Nigeria will soon get out of the woods, says Lai Mohammed

Lai Mohammed

Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed in an interview session with reporters, spoke about efforts of the Muhammadu Buhari administration to revamp the Nigerian economy and other issues. NIYI BELLO (Political Editor) reports.

How do you feel when you say something and people keep saying ‘coming from Lai, it is a lie?
I have two burdens. The first is that I happen to be the face of the opposition and PDP has not forgiven me and I don’t think they will ever forgive me. I think they look at the magnitude of what has happened to them and they hold me solely responsible; which is not fair.  But, I did my bit. Now becoming the face of government again, it is automatic to them that whatever comes from Lai Mohammed, we must shoot it down as fake news and a lie. Incidentally, my father gave me the name Lai also. So, it makes it very easy for them to make me a liar. But what I challenge them every time is, please, give me one thing I said that is not true. Emotionally, you may not agree with me but in terms of facts and figures, I have never said anything that they can dispute. You don’t have to like it but you can’t deny that they are facts.

After two and half years, APC finally held its NEC and Caucus meetings. Was it due to pressure or the party has now gotten its acts right?
Frankly, speaking, there is no party that came to power like the APC that is not bound to have the kind of challenge that we have today. People often forget that APC didn’t come through today until 31st of July 2013. APC did not elect its executive council until June 2014. Within two weeks of the election of the executives, we had to face election; first in Ekiti and then few months later, in Osun.  If you look at APC, it was made up of disparate political parties- ANPP, CPC, ACN, DPP, part of PDP and part of APGA. It takes time for these to come together and for them to work together as a party.

Within eight months of being a political party, we had to face election and when we won this election, some members of APC had not even known one another or sat down together with one another. So, the hiccups that we experienced were normal.

Before we could settle down, our first test was election of National Assembly leadership, which showed the political fault lines of the party. But we thank God; we are gradually mending all those fences. The party is working more together as a group. The major gladiators are back on the same page as you can see from what transpired during the caucus meeting and the NEC meeting.

Are you not apprehensive that your party may not go beyond 2019 as the PDP may regain power?
As to whether we are afraid of the PDP staging a comeback, I can confidently tell you that we are not even contemplating it. It will be a tragedy for Nigeria to fall back into the hands of PDP. They dropped us in hell and we are taking people out of hell. How can Nigeria now go back to Egypt?
It is not about APC or President Buhari.  With the kind of revelation that is coming out, the kind of rot, you want those people to come back and preside over the affairs of Nigeria again? What will happen to the investigations that were carried out if the PDP should win elections again? It will be swept under the carpet. This is the first time in the history of this country that we are making real recoveries. Only three days ago, we signed an MOU with the Swiss government to return $321m that was stolen from the country.  This is the first time this country is actually looking at our problem from a realistic and pragmatic viewpoint. We are not talking of what we are going to achieve in two years or three years. We are talking about laying a solid foundation for a Nigeria that our children will be able to thrive.  Unfortunately, the reform agenda is always longer than the political agenda. In many parts of the world, they plan for 10, 15, 20 years. Nobody plans for 4 years. When you look at our MTEF, we are talking about 2020 even though we know that there may be a change of administration depending on the outcome of the presidential election. But you do not think in the short term. Nigeria should never ever pray for PDP to come back.

But Nigerians are groaning under a heavy economy
As you are very much aware, this administration’s contract with Nigerians sits on a tripod: the fight against corruption, tackling insecurity and reviving the economy. Even our worst critics acknowledge the progress we have made in fighting corruption and tackling insecurity. But one area in which they have consistently criticised us is the economy. Right from the inception of this administration, we chose the path of seeking a lasting solution to the economic crisis plaguing the nation instead of engaging in a quick fix that may attract accolades but will not endure. We chose to be painstaking instead of engaging in palliatives. I am happy to inform you today that we are winning! As you are very much aware, this administration’s contract with Nigerians sits on a tripod: the fight against corruption, tackling insecurity and reviving the economy. Even our worst critics acknowledge the progress we have made in fighting corruption and tackling insecurity. But one area in which they have consistently criticised us is the economy. Right from the inception of this administration, we chose the path of seeking a lasting solution to the economic crisis plaguing the nation instead of engaging in a quick fix that may attract accolades but will not endure. We chose to be painstaking instead of engaging in palliatives. I am happy to inform you today that we are winning! Our well-thought-out policy, encapsulated in the administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), launched on April 5th 2017, is working and the results are beginning to show. In September, we exited recession and returned to the path of growth, after five consecutive quarters of contraction. As we said then, taking Nigeria out of recession did not happen by accident. It was the culmination of months of hard work by the administration and fidelity to its well-articulated economic policies. This administration will not relent in its determined effort to usher in a new dawn for Nigeria. We are winning the battle to revive the economy. We are fighting corruption like never before. We are tackling insecurity with a renewed vigour. While the naysayers, who are obviously in the minority, persist in their pastime of acting as a distraction, discerning and well-meaning Nigerians will continue to appreciate and encourage the good work of our administration.

When we negotiated with the Swiss government to return Abacha’s loot, they gave us some conditions, one of which is that we must identify what programme we want to use the money for and that the World Bank will supervise what we are using the money for. When we now argue that we are a sovereign country and that they can’t dictate to us how we are going to spend money that was stolen from our country and they are returning, they said ‘yes, but when we returned part of it to your country, you relooted it under Jonathan’; which is true.

Talking about fighting corruption, how is the government handling recent uproars concerning Minister Kachikwu and Maina?
To the best of my knowledge, Kachikwu made his point and Baru also did same. But the point is that over time, we have seen Baru and Kachikwu working together. However, the position of government is that you can’t start talking of fraud.  There is nothing like $25 billion fraud in the NNPC; not in the least. The opposition, notably the PDP, felt that for once, they have something to hold against this government.  But I can assure you that it is not possible under this administration to have a $25 billion fraud. The entire economy will collapse. There is no $25 billion fraud. Yes, there could have been lack of communications, understanding and procedures but I think all that has been put behind us. on Maina, the fact that Mr. President, immediately the issue came to his knowledge, asked for Maina’s disengagement, is the most important thing. That to me is a clear signal that we do not condone corruption. There is no better way to handle the issue than this.

Recently some APC chieftains alleged that the government is made up of many who are still in PDP while APC members suffer.
I think the president has actually explained that as early as 2015, he did direct that they should bring nominations for demands and he was very clear in his directives as to who should make the boards, who should qualify. I remember he said anybody that is sent must be frontline actor in the run-up to the 2015 election. Anybody who had either contested for primaries within the party and lost or as a consensus was asked to step down.  Anybody who either contested election either at the governorship level, National Assembly or even state level against either PDP or APC and had lost. He said these are the main stakeholders in the party and are people who ought to be recommended for appointment. As you know, Mr. President himself cannot know all these people. All politics as they say is local. The president cannot know who in Akwa Ibom for instance, contested for National Assembly and lost against PDP or who in Borno contested primaries for Senate with a fellow APC candidate and lost. So, I think those who are charged with that responsibility failed and that is why we are in the mess we are in now. The president has however promised that he is going to take a fresh look into it. One thing is to dissolve the boards but you can’t leave them vacant. But I believe we are going to see lots of progress in that area very soon.

But all the claims of strides in economy could be reversed by renewed hostility in the Niger Delta region. Are you not worried?
Of course, we are very worried about it because if the avengers should start destroying our oil installations, it is going to bring the country back to its knees. And that is why we are appealing to them. We have not breached any agreement with them and we will rather appeal to them to understand that there is more to gain by all sides in engaging than in going back to the trenches. Even power has improved in the Niger Delta. Infrastructure has improved. Contractors can now go and work there. We are talking of University of Maritime Technology in the Niger Delta, Second Niger Bridge and East-West road. I think what they are fighting for will be achieved much more if there is peace and we will continue our engagements with them because it will not be in the interest of anybody to have crisis.



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