From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Laolu Akande, the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the vice president, Yemi Osibanjo, spoke on how the Muhammadu Buhari administration would end the Niger Delta crisis and turn the fortunes of the region around among other issues.
What do you make of the allegations that the social investment Programmes are benefiting only those in APC?
The fact that somebody is uninformed doesn’t mean they should be mischievous and I’m talking about politicians. We are talking of facts; people should not just make those claims without backing them up with facts.
Specifically your boss is being accused of supplanting names of those in the north with those from the south- west, how true?
There is nothing of such. In which of the projects are they making these allegations? Let me explain to you, we have the N-power, which is where the president has planned to hire half a million unemployed graduates and we have already engaged 200,000. How did we go about this? We said anybody who wants to be part of this should go and apply online because it doesn’t make sense if you want to hire such a number to do anything physical, which is the benefit of technology. When they applied we mentioned the number of people who have applied, we break it down to states and we released the figures per state that applied. There was an assessment of those who applied which was also done online, that is aptitude test and we now said we will take 200,000 and we have done so for the first batch. We are stilling going to hire the 500,000 as promised by government.
What we did was to take for instance if 100,000 applied in Ogun state, we will take 1,000 and that was how we did across the nation based on how many people applied per state. You would not expect there to be equal number of applications in each of the state, so we said let’s take 40 percent of all of the applicants per state and then let’s take 30 percent or thereabout to cater to the states that had lower number of applications. And then we said the balance should go to the north -east because of the fall out of the insurgency there. That was how we came up with the 200,000 that were employed.
Some people of interests did say let’s pick people who are originally from the states and we said we have got to be careful about that because what are you going to do with a state like Lagos for instance which had about 39,000 people that applied and they are not all from Lagos state? And then we said let’s go for resident, wherever you are, you are a Nigerian and Nigerians live wherever they like. A place like Lagos state we took about 3,000 out of the about 39,000 that applied. So these are the issues and Nigeria recognizes the fact that each state is not made up of indigenes alone. I have been living in Abuja now for over a year for instance; shouldn’t I be eligible to benefit from the social services provided here? These are the issues. If anybody comes and offer better ways of doing these things we will listen and take corrections where necessary but not to come with allegations. This country is one and we give equal opportunity to every Nigerian. That is for N-power.
On the conditional cash transfers for the poor and the vulnerable, our job was made easier because the World Bank had done what is called a social register in about eight states. How they did that was that they setup focus group, trained officials (federal, states and local government), to meet with communities and their leaders. On a set date the focus groups met with the leaders of the communities, split them into three groups and asked them to say what they understand as poverty in their communities. Each group came up with a definition and the next exercise was to identify those that are vulnerable, that was how we arrived at those who benefited. The only state we added was Borno state which is the ninth state because of the situation there. This is going to be repeated across the country, so there is no supplanting of names my sister.
Nigerians believe that the economic problem the country is facing today is linked to the fact that you don’t have economic experts in your Economic Management Team, what is your take on that?
You are aware that there is an economic management team. They are economists on the team; the special adviser on the economy is an economist, as a matter of fact, he is an Oxford trained economist. Those in the team have private sector experience and they are professionals and they interact with economists from the private sector, like Rilwane, Prof. Melafia Obadiah, they do meet some times in the presidential villa here or at Aguda House, but they do meet regularly with Mr. Vice President.
I think most of these doubting Thomases if I may described them like that, think that way because they are used to this particular way of having an economic management team where they bring private sectors players into the main stream economic management team. And Mr. President said’ look, that is a conflict of interest. Government has its role and so does the private sector, all we have to do is have a little team,’ which we do. You know that every three months the Vice President with the economic management team meet with business leaders from the private sector, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, NACCIMA, among others. This is aside from the fact that he meets with individual groups every time. So for a would be beneficiary to sit down with economic team and take decisions on policy direction is just not right.
How many suggestions from these engagements with private sector have you implemented?
I know some of the concerns raised about the new forex policy released by the Central Bank last year were done in that meeting and you can see the government has responded to it. Also the Economic Growth Recovery Plan that was launched also stemmed from that interaction with the private sector. You must understand that in a situation where the economy is facing challenges it will require a lot of patience from the policy makers and the public.
How sincere are the engagements in the Niger Delta and would it really produce results this time around?
How can somebody if indeed he was at any of the meetings we had with stakeholders in the Niger Delta describe it as photo-ops? I mean look at the time he spends at such meetings, can you describe that as photo-ops? look at the depth of the issues raised I mean so many of them go on for hours, people are expressing themselves, people are submitting reports, people are asking questions and they are getting answers either from the Vice President or those on his delegation. It is a confidence building process and it is very necessary and I am also happy to tell you that we are happy with the atmosphere, the engagement, the openness that people bring to the interactive sessions.
The truth of the matter remains that talk shop or talk show regarding Niger Delta is over. I know that in the last 16 years a lot of resources went to the Niger Delta with no tangible impacts, it shouldn’t be. Today, we are saying it is not going to be business as usual, we are going to ensure that resources meant for the Niger Delta development are actually used for that, we are going to ensure that the Niger Delta becomes a more vibrant zone; people will see the difference very clearly at the end of the day. If you find out from all the groups that form the stakeholders we are engaging with, they will tell you that it was not a photo-op but the real deal.
Your administration has been accused of being intolerant despite the fact that as a party in opposition then, you enjoyed freedom to criticise government in power. What do you have to say to that?
How many times have you seen people protesting and they are stopped by this government? Mr. President has met with members of Bring Back Our Girls twice, and the Vice President only recently invited protesting labour leaders into the presidential villa to engage with them, does that show government that is intolerant? The protesters are Nigerians that are concern about what is happening in the country, the government is also concern about what is happening in the country. The government will never stop any group from protesting, we will listen to them. Yes, there are challenges, yes, there are issues but this government cannot be described as being intolerant. You heard the Vice President telling protesting Nigerians that this government hears them loud and clear.
Your administration has also been accused of selectively fighting corruption?
That is not true. I know what your are referring to, it is about one of the chambers in National Assembly that made a revelation based on a report by one of the security agencies on a serving public official. And the president said based on what you said can you look at A, B, C, D? I don’t want to go into the details but his response doesn’t mean he has made any final decision, no.
CAN accused your boss of keeping quiet in the face of the killings in Southern Kaduna, don’t you think he should address the issue?
I have addressed the issue. The crisis in Southern Kaduna is a reoccurring decimal and we have to strengthen the criminal justice system to deal with the perpetrators of these crimes to serve as a deterrent to others. This is my personal opinion. You go to the prisons you find a lot of people awaiting trials, so lack of criminal justice system is what is playing out in Southern Kaduna crisis, Fulani herdsmen attacks of communities be it in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa or any of those places we have recorded crisis. All of these crises didn’t start with this administration but by the grace of God it will end with this administration because we are working to fix it.