Lai Mohammed: Buhari, APC Won’t Lose 2019 Presidential Poll

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 • Reels out administration’s achievements in three years

Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Senator Iroegbu and Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed boasted yesterday that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari were very confident of winning the 2019 presidential election.

The minister, who spoke in an exclusive interview with THISDAY in Abuja to mark this year’s Democracy Day celebrations, said the party and the president will have an easy path to victory relying on delivered campaign promises.

“We will not be defeated, don’t even contemplate that, we will not be defeated, who will defeat us? Let me tell you, I am a realist. I wish we had a real opposition, I wish we had a government that is not performing, then I would have been worried,” Mohammed stated when asked if Buhari would accept defeat if he is voted out next year.

He stated that the 2019 general election will be free and fair, pointing out that despite challenges, the APC-led administration had performed creditably to earn the votes and support of the electorate.
The minister said the Buhari-led administration has enough to campaign on, adding that there was no zone in the federation that had not felt government’s impact.

“We would be campaigning on the fact that we have delivered on our promises of fighting insecurity and revamping the economy and fighting corruption. And how have we done this?
“The North East was the stronghold of Boko Haram, but today we have no single community that is under Boko Haram and since we came in, peace has returned, schools have been rebuilt, even the El-Kanemi Football Club now play their matches in Maiduguri, after two years of relocating to Katsina State at the height of Boko Haram insurgency,” he said.

The federal government’s spokesman who strived hard to dismiss the assertion that violence and insecurity had spiraled, despite the administration’s claim that it has degraded Boko Haram, said the security agencies were robustly tackling the conflict in the North-Central region.

On the economy, Mohammed churned out dizzying data, some of it exaggerated, saying though the country only recently exited the recession, the economy has continued to wax stronger.
According to him, “This last quarter our economy grew by 1.95 per cent, we have been able to double foreign reserve to $48 billion. We have been able to attract foreign direct investment. On ease of doing business we have improved by 24 places on the World Bank index.

“Our social intervention programme has affected nine million lives directly, we now feed 8.2 million people every day. We give continuous cash transfers to about one million people, 297,000 houses are available in Nigeria every month.

“We have employed 200,000 unemployed graduates, our Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has increased the number of farmers from five million to 11 million. With that, we will be able to reduce the pressure of rice importation as we can now produce 44,000 metric tonnes per year.

“We have increased power to 7,000MW and that is enough to tell the electorate that this is what we have achieved. We have constructed over 6,500 kilometres of road. Today we have used all the monies we have gotten from bonds to invest in infrastructure.”

When he was prodded on the federal government’s continuous claim of having “technically defeated” Boko Haram even though Nigerians were still being attacked in the North East, the minister said it was not possible to totally defeat terrorists.
He explained that the federal government was serious and honest about efforts to ensure the release of remaining Dapchi girls, including, Leah Sharibu.

“Technically defeated and degraded mean the same thing; you see, anybody who is familiar with insecurity, especially terrorism, will tell you that no country in the world has defeated terrorism in the last 20 years.  Not in the U.S., not in London, Paris and Brussels have they completely defeated terrorism,” he further stated.

“The Chief of Army Staff has promised to flush out the Boko Haram terrorists and he has done so. I can say that Ground Zero, which is the spiritual headquarters of Boko Haram, had been taken over completely. And actually in March 2017, the army conducted a small arms competition there.

“There is no single area in Nigeria today that you can say is the headquarters of Boko Haram. You know thieves have houses, but there is no territory they occupy or possess,” Mohammed added.

On the general state of insecurity across Nigeria, especially the killings resulting from armed herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, the minister said the violent incidents should not be politicised, or given a religious or ethnic colouration.
According to him, “I think I have said it several times that what happened in Zamfara is different from what happened in Benue.  Zamfara is cattle rustling and what has government done to tackle the menace? It deployed mobile units of the police as well as troops. The killings are on the decline.

“When you talk about the herdsmen-farmers’ crisis, we are talking about demographic, environmental, climatic changes and criminality all rolled into one. But people want to pin it to ethnicity and religion.
“Several initiatives have been taken by the federal government to ensure that these issues are addressed. I will just give you a few examples of what we are doing.

“Take Taraba State, for instance, we have a military operation, which covers Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa and Zamfara States to tackle the menace of killer herdsmen, cattle rustlers, criminal militias, kidnappers and other bandits.
“Exercise Crocodile Smile in the South-South and Operation Watse in the South West, it will take the military and police to tackle criminals and oil pipeline vandals.

“You might be right that there is a general state of insecurity but there is none of it that we did not inherit, not one. Talking about Agatu, the worst Agatu killings were in 2013 during the last administration. Cattle rustling did not start today.
“So how can you say the state of insecurity is increasing? I am asking and let’s be fair. Have we not degraded Boko Haram? I have told you that the territory controlled by Boko Haram terrorists before we came in is like the size of Belgium.”

Mohammed argued that 24 local government areas, whether in part or in full, were in the control of Boko Haram terrorists before Buhari took over, asking: “How can you now say the security is getting worse?  Are we saying that there is no insecurity anywhere in Nigeria? No, there is insecurity but we are addressing it.”

When asked to explain the variance between the present government’s claims electricity generation stood at 2,690MW when it took over power on May 29, 2015, whereas the peak generation figure from the TCN at that time was 3,205MW, Mohammed insisted that he got his figures from the Minister of Power, Works and Housing.

“I am quoting the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, and I will rather quote the minister who is the final authority. I still stand by this figure of 2,690MW and until the minister says he has made a mistake, I stand by the figure,” he said.
The minister urged Nigeria to continue to cooperate with the president, promising them more good things to come.
• See full interview tomorrow