Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, in this interview responds to topical issues. Excerpts:
Do you think Mainagate is a dent on the administration?
The fact that Mr. President, immediately the issue came to his knowledge asked for Maina’s disengagement is the most important thing. That to me is a clear signal that we do not condone corruption. There is no better way to handle the issue than this.
Those who championed Buhari’s election are complaining that they have been abandoned and PDP people are now in government. Are you bothered?
As early as 2015, he (Buhari) did direct that they should bring nominations.
And he was very clear in his directives as to who should make the boards, who should qualify. I remembered he said anybody that they must be frontline actors in the run-up to the 2015 election. Anybody who had either contested for primaries within the party and had lost, or as a consensus, was asked to step down, anybody who either contested election either at the governorship level, National Assembly or even state level against either PDP or APC and had lost. He said these are the main stakeholders in the party and are people who ought to be recommended for appointments. As you know, Mr. President himself cannot know all these people. All politics as they say is local.
The president cannot know who in Akwa Ibom for instance, contested for National Assembly and lost against PDP or who in Borno State contested primaries for Senate with a fellow APC candidate and lost. So, I think those who are charged with that responsibility failed and that is why we are in the mess we are in now. The president has, however, promised that he is going to take a fresh look into it. One thing is to dissolve the boards but you can’t leave them vacant. But I believe we are going to see lots of progress in that area very soon.
But also don’t forget, that all politics is local. If I am the chairman of Delta State APC or I am a leader in Delta State APC and I am given criteria, but I decide to bypass those criteria Mr. President is too busy to look into all these things. I know many states for instance where people are complaining that it is not those who ought to be compensated that were rewarded by the government. But again, it is not possible for you to compensate everybody at the same time. Certain boards are not due for dissolution because some of them are tenured while some are governed by certain rules. Also, certain boards need specialists to manage. Like I said, the truth of the matter is that Mr. President as far back as 2015 gave this assignment to party members and they failed. They failed Mr. President. That is the honest truth, I know.
Could the PDP appointees in government be fighting you with the money they are making from the government?
I wouldn’t know where they are making the money from. But clearly, in politics, they always say never empower your enemy.
Has the crisis between Maikanti Baru and Ibe Kachikwu been resolved by the government?
To the best of my knowledge, Kachikwu made his point and Baru also did same. But the point is that over time, we have seen Baru and Kachikwu working together. However, the position of government is that you can’t start talking of fraud. There is nothing like $25 billion fraud in the NNPC; not in the least. The opposition, notably the PDP felt that they have something to hold against this government. But I can assure you that it is not possible under this administration to have a $25 billion fraud. The entire economy will collapse. There is no $25b fraud. Yes, there could have been lack of communication, understanding and procedure but I think all that has been put behind us.
Are you by anyway afraid that your government may not go beyond 2019 and the PDP may regain power as the ruling party?
As to whether we are afraid of the PDP staging a comeback, I can confidently tell you that we are not even contemplating it. It will be a tragedy for Nigeria to fall back into the hands of PDP. They dropped us in hell and we are taking people out of hell. How can Nigeria now go back to Egypt? It is not about APC or President Buhari. With the kind of revelation that is coming out, the kind of rot, you want those people to come back and preside over the affairs of Nigeria again? What will happen to the investigations that were carried out if the PDP should win elections again? It will be swept under the carpet. This is the first time in the history of this country that we are making real recoveries. Nigeria should never ever pray for PDP to come back.
Making real recoveries
When we negotiated with the Swiss government to return Abacha’s loot, they gave us some conditions. One of which is that we must identify what programmes we want to use the money for and that the World Bank will supervise what we are using the money for. When we now argue that we are a sovereign country and that they can’t dictate to us how we are going to spend money that was stolen from our country and they are returning, they said ‘yes, but when we returned part of it to your country, you re-looted it under Jonathan; which is true.
You are the face of APC and the mouthpiece of the federal government. How do you feel when you say something and issue statements and people keep saying ‘It is a lie?
I have two burdens. The first is that I happened to be the face of the opposition and PDP has not forgiven me and they will never forgive me. I think they look at the magnitude of what has happened to them and they hold me solely responsible; which is not fair. But, I did my bit. Now, becoming the face of government again, it is automatic that whatever comes from Lai Mohammed, we must shoot it down as fake news and a lie. Unfortunately, my father gave me the name Lai also. So, it makes it very easy for them. But what I challenge them every time is please, give me one thing I said that is not true. Emotionally, you may not agree with me but in terms of facts and figures, I have never said anything which they can dispute. You don’t have to like it but you can’t deny that they are facts./
Are you not worried about the recent threats by the Niger Delta Avengers to return to the creeks and destroy oil installations?
Of course, we are very worried about it because if the avengers should start destroying our oil installations, it is going to bring the country back to its knees. And that is why we are appealing to them. We have not breached any agreement with them and we will rather appeal to them to understand that there is more to gain by all sides in engaging than in going back to the trenches. Even power has improved in the Niger Delta. Infrastructure has improved. Contractors can now go and work there. We are talking of University of Maritime Technology in the Niger Delta, Second Niger Bridge and East-West road. I think what they are fighting for will be achieved much more if there is peace and we will continue our engagements with them because it will not be in the interest of anybody to have crisis.
Culled from Vanguard Newspaper