Minister of Information Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in this interview speaks on some of the achievements and challenges of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration since it assumed office two years ago. MUYIWA OYINLOLA met him.
When this government was coming to power some two years ago, it promised among other things the revamping of the nation’s economy. But two years down the line, we are still faced with hunger, unemployment, people are still losing their job, the GDP is dropping and external debt is on the increase. How do you juxtapose this with the electoral promise?
Thank you very much. The truth of the matter is this government has dramatically reversed the negative growth of the economy. The picture you have painted from your question above is far from the truth as I will prove soon.
The number of sub-sectors of the economy experiencing negative growth has almost halved; falling from 29 sub-sectors for the whole of 2016 to 16 in Q1 2017. Growth in manufacturing has returned to positive territory after five quarters of negative growth. It grew by 1.36% in Q1 2017 after falling to -7.0% in Q1 2016.
Our priority Sectors of Agriculture and Solid Minerals have seen improved performance, in spite of the recession. Agriculture grew by 4.11% in 2016, while Solid Minerals recorded a 7% increase. The contribution of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development to the Federation Account tripled to about N2 billion in 2016, up from N700m in 2015.
This government has made savings even at a time of low oil prices and by implication low government revenues.
Nigeria’s External Reserves have grown by US$7 billion since October 2016. The Sovereign Wealth Fund has seen inflows of US$500m in 2016 and 2017 (the first inflows since the original US$1bn with which the Fund kicked off in 2012), and the Excess Crude Account has seen an inflow of US$87m, in 2017.
You look at phasing out of Subsidy Regimes for Petroleum Products and Fertilizers.
The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria, combined with a newly developed soil map designed to aid fertilizer application, substantially raised local production of grains in 2016 (yields improved from 2 tonnes per hectare to as much as 7 tonnes per hectare, in some States) and produced a model agricultural collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States.
Nigeria’s rice imports fell from 580,000 MT in 2015 to 58,000MT in 2016.
The Presidential Fertilizer Initiative which involves a partnership with the Government of Morocco, for the supply of phosphate, has resulted in the revitalization of 11 blending plants across the country. The benefits include annual savings of US$200 million in foreign exchange, and 60 billion annually in budgetary provisions for fertilizer subsidies. The Scheme has also made it possible for Farmers to purchase fertilizer at prices up to 30 percent cheaper than previously available.
What about support for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises? The Administration has launched a series of funding and capacity development initiatives designed to support MSMEs across the country, as follows: · The new Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) is finally taking off, with initial funding of US$1.3bn (provided by the World Bank, German Development Bank, the African Development Bank and Agence Française de Development) to provide medium and long-term loans to MSMEs.
There is also the MSME Clinic, which brings relevant Government Agencies and their managements together with small businesses operating in various cities across the country, to enable the Agencies provide direct support to these businesses. The Interactions allow the Agencies to better understand the issues facing small businesses, and provides a platform for speedy resolution.
There is also the Ease of Doing Business Reform Programme and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment component (GEEP) of the Social Investment Programme (SIP).
Ease of Doing Business Reform is success story. The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (inaugurated by President Buhari in August 2016) implemented a 60-point National Action Plan between February and April 2017, with 70 percent of the Targets achieved, including the following.
Intending Business Owners can now search for Company names on the website of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Intending Business Owners can now upload their registration documents directly to the website of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
This has eliminated the need for SMEs to hire lawyers to prepare registration documents.
We have introduced a single form for Company Incorporation to save time and reduce cost Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) e-payment solution has been integrated with the CAC portal to facilitate e-stamping.
Interested parties can conduct online searches of secured interests on movable assets on the National Collateral Registry.
What of new Arrival and Departure forms for use at our International airports? The new forms are shorter, and have also consolidated a number of previously separate forms into single documents.
We have also simplified our Visa on Arrival (VoA) Process. Submission of VoA applications and receipt of approval letter can now be done electronically via a dedicated NIS email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has now been mandated to schedule and coordinate joint physical examination of cargo to ensure there’s only one point of contact between importers and officials Imports into Nigeria now required to be placed in pallets to facilitate quicker physical examination. Central Bank, Customs and banks now required to process Net Export Proceeds forms within 72 hours; and Pre-Shipment Inspection.
Agencies (PIAs) now required to issue Certificate of Clean Inspection
(CCI) within 3 days· Approval has been obtained to reduce number of documents required for imports from 14 to 8, and number of documents needed for exports from 10 to 7 Minimum container placement notice time needed by Terminal Operators for examination reduced from 24 hours to 12 hours. Minister of Interior has approved and launched a new Immigration Policy for Nigeria
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has since followed up on the National
Action Plan by signing, in May 2017, Executive Orders on Improving Efficiency in the Business Environment, and on Promoting Local Procurement by Government Agencies.
In the area of infrastructure, the Buhari Administration has demonstrated a single-minded commitment to upgrading and developing Nigeria’s Transport.
Road Projects are ongoing across every State of the country; many of these projects had been abandoned in recent years because of mounting debts owed by the Federal Government to contractors.
The Administration is also pushing ahead with the revitalization of Nigeria’s 3,500km network narrow-gauge railway. In March 2017 a consortium led by General Electric, and comprising Transnet of South Africa, APM Terminals of the Netherlands and Sinohydro Consortium of China, submitted the sole bid for the concession of the Lagos-Kano Railway narrow-gauge Line. (Transaction Advisers were approved for the project in 2016). In May 2017, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the commencement of negotiations with GE to conclude the concessioning.
In addition, Abuja’s Light Rail system will also go into operation (test-run) in 2017. The first line to be launched will connect the city center with the Airport, with a link to the Abuja-Kaduna Railway Line. The test-run will start in November 2017, ahead of full commencement of operations in Q1 2018.
The Buhari Administration successfully completed the reconstruction of the Abuja Airport runway within the scheduled six-week period (March-April 2017).
Still along that line, Apapa port generates a lot of money for the nation’s economy, yet the road that leads there is in a terrible state. What is the federal government doing to fix the The government realizes the crucial importance of the road
that links to Apapa Port and it’s a priority project of the government. However, the government is thinking beyond just fixing this road but it has also put in place a plan to link the Apapa Port by rail to the Iddo terminal. It is only by doing this that the life span of the road can be prolonged. Everywhere in the world, containers and every heavy cargo are transported by rail.
Why does this government still go for foreign loan despite the huge amount of money it has saved through TSA?
Answer: Yes it is true that the federal government has saved several billions of naira with the introduction of the Treasury Single Account. Without these savings it would have been impossible for government to pay salaries and other services. However, these savings are not enough to fund infrastructural investments in roads power, energy and aviation. The government needs to borrow to invest in these capital projects. It is not wrong to borrow as long as such loans are not used to pay salaries or to support consumption. It makes economic sense to invest borrowed money to provide infrastructure which will serve as the engine of economic growth.
The immediate past government was accused of lack of respect for court judgements, among other things. This government has been fingered to be toeing that line, especially with the continued incarceration of former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, despite series of court pronouncements that have ordered his release. How do you react to this?
You cannot compare the two. Number one, if a court gives a judgement and that judgement is appealed, you’re not in violation of a court order. That’s why we have a hierarchy of courts. You have the State and Federal High Courts, you have the Court of Appeal and you have the Supreme Court.
Another promise your party made was that it would tackle
corruption. In the last couple of months that this government has been in power there has not been any conclusive and successful corruption probe. Secondly, it has also been observed that once a top politicianis accused of corruption, the case dies the moment he crosses to your party.
I take the last leg of your question first. It is absolutely
false and not supportable by any evidence that the moment a politician decamps to APC then all corruption charges against him are withdrawn.
Let anybody give me an example of any politician who has decamped to the APC and the corruption charges against him or her have been withdrawn.
You also asked in your question, how come we have not had any conviction. That is not quite correct. A former state governor was recently convicted. However, we must appreciate the fact that there are three arms of government, the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary. The Executive arm of government can only investigate and prosecute, only the courts can convict or discharge or acquit. We cannot be the accuser and also be the judge in our own cause.
Those, those who say that our fight against corruption has not been effective are wrong. We must acknowledge that for the first time in Nigeria, corruption has been driven under the table. Before, it used to be negotiated openly. Today, everybody, even those who are corrupt, know that they cannot flaunt it.
Secondly, we have been able to make Nigerians understand the cost of corruption to their lives. That it is largely because of corruption that we have no infrastructure; that it is largely due to corruption that thousands of young people are roaming the streets without any job; that it is largely because of corruption that we have a society that has placed value on consumption and not production.
Our goal is to put in place a strong foundation which will be irreversible by anybody; to ensure that henceforth, probity, transparency and accountability become the watchword for any public official.
No doubt this government has achieved so much in the area of security. But just a few weeks back, the Chief of Army Staff, Buratai, raised a coup alarm, what is the implication of this 18 years into this democratic experience?
I will simply say that it will be unpatriotic on the part of anybody today to start thinking of a coup d’état. It will be absolutely unpatriotic because it won’t solve any problem. I think democracy must be nurtured and this government has done its best to accommodate everybody, to accommodate opinions not necessarily our own. And anybody contemplating a coup d’état does not wish Nigeria well.
Your government has secured the release of about 103 out of about 276 Chibok schoolgirls that were abducted before your government came to power. But there are divergent reports on how their release were secured. Was it through a swap arrangement (with Boko Haram militants) or your government paid some some money?
I say with all sense of humility that what the government has achieved in the area of fight against terrorism is unprecedented. People often forget that at the time the president was being sworn-in
on May 29, 2015, over 20 out of 27 local governments in Borno State alone were under the effective control of Boko Haram. About that time also, about four local governments in Adamawa, and about two or three in Yobe states, were under the effective control of Boko Haram, to the extent that they even hoisted their flags, which means that the territorial integrity of the country had been breached. As we speak today, no single square meter of this country is under Boko Haram insurgents. Even the Ground Zero, which is Sambisa forest, has now been taken over by the army. People have forgotten that until this Administration dislodged the Boko Haram insurgents, Nigerians from the North Eastern part of the
country for many years could not visit their homes because of insecurity. Roads were blocked, lives were unsafe, schools were closed, hospitals were closed. But we have returned normalcy to these areas so much so that as we speak today, the Nigeria football league is played weekly in Maiduguri. And I think this is an achievement that is under-celebrated by Nigerians. Now, on the issue of what did we do to secure their release, we’ve always told the world exactly what transpired. In respect of the first release, involving 21 girls, no ransom whatsoever was paid. This last time around, we swapped five Boko haram commanders for the release of the 82 abducted Chibok girls. Any other story outside this is absolutely false.
People are worried about the unprofessional practice of some bloggers and others who disseminate false information via the social media. Is government also concerned and what are you doing to stem the time?
We are very concerned about it. We’re concerned about it because in recent times fake news and hate speeches have set countries on fire. The genocide in Rwanda was largely propelled by hate speeches. As much as the government would not want to stifle the press, we believe that the press as a whole has a responsibility to self-regulate otherwise they will self-destruct
The issue of fake news has now assumed alarming proportion as even some traditional media are also culpable. What the media should realize is that if this menace is not checked, it could h lead to a break down of law and order, the consequences of which none will escape.
The government on the one hand does not want to stifle the press but is very concrned about the consequences of this brand of reckless and irresponsible journalism on the security and cohesion of the nation.
Many of these stories are not only downright divisive, they are also false and absurd. These stories have the capacity to set one part of the country against the other, one religion against the other, or completely capsize the ship of state and this is what worries us.
What is the state of health of the president?
The president has traveled abroad to seek medical treatment and he said while he’s away his Vice President will be in charge and that the length of his stay would be determined by his doctors. And we know he’s in very competent hands.
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