The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Femi Adesina, was recently a guest of Radio Continental, Lagos, where he responded to some topical issues. Excerpts:
Why has the Federal Government decided to shut out the private sector from economic recovery plans?
I won’t agree with you that the private sector was shut out. If you look at the presentation of the President to the National Assembly when budget 2016 was handed to them, working with the private sector was one of the goals. People keep saying, we don’t know the economic direction, maybe it was because they were not listening. When the budget was presented last year, the economic direction was also unfolded and part of it was that the country would curb importation, we would work with the private sector, and we would stimulate the economy through capital projects by releasing funds. These last five months, do you know how much has been released for capital projects? About N800 billion. That is more than the entire budget of some previous years. That shows you that the direction unfolded when the budget was presented to the National Assembly is being followed. There is an economic blueprint and the government is following it to the letter.
Is the government actually considering some palliative measures, as everyone is complaining of hyper-inflation. What is the government doing currently doing to alleviate the situation?
I agree with you that there should be palliative measures, but such measures cost money. And if there is something that Nigeria does not have now, it is money in excess. Don’t forget that despite all the hard times, government has not failed to pay salaries for a month, and what is the wage bill? N165 billion monthly. That is the wage bill of Federal Civil Servants. Detection of ghost workers recently helped to save N20 billion, so the wage bill dropped to N145 billion monthly, without retrenching any worker. So, money is what is in short supply. If there is money, extra money, be sure that this government would consider palliative measures.
We are not seeing evidence of no money in the lives of our politicians. Look at the National Assembly, in times like this they are buying cars. We have not heard any reduction in the budget of Aso Rock, these are things that would make us believe that there is no money. How do you want to convince Nigerians that we don’t have this money to subsidize food items, even for the meantime, so that we can live?
Talking of lifestyle, I am sure that you cannot say that of the executive. When people talk about the lifestyle of Aso Villa, when you get there you will be shocked. I can tell you as a private sector individual, the quality of my life was a lot higher than when I am now in government. That is the way we are in the executive, no excesses. If you talk about a very frugal government, that is the Buhari government at the level of the executive. But talking of the legislature, they are independent. The executive does not control them. What happens is that they have their budget and they run it and administer it on their own. They are not subject to the control of the President. Yes, I agree with you that their lifestyle and taste can be moderated, but that is not strictly under the control of the executive.
What would you say on the monies that have been recovered via the anti-corruption war?
Talking of the looted funds recovered, about N78 billion and another 300 million in dollars. $300 million that you can’t even spend yet because there are still going to be legal issues. Until the coast is clear, you can’t spend that money, you can’t even include it in the budget. That was the figure as at June. This is December, when the Minister of Information updates the figure, I am sure it would be a lot higher. The figure we had as at June was N78 billion, which does not pay a month salary for the Federal Civil Servants, and $300 million, so it is not as if the money is as huge as you think. A lot more recoveries would come. Stolen money is in trillions, but recovery is a process, the government would get there. I know that by now it would be a lot higher but until the country is briefed and we have the figures, we cannot begin to speculate with figures that we don’t have.
Why is the CJN, Walter Onnoghen, in acting capacity, and not substantive?
You know that the public service law allows you to appoint a person in acting capacity up to six months, and three months for the Chief Justice. So, we can’t begin to speculate until we get to that time. You know that Justice Onnoghen came at a time that the judiciary is undergoing a whirlwind of change. I guess it is in order to see how he keys into that change that is sweeping through the judiciary, to see whether he would be the man to drive it, going forward.
Where else is the DSS going to next, after the judiciary?
I would just say wait a while. Wait and see what would happen in a short while with the changes going on in the judiciary.
It is alleged that the President recently deployed some military men to the South-East to quench the agitation for the state of Biafra, I want to confirm if it is true?
I read it just as you read it. I am not aware whether the President deployed them directly. But then, we know that the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces can deploy. When people agitate and it is on the verge of law and order breaking down, will a reasonable government watch in dismay? No, when the security agencies see that we are on the verge of breakdown of law and order, they act.
Is it not an internal matter that can be handled by the Nigerian Police, or is it a vote of no confidence on the Nigerian Police?
When Solomon Arase was the IG, and there was an uprising like that in the East, I met him one day, and when he gave me an account of what happened in the East, it was scary. Up to the point that for two-three days, they blocked the Niger Bridge and nobody could pass. Would any reasonable government allow that to happen? After they had blocked the Niger Bridge for two-three days, you know that anarchy was on the verge of being unleashed, and no government would brook that. It is not a question of because it was in the South-East. Anywhere that such happens, the law enforcement agencies would have to step in. Where the Police cannot handle it, the military would come in. The military is also allowed to take part in internal operations when it is getting out of hand.
In the Niger Delta region, what is going on, really?
It is a question of everybody knowing that this country belongs to us and we all have a stake in it. And if we continue to behave in a certain way, then things would not change. Look at what the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola told the Federal Executive Council recently. He said electricity generation is about 3,400 megawatts today, when we should have been about 6,400 megawatts now, if pipelines carrying gas had not been sabotaged in the Niger Delta region. If we were about 6,400 megawatts, there would be relative electricity supply round the country including the South-South, where the sabotage is being done. That is the problem of the country. Everybody has to key into the fact that there are problems and we must be part of the solution together. But if the government is working towards a solution and some people are still sabotaging, then the solution may be a lot longer in coming than we think.