Nobody Wants To Be El-Zakzaky’s Neighbour, Says Lai Mohammed On Politics Today (Full Interview)
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, was a guest on Politics Today on Channels Television and he spoke about the President’s health and several other issues, including agitations in parts of the country and the continued detention of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and former National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd).
Watch the full interview below or read on for the transcript.
On the agitations for secession in the South-East and the eviction notice given to Igbos by some Northern Youths. Is the Federal Government meeting leaders of all the regions or is it just meeting the heads of Northern and Southeastern groups?
For the moment, the Acting President is meeting religious leaders, political leaders, leaders of thought, youth groups and others mainly from the North and South East.
The National Assembly has called for the 2014 Confab report. Would the Federal Government consider implementing the report?
I read in the papers that the National Assembly, the Senate in particular, has asked the Federal Government to forward the reports of the 2014 Confab. When we receive that invitation, I am sure we will act accordingly. But I have said at several fora that the priority of government right now is to keep this government one and safe. The priority of this government is to revamp the economy and the priority of this government right now is to ensure that we fight corruption and put this country on a very stable footing. The issue of restructuring might come later but right now it is not on our front burner.
Don’t you think there is the need to consider the clamour for restructuring?
Like I said, you see, every government will pick its own priority and I think as a government we know what the issues are right now. I think I will rather stop there to say that our major concern right now is to ensure the territorial integrity of this country, douse all tensions, ensure that the economy is revived and put the nation on a very stable pedestal.
Did the President give his nod to what the Acting President is doing right now – the consultations with the leaders of these regions?
The Acting President is daily in touch with Mr President so I am very confident that Mr President is in the full know of what the Acting President is doing and there is so much trust between the acting president and the president; I don’t think there should be an area of concern at all.
There is a statement attributed to the Presidency saying the President gave his nod for the Acting President to sign the budget. Does that mean that the Acting President gets his directives from the President right now?
I think it is too simplistic to put it that way. If I ask you to act for me. I think it is only natural for you to consult me on things you feel are very important. So what happens is actually consultations between the Acting President and Mr President on issues that are very important such as the signing of the budget.
Inside sources within the Presidency said one of the reasons for the delay in signing the budget about 400 insertions. Was that resolved and how did the Federal Government resolve those insertions with the National Assembly before signing the budget?
There were several meetings between the Executive and the legislature and, fortunately, I was a member of that committee that met with the leadership of the National Assembly. I can say that we have very largely resolved those issues. I think what we made clear at the meeting between the National Assembly and the Executive, the meeting was led by the Acting President, was that there are certain projects that are very important and which this government is very passionate about. I must say that the National Assembly responded with a lot of patriotism and we were able to resolve largely all those issues. A few are still outstanding but the budget as signed, especially with the agreement with the National Assembly that we can send a request for virement, would allow us to prosecute our flagship programmes.
So the budget was signed with those padded projects?
No. I don’t think anybody has talked about anything being padded.
The question is did the Acting President sign the budget with those insertions in it?
You are not listening. I said the leadership of the National Assembly met with the Executive arm of government and we resolve that the projects that are the flagship projects of this government must not be affected by whatever changes made in the budget. Now, the issue of padding does not arise at all.
But those 400 projects were there, Minister…
You see, people misunderstand what happened. What happened in that budget, I will give you an example; For the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, we complained that N21billion had been taken off and the Senate said, ‘Yes’, they thought or they knew there was another source of funding from a PPP (Puplic-Private-Partnership agreement). And we said, ‘Look, the PPP agreement is not certain and Nigerians are very anxious that that road be constructed and finished. In the event that the PPP agreement comes through, it can also be used for another thing. For instance, that company can now apply for concession’. That’s when it was resolved. So, it is not really about padding or no padding; it’s about the National Assembly having information, which we believe was not sufficient enough to warrant the action they were taking in respect of certain projects.
Do you think the structure we operate as a people is right?
I don’t see anything wrong with the structure we operate right now.
A lot of people believe it is defective and the centre (Federal Government) is too powerful and should shed some of its responsibilities to the state…
You see, I’m the spokesperson of government and the position of government right now, like I said is that the most important thing for us right now is to ensure the territorial integrity of this country, ensure that all citizens are safe and secure, revamp the economy and ensure that there is prosperity everywhere. For now, that will be our major objective.
Let’s talk about the President, when are we likely to have him back?
I think the President made it clear when he was leaving, that the length of his stay will be determined by his doctors. And the most authentic news we have had so far is the one from the wife of the President, who came back last week and said the President is recovering very fast and I think that is the best we can say now.
Have you been able to speak with him since he left?
No, I don’t have to.
You don’t have to or you have not?
I don’t have to.
But you are his minister of information?
There is an Acting President.
You probably have heard that there are stories that the wife of the President didn’t even see him. Did she see him?
I have no reason to doubt what the wife of the President said. If the wife of the President comes back and says, ‘I saw my husband and my husband is doing very well’, I have no reason to doubt her.
Do you think the President will contest in 2019?
I think it is too presumptuous and preposterous to start talking about who will contest in 2019.
But you are a politician and you are thinking about 2019…
I think it is very inappropriate right now to start talking as to who will contest in 2019 or not. I am the spokesperson of government and not that of a political party.
On the war against corruption and the cases lost recently by the government. Professor Itsay Sagay was quoted to have said there is a need for the review of the anti-corruption strategy. Do you think so?
Of course, I agree with him. You see, the important thing and what Nigerians must know is that we cannot be a judge in our own case. We will prosecute and the judiciary will give judgment. If we lose a case, we must look inward and say, ‘Why have we lost this case? Is it because of shoddy preparations or what?’ I think that is exactly what Professor Sagay is saying.
There is the case of El-Zakzaky and Dasuki and others who were granted bail and are still being held. Why is the government keeping these people despite the fact that some judgments have said these people should be granted bail?
I think there is a lot of deliberate misunderstanding on these issues. Number one, if a judgment is given and that judgment is appealed, you cannot accuse the government of violating that order if the appeal has not been decided. Two, in the case of El-Zakzaky, how many Nigerians know that El-Zakzaky is not in prison custody, police custody nor DSS custody. El-Zakzaky is in a house with his family. This is the honest truth. He is in what is called protective custody. The court ruled that he be released after his house has been rebuilt but nobody wants to accept El-Zakzaky as a neighbour. So, we have been unable to build the house. So, where do we release him to? In the case of Dasuki, every government will always thread this very thin line between personal liberty and national security. And I think you must give
The court ruled that he be released after his house has been rebuilt but nobody wants to accept El-Zakzaky as a neighbour. So, we have been unable to build the house. So, where do we release him to? In the case of Dasuki, every government will always thread this very thin line between personal liberty and national security. And I think you must give the government the credit to determine what is national security. In the case of Sambo Dasuki, the issue is a grave one. If the person is in possession of $1.2 billion; there are records that he moved in one day $1.2 billion in two transactions – we know the banks he moved them to. And you refused to tell us what you have done with that money, I don’t think it would be prudent to jeopardise the national security of a whole nation because of the individual freedom of one person. Because with $1.2 billion, you can destabilise a whole country.
You see, all those who have been disturbing us about rule of law or the other, I just wish they would have the opportunity to be in government for a short time and they will see how difficult it is to balance personal freedom with national security.
Has your party disappointed Nigerians based on the promise you made in 2015 and do you even think your party can win any election based on your performance right now, in 30 seconds?
I cannot do that in 30 seconds but I will tell you this; we have kept faith with our promises to Nigerians. We promised we are going to fight corruption; we are fighting corruption. We promised we are going to fix the economy, we are fixing the economy.