Alhaji Lai Mohammed is the Minister of Information and Culture. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he spoke on how the country overcame recession, the battle against corruption, national security and restructuring. Excerpts:
Many Nigerians are still skeptical that the country is out of recession given the state of the economy. What is the evidence that Nigeria is out of recession?
The same evidence that Nigeria was in recession is the same evidence that Nigeria is out of recession. Technically, when a country goes into recession, it has recorded two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the Gross Domestic Product (DGP), which is measured by the services and products the country has achieved. If you have a negative growth in two consecutive quarters, then, the country is said to be in recession. And we have been in recession in the last five quarters. But, we have come out of that recession by the second quarter of this year. The important thing about recession is that first, it is not good for economic growth and what is pleasing in this particular recovery, is that it was led, not by the oil sector, but by the non-oil sector of the economy, notably agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, electricity and creative industry and the likes. Why this is pleasing to us is that, one of the first things we realised when we came in was that we have been operating a defective economic structure, which is overtly dependent on oil. The government decided that it will divert Nigerians to the area of agriculture, manufacturing, mining, construction, creative industry and other service industry so that if there is inactivity in the oil sector, it will not affect us the way it has affected us in the past. Among other reasons, the main reason for recession was that the price of crude dropped from over 100 dollars to as low as 20 dollars in an economy that failed to invest in infrastructure, save for the raining day, pay its debt when there was a boom. It was quite injurious. So, we decided that henceforth, we will diversify our economy. I am to say that, even throughout the quarters when we were in recession, agriculture and mining were not in recession. They were always recording positive growth. By the second quarter of 2017, agriculture and mining, manufacturing, electricity have improved.
How do you measure the impact of that on the well-being of the citizenry?
Coming out of recession is like the person has been very ill. He has been in an intensive care. Now, he is moved out of the intensive care. He is now in the general ward. He has not been discharged. He will not go to the farm the very next day. He won’t begin to visit people the very next day. It will take time for other parts of the body to wake up. So, what happens when you get out of recession? Number one, it gives confidence to the operators of the economy, principally the investors. And foreign investors; it gives them confidence about the economy. That invariably translates into more jobs and better productions. For instance, in the second quarter of 2017, we recorded a 95 per cent increase in foreign capital inflow. In the first quarter of 2017, we attracted only 902 million dollars, but by the second quarter, we attracted 1.792 billion dollars, which was about 95 per cent increase in foreign capital that was brought in. Our trade balance has improved positively. We import less, we export more. Our foreign reserve between October 2016 and August 2017 has reached almost 80 million US dollars. These are indices that show the reawakening of the economy. The multiplier effect has to be felt. Then, you will see there will be more jobs created, prices of food will go down and it will impact on the lives of common Nigerians.
Workers in many states are still in pains over the non-payment of salaries. When should states expect the next phase of bailout from the Federal Government?
This is a very important question. I think as much as a searchlight is being brought on the Federal Government, we must not fail to understand that we run a federal system of government, whereby each level of government also has direct access to revenue accruing to government. The constitution also gives them certain responsibilities. I think that between 2015 and 2017, the fact that Federal Government released over 1.6 trillion naira bailout shows how caring it has been. This is in addition from what they receive as federal allocation every month. I think the government at the centre has shown enough passion, enough commitment and enough concern for the welfare of Nigerians. It is not under obligation to give any money to any state, but because we wanted to soften the impact of the recession, because we wanted to make sure that workers do not go hungry, because whoever works must be happy, that was why the government made available the 1.6 trillion in the last two years. For one to appreciate that, it is more than one quarter of the total budget in 2016. That was what the Federal Government gave out in the last two years. All states and local governments should ensure that money meant for bailout are meant to pay workers, supplement workers’ wages, supplement payment to contractors and make life more abundant for the people in the states. At the end of the day, every citizen belongs to one state or one local government.
How cordial is the relationship between the executive and the National Assembly now?
I think both arms of government have realieed that there is the need for cooperation. Yes, once in a while, there are differences, there are spats. But, overall, it is an experiment and it is work in progress. Daily, we begin to understand one another better. I think what has really impressed me recently is the improved working relationship between the executive and the judiciary. About two weeks ago, the judiciary on its own said it will set up courts for trying corruption cases and its directives are out to all the chief judges to ensure that they nominate or put aside one court each where the cases will be tried. They first of all set up a monitoring committee on corruption and financial crimes cases. I think this is a good turning point in the relationship between the judiciary and the executive. Both arms of government are now aligned and are convinced that corruption is unarguably the greatest threat to our corporate existence.
How do you react to complaints by some leaders of the ruling party that they are being sidelined from the affairs of the Federal Government?
All such complaints are being looked into.
What is the status of the anti-terror war now?
I think the war against terror has been largely won by government. I always like people to remember that, when we were sworn in on May 29, 2015, 24 local governments in the federation were under the sovereign control of Boko Haram terrorists. By this control, I mean, not only were they physically present in those local governments, they set up parallel government; they hoisted their own flags, levy taxes. They had a judicial system of government alien to Nigeria. I can say without any fear of contradiction that they do not hold sway again in that manner in any local government of the federation. There is no doubt that Boko Haram has been severely degraded. They do not have the kind of capacity they had before. Before 2015, they were active. They were attacking. And they were operating in about 12 states of the federation-Sokoto, Kano, Borno, Niger State. Even, the federal capital was not immune. They were attacking at will. As a matter of fact, in those days, people went to churches and mosques with their hearts in their mouths. I think all that has ceased now. Again, if you look at the Northeastern part of the country, which was largely inaccessible before; for some years, schools were closed, roads were closed. They have all been reopened. If there is any further proof that normalcy has returned to the Northeast, I think one of the finals of the Nigerian football matches recently was played in Maiduguri between and MFN and El-Kanemi Warriors. It is ample proof that peace has returned to the Northeast. Yes, we are battling with humanitarian crisis in the region. But, it is not limited to the region. It extends to the entire Lake Chad and the government has been proactive. It set up two committees. The infrastructure there has been destroyed. Government is fixing them and ensuing that normal life returns to the area. We are also addressing the issue of several people who have been displaced, to take care of their welfare. It is a commitment that we made. Our goal is to ensure that, not only do we have to win the war on the battlefield, but we also ensure that the people return home in peace and continue their normal life.
And what about the twin battle; the anti-corruption war? What is the status of the war because people are complaining that it is not easy to secure conviction in cases involving high profile people?
I think this is why we are so excited about the new collaboration between the executive and the judiciary. Now, the looters took comfort in the congestion in our courts. They play a game of encouraging obstruction in the judicial system. Now, with the creation of separate court to try corruption cases, there is no longer any hiding place. The corrupt official, no matter how highly placed, cannot go scot free.
Opinion is divided on the deployment of troops to the Southeast for ‘Operation Crocodile Smiles and Python Dance’…
I think we must stop criticising the issue of security. It is a dangerous game. Everywhere in the world, the security is important. The military has a role to play; to protect, secure our borders and ensure the territorial integrity of Nigeria. We must not attempt to politicise it. We must not attempt to localise it. A situation whereby some people in one part of the country will say ‘no’ is not acceptable. You may have your local concerns, agitations. But, the military should be completely immune from that. The military should defend the territorial integrity. Otherwise, you will have a situation whereby a group will say, ‘oh, you can’t pass here; another group will say you can’t pass there’. Who is going to defend us? We should stop politicising the issue of security. It is a serious matter.
IPOB was once described as a terrorist organisation by the Federal Government. A foreign organisation said it cannot be categorised as a terrorist group. What is the status now?
I think Nigeria as a sovereign nation does not need the permission of another country to declare any particular body a terrorist organisation, once it is done within the ambit of our own law. And what the world needs today is collaboration and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Al-qaeda was pronounced a terrorist organisation by the US, by the western world. We cooperated with them. If we have not done so, the issue of Boko Haram would have been much difficult to handle. I don’t think we need the permission of any nation to declare a particular body a terrorist organisation. It is in the interest of world peace and stability that countries collaborate with one another over what IPOB means to Nigeria. We are glad that, even the governors of the Southeast that IPOB claims to represent, have dissociated themselves from IPOB. What they are seeking for is not self-determination. MASSOB has been around much longer than IPOB. As long as they did not cross the line and they did not publicly solicit for arms, making insurgent statement that, if you don’t give us Biafra, what we have done will be a child’s play, attacking the military, erecting checkpoint and extorting money. That is not self-determination. It is a terrorist act. As far as we are concerned today, IPOB remains proscribed.
What is your assessment of the performance of the 2017 budget?
Now, when people complain about the performance of the budget, I think the budget was passed around June. I don’t think it is fair to be asking about its performance three months later. We are still addressing the bureaucratic bottlenecks about procurement. For me to procure, I need to advertise for six weeks, after which I will analyse all the bids, contact all those that are qualified and then contact the Bureau of Public Procurement and go to Federal Executive Council. It is burdensome. The real issue is that we have to overhaul the procurement process. There are many requirements that may slow down governance. A person is bidding; you asking for his tax clearance, evidence of whether he has paid his contributory pension scheme. I don’t think this kind of requirement is helpful. Part of the mandate of the Committee on ease of Doing Business is to identify the statutes and recommend them for overhauling.
What lesson has government learnt from the late passage of the budget?
There are two issues that may affect development. One is the late passage of budget. The other would be the revenue; the finance. When budget is passed late, one of the challenges is weather. You cannot build or construct during the raining season. You have to wait for the rain to stop. Fertilizers must reach farmers before the start of planting. These are some of the setbacks of late passage of budget. But, this year, we will submit next year’s budget by October to the National Assembly and hopefully, by December, it will be passed.
Is the Federal Government prepared for restructuring?
The president is clear on this matter. There are some legitimate demands. But, the question is: what do we mean by restructuring? Restructuring means different things to different people. To some, it is simply about resource control where every state will have control over its resources. To some, it is going back to the former three or four regions. To even some, it is the creation of more states. To some, it is the devolution of powers to states. Each of these will have to be examined. The APC committee is going round the country today to collate opinions. So, when we get the aggregate of the views, there will be need for constitution amendment. Restructuring will be about the amendment of the constitution.
The post It Is Dangerous Politicising Security Issues – Lai Mohammed appeared first on Independent News Nigeria.
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Author: Temidayo Akinsuyi