Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in this interview with journalists and social media practitioners, said the federal government had made tremendous efforts in stopping grand corruption in the country today. He also spoke on a wide range of national issues. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH presents the excerpts.
On Nigeria’s latest rating by Transparency International on the Corruption Perception Index
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, $15billion 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 recognize 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.
What is the institutionalized process of fighting corruption?
Institutionalization 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 institutionalizing 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 institutionalizing. 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 institutionalizing 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 institutionalize; it’s not a one-off process.
What’s the national strategy on anti-corruption?
That’s a long conversation, but put simply, the national strategy is to ensure that public officers in particular are not able to privatize 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.
Asides from the EFCC, it seems the other anti-corruption agencies such as the ICPC are doing nothing…
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.
On allegations of nepotism against the Buhari administration
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 Christian 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.
The President has no choice in that, it is a constitutional requirement…
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.
On the delay of 2018 budget
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.
Seeming rift between the Executive arm of government and the Legislature
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 scrutinize 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.
On Nigeria’s debt reportedly now being higher than what was inherited by this administration
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.
What about the 50% revenue reportedly being spent on settling debts?
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.
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 earlier?
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.
The second Niger Bridge and Buhari administration’s efforts to win the South East
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 road. The Lagos-Calabar road 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.
Areas that Federal Government could have done better
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.
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…
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.
Arrest of DG of NIA by the EFCC
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.
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