BY ANDREW ESSIEN
The national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, gives a progress report and challenges of the ruling party. He spoke with select journalists in Abuja. ANDREW ESSIEN was there.
Two years of APC in government, do you think there is any need for celebration?
I believe very strongly that there is every reason to celebrate. I know that because of the difficulty that people are going through, there is a temptation to think that there is no much to celebrate. But I think that if we look more closely, paying more attention to where we are coming from and where we were two years ago, you will see that we have more than sufficient good reason to celebrate. There was a reason that Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for APC a little over two years ago. There was a reason that for the first time in our history, Nigerians rejected a sitting government and those reasons were quite compelling and those are the reasons that justify APC’s existence in government today at the federal level and in the various states. I like to say that there are three things that President Buhari promised as we went round the country campaigning. One was that he promised to fight corruption. Secondly, he said he would fight insecurity especially as it relates to Boko Haram, and thirdly, he said he would create employment opportunity for young people.
Let us take the issue of Boko Haram. I have said it repeatedly that we tend to forget one fundamental fact which was that at the time we were preparing for election in 2015, more than 50,000 square kilometers of Nigeria territory were physically occupied by Boko Haram, where they declared a caliphate and hoisted their flag. I remember that in trying to make sense of it was said that the area occupied by Boko Haram was the size of Belgium. Two years down the line, what is the size of Nigerian territory occupied by Boko Haram? Zero, including the dreaded Sambisa Forest.
For us, this is a remarkable achievement and we believe that in that respect, President Buhari and the government of APC have justified the purpose of coming to power. Yes, many of the Chibok girls are still in captivity, but some of them have been recovered and more are still being recovered. For the parents of those recovered, you cannot tell them there is no reason to celebrate. For those who had to abandon their families and homes two years ago because of the menace of Boko Haram and have returned home today, you cannot tell them that there is nothing to celebrate.
Let us take the issue of corruption. We must not forget that before APC came into power two years ago, we knew what was going on. We knew that people were stealing this country dry, but it was almost like it has been accepted as if it was normal. People were stealing as if it was an entitlement. But what do you find happening today? You listen to the radio, watch the television, read the newspapers, Nigerians are talking about corruption every day. It means that as a nation, there is nothing in our DNA that accepts corruption. It means that we are telling the world that as a country, we don’t want corruption and that is why we are having that conversation.
You hear people talking about whistleblowers, people talk about huge amount of money being recovered, people being dragged before the court, former governors being remanded in prison custody for corrupt practices, you hear about former ministers being held in detention and prison for corruption. These are things that were almost impossible two years ago. The challenges are still there, but this is the progress we have made in two years.
So, we believe that we have a lot of reasons to celebrate.
The government promised to create job opportunity for the youths, but two years after, there is practically nothing to show for it. Secondly, there is the issue of the rampaging herdsmen yet we are celebrating the success in the war against Boko Haram. What is happening to the herdsmen and why is it difficult to curtail the excesses of these herdsmen who are almost approaching the coastline?
I agree with you that the issue of the herdsmen is an issue of serious concern. But you also agree with me that it did not start today because the issue of farmers and herdsmen clashes has always been there for as long as we could remember. I also agree with you that probably the government needs to do more than what is happening at the moment whether in thevarious states where these things are happening or at the federal level. But what I said was that at the time the issue of Boko Haram was the dominant issue in this country, every Nigerian did not think of any other thing. Even the issue of herdsmen, as bad as it is, was insignificant in the context of the insecurity that is occasioned by terrorist activities. You are walking down the streets and the wind blows a nylon bag close to you, you run because you will think that it might conceal a bomb. We forget these things easily. No country is ever in a hundred per cent state of security. If we deal with the issue of herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbery, there will be other security challenges that will come up. The important thing is whether government is responsive enough to deal with the realities as they emerge. I agree with you that we ought to have done more in respect to the issue of herdsmen.
Regarding the issue of unemployment, I believe that we have to take a more comprehensive look at the challenge of unemployment that Nigeria is faced with and we have to also understand every country in the world today is dealing with this issue of unemployment. It is not something that you switch on and switch off. Look at the statistics. What is the percentage of Nigerian youths that Mr. President promised to create jobs for? We have 46 per cent of Nigerian youths that are unemployed according to the report of the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. If we agree that the population of young people in this country is about 65 million, what is 46 percent of that? If you take the entire civil service in Nigeria, I don’t think they have more than 300,000 people. If you take out 300,000 people in the context of about 30 million people that are looking for employment, no matter what you do, it will look like you have done nothing. I was Minister for Youth Development and what I found was that 80 per cent of these young people looking for employment are actually not graduates. They don’t have more than secondary education. That imposes another kind of challenge about what kind of job you create and all that. I am saying this with the acknowledgement that the problem of youth employment will persist for a very long time. The question then is whether the government has enough articulation of the problem to be able to deal with it. You hear about NPower which is what is being done at the moment, among others. Like I said, unless we go back to the nature of our education that retools young people for a different kind of occupation, we will continue to deal with this. So, I believe that it is not something that we can say we have solved in two years. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but when you are operating an economy in recession, it is even more difficult to manage the impact that some of these things can have. But you will agree with me that if the president promised three things and he has delivered well on two and he still has two years to go, I think he has done well.
You can’t successfully fight corruption when the economy is down and everybody is hungry. The average Nigerian is out there hungry and to them, the government has not delivered on its promise to them?
I don’t think that what the government promised is that at the end of two years, it would have wiped out hunger from Nigeria. What the government promised is what I have told you. Since when have we been hearing the report that 70 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. It is a United Nations report and that statistics is not coming up today. The issue of poverty is associated with the issue of hunger and other kinds of challenges. So, to now begin to blame a government that has been in government for two years for a problem that has existed for decades is slightly unfair. I think that we should focus on what the government has promised to do and whether they are doing those things or not.
A lot of money has been recovered in the fight against corruption and Nigeria’s are wondering what has happened to these money, while there has been so many arrests, but nobody has been convicted. What is the situation at the moment?
What do you want the APC government to do? A few days ago, the DSS said Ifeanyi Uba did something with petrol and that he ought to be punished with death sentence. Have you seen the reaction that followed that? People are asking whether DSS wants to be arresting people and passing death sentence on them? No matter how keen we are, we have to ask ourselves as a country, do we want to be a country of law or a society or waves. If we say let us arrest people as they are accused of corruption and lock them up, how do you know when you arrest someone that is innocent? No matter how eager we are to punish people, they must go through that process as long as that is the provisions of the law. If APC government starts catching people like it happened in 1984, the same Nigerians will ask, is this democracy? Like I told you, there is no alternative to the rule of law. No matter how much we are pressured to catch thieves, if you use an unlawful means to fight unlawful act, then you have not solved any problem. Yes it is slow and we want to see more convictions, we also need to ensure that our institutions develop more capacity to prosecute and investigate. But ultimately, we have to ensure that justice is done to everyone that is accused of one thing or the other.