By Dapo Akinrefon
We’re not swayed by emotions
ALHAJI Lai Mohammed is the Minister of Information and Culture. In this interview, he presents the President Muhammadu Buhari achievements three years into its administration, saying the government is proud of its scorecard. Excerpts:
CAN you say President Muhammadu Buhari has helped in deepening democracy?
Absolutely. I think the last three years has shown that democracy is blossoming. From all indications, I think the last three years have witnessed a tremendous evolution of democracy. I don’t think at any point in the history of Nigeria, Nigerians have the kind of opportunity they’ve had to express their views, to contribute to governance whether positively or negatively.
Today, because of the revolution in the social media, the government is participatory. People have the opportunity to express their views. In the case of this government, I am not aware of anybody that has been persecuted or prosecuted for expressing his or her views except it runs foul of the law of the land.
This government has been extremely tolerant government, we have been at the receiving end of criticism especially from the social media. In spite of that, this government has not been defensive or reactive, the government has been proactive. The government’s position has been that let our work judge us. I think that is the best approach.
We take on board every criticism, we interrogate them and those that are genuine, we realign accordingly; those that are frivolous, we try as much as possible to ignore them sometimes or get out our own narrative without necessarily been overbearing.
I believe that, to that extent, this administration will go down as one of the most tolerant, permissive, respectful of the rule of law. One of the argument is that our institutions have not been allowed to function effectively. It would be generalizing to say that our institutions have not grown accordingly.
What steps is the Buhari government taking to strengthen security in the country amid happenings in the country like the herdsmen attacks?
On the whole, this conversation and dialogue about insecurity have been largely driven by emotions and not by rigorous analysis of the situation. You see, what are the security challenges that we are facing today? We are facing Boko Haram, we are facing what I will call farmers/pastoralists, we are facing cattle rustling, we are facing banditry, armed robbery, we have issues with the Niger Delta militants.
The starting point is that: are there any of these challenges that were not existing before the advent of this administration? The answer, of course, is no. Without trying to pass the buck, we all know that Boko Haram started in 2002 in one form or the other and by the time we came in in 2015, Boko Haram had grown from a local organisation to an international terrorist organisation with links to Al Qaeda, ISIS but it is instructive and I am proud to say that this administration has done more than any administration in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency and the facts are there.
In May 2015, when we assumed office, Boko Haram was active in at least ten states of the federation like Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Plateau, Kogi, Benue, Yobe, Bauchi, Borno, and Gombe. These are states where, before we came in, Boko Haram was striking regularly.
People have also forgotten that before May 29, 2016, churches were attacked as a matter of routine every Sunday and that churches had to make a lot of security arrangements. But presently, no church has been attacked except for the unfortunate incident that happened some weeks ago and I can tell you that it has nothing to do with religion.
Since we came in, there had been no incident of Boko Haram, these are facts and that is why I said people are driven by emotions. Anybody who understands the insurgency will understand that suicide bombing, kidnappings are the last pangs of a dying insurgent because they have now been demoted.
Rather than look at issues from a broader perspective, people are addressing these issues largely from emotional viewpoints and many of them from a position of ignorance. I have taken time to go in this history simply because the President happens to be a Fulani man, they think that herdsmen/farmers clash is his making and that he is protecting or supporting one group against the other. I think it is dangerous the way we look at these clashes.
What we witnessing has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, it is purely three things: environment, demography, and criminality. I would urge the media to do their own independent research because Boko Haram, herdsmen attacks, predate this administration but by and large we have done a lot to degrade Boko Haram. We are winning the war against insecurity in Nigeria and the reason we are winning the war is that we are not swayed by emotions.
The president has visited all the flashpoints and he has always had the same message for all of them that he would provide security for all of them but the communities must learn to live together. So, we should stop being driven by emotions, we should stop being driven by hatred, let us look at what the situations are and look at ways to address them.
Alleged selective anti-corruption war
What is the relationship saying that between 2010 and 2015 under President Goodluck Jonathan that 15 agencies failed to remit N8.1 trillion and being partisan? The National Economic Council, made up of all governors, mandated KPMG to audit the account of revenue generating agencies. The chairman of that committee is the governor of Gombe State, who is a member of the PDP. He came up with the result that from 2010 to 2015, N3.1 trillion was not remitted by these agencies.
What I said in Osogbo was that you can imagine if N8.1 trillion were returned, we would be able to provide more infrastructural facilities for Nigerians. When in 2016, I disclosed to Nigerians that N1.34 trillion was stolen by just 55 Nigerians, imagine what the sum would have been able to build for us. I said can you imagine what N8.1 trillion could have done for us? I had to say that because I was at a programme where I had to commission a project which cost just N2.1 billion and which has brought so much relief to the people of Osun State.
So, that is the context within which I made that statement. Now, what has that got to do with being partisan? To go back, the day I released the list of alleged looters, I did not just wake up in the morning to do so. The Vice President gave an address somewhere in Lagos, in which he said in one day, under President Jonathan $259 million was shared among the PDP politicians and he was challenged to name them and then, I went out and gave them the list.
So, in that, you cannot accuse me of being partisan. I was responding to a challenge thrown by the PDP. What have they done since then, they have rushed to court to get injunctions. If they are not afraid, let us go to court and prove whether my allegations are true or false and incidentally, since my allegations, most of them have been reporting to various investigating agencies to explain their roles in the massive stealing that went on in that administration.
You see, one thing is clear, they don’t want us to talk of the corruption of the PDP years but we have to. So, the issue of being partisan does not come up in that context.
Revamping the economy
People forget that our GDP 2011was 5.4 but by 2015, it had gone down to 2.9. So, it was obvious that we were going into recession. By the second quarter of 2016, we hit recession but we did not despair, we put in place some very ambitious and bold economic programmes such as the ERGP with the aim of reversing the trend. Since then, though it has been fragile growth but we have been growing.
We need to tell Nigerians what we have achieved in the area of agriculture. Before now, in 2014, we were importing 644 metric tonnes of rice from Thailand, today, we are importing 24 metric tonnes, you can imagine what we are saving in foreign exchange.
Before now, there were only about four million rice farmers in Nigeria but with the anchor borrowers programmes of the Central Bank of Nigeria, we have about 11.5 million rice farmers and these are in 32 states of the federation. Today, we have 21 rice processing mills.
Before now, fertilizer used to be about N11,000 per bag, today, they cost about N5,500 per bag. How? We have arrangement with Morocco for phosphate, we have limestones in abundance and so, we manufacture them locally. That is how the rice revolution had begun. Facilities are given to farmers and it has increased. So, all the indices of the economy are positive but the questions often raised is how come that in spite of the success recorded in rice, imported rice is cheaper than the locally made rice?
First, the rice you are eating from Thailand is 10 years old, they are held in stores and later dump them in Nigeria. Second, they are heavily subsidized by their government and in Daleko, they sell to them on credit because they just want to dump them. The federal government is also looking for a way to give more subsidy to our farmers to ensure our local rice are competitive. If you look at the positive side, the endeavour should be commended.
Steps taken by the government to develop other sectors
I think the good story is that when Nigeria went out of recession, it was not led by oil. It was led by agriculture, mining, the creative industry, industry, manufacturing and the rest. So, clearly today, the strength of Nigeria’s economy is not just on oil and that explains that by the time we went out of recession, oil was not selling for $70, but we decided that we were going to diversify.
So, we are not only relying on agriculture but in the last two years, the government has invested about N2.8 trillion in infrastructure, that is the best way to actually revamp your economy. In terms of revamping our economy, we have taken some bold steps but I think the key is investing in our infrastructure.
When I went to visit the Oyo-Ogbomosho road, about 600 people were being employed on that road. We have turned the country into a construction site and you can see many of my colleagues everywhere inspecting or commissioning projects. We are proud of our scorecard in all the areas we promised either in fighting corruption, fighting the insurgency or revamping the economy.