Despite the lacklustre performance of his All Progressives Congress, Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has warned Nigerians against returning the Peoples Democratic Party to power, saying it will be returning to Egypt. He spoke with Political Editors in Lagos. Tobi Soniyi was there and presents the excerpts:
What is your perspective on this Maina scandal. Don't you think it is a major dent on this government especially on the anti-corruption war?
The fact that Mr. President, immediately the issue came to his knowledge, asked for Maina's disengagement is the most important thing. That to me is a clear signal that we do not condone corruption. There is no better way to handle the issue than this.
What is the federal government doing to ensure the ordinary man on the streets feels the impact of exiting recession?
As you are very much aware, this administration's contract with Nigerians sits on a tripod: the fight against corruption, tackling insecurity and reviving the economy.
Even our worst critics acknowledge the progress we have made in fighting corruption and tackling insecurity. But one area in which they have consistently criticised us is the economy. Right from the inception of this administration, we chose the path of seeking a lasting solution to the economic crisis plaguing the nation instead of engaging in a quick fix that may attract accolades but will not endure. We chose to be painstaking instead of engaging in palliatives. I am happy to inform you today that we are winning! Our well-thought-out policy, encapsulated in the administration's Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), launched on April 5th 2017, is working and the results are beginning to show. In September, we exited recession and returned to the path of growth, after five consecutive quarters of contraction. As we said then, taking Nigeria out of recession did not happen by accident. It was the culmination of months of hard work by the administration and fidelity to its well-articulated economic policies. This administration will not relent in its determined effort to usher in a new dawn for Nigeria. We are winning the battle to revive the economy.
We are fighting corruption like never before. We are tackling insecurity with a renewed vigour. While the naysayers, who are obviously in the minority, persist in their pastime of acting as a distraction, discerning and well-meaning Nigerians will continue to appreciate and encourage the good work of our administration.
Recently some APC chieftains including Hammed Ali and Lauretta Onochie said more than 50 percent of PDP members are still in Buhari's government while many who worked for APC's victory are grumbling. What steps are you taking to address this anomaly?
I think the president has actually explained that as early as 2015, he did direct that they should bring nominations for appointments. He was very clear in his directives as to who should make the boards, who should qualify. I remembered he said anybody nominated must be frontline actor in the run-up to the 2015 election. Anybody who had either contested for primaries within the party and had lost or as a consensus was asked to step down. Anybody who either contested election either at the governorship level, National Assembly or even state level against and lost. He said these were the main stakeholders in the party and were people who ought to be recommended for appointment. As you know, Mr. President himself cannot know all these people. All politics as they say is local. The president cannot know who in Akwa Ibom for instance, contested for National Assembly and lost against PDP or who in Borno state contested primaries for Senate with a fellow APC candidate and lost. So, I think those who are charged with that responsibility failed and that is why we are in the mess we are in now. The president has however promised that he is going to take a fresh look into it. One thing is to dissolve the boards but you can't leave them vacant. But I believe we are going to see lots of progress in that area very soon.
Don't you think it is the money these PDP appointees are making in your administration that they are using to fight you?
I wouldn't know where they are making the money from. But clearly, in politics, they always say never empower your enemy.
You said the president cannot know everybody who contested during the 2015 election but there are some APC members who worked in the Presidential Campaign Team yet they have not been compensated.
That is why I gave the example of governorship and National Assembly. But also don't forget, that all politics is local. If I am the chairman of Delta State APC or I am a leader in Delta State APC and I am given criteria, but I decide to bypass that criteria, Mr. President is too busy to look into all these things. I know many states for instance where people are complaining that it is not those who ought to be compensated that were rewarded by the government. But again, it is not possible for you to compensate everybody at the same time. Certain boards are not due for dissolution because some of them are tenured while some are governed by certain rules. Also, certain boards need specialists to manage. Like I said, the truth of the matter is that Mr. President as far back as 2015 gave this assignment to party members and they failed. They failed Mr. President. That is the honest truth, I know.
How was the crisis between Baru and Kachikwu resolved by the government?
To the best of my knowledge, Kachikwu made his point and Baru also did same. But the point is that over time, we have seen Baru and Kachikwu working together. However, the position of government is that you can't start talking of fraud. There is nothing like $25b fraud in the NNPC; not in the least. The opposition, notably the PDP felt that they have something to hold against this government. But I can assure you that it is not possible under this administration to have a $25b fraud. The entire economy will collapse. There is no $25b fraud. Yes, there could have been lack of communications, understanding and procedures but I think all that had been put behind us.
After two and half years, APC finally held its NEC and caucus meetings which by your constitution ought to have taken place a long time ago. Why did the meetings take this long?
Frankly, speaking, there is no party that came to power like the APC that is not bound to have the kind of challenge that we have today. If you go back to the ANC in those days and even what ANC is facing today, our case is like we are a rainbow party. People often forget that APC didn't come through until 31st of July 2013.
APC did not elect its executive council until June 2014. Within two weeks of the election of the executives, we had to face election; first in Ekiti and then few months later, in Osun. If you look at APC, it was made up of disparate political parties- ANPP, CPC, ACN, DPP, part of PDP and part of APGA.. It takes time for these to blend and for them to work together as a party.
Within eight months of being a political party, we had to face election and when we won this election, some members of APC had not even known one another or sat down together with one another. So, the hiccups that we experienced were normal.
Before we could settle down, our first test was election of National Assembly leadership which showed the political fault lines of the party. But we thank God, we are gradually mending all those fences. The party is working more together as a group. The major gladiators are back on the same page as you can see from what transpired during the caucus meeting and the NEC meeting..
Are you by anyway afraid that your government may not go beyond 2019 and the PDP may regain power as the ruling party?
As to whether we are afraid of the PDP staging a comeback, I can confidently tell you that we are not even contemplating it. It will be a tragedy for Nigeria to fall back into the hands of PDP. They dropped us in hell and we are taking people out of hell. How can Nigeria now go back to Egypt?
It is not about APC or President Buhari . With the kind of revelation that is coming out, the kind of rot, you want those people to come back and preside over the affairs of Nigeria again? What will happen to the investigations that were carried out if the PDP should win elections again? It will be swept under the carpet. This is the first time in the history of this country that we are making real recoveries. Only three days ago, we signed an MOU with the Swiss Government to return $321m that was stolen from the country. This is the first time this country is actually looking at our problem from a realistic and pragmatic viewpoint. We are not talking of what we are going to achieve in two years or three years. We are talking about laying a solid foundation for a Nigeria that our children will be able to thrive. Unfortunately, the reform agenda is always longer than the political agenda. In many parts of the world, they plan for 10, 15, 20 years. Nobody plans for 4 years. When you look at our MTEF, we are talking about 2020 even though we know that there may be a change of administration depending on the outcome of the presidential election. But you do not think in the short term. Nigeria should never ever pray for PDP to come back.
When we negotiated with the Swiss Government to return Abacha's loot, they gave us some conditions. One of which is that we must identify what programmed we want to use the money for and that the World Bank will supervise what we are using the money for. When we argued that we are a sovereign country and that they could not dictate to us how we are going to spend money that was stolen from our country and they are returning, they said 'yes, but when we returned part of it to your country, you relooted it under Jonathan; which is true.
You are the face of APC and the mouthpiece of the federal government. How do you feel when you say something and issue statements and people keep saying It is a lie?
I have two burdens. The first is that I happen to be the face of the opposition and PDP has not forgiven me and they will never forgive me. I think they look at the magnitude of what has happened to them and they hold me solely responsible; which is not fair. But, I did my bit. Now becoming the face of government again, so it is automatic that whatever comes from Lai Mohammed, we must shoot it down as fake news and a lie. Unfortunately, my father gave me the name Lai also. So, it makes it very easy for them. But I have always challenged them to please, give me one thing I said that is not true. Emotionally, you may not agree with me but in terms of facts and figures, I have never said anything which they can dispute. You don't have to like it but you can't deny that they are facts.
With the kind of revelation that is coming out, the kind of rot, you want those people to come back and preside over the affairs of Nigeria again?