Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture
…Denies sponsoring hate speech bill
…Says terrorism not a Nigerian problem
By Dapo Akinrefon, Deputy South-West Editor
FOLLOWING outcries in some quarters over the country’s rising debt profile, the Federal Government, yesterday, said there is no cause for alarm, adding that Nigeria has not exceeded its debt ceiling mark.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the assurance while briefing newsmen on the achievements recorded by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the outgoing 2019.
Alhaji Mohammed, who faulted critics of the Buhari administration for raising alarm over the current debt profile of the country, said the debt profile is highly exaggerated and being portrayed without any numerical fact.
He also lampooned the lawmaker representing Osun East Senatorial District, Senator Francis Fadahunsi for alleging that he (Lai Mohammed) was the brain behind the hate speech bill at the National Assembly.
He said: “You must have read the fake news attributed to Senator Fadahunsi that I am behind the hate speech bill at the National Assembly and that the senator who is sponsoring the bill is fronting for me.
“This is a typical example of the fake news we are trying to fight. I am not the sponsor of the hate speech bill at the National Assembly. However, I remain committed to sanitizing the social media.”
Setting the records straight on the current debt profile of the country, the Information Minister urged Nigerians to ignore those peddling the false figures.
He said: “Recently, there have been concerns in certain circles about the
country’s growing debt, both domestic and external. In the process, there have been some misrepresentations and scaremongering. We, therefore, believe it is important to put things in the right perspective, so our citizens will be well informed.
“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.
“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.
“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 December 31, 2018, and June 30, 2019, were 19.09% and 18.99% respectively.
“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.
“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.”
On the fight against corruption, the Minister said the fight against corruption is progressing on all fronts.
He said: “The administration’s fight against corruption is progressing on all fronts, including institutional reforms, loot recovery and prosecution of alleged corrupt persons. As you are aware, this is one of the cardinal programmes of the Administration, with the others being the revamping of the economy and tackling insecurity.
“The administration took a major step forward in the fight against corruption when it launched the Financial Transparency Policy and Portal, also known as Open Government.
“President Muhammadu Buhari said the reason for implementing the policy
is to cement government’s commitment to improving governance and supplementing the recently-launched Whistle-blower Policy and equipping the general population with the tools they need to report financial wrongdoing. This policy is unprecedented and will go a long way in enhancing transparency in governance and curtailing public sector corruption.”
Speaking further, he said: “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.”
War against terror
On the war against terror, he urged Nigerians to join hands in the war against the menace saying “terrorism is not just a Nigerian problem.”
His words: “Our gallant men and women in uniform stepped up the fight against
terrorism in 2019, despite the fact that they are not just fighting the rump of Boko Haram but also the Islamic State’s West African Province, ISWAP. Yes, they occasional attack soft targets from the fringe islands in Chad, where they have been confined by our troops, but they don’t hold any territory like they did before the advent of this administration when they hoisted their flag in their Bama Caliphate, collected taxes, as well as removed and installed Emirs. They no longer have such capabilities.
“The successful attacks they carried out in Abuja and other cities are now a thing of the past. The terrorists’ recent attempt to attack soft targets in Damaturu, the Yobe State Capital, and Biu in Borno State were repelled by the military, with the terrorists suffering heavy casualties.
“It is important that we, as citizens, do not say or do anything to demoralize the gallant troops who are fighting to keep us safe. Terrorism is not just a Nigerian problem. It’s a global problem and it has global ramifications. The terrorists are as irrational as they are inhuman.
“They do not subscribe to any religion, despite their pretensions. That explains why they reportedly murdered 11 innocent men in Nigeria recently, in a dastardly and cold-blooded manner, just to avenge the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US forces. The world must unite to fight this scourge of our time.”
Speaking on the continued border closure, he said it remains “one of the boldest decisions ever taken by any administration in Nigeria is the decision to embark on a border drill as part of measures to secure Nigeria’s land and maritime borders.”
In addition, he said the border closure has helped in curbing banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migration and proliferation of light weapons.
Lai Mohammed said: “Many have called it border closure, but it is not. Recall that the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria, AFN, as well as the Nigeria Police Force and other security and intelligence agencies, commenced a joint border security exercise, code-named Exercise Swift Response, in four geopolitical zones of the country, namely; South South, South West, North Central and North West on the 20th August 2019. The exercise is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and is aimed at better securing our borders in order to strengthen our economy and address other trans-border security concerns.
“The effect of the border drill has been phenomenal and positive. Today, Nigeria is closer to attaining self-sufficiency in rice production than at any time in the country’s history, thanks to the border drill that has drastically reduced rice smuggling into the country and catalyzed rice production by our farmers across the country.
“The border drill has curbed the smuggling of rice and other prohibited items into the country, led to significant seizures with the estimated monetary value of over N3,500,000 billion, reduced local fuel consumption by 30% and reduced the importation of arms, munitions and drugs.
“Because of the drill, terrorists and other criminals are finding it hard to procure arms and ammunition while criminal elements no longer make their way into the country through the land borders. This has resulted in reduced cases of insecurity, whether it is kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery or other violent crimes.
“Smuggling of petroleum products out of Nigeria has been drastically curtailed and has led to a 30% reduction in domestic fuel consumption. There has been a drastic reduction in illegal migration.”
The minister, however, assured that the Buhari administration “will continue to take all measures necessary to secure the lives and property of all citizens while enhancing their welfare.”
“We urge the opposition to join hands with us to move Nigeria to the Next Level, instead of engaging in scorched-earth opposition that benefits no one.”