Transcript of an interview granted by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to a group of journalists and social media practitioners in Lagos on Friday, 2 March 2018. He explains government policies, the fight against corruption, infrastructural development, 2018 budget, controversies on appointments and the rating by Transparency International
Q: On Nigeria’s rating by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
Vice President: I think that by even Transparency International’s own assessment, Transparency International uses nine different indexes to come to a conclusion. In four out of those indexes, Nigeria moved up, in another four Nigeria stabilized & dropped in only one index. So in aggregation, it (T.I) then decides that it has fallen in certain number of points below where we were.
I think the important thing to bear in mind about Nigeria’s anti-corruption fight is that the government has done what it ought to do by focusing on grand corruption. Grand corruption is the type we experienced years before when, for example, $15 billion was lost in defence contract. Two, three weeks to election, N100 billion in cash was taken out, and again $293 million in cash, two weeks, three weeks to election. That’s the kind of impunity. And of course you are also familiar with the scam that went on in the NNPC at the time; the so called statutory contracts, that’s grand corruption. That is the corruption that crippled the economy of the country.
Let me tell you very quickly how you can recognise that we have scaled a good deal on grand corruption today: despite the fact that we are earning 60 percent less in revenue, we are actually able to spend more than ever before in the history of this country on infrastructure. In 2017, we spent about N1.3 trillion on capital. That’s the highest in the history of the country. So we are able to do far more with far less because we have controlled the impunity that went on, the grand corruption, and all of that.
Now, how does that translate to perception; because grand corruption is a big aspect of corruption. It’s a big one because if you cannot control grand corruption, you can’t do what you want to do. But then you cannot address the corruption as you go through our airports, our ports or as you go through government offices, in many cases. That’s where the whole perception emerges.
We must have a deeper and much wider way of dealing with corruption. How are you going to do that? You must have an efficient way of doing that; like automation, removing discretion from individuals.
Q: What is the institutionalised process of fighting corruption?
Vice President: Institutionalisation is not a one-off thing, it’s a process, and we are dealing with that, that’s exactly what we are doing. For example, the TSA and being able to look at government accounts and all of that is one way of institutionalising a process by which you can be sure of what people are doing, how this things are happening. The process of allowing the EFCC to do its work without dictation, saying that “look, this what the EFCC is doing”, and giving them every support that you can. These are ways of institutionalising. And it is that same process that we are taking in the public service – Automation.
For example, look at all that we have done in the ease of doing business. The whole point of doing that is institutionalising processes, so that when you come into Nigeria you can get your visa after applying online; so that Customs don’t have to sit around the airport, that is why we are putting in the I-check and we are putting all sorts of other processes. That is to institutionalise; it’s not a one-off process.
Q: What’s the national strategy on anti-corruption?
Vice President: That’s a long conversation, but put simply, the national strategy is to ensure that public officers in particular are not able to privatise public finances. And how do we intend to achieve that? We intend to achieve that by ensuring that there is consequence for corruption and also by automating processes, removing discretion from individuals because if you don’t remove discretion from individuals the individuals can have discretion as whether or not they will grant certain approvals through certain processes; then you continue to encourage corruption at one level or the other.
‘In 2017, we spent about N1.3 trillion on capital. That’s the highest in the history of the country. So we are able to do far more with far less because we have controlled the impunity that went on, the grand corruption, and all of that’.
Q: Aside from the EFCC, it seems the other anti-corruption agencies such as the ICPC are doing nothing…
Vice President: Well, I don’t agree. I think that you will find that alongside the work of the EFCC, in fact one of the critical things we do is, we try and re-direct the ICPC. We appointed the executive secretary of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Advisory Council, PACAC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, to head that body and we believe the ICPC is the important part of the whole fight against corruption. We revamped the leadership of the ICPC. Unfortunately we were stalled because it requires Senate confirmation, that hasn’t been done. That is the area of focus for us because the ICPC is supposed to be involved, not just in corruption, but in orientation and re-orientation of the public service. So, it’s an important part of our work.
Q: Nigerians in diaspora are one of the biggest foreign exchange contributors of about $20 billion. Aside from having a Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Affairs, does Nigeria have a Diaspora partnership?
Vice President: I think we’ve also gone beyond the Office of the Adviser; we now have a Diaspora Commission by law, which I think is a policy step. That Commission will aggregate a lot of the records through data for diaspora in order to encourage the diaspora to interact more with government, with private sector and all that. But don’t forget that, with the whole diaspora experience and what is in tune with other nations of the world; the usual focus is on remittances; what are they able to remit as it is pointed out, it is a substantial amount of money. It is something in the region of $20 billion.
But it obviously goes beyond that. In developing the economy we also need diaspora’s talent. So we need diaspora in technology, we need diaspora in education, medical practice and all that. The Ministry of Health, for example, actively engaged with the personnel in diaspora for specialists, setting equipment and all of that. But I believe that one of the most critical ways of doing so is through the diaspora commission, ordering it, measuring it; once that is constituted.
Q: Allegations of nepotism against the Buhari administration.
Vice President: Look at the cabinet, for example, from the point of view of the religion, it has an equal number – 18 Christians, 18 Muslims; but, we have the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as the Head of Service who are Christians. So we have 20 Christians to 18 Muslims; that’s the structure of the cabinet. So if you take that narrative you may argue that perhaps the Christians have the upper hand; that’s a possible narrative.
Let us look a little deeper into that, so there are those who may argue, for example, that the north has an upper hand or perhaps one section has an upper hand in the cabinet as one narrative. The South East, for example, has five states. Four of the South Eastern states have senior ministers; all of them, except one, who is Minister of State for Education.
‘Look at the cabinet, for example, from the point of view of the religion, it has an equal number – 18 Christians, 18 Muslims; but, we have the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as the Head of Service who are Christians. So we have 20 Christians to 18 Muslims; that’s the structure of the cabinet. So if you take that narrative you may argue that perhaps the Christians have the upper hand; that’s a possible narrative’.
Q: The President has no choice in that, it is a constitutional requirement.
Vice President: In assigning particular portfolios he does. In the north, seven northern states have no senior minister, including the President’s home state, Katsina. Now, there are those who will say, if you are nepotistic; surely seven northern states have no senior minister. It’s a narrative depending on how you want to run it.
I give you another example; I’m from the South West. There are people who will say “I am from the South West, the North has everything.” The South West, for the first time in the history of this country, has one Minister who is in charge of three ministries: Power, Works and Housing. The Ministers of Finance & Communications are also from the South West. These are critical ministries. You can run the narrative in whichever way that you choose. There are those who will say, for instance, look at the number of CEOs of agencies of government; the highest number of CEOs in our nation today comes from Ogun State, the state has the largest number. There are those who will say that’s his state (i.e VP’S State). So you can run the narrative depending on how you want to run it.
The President has admitted that, yes there are situations where you can find certain things as true and he intends to have a look at that. For example, you’ve given the example of security positions and he said he is going to take a look at look at it. I believe that is the way to go because you can run any narrative that will suit the figures you are showing. And that is where we have legal process. There are people who don’t know that the number of CEOs from Anambra State are more than the number of CEOs from Katsina State or anywhere else, except Ogun.
‘The President has admitted that, yes there are situations where you can find certain things as true and he intends to have a look at that. For example, you’ve given the example of security positions and he said he is going to take a look at look at it. I believe that is the way to go because you can run any narrative that will suit the figures you are showing’.
Q: Revamping Nigeria’s education system.
Vice President: If you will recall about a few months ago, I think it was in January, we had an education retreat; what needs to be done again is to unfold a whole direction in education. We came in with a manifesto on education, we had a few points that we were looking at and we also had some time to look at it. But many of us raised the issue that you don’t just pick the whole education; what about engineering because what we are seeing is such a dramatic change, not just in method of instruction in the requirement, job requirement, employment requirement, in technology and all of that, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do.
For example, we cannot have primary education the way it is, we’ve got to teach young people, we’ve got to introduce technology; you’ve got to have collaboration in education. We discovered, for instance, when we were doing the N-power – employment for young graduates, we discovered that it was also an opportunity to train the graduates. For the first time we were able to open a portal that has educational materials for graduates to just go in there. We also have devices for them to use.
But one important advantage of what we are doing is that all of a sudden, you can now train tens of thousands of people without sitting them in one place. So technology is going to play a role. We are in a very interesting place in terms of education today because you can leverage a great deal on technology. You can leverage a great deal on what is happening in other parts of the world. And we are trying to harness all of those resources and try to do something that will make a difference in our country. Here we are, in another 10 years we will be moving closer and closer to 2050 when we are going to be the 3rd largest population in the world. And there is almost a 70% youth population. We are not going to provide them with the number of classrooms that will be required, so we’ve got to really leverage on technology. We’ve got to leverage on verified trend that we see here and there.
Q: The delay in 2018 budget.
Vice President: We have a democracy that has, as you know, three arms. The two relevant arms for budget are the executive and legislature. If you recall when I was Acting President, I signed the 2017 budget and, at that time, I made the announcement with the full consensus of the National Assembly that, from 2018, we are going to have a budget that is going to apply in January and end in December the normal financial year. We agreed that we will submit our proposal in good time, and we did that first week of November. The President did so. We fulfilled that part of the agreement. The budget is with the National Assembly. There is very little we can do to control that. That’s the system that we have.
Q: Seeming rift between the Executive arm of Government and the Legislature.
Vice President: Well, I’m not so sure that the tensions are unknown. The democratic system anywhere as, for example, in the US where we borrow our bicameral legislature from, you find that despite the fact that the Republican Party controls major part of parliament, it still doesn’t mean that bills are necessary going to go through.
So one must assume that the responsibility of the National Assembly is to scrutinise what the executive is doing and not just to be a rubber stamp. But I also agree with you entirely that it’s important for us, for the sake of our country, our economy and for the sake of many young people who are relying on us to deliver. We ensured that we released our budget on time. I want to believe that the executive has done its part and we wait on the National Assembly.
Q: On Nigeria’s debt reportedly now being higher than what was inherited by this administration.
Vice President: No, No, I don’t think so. First let me explain that we have a government that is very prudent, a government that believes in financial prudence, a government that condemns impunity – the way that the thing was practiced before now, and a government that spends resources on the right thing. For the first time in the history of our country, we are spending about N1.3 trillion on capital; it means that we are investing in the right place. We are not just borrowing money anyhow; no, we are investing in the right place. Every government or most governments anywhere probably look for some points to borrow, but the important thing is what are you borrowing for? And that’s why we building the Lagos-Kano rail, doing the Lagos-Calabar rail, the second Niger Bridge and the Mambilla hydro project that has been abandoned for almost 40 years.
‘We are improving capacities in power, we are investing in social investment, we are investing long-term in the things that will create an economy that can support a large number of young graduates, who are coming in the market every day. That’s a process that needs a lot of thinking; that needs a lot of investment. I think the most important thing is to ask that when there was a N9 trillion debt, where is the infrastructure to account for that? I think that is the most important question to ask. It’s not whether you borrow, but what you spend that money on’.
We are improving capacities in power, we are investing in social investment, we are investing long-term in the things that will create an economy that can support a large number of young graduates, who are coming in the market every day. That’s a process that needs a lot of thinking; that needs a lot of investment. I think the most important thing is to ask that when there was a N9 trillion debt, where is the infrastructure to account for that? I think that is the most important question to ask. It’s not whether you borrow, but what you spend that money on. I think we should be able to prove that the earning is 60% less than the earning in the past five six years. So we are spending far more on the right thing and we are able to ensure that we build a future that young people can truly look forward to.
Q: What about the 50% revenue reportedly being spent on settling debts?
Vice President: No, we are not spending 50% of our revenue servicing debt. Let me explain that, we have a deficit somehow in the region of about N2.6 trillion now, a lot of our revenue has to be spent on capital and recurrent, and recurrent is 70% of revenue. But for the first time we are spending 30% on capital. Before now when oil was a $115 a barrel, we were spending 11% or 15% on capital, and capital is the most important expenditure because that is where you do the infrastructure in order to be able to build the economy. So the reality is what we are spending is to provide the infrastructure that will last.
Q: Abduction of 110 Dapchi girls in Yobe and the killings in states like Benue and Zamfara. Why didn’t the President or you visit these places?
Vice President: Let me say it first that no amount of condolence can compensate for the loss of life, whether in Calabar, Mambilla or Benue or where people were killed in Adamawa or Zamfara, any of these states. There is no amount of condolence that can compensate for the loss of life. Benue killing is one set of killing far too much; there is no amount of condolence that can compensate for that. And I want to say that it’s a massive tragedy. But the question that you seem to ask I’ve been to Zamfara, I’ve been to Adamawa when this killing took place. There are those who said, ‘oh, why don’t you visit the Fulani settlement, why do visit only where Christians were?’ I even visited Benue in September where there have been killing before; then I’ve visited them when the flooding took place and we looked at all the issues and tried to address many of these. There have been several of these issues in different places, recently Dapchi. We have expressed condolences, but no amount of condolence would do.
The more important thing, and our focus has been, is first of all ensuring security in these places. We have to address the security question in a much more robust way; that the police are able to do these effectively. We have deployed the military to Kaduna, two battalions to Kaduna. In Benue and Taraba axis, we have the 93 battalion, we have 72 Special Forces. We have full concentration in Taraba and all of that, and by the way, the military is fighting in most of the North East. So there is a situation where the military is overstretched. So I think the most important thing is first of all to ensure they actually address the security of the people.
Q: Nigerians definitely appreciate all you are doing. But they want to see their leaders come to them to grieve with them in the face of national human tragedy…
Vice President: Let me say that I definitely agree with you, the more places that we can go to the better. But I made a point earlier that we also have to address the serious concern that people have. We have to address those concerns; we have to address the rehabilitation concern. I am going round and the President is also going round, there is no question at all and I agree that if we go to all these places it would be so much better.