65-year-old Alhaji Lai Mohammed is the Minister of Information and Culture. A 1975 graduate of French from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Mohammed later got his law degrees from the University of Lagos, after which he co-founded the legal firm of Edu and Mohammed as a senior partner in 1989. With the return to democracy in 1999, Mohammed served as Chief of Staff to former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos State. In 2003, he aspired to be governor of Kwara State on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), where he emerged as the partyâ€™s governorship candidate. With his unsuccessful run for the Kwara governorship seat, he became actively involved in party politics at the national level. And for over a decade, Mohammed was the voice of the Nigerian opposition, as spokesman of the Action Congress, Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Progressive Congress – which were the leading opposition parties at various times. His emergence as spokesman of the APC-led Federal Government was thus seen as a natural transition from being the mouthpiece of the opposition to that of government. In this Interview with Tokunbo Adedoja, Mohammed shares his experience operating on the two different turfs. He also speaks on several other issues including the controversy over the health of President Muhammadu Buhari , why there are no daily updates on the Presidentâ€™s state of health, and on two years of APC-led Federal Government, placing its scorecard against the challenges inherited from the previous administration. Excerpts:
Recently, the APC-led federal government marked two years in power. Itâ€™s a government that rose to power on the strength of its promise to bring about change that will impact the lives of the people positively. This government has been in power for two years now but many Nigerians believe they are worse off than they were under the PDP government, especially in terms of cost of living. How would you react to that?
The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to know what situation we would have been today if APC had not come to power. But I can assure you that if it had been business as usual and APC had not come to power, it would probably have been much worse because we met an economy that was on the brink of total collapse. And what are the indices of an economy that is on the brink of collapse? An economy where there is no infrastructure, an economy where there is no savings to fall back on, an economy which is built around one single product, an economy where corruption was rampant, where there was no accountability, where there was impunity and where there was no discipline; an economy that puts more emphasis on consumption than production. This was the economy we inherited.
That we are in recession, it was bound to happen, the indices were there clearly. An economy where the price of the single most important commodity crashed from about $114 to under $50. So, given that scenario whoever came into government will need to do a yeomanâ€™s job to pull that economy out. And like I said this morning on another programme, it is like if a house is gutted by fire and people there escaped, you need to bring down the whole house because even standing there (in that state) it can be a danger to the inhabitants and to the neighbours. You need to bring down the whole house and then start rebuilding it from scratch. And that was exactly what we did. So, some of the hardship, including high cost of living, is a result of this.
But we are not lamenting, weâ€™re not a government of lamentation. We are a government that can actually say, two years on what have we achieved? And we have a scorecard that government should be proud of. For instance, in the first quarter of 2016, 29 sub-sectors of the economy were under recession. But today, we have almost halved that, only 16 of those sub sectors of the economy are still under recession and weâ€™re working on them. In the first quarter of 2016, the manufacturing sector recorded a negative growth of seven per cent, by the first quarter of 2017 the same sector has got a positive growth of 1.36 per cent. To show that the emphasis we have put on infrastructure, agriculture and mining is working, and that is why today mining is growing at seven per cent, agriculture is growing at 4.1 per cent. The truth of the matter is that we needed to restructure the economy in a manner that it will no longer depend on one product and when you look at what weâ€™ve done in the last two years, especially in the last budget cycle, weâ€™ve done what has never been done in the history of the country before. Look at the 2016 budget, which was expansionary on its own, we devoted 30 per cent to infrastructure, into capital projects alone; the highest before then was 16 per cent, and in the 2016 budget cycle we released N1.2 trillion for capital projects. The only way that you can diversify your economy is by investing in infrastructure; today as I speak with you, construction of roads are going on all over Nigeria and for you to see the difference between what we did and what was been done before, I will just give you some figures. In 2015, the federal government spent N18 billion on fixing roads all over Nigeria, in the 2016/17 budget cycle, we spent N260 billion on roads. In power, in 2015, the government only spent N5 billion on that sector, this year we have spent N99 billion on the sector. In 2015, in housing, it was only N1.8 billion that was spent in that sector, this year we have spent N70 billion on it. To show our singular commitment to infrastructure we have awarded the contract and started work on the standard gauge of the railway between Lagos and Ibadan. Not only awarding the contract, we have started work, in earnest, talking to General Electric that is leading a consortium to manage the 3500 narrow gauge rail line from Lagos to Kano, so that we can start using them for transporting goods and services and passengers, and in line with the agreement GE is going to supply 20 locomotives and 500 wagons and coaches. Further to showing our commitment to infrastructure, we have signed 13 Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with 13 solar power companies, which is going to add another 1000MW of power to the national grid. We have intervened in the liquidity problem which has been affecting the industry, where the gas producer are not being paid and where theyâ€™re not being paid, the generating companies cannot generate power and that was why we put in place the payment assurance programme whereby we guarantee that if you supply gas we will guarantee your payment; and weâ€™ve put aside N401 billion for this. And, of course, we have the Energy Sector Plan which has been endorsed by the World Bank. In addition the Ministry of Water Resources is trying to use three dams to get us another 1000MW of power. The NNPC is also trying to get us 2500MW of power.
People must understand that with the power situation we met on ground was abysmal. On 29th of May 2015, the entire generation was 2690MW, by February 2016 we had grown this figure to 5040MW before the unfortunate militant actions that destroyed the Forcados export line and other lines. As we speak today, in that area, over 1000MW has been decommissioned, so we have to look elsewhere to open up and as we speak today, we are between 3800 and 4000MW of power.
In agriculture, between the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the CBN and the Agric Ministry, weâ€™ve been able to bring about a rice revolution and a good example was the collaboration between Lagos State and Kebbi State which resulted in the Lakeb Rice Project. Today as we speak, yield per hectare has increased from two tonnes to seven tonnes because of the involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture. Weâ€™ve been able to eliminate subsidy in the fertiliser project because what we do now is, we get discounted phosphate from Morocco, we mix it with local urea and by that weâ€™re saving 200millions of dollars in foreign exchange and about N60billion in budgetary provision; plus the fact that weâ€™ve been able to cut down about 30 per cent in the cost of fertilisers to farmers. This is in addition to the rice mills, palm oil mills that the federal government has made available.
So, really, when people say the cost of living has gone up, it is true. It is not as if weâ€™re folding our hands, it is precisely because we know that the prices of things has gone up that we embarked on one of the most ambitious programmes which is the Special Intervention Programme through which we have been able to employ 200,000 unemployed graduates; been able to provide, under our home grown school feeding programme, weâ€™re now feeding over 1100 pupils in over nine states all over Nigeria and that is going to increase. We have served free meals in the process, weâ€™ve employed 12,000 cooks in the process and under our conditional cash transfer to the most critical vulnerable Nigerians, today over 27,000 Nigerians received stipends of N25,000 every month. Through our government entrepreneur programme, weâ€™ve given out 57,000 interest free loans to market women, men and artisans.
So, yes it is true that the cost of living has gone up but it was bound to happen and we are not folding our hands, we are doing everything possible to bring it down. But until you diversify your economy you canâ€™t bring it down; and we are looking at how we can intervene, probably in the area of transportation; subsidized transportation.
Nigerians have forgotten that before now, there used to be subsidy in petroleum products and trillions of naira used to be spent on that, which is now being used in other areas. They have forgotten too that whenever weâ€™re approaching Christmas, Sallah or Easter, there will be long queues at petrol stations, all of that have disappeared. So these are some of the things that government is doing and I can assure you that gradually the cost of living shall be brought down.
Many believe that had the APC government hit the ground running, even though we had a drop in the price of oil, we wouldnâ€™t have been in this recession; they point to the fact that it took about five to six months to even constitute the cabinet and that about 2000 political appointments, board appointments and other appointments have not been made midway into the administrationâ€™s tenure. Just before the second anniversary, the government came out with the blueprint to revive the economy, why did it take so long? Also, the APC led federal government has continued to bemoan the evils of the past. Isnâ€™t two years enough to forget the woes of the past and concentrate on the future?
It is unfortunate that people have mindset and mindsets are difficult to change. If we spent two years bemoaning the past we will not achieve what I have rolled out for you right now. And please mark what you said about it, the economic recovery plan and growth plan is not something that we just did, no. It was what we built on sustainable programme of 2015 and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan is not for this year, it is for 2017 to 2020. It is like, this is our economic blueprint and our objectives are three things. One, get out of recession; two, invest in Nigerians; and three, build a sustainable economy; which is hinged on five pillars: one, correcting the micro-economic environment, ensuring sufficiency in transportation infrastructure, ensuring sufficiency in food and agriculture, ensuring sufficiency in energy and power and finally, ensuring that a conducive environment for medium, small and micro businesses is achieved because the sector contributes 50 per cent to our GDP.
Now coming back to our first question, it is not true that if cabinet had been immediately constituted there would have been no recession. The indices were clearly there. Recession was bound to happen. I mean, what do you do when you have an economy that is built on one and one product alone and the product price crashes from $114 to $40?
(cuts in) May be it wouldnâ€™t have lasted for this long.
No. I donâ€™t think so; I disagree with you. Yes, people say it took so long to form the cabinet but they forgot two important things; APC itself was a product of a merger of political parties and between that merger and the election was under eighteen months. So, that was a big challenge on the hands of everybody; it was not like when I was in ACN, we had the structure, we know everybody, you know that after you won the elections you know who to reward and who not to reward. Now we have about four political parties: ANPP, part of PDP, ACN, CPC and APGA which is not easy.
Secondly, which is very important; this is a government in opposition, for the first time coming to power. Now we didnâ€™t have the luxury that the Obasanjo administration had in 1999 when elections were completed in January 1999 and he didnâ€™t assume office until May. And again, in 2003, it was the same government, so the issue of constituting cabinet was much easier. Here, we were dealing with two very new and strange phenomena at the same time, but for anybody to say that recession wouldnâ€™t have happened or lasted that long is not correct. Look at all the indices.
One of the areas this administration said it had done so well was in the fight against corruption, yet there are views that it is one sided and that it was targeted at the members of the leading opposition party while those sympathetic to the ruling party are left to go free. There are also criticisms that instead of corruption cases being tried in the law courts most are tried in the media. How would you react to this?
See, he that does not have a wife cannot lose his in-law. Those that are saying that the anti corruption fight is against one party have forgotten that one political party had access to public funds, had access to public patronage for 16 unbroken years, therefore if you are fighting corruption, they are going to be the first people to come and answer for their stewardship. That was why I said if you were never married you cannot come and say your in-law is late. You cannot come and say you want to probe Lai Muhammed because Lai Muhammed was in opposition for 16 years, he never held any political office. How are you going to probe me? That is the truth of the matter. If you want to start a probe today, a person who had no access to power, who had no access to public office, you canâ€™t bring him in.
Two, we want anybody that is being probed by this government today to come and say I am innocent, I am only being persecuted. Weâ€™ve not had one. On the contrary they have been giving all kinds of flimsy excuses.
(cuts in)Theyâ€™ve been pleading not guilty in the law courts
Of course, if they pleaded guilty they will go to jail straight away. And weâ€™re saying that these are the facts, they were never manufactured. Thirdly, it is not correct to say those who have been accused of corruption, once they move over to the APC they are forgiven their sins.. That is not true. They should tell me just one example of anybody who has a case in court and that case has been withdrawn just because he has moved over to APC; It is what I call insinuations, itâ€™s not true.
Then, again, anybody that wants to fight corruption must be ready to see corruption fight back. In the last two years of anti-corruption, weâ€™ve seen corruption fighting back very vigorously and viciously because a lot of money is still out there; weâ€™ve seen cases of when we are fighting corruption we went to somebodyâ€™s house and almost $10 million was found in a refrigerator when they got there. Weâ€™ve discovered another $146 million in another account which had no owner. Within two months of our whistle blower policy, weâ€™ve been able to retrieve N8billion, $160 million. I mean these are not things that we are imagining or that we are fabricating.
You talked about what you called trial by media; what is called trial by media? If I go to your house today and I find $10 million in your fridge, wonâ€™t the media cover it? We donâ€™t do media trial, what happens is that when things happen, the media will have to report it. Those are part of the half truths and outright falsehoods that are being bandied out, and it is always easier when you are out there to bandy these things, you donâ€™t have to substantiate them, you just throw them in the air. But let anybody come and tell me today that X was charged to court for corruption and he decamped to APC and the Federal Government withdrew all the charges, then I will be able to respond.
Apart from the military era, there are views that this present government has exhibited high-level of impunity in terms of disobedience to court orders. I will give two examples, the Shiite leader, Sheikh El Zakzaky, and former NSA, Col Ibrahim Dasuki (rtd), who are being held despite court orders that they should be released. Even though government has a right to appeal or ask for stay of execution, until that is granted, that order stands. Why has the government been flouting court orders affecting this two personalities?
Every government in the world will at a point in time balance individual freedom with national security. Let me take the first case of El Zakzaky. I think people are just being mischievous; people have expressed a lot of ignorance in respect of El Zakzaky. Yes, El Zakzaky has not been released but where is El Zakzaky today? Is he in prison custody? Is he in police custody? No. He is in a house provided by government with his family.
(cuts in) Against his consent?
Why? It is because the court order said we must release him within 45 days, rebuild his house and there is nobody today within Kaduna State or anywhere else that wants to accept El Zakzaky as a neighbour. So who do you release him to? For him to be killed? So, he is in protective custody with his family and this is one thing people donâ€™t say. Like I said, at a point in time, a government will be faced with this kind of dilemma, so how much rule of law do you want to balance against national security? In the case of Dasuki, Dasuki received two transfers in one day totalling $1.2 billion and he has refused to say where that money was sent to, who was given that money and the government said, where is that money? As we speak today he has refused to tell. Now, $1.2 billion is a lot of money. Who can guarantee that if he is released today he will not abscond? And with $1.2 billion at his disposal, is any government safe? It is good when people start talking about human rights and rule of law, but as a government, that is responsible for territorial integrity of this country, at times you have to take the heat because you want to ask yourself, if such an accused person is released and he disappears, and this is a country that we are still battling with terrorism, this is a country that weâ€™re still battling with insurgency, and he links up with other enemies of government with an arsenal of $1.2 billion, would the people not blame us? So, I think these are high profile cases. On the surface it appears like a government that violates rule of law, but in reality it is a dilemma for government because we must balance individual freedom with national security. But I will say overall that weâ€™re not a government of impunity
How long will this last?
Like I said, any government in the world will at a time be faced with this kind of dilemma, and we do not know, I wonâ€™t say we donâ€™t know how long it will last or how long it will take to release him, but you see, frankly speaking, it is a situation that is being reviewed daily. I just hope we will get to a situation where we will be able to balance individual freedom with national security.
There are other things that agitate peopleâ€™s minds. The president nominated the headship of EFCC and another agency of the executive wrote to the parliament that the decision taken by the president was wrong, that the person that was nominated was not fit and proper to be made to head of that organisation. Not once, but twice, thereby stalling the process of what ordinarily should have been a smooth consideration. That is not even the problem; the president was expected to either call that agency of government to order and say this is my nominee, so stop writing report on him, or to withdraw the nomination and say based on this damning report I am dropping you. But nothing of such happened and it has created an impression that the president has lost control of his government. How would you react to this as the spokesman of the government?
You talk as if we are not in this country. You see, it is the responsibility of the Executive (arm of government) to nominate and it is that of the Legislative arm to confirm but the fact that I have sent your name once, twice, it does not mean I cannot send your name three or four times. May his soul rest in peace, the late former Minister of Aviation, Babalola Borishade, his name was presented three or four times because this is a democracy, it is a collaboration between two arms of government; so Mr. President has the prerogative to say let me see whether I can convince them and Mr. President has confidence in his nominee and that is why he is returning the nomination, because Mr. President has confidence and trust in his nominee. He probably feels there has been some misunderstanding and that is why he is re-nominating him; and like I said we saw what happened when former President Obasanjo nominated late Borishade.
In the case of Aborishade it was because there was an issue between the president and the parliament, they didnâ€™t want Aborishade. In this particular case, it is what I will call inter agency issue, an Executive agency wrote faulting the nomination made by the president; that is the point I am making, and the Senate based its decision on the letter.
Mr. President probably has information that even an agency may not have.
But he should have called the agency to order
Do you know if he has done that? As Mr. President, you have access to information that even some of the agencies donâ€™t have. You donâ€™t even know the content of that letter, the president probably understands it better and said, okay, I have seen your letter but I am still going to nominate this person.
This administration has done well in the area of fighting terrorism and tackling insurgency in the North East, we saw that the nation was moving towards the precipice just before the election. But another front has also opened up in the form of herdsmen versus farmers, and it is killing people daily and displacing communities and rendering people jobless. It has also led to high cost of living because farmers are afraid to go to farm and prices of food stuffs have gone up. Many do not believe this government has a clue on how to solve the problem. We have had about grazing routes, we have heard about ranching, but none has been properly articulated into a policy statement. Does this government have a clue on how to solve herdsmen/farmers clashes?
The issue of herdsman and farmers is not the responsibility of the federal government alone, it is the responsibility of the local, state and federal government and the three tiers of government must work together to find a solution to it. I am glad to say that many states today have seen that this is largely a local problem and they are finding their solutions to it.
Edo State for instance have come out with a programme of finding a grazing territory whereby water and grass will be provided for the cattle and any herdsman found anywhere outside the grazing areas, we will now know that these are marauders. Kaduna State has also come out with a combination of both grazing land and ranch; because at the end of the day it is about two communities that used to live together in peace and harmony then what went wrong went wrong? Oyo State too has come up with a very good formula; we regret the needless deaths but I can assure Nigerians that everything is being done to return things to normalcy. We recognise it as a problem and we are working round the clock to find a solution to it.
And then there is also the international angle to this problem with the free movement of people within the West Africa sub region as a result of the ECOWAS protocol. You cannot even tell the difference between the herdsmen from Cameroun, Niger or Senegal and those from Nigeria, and these are issues that we are going to address both at the African Union and ECOWAS level.
The release of Chibok Girls is another area where this administration has done well. Kids were taken away under a past administration, but this government has rescued almost half of the girls and they are undergoing the process of rehabilitation. Not only the family, the whole world is happy and they are hoping that the rest would be rescued. But then, there are also other people that were abducted, women, children and men that were liberated when this government dislodged Boko Haram fighters from Sambisa Forest but nothing has been heard about them. Is government catering for them, in terms of rehabilitation, like the Chibok Girls?
Tokunbo, I am happy that you raised this issue, you are one of the few journalists that have raised this issue and I am happy that you did, because besides the 106 girls that have been freed, weâ€™ve been able to free more than 10,000 children, women and elderly people from the captivity and daily we are getting more and more people, but nobody speaks about it. And every day we are working on rehabilitating them, we provide schools, we provide healthcare services for them, weâ€™re rebuilding towns. The truth of the matter is that people fail to appreciate the enormity and the scale of carnage that went on during the six years of Boko Haram and that it is not a crisis that affects only Nigeria; as a matter of fact about seven countries in the Lake Chad basin are affected so what Nigeria is grappling with today is a humanitarian crisis of global proportion and it is to the credit of this government and the state governments involved that they have been able to address these issues frontally. So when we even ask for international support, it is because it is not a problem that is limited to Nigeria alone. Chadians, Nigeriens, Cameroonians, many of them are all in our IDP camps; many of them are also victims. We are talking of an area that encompasses almost 20 million people from seven countries and daily weâ€™re getting more and more people and as we are get more and more captives out, so also is the burden of how to resettle and rehabilitate them and this is what the government is facing squarely.
Are you getting the required assistance from international agencies?
Weâ€™re getting assistance and I must say the international donors are doing great but we need better coordination among the international donors, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning is doing a yeomanâ€™s job trying to get a better coordination among the international donors.
For a long time you were the mouthpiece of the opposition and you appeared so made for that position, you know when to issue a press statement, you know when to pick on the government and you know how to make headlines You have experienced a change of status, you are now the mouthpiece of the government, what is the experience like?
Well, it is not the same thing. As the spokesperson for government my role is very clear: it is to educate, inform and let people know what exactly are the programmes and projects of the government. As the spokesperson for government, you are also a strategist, strategising on what forms of communication you want to engage on, how do you want to reach the people. It is not the same thing as being in opposition. In opposition you can pick on anything. As government spokesperson, you must remain focused, you must not be distracted, you must not lose focus of the fact that your mandate is to inform, educate the populace about the programmes, projects and policies of government. As a government spokesperson whatever you say is the position of Nigeria, so you must be factual and accurate in what you do. There is more fluidity in opposition, the rules of engagement are not very clear and you can hardly be held to account when you are in opposition whereas in government you will be held to account. So it is not the same thing as being a minister and being a spokesperson of the opposition.
Again, even as a ruling government, your role must be clear and distinct from that of the party spokesperson; you speak for the whole of Nigeria, you speak for the Executive, you also speak for the Legislature and the Judiciary at times, when it comes to the image of the country, and you speak for every part of the country. When it comes to the image of Nigeria, the outside world will not say this is the Executive, this is the Legislature. For instance I have had cause to speak to people that the Human Rights record of Nigeria is not what youâ€™re talking about. That is speaking for the whole of Nigeria. That is the difference between being the spokesperson of opposition and being spokesperson of government.
Are you saying that your duty as government spokesman is to inform, educate the people on government policies while that of the opposition is propaganda?
Not necessarily so. This is a copy of my book when I was the spokesperson of AC, ACN, then APC, I said these are the records, there should be about 3000 Press Releases in that book, and I say four years later please point out one that is a propaganda or that is not true; because as the spokesperson of the opposition, we did our work thoroughly, with due respect. And when we make statements we back it up with facts and figures. Even when I was in opposition it was not just propaganda for me, no. It was constructive opposition and it was sustained. For us, we did not leave anything unchallenged; but in the process we had to educate ourselves, a lot of times we had to consult experts and specialists in some areas too. That was probably the difference between us and other opposition or government spokesperson. We were very sure of our facts.
A couple of months ago the president was ill and he travelled out of the country, Nigerians wanted information on the true state of health of the President. You said the president went for his annual vacation and that he will do his medical checkup which was also the statement that was issued, and when there were so many speculations about his state of health, you said the president was hale and hearty and was just resting. But when the president came back, he told the world that he had never been that ill before and he even made mention of the fact that he did blood transfusion, and you donâ€™t do blood transfusion except you are critically ill. Why didnâ€™t you give us the true situation report? How did you receive that revelation by the President? It appears there is a disconnect somewhere.
Managing the health information of a president is a very delicate issue. You must not allow the populace to panic, you must not set an unnecessary alarm, your role is to calm nerves, your role is not to go and tell the world that Mr. President is on life support; if you say that, do you know what that will mean to the economy? Even to security? Managing the health of the President is a delicate issue. It is better for Mr. President to come and say to Nigerians when he has recovered, â€˜that thank you Nigerians, I have never been this ill in my life, I actually went through blood transfusionâ€™. Because he is there, they have seen him, it is Iike giving a testimony. But it would have been irresponsible and reckless on the part of any spokesperson to say today Mr. President is on life support, he cannot eat tomorrow. And we have seen in many places of the world when presidents even undergo surgeries without anybody knowing. There was no disconnect at all, it is about how best you manage information about the presidentâ€™s health.
But then when President Yarâ€™Adua was ill, you were the spokesperson of ACN and you emphasised the right of the people to know. You were particular about giving daily and regular updates to Nigerians. What is the difference between the two situations?
Tokunbo, it is like comparing oranges and apples. The late President Yarâ€™Adua, may God bless his soul, if the situation was that he wrote the Senate was going on medical trip and he and complied with section 154 (1) that the Vice President will act as acting president, the controversy would never have arisen at all. But a situation whereby he was away several times and nobody came to say he was ill, power was not transmitted to the then vice president, that was what created the whole controversy, that was what emboldened us to say we want to know where he was and that he must transmit power. But this is different, each time the president has traveled out he has told the world where heâ€™s going to, what heâ€™s going to do there and he has handed over power to the vice president. So, it is completely different.
Now that we know that the president is ill, now that we know that he goes out to do his medicals, isnâ€™t it proper for us to know what ails the president?
I think he has absolute discretion to let the world know, just like when he came back and said Iâ€™ve never been this ill in my life. That is his own prerogative, it s not a constitutional requirement.
Letâ€™s move to party politics. A virile opposition is an essential part of multiparty democracy. In the last dispensation, we had a very strong opposition and it was on the strength of that opposition that you were able to come in and assume office. Now, we have a ruling party but you will agree with me that we do not have a strong opposition party today. The main opposition party, the PDP, is plagued by crisis, and there are even accusations that it is the APC that is behind the crisis, that you want it to linger so that you can have a smooth sail in 2019. How do you react to this?
You will remember that shortly after we won the elections, I did jokingly ask my counterpart in the PDP, Olisah Metuh, to come and take a crash programme in being in opposition. But on a serious note, it is not easy to be in opposition, especially if you have been in government for too long a time. You see, being in opposition means a lot of commitments especially in the Nigerian political set up; it requires that you must be determined to uphold the independence of mind, you must be able to remain focused and you must be able to operate with a very lean budget. But above all, your commitment to democracy must be unwavering. Now, I donâ€™t want to guess what led to the factionalisation that you have in the PDP but it is not correct to say that the APC has a hand in it.
Does resolution of the crisis pose any threat to the APC IN 2019?
Frankly speaking, if we can remain focused like this, whether PDP or whatever you call it, will not be a threat to us in 2019. What people want to actually know is what has the government done, and I can assure you that in the next 12 months you are going to see a lot of development. You see, it takes time to lay a foundation but to put the building blocks is much easier and like I said earlier, we have spent the last couple of months building our foundation and you can see the coast. Honestly, I wish PDP luck because Iâ€™ll rather want a strong opposition; I want their views also, I want to debate them but the situation we have today, like you rightly said, you donâ€™t know who you are talking to at any given time. But frankly speaking, I wish they can resolve their differences because that will not pose any threat to us at all.
In less than two years from now, APC will be returning to the polls, are you confident that you will be able to face Nigerians and say give us another mandate? Secondly, lately you have been talking about fake news, there are fears that a clampdown on the media is in the offing?
To the first of the two questions, I am very confident that in the next one year we would have done and achieve so much that we will be able to look at the electorate and tell them, â€˜Oh yes, we promise you, we deliveredâ€; because there are only three issues that we are focused on: the economy, which is very encompassing; security and fighting corruption. But in the process we are also taking along social intervention, in the process we are also taking along education, we are taking along health. So, I am very confident that God willing, even if elections were to take place in 12 months time, we will coast home to victory.
But the most important thing is not so much about the outcome of the elections, which I am very confident that we are going to win, but whether in truth weâ€™ve left a legacy or not. But I can assure you that we would have left a legacy and the biggest legacy will be that we left Nigeria as one even though we inherited an almost divided Nigeria, a Nigeria where the territorial integrity was threatened; we would have left a legacy as the only government that has restructured the fundamentals of the economy of this country in a way that it would never again be held hostage by the volatility of the price of any commodity; we would have left a legacy as the only government that has been able to achieve an inclusive growth, because by that time we would have expanded on our Special Intervention Programmes (SIPs), we would have been able to employ about one million unemployed graduates, we would have been able to extend our conditional cash transfer to reach more than one million people, our home grown feeding programme would have reached everywhere in Nigeria; and our Government Enterpreneurship and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) would have touched the lives of millions of market men and market women. Those legacies we would have left behind and that is the most important thing for us and that will make it easy for us to crush any political opposition. Weâ€™re talking about a government that is bent on leaving legacies.
Fake news is real and our appeal to the media, whether the traditional media or social media is that we must come together with this government to address this issue because if the media does not self regulate, it will self destruct. We have made it clear many times that we are not going to stifle the media but at the same time we have the responsibility to ensure that the unity and cohesion of this country is maintained. It is dangerous for all sides to have a phenomenon of fake news where people have no respect for truth, where news can be manufactured that can set one part of the country against the other; or where fake news are deliberately fabricated to de-market the government and in the process de-market Nigeria; we need to find a solution to that, and one of the first things that we plan to do is to seek the support of all the stakeholders, letâ€™s have a workshop, a conference on fake news, because we must not forget that it was fake news and hate speeches that was responsible for the Armageddon in Rwanda.