Following the marking of President Muhamadu Buhari’s 100 days in office, the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed in this interview with Vanguard, boasts that change has come to Nigeria and that Nigerians couldn’t have gotten a better leader.
What has changed in Nigeria in the first 100 days of APC’s rule at the centre?
Well, I think a lot has changed. There is this new attitude that there is a leadership in Nigeria today that can inspire Nigerians to dream again. There is this change in Nigeria that, for the first time in a long time, we have a leadership that is capable of bringing about the necessary change.
I believe also that the last three months has witnessed a certain relationship between Nigeria and the external world in the sense that Nigeria, that was regarded as a pariah state, has now become a Mecca of sort to foreign dignitaries, like the United Nations Secretary General and our president is now being invited to everywhere in the world. All of a sudden, Nigerians are now proud to be Nigerians and I think this is very important.
Again, what has changed in Nigeria is that people are beginning to see that corruption is a vice and that it is not something to be celebrated. Before now, we were celebrating corrupt people but, today, Nigerians are gradually moving back to our old values of integrity, probity, transparency and merit.
These are things that I believe have changed at the level of what I call the tangible. At the level of the intangible, I think the last 100 days has seen a coordinated, focused and methodical attack on insecurity and terrorism.
The last 100 days has witnessed a successful rallying of all our neighbors, region and the entire world to assist in the fight against Boko Haram.
The president has succeeded in rallying the support of, first, our neighbors like Cameroon, Benin Republic, Chad and Niger; the G7 has given us support and the United States is suspending a law to enable us combat insurgency. On the domestic scene also, we now have a rejuvenated army, it is taking the battle to the insurgents.
We have a new army with a very high moral ‘because of certain steps taken by the president such as moving the command and control of the army to the North-East. We also now have our service chiefs leading the war. They are also interacting with the soldiers. The president is so confident that he has given the service chiefs three months deadline to finish the war against insurgency. In the area of security I think even the most ardent critic of the president must give him kudos.
He must have so much impressed the international community about his fight against insurgency that the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon invited him to come and join other world leaders in a global conference geared at combating extremism.
So, these are things that show that in the area of security, the president has done a lot. Of course, he has ordered the recruitment if 10,000 policemen to assist in the fight against insurgency.
In the area of the economy, I think what he has done, which is unappreciated by Nigerians, is the bail out package which he arranged for the states. You see, by the time we assumed office on May 29, about 20 states of the federation were owing between five and 10 months salary arrears. If not for the bail out package that the president approved, today, we would be facing industrial crisis of a magnitude never witnessed.
But some Nigerians posit that the reason for the unpaid salaries to civil servants was mismanagement on the part of state governors.
I see it as an infantile argument and childish. There is absolutely no evidence that every state that was unable to pay workers’ salary was as a result of corruption on the part of the governors.
What we know is that between 2010 and 2014, the three tiers of government were sharing between N840 billion every month but, by the end of last year, the average they were sharing was under N380 billion. This means that states, because of the crash of the price of crude, were getting less than what they used to get before.
If the argument is that states that were unable to pay their staff salaries was because of corruption,then are you now saying that the federal parastatals and ministries that were owed money, was also because of corruption?
I think that argument is simplistic. Again, that argument overlooks the fact that when a state is unable to oY staff salaries, it affects, not just the morale of the people but also the lives of the people because these people have to pay rent, send their children to school. Are you now saying that because a particular governor has been reckless, therefore, civil servants must not be paid? It does not make sense. The bailout package given to the states, is optional.
States are free to apply, those that believe they are not owing arrears of staff salaries do not have to. It has also in a way strengthened the economy.
I think anybody that sees this from the narrow perspective that the bailout is going to encourage corruption, is been unfair. I think the government has started laying the foundation for accountability and transparency when it ordered that all money accruing to government should be paid into what we call the Treasury Single Account.
This is the beginning of accountability and transparency because when the money is paid in, the government will know what it has at a glance. I think the reform that has been brought into the oil and gas sector is quite spectacular.
Also, the government has made it clear and has laid the foundation for diversification of the economy. Here, we are looking at agriculture, mining, the telecommunication sector and it intends to pay less emphasis on oil so that we would not be affected by the volatility in the oil and gas sector as we are suffering now.
In the area of fighting corruption, the president has been unrelenting and he has vowed we would recover all stolen money and, in doing so, he has the support of not just Nigerians, but also the international community and they are ready to assist us to trace looted funds wherever they are kept and they also going to assist us in repatriating such. The fight against corruption, to me, is the most controversial.
Yes, because it is perceived to be selective. Why?
Well, there is nothing being selective in the fight against corruption. When you are fighting corruption, you should also expect corruption to fight you back. Corruption in Nigeria has large followership and strong foundation. So, if you are going to fight corruption, you must also be ready to absorb the challenges and attacks by corruption.
When people say the fight against corruption is selective, it is corrupt people fighting back. How can you say the fight against corruption is selective when corruption itself is not selective?
Corruption has no political party, no tribe, it has no religion and if you go by the records before us today, we have APC politicians being investigated, we have PDP members being investigated.
We have northerners, Christians, Muslims being investigated; so what are we talking about?
The truth of the matter is that in this fight against corruption, members of a political party would be more prone for investigation than others. In the last 16 years, they (PDP) have been in power, so if you are going to probe the administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, you must probe his appointees, his contractors, his employees because they are largely from the PDP..
So, is a clear case of probing those you think are responsible for the bad state of the economy. There is nothing selective about it, what we see is corruption also fighting back. I think this is one area the president has succeeded largely.
The biggest victory we have had in fighting corruption for the first time in Nigeria is that Nigerians are now appreciating the fact that corruption is bad, it is a vice and that corruption is the second most deadly obstacle to our progress. Before now, we were celebrating corruption.
Before now, it was said that stealing is not corruption but, today, people know that stealing is corruption. What you see now is that everybody is sitting up and for the first time in Nigeria, people are doing what we call self regulation and self censoring because they know that there is a new sheriff in town and that the sheriff is a no-nonsense sheriff.
Angry reactions greeted the denial by President Buhari of his promises to Nigerians in his first 100 days in office. Why is he reneging on the promise?
When you say somebody is denying, he must have said it. I am so shocked about the hysteria greeting the administration’s 100 days. Nobody can produce a document in which the party or the president said he was going to do anything within 100 days. If anybody took the time to do a thorough search on the president’s response at Chatham House when the question was asked: “What do you want to achieve within the first 100 days?”, his answer was clear: “I don’t believe in the fraud called 100 days, we believe in milestones.” So, how can you now say this same president promised to deliver anything in 100 days? Do you build schools in 100 days?
The truth of the matter is that there is no document, no record, no proof that the president ever promised anybody, anything in 100 days. Whatever they are coming up with, is just forgery. The most conclusive evidence is what the president said in Chatham House and he said this in March, 2015. I was there, it is not correct, it is not true. Now we have all kinds of things on the blog and on the internet but the truth if the matter is that the president said “I do not believe in 100 days”. It is a fraud and I do not want to be part of that fraud.
Recent appointments made by the president has generated uproar as they are seen to be lopsided. What is your position on this?
I think it is about time Nigerians start thinking as Nigerians, we do not even believe we are a nation. We do not care whether the country survives or not, we must change this attitude.
Having said this, it is not possible for the president to expect that every part of the country would be respected in the appointments in the first, second or third month of a government. It is not possible to expect that making 35 appointments would give you the balance you need when you are still going to make over 1,000 appointments. I think people are a bit impatient. In my view, people are not being fair to Mr President. You see, when you look at the nature of the last appointments that were made, at least four out of six, were personal staff. The Chief of Staff, is a personal staff and you do not choose as Chief of Staff somebody you are not comfortable with.
I have been privileged to be a Chief of Staff before, so I know what it takes. I was Chief of Staff to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I was the first person he saw in the morning and the last person he saw at night, I was his confidant and the relationship was intimate that I could enter his bedroom if there was an emergency.
You cannot appoint somebody you are not comfortable with as your Chief of Staff. The same goes for your Special Adviser on Legislative Matters. He must be a person familiar with the intrigues in the National Assembly, he must be a person who believes fervently in the president and can look after his interest in the National Assembly.
The same thing applies to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; he is the man who keeps the record of government; he must be a man who the president can call on any time and he must also know the president very well.
Having said this, I want to use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that, in the fullest of time, no part of Nigeria will be able to complain about northernisation when all the appointments are made. It is true that the president has spoken about integrity and competence as yardstick for appointments, but this should not pose a problem to federal character because we know that there is no part of Nigeria where we do not have competent people with integrity.
Nigerians expect more from the president but he has been dubbed ‘Baba Go Slow’. What should Nigerians expect from the APC-led government at the centre?
I must first say that those who say the president has been slow, are eating their words now because the kind of activities we have witnessed in the last 100 days cannot, by any yardstick, be said to be slow. If a man has been elected into office for 48 months and he spends just four months to plan and get the team that he wants, he should not be seen as being slow.
In any event, there has been movement, not just motion, in governance. All the achievements I have listed were done under 100 days. You can see that there is more stability in power, the queues have disappeared at petrol stations. This is what I call the Buhari-effect and this is just because he is the leader, it is the leadership effect.
Those who say that he has been slow, apart from the fact that the ministers are yet to be appointed, the critical appointments have been made.
Like I have always said, you score a government at the end of its tenure. You must understand the under belly of government before appointing ministers. Take for instance the issue of cutting down on governance, it was recommended by the Transition Committee that we have had too many ministers and ministries and that some ministries should be merged. This has to be considered because until you do this, you will not know how many ministers you are going to have.
It is wrong for anybody to say that this government is slow. It is thorough and I believe that the outcome of the thoroughness is in the best interest of Nigerians.
As to what Nigerians should expect in the next couple of months, I think they should expect governance. Three areas we are going to see improvement is good governance, which includes fight against corruption, cutting down the size of the bureaucracy, security and the economy. Already, the foundation has been laid.