Text of The Year-Ending Press Conference Addressed By Minister of Information And Culture, Lai Mohammed

Text of The Year-Ending Press Conference Addressed By The Hon. Minister of Information And Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed, in Lagos


Good afternoon gentlemen. Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a great 2020 for all of you.

2. We have called this press conference to enable us present the major achievements of the Buhari Administration for the outgoing year 2019. We believe it is important to do this for the record, especially against the background of the continuing efforts by the political opposition to obfuscate the steady progress being made by the Administration in all sectors, even in the face of dwindling resources. The achievements we are about to highlight are by no means exhaustive, bu they headline the progress made by the administration in the year under review.

The economy continues to witness a strong performance, building on the steady recovery seen since the last recession.

a. OVERALL GROWTH: In 2019, the Nigerian economy grew at an average rate of 2.2% over the first three quarters, compared to 1.7% over the same period in 2018.

b. OIL AND NON-OIL SECTORS: Both the oil and non-oil sectors performed considerably better in 2019 than in 2018. The oil sector
grew at an average of 4% over the three quarters, compared to 2.4% in 2018, while the non-oil sector grew by 2%, compared to 1.7% in 2018.

c. OIL PRODUCTION: The average daily oil production level rose to its highest in the last 3 years, reaching 2 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2019, compared to 1.8 mbpd in 2016, and 1.9 mbpd in both 2017 and 2018.

d. MAJOR GROWTH SECTORS: In particular, in the third quarter of 2019, the major growth drivers were: Information and communications, agriculture, mining & quarrying, transportation & storage, as well as manufacturing, all of which have seen considerable focus by government. In the third quarter of 2019, a total of 34 economic activities witnessed positive expansion, the same as in 2018.

e. INFLATION RATE: The trends indicate that overall macroeconomic stability is being achieved, with inflation rate steadily trending downwards.

HEADLINE INFLATION: Year-on-year headline inflation rate declined steadily from 15.1% in January 2018 to 11.9% in November 2019.

CORE INFLATION: Year-on-year core inflation rate slowed from 12.1% to 9% between January last year and November this year.

FOOD INFLATION: Year-on-year food inflation rate decreased from 18.9% in January 2018 to 14.5% in November 2019.

Strong performance in the external sector suggests increasing diversification of exports and export revenue.
IMPORTS: The value of imports in 2019, as at the third quarter, stood at 11.6 trillion naira, compared to 9.6 trillion naira as at third quarter of 2018. This represented an annual growth rate of 21% between 2018 and 2019. Other than refined petroleum products, major imports have been machinery and vehicles.

EXPORTS: The value of exports grew by 2.5% between 2018 and 2019 as at the third quarter, rising from 14 trillion Naira to 14.4 trillion Naira. This resulted in a stronger overall performance and an increase in the value of total trade by 10% between 2018 and 2019.

KEY EXPORTS OF NOTE: While the value of crude oil exports decreased by 3.78%, non crude oil exports rose by over 30% in value between 2018 and 2019. Non-oil exports also doubled from about 1 trillion Naira to 2 trillion Naira over this period.

The 2019 budget performance shows that while revenue shortfalls occurred in the first half of the year, capital expenditure was prioritized, leading to higher expenditure performance.
Government revenue: As at half-year 2019, actual aggregate revenue stood at 2 trillion naira, or 58% of pro-rated target. This comprised:

i. Oil revenue of N900 billion (49%performance);
ii. Company Income Tax (CIT) of N349 billion (86%performance);
iii. Value-Added Tax (VAT) of N81 billion (71%performance); and
iv. Customs Collections of N184 billion (100.47%performance).

Government expenditure: As at half-year 2019, out of the total appropriation of 8.9 trillion Naira for 2019, about 3.4 trillion Naira had been spent, representing 76% performance for that period. Capital spending has been prioritized in favour of critical ongoing infrastructural projects in the power, roads, rail and agriculture sectors.

Recently, there have been concerns in certain circles about the country’s growing debt, both domestic and external. In the process, there have been some misrepresentations and scaremongering. We therefore believe it is important to put things in the right perspective, so our citizens will be well informed:

i. The public debt stock is actually a cumulative figure of borrowings by successive governments over many years. It is therefore not appropriate to attribute the public debt stock to one administration.
ii. Nigeria’s total public debt stock in 2015 was $63.80 billion, comprising $10.31 billion of external debt and $53.49 billion domestic debt. By June 2019, the total debt stock was $83.883 billion, made up of $27.163 billion of external debt and $56.720 billion domestic debt.It is therefore not correct to say that Nigeria’s external debt alone is $81.274 billion.
iii. There is yet no cause for alarm. This is because Nigeria has a debt ceiling of 25% in the total public debt stock to Gross Domestic Product (Debt/GDP), which it has operated within. The ratio for Dec. 31 2018 and June 30 2019 were 19.09% and 18.99% respectively.
iv. The debt service to revenue ratio has, however, been higher than desirable, hence the push by the government to diversify the economy
and increase oil and non-oil revenues significantly. The government is also widening the tax base to capture more tax-paying citizens.
v. In the face of massive infrastructural decay, no responsible government will sit by and do nothing. This Administration’s borrowing, therefore, is aimed at revamping our infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railways, waterways and power, to help unleash the potential of the nation’s economy. The loans for the educational sector will contribute to the development of our human capital while the loans for the agricultural sector will help the move to diversify the economy.

Capital importation comprises mainly foreign direct investment, portfolio investment and other investment flowing into the country. As at the third quarter of 2019, total capital importation had reached nearly 20 billion US dollars, which was 34% higher than the 15 billion US dollars recorded for the first three quarters of 2018.

While the inflow of foreign direct investment declined over the period by 39% from 1 billion US dollars to 700 million US dollars, portfolio investment and other investments both rose significantly by 39% and 42% respectively.
Major sectors: Apart from banking and shares, some of the major sectors that witnessed high volume of capital inflows in 2019 were telecommunications, production and services.
Major states: Nearly all of the total capital importation as at Q3 2019 flowed to Lagos and Abuja, as is typical.

The Executive, in collaboration with the National Assembly, succeeded in introducing the 12-month (January to December) budget cycle for the
first time since 1999. This is a major development, considering the damage that delayed passage of budgets has done to the economy over the years. With the new cycle, there will be a more rapid infrastructural development, more job creation, etc

a. The Administration’s fight against corruption is progressing on all fronts, including institutional reforms, loot recovery and prosecution of alleged corrupt persons. As you are aware, this is one of the cardinal programmes of the Administration, with the others being the revamping of the economy (which I have just dwelt on extensively) and tackling insecurity (which I will touch on in the course of this press conference)

The Administration took a major step forward in the fight against corruption when it launched the Financial Transparency Policy and Portal, also known as Open Government. The Transparency Policy mandates the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) to publish a Daily Treasury Statement, which will provide information about what comes into the national treasury and what goes out every day. Under the policy, the Accountant General of the Federation and all Accounting Officers must publish Daily Payments Reports. With these reports, the Treasury will publish payments of at least 10 million Naira while all MDAS must publish payments above 5 million Naira made out of all public funds in their care. The information to be published must include the Ministry, Department, and Agency (MDA) responsible, the beneficiary, the purpose, and the amount of each payment. Accounting Officers are responsible for providing answers to any questions from the public relating to transactions completed by entities under their charge.

The AGF was also mandated to publish monthly Fiscal Accounts detailing the fiscal performance of the Federation, including receipts from all the collection agencies and payments out of the Federation Account.
This must be done within 14 days after the end of the month. The AGF and all Accounting Officers of MDAs must publish Quarterly Financial Statements for the government as a whole and for individual MDAS respectively.

President Muhammadu Buhari said the reason for implementing the policy is to cement government’s commitment to improving governance and supplementing the recently-launched Whistle-blower Policy and equipping the general population with the tools they need to report financial wrongdoing. This policy is unprecedented and will go a long way in enhancing transparency in governance and curtailing public sector corruption (The portal can be accessed through: https:opentreasury.gov.ng)

b Similarly, in its effort to block leakages and promote transparency in the management of resources, the President this year approved additional cost-saving measures, particularly in the area of official travels. Under the new policy, all MDAs are required to submit their Yearly Travel Plans for statutory meetings and engagements to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and/or the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for express clearance within the first quarter of the
fiscal year, before implementation. They are further required to make their presentation using the existing template and also secure approvals on specific travels as contained in the plan, from the appropriate quarters.

On the Nature and Frequency of travels, all public-funded travels (local and foreign), must be strictly for official purposes backed with documentary evidence. In this regard, all foreign travels must be for highly-essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to the interest of the country. Except with the express approval of Mr. President, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Chairmen of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Chief Executive Officers and Directors are restricted to not more than two (2) foreign travels in a quarter.

Also, when a Minister is at the head of an official delegation, the size of such delegation shall not exceed four (4) including the relevant Director, Schedule Officer and one (1) Aide of the Minister.
Every other delegation below ministerial level shall be restricted to a maximum of three (3).

For Class of Air Travels, the President has approved that Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants to the President, Chairmen of Extra-Ministerial Departments and Chief Executive Officers of Parastatals who are entitled, to continue to fly Business Class, while other categories of Public Officers are to travel on Economy Class. Also, travel days will no longer attract payment of Estacode Allowances as the duration of official trips shall be limited to only the number of days of the event as contained in the supporting documents to qualify for public funding.

c. The fight against corruption also gained momentum within the period, with high profile convictions. Between January and October 2019 alone, that’s 10 months, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) secured 890 convictions. This is the highest anywhere in the world. Recall that in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, the EFCC was only able to secure 103, 189, 190, and 202 convictions, respectively. The high rate of convictions in 2019 is in addition to the billions of naira in looted funds that have been recovered by the EFCC. For its part, the ICPC has launched a novel project of tracking the huge resources allocated to constituency projects over the years.
The Commission has started with the education and health sectors and, already, many contractors who abandoned their projects are returning to site. The Commission has also launched the WAHALA DEY app, which is a one-stop-shop for daily information from the ICPC, and for Nigerians to report acts of corruption.

Let me reiterate what I said before: This is not the first time Nigeria is fighting the canker-worm of corruption, but it is the first time that the fight is being backed by a strong political will, with a President renowned for his honour, dignity and incorruptibility personally leading the fight. And that is making all the difference. I have also said that while the war against corruption is still a war in progress, it is also fair to say that corruption has now been driven under the table and that the corrupt ones can no longer flaunt the proceeds of their corruption the way they used to do in the past. That is a major step forward. After all, every successful battle is a step
towards winning a war.

Our gallant men and women in uniform stepped up the fight against terrorism in 2019, despite the fact that they are not just fighting the rump of Boko Haram but also the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP). Yes, they occasionally attack soft targets from the fringe islands in Chad, where they have been confined by our troops. Still, they, but they don’t hold any territory like they did before the advent of this Administration when they hoisted their flag in their Bama Caliphate, collected taxes, as well as removed and installed Emirs. They no longer have such capabilities.

The successful attacks they carried out in Abuja and other cities are now a thing of the past. The terrorists’ recent attempt to attack soft targets in Damaturu, the Yobe State Capital, and Biu in Borno State were repelled by the military, with the terrorists suffering heavy casualties.

It is important that we, as citizens, do not say or do anything to demoralize the gallant troops who are fighting to keep us safe. It’s Christmas and New Year now and we are all with our families celebrating the holidays. But these gallant men and women are in the trenches to keep us safe. Let us remember them in our prayers and give them our support always, rather than sniping at them. Terrorism is not just a Nigerian problem. It’s a global problem and it has global ramifications. The terrorists are as irrational as they are inhuman.

They do not subscribe to any religion, despite their pretensions. That explains why they reportedly murdered 11 innocent men in Nigeria recently, in a dastardly and cold-blooded manner, just to avenge the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US forces. The world must unite to fight this scourge of our time.

Also, thanks to a multi-dimensional approach, the incessant farmers-herders clashes across the country, as well as banditry and kidnapping, have been reduced to the barest minimum.

Undoubtedly one of the boldest decisions ever taken by any administration in Nigeria is the decision to embark on a border drill as part of measures to secure Nigeria’s land and maritime borders. Many have called it border closure, but it is not. Recall, gentlemen, that the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security and intelligence agencies, commenced a joint border security exercise, code-named ‘EXERCISE SWIFT RESPONSE’, in 4 geopolitical zones of the country, namely; South-South, South West, North Central and North West on the 20th August 2019. The exercise is being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and is aimed at better securing our borders to strengthen our economy and address other trans-border security concerns.

Over time, Nigeria has been confronted with numerous trans-border economic and security challenges. These challenges range from banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migration and proliferation of light weapons, among others. Meanwhile, the preference for foreign goods, especially food items like rice, has continuously impoverished our farmers and adversely affected domestic government policies supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security. It is however disturbing that some neighbouring countries circumvent the ECOWAS protocol on transit. For clarity, the ECOWAS protocol on transit demands that when a transit container berths at a seaport, the receiving state is mandated to escort same without tampering with the seal to the border of the destination country.

Unfortunately, experience has shown that our neighbours do not comply with this protocol. Instead, they break the seals of containers at their ports and trans-load goods destined for Nigeria.

The effect of the border drill has been phenomenal and positive. I will list some of them

– Today, Nigeria is closer to attaining self sufficiency in rice production than at any time in the country’s history, thanks to the border drill that has drastically reduced rice smuggling into the country and catalyzed rice production by our farmers across the country. We recently visited some of Nigeria’s 34 integrated rice mills as well as rice clusters in Kano. The rice mills are either operating at full capacity or have doubled their production. Before the drill, there were 12.2 million rice farmers in Nigeria, but now
six million people, mostly youths, are venturing into rice production.

Before the drill, farmers were cultivating rice twice a year, now that has increased to three times a year, and some rice farmers are now venturing beyond rice cultivation to milling, packaging and marketing.
Overall, the integrated mills currently produce 150,000 bags of rice daily and about 35 million bags per annum

– The border drill has curbed the smuggling of rice and other prohibited items into the country, led to significant seizures with estimated monetary value of over 3,500,000 billion Naira, reduced local fuel consumption by 30% and reduced the importation of arms, munitions and drugs.

– Because of the drill, terrorists and other criminals are finding it hard to procure arms and ammunition while criminal elements no longer make their way into the country through the land borders. This has resulted in reduced cases of insecurity, whether its kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery or other violent crimes.

– Smuggling of petroleum products out of Nigeria has been drastically curtailed, and has led to a 30% reduction in domestic fuel consumption.

– Before the drill, the Nigeria Customs Service was recording about N4.5 billion daily. Since the drill started, the figure has increased to between N5 billion and N8 billion daily.

– There has been a drastic reduction in illegal migration.

– The exercise has provided a unique platform for the various participating agencies to operate jointly, thereby strengthening inter-agency collaboration and reducing animosity. It is also necessary to place on record that this is the first exercise in recent times that military, paramilitary as well as intelligence and security agencies have come together to conduct such an exercise, which is akin to a National Security exercise.

Gentlemen, if there is any area in which this Administration has been consistent in terms of development, it is in the area of building and revamping critical infrastructure. As we speak, infrastructural projects – roads, rail, power, dams, etc. – are ongoing in all the six geo-political zones. No Administration has ever embarked on such a massive infrastructural renewal, more so at a time of dwindling earnings

This year, Nigeria and Siemens signed an agreement to generate 11,000 MW by 2023. The Power Agreement is to support the activities of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the 11 Distribution Companies within the country, including software maintenance and support for four years.
b The laying of rail tracks on the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge rail line has almost been completed, and test run has commenced.
c Contractors were mobilized to various construction sites across the country to deliver on the road projects. There are heightened activities on the Lagos-Badagry, Port Harcourt-Enugu, and Port Harcourt-Aba, Onitsha-Enugu, Ilorin-Kabba, Loko-Oweto Bridge, Okene-Auchi Road, Kano-Katsina Expressway, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway rehabilitation and Obajana-Benin Road, among others.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in a landmark move, signed into law the amended Deep Offshore Bill. This Act means that Nigeria will now receive its fair, rightful, and equitable share of income from our own natural resources for the first time since 2003.
All these years, Nigeria has failed to secure its equitable share of the proceeds of oil production, because all attempts to amend the law on the distribution of income have failed. But this Administration has broken the jinx.

For the first time under our amended law, 200 million Nigerians will start to receive a fair return on the surfeit of resources of our lands. Increased income will allow for new hospitals, schools, infrastructure and jobs.

Gentlemen, 2019 has been a momentous year, and this Administration has taken Nigeria closer to its Next Level target. The economy has continued to witness a strong performance, building on the steady recovery since the last recession. Nigeria has not reached its debt ceiling of 25% in total public debt stock to GDP (Debt/GDP), as it is currently on 18.99%, but its debt service to revenue ratio has been higher than desirable, which explains why the government is moving ahead with its economic diversification efforts, in addition to increasing oil and non-oil revenues and widening the tax base.

Security of lives and property has remained a priority of this Administration, hence the tremendous improvement that has been witnessed in fighting terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other acts of criminality. It was indeed a challenging year in terms of insecurity, but the federal government faced the challenge squarely to cancel doomsday predictions from the political opposition and their allies. The fight against insecurity was boosted by the border drill, which curtailed access to weapons by terrorists and other criminals.

Thanks also to the drill, rice production has received a massive boost, creating millions of jobs and moving Nigeria closer to achieving self-sufficiency in rice production. The fight against corruption has received a shot in the arm, with the launch of the Administration’s Financial Transparency Policy and Portal, the increased prosecution and convictions and the tracking of the huge resources being allocated to constituency projects. The government has continued to revamp the nation’s infrastructure, while taking more steps to increase its earnings from its natural resources through the amendment of the necessary laws.

We thank Nigerians for their support and perseverance, and we assure that the Administration will continue to take all measures necessary to secure the lives and property of all citizens while enhancing their welfare. We urge the opposition to join hands with us to move Nigeria to the Next Level, instead of engaging in scorched-earth opposition that benefits no one.

You must have read the fake news attributed to Senator Fadahunsi that I am behind the hate speech bill at the National Assembly, and that the senator who is sponsoring the bill is fronting for me.

This is a typical example of the fake news we are trying to fight.

I am not the sponsor of the hate speech bill at the National Assembly. However, I remain committed to sanitizing the social media.

I have said that all stakeholders will be involved in determining the modalities for regulating the social media

Finally, we thank you for always honouring our invitation and we pray that 2020 brings you and your family great joy.
I thank you for your kind attention.

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