APC is no sanctuary for corrupt politicians, says Lai Mohammed
In this encounter with NIYI BELLO (Head, Politics Desk) and SEYE OLUMIDE, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed maintains that despite the challenges Nigerians are facing in the economy front; the country is on a track that would take it from the tunnel. He also spoke on the anti-graft war, insecurity and regrouping of the PDP as an opposition party. Excerpts:
The economy is bad and there is hardship in the land. The APC government seems, from public perception, to have brought this hardship on Nigerians and from what we are seeing it’s going to take some time before the country gets out of this tunnel.
Well I must say that yes, things are tough and we salute the courage of Nigerians for bearing with us. But let us take it in the correct perspective. The recent report from the National Bureau of Statistics has shown that inflation has declined for five consecutive months and from about 19 percent, it has gone down to 16 percent. Yes, it may not be fully felt but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The manufacturing industry for two consecutive quarters now, has recorded growth and thirdly, despite the tough times, we have been able to record some positive achievements.
For instance we have been able to improve our foreign reserves. There was 7 billion dollars between October last year and May this year and the Sovereign Wealth Fund has grown by another $250 million. We are also able to add about 7 million dollars to our Excess Crude Account. In the area of agriculture, we have recorded about 4.23 percent growth and 7 percent in the mining industry. We have also been able to crash the price of fertilizer from N8, 500 to N5, 500. Look at the Nigerian Stock Exchange; it has appreciated by almost 30 percent, the highest since about 2008. The major steps we are taking are working and we are confident that very soon we will get out of recession.
Your anti-corruption war is another sore point in the eyes of many Nigerians. There has not been any major conviction despite the mind-boggling revelations about recovered loot and hidden funds. There is also this strong allegation that the war is selective.
I think those saying the corruption war is selective are just being mischievous. In fact, Mr. President has made it clear that nobody can escape prosecution just because he is a member of the ruling party. The truth of the matter is that what we are investigating is mainly in the last 16 years and the major actors were the PDP people. So, it is a case of if you do not have a wife, your in-law can never die. It is difficult to find more people in the APC than in the PDP. Another interesting thing is that corruption is fighting back and we must also be ready to fight it. Any government that is determined to fight corruption like we are doing must also know that corruption will fight back very hard. And if it is fighting back, it fights very viciously.
Most of the things happening today, like comments on the social media and the hate speeches are because people do not want this administration to continue with its war on corruption. Unfortunately, at times the government is overwhelmed because the share amount of money in the hands of these corrupt people is even more than what is in the treasury. So they are able to fight us. They have more money to engage the media, they have more money to hire lawyers for their defence, even sometimes when they are going to court they even mobilise supporters to come to court. But we are not daunted. Yes, some of our cases have suffered setbacks, reverse and misfortunes in recent times, but we are still fighting. All we can do is to leave the issue to the judiciary to pass their verdicts. As to what we are doing to revitalize the war, we are now training prosecution witnesses and strategising. The government cannot back down on this fight against corruption because there is no alternative to it. If we do not continue with the fight, no reforms that we put in place will survive.
But the instruments of fighting the war like the Judiciary, EFCC, ICPC and police seem to be overwhelmed and in some instances, allegedly corrupt…
Cuts in… No, it will not be proper for me to comment on the Judiciary or the other instruments of government. You might be correct to say that the police is overwhelmed, don’t forget that the police are the ones fighting kidnapping, armed robbery, even insurgency and so on. So they may be over stressed but they are doing their best. The EFCC too is fighting a monumental war and in so doing, they are facing a formidable enemy that has more resources than them. What is the entire budget of the EFCC in a year compared to the type of money they are going after? In some cases, you see the accused persons parading about five Senior Advocates of Nigeria when the EFCC is struggling to manage one. Look at the number of cases that they have to handle, so we need to build capacity for them and other forces and anti-corruption agencies.
You said the war is not selective but we have seen instances of accused persons who defected to APC and are now in a sort of sanctuary.
I have always challenged people to give me one example of anybody accused of corruption who decamped to APC and the charges against him are withdrawn?
Cuts in… but we can draw a list here.
I think it is just perception. This government is not going to grant anybody pardon simply because he has decamped to the APC. And don’t forget that the courts have absolute discretion in the outcome of cases. The executive will not slow down on the prosecution of any accused because they have decamped to APC.
What about acts of corruption currently within the corridors of powers?
The allegation against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF)…
Yea he’s on suspension.
What has happened to all the monies recovered by this administration from looters in the last two years? With that kind of retrievals, why is government borrowing to finance the budget?
I think this is part of the exaggeration of the money being retrieved by this government against what is the commitment of government. We spend N165 billion every month just to pay civil servants. We have recovered about 78 billion in naira and a few million in pounds. Compare that with just one month salaries of civil servants. What I can assure you is that whatever money is recovered would be appropriated and used for our developmental purposes. Yet it is huge money but compared to the challenges before us, the recovered loots cannot finance the responsibilities of government. When people say why are we borrowing money when we are recovering money but the question is how much is the money recovered compared with the amount the government spends. For instance we want to take one billion dollars from African Development Bank (ADB) but all the money we have recovered is not up to one billion dollars.
But there is this story on social media that former Minister of Petroleum returned 90 billion dollars…
That is part of the propaganda but in reality, we will continue to work hard to recover all the stolen money. Let us understand that there is a difference between temporary forfeiture and permanent forfeiture. If it is temporary forfeiture, the money is still being held in the Escrow Account and it is inaccessible. At present what an inter-agency Presidential Committee on Asset Recovery (PCAR) is doing is to see how to hasten the process and how all these money in temporary forfeiture can be quickly forfeited permanently.
Can we have an idea of how much the government has recovered?
From the US, Switzerland and UK there are different sums. We are still expecting about $300 million from Switzerland, about $500 to $750 million from the US and other jurisdictions but I do not have the exact figure. Some of them are hampered by litigation over there.
Apart from the fight against corruption, another area of promise by the APC before the 2015 elections is the fight against insurgency and general insecurity in the country. But despite the temporary victory over Boko Haram, there seems to be a resurgence of the terror group.
First of all, we will like to send our condolences to the families of the victims of the recent attacks. This government will not relent until we put the issue of the insurgency behind us. But we must understand the nature of insurgency. All over the world; no country is immune from terrorists’ attacks. Even countries which defence are considered to be impenetrable have been breached in recent times. Is it UK, USA, France and others? Britain this year, in a month, received three different terrorist attacks. So anyone who understands insurgency should know that they don’t die easily. We had decimated them; they could no longer launch the types of attacks they used to launch before. Now they can do suicide bombings or ambush but can no longer strike like before where they held their controlled territory. People have forgotten that in 2015 when we came to power, up to 20 local governments in Borno State were under the control of Boko Haram. They even hoisted their flags. But today, they cannot claim any territory but of course, like all insurgents; they will cowardly attack soft targets.
Now this is the story of all insurgencies in the world. What the government can do is to continue to out-power them. People must also understand that even the success of government in reclaiming territories from them also poses its own challenges because even the women who were freed, some of them, even after the debriefing, act as informants to their husbands who are still outside there and this is the challenge that we are facing.
One thing I want to make clear is that there is nowhere in the world that is immune to terrorist attacks. We can’t term it resurgence simply because we have some series of attacks because they have not been able to retake the territories we recovered from them. This is the story of all insurgents but the most important thing is that government is taking control.
You have not talked about this issue of kidnapping and other social crimes constituting high insecurity in the land.
Kidnapping, armed robbery and the likes are posing serious challenges, I agree but they are issues that the government is addressing vigorously. We are working on these and the Federal Government is deploying more men and better technology to address these challenges. You can see that the Air Force has joined in the fight against kidnapping. I think the recent arrest of the notorious kidnap kingpin, Evans and two others, are indications that the government is addressing the issue vigorously.
Why would your party, the APC, set up a committee to define restructuring as if it does not understand the meaning?
We set up that committee to know what exactly did we promise Nigerians in terms of restructuring because today restructuring means many things to many people. To some it is about giving each state, power and control over its resources. To some, it is just removing some items from the exclusive list (devolution of power). To some, it is about creation of state police and even some were saying it is the implementation of the 2014 National Conference reports, which means creating 20 more states. That is why we set up a committee to say that as a party; this is what we mean by devolution of power.
Do you have to do that? Don’t you understand what you promised Nigerians?
When you are dealing with an issue as sensitive, complicated and delicate as restructuring, it is more than just lifting what you have in your manifesto during campaigns. I think it needs to be debated and discussed by the various stakeholders. I know it will be over very soon.
This recent Supreme Court verdict on PDP leadership is making the party regroup as a formidable opposition. Do you see it as a threat to APC?
PDP can never be a threat to APC because Nigerians have moved on from the days of PDP.
Cuts in… when the PDP was in power, it said exactly what you’ve just said…
That is not what I mean; what I am saying is that the new Nigeria today cannot accommodate the PDP. Are you saying we want to go to the era of corruption? Do you think PDP will ever have the courage to continue with what we are doing? The tragedy of Nigeria will be when the PDP replaces the APC as a government, not just because we would lose power but also because it will set Nigeria back many years. I could hear some people say let the PDP come back and let the corruption return. That is not good for Nigeria. It is very unfortunate but at the end of the day, we will see why PDP should never come back. As for us, we would continue to manage what we have until we make life as comfortable as possible for Nigerians and we will lay a foundation that would be irreversible by anybody on our economy quality.