The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was in the entourage of President Muhammadu Buhari during his recent state visit to Lagos. Following the visit, the minister, a lawyer, public relations expert and a former spokesman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, spoke in an interview on topical national issues, notably, on his decision to release a list of alleged looters of the public treasury, discontent in the polity and the achievements of the Buhari administration. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Was it panic that caused you to release the list of alleged looters?
We were challenged to do so. Don’t forget that on their own, the PDP said that they apologised to Nigerians for the way they ran Nigeria aground and we said, yes apology is accepted, but please return the funds. I think one of them challenged us to name those who had stolen money.
I think gradually, it is becoming fashionable when you remind PDP that they brought us to this sorry path, they will say stop talking about what we did, please continue with your own.
But we cannot move. It is important that Nigerians remember how we got here and the same people who have made no atonement say that they want to come back in 2019 to power.
So, it is important for us to remind them. Let me tell you, this government is not in any panic. We are so proud of our achievements that in less than three years, I can stand up and say this is what we have achieved in the area of insecurity, this is what we have achieved in the economy, in the area of ease of doing business….There is no area we have not made our mark.
We lifted Nigeria from number 165 in the ease of doing business to 145. It is not a mean feat! And we exited recession at a time when the price of crude was low, we were in recession when we implemented the diversification of the economy.
It is on record that despite all these challenges that we have not retrenched one person. So, why should we be afraid? Why should we panic?
I don’t see any reason why we should panic, I think it is the imagination of people that the government is panicky. No!
Do you intend releasing the list of alleged looters in the APC?
There is a difference between allegations and established cases. All the cases I have mentioned (alleged PDP looters) are already in court. You see, how many times have people written that Lai Mohammed has billions of dollars?
But these are allegations that are just ridiculous. I can assure you that if there is any allegation against any member of this government, this government will investigate it.
You see, Nigerians are saying that there is no difference between PDP and APC; that those people who left PDP for APC are being protected?
That is what you are saying! It would be unfair to say that everybody that joined APC from PDP is a looter, it would be unfair. I am saying that whether you are of ACN stock or PDP stock or CPC stock and you are found to be corrupt, you will be investigated.
Are you not overreaching yourself by pronouncing them guilty while they are still in court?
They have said, name the looters, and we said these people took money.
But the courts can find otherwise?
That is the business of the court. I am saying that on the 24th of February, Sec….. took N100 million in cash. The then National Financial Secretary took N700 million. These are facts!
They said name, and I said these are the people that were reported to have stolen money. So, what is prejudicial about it? Let them go and solve their matters in court, but if you challenge us to name names, we will name names!
You cite your achievement of taking this country out of recession, but by the time the PDP handed over, this country was not in recession?
Recession is when a country’s GDP slows in two consecutive quarters. It is a technical term.
But this happened under your government?
Yes, no doubt. But for a recession to happen, you look at what preceded those two quarters. Number one, we came in May 2015 by which time the major revenue for the country, petroleum had dropped in price by almost 50 per cent. We came in and met virtually no savings at all.
What we inherited was $23 billion, we came at a time when at least 20 states could not pay salaries. We came in at a time when infrastructure was almost zero.
The vice-president gave an example that in 2015, the ministries of Transport, Power, Works and Housing combined had less than N100 billion released for that year. Whereas the year we came in, we had N565 billion invested in that same infrastructural sector.
It is a measure of the rightness of our approach that if you want to boost the economy, you must diversify the economy. So, we went into agriculture, went into mining, went into services and what actually brought us out of recession was agriculture, mining and the rest.
That we were able to come out of recession and continue to consolidate means that our Economic and Growth Plan is working.
But the projects the president is commissioning were projects done by the states?
You see, when the president visits a state, he visits to reconnect with the people of the state, but of course the governors of the states would want to have the opportunity to have the president commission their projects.
They are not doing it just because they want to humour or honour Mr. President. They do it also because they want the attention of Mr. President in certain areas.
This morning, (last Friday) I was with Mr. President at the Eko Atlantic City. It was an extremely successful visit because Mr. President saw the enormity of the work going on at the Eko Atlantic City and the state government knows that you need this rapport with the Federal Government in order to achieve a lot.
Yesterday, (Thursday) I was with the president to commission the Ikeja Bus Terminal and the governor revealed there that Mr. President approved a waiver of Customs duties payable for about 400 buses that are coming.
This is because the president saw how that terminal is going to impact on the city. You can imagine what that waiver means to the Lagos State Government. So, when Mr. President comes to commission projects in the states, it is not because the Federal Government has no project of its own to commission.
The APC Committee has submitted its report on true federalism. When is the president going to respond to the proposal?
It is a party matter. It is not a government matter. The party will still have to adopt it before they will make recommendations to government.
On a score of 1 to 100, how will you rate the administration in its achievements and especially on its campaign promises made ahead of the 2015 elections?
It is not for me to score him, it is for me to reel out what we have achieved. It is for the pubic to now say this is 1%, this is 2%, this is 3%. Honestly, I can say without fear of equivocation that the government has done pretty well in the broad areas of economy, security and fighting corruption and the various social intervention.
I can start with the economy for instance, and I will tell you that with less than half of the revenue available to the previous government, we have been able to start a revolution in infrastructure by devoting N1.3 trillion to capital projects ranging from roads to railways to waterways to agriculture.
In the area of roads, we took a N100 billion sukkuk loan and with that loan, we are undertaking 25 roads spread over the six geopolitical zones. Today, there is no area of government where you do not feel the impact of government on roads.
Railways, the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge will become operational I think at the end of 2018 or next year, meanwhile, the Calabar–Lagos has been awarded also. In the area of agriculture which is one area I think we have done very well, we have been able to create more rice farmers all over the country. From five million farmers, we have today about 11 million rice farmers.
For you to see the rightness of our approach, so far, less than N100 billion has been invested in the anchor borrowers programme and we have this result.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has paid more than N1.2 trillion as bailout. I can imagine if just 10% of that were to have been invested in agriculture, probably today we would be talking of self-sufficiency not only in rice but probably in cassava and probably in wheat.
Our anchor borrowers programme has proven to be a success. In the area of the economy, you have heard me say that we inherited $23 billion in reserves, today we have $46 billion in foreign reserves.
Ease of doing business; we have moved from 165 to 145, in the activities in local mining, today we have created thousands of jobs for people mining limestone and the rest.
In the area of the economy whether in terms of figures about employment or in terms of social infrastructure, we have done what no government has done.
I don’t know of any government in Nigeria that has either fed 7.5 million pupils in one day. To many people, it is not important, but can you imagine if you are feeding 7 million pupils and if it costs you just N70 to feed each pupil, it means in a day you are creating an economy of N490 million across the value chain of cooks, vendors and farmers. And this has led to an increase of school enrolment.
All these have been done under three years and I think we are going to embark on a road show to inspect roads that are being done in virtually every state of the federation.
We have been able to bring back many jobs by renewing these contracts and many of these contracts that this government is doing are contracts that were signed in 2007, 2009, 2012. We have hardly awarded any new contract.
In the area of power, we inherited 2,900 MWs of power, today we are generating more than 7,000 MW of power. Of course we are unable to transmit all the power because of the state of the transmission line, and don’t forget that even that power had been largely privatised even before we came in and we had been able to give support.
We guaranteed N702 billion revolving loan that if you produce, we pay and that is why you have seen this exponential increase in power supply.
So, I do not see any area where we can say we have not made progress.
But what of security, when you came in, there was not as much violence as we have today? People were not dying like this?
I think you were not noticing. A week ago, I was in Zamfara, and I did not know that cattle rustling started since 2009 until then. Do you know that more lives have been lost in Zamfara than in Benue State? Of course it is no consolation. I think thousands of lives have been lost there.
I didn’t know that cattle rustling has been that dangerous. It didn’t start in 2015 neither did the farmers, herders clash start in 2015. The Agatu killings didn’t take place under this government. It did not. It is unfortunate that what is largely an environmental, economic, social issue, we have made it assume an ethnic and religious one.
Is it not because your government didn’t manage it well?
How do you manage it?
The government has been saying that the former administration ran down the economy and that the former president doled out money ahead of the elections, so, why is the government not prosecuting him and others?
If you know how many cases are in court!
Are you going to release more names of alleged looters?
I have them.
Are you going to release them?
If they challenge us again.
It is alleged that the government is using security agencies to intimidate bank officials and other institutions that are privy to the account of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Why is the government doing this?