LET us begin by looking at the last one year. How do you rate the performance of the president?
I shouldn’t be rating the performance of the president because I’m an insider. It is best done by those outside the government. But if you ask me what the things the president has done, I can attempt to answer that. The first one year of the second term is a continuation of what he was doing in the first term because when we campaigned, he said we will continue with what we have been doing. We will secure the country, revive the economy; and will fight corruption. So, those were his promises during campaign and he started working along those promises as he did in the first term.
But unfortunately at the turn of the year, the coronavirus pandemic broke out and it has taken about six months of national life with devastating impact on the economy. But in terms of fighting insurgency and keeping the country secure, it is work in progress. It fluctuates. You find times that things are calm for weeks, possibly months, and you find times when it spikes and there are attacks and you begin to wonder what really is happening. But one thing we are sure of is it is a battle that will be won, and in the life of this administration. It›s a battle that will be won because the president is totally committed to it and we have security agencies that are also committed. The challenges are serious because I suspect that those things are not from inside. There is a cross-border element.
You find that before the pandemic, for 11 consecutive quarters, the GDP of the country recorded positive. Eleven consecutive quarters until COVID-19 came and then we did -6. The projection further says that by the third and fourth quarter reports, it is likely the economy will go into recession again. But in the first quarter of 2021, it may likely come out. So, those are projections. They may work; they may not work in terms of negative performance. But we know that whichever way it goes, we will come out of it.
And then, the third area is fighting corruption. There›s no let-up in that war. You do the crime, you do the time. That’s the mantra with President Buhari. If anybody is caught in corruption he answers for it.
When the president was coming into power, he was confident that the issue of insecurity would be quickly tackled. But here we are over five years in office, it is still not over. Can you put a timeline on when all this will end given the zeal he approached it in the beginning?
When you are elected to lead your country, you must come with a positive mind and that was what the president came in with, a positive mind that short work would be made of the insurgency war. He had every right to have that kind of mindset because he was not just an armchair general; he was a general that saw action. He fought in the Civil War.
But then the international nature of the insurgency plus the funding from whichever source made it to be quite prolonged.
Despite that, one thing we cannot run away from is that the insurgency is not the same way it was in 2015. Degraded is the language the military uses. They›ve been degraded; their capacity to do what they could do in pre-2015 has been reduced. Today, no territory is being held. It›s a big difference. They held up to 17 local governments in the country before 2015. Today, they are not holding any. So, there’s a lot of excitement.
You now can say well, banditry was added. Yes. Banditry was added. That’s another new area of challenge. But challenges are there to be confronted and surmounted and our security forces are confronting and surmounting those challenges.
Apart from what you have just said, what do you think are the most potent challenges the government has faced trying to better the lives of the citizens?
In the area of security, there are many challenges that really try government. For instance, see all the money we are spending on insecurity. It could have been diverted to other areas, but we spend so much on security. That in itself is a challenge.
Then, in the area of economy, when the government came in 2015 oil that had stabilised $100 per barrel for a number of years suddenly crashed and went to $37 per barrel and it lasted for so long. That was why after five consecutive quarters, the economy went into recession because what else do we sell that we get foreign exchange from? It is only oil. But in every evil, you can get some good. That has led to diversification of our economy. We are not fully there. But the economy is no longer a mono-economy like we used to have. Agriculture and solid minerals have come on. Before the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturing was inching up. You find that the Nigerian economy was getting diversified. COVID-19 itself is a challenge not just for Nigeria but for the entire world.
And then in the area of anti-corruption, you know, that corrupt people are still around. There are some that have illicit money. They are spending it to destabilise the administration.
Obviously, people can see that the administration has made some strides barring these unforeseen circumstances, covid-19 and the like. But we are seeing a spike in inflation. Prices of goods are rising. In the midst of that, government, through deliberate policies, increased the price of fuel and electricity tariffs. How do you react?
When you talk of spike in inflation, that’s only one side of the coin. Before the spike, there was about five, ten consecutive (quarters) growth. Inflation had hit 17 per cent one time. It began to drop till it came to about 10. Now, it has gone back to 12. You need to also capture that period when there was reduction and inflation. That is when you have a balanced perspective. Yes, as of now, it has gone up due to sudden challenges. When you look down an economy for four to six months, you can›t expect that everything will be normal. And that was what happened to Nigeria.
The spike in inflation is not peculiar to Nigeria just as the drop in GDP is not also peculiar to Nigeria. I›ll give you some examples. GDP growth Nigeria -.1; South Africa -17.6; United States -31.7; Great Britain -20; India -23. It’s only China that recorded 3.1 in the second quarter of the year. So, it›s almost a global phenomenon. See inflation data for select countries. If you see it, China as at July 2020 is at 2.7. Russia is at 3.4, South Africa is at 3.2, Kenya 4.4, Ghana is at 11.4 inflation rate. Egypt is 4.2 and Nigeria 12.8. So, you see that it›s not peculiar to Nigeria. It›s a global phenomenon. And you know what the causative factor is: coronavirus. Nigeria then still has some other local factors that contributed to inflation. For instance, some talk about the borders that are closed; the border closure has its disadvantages. You have to weigh the advantages along with the disadvantages and you then decide what to do.
For the hike in the fuel price and electricity tariffs, people have condemned it coming at a time of a pandemic. What can you say about that?
You either take some decisions to ensure that the economy is there or you don’t take those decisions and the economy disappears. It got to the point that Nigeria could no longer afford to subsidise fuel prices to the tune of hundreds of billions or about 1 trillion a year. It is on record that in the last 10 years, Nigeria paid over 10 trillion naira on fuel subsidy. How will that continue? Where’s the money at a time like this? It’s either a decision was taken or the economy disappears completely.
Government decided to find what the appropriate price for fuel should be because the prices we have been paying for years even before the Buhari administration can’t be called the appropriate price. That’s why our fuel is smuggled out. That’s why the government pays so much on subsidy and it was fraught with fraud.
Having increased the price of fuel and electricity tariffs, what will government do to ensure that the ordinary citizen is not crippled by these increases.
You forget that there is the Economic Sustainability Plan which is 2.3 trillion naira. It is for the people. It is for businesses; it is for lives and livelihoods; 2.3 trillion which was not budgeted for initially. Government had to come with that plan and find so many other policies being implemented through which people can have access to funds; farmers, industries, businesses can have access to funds which they can use. A lot has been done to cushion the impact of the hardship that will come with those decisions.
In terms of electricity, hike will also not be the correct word. It’s called service-based tariff. You pay for the kind of service you get. For instance, if you get less than 12 hours a day, what you pay is not affected. You continue to pay what you are paying. But the moment your light improves and you get 15, 18, 24 hours, then you pay based on service. It’s a service-based tariff not just for tariff for services not provided.
Recently, the president came under criticism for allegedly not treating all parts of the country in equal measure, and he has come out to say that he will ensure more inclusiveness. What should the country expect?
A country like this should work on inclusivity because it’s a very diverse polity: a country of about 200 million and minimum of 250 ethnic groups. If you don’t work on inclusivity, there will always be tension in that kind of country. The president is always mindful of that and in taking decisions, in making appointments, citing projects, all those come in. Inclusivity will continue to be an issue in Nigeria even after the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Many people were surprised at the president’s disposition on the conduct of the gubernatorial election in Edo State and are wondering if he would keep up with that.
It is not new. That has always been his disposition. Since we got into government in 2015, you had elections in Bayelsa, Kogi and Ondo. You find out that that has always been the president’s disposition; no interference. It’s not new. Anybody that says it happened with Edo election does not know Mr. President. It has always been like that.
What do you project for the country by this time next year? Where do you think the country will be in terms of plans and programme implementation by the president?
I expect to see advanced progress in every area of focus that the administration has set for itself: progress in security, progress in economy, progress in anti-corruption. I expect that there will be progress in every sphere of national life. Recently, we had a two-day retreat for cabinet ministers and top government officials. What were we discussing on those two days? How to move the agenda of the government forward so that before we come for a review possibly in another one year, a lot more would have been achieved.
I’ll like to ask Nigerians and encourage them not to cast away their confidence in Muhammadu Buhari. That confidence was what made them to elect him in 2015 and in 2019; they even elected him with greater figure. Seeing what you can see already in terms of infrastructure, see the roads, see the bridges, see the airports, see different kinds of developments, see the promise that the power sector holds, see rail, a lot of good things are happening in Nigeria and those things would have matured by the time the president finishes in 2023.
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