The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in this
interview with The Punch’s Adeola Balogun and Gbenro Adeoye, says the
Federal Government will tell Nigerians the truth and not how they take
A lot of Nigerians are wondering if the Change Begins With Me
Campaign is about stealing because just after it was launched, two men –
Mr. Akin Fadeyi and Omo Bazuaye – said the concept was stolen from
them. What do you say to that?
It is unfortunate that some Nigerians don’t believe
in industry, honesty, integrity and hard work. But they should realise
that there is no shortcut to success except by being honest and
straightforward. This is the case with these two young men because I
will show you evidence that proves that by October 14, 2015, the entire
thematic production of Change Begins With Me had been completed. And by
October 31, the theme songs had been completed.
he came, we compared (our works). However, this is a campaign that will
last the entire administration. So, I said to him, ‘if and when we need
contents and your contents match our own, we will contact you’. And that
was why I told him, we can’t even take your material because we are not
changing our theme – Change Begins With Me – because everything we have
done is on that and yours is Not In My Country; and he went away. The
next time we heard from him was in June 2016, when he wrote a letter to
request for partnership. We did not make a secret of this campaign. As
soon as I became minister; I told the whole world what I was going to
do. I will read this out to you. The correspondence was dated October
14, 2015 and was sent at 3.04pm on that day.
Some Nigerians are incredible people. Fadeyi came in January. We thank
God for technology. As soon as I became minister, I called a meeting of
all the directors to say that I was going to launch this campaign and
after that, I received proposals from more than 20 people, including
Jimi Johnson. And to all of them, I had just one message – wait for me
to launch my campaign, if your material matches our own, we will call
In December, I came to Lagos to seek the support of Don Jazzy, Sunny
Ade, Kwam 1, Tiwa Savage, P Square, all of them. I met them at the
Southern Sun and told them that they could produce a theme song for me.
So how can anybody now wake up and say this was his idea? Honestly, it
is just inspiration from God and I worked with a team of more than five
people. We invited Brian from CENTERSPREAD. All the time I was telling
the world that I was going to launch the campaign, why didn’t anybody
say it was their idea?
But some Nigerians have questioned the timing of the campaign,
describing it as diversionary and that it appears as if the government
is pushing its change agenda on the people after it failed to keep its
promise. What do you say to that?
Isn’t what I have sent to you now an answer to that? If by October 2015,
I had completed this project, can it now be seen as an afterthought? By
October 2015, even before I was confirmed as minister, it had been my
idea to launch the campaign and I had completed work on it. Why would
anyone say it was an afterthought? Two, why had it not been launched
before now? When you take an idea to the government, you must also make
budget provision for it. We (ministers) came in November last year and
the budget was not passed until April, so I had to wait. And also, there
is no better time than now to launch this campaign.
any of you? Are we asking you to pay more tax? We are asking you to be
diligent at your work; we are asking you to be more patriotic; we are
asking you to buy made-in-Nigeria products; we are asking you as a Danfo
driver not to take ‘paraga’ (local liquor) before driving: we are
asking the patent medicine store owner not to sell substandard drugs; we
are asking the customs officer not to undervalue on the job. So what
are we asking of you that is a burden? It is actually in time of
adversity like this that you launch this kind of programme. It is quite
possible for the price of oil per barrel to rise to $100 tomorrow, then
everybody will forget about recession and we will become wasteful in our
spending again. Then we will start to import champagne and refuse to
invest in infrastructure. And corruption will be rife again and we will
return to this situation. So is there any better time than at a time of
adversity to run this campaign?
But don’t you think the campaign will be difficult to sell to people
who are hungry or have not been paid salaries for six months? Where
should they get food to eat and survive?
Okay, we are asking somebody who has not been paid for six months to be
diligent, but we are also asking his boss not to embezzle his workers’
entitlements. We are also asking the customs officer to ensure that
revenues are collected adequately; that is the best way the man who has
not been paid salary can get his money.
and corruption should go on? Or that people should continue to
vandalise our pipelines? Listen, why is it that the man has not been
paid his salary? Corruption! Vandalism! We are losing one million
barrels of crude oil daily, you know how much that translates to in
naira? And we are campaigning that people should be patriotic and not
destroy infrastructure. We are appealing to you to please buy
made-in-Nigeria goods so that there can be more jobs and you think that
because the man has not been paid, he should go on the rampage. It is a
very comprehensive campaign that is not aimed at the unpaid worker
alone; the aim is to address the issue from the top to the bottom.
Nigerians are saying the government has not fulfilled its part of the
change that was promised them, yet, it is asking them to do their own
Even if we did not launch this campaign, is it not right for people to
be honest? Is it not right for people to be upright? Okay, because the
government has not been able to deliver on its campaign promises, is it
right for people to be selling substandard drugs and be killing
citizens? Is it right to be breaking pipelines and putting everybody in
darkness? I don’t see the logic in it. And why is it that the government
has been unable to deliver on its promises? It begs repetition. It is
simply because of these same ills we are trying to correct. We inherited
an economy that was defective, that was 60 per cent dependent on oil
and oil related products. We inherited an economy that was driven by
consumption. Even when they kept saying that there was growth, what kind
of growth was it? Yes, there would be growth as long as petrol dollars
come in and people buy things. But did that translate into employment?
Did it translate into more factories?
But Nigerians are saying that the blame game should have ended by now
and that this government should get down to serious work and justify
why it got majority of people’s votes.
Who is involved in blame game?
Is it not embarrassing how this government keeps blaming the Peoples
Democratic Party for the country’s woes when it was voted in to fix the
Blame game! Listen, is it blame game to say that we are losing one
million barrels of crude a day, is that blame game? Is it blame game to
say that we over relied on oil and failed to diversify the economy? I am
not even talking about stealing. We are talking about the facts on
ground, that our economy had been defective for a long time, not during
(former President Goodluck) Jonathan’s time alone. We have always made
that very clear, that this problem was waiting to happen because past
administrations refused to invest in infrastructure. They did not leave
cushion for us.
stopped the bleeding by introducing the Treasury Single Account; that is
one. Two, we have ensured that money is spent on essential things
alone. In the whole of 2015, only N18bn was spent on roads, but N65bn on
estacode and travels. We have reversed that. This year alone, we have
spent N70bn on roads but unfortunately, we met over N400bn debt. That is
not blame game. Look, why are the Jews reminding you of the holocaust
after 70 years? It is not blame game and we should understand this. You
can’t tell us to wish away the past. Do you have a magic wand to say
that the economy should be running smoothly? We are not even blaming
Jonathan or whoever; we are saying this is what we met and this is what
we are doing. And now, you are saying why have you not delivered on your
promises? Is it our fault that the price of crude oil crashed from $100
to $28? Did we blame Jonathan for that?
All over the world, people hold parties responsible for promises made
during electioneering, so this government should even commend Nigerians
for their fortitude thus far.
We always do that. But let me give you an illustration. You promised
your son that you would buy him a bicycle. All of a sudden, you lose
your job. What do you do? You explain to him, ‘Son, I promised you a
bicycle but this is what happened. I am working hard to get another job
and I will still buy you a bicycle.’ There is no difference between
running a government and running a family. I will tell you what
a bedroom flat. Then his salary was increased to N100,000 a month. And
his wife said, let us be saving money and buy land. He said no. He
married another wife and they moved from their one bedroomed flat to a
two-bedroomed flat and also moved their children to a private school
from public schools and started living the life. All of a sudden, his
employer said he was closing down the factory and could only pay him
N40,000 a month now. What will he do? He will have to return to a one
bedroom flat, move his children back to a public school, and the second
wife he married will have to go. It is a recession.
But beyond the fall in oil prices, it appears that this government
was ill prepared for governance as your party-the All Progressives
Congress- has said openly it had no idea of how bad the situation was.
Isn’t that where due diligence and the need for shadow cabinets come in?
Who should we blame for that?
I was a member of the transition committee of this government and it is
shocking to see how soon you all forget what happened. Where were you
when we were crying that five days to the handover date, we had not
received any handover notes? You published it then. You are asking me
this question now. How prepared were we? How can you be prepared when
nobody gives you a handover note? You are going to buy a house and you
are not allowed to enter until the day you pay, then you get there and
see the leakages and all of that.
we didn’t know because we had no access to the figures. We did not know
that Nigerian government was not paying up its Joint Venture to the oil
companies. We didn’t know that government owed over N400bn to
contractors; it was when we came in that we realised that contractors
had not been paid for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. When oil was selling at
$100 a barrel, government did not pay contractors. We have to pay them
now. We owe Julius Berger over N70bn, so when we gave the company N13bn
to start work, their official just laughed and said it was just to
service the interest. You see, we will not shy away from telling
Nigerians the truth; it is not important how you want to take it. But
that is the honest truth. And we always say, take us as if it is your
small family unit and tell us how you are going to react.
But Nigerians are saying that there appears to be no direction or
concrete plan by this government to get us out of recession, which is
really the problem.
Do you understand what recession is? It simply means that for two
consecutive quarters, you record negative figures. Japan has been in
recession for 60 years. Why our recession is biting more is because
there is no reserve to fall on. When the money was there, there was no
investment in infrastructure. You can imagine if there had been rail
lines, the cost of transportation would have been cheaper. The cost of
transporting produce would be cheaper. Crude oil transportation would be
cheaper. When we had the money to do this, we did not do so. That is
why the situation is biting hard. Eleven oil producing countries that
suffered the same shock as Nigeria did have gone into recession; six
more are preparing to do so. Saudi Arabia entered the crisis with over
$600bn in reserve; we entered the crash with over 170 million people and
less than $30bn in reserve.
surprised that there was going to be recession, in fact, the Minister of
Finance said it, and so we know what it is. What are we producing?
Where are the factories? Where is the power? How can you make your
factories work when people are sabotaging pipelines and cutting off
electricity supply? When you are losing one million barrels of crude a
day, 1,000MW of electricity per day, and the source of gas is being cut
every day, how do you want to survive? But what we are doing is very
clear as I explained to you. One, we have not only introduced the TSA,
we have introduced fiscal discipline. We have been able to weed out over
33,000 ghost workers; we have reduced monthly payments from N165bn a
month to about N159bn. We have been able to achieve significant
reduction in tours and travels; and these are some of the things you
can do while also concentrating on diversifying to areas like
agriculture, culture and industry. If you read the result of the second
quarter, there were improvements in agriculture, solid minerals and
growth in investments. We are very confident we are going to get out of
this recession because we are taking fiscal measures.
Immediately this government came into power, there was significant
improvement in power supply and then the Niger Delta Avengers came in.
Even the TSA this government has implemented, a lot of people feel
that it has been causing more damage than good on the economy and that
it should have been a gradual process because of its adverse effects on
banks, which are now struggling to survive.
Do banks in other parts of the world depend on government deposits? When
I was younger, I knew what banks did. That is what we have to correct.
If all a bank can survive on is for the government to give it N10bn,
keeps it and gives the government five per cent, 10 per cent, and then
loan the same money out to people at 23, 24 per cent, do you think that
is what banking is all about? I don’t think so.
that there was no way it could know where its money really was.
Generating agencies like Nigerian Customs Service, Federal Inland
Revenue Service, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and others,
were keeping money elsewhere and when government needed money, it had to
go and borrow when its money was lying idle somewhere. You are now
saying that we should take the money back there; that doesn’t make
Do you think this government has the luxury of delaying some of the
things it promised the citizens because it is almost two years now that
it came to power?
Do you think the government is delaying anything? I’ve given you facts
and figures. I’ve told you that the economy was dependent on a single
product and that product suffered a serious crash. And I have asked you
as a person if you made a promise to your wife and kids, based on your
income, to take them on vacation to Dubai and your salary drops from
N100,000 to N20,000 can you still keep that promise immediately?
delaying it? And that is why we have to be open. What we need to do now
is to look at what is essential, which is why we are diversifying and
looking for other sources of income. And we are not the type of
government that would pass the buck to the next generation; we could do
so. But no, we came with a rescue mission and we are going to rescue
this country by the grace of God.
Senator Shehu Sani recently said that he hoped that by the time that would happen, all of us would not have died.
Comments are very free. I have been on the outside and now I’m inside
and I understand the situation. Any of them who comments, we just laugh
at them because they have little understanding of the enormity of the
problems government is confronted with. How many of them understand what
sacrifices our soldiers are making, not just in the North-East? Do they
know how much it costs to maintain the military? I don’t join issues
with people; they comment from their own perspectives. But clearly, this
government is people-oriented and the only reason why we are here is
because of the people.
How can majority of Nigerians, especially in the South-East and
South-South, be patriotic when appointments are skewed in favour of the
It is balanced and I will prove it to you.
Will you say it is balanced if out of 17 security agencies, 14 are headed by northerners?
Do you know your problem, you do not take a holistic view of a
situation; you take a small view of it. We have made about 260
appointments and I will tell you that even for the South-East that seems
to have the least, it is because people forget that it has five states
while the North-West has seven states.
So when you break it down, it is equal number of appointees for each
state and I will give you the figures. People only try to whip up
religious and ethnic sentiments but the facts are there.
In North-West, there have been 51 appointments; North-Central, 46;
North-East, 45; South-East, 41; South-West, 45; and South-South, 45.
Meanwhile, North-West has seven states, South-East, five states. If 41
appointments are made from the South-East and you divide by five, it is
roughly eight per state. If you divide 45 in the South-West by the six
states there, you get less than eight. If you divide North-West that has
51 by seven, you get just about seven. So what are we saying?