Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI,
speaks on some of the gains recorded by the Muhammadu Buhari administration in critical areas such as war against corruption, reducing cost of governance, border closure and other critical issues. Excerpts:
Recently, there have been concerns in certain circles about the country’s growing debt, both domestic and external. How will you react to this?
I believe it is important to correct some misrepresentations so that Nigerians can be better informed. One, the public debt stock is actually a cumulative figure of borrowings by successive governments over many years. It is therefore not appropriate to attribute the public debt stock to one administration. Two, Nigeria’s total public debt stock in 2015 was $63.80 billion, comprising $10.31 billion of external debt and $53.49 billion domestic debt. By June 2019, the total debt stock was $83.883 billion, made up of $27.163 billion of external debt and $56.720 billion domestic debt.It is therefore not correct to say that Nigeria’s external debt alone is $81.274 billion.
Three, there is yet no cause for alarm. This is because Nigeria has a debt ceiling of 25% in the total public debt stock to Gross Domestic Product (Debt/GDP), which it has operated within. The ratio for Dec. 31 2018 and June 30 2019 were 19.09% and 18.99% respectively.
Four, the debt service to revenue ratio has however been higher than desirable, hence the push by the government to diversify the economy and increase oil and non-oil revenues significantly. The government is also widening the tax base to capture more tax-paying citizens.
Five, in the face of massive infrastructural decay, no responsible government will sit by and do nothing. This administration’s borrowing, therefore, is aimed at revamping our infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railways, waterways and power, to help unleash the potential of the nation’s economy. The loans for the educational sector will contribute to the development of our human capital while the loans for the agricultural sector will help the move to diversify the economy.
In the monetary sector, capital importation comprises mainly foreign direct investment, portfolio investment and other investment flowing into the country. As at the third quarter of 2019, total capital importation had reached nearly 20 billion US dollars, which was 34% higher than the 15 billion US dollars recorded for the first three quarters of 2018.
Can you give us a breakdown of some high profile convictions that happened under this government?
Between January and October 2019 alone, that’s a period of 10 months, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) secured 890 convictions. This is the highest anywhere in the world. Recall that in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the EFCC was only able to secure 103, 189, 190 and 202 convictions respectively. The high rate of convictions in 2019 is in addition to the billions of naira in looted funds that have been recovered by the EFCC. For its part, the ICPC has launched a novel project of tracking the huge resources allocated to constituency projects over the years.
The Commission has started with the education and health sectors and, already, many contractors who abandoned their projects are returning to site. The Commission has also launched the WAHALA DEY app, which is a one-stop shop for daily information from the ICPC, and for Nigerians to report acts of corruption.
This is not the first time Nigeria is fighting the canker-worm of corruption, but it is the first time that the fight is being backed by a strong political will, with a President renowned for his honour, dignity and incorruptibility personally leading the fight. And that is making all the difference. I have also said that while the war against corruption is still a war in progress, it is also fair to say that corruption has now been driven under the table, and that the corrupt ones can no longer flaunt the proceeds of their corruption the way they used to do in the past. That is a major step forward. After all, every successful battle is a step towards winning a war.