Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in this encounter insist the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has no business returning to power next year.
According to him, the party must first apologise to Nigerians for destroying the country’s economy, before talking about staging a comeback. He also spoke on the Benue crisis among other national issues.
By May this year, your government would have been three years in office. Looking back would you say you have been able to meet the expectations of Nigerians vis-à-vis the promises made during electioneering?
I would rather put it this way, by May, we would be three years in government, and I want you to assess us by what we set out to achieve. We were very categorical that we are going to address three areas of governance. We will fight corruption. We are going to fight insecurity, we will revamp the economy. And looking at these things, we can beat our chest to say that we have done them.
Talking about revamping the economy, just recently, a former CBN deputy Governor said that contrary to the claims of your government Nigeria is yet to exit recession, that in fact what we are experiencing is worse than recession. How do you react to that?
Well, I’d rather work on the figures of the National Bureau for Statistics (NBS), of course there are indices and parameters for whether a country is out of recession or not and clearly even the NBS came out that for the 11th month, we have been able to quell down inflation. Inflation today is 15.37percent, now all indication is that not only have we exited recession we have been making gains either in the area of foreign reserve or in the area of foreign investment or in the area of inflation or job creation. So clearly whatever Mr. Moghalu says, we would always be encouraged by the figures that have been produced by the National Bureau for Statistics and that is the only body today that can tell us whether we are out of recession or not. It is the same body that said we are in recession and the same body said we are out of recession and so far, as of last week, we are not back into recession.
In line with your three-point agenda, in the area of fighting insurgency in the north east and in the south- south, you may tried, but don’t you think the people have regrouped again?
You see, security is an issue that every nation at one point in time will have to contend with. I am happy you acknowledged that we have been making progress in fighting insecurity in other parts of the country, the herdsmen farmers clash was not invented by this government, it actually predate this government and if you go back to history, it almost even predates the independence. What I can assure you is that this government is determined to resolve the issue. This government is determined to take necessary steps to find a definite end to this issue. It’s about containment it’s about accommodation. It’s about understanding. There will be farmers. There will be herdsmen. They must live together. We are determined as a government that the shedding of blood of just one person is too much. So it is not about numbers, it is about the fact that we put a price to human life. Already things are being put in place such as the committee headed by the vice president to find solution to the herdsmen/farmers clashes.
One of the ardent supporters of this administration, Pastor Tunde Bakare did a state of the nation address and said that the government has failed in the three areas you mentioned earlier. How do you counter that?
We are very confident of our successes, they are all out there. At the beginning of this conversation, I said there are many indices you take into consideration to know whether a country is improving or not. I would like to say that we grew our foreign reserves, from barely 20 billion dollar or 28 billion, to 40 billion dollars and this is despite the fact that we are still selling oil at 30 dollars a barrel.
But today we have about 40 billion dollars in our foreign reserves compared to what they had in 2014, when oil was selling above what we have today. It clearly, indicates failure on the part of the government at the time. And again, according to the NBS, inflation has fallen; it is now 15.37 percent as at December 2017. The target that we even set for ourselves as our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) has been met and surpassed.
Then The Single Treasury Account (TSA) has stopped the haemorrhaging of the treasury, again, since we came in, we have eliminated ghost workers and it has saved the nation N120 billion.
Also, N108 billion has been saved from removal of maintenance fees payable to banks, pre-TSA. Cumulatively, our determined implementation of TSA is saving the nation N24.7 billion monthly.
Then, on jobs, what jobs are you talking about? In agriculture, we have created an extra 6.2 million jobs; more people are taking to agriculture. For example, today, we have over 12 million people in rice farming alone. That is 6 million farmers more than what we had as at 29 May 2015! That is in the agricultural sector alone, so how can anyone say we have not succeeded in creating jobs. Our strategy, especially in the area of encouraging local production of rice has worked. Thanks to this, our rice imports have dropped from 644,000 metric tonnes to 22,000MT in just two years!
In the areas on infrastructure, again, we have good news for Nigerians, power generation today is at an all-time high of 7,000mw and all can be transmitted, even in the area of distribution, we have distributed over 5,000 megawatt today and the extra 2000 megawatts which we cannot distribute are part of the things we want to discuss at our Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting to see whether we can create stations of willing buyers to see whether we can take these 2000 megawatt.
Still on the infrastructure, the administration’s spending on infrastructure is unprecedented, and the results are showing. Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge is on course. Lagos-Ibadan sector will be ready by 2019; Kano-Kaduna will be ready by 2019; the entire stretch will be ready by 2021.
As a matter of fact, negotiations are on for Coastal Rail covering 15 cities from Lagos to Calabar. On roads, 25 major highways being funded with the N100b is on course, and all geo-political zones are benefitting equally.
But the opposition doesn’t want Nigerians to hear all these positive developments, that is why they have teamed up with treasury looters to recruit people to attack us ceaselessly. Good news is that discerning Nigerians know better.
This Administration is not unaware of the enormity of the challenges facing the nation, but we are up to the task. We have taken the bull by the horns, and long-suffering Nigerians will begin to experience a new lease of life as our efforts yield fruits
On Boko Haram, every Nigerian can testify and we also know that we are winning the war. Because when we are able to decimate an insurgency like Boko Haram that a few years ago could match to Abuja, attacked the Police headquarters, attacked the UN headquarters, go to Nyanyan and attacked and you are able to restrict them to one corner of one state, I think you have scored a major success and then the number of captives of Boko Haram that we have been able to attain, they are in hundreds of thousands.
As we speak today, life is opening up in most parts of the north-east, yes, there will be occasional bombing, but it is just a desperate drive of a defeated army. For you to judge us on security, look at what is happening globally, then, you begin to appreciate what we are doing in the area of security.
The desire of every party in government, is to retain power, do you think Nigerians can trust you enough to give you another mandate next year? Or do you see the PDP staging a comeback?
I think it will be tragedy for this country for PDP to come back because they have not even apologised to the nation for how they had destroyed our economy, destroyed our infrastructure, destroyed our quality, and so far from their campaign, ask them how they will do it better when they get there.
Apart from that, I think that our achievements will speak volume for us, I have just told you about some of them, we can come out and beat our chests that met an economy that was collapsing completely, and we revived it.
But there are a few things you promised to do which you have not done?
Like what, name them.
You promised to stop fuel importation, you promised to revive the refineries and even recently after forming government, you even talked about modular refineries, all these things have not come on board. What is your response to that?
You see all these things are not things that you just pick on the shelf. They are things that require planning, require procedures, but I can assure you that everything we promised is being undertaken at one level or the other of implementation. You will soon see the results.
Finally on the Benue crisis, the Benue governor believes the federal government has not done enough to resolve the crisis. What is the government doing?
Let me first commiserate, once again, with the families of those who died in the crisis. For us as a government, one life lost to any crisis is one too many, and it is a tragedy and simply unacceptable. Yes, the farmers/herders’ clash predates this administration, but we are determined to end it once and for all. It is said that every challenge is an opportunity. And that’s how we have taken this crisis. The Benue crisis is an opportunity for us to end the incessant farmers/herders’ clash.
As you are aware, the National Economic Council (NEC) has set up a committee headed by the vice president to work out ways to end the crisis. That’s one of many strategies being employed by the FG to solve the incessant crisis.
While we are at this, we appeal to all public commentators and opinion leaders, including religious and traditional rulers, to moderate their rhetoric. We cannot afford to aggravate the situation.