*Gives update on progress of Niger Delta New Vision
“One of the things that the President decided to do is to ensure that every agency does its work without direct interference from the President. So the President does not call the EFCC, and say, “Go and arrest Mr Ekpeyong”, no. And that’s one of the most important things about the style of this government, and we want the agencies to do their work. No one has showed up and called Magu and say, “Look go and arrest.” That’s what it is.
“The President has said that the EFCC has the absolute right to go ahead and do whatever it needs to do to ensure that anybody who has committed a crime, or who is suspected to having committed a crime, is brought to justice.
“Let me just say that the President has pointed out that the South East wasn’t the region that voted heavily for the APC, but that is not in any way stopping the President from appointing four senior ministers from that part of the country. He could have appointed junior ministers. By appointing four senior ministers, I think that it shows that he is interested in the South East region of Nigeria.”
TRANSCRIPT OF A MEDIA INTERVIEW GRANTED BY THE VICE PRESIDENT TO A GROUP OF JOURNALISTS & SOCIAL MEDIA PRACTITIONERS IN LAGOS STATE, ON FRIDAY, MARCH 2, 2018.
Q: The state of primary healthcare in the country.
Vice President: Of course, our health system has long suffered. That is one of the chief concerns that we have been focusing on; getting the diaspora to work with us to improve our health system. We are also looking at how healthcare insurance can improve it. I agree that if all of us put our resources and our time in local medical care, we will improve it. I have no doubt in my mind that our local healthcare system is what most of us subscribe to at least, and our doctors are some of the best in the world. But that’s one of our commitments to make it work.
Q: Crude oil as the main driver of the economy, and FG’s dialogue with groups in the Niger Delta region.
Vice President: First of all, the dialogue started in 2016 and it continues. We began to dialogue with all the groups in the Niger Delta and we hold very regular meetings with PANDEF, which is the umbrella body. We also hold regular meetings with many of the groups in the Niger Delta and they are all actively involved with us.
I don’t know whether you are familiar with the Maritime University. The Maritime University has taken off, you know. Only a few days ago, the announcement was made that they are eligible for JAMB (the University was recently granted approval by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to commence undergraduate degree programmes effective from the 2017/2018 academic session). Interviews are taking place for the Maritime University, forms have been provided and we are talking to all of the principal parties in that zone who are interested in the work the Maritime University is doing. Many people are involved in that process. That is the kind of thing we are talking about to provide the kind of facility to help people in the Niger Delta, especially in Maritime University.
Also, look at modular refineries, 38 licensed modular refineries investors have indicated interests (10 of the licensed refineries are at an advanced stage of development). One, of course, has started in Bayelsa; another is being shipped in at the moment. There are about three or four different engagements with modular refineries operators. So we are putting that together, and one of the critical things with modular refineries is that we are trying to ensure that, first of all, it is private-sector driven. Government has to provide the licenses, but also there is community involvement; communities also have a stake in the modular refineries. So we are doing that as well. We are working very hard on that.
Q: Alleged claims that PANDEF leader said FG isn’t doing anything in the region.
Vice President: I don’t know when Chief Clark made that statement. I think that, by and large, all of what I’m saying is being done. It is obvious for everyone to see. I’ve no real problem demonstrating this, but as a matter of fact, if you look on our website (www.ndnewvision.gov.ng), on the all of the Niger Delta issues, we have almost a blow-by-blow account of what we are doing, including the Ogoni clean up.
I think there is a lot going on. You can’t address all of the problems at once. We have provided plenty of information. We have Inter-ministerial meetings where the different stakeholders meet constantly with leaders of the Niger Delta. I think you can imagine development is something that no one can be completely satisfied with at any point in time; that’s why it’s called development.
Q: Success of the Ease of Doing Business reform, visa reforms, and FG plans to attract more foreigners to contribute to the country’s economic growth.
Vice President: I think it was for those people that we designed our visa-on-arrival policy. It is for people who are bringing in their resources and money.
Q: Does this special visa apply only to poor countries, especially those low on human development index?
Vice President: Not necessary. Let me explain what we are trying to do with visa-on-arrival: you apply online so you get a visa, and this is where we are issuing the I-Step so that there is passenger information ahead of your arriving in Nigeria. That is one of the infrastructure we are putting at the airport now. You arrive at our port, we can give you a visa right there; that is what Singapore and other countries do, irrespective of where you are coming from you can get the visa there. When you arrive in Nigeria we have advance passengers information, even the visa-on-arrival that’s where we are heading. The most important thing is that there is a record.
Q: The second Niger Bridge and Buhari administration’s efforts to win the South East.
Vice President: Let me just say that the President has pointed out that the South East wasn’t the region that voted heavily for the APC, but that is not in any way stopping the President from appointing four senior ministers from that part of the country. He could have appointed junior ministers. By appointing four senior ministers, I think that it shows that he is interested in the South East region of Nigeria.
Secondly, previous government merely talk about the second Niger Bridge. We have moved to site, we are working on the second Niger Bridge. We’ve provided for the second Niger Bridge in our budget we have also provided infrastructure fund for the second Niger Bridge. Also, we are doing the Lagos-Calabar road. The Lagos-Calabar road goes through the South East region, that’s one of the very important thing we are doing and we put money behind it. The President himself negotiated the loan from the Chinese government. He actually went to China to negotiate and these are ongoing projects.
Ariaria market today is possibly the largest MSME hub in the whole of West Africa. The Federal Government, with the private sector, is powering Ariaria market so that every of the 21,000 shops in Ariaria market has power. The roads to the market are in the budget. Let’s bring it down to what we are doing; the first of our MSME clinics was in Aba and we are committed to ensuring Aba is a hub that it ought to be.
This is where we spend a lot of time and energy to move regulatory agencies so that they actually have a one-stop centre there, so that NAFDAC, SON can move into that place. There is a lot of work that’s going on. The truth is that we do what needs to be done. We were elected to do the right thing by everyone and we are doing it. I’ve gone to the South East several times. I’ve visited Nnewi and many parts of Anambra as well, where we look around and look at ways of supporting industries there and we are still committed to that zone.
Q: Areas that FG could have done better.
Vice President: Let me say that one of the very important things for me, I think we could have done far more in terms of jobs, direct jobs now, because we’ve done enough. We first created jobs in agriculture. Perhaps we are hoping we would be able to provide by now 500,000 of our N-power jobs, but because of the income we are able to provide 200,000. We have another 300,000 waiting to be employed. So maybe a year into our government, we could have done 500,000. So for me I think if we have the kind of resources that people had 10 years ago when oil was $115 per barrel we could have provided far in excess.
I also think that, perhaps in the area of power, especially trying to do much more, but power is privatized. A lot of the power companies, a lot of the GENCOs, the DISCOs in particular, simply don’t have the resources to replace assets, so they slow down. How I wish they have more funds to pump into assets and we hope they have more resources to do so. We’ve put in place the over N700 billion payment assurance scheme, but that is insufficient.
Q: DSS disagreement with the NIA in the past, recommendation of EFCC Chair, Ibrahim Magu, by the President and DSS’ letter against that; these point to discord within the administration…
Vice President: That’s not true. Let me put it this way; first let’s take the Magu example. One of the things that the President decided to do is to ensure that every agency does its work without direct interference from the President. So the President does not call the EFCC, and say, “Go and arrest Mr Ekpeyong”, no. And that’s one of the most important things about the style of this government, and we want the agencies to do their work. No one has showed up and called Magu and say, “Look go and arrest.” That’s what it is.
While you will find, for example, that the DG, SSS, upon the request by the Senate, wrote a security report and sent it, yet it is up to the President to decide whether he’s going to present this candidate. Interfering with the process of a security report is not leadership, that’s obstructing. He is not supposed to interfere. If you say, “Send your report”, whatever report you want to send, the man defends himself, and we still believe he is the right person for the job. That is the position that we took when he was presented the second time.
Of course, the Senate has had their own say on that and they are entitled to take some of the positions they are taking. But the President believes that this is the right man for the job, so he presented him the second time.
Q: Arrest of DG, NIA by the EFCC.
Vice President: With respect to the arrest of DG, NIA, and some of what took place, I think the fair thing to say is that the President has said that the EFCC has the absolute right to go ahead and do whatever it needs to do to ensure that anybody who has committed a crime, or who is suspected to having committed a crime, is brought to justice, and that’s the position that the EFCC has taken. You know the EFCC has issued a notice for the DG, NIA, and SGF to attend interview with the EFCC; but we are sure that that process would be followed to a logical conclusion.
To ensure that you allow government agency do their business, that’s very important; that’s institution building. Look at what is happening in the US today; the President is sometimes angry with the FBI because the FBI is doing its independent work, and that’s what we hope to achieve: when you see countries where agencies are doing their work the way they are supposed to do it.