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This budget will lift Nigerians, bring change, says Mohammed


Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, during his courtesy visit to The Guardian at Rutam House, Lagos at the weekend. PHOTO: GABRIEL IKHAHON

Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, during his courtesy visit to The Guardian at Rutam House, Lagos at the weekend.<br />PHOTO: GABRIEL IKHAHON

‘Fiscal plan will fix roads, electricity, fuel crises’

With the signing of the 2016 budget, Nigerians will now begin to feel the impact of the change agenda, the mantra upon which the All Progressives Congress (APC) government rode to power, Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has said.

He spoke in Lagos at the weekend during a courtesy call at Rutam House, the headquarters of The Guardian. Sooner the interactive and lively session began than the news came in that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed the 2016 Budget into law and Mohammed’s face brightened, reiterating government’s commitment to lifting the economy and raising the standard of living of Nigerians.

What thrilled the government’s spokesperson is the “administration’s strategy to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty. We plan to do this through six social intervention areas that will greatly impact on the economy as well as on lives: such as 500,000 graduates are to be employed and trained as teachers; 370,000 non-graduates (artisans, technicians) to be trained and employed; one million people (farmers, market women, etc) to be granted loans to set up small businesses; conditional cash transfer to be made to the most vulnerable people (not unemployed graduates); school feeding targeting 4.5 million school children; and Bursaries/Scholarships for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students.”

On hand to receive the Minister were the Managing Director, Mr. Emeka Izeze; Executive Director, Mr. Toke Ibru; Training Editor, Mr. Banji Adisa; Acting Editor (Daily); Mr. Jewell Dafinone; Acting Editor (Sunday), Mr. Alabi Williams; Acting Editor (Saturday), Nike Sotade ; Business Editor, Mr. Ade Ogidan; Advert Manager, Mrs Bimbo Atta; Arts/Media Editor, Kabir Alabi, among others.

He debunked the insinuation that the anti-graft war was mainly targeted at probing the campaign funds of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Responding to the question on when the EFCC would beam its search light on the campaign funds of the All Progressives Congress (APC), he said:

“You can never be smarter than the fellow who is watching you. We did not set out to probe campaign funds of anybody; the fact that the Nigerian army would be running away from insurgents; showing that the army was ill-equipped was embarrassing to President Mummadu Buhari as a general. So, the goal was to investigate how much was allocated to fight Boko Haram, and that led to monumental discovery

“Our focus is to see the cost of corruption on our lives, yes, recovering loot is important, but more importantly, let Nigerians know that corruption is not a bottomless crime, there should be consequences.

“Many Nigerians have been dispersed to their early graves because of corruption. I went to Barma, and I saw the level of destruction in Barma, and we never wish for a war. We went to the IDP camps in Barma, we saw children who did not even understand where they were or what was going on. We saw a small girl nursing about six months old twins, and believe me, that girl herself needed to be breastfed as well; so fragile.”

The minister said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was the only organisation that has the power to probe the accounts of any political party.

With the 30 per cent vote of the budget for capital projects, he said government was well prepared to tackle the infrastructural challenges that have stunted the country’s growth for years. He mentioned roads and uninterrupted power supply as focal infrastructure that would be pursued aggressively. “We are not initiating any road construction project this year, but the determination is to complete all the existing road contracts awarded by the past administration. And one of the gains of the recent China trip by Mr. President is the agreement on rail network, especially Lagos-Calabar rail project. Also, on power, we are working on a gas policy that will ensure regular supply of gas to power all our transmission facilities.”

He said the government was also working on a number of templates to resolve the problem of fuel scarcity permanently. “One of such templates is to make smuggling unattractive as well as upgrading the refineries before offering them for privatisation.”

Alhaji Mohammed expressed joy that the insecurity reflected in the activities of Boko Haram is being effectively tackled.

“On the fight against insecurity, undoubtedly the biggest that faced the new administration when we assumed office on 29 May 2015, we have performed a rare feat by subduing Boko Haram, making it impossible for the group to carry out any more spectacular attacks as it did in the past when it virtually strolled into Abuja to attack the Police Headquarters and the UN Complex.

“Some will argue that the insurgents are still carrying out sporadic suicide bombings and other attacks, even though they are now very few. Well, our answer to that
is that by its very nature, no insurgency ends suddenly. They taper off with time. Because it is not a conventional warfare, no armistice is signed to end the ‘war’. And of course, no nation in the world is strong enough to stop attacks on vulnerable targets like mosques, churches, motor parks, IDP camps, etc. The recent attacks in France,
Belgium and Cote d’Ivoire testify to this statement.”

He reiterated government’s commitment to the three broad issues upon which the APC launched its change campaign saying, “let me also use this opportunity to make some quick comments about the first year anniversary of the Buhari Administration, which is fast approaching. In assessing the administration’s performance so far, it
is necessary to put things in perspective. Our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), campaigned on three broad areas: To tackle insecurity, fight corruption and revive the economy. Not even our harshest critics will fail to note the progress we have made in these areas, even in the face of daunting challenges.”

He scored the government high on the fight against corruption.

His words: “ There is no doubt that we have raised the bar and also succeeded in making it a topical issue in the country. Thanks to the sensitisation campaign we launched earlier this year, Nigerians now know the cost of corruption, instead of just talking about it in the abstract. In other words, it is not just that a few fat cats made away with the resources meant for the nation, they also deprived the people of the benefits that would have accrued to them if the funds had been spent for the purposes they were meant for.

“For example, those who shared in the 2.1 billion dollars meant for arms purchase didn’t just take the money that would have provided the much-needed arms and ammunition for the military, they also contributed to sending many innocent soldiers and civilians to their early graves. Those who pocketed the money meant for upgrading the power infrastructure also succeeded in putting Nigerians in darkness.With the current level of sensitisation, Nigerians are today less tolerant of corruption and its perpetrators. We are winning the war against corruption, which is undoubtedly the biggest war we can fight.”

According to the minister, the economy poses a great challenge to the administration, “especially with a drastic fall in the price of crude oil, which is our country’s main foreign exchange earner. We have lost a substantial part of our earnings to the massive crash in the price of oil. Think about this: If you lose 70 per cent of your monthly salary, your life can never be the same again.

“At its worst level, oil crashed from over $100 to about $30 a barrel. It has recently inched up to over $40 per barrel, but that is still very low, compared to a high of over $100 per barrel.

“For a mono-product economy, this short-fall is nothing short of disaster. But the administration has decided to turn this disaster to a blessing by working assiduously to diversify our economy away from oil. Agriculture, solid minerals, culture and tourism are some of the sectors we are currently working to rejuvenate so they can earn huge revenues for the country and create jobs. While these efforts are on the administration has decided to plug all financial leakages through the Treasury Singles Account (TSA) into which trillions have accrued so far.”

And with the understanding that ceaseless information flow is the oxygen that lubricates the machinery of democratic governance, thereby fostering harmony between the government and the governed, the Federal Government, he promised, would henceforth bridge the communication gab believed to have been appropriated by rumour mills.

Responding to a suggestion for a “strategic information team on the economy so that people will be abreast of government’s plans and execution of economic projects,” Mohammed said the town hall meeting which was kicked off in Lagos two weeks ago was designed to accomplish just that.

“But beyond the town hall meetings which will be held in all the six geo-political zones of the country, we have realised the need to provide timely information not only to douse the tension created by the economic realities of the moment, this will also enable us to enlighten Nigerians on various welfare programmes embarked upon by the government.”

The minister disclosed a plan by the government to herald a national campaign on value regeneration. He said: “Many have approached us over what they consider the distorted values in our society. They are worried about the erosion of values,
widespread indiscipline, dwindling integrity, poor attitude to work, etc. They say it is time for the government to launch another War Against Indiscipline, WAI. Well, let me use this opportunity to announce that we are in the process of launching a massive,
nation-wide campaign, tagged CHANGE BEGINS WITH ME, which is a rejuvenated War Against Indiscipline. The essence of the campaign will be to make Nigerians to realise that the change they so much desire will start with them.

“If the Danfo driver will stop drinking ‘paraga’ before hitting the road, if the patent medicine store operator will stop selling fake drugs, if the average worker will carry out his or her duties diligently, our society will be a better place. To herald this campaign, the Ministry of Information and Culture is planning to hold a Summit on National Rebirth, Values and Ethics in July.”

The courtesy visit, he said, was in line with the government’s desire to forge a closer relationship with the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

“The visits are part of such efforts. Also, we have been holding quarterly meetings with the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in an effort to further strengthen our relations with the media. Of course, we have also met other stakeholders in the media, including the NUJ, NGE, BON, NAWOJ and RATTAWU.

“This administration is committed to ensuring a free flow of information. This is because democracy as a system of government cannot thrive without an unfettered information flow.”

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