Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, was on Radio Continental recently. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Let us talk about the China trip. What took you over there and what happened there?
As you know, China has a surfeit of infrastructure, while Nigeria has infrastructure deficit. What took us out there was how we could benefit from this surfeit that China has in terms of infrastructure, particularly rail, housing, agric, solid minerals, all the sectors in which Nigeria needs improvement. How can China be of benefit to us was what took the President and his delegation out there. And I must say that it was a splendid visit, a visit that inspired every member of the delegation. And you know when you get inspired, you then begin to aspire. We saw so many wonderful things in China and we began to ask ourselves; when will our country get there? But then we aspire to also get there. God is great, I know we will get there.
When do we actually hope to see the specific materialisation of all these MOUs that we had signed in China?
Well, it is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We have taken that first step, like that man who went to the moon and said one single step but a giant leap for humanity. We have taken that single step that may become a giant leap for Nigeria, but a lot will depend on us. What happened the last time was that the former government went to China and signed exactly the same agreements that we have just signed. Thereafter, they went to bed, nothing was done because most of the agreements have what you call counterpart funding. That was the time Nigeria was awash with money. Oil was selling for 100 dollars up to 140 dollars per barrel. We could have met our parts of the agreements easily, but we didn’t pay. Now, oil sells for 30-40 dollars, and we have signed the agreements again. The difference is that a government with integrity will keep whatever agreement it has signed. And we know this is a government of integrity, the counterpart funding will be paid and when that is done, China will move in. Without Nigeria fulfilling its own part of the bargain, China may not come. But a lot depends on us and I believe that this government has all that it takes to keep its promises.
Did you actually borrow money from China?
Borrowing money was never on the table. I will tell you the story. One news agency ran a false story that we went to ask for 2 billion dollars loan in China. The story was concocted in the imagination of the reporter. And I called that reporter and asked him where he got the story, and he apologized to me. You filed a false story, which you know is unprofessional and unethical. The next thing is to retract that story. He didn’t. We issued our statement that we were going to China, and this is what we were going to do. You will not find loan anywhere in our statement. We stated what we were going to do and that was exactly what we did. But unfortunately, Nigerians at times just hear the first word and believe it. In fact, a Governor based his own tomfoolery on the fact that it had been published that a 2 billion dollars loan was going to be taken. Loan was never on the table and no loan was taken. What happened was there were investment deals. And in investment deals, you know it is not everything that is going to be a grant or a dash. You have a part to play. That is what happened in China.
In which aspects of the economy will these deals happen?
Various aspects, One, power. There is a deal to generate 200 megawatts of electricity at Shiroro that is going to be solar driven. That is for power and then you have in transport. There is going be a road, -Lagos-Ibadan-Abuja, different from the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, that is going to be built for 1 billion dollars. And then you have an export free trade zone in Ogun State worth one billion dollars also. You have an agric project in Kogi, and you have a housing project in which 27 storey buildings will be built in different parts of the country.
On the currency swap, people will love to understand what that is exactly about?
I have some ideas about the currency swap, but I don’t fully understand it, as I am not an economist. I have spoken with the CBN people in trying to understand it, but it is work in progress. When I spoke with the CBN, what I was told was that when it is fully done, there will now be an education process for Nigerians. But the little I can say about it is that Yuan will now be a currency of trade between Nigeria and China. They are going to advance us some billions of Yuan, which we will put in our external reserves. It is not going to show in our balance sheet as a country. It will be used to finance trade between Nigeria and China. There will be less pressure on the naira and less pressure on the dollar. That is my layman understanding of it.
What is keeping the budget from being signed?
The exact situation is that the legislature and the executive are still consulting. There has to be a lot of consultation on this because naturally, a President should not sign a budget that will become unimplementable. It is even an impeachable offence because they will say later that he didn’t implement it. And a President should not sign a budget that is not in favour of the people. Those budget projections were sent to the National Assembly, and what came back didn’t in any way look like what was sent. Projects had been moved around, like the Lagos-Calabar project was not even there. It had been yanked out completely. There was controversy whether it was in the original budget or the corrected one. But the Chairman, Land Transport committee, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, had clarified that it was in the addition to the budget. It went in but was not in what came out. A 60 billion naira project. How do you implement things like that? Something that you can’t own. What is a budget if it cannot serve the people? The President now said he would have to look at that budget ministry by ministry, which has been done. The Ministers have said no, this is not the document we sent in and this does not favour us. We can’t deliver change with this.
There are some liaison officers of the Presidency that work directly with the National Assembly. Were they absent when the National Assembly was going through the budget?
Yes, there are liaison officers of the President, one liaises with the Senate, and the other liaises with the House of Representatives. That is what they are, liaison officers. They won’t sit with the committees. The committees that sat and looked at the budget, they wouldn’t be there. When it was adopted by the whole house, they wouldn’t be there. They will only see the document when it has come back. There is not much that they could have done.
Are you not envisaging a constitutional crisis now that the National Assembly is thinking of overriding the President. By Tuesday, 30 days would have passed?
I wouldn’t think it would be 30 days by Tuesday because that budget was sent about two weeks ago. And the constitution gives the executive a 30 days window. What I will just say is that it is in nobody’s interest to have a constitutional crisis because the party that is governing in the centre also has the majority in the two chambers of the National Assembly. That party has to do the right thing. They need to call themselves, sit down and tell themselves; we are the party in government, and we must do the right things for the people.
What is being done to resolve the fuel crisis as quickly as possible?
On Wednesday last week at the Federal Executive Council meeting, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, briefed on the fuel crisis situation. He gave eight reasons why there is that crisis. If you listen to those eight reasons, you will be very sad for Nigeria. A country that has petroleum resources and has ended up importing 100 per cent. When you import 100 percent, the variables are not under your control. There will always be glitches along the line, and even if you solve it at a point time, something else will come up at another time until you are able to have the variables under your control. How can you have control? it is when you begin to refine petrol locally. The Minister also unfolded a plan in which by 2018, the new modular refineries would have been in place, and the four existing refineries would have been totally rehabilitated. And then by 2019,,Nigeria will not only stop importing petroleum, it will begin to export. That is the programme, medium term and long term. But between now and then, things are not going to be perfect. It calls for the patience and understanding of Nigerians because in the past 20 years or more, there was a gradual vandalisation of the process. Everything about oil and refinery was run down. Everything deteriorated and it led us to this sorry pass. We are in that pass, getting out of it will not be by a sudden flight. It has to be a programme that has been laid out now and it calls for patience, support and understanding.
On foreign exchange, are we going to stick with this policy that is obviously not working for majority of industries?
It will not be in my place to talk on foreign exchange policy. It is more of a Central Bank function. The Central Bank is the one that can talk on the FX policy.
What is the government doing to educate the people and enlighten them about what it is doing?
There is nothing that happens in government that we don’t give information about. There is nothing that happens that Nigerians are not kept abreast with, through the traditional and even the digital media. But when you have social media like we have today, you will have the positive side and the downside. Social media is good and all over the world it is helpful. But then, you have a lot of distortion of information on social media. For instance, the loan deal was not on the table in China, but it was everywhere through the social media that Nigeria was going to sign a 2 billion dollars loan deal. When we released information and there was nothing about loan, they still didn’t believe. Nigerians need to decide what they believe and how they access information form credible sources. In my days in the media, before I came on this assignment, I remember we went for an international conference on impact of the social media. The conclusion of that conference was that when something comes from the social media, people still wait for the traditional media before they believe. They authenticate the information. But it doesn’t seem to be happening in Nigeria. It is that one in the social media, which may be incorrect, that people take and they begin to share. It does a lot of harm to our country. Everything that comes from the Presidency and government is put out through traditional and social media. But when people decide to believe things that are not true, there is hardly much anybody can do. But those that are discerning will believe things that are released from official sources.
Talking about social media, is there a grazing bill from this government and that it has passed second reading?
There is nothing called the grazing bill. It is a figment of imagination of some people .Some people are just there to cause mischief in this country. What has happened is that the government has agreed to have what is called ranches for cattle rearers. When you set up ranches in different states, cattle rearers don’t have to drive their cattle round in the wild again and in the process getting into the farms of some people and destroying their crops. When you set up ranches, it then becomes illegal for anybody to drive his cattle openly. That is the way forward.
Why the loud silence of the President on the menace of herdsmen in the country. And they are causing havoc all over the country?
Maybe you didn’t hear the President when he spoke. When the Agatu crisis happened, he decried it and said he was going to ask for security briefing on it and something will be done. And when we were in Qatar, Aljazeera did an interview with the President, and the matter came up and the President spoke on it. He said this herdsmen and farmers clash is as old as time and it is endemic in the country. He said that something would be done about it. The Federal government, the state governments and even the local governments will consult, and that was how this ranches idea came out. What I see in Nigeria is that at times people want a talkative President that is speaking every day and he will speak to a point that people are even tired of hearing him. The Presidency is the last point in any country but in Nigeria, they want to make it the first point of comment. No, it should not be like that. I remember that when the Mile 12 crisis happened in Lagos, the crisis had been curtailed, Governor Ambode had done more than what was necessary, he had even made a broadcast. And somebody called me, asking why the President has not spoken on Mile 12 crisis. Are we not in a federation again? Why should the President speak on Mile 12 crisis where there is a Governor in the state and he had handled the issue satisfactorily?