President Buhari has improved security a lot —El-Yakub

Senior Special Adviser (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Honourable Umar el-Yakub, in this interview with Kehinde Akintola, speaks on the administration’s efforts toward improving security across the country, implementation of the 2020 N10.59 trillion Appropriation Act, debts, awarded projects and other issues of national concern.

NIGERIANS are expecting to see a better deal from the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in terms of infrastructural development in 2020 as against the previous years’ experience. What’s the mindset  of the president on this?

Mr  President’s mind, as he has made it severally clear, is that his focus would be to complete those ongoing projects and, indeed, only when those are completed that you find new project initiatives. And the general focus is infrastructure segment of the country.

So, you will see a lot of ongoing projects being completed and, indeed, new ones that are so important to the development of the country, i.e. key infrastructure areas like roads, health and education. They will be the main focus of the government. And they have been, as you can see from the budget itself.

 

Nigerians are not really comfortable with the state of the roads. They need concrete assurance of getting value for the money at the disposal of the government. They have heard what you said over and over again. As we speak, kidnappers and bandits are having a field day. What›s your take on all these?

Well, I will like Nigerians to give us more understanding. The fact is that, already, there are projects that have been implemented in the previous budget cycles. And in terms of roads, this is one government that has actually taken on those that had hitherto taken about 30 years, maybe more, to complete. They have been built. And hitherto, there were no reconstruction of such roads or even their renovation. A case in question is the Kano – Abuja road which is now under total reconstruction. But that road had not been rehabilitated for over 30 years. As you can see, there are other roads that are being constructed: The Second Niger Bridge, the roads in Lokoja, the rail infrastructure rejuvenation has been going on, which I am sure, as you are aware, will extend from Ibadan all the way to Kaduna and Kano.

And so, there are lots of other projects that were not funded by previous governments. I will give you an example. The Kaduna Eastern bypass road was awarded by the Olusegun Obasanjo-led government and successive governments never felt it was important enough to be funded. There were times they made allocation for it. Even when they did, they could not implement it. So, for almost 17 to 18 years, the road has been abandoned until this government came in with the new initiative of getting bonds to finance infrastructure projects, which means those loans are specifically tied to infrastructure. And you will also find out that there is a lot of partnership going on, whereby you have the private sector also getting involved in the construction of roads.

So, I believe that we are walking the talk; we are not just talking in this government, as opposed to other governments whereby they kept promising and you didn’t see tangible results. Thus, for you to say that Nigerians are… whatever. I will reserve my comment, because Nigerians are optimistic that they have seen us perform in different areas. Most of the projects that were even initiated by the previous governments were completed by our government; and those that were started in 2015 are ongoing now and others are being initiated on infrastructure, because this government, President Buhari’s government, understands the significance of infrastructural development in the overall development of the people and the country.

 

The people are querying the borrowing spree of your government. In the history of this country, compared with the previous administrations, be it domestic or foreign, debts have not been this high. How do you justify that?

Well, I have just told you how it has been done. Of course, a lot of borrowing was done, not only by this administration, but also others. But what we are paying is interest on the borrowed money. We can’t even see what they did with the money. At least, when we borrow, we are trying to borrow for specific projects which wasn’t the case before. If we borrow, you should be able to ask me where is the money that has been borrowed? How much was invested in power before this government? I mean everybody knows where the power is. How much was invested in infrastructure; where is the infrastructure?

Go back from 1999 till date and find out projects that were even claimed to have been awarded and paid for. Go and see if the projects are there on ground. I tell you, when we say we are borrowing, we are borrowing to tie that money to specific projects which you can verify, which you can oversight. And that is why we are working with the National Assembly, even with our borrowing plans, to say that okay, we want this money for projects and this is how we are implementing it, so that Nigerians would know, as opposed to the borrowings before. Guess what, if you borrow and mismanage the resources, you don’t tie them to specific projects like infrastructure that will advance economic development, you cannot pay back. But if you invest in the people, if you invest in the welfare of the people, then, you are increasing productivity; you are empowering people; you are educating the people; you are making people healthier. Then, you have now ploughed back energy into the government for nation building.

 

Aside infrastructure sir, senators and members of the House of Representatives are accusing the government of complacency. They are worried that your government is not bothered by the huge loss of lives owing to growing insecurity.  They are much more worried that this government is good at condoling families of those who lost their lives. Why is it so, despite so much money appropriated for security in the successive budgets?

Are you saying senators are saying representatives are complacent?

 

I said that they accused the executive arm of government of being complacent…

Okay, I didn’t hear them say we are complacent; maybe that is your language.

 

They even used grievous adjectives to describe this administration›s response to the prevailing insecurity in the land, especially about those who die on a daily basis…

Did they say we have been complacent? Is that the word they used? I think this government has taken security head-on. I think we have had new challenges since President Buhari assumed office. But I am sure and I can tell you, because I came from one of those states that are seriously hit by insecurity, I know how many lives of people that we lost in my own state – Kano which is not even in the territory of Boko Haram operators. But they were coming to Kano and other states to kill people indiscriminately. I know they went to the Federal College of Education and opened fire on students. I know they attacked my late emir. I know they came to the mosque and killed hundreds of people. I met about 70 road blocks in my state. Guess what; none is there now, none. I knew when we were operating like a war zone; people could not even ride motorcycles. You had to come off the motorcycle and push it.

People were not going to churches and mosques, because we were all scared of what could happen when we go to mosques or churches. Children were not going to schools, because they didn’t know what would happen in the schools.

I think to have departed from that now is a serious improvement. I think a lot of mileage has been covered. Territories have been recovered from Boko Haram which before were under their occupation. So, for any Nigerian to say that government is complacent or we are being lackadaisical in the treatment of crime or what have you is being most unfair.

However, challenges evolve from time to time. Some are natural, others are man-made; but what is important is what you put in place to mitigate, overcome and demolish those challenges to the extent that you secure lives. Now, we are even faced globally with threat of viruses, bacteria and diseases, like the one in China. Even in Nigeria, we are battling with Lassa fever. You cannot blame anybody for that. However, what is the government doing to ensure that lives are protected and safe and there is no spread of those diseases? Even in the security apparatus, there is a lot of progress. But then, of course, you find out that in some cases, there are some setbacks. But these are things that you know the government is trying its best; the military and Armed Forces are trying their best and losing good men, lives of Nigerians. And government is voting money for security; there is commitment. But it is a huge challenge, especially when you don’t have a fight that is organised and structured in a battle field. There is element of surprises; people just come and before you know it, they ambush you and this is a very big country, mark you, with a huge population.

So, to even have surveillance 24/7 on the entire territory called Nigeria, you can only imagine how they can do that. But I believe that government is committed like President Buhari is – and that is the premise on which we built our campaign – eradication of corruption, taking up security head-on as well as empowerment and economic development.

 

Will President Buhari heed the call to sack the security chiefs?

I think I cannot speak the mind of Mr. President

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