March 1, 2021

Full text of press briefing by Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed Monday 4 January 2021

Full text of press briefing by Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed Monday 4 January 2021

Good morning gentlemen, and welcome to this press conference, our

first this year.  In fact, it was meant to be the last for 2020, but

it has now become the first for 2021. As you are aware, this press

conference was scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 29th 2020. However, we had

to postpone it in order for me not to breach the Covid-19 protocols.

Many of you may not be aware that I represented Mr. President at the

inauguration of His Excellency, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré

of Burkina Faso, in Ouagadougou on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. I returned

to Nigeria the same day, but had to observe the mandatory 7-day

quarantine, which expired yesterday, Sunday Jan. 3rd 2021. My sincere

apologies to you, gentlemen, for the postponement, especially coming

at such a short notice.

2.   Now that we are here, let me wish you all a Happy New Year. The

year 2020 was a very challenging one for our country. Covid-19 and

EndSars – with their impact on the nation’s economy – and of course

heightened security challenges combined to make the year such a tough

one. But I make bold to say that the federal government rose stoutly –

with courage and determination – to tackle the challenges, and has

continued to do so.

COVID-19

3.   The Federal Government immediately kickstarted a massive

onslaught against the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, as soon as it was

imported into the country in February 2020, mobilizing all sectors and

segments of the country for a multi-sectoral approach to interrupt the

transmission of the virus, curtail mortality, expand health

infrastructure, build the capacity of health workers and mount an

aggressive public sensitization and community mobilization against the

spread of the virus. To achieve these targets, President Muhammadu

Buhari inaugurated a Presidential

Task Force on Covid-19 under the chairmanship of the Secretary to the

Government of the Federation to drive the multi-sectoral approach to

contain the virus. Nigeria has so far availed itself creditably in the

fight against Covid-19 through the deployment of resources,

mobilization and training of manpower and expansion of health

infrastructure, particularly our testing capacity for Covid-19. From

just two National Reference Laboratory for the testing of Covid-19, we

now have over 100 laboratories, public and private, across all the

states of the federation.

4.   Treatment centres were also built, in collaboration with the

states and the private sector (CACOVID), across the country to isolate

and treat cases of Covid-19, while the federal government, through the

Sustainable Production Pillar of the PTF, has been encouraging local

manufacturing companies to embark on the production of consumables

such as face masks, ventilators, hand sanitizers and face shields. To

mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the economy across all levels, the

federal government unveiled the Economic Sustainability Plan to

support families, small and medium enterprises and the manufacturing

sector, among others. A major highlight of the Economic Sustainability

Plan is the provision of solar power to 5 million Nigerian households

in the next 12 months. This alone will produce 250,000 jobs and impact

up to 25 million beneficiaries through the installation. Various other

interventions were made through the Government Enterprise and

Empowerment Program, as well as the Trader and Market Moni loans. For

the very vulnerable, significant steps taken include the expansion of

the National Social Register to 3.6 million beneficiaries across the

36 states; support provided to 8,827,129 households through the 70,000

Metric Tons food grains released from the Strategic Reserve; and

support to 1,289,405 vulnerable households that benefited from the

Conditional Cash Transfers across 34 States. The Central Bank of

Nigeria also announced a number of measures to cushion the impact of

the pandemic. These include:

– A 1-year extension of a moratorium on principal repayments for CBN

intervention facilities;

– The reduction of the interest rate on intervention loans from 9

percent to 5 percent

– Strengthening of the Loan to Deposit ratio policy (i.e. stepped up

enforcement of directive to extend more credit to the private sector)

– Creation of N50 billion target credit facility for affected

households and small and medium enterprises

– Granting of regulatory forbearance to banks to restructure terms of

facilities in affected sectors

– Additional N100 billion intervention fund in healthcare loans to

pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners intending to

expand/build capacity

– Identification of few key local pharmaceutical companies that will

be granted funding facilities to support the procurement of raw

materials and equipment required to boost local drug production.

– N1 trillion in loans to boost local manufacturing and production

across critical sectors.

– Provision of credit assistance for the health industry to meet the

potential increase in demand for health services and products “by

facilitating borrowing conditions for pharmaceutical companies,

hospitals and practitioners”.

– The Central Bank pledged to pump N1.1 trillion into critical sectors

of the economy.

– Commencement of a three-month repayment moratorium for all

TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans

– Similar moratorium to be given to all Federal Government-funded

loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the

Nigeria Export-Import Bank.

Of course, we also have the 774,000 Special Public Works (SPW) jobs

(1,000 jobs per each Local Government) which is now scheduled to

commence this January. The programme is designed for artisans to do

public works for three months at N20,000 per person per month. There

is also the N75 Billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF), which is

targeted at interested young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35

years. The aim of the scheme is to financially empower Nigeria youth

to generate at least 500,000 jobs between 2020 and 2023. Please note

that all these programmes, with the youth as major beneficiaries, were

put in place long before Endsars.

5.   With the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. President has

extended the mandate of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19

until the end of March 2021, bearing in mind the new surge in the

number of cases and the bid for vaccines. This is further evidence of

the Administration’s untiring efforts to tame the pandemic and protect

Nigerians.

ENDSARS

6.   Just as the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic was rounding off, the

country witnessed the EndSARS protest by

the youth, who were calling for an end to police brutality and the

disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protest

started peacefully but soon degenerated into violence after it was

hijacked by hoodlums. The five demands of the EndSars protesters were:

i)     Immediate release of all arrested protesters.

ii)    Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and

appropriate compensation for their families.

iii)    Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and

prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.

iv)    In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and

retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded

SARS officers before they can be redeployed.

v)     Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated

for protecting the lives and property of citizens.

The government responded comprehensively to the demands thus:

On 11 Oct: The Inspector-General of Police announced the immediate

disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the

Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

On Oct. 12th: President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating:

”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to

extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of

the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection

of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all

those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to

justice.

On Oct. 13th: The IGP ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at

the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological

and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as

a prelude to further training and reorientation before being

redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination

was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).

On the same day, Oct. 13th: The presidential panel on the reform of

SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the EndSARS

protesters.

On Oct. 15th: The National Economic Council (NEC) directed the

immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry

across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police

brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to

delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other

police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths,

Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a

respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months

to complete its assignment.

Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:

– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface

and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.

–  State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special

Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in

their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units

and all other security agencies located in the States. This will

ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also

include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the

head of police tactical units in each of the States.

–  Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human

Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3

persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be

established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.

–  State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable

the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.

Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries,

Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the

finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria

Police Force.

7.   Despite meeting the demands, the protest continued and the

demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to

unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson,

looting etc. For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed

all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were

injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations

burnt down. Also, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269

private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government

facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted. The

violence was unprecedented in scale and scope, and the impact has been

damaging to the economy.

ECONOMY

8.   Nigeria recorded positive economic developments in 2020, but

these seem to have been overshadowed by the country’s economic

recession. As you are all aware, Nigeria officially entered recession

at the end of the third quarter (Q3), after the country’s Gross

Domestic Product declined for the second consecutive quarter in 2020

(Q2 and Q3). That’s in line with the traditional definition of

recession. The main reason for this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Nigeria

is not alone. Dozens of countries, including economic giants like the

US, UK and Canada, have entered recession, of course due to the global

pandemic. Others include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,

Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands,

Norway, Romania, Russia and Spain.

9.   But, like I said earlier, Nigeria’s economic recession has masked

a lot of positive economic developments: According to the National

Bureau of Statistics, the decline of -3.62% in Q3 is much smaller than

the -6.10% recorded in Q2. The economic conditions are actually

improving, with 17 activities recording positive real growth in the

third quarter, compared to 13 in Q2. Also, 36 of 46 economic

activities did better in the third quarter of 2020 than in the second

quarter of the same year. The -3.62% contraction recorded in the third

quarter of 2020 was better than the -6.01% earlier forecast by the

National Bureau of Statistics, and outperformed several domestic and

international forecasts. Please note that before COVID-19, the

Nigerian economy had been experiencing sustained growth, which was

improving every quarter, until the second quarter of 2020, when the

impact of COVID-19 started to be felt. Just as the year 2020 was

rounding off, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) was named the

best-performing stock market among the 93 equity indexes being tracked

by Bloomberg across the world. The all-share index, which opened at

38,800.01, moved up by 310.16 points to close at 39,110.17 – crossing

the 39,000 mark, while the market capitalization rose by N167 billion

to close at N20.446 trillion. Returns are currently at 45.7 percent;

the best annual return since 2013.

OIL SECTOR WORST HIT

10.   The oil sector was largely responsible for the slowdown in

economic activity in the third quarter of 2020, as it recorded a sharp

contraction of -13.89% in the third quarter of 2020 year-on-year, the

largest decline in that sector in 14 quarters. The reason is not

far-fetched. The slowdown in global economic growth and oil demand due

to Covid-19 pandemic, as well as Nigeria’s obligations to meet OPEC

cuts, were principally responsible for the slowdown in the performance

of the oil sector.

NON-OIL SECTOR

11.   Though the non-oil sector also contracted in the third quarter

of 2020, the decline in the sector by -2.51% year-on-year in the third

quarter of 2020 was significantly better when compared to the

contraction of -6.05% year-on-year recorded in the second quarter of

2020.

12.   Overall, there is good news: The latest recession in Nigeria

will be short-lived, and Nigeria will return to positive growth soon,

unlike the 2016 recession which lasted five quarters. This is because

of several complementary fiscal, real sector and monetary

interventions proactively introduced by the government to forestall a

far worse decline of the economy and alleviate the negative

consequences of the pandemic.

SECURITY

13.   Gentlemen, let me say straight away that Nigeria is fending off

attacks on many fronts, not just from terrorists and bandits, but also

from some human rights organizations and the International Criminal

Court (ICC) which seem to have colluded to exacerbate the challenges

facing the country in the area of security. While our security

agencies continue to battle these bandits and terrorists, the ICC and

some international human rights organizations, especially Amnesty

International, have constituted themselves to another ‘fighting force’

against Nigeria, constantly harassing our security forces and

threatening them with investigation and possible prosecution over

alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes. Unfortunately, a

section of the local media has been parroting these organizations

without weighing the impact of their constant threats on the security

of the nation.

14.   The federal government frowns at this unbridled attempt to

demoralize our security men and women as they confront the onslaught

from bandits and terrorists. Nigeria did not join the ICC so it can

become a pawn on the court’s chessboard. It beggars belief to see that

a nation that is fighting an existential war against bandits and

terrorists is

constantly being held down by an international body which it willingly

joined. Nigeria is a sovereign state and will not surrender its

sovereignty to any organization. ICC, Amnesty International and their

cohorts should desist from threatening our troops and putting the

security of our country in jeopardy. Enough is enough. It is sad that

these organizations mostly rely on fake news and disinformation to

reach their conclusions, as witnessed during the Endsars protest when

CNN – an otherwise respected global news network – went to town with

fake news of a massacre. As it turned out, it was a massacre without

bodies. As you are aware, we called CNN out and also petitioned the

network. Though they acknowledged receipt of our petition, we have yet

to hear from them on what actions they intend to take to prevent a

recurrence of the fake news they peddled about Nigeria. I can assure

you, gentlemen, that the matter is far from over.

15.   Gentlemen, despite the antics of those who have constituted

themselves to another ‘fighting force’ against our country, we have

indeed made tremendous progress in tackling bandits and the terrorists

of Boko Haram. Recently, some jaundiced analysts and their lapdogs

have sought to portray Nigeria as a failing state, on the strength of

its security challenges. But these analysts are dead wrong. Nigeria is

not and cannot be a failing or failed state. Of course, you would

remember that for the past two decades or so, some pseudo-analysts

have been predicting the country’s implosion. That has not happened,

hence they have found a new tag line: failing or failed state! It’s

all a ruse aimed at depicting Nigeria as being in a constant state of

anarchy, just so they can achieve their nefarious objectives for the

country.

16.   If Nigeria was not a ‘failing’ state when a large slice of its

territory equivalent to the size of Belgium was under the occupation

of Boko Haram, which collected taxes, installed and deposed emirs, is

it now that no territory is under the terrorists that Nigeria will be

a failing state? If Nigeria was not a failed state when bombs were

raining on towns and cities in Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Borno, Yobe, FCT

and other states, is it now that such bombings have stopped that

Nigeria will be described as a ‘failing’ state?  If Nigeria was not a

‘failing’ state in those years that Christian and Muslim worshippers

had to be screened to even enter their places of worship, is it now

that the siege on places of worship has ceased that Nigeria will be

described as a ‘failing’ state?

17.   It is sad that we have forgotten where we were in terms of the

state of insecurity just a few years back. Let me mention some

instances that will put things in a better perspective. Thanks to our

security agencies, we have just celebrated another Christmas and New

Year without a rain of bombs. Few would remember that in 2010, 2011

and 2012, Christmas eve or Christmas Day attacks left hundreds dead or

injured. What about the attack on the UN Complex in Abuja in August

2011; the bombing of media houses in Abuja and Kaduna in April 2012

and the

killing of about 40 students in Mubi, Adamawa State, in October 2012?

Have we forgotten that over 80 towns and villages were attacked and

razed, with casualties, by Boko Haram in Borno State alone? Have we

forgotten the constant attacks on military and security formations

like Giwa Barracks (Maiduguri), Mohammed Kur Barracks (Bama), Monguno

Barracks (Monguno), Airforce Base (Maiduguri), New Prison (Maiduguri)

and numerous police stations? The fact that these attacks and bombings

have stopped is a testimony to the progress we have made in tackling

terrorism which, by the way, is not like conventional warfare. The

stoppage of the attacks didn’t happen by accident. It is therefore

mischievous for anyone to discountenance the progress we have made in

tackling insecurity, in building and upgrading infrastructure and in

diversifying the economy, among others. The federal government rejects

this characterization of Nigeria as a ‘failing’ state, which is a

combination of the wishful thinking of naysayers and the evil

machinations of those who don’t wish Nigeria well.

18.   Gentlemen, the federal government has sustained the fight

against terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements

across the country especially in the North East and the North West

Regions. The recent swift response and rescue of the 344 kidnapped

Kankara schools boys in Katsina State from bandits attest to this. The

President has continued to provide all the necessary platforms on

land, air and sea to support the fight against criminals and

terrorists in the country.

AGRICULTURE, INFRASTRUCTURE AND POWER

19.   Amid the challenges of insecurity, which the Administration is

tackling headlong, Nigeria has continued to make steady progress in

many areas, including infrastructural development, agriculture and

power. In agriculture, the federal government, within the period under

review, inaugurated “The Green Imperative,’’ which is a 10-year

agricultural programme amounting to $1.2 billion targeting the

creation of five million jobs and injection of $10 billion into the

economy. The Green Imperative is a Nigeria-Brazil bilateral

agriculture development that will be implemented over a period of five

to 10 years and the funding will come from the Development Bank of

Brazil (BNDES) and Deutsche Bank, The Initiative will lead to the

reactivation of six motor assembly plants in the six geopolitical

zones of the country for assembling tractors and other implements,

with importation of the Completely Knocked Down (CKD) parts of about

5,000 tractors and numerous implements for local assembly annually for

a period of 10 years. Also, through the Anchor Borrowers programme,

more than N200 billion has been made available since the inception of

the scheme in 2015 to support over 1.5 million farmers in the

production of rice, wheat, cassava, poultry, soya beans, groundnut,

maize, cotton and fish. Thanks to this scheme, Nigeria is now on the

verge of attaining self-sufficiency in rice production. In the area of

power, following an agreement with German company Siemens in July 2019

to boost power supply in Nigeria, the stage is set for the perennial

power problem to become a thing of the past. Under the three-phase

agreement, Nigerians will enjoy 7,000 megawatts of reliable power

supply by the end of 2021 (phase 1), 11,000 megawatts by the end of

2023 (phase 2) and 25,000 megawatts in the third phase.

20.   In the area of infrastructure, the President this year virtually

inaugurated the 326-kilometre Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line, which

has suffered a setback in the last 30 years. It is expected that close

to one million passengers and 3.5 million tons of freight will be

conveyed along the rail line annually. Passenger service has also

commenced on the Lagos-Ibadan railway, ahead of the project’s

inauguration in January 2021. The Lagos-Ibadan rail line is a

double-track standard gauge rail, the first of its kind in West

Africa, and the first leg of the Lagos to Kano rail line.  Block by

block, President Buhari is reviving and modernizing the country’s rail

sector for a better conveyance of passengers and goods and in order to

give the nation’s economy a shot in the arm. The Loko-Oweto Bridge

over River Benue is now 97% completed. The 1.8-kilometre bridge links

the northern and southern part of the country across the River Benue,

achieving a drastic cut in travel time. And the federal government is

constructing or renovating 37 bridges across the country, including

the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, the Second Niger Bridge, the Ikom

Bridge in Cross River, the Murtala Mohammed Bridge in Koton Karfe,

Kogi State, the Tatabu Bridge linking Niger and Kwara States, the

Isaac Boro Bridge in Port Harcourt and the Tamburawa Bridge in Kano

State. The federal government also completed and inaugurated the Akanu

Ibiam International Airport in Enugu for scheduled flights. The

rehabilitation of the runway and other associated work were executed

in line with ICAO standard.

BORDER DRILL

21.   As you are all aware, gentlemen, four land borders have now been

reopened on the directive of Mr. President. The borders are those in

Seme, Illela, Maigatari, and Mfun. The opening is the culmination of a

border drill, code-named ”EXERCISE SWIFT RESPONSE”, that was

launched on August 20th 2019 as part of efforts to secure the land and

maritime borders in the South South, South West, North Central and

North West zones from smuggling and irregular migration, as well as

boost national economy and strengthen border security The Exercise is

being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser

(ONSA), and comprises the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian

Immigration Service (NIS), the Armed Forces of Nigeria as well as the

Nigeria Police force (NPF) and other security and intelligence

agencies. I can report to you, gentlemen, that over a year into the

Exercise, it is a huge success, having saved resources and enhanced

national security.  The importation of drugs and

proliferation of small arms, which usually fuel violent extremism and

terrorism in the country, have been significantly curtailed. For

instance, 95 per cent of illicit drugs and weapons that are being used

for acts of terrorism and kidnapping in the country comes in through

our porous borders. However, since the border drill started, this

importation has been drastically reduced. The agricultural sector has

also received a boost from the drill, with rice production now nearing

the level of self sufficiency for the country and poultry production

at a high level. As at 17 December 2020, 1,375 irregular migrants have

been arrested while seizures so far include; 157,511-50kg bags of

parboiled foreign rice; 10,447 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making

explosives and 18,630 Jerrycans of vegetable oil. The total monetary

value of the seized items is about ₦12,362,574,090.50. I commend our

security operatives for displaying a high level of professionalism and

unflinching commitment to this national assignment.

CONCLUSION

22.   Gentlemen, the year 2020 has been a challenging year,

undoubtedly one of the most challenging years for the country. A

global pandemic that triggered an economic recession, a heightened

security challenge and an unnecessary violence that stemmed from what

started as a peaceful protest are just some of the challenges. It is

to the credit of the Buhari Administration that it tackled these

challenges headlong. Thanks to the several complementary fiscal, real

sector and monetary interventions proactively introduced by the

government to forestall a far worse decline of the economy and

alleviate the negative consequences of the pandemic, the current

recession will not last long, and Nigeria will soon return to positive

growth. Nigeria will witness an improved security in 2021, as Mr.

President has continued to provide the armed forces and other security

agencies with whatever they require to function better, both in terms

of platforms, logistics and capacity development. And, as Mr.

President said in his new year broadcast, the security apparatus and

personnel of the armed forces and the police are to be re-energized

and reorganized, with a view to enhancing their capacity to engage,

push back and dismantle the operations of both internal and external

extremist and criminal groups waging war against our communities in

some parts of the country.

The good news is that a number of the platforms we have been expecting

to pep up the battle against terrorists and bandits are due to arrive

in the new year. While at this, please permit me to salute all our

security personnel for their sacrifice, dedication to duty and

patriotism. The nation is in their debt for their service. Let me also

take this opportunity to condemn the constant infantile

press releases by the unserious, unimaginative and drab opposition,

which misconstrues opposition as constantly shooting down anything the

government of the day does or bad mouthing whatever Mr. President does

or says. There is more to opposition than predictable and

bring-it-down-at-all-cost media interventions. They messed up in

government, and they are messing up even more in opposition. No

lessons learnt either way.

23.   Finally, let me say this: Doomsday predictions about Nigeria

will not come to pass. Nigeria will not become a failed state, but

will rise to become a more respected member of the comity of nations.

We thank all Nigerians for their support and wish them a happy new

year. And to you here, thank you for honoring our invitation and,

once again, best wishes for a better year in 2021