The government also said it’s within the prerogative of President Buhari to either participate in the pre-election debate or not, stressing however that the APC would roundly defeat the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the preferred choice of Obasanjo.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed made the positions known during an interactive session with journalists in Abuja.
He was reacting to the spate of criticisms of the Buhari administration by former President Obasanjo, who accused the government of non-performance.
On the ex-president’s support for his former deputy, the minister said, “actually, it’s his constitutional right to support any candidate of his choice. But I want to assure you that his candidate will be roundly and comprehensively defeated.”
Faulting Obasanjo’s verdict of non-performance passed on the administration, he said: “I am always a bit apprehensive when you are responding to criticism from a former president and a man of the caliber of President Obasanjo, who I have a lot of respect for.
“But the facts are all there that on corruption; I think this government has done more than any government in the history of this country to fight corruption. Corruption is endemic, it’s global. But when you look at the kind of institutional reforms this government has put in place, you cannot doubt his sincerity in his commitment to fight corruption. Corruption is not about prosecuting and jailing people. It’s all about what have been put in place to prevent people from looting the treasury. And this is why this government, like I said, has done more than any government in the history of this country.”
While insisting that Obasanjo must have read the wrong report on Buhari’s achievements, the minister listed the accruing gains from the Treasury Single Account, which according to him, was the idea of the immediate past administration, but implemented by the APC-led government.
“I will start with the TSA. The Treasury Single Account was not initiated by this government, but it’s the only government that has the political courage or will to implement it. Before we came in, there were over 22,000 accounts of government in various banks in Nigeria. Since we came in, it has been reduced to one single account. And from 2015 to date, N8.9trillion has passed through that TSA.
“At a glance, you know where revenue and every receipt of government is going. It makes for transparency, it makes for accountability. Two, this government put in place National Anti-Corruption Strategy which is a roadmap for all the anti-corruption agencies on how to tackle corruption.
“There is what is called the non-commission strategy which helps government to recover looted fund without convicting the people. As of today, EFCC alone has been able to recover N794billion, $261million, 1, 150,000 pounds, about 4,295 vehicles , about 500 mansions, precisely 407 mansions, to the federal government ’s kitty either in form of permanent or temporary forfeiture,” he further submitted.
Continuing, the minister further explained that “in tackling corruption again, this government has introduced what it calls an efficiency unit in the Ministry of Finance. This unit examines every proposal to travel, estacodes, gifts, and it’s on record that this government has saved N17billion from travel expenses, gifts and the likes.
“Under this government, with the TSA, more revenue is now coming in than before. I will just give you an example of JAMB. Between 2010 and 2015, JAMB paid into the federation account the sum of N51million. In 2017 alone, under this administration, JAMB paid N7.8billion into the federation account.
“Another thing which this government has done to ensure that there is transparency and we fight corruption effectively is that today, as opposed to what used to happen in the past, N8.1trillion was missing in federation account between 2010 and 2015, and this was supposed to have been paid in by 15 generating revenue generating authorities.”
On whistle-blower policy, he said, “the government once again has been able to rake in N13.8billion from whistle-blower alone, N7.8billion from corrupt officials. So, when you look at what we have put on ground as institutional remedies, you will agree with us that this government is more sincere and more committee to fighting corruption that any government in history.
“If the former president says this government is not performing, I think he’s not been properly briefed. We promised Nigerians we were going to diversify their economy, and one area where we have had resounding success, I think is the area of food security.
“In the last three and half years, we have saved $21billion from food importation, according to report recently released by Central Bank. But not that alone, we have been able to grow the number of rice farmers from five million to over eleven million today.
“First, our food import bill has gone down. When you look at the figures, in 2014, Nigeria imported 1.2million metric tonnes of rice from Thailand alone, in 2015, about 680,000 metric tonnes, last year, it went to about 200,000 metric tonnes, so, we have record to show.”
The minster who also listed the administration’s milestones in agriculture, infrastructure among others, said, “on rail, we are confident that by March, we will deliver the 160 kilometers standard gauge between Lagos and Ibadan. All these we have done with less money and in less time, if the former president is saying we are not doing well, probably he is not reading the right report, and our reports are verifiable either in agriculture, economy.
“Incidentally, the second quarter report just released showed we are doing very well. Yes, everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but let the opinion be rooted in facts. This government is not afraid to engage anybody on issues. Three and a half years is so short for any government to do everything for everybody. But you can see that from all I have read out either in security, rescuing the economy, or fighting corruption, we have a positive story to tell.”
Asked if President Buhari would turn himself in for presidential debate with other candidates, he said, “he will decide whether he will debate or not. Mr. President has cabinet members who go out to debate issues. I’m here with you discussing issues, and power minister is also out there doing same like others. But like I said, it’s the president’s prerogative to honour debate or not.”