MAY 31, 2017 – On the occasion of the second anniversary of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, takes time off to reflect on the performance of the government, highlighting its major success and the forces militating against the system. Mohammed in this interview also explains why it is difficult for many Nigerians to embrace the Change agenda of the administration. Excerpts:
WHAT has changed in the two years of the Buhari administration?
Well, I think what has really changed in Nigeria is that there has been a change from impunity to accountability, from a mindset of corruption that was glamourised to an era where today people appreciate and see the evil of corruption. The change that has taken place is such that we have been able to secure Nigeria.
The change that has taken place is that we have been able to restructure the economy of Nigeria in a manner that we can no longer be held hostage by just one product. The change that has taken place is that we have made agriculture attractive, viable and creating several millionaires in several parts of the country today.
We have been able to through the sterling and incorruptible leadership and the integrity of Mr. President, Nigeria is now ranked among comity of serious nations.
Comity of serious nations
And Nigeria is today well respected. In the ease of doing business, we have achieved a lot. For instance today, we have a new visa regime that makes it possible for investors to receive visa on arrival. We have a dedicated portal for that. The Acting President has issued executive orders that make it punishable for any government officials to delay approval to anyone desiring such for business or transaction.
In the CAC, it is now possible to obtain business registration within 48 hours and several changes are being effected at the airports to ease business operations.
Why do you think it is difficult for Nigerians to appreciate the changes you claim?
Of course, you know that change is generally difficult to accept.
But some people just do not want the change that the government is bringing to Nigeria for selfish reasons. Many Nigerians are used to a lifestyle based on rent and not on industry.
So, if you ask them to change and adopt integrity and transparency as a way of life, of course, it would be difficult for those who have been making livelihood out of corruption to accept that change.
As a matter of fact, powerful Nigerians who were very comfortable by looting public funds in the past are not only resisting change but are also fighting back and they are doing so by undermining the system because they have a lot of money and also control the social media. And you see those corrupt elements are fighting hard to return Nigeria to the old ways so as to continue to pocket the common wealth of the people.
Some of them said recently that they wanted corruption back so that funds meant for public projects would be pocketed by a few elements.
Sir, can you pinpoint in real terms the areas of success of this administration?
I can tell you confidently that despite the setback we inherited at inception, the Buhari administration has recorded concrete achievements in several areas of the economy, giving us hope that Nigeria will soon exit recession. Already, the government has added $7 billion to its Foreign Reserves between October 2016 and this year.
It has also boosted the Sovereign Wealth Fund by $500 million and added $87 million to the Excess Crude Oil account in 2017 alone. This administration has also been able to slash the price of fertilizer by 30 percent and increased yield per hectare from two to seven tonnes per hectare by being able to do soil analysis and deciding which type of fertiliser is most suitable for each place.
The administration’s drastic move to end rice importation is working well and we are happy about it. For instance, the effort has led to a drastic reduction in rice importation an increase local production, saving foreign exchange for Nigeria.
So, what would you consider as the biggest challenge to the government?
I think the biggest challenge is the slump in the economy coupled with falling price of oil, which has been Nigeria’s major source of income before now. You see commodity prices have fallen sharply across board.
Poor transportation facilities have also contributed significantly to increase the cost of goods and services in the country and we believe that with proper transportation system, particularly railway, the prices will come down. For instance, if you take tomato to Kano by train, it would be cheaper than doing so by road.
That is why the federal government t is investing heavily in rail and other infrastructure. That is why we have decided that we have to change the entire economic structure in Nigeria.
Would it have been better if the socio-political arena had been smoother?
Look, let me tell you that if we had come into governance in 2009 when oil price had hovered around above $100 per barrel, we would have done very well given our disciplined fiscal measures and transparent leadership provided by the present administration.
Despite the difficult times, we have even made savings because of our discipline. Nigerians should note that things would have been much worse if not for the incorruptible leadership provided by President Muhammadu Buhari and his team. What is also important is that this government has the commitment and political will to make Nigeria better than it met it.
That is very important and we are not sleeping at all about the determination to take Nigeria to a higher height.
But many Nigerians are complaining that nothing has really changed?
Every person cannot act and think the same way about any government.
There are divergent views and we welcome them as a government based on the fact that you cannot stop people from making their personal opinions based on politics and other factors. But I suspect that those who are saying that there has been no change at all may be a vocal minority that does not want to see anything good about the government.
There are some people who genuinely passing through some hardship and to those people we plead with them to persevere. As long as we remain focussed and keep to our promise we will meet their needs because the economy is bouncing back. It would be unreasonable to expect that we can clear the mess that was created in 16 years in just two years.
We want Nigerians to judge us by what we have achieved based on what we met on the ground. But the good thing is that this government has the political will and the commitment to move Nigeria forward and make the country greater than we met it.
It does not appear as if the government is excited about the increasing clamour for restructuring the polity?
Well, I don’t want to say anything about the issue of restructuring today.
When President Muhammadu Buhari was campaigning in 2015, he premised his manifesto on three priority areas: Ending terrorism in the North East, eradicating corruption in Nigeria and fixing the economy. I am sure the administration will want to address those priorities first before embarking on new items. But I am not going to say anything on the issue you have raised for today.