'LET THE MEDIA UNITE NIGERIANS TO CONFRONT BOKO HARAM'
The truth of the matter is let the media unite the nation to confront this group as a terror group. It is not acting on behalf of Islam; it is not acting on behalf of the North. Look at Reverend King in Lagos; he is not acting on behalf of Christianity. So, any group of criminals can use any particular religion at any time to commit crime. And we need to unite the nation. And journalism has the responsibility to unite the nation because, if we go into chaos of terror dividing our country, it will be tragic.
Nigeria is one of the greatest assets we have on this continent and all over the world. So, let's unite our country. We are worried because some people will go behind and send press messages to newspaper houses claiming to speak for groups. The following morning, it will be headline in the newspapers. I am particularly worried about this as a journalist, as a public officer and a citizen. The West promoted Osama Bin Laden on the screen of the CNN and BBC. Later, he became popular. And that is how the network became big. We must report terror to defeat it, not to glorify it, not to sensationalise it because we are facing a very dangerous situation.
I also hope that you will find a space in between the Boko Haram to report the development programmes that we are doing. It seems Boko Haram is the one on the front page of our papers every day. And I don't think that is good. Democracy is working and the way we report it is important. It is not only at the Federal level. Look at states. Lagos is working. I left Lagos in the last 12 years and I come to Lagos and realise there is progress in Lagos. I go to Rivers State and see progress. I see that Amaechi has rebuilt a whole new public infrastructure.
He has built schools, built roads and a lot of work is going on. I go to Akwa Ibom and see new infrastructure. When I was a development worker and journalist, we went to Uyo and saw motorcycles. Go there today and see good road network and infrastructure. You will see new e-library they are building. There are a lot of things that are happening. I was in Calabar recently and I saw a system that is working in Nigeria. You will see a landscape with green area and people working long distances under shade. Traffic light working, and the street sparkling clean, like any other street in the world. We are not capturing it. They don't find their way into the headlines.
You are expecting much from the media, yet government does not support the media. Wavers are given to other sectors, but none to the media, for instance. Why?
Yes, the government can support the media. My duty as Minister of Information is to support the media. And I have raised this matter with both the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria and Nigeria Guild of Editors and the Nigeria Union of Journalists. Government ought to support the media because the media are national institution. If we support manufacturing; if we support agriculture, why not the media? The problem with the media is that government cannot initiate support for media because it will be misunderstood.
The media are a special group. The moment it is learnt that the government is doing something for the media, many people will say we want to buy up the media. The so-called CNPP will sit down and attack us. There are different problems for the broadcast. There are different problems for the print. I believe that we need an engagement that would highlight the areas where the government can come in. Government doesn't need to give the media money. Not at all.
That is not what we are saying. We are talking of creation and application of tariff and support for things that will make the press business cheaper and more effective. That, we are ready to do and I believe we can discuss that further. It doesn't have to come from immediate, as a whole. You develop the idea further. You develop it together, bring it to me, then the other people can benefit.
I don't see any contradiction in it at all. The media employ hundreds of thousands of Nigerians; they generate tax income for the Federal Government; they promote businesses; they report activities of government. So, I don't see reason we should not invest in the media. I will be willing to take it up further, so that we can move from here to some concrete proposal that I can table before the government at an appropriate time to seek remedy where we need to do so.
Why did it take the Federal Government such a long time to come out to explain the subsidy issue until now?
We are out now to make the best out of what we can under the situation. Part of the problem also is that anything relating to oil sector is very emotional to Nigerians. And there was a protracted struggle in the past. Every time a government come, it would want to do it and it would not be able to do it in the end. And it is there as it is. And until the problem has come to a head now, in our time, where if we don't do it, it will impact negatively on the economy. So, we are hoping that our colleagues would appreciate the difficulty the nation faces. Some leaders are lucky they come in good times. They run their country in the era of boom. Some other leaders are unlucky; they come in bad times. And so, all the bad decisions that everybody avoided become an albatross on their neck. That is what we are facing now. We can also avoid it by floating more bonds. I am not sure that the economy will survive it. All of us have looked at that option and we see it is a very dangerous thing.
It is better for history to remember us for taking a decision that is very unpopular than to choose the easy option that will postpone the problem and cripple the economy. I am not sure that any serious leader that is patriotic would want that for his country. Sub-Sahara Africa is the area the world is looking at. If you read the Economist, they are now saying that Nigeria is the next destination after Russia and Brazil. And what we need is to prepare our policy to make it available for the people to come; for the capital and technology to come.
We made a disastrous mistake through our own indigenisation decree because that decree stopped us from following the path of progress. We could have been farther than this. That indigenisation decree, which sought to control investment, allowed capital and technology to flee the boundary of Nigeria. And I think looking back in retrospect, there were many economic decision that looked popular at that time, that turn round now, in retrospect, to be mistake. We need now to move from here and not compound our situation. So, we are calling on our citizens to understand with us.
You were accused of opposing removal of subsidy as a student union leader and now supporting it. How do you react to that?
First of all, I was a very strong student union leader. I was lucky to be elected as president of University of Jos Students Union in my second year. And throughout my stay in the university, I was NANS PRO from my third year up to my final year. Leadership developed early in life and I don't regret it. Most of what I am today is traceable to that origin. I feel happy and encouraged to participate at that level. Having said that, by 1998, I had left school. By the time I left school, subsidy was not a major issue. I left UNIJOS in 1984. When I was student leader, subsidy was not yet a problem. The reality is that, even if I opposed deregulation then as a student leader, 23 years ago, and 23 years later I have found myself in a national leadership, where a policy is not working, would you then expect me to oppose it when I know that it's the best thing to do? It does not give us any logic. I don't want to turn the deregulation issue into a personal issue. I know that it was an ambush.
You have listed what government wants to do. How could this be possible with a budget where only 26 per cent is set aside for capital project?
That's why we want to deregulate. We are deregulating to bring in new capacity into the economy. We didn't finance the telecoms sector that's working. It is the private capital that came in. We didn't finance the aviation. When we financed the Nigeria Airways, it crashed. Private capital came in and saved the situation. We didn't finance cement production. It is private capital that came in. We did not finance the new radio and television stations; it is the private capital that came in. Now, there is no way you can run the economy on lean budget.
We are following a policy that will enable people who have the finance and resources to invest to do so. Secondly, that is also part of the argument against subsidy. How would a nation that is willing to deliver on transformation spend one third of its budget to subsidise one item? While the economy is dying, you are borrowing to do capital project. It is in fact, one of the reasons for us, as a nation, not to continue with this mess.
So, we are taking this step, therefore, to make use of resources wisely. Every nation is doing the same. If you look at Greece, they are demonstrating because suddenly, they were compelled to take the decision, which we are taking now. We don't want our people to come to the street before we address the problem. So, the argument is exactly the same. And I do not think it makes sense.
'What we'll do with subsidy money'
The Federal Government has outlined what it would do with money realised from the removal of petroleum subsidy. According to a booklet published by the government, the money would be used to address infrastructure needs of Nigerians. Such needs, under the 'Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE),' are grouped into components and include:
Social safety net programmes
• Maternal and child health services
• Public works/women and youth employment programme
• Urban mass transit scheme
• Vocational training schemes
Niger Delta development project
• East-West Road
• Port Harcourt-Ahoada
• East West road
• East West road
Road infrastructure projects
• Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja dual carriageway
• Benin-Ore-Sagamu dual carriageway
• Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway
• Kano-Maiduguri dual carriageway
• Construction of Oweto Bridge
• Construction of 2nd Niger bridge
Rail transport projects
• Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge (dual)
• Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge
• Port Harcourt-Umuahia-Enugu
• Abuja light rail project
Component E: Water and
E1: Irrigation projects
• Lower Anambra, Anambra
• Adani Rice, Enugu
• Abakaliki (Item, Nkwo), Abia and Ebonyi
• Peremabiri, Bayelsa
• Itu Irrigation, Cross River
• Kolo, Bayelsa
• Middle Ogun, Oyo State
• Lower Ogun, Ogun State
• South Chad, Borno
• Lower Chad, Yobe
• Chouchi, Adamawa
• Lower Taraba (Donga)
• Doma, Nasarawa
• Tada Shonga, Kwara
• Auyo, Jigawa
• Longkat, Plateau
• Bakolori, Zamfara
• Gurara, Kaduna
• Zaura Polder, Kebbi
E2: Urban Water Supply Projects
• Aba/Umuahia, Abia
• Greater Onitsha, Anambra
• Abakaliki/Ishiagu, Ebonyi
• Okrika/Port Harcourt, Rivers
• Central Ogbia, Bayelsa
• Fugar, Okpella, Edo
• Ilesha/Ile Ife, Osun
• Abeokuta, Ogun
• Little Osse, Ekiti
• Biu, Borno
• Damaturu, Yobe.
Selected power projects
• Mambilla Hydropower Project, Taraba
• Waya Small Hydro Power Plant, Bauchi
• Mbowo Small Hydro Power Plant, Enugu
• Ikere Gorge Small Hydro Power Dam, Oyo
• Oyan Small Hydro Power Dam, Ogun
• Bakolori Small Hydro Power Dam, Sokoto
• Tiga Dam, Kano
• Chaallawa Dam, Kano
• Jibiya Dam, Jigawa
• Doma Dam, Nasarawa
• Owena Dam, Ondo
• Goronyo Dam, Sokoto
• Kampe Dam, Kogi
• Zobe Dam, Katsina
• Kashimbilla Dam, Taraba
• Dadin Kowa Small Power Project, Gombe
• Ogwashiukwu Dam, Delta
• Galma Dam, Kaduna.
• New refineries in Bayelsa, Kogi and Lagos