The Vice President Yemi Osinbajo speaking to a group of journalists and social media practitioners in Lagos on Friday, 2 March 2018 spoke on government policies, the fight against corruption, infrastructural development, 2018 budget, controversies on appointments and the rating by Transparency International.
Osinbajo said government has kept its promises to Niger Delta Nigerians.
Q: The state of primary healthcare in the country.
Vice President: Of course, our health system has long suffered. That is one of the chief concerns that we have been focusing on; getting the diaspora to work with us to improve our health system. We are also looking at how healthcare insurance can improve it. I agree that if all of us put our resources and our time in local medical care, we will improve it. I have no doubt in my mind that our local healthcare system is what most of us subscribe to at least, and our doctors are some of the best in the world. But that’s one of our commitments to make it work.
Q: Crude oil as the main driver of the economy, and FG dialogue with groups in the Niger Delta region.
Vice President: First of all, the dialogue started in 2016 and it continues. We began to dialogue with all the groups in the Niger Delta and we hold very regular meetings with PANDEF, which is the umbrella body. We also hold regular meetings with many of the groups in the Niger Delta and they are all actively involved with us.
I don’t know whether you are familiar with the Maritime University. The Maritime University has taken off, you know. Only a few days ago, the announcement was made that they are eligible for JAMB (the University was recently granted approval by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to commence undergraduate degree programmes effective from the 2017/2018 academic session). Interviews are taking place for the Maritime University, forms have been provided and we are talking to all of the principal parties in that zone who are interested in the work the Maritime University is doing. Many people are involved in that process. That is the kind of thing we are talking about to provide the kind of facility to help people in the Niger Delta, especially in Maritime University.
Also, look at modular refineries, 38 licensed modular refineries investors have indicated interests (10 of the licensed refineries are at an advanced stage of development). One, of course, has started in Bayelsa; another is being shipped in at the moment. There are about three or four different engagements with modular refineries operators. So we are putting that together, and one of the critical things with modular refineries is that we are trying to ensure that, first of all, it is private-sector driven. Government has to provide the licenses, but also there is community involvement; communities also have a stake in the modular refineries. So we are doing that as well. We are working very hard on that.
(Also read: We have tamed grand corruption , says Osinbajo
Q: Alleged claims that PANDEF leader said FG isn’t doing anything in the region.
Vice President: I don’t know when Chief Clark made that statement. I think that, by and large, all of what I’m saying is being done. It is obvious for everyone to see. I’ve no real problem demonstrating this, but as a matter of fact, if you look on our website (www.ndnewvision.gov.ng), on the all of the Niger Delta issues, we have almost a blow-by-blow account of what we are doing, including the Ogoni clean up.
I think there is a lot going on. You can’t address all of the problems at once. We have provided plenty of information. We have Inter-ministerial meetings where the different stakeholders meet constantly with leaders of the Niger Delta. I think you can imagine development is something that no one can be completely satisfied with at any point in time; that’s why it’s called development.
Q: Success of the Ease of Doing Business reform, visa reforms, and FG plans to attract more foreigners to contribute to the country’s economic growth.
Vice President: I think it was for those people that we designed our visa-on-arrival policy. It is for people who are bringing in their resources and money.
Q: Does this special visa apply only to poor countries, especially those low on human development index?
Vice President: Not necessary. Let me explain what we are trying to do with visa-on-arrival: you apply online so you get a visa, and this is where we are issuing the I-Step so that there is passenger information ahead of your arriving in Nigeria. That is one of the infrastructure we are putting at the airport now. You arrive at our port, we can give you a visa right there; that is what Singapore and other countries do, irrespective of where you are coming from you can get the visa there. When you arrive in Nigeria we have advance passengers information, even the visa-on-arrival that’s where we are heading. The most important thing is that there is a record.
Q: The second Niger Bridge and Buhari administration’s efforts to win the South East.
Vice President: Let me just say that the President has pointed out that the South East wasn’t the region that voted heavily for the APC, but that is not in any way stopping the President from appointing four senior ministers from that part of the country. He could have appointed junior ministers. By appointing four senior ministers, I think that it shows that he is interested in the South East region of Nigeria.
Secondly, previous government merely talk about the second Niger Bridge. We have moved to site, we are working on the second Niger Bridge. We’ve provided for the second Niger Bridge in our budget we have also provided infrastructure fund for the second Niger Bridge. Also, we are doing the Lagos-Calabar Rail. The Lagos-Calabar Rail goes through the South East region, that’s one of the very important thing we are doing and we put money behind it. The President himself negotiated the loan from the Chinese government. He actually went to China to negotiate and these are ongoing projects.
Ariaria market today is possibly the largest MSME hub in the whole of West Africa. The Federal Government, with the private sector, is powering Ariaria market so that every of the 21,000 shops in Ariaria market has power. The roads to the market are in the budget. Let’s bring it down to what we are doing; the first of our MSME clinics was in Aba and we are committed to ensuring Aba is a hub that it ought to be.
This is where we spend a lot of time and energy to move regulatory agencies so that they actually have a one-stop centre there, so that NAFDAC, SON can move into that place. There is a lot of work that’s going on. The truth is that we do what needs to be done. We were elected to do the right thing by everyone and we are doing it. I’ve gone to the South East several times. I’ve visited Nnewi and many parts of Anambra as well, where we look around and look at ways of supporting industries there and we are still committed to that zone.
Q: Areas that FG could have done better.
Vice President: Let me say that one of the very important things for me, I think we could have done far more in terms of jobs, direct jobs now, because we’ve done enough. We first created jobs in agriculture. Perhaps we are hoping we would be able to provide by now 500,000 of our N-power jobs, but because of the income we are able to provide 200,000. We have another 300,000 waiting to be employed. So maybe a year into our government, we could have done 500,000. So for me I think if we have the kind of resources that people had 10 years ago when oil was $115 per barrel we could have provided far in excess.
I also think that, perhaps in the area of power, especially trying to do much more, but power is privatized. A lot of the power companies, a lot of the GENCOs, the DISCOs in particular, simply don’t have the resources to replace assets, so they slow down. How I wish they have more funds to pump into assets and we hope they have more resources to do so. We’ve put in place the over N700 billion payment assurance scheme, but that is insufficient.
Q: DSS disagreement with the NIA in the past, recommendation of EFCC Chair, Ibrahim Magu, by the President and DSS’ letter against that; these point to discord within the administration…
Vice President: That’s not true. Let me put it this way; first let’s take the Magu example. One of the things that the President decided to do is to ensure that every agency does its work without direct interference from the President. So the President does not call the EFCC, and say, “Go and arrest Mr Ekpeyong”, no. And that’s one of the most important things about the style of this government, and we want the agencies to do their work. No one has showed up and called Magu and say, “Look go and arrest.” That’s what it is.
While you will find, for example, that the DG, SSS, upon the request by the Senate, wrote a security report and sent it, yet it is up to the President to decide whether he’s going to present this candidate. Interfering with the process of a security report is not leadership, that’s obstructing. He is not supposed to interfere. If you say, “Send your report”, whatever report you want to send, the man defends himself, and we still believe he is the right person for the job. That is the position that we took when he was presented the second time.
Of course, the Senate has had their own say on that and they are entitled to take some of the positions they are taking. But the President believes that this is the right man for the job, so he presented him the second time.
Q: Arrest of DG, NIA by the EFCC.
Vice President: With respect to the arrest of DG, NIA, and some of what took place, I think the fair thing to say is that the President has said that the EFCC has the absolute right to go ahead and do whatever it needs to do to ensure that anybody who has committed a crime, or who is suspected to having committed a crime, is brought to justice, and that’s the position that the EFCC has taken. You know the EFCC has issued a notice for the DG, NIA, and SGF to attend interview with the EFCC; but we are sure that that process would be followed to a logical conclusion.
To ensure that you allow government agency do their business, that’s very important; that’s institution building. Look at what is happening in the US today; the President is sometimes angry with the FBI because the FBI is doing its independent work, and that’s what we hope to achieve: when you see countries where agencies are doing their work the way they are supposed to do it.
Q: On Nigeria’s rating by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
Vice President: I think that by even Transparency International’s own assessment, Transparency International uses nine different indexes to come to a conclusion. In four out of those indexes, Nigeria moved up, in another four Nigeria stabilized & dropped in only one index. So in aggregation, it (T.I) then decides that it has fallen in certain number of points below where we were.
I think the important thing to bear in mind about Nigeria’s anti-corruption fight is that the government has done what it ought to do by focusing on grand corruption. Grand corruption is the type we experienced years before when, for example, $15 billion was lost in defence contract. Two, three weeks to election, N100 billion in cash was taken out, and again $293 million in cash, two weeks, three weeks to election. That’s the kind of impunity. And of course you are also familiar with the scam that went on in the NNPC at the time; the so called statutory contracts, that’s grand corruption. That is the corruption that crippled the economy of the country.
Let me tell you very quickly how you can recognise that we have scaled a good deal on grand corruption today: despite the fact that we are earning 60 percent less in revenue, we are actually able to spend more than ever before in the history of this country on infrastructure. In 2017, we spent about N1.3 trillion on capital. That’s the highest in the history of the country. So we are able to do far more with far less because we have controlled the impunity that went on, the grand corruption, and all of that.
Now, how does that translate to perception; because grand corruption is a big aspect of corruption. It’s a big one because if you cannot control grand corruption, you can’t do what you want to do. But then you cannot address the corruption as you go through our airports, our ports or as you go through government offices, in many cases. That’s where the whole perception emerges.
We must have a deeper and much wider way of dealing with corruption. How are you going to do that? You must have an efficient way of doing that; like automation, removing discretion from individuals.
Q: What is the institutionalised process of fighting corruption?
Vice President: Institutionalisation is not a one-off thing, it’s a process, and we are dealing with that, that’s exactly what we are doing. For example, the TSA and being able to look at government accounts and all of that is one way of institutionalising a process by which you can be sure of what people are doing, how this things are happening. The process of allowing the EFCC to do its work without dictation, saying that “look, this what the EFCC is doing”, and giving them every support that you can. These are ways of institutionalising. And it is that same process that we are taking in the public service – Automation.
For example, look at all that we have done in the ease of doing business. The whole point of doing that is institutionalising processes, so that when you come into Nigeria you can get your visa after applying online; so that Customs don’t have to sit around the airport, that is why we are putting in the I-check and we are putting all sorts of other processes. That is to institutionalise; it’s not a one-off process.
Q: What’s the national strategy on anti-corruption?
Vice President: That’s a long conversation, but put simply, the national strategy is to ensure that public officers in particular are not able to privatise public finances. And how do we intend to achieve that? We intend to achieve that by ensuring that there is consequence for corruption and also by automating processes, removing discretion from individuals because if you don’t remove discretion from individuals the individuals can have discretion as whether or not they will grant certain approvals through certain processes; then you continue to encourage corruption at one level or the other.
Q: Aside from the EFCC, it seems the other anti-corruption agencies such as the ICPC are doing nothing…
Vice President: Well, I don’t agree. I think that you will find that alongside the work of the EFCC, in fact one of the critical things we do is, we try and re-direct the ICPC. We appointed the executive secretary of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Advisory Council, PACAC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, to head that body and we believe the ICPC is the important part of the whole fight against corruption. We revamped the leadership of the ICPC. Unfortunately we were stalled because it requires Senate confirmation, that hasn’t been done. That is the area of focus for us because the ICPC is supposed to be involved, not just in corruption, but in orientation and re-orientation of the public service. So, it’s an important part of our work.
Q: Nigerians in diaspora are one of the biggest foreign exchange contributors of about $20 billion. Aside from having a Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Affairs, does Nigeria have a Diaspora partnership?
Vice President: I think we’ve also gone beyond the Office of the Adviser; we now have a Diaspora Commission by law, which I think is a policy step. That Commission will aggregate a lot of the records through data for diaspora in order to encourage the diaspora to interact more with government, with private sector and all that. But don’t forget that, with the whole diaspora experience and what is in tune with other nations of the world; the usual focus is on remittances; what are they able to remit as it is pointed out, it is a substantial amount of money. It is something in the region of $20 billion.
But it obviously goes beyond that. In developing the economy we also need diaspora’s talent. So we need diaspora in technology, we need diaspora in education, medical practice and all that. The Ministry of Health, for example, actively engaged with the personnel in diaspora for specialists, setting equipment and all of that. But I believe that one of the most critical ways of doing so is through the diaspora commission, ordering it, measuring it; once that is constituted.
Q: Allegations of nepotism against the Buhari administration.
Vice President: Look at the cabinet, for example, from the point of view of the religion, it has an equal number – 18 Christians, 18 Muslims; but, we have the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as the Head of Service who are Christians. So we have 20 Christians to 18 Muslims; that’s the structure of the cabinet. So if you take that narrative you may argue that perhaps the Christians have the upper hand; that’s a possible narrative.
Let us look a little deeper into that, so there are those who may argue, for example, that the north has an upper hand or perhaps one section has an upper hand in the cabinet as one narrative. The South East, for example, has five states. Four of the South Eastern states have senior ministers; all of them, except one, who is Minister of State for Education.
Look at the cabinet, for example, from the point of view of the religion, it has an equal number – 18 Christians, 18 Muslims; but, we have the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as the Head of Service who are Christians. So we have 20 Christians to 18 Muslims; that’s the structure of the cabinet. So if you take that narrative you may argue that perhaps the Christians have the upper hand; that’s a possible narrative
Q: The President has no choice in that, it is a constitutional requirement.
Vice President: In assigning particular portfolios he does. In the north, seven northern states have no senior minister, including the President’s home state, Katsina. Now, there are those who will say, if you are nepotistic; surely seven northern states have no senior minister. It’s a narrative depending on how you want to run it.
I give you another example; I’m from the South West. There are people who will say “I am from the South West, the North has everything.” The South West, for the first time in the history of this country, has one Minister who is in charge of three ministries: Power, Works and Housing. The Ministers of Finance & Communications are also from the South West. These are critical ministries. You can run the narrative in whichever way that you choose. There are those who will say, for instance, look at the number of CEOs of agencies of government; the highest number of CEOs in our nation today comes from Ogun State, the state has the largest number. There are those who will say that’s his state (i.e VP’S State). So you can run the narrative depending on how you want to run it.
The President has admitted that, yes there are situations where you can find certain things as true and he intends to have a look at that. For example, you’ve given the example of security positions and he said he is going to take a look at look at it. I believe that is the way to go because you can run any narrative that will suit the figures you are showing. And that is where we have legal process. There are people who don’t know that the number of CEOs from Anambra State are more than the number of CEOs from Katsina State or anywhere else, except Ogun.
Q: Revamping Nigeria’s education system.
Vice President: If you will recall about a few months ago, I think it was in January, we had an education retreat; what needs to be done again is to unfold a whole direction in education. We came in with a manifesto on education, we had a few points that we were looking at and we also had some time to look at it. But many of us raised the issue that you don’t just pick the whole education; what about engineering because what we are seeing is such a dramatic change, not just in method of instruction in the requirement, job requirement, employment requirement, in technology and all of that, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do.
For example, we cannot have primary education the way it is, we’ve got to teach young people, we’ve got to introduce technology; you’ve got to have collaboration in education. We discovered, for instance, when we were doing the N-power – employment for young graduates, we discovered that it was also an opportunity to train the graduates. For the first time we were able to open a portal that has educational materials for graduates to just go in there. We also have devices for them to use.
But one important advantage of what we are doing is that all of a sudden, you can now train tens of thousands of people without sitting them in one place. So technology is going to play a role. We are in a very interesting place in terms of education today because you can leverage a great deal on technology. You can leverage a great deal on what is happening in other parts of the world. And we are trying to harness all of those resources and try to do something that will make a difference in our country. Here we are, in another 10 years we will be moving closer and closer to 2050 when we are going to be the 3rd largest population in the world. And there is almost a 70% youth population. We are not going to provide them with the number of classrooms that will be required, so we’ve got to really leverage on technology. We’ve got to leverage on verified trend that we see here and there.
Q: The delay in 2018 budget.
Vice President: We have a democracy that has, as you know, three arms. The two relevant arms for budget are the executive and legislature. If you recall when I was Acting President, I signed the 2017 budget and, at that time, I made the announcement with the full consensus of the National Assembly that, from 2018, we are going to have a budget that is going to apply in January and end in December the normal financial year. We agreed that we will submit our proposal in good time, and we did that first week of November. The President did so. We fulfilled that part of the agreement. The budget is with the National Assembly. There is very little we can do to control that. That’s the system that we have.
Q: Seeming rift between the Executive arm of Government and the Legislature.
Vice President: Well, I’m not so sure that the tensions are unknown. The democratic system anywhere as, for example, in the US where we borrow our bicameral legislature from, you find that despite the fact that the Republican Party controls major part of parliament, it still doesn’t mean that bills are necessary going to go through.
So one must assume that the responsibility of the National Assembly is to scrutinise what the executive is doing and not just to be a rubber stamp. But I also agree with you entirely that it’s important for us, for the sake of our country, our economy and for the sake of many young people who are relying on us to deliver. We ensured that we released our budget on time. I want to believe that the executive has done its part and we wait on the National Assembly.
Q: On Nigeria’s debt reportedly now being higher than what was inherited by this administration.
Vice President: No, No, I don’t think so. First let me explain that we have a government that is very prudent, a government that believes in financial prudence, a government that condemns impunity – the way that the thing was practiced before now, and a government that spends resources on the right thing. For the first time in the history of our country, we are spending about N1.3 trillion on capital; it means that we are investing in the right place. We are not just borrowing money anyhow; no, we are investing in the right place. Every government or most governments anywhere probably look for some points to borrow, but the important thing is what are you borrowing for? And that’s why we building the Lagos-Kano rail, doing the Lagos-Calabar rail, the second Niger Bridge and the Mambilla hydro project that has been abandoned for almost 40 years.
We are improving capacities in power, we are investing in social investment, we are investing long-term in the things that will create an economy that can support a large number of young graduates, who are coming in the market every day. That’s a process that needs a lot of thinking; that needs a lot of investment. I think the most important thing is to ask that when there was a N9 trillion debt, where is the infrastructure to account for that? I think that is the most important question to ask. It’s not whether you borrow, but what you spend that money on. I think we should be able to prove that the earning is 60% less than the earning in the past five six years. So we are spending far more on the right thing and we are able to ensure that we build a future that young people can truly look forward to.
Q: What about the 50% revenue reportedly being spent on settling debts?
Vice President: No, we are not spending 50% of our revenue servicing debt. Let me explain that, we have a deficit somehow in the region of about N2.6 trillion now, a lot of our revenue has to be spent on capital and recurrent, and recurrent is 70% of revenue. But for the first time we are spending 30% on capital. Before now when oil was a $115 a barrel, we were spending 11% or 15% on capital, and capital is the most important expenditure because that is where you do the infrastructure in order to be able to build the economy. So the reality is what we are spending is to provide the infrastructure that will last.
Q: Abduction of 110 Dapchi girls in Yobe and the killings in states like Benue and Zamfara. Why didn’t the President or you visit these places?
Vice President: Let me say it first that no amount of condolence can compensate for the loss of life, whether in Calabar, Mambilla or Benue or where people were killed in Adamawa or Zamfara, any of these states. There is no amount of condolence that can compensate for the loss of life. Benue killing is one set of killing far too much; there is no amount of condolence that can compensate for that. And I want to say that it’s a massive tragedy. But the question that you seem to ask I’ve been to Zamfara, I’ve been to Adamawa when this killing took place. There are those who said, ‘oh, why don’t you visit the Fulani settlement, why do visit only where Christians were?’ I even visited Benue in September where there have been killing before; then I’ve visited them when the flooding took place and we looked at all the issues and tried to address many of these. There have been several of these issues in different places, recently Dapchi. We have expressed condolences, but no amount of condolence would do.
The more important thing, and our focus has been, is first of all ensuring security in these places. We have to address the security question in a much more robust way; that the police are able to do these effectively. We have deployed the military to Kaduna, two battalions to Kaduna. In Benue and Taraba axis, we have the 93 battalion, we have 72 Special Forces. We have full concentration in Taraba and all of that, and by the way, the military is fighting in most of the North East. So there is a situation where the military is overstretched. So I think the most important thing is first of all to ensure they actually address the security of the people.
Q: Nigerians definitely appreciate all you are doing. But they want to see their leaders come to them to grieve with them in the face of national human tragedy…
Vice President: Let me say that I definitely agree with you, the more places that we can go to the better. But I made a point earlier that we also have to address the serious concern that people have. We have to address those concerns; we have to address the rehabilitation concern. I am going round and the President is also going round, there is no question at all and I agree that if we go to all these places it would be so much better.