Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
One year into the second half of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said the government is leaving indelible marks in all spheres of the present administration.
In this interview in Abuja, Mohammed chronicled the achievements of the administration and concluded that whichever way one viewed the different sectors of the national life, the story is no longer what it used to be.
Battle against insecurity
If you remember, sometimes late last year, the Federal Government took some decisions, what we call border drill, which many people call border closure. Now, the decision was taken primarily, not just for economic consideration, but also for security consideration. When the border drill was announced, it was a joint effort between the various border authorities: Customs, Immigration, the Armed Forces of Nigeria of course, with the police, but coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
One of the major takeaways of the successes of the border closure is that it drastically reduced the proliferation of small alms into the country and that has also impacted on the incidence of armed robbery, banditry and kidnapping because before then, our porous borders not just in Seme, but everywhere, were veritable avenues for smuggling of arms and also drug trafficking. So, there is less drugs on the streets now because of that closure; there is less illegal alms as a result of that and that is why you can see that generally, there has been a reduction in crimes.
But on top of that, you will notice that in the last couple of weeks or months, our armed forces have virtually taken the battle straight to the insurgents. I am talking about Boko Haram insurgents. And I think the combination of the Air Force, air fire power and the new morale of the Army and the new platforms acquired by the air force in particular have resulted in not just the routing of the Boko Haram insurgents, but in the surrender of many of their commanders. And I think clearly, the last couple of months have witnessed a lot of successes in our battle against the insurgents. And then, of course, the bandits, the kidnapping is also being checkmated. Yes, it might not have been completely eradicated, but compare what it was this time last year to what it is today. You are going to have some isolated cases of bandits and kidnapping, but the kind of cattle rustling, the kind of kidnapping that was rampant a year ago, is not what it is today. So, I can say very confidently that the combination of better platforms and better morale for the military has resulted in the containment. And I am not just talking about Boko Haram or bandits, but even in other parts of the country also.
On the issue of infrastructure, I think the government remains focused and convinced that you cannot achieve economic development without investing in infrastructure. And I will start with power. I think the government took one of the boldest moves to improve the power situation and banish power cut when in July 2019, it signed this agreement with the power giant, the Siemens of Germany to give us in the first instance by the end of 2021, to ramp up our power supply to 7,000 megawatts. By 2023, to ramp up our power supply to 11,000 megawatts and thereafter, after we would have addressed the challenges of transmission, distribution, scale it up to 25,000 megawatts. If you don’t take it into context, you will not appreciate that these are landmark achievements. Yes, it is true that we have capacity to generate 13,000 megawatts, but in truth, what gets to our households and our factories is about 3,400 megawatts. So, with the agreement we signed with Siemens, the cooperation of the Discos and Transmission Company, we are very confident that by the end of next year, power that will reach our homes on a constant, regular basis will be at least, 7,000 megawatts. That is more than double of what we are enjoying now and that is going to impact heavily on our economic and social lives. It will create more jobs and at the same time, I think, improve the output of our factories and our manufacturing. So, to me, this is one of the biggest bold steps taken by the administration in the area of infrastructure.
Of course, you are aware that even before now, we have always prided ourselves as an administration that has delivered most in the area of infrastructure, whether you are talking about roads, you are talking about bridges or you are talking about power. And despite COVID-19, I know that we are resuming work in 50 sites in 26 states in the next couple of weeks. And this includes major projects like the Abuja-Kano Road, the 2nd Niger Bridge, the Port Harcourt-Enugu Expressway, the Lagos-Ibadan, and the Owerri Interchange, among others. Similarly, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) is resuming work in 92 locations spread over to 24 states. And work has already resumed on the laying of rail tracks on the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge. As a matter of fact, we have already started test run. In the area of infrastructure, I am going to talk about it later in more details like the contract we awarded in Ebonyi State which is quite significant in the sense that the road network there will impact in almost 22 local governments. But, in the area of infrastructure, whether it is roads, whether it is power, you can see that in the last one year, the government has ramped up its efforts.
In revamping the economy, one of the major, important things about the economy is actually job creation. The N-Power is being upgraded and only recently, the Federal Government directed the Ministry of Labour and Employment to engage a thousand workers from each local government of the federation, making 774,000 young men and women, at least, for the initial period of three months and they will be earning a salary of N20,000 a month for those three months. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic which you all know has actually affected not just the health or life, but also the livelihood of Nigerians, the Federal Government has put in place, some palliatives meant to cushion the effect of the pandemic, ranging from interest reduction, to interest waiver, to providing bulk sum to cushion the effect of the pandemic on Nigerians. There is the N50 billion fund that the Central Bank of Nigeria has put aside for households and the small and medium enterprises. There is another N1.3 trillion put aside for our pharmaceutical companies and manufacturing. And I think one of the first things that Mr President did, even when we had to lockdown, was to engage the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment to ensure that industries, manufacturers operate without any hindrance and that raw materials, both agriculture and otherwise, can reach the factories in good time. Of course, like any economy in the world, it is affected by the pandemic in the sense that I don’t think there is any aspect of the economy, whether it is travels, whether it is the oil industry that is not affected. But despite that, the Federal Government has taken steps to ensure that the impact would not be as devastating as it would have been. That is why the Federal Government had to rejig and bring down the size of the budget to a level that would be manageable with its resources because we all know that the price of crude oil went down to almost $10 at a time. Fortunately for us, as of today, it is climbing up again to $40 a barrel. Because then, this is a time that we need very astute management of resources.
Fight against corruption
Our fight against corruption remains very much on track. The major agencies, the anti-corruption agencies, the ICPC in particular and the EFCC, have continued to do their work and they are doing very well. And in the last one year alone, the ICPC in particular has been able to recover over N81 billion. And the breakdown is as follows: They were able to recover about N42 billion. This is money that was restrained when they reviewed Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) personnel expenditure and capital development fund. They were able to save as much as exactly forty-one billion, nine hundred million naira. They were able to confiscate lands, buildings and vehicles worth about N35 billion; they were able to retrieve about N1.2 billion cash from the Treasury Single Account (TSA); they recovered about N770 million from constituency projects which they tracked and another N1 billion from the completion of constituency projects when the contractors returned to site. Before now, the contractors had abandoned the projects, but when the ICPC started what they called the Constituency Project Tracking Group, they were able to get at least, almost 400 jobs done when the contractors returned to site. Another N1 billion was recovered from completed constituency projects when contractors returned to site and another N865 million cash from other accounts.
What they actually did was that they established what is called the Constituency Project Tracking Group which has now been renamed as Constituency and Executive Project Tracking Group to track performance of our contracts, especially those that impact on the lives of the average Nigerians. And 424 of such projects were tracked within the last one year and this led to the completion of several among them. As of today, we have about 400 of such projects that have been completed in the area of education, health, water resources and agriculture. In the area of prosecution, they received about 1,934 petitions. They have investigated about 588 of the petitions, and they are currently pursuing 105 of those petitions in court and they have been able to secure 25 convictions in the last one year alone. The ICPC did not stop at that. They have also escalated the use of administrative sanctions in public service by periodically submitting to the executive arm of government, officers that are facing disciplinary actions or officers that are being charged to court. And as of the last count, I think 62 names were submitted for sanction by the ICPC and the Federal Government actually obliged them. So, today, unlike in the past, it is very unlikely for public servants to be charged for any criminal offense and yet be in office. I think to me, that is a major achievement. It takes courage to do this kind of thing. But one thing that the ICPC does again is that it believes that prevention is better than cure. So, rather than wait for people to embezzle money, what it has done is that the commission now reviews the personnel and capital fund expenditure. As we speak today, they are reviewing the expenditure and personnel cost of 201 MDAs and it is its activities that led to first N42 billion that was saved from personnel and capital projects because what they want to do is that rather than wait for people to divert money, they are pre-emptive and proactive and this is why many contractors, knowing that they are reviewing and inspecting, many contractors have returned to sites.
EFCC on its part, of course, has secured 1,270 convictions in the last one year. They were able to recover N36 billion. In addition, they recovered $10,348; 758,155 Pounds Sterling; 183,475 Euros; 294,950 Saudi Riyal; 2,800 Chinese Yuan; 300 Canadian Dollars and 500 CFA.
The important thing about the convictions of the EFCC is that it actually includes many high profile people. It also succeeded in getting P&ID Nigeria Limited which was fingered in the massive scandal in which Nigeria was being told to pay $9.6 billion; we were able to prosecute them and convict not just the directors, but the company itself. And today, the entire company has been forfeited to the Federal Government and it has been liquidated.
In the area of executive orders, because this government wants to further deepen democratic practices, the president, on May 22 this year, he signed another executive order which gave state legislation and judiciary financial autonomy. And this is very important because not only does it further deepen the separation of powers doctrine, it also allows for speedier delivery of justice and the state legislation now cannot be hampered by lack of funds because they don’t wait for the center to release funds to them.