Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI debunks the claim by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that he is diverting funds meant for his Ministry into President Muhammadu Buhari’ campaign for 2019.
The PDP, through its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan has accused you of diverting funds budgeted for your Ministry into President Buhari’s reelection. How true is this claim?
I usually don’t respond to the PDP because they really don’t have anything tangible to say. I think the PDP is just waking up to the realisation that they can’t win this election if the campaigns are based on issues. Our Social Investment Programme didn’t start last year. It didn’t even start in 2016. It started right from day one when we came to office.
This Social Investment Programme is the most apolitical programme of any government you can ever find. As a matter of fact, the truth of the matter is that APC politicians and appointees are very unhappy with the scheme because it does not follow the normal line of political patronage. People involved in this programme are completely apolitical. You apply online and if you are successful, you are chosen. There is no way it can be manipulated. At a point in time, some political appointees complained that you don’t do this. But the Vice- President and his team insisted that it is a social investment programme and it must be apolitical.
The PDP is now suddenly frightened by the success of this programme. That is the honest truth. When this programme started in 2015, PDP thought it was impossible to achieve. Today, this programme comprises of four major components.
There is the School feeding programme. Today, this programme feeds nine million, three hundred thousand pupils, one meal per day. It covers 26 states, about 60, 000 primary schools and in the process, it has employed over 97,000 cooks”.
So, the PDP is definitely frightened by the success. A government that feeds nine million, three hundred thousand pupils in every schoolday and in the process, employs over 97,000 cooks is a government that has left an indelible mark in the sands of time.The fall-out of this is that every week, 594,000 cows are slaughtered to feed these children. Every week, these children consume 6.8 million eggs. So, through this programme, jobs are being provided for farmers. This is the major reason why PDP is frightened and yet that is just one aspect of the social investment programme.
How is this progamme funded?
This programme is funded by budgetary provisions. Every year, we went to the National Assembly to get provision for this programme. The second tranche of this social investment programme is the N-power, which as I speak today has employed about 500,000 unemployed graduates. Again, none of these programmes started yesterday. They all started in 2015, 2016. The third component of the social investment programme is the Conditional Cash Transfer which today services about 297,000 most vulnerable and poorest households in some states of the federation, because it is a pilot programmed that we are running. With this programme, the sum of N5,000 is given every month to about 297,000 most vulnerable and poorest families in Nigeria. The fourth component is the Government Enterprises Empowerment Programmed (GEEP). This is made of three tranches. There is the market money, trader money and farmers money. Between them, they have benefited 1.1 million as cooperatives and individuals. These are programmes that are well advertised and Nigerians know about. So, how can some people now turn around to say that we are using government money for politics as PDP have claimed? When we started this programme, they never gave us a chance.
Between TradersMoni, FarmersMoni and MarketMoni, we have touched the lives of about 1.1 million Nigerians. How can PDP now start complaining that we are using government money for politics? These are visible programmes that are well advertised. The Vice-President has been on the roads in the last three years inaugurating these things. We advertised our school feeding programmes, those benefiting from it are both PDP and APC states. We don’t make any distinction between the children. All the children are Nigerians, our children. So, how can anybody wake up in the night and say it is being funded with Ministry’s funds? The PDP know they debate us on issues. We have touched the lives of so many people. A government that feeds a minimum of nine million, three hundred and sixty four children everyday is not a government that you can toy with. So, that is why the PDP is afraid. They are jittery. The average students doesn’t care who is providing the meals for him in school.
Looking at the polity right now, would you say your party has fulfilled its electoral promises to the people?
We were very categorical that we were going to address three areas of governance; we are going to fight corruption; we are going to fight insecurity and we are going to revamp the economy. I can say, with all sense of modesty, that we can beat our chest that we have delivered in all those areas.
In the area of power, we inherited 2,900 MWs of power; today we are generating more than 7,000 MW of power. Of course we are unable to transmit all the power because of the state of the transmission line, and don’t forget that even that power had been largely privatised even before we came in and we had been able to give support. We guaranteed N702 billion revolving loan that if you produce, we pay and that is why you have seen this exponential increase in power supply. So, I do not see any area where we cannot say we have not made progress
You see we have delivered all promises we made. We came in and we promised we were going to fight insecurity. At that time, the major threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria was the Boko Haram insurgency and despite what anybody says, we have decimated Boko Haram. We brought Boko Haram under complete control because when we came in on May 29, 2015, 24 local governments in the North East, an area three times the size of Lebanon, were under the effective control of Boko Haram and what this means is that they were running the administration. As a matter of fact, once we got to Maiduguri, that was the end of Borno State. If you move outside, either to Kaure, Konduga or Bama, they were under the control of Boko Haram. By 2014, 2015, nobody in Abuja could sleep with his two eyes closed. They came and attacked ThisDay headquarters with casualties, they attacked the UN Headquarters, they attacked the IGP office, Nyanya park was bombed twice, they were active in Suleja, Kaduna, Sokoto, Plateau, Nasarrawa, Kogi. As a matter of fact, there was hardly any state in the North that Boko Haram was not operating. It was nipped in the bud in Kwara.
But today there is relative peace. We have been able to recover all territories and today no single inch of Nigerian territory is under the Boko Haram control. Yes, there have been suicide bombings, that is what terrorism is all about. Few months ago in US, we saw terrorist attack. About three months ago, we saw what happened in Texas. Terrorists killed many children. This is not a sign of renewed threat rather it is a sign of desperation and weakness. Look at the regularity it used to occur and now. It is all about intelligence gathering.