because whether it is under recovery or subsidy. Subsidy means every month we are supporting Nigerians with x million of naira, while under recovery we say that NNPC is losing money at the same time; we are buying fuel at a price, which is less than the cost price.
The president said in his Democracy Day’s broadcast that Nigeria is out of recession, but the ordinary Nigerians don’t feel this?
Let’s take the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics’ report released recently that says inflation had come down --- for the 15th consecutive month from 18.7 to 12.5. So, that is conclusive, that is the NBS. The latest figures from the NBS says inflation has fallen from 18.7 to 12.5 per cent; external reserves of $48 billion is the highest in five years; total export in 2017 was 59.4 per cent higher than 2016; 2017 agriculture export grew by 180.7 per cent; raw materials exports grew 152 per cent; solid minerals grew 154 per cent; export of manufactured goods grew by 26.8 per cent above the value in 2016. Let people make informed comments, and to answer your questions, certain goods like imported rice are cheaper than local rise because they are subsidized by their countries and dumped here. There is a full range of subsidy for rice production in India and Thailand, and of course the rice they bring here are rice that have mostly expired, which they will normally feed to their cattle and that is why government is putting together packages to give subsidy to farmers so that the landing cost of local rice will be competitive.
In specific terms, what will APC-led federal government be campaigning on in the 2019 election?
We would be campaigning on the fact that we have delivered on our promises of fighting insecurity, revamping the economy and fighting corruption and how have we done this?
We have done this like, I said, when we came in the North East was a strong hold of Boko Haram but today we have not one single community under Boko Haram and since we came in, peace has returned; schools have been rebuilt, even the El Karnams play their matches in Maiduguri after two years of relocating to Katsina state at the height of Boko Haram insurgency. Even the conflict in the North-Central areas is being robustly addressed.
In the area of the economy, we have not only come out of recession, we have continued to wax stronger. This last quarter, our economy hit the 1.9%. We have been able to double foreign reserve $48 billion, we have been able to attract foreign capital. On the ease of doing business, we made 24 steps.
Our social intervention program has affected nine million lives directly; we feed 8.2 million pupils every day in Nigeria. We give continuous cash transfer to about one million people. We have employed 200,000 unemployed graduates; our Anchor Bar program has increased; the number of farmers from five million to 11 million and that will be able to reduce the pressure of rice and produce 44,000 metric tonnes per year. We have increased power to 7,000 megawatts and this is enough to campaign with. These are what we have achieved. We have constructed over 6500 kilometres of road. Today, we have used all the monies we have gotten from bonds to invest in infrastructure. We have enough projects to campaign with and there is no zone in the federation that doesn’t feel our impact.