In an interview with SAHARA TV monitored by ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo speaks about the country’s debt profile and other issues
How do you feel as the new Vice-President in the face of the high expectations from Nigerians?
I think there is a bit of pressure but there is so much to do that there is hardly any time to even feel any kind of pressure. There is so much to prepare for and I am excited.
You said recently that the new administration is inheriting a debt of about $60bn but the immediate past Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has denied this.
Typically, there will be a lot of denials but this is self-evident. I don’t think that there is any questioning the facts. As a matter of fact, the total is in excess of $60bn. As of the end of 2014, it was $60bn and I think there is an excess of $2bn or $3bn. That is the honest truth. I mean there is no question about that. Sometimes some people might want to split hairs on how the debt was acquired and what happened and all that but the truth is that we are inheriting well over $60bn in debt. That is what the President Muhammadu Buhari administration will be inheriting.
As a matter of fact, we will take on the challenge. That is why we were voted for. But it is important for people to know what it is. United States President, Barack Obama, when assuming office in 2008/2009, made it clear that the economy he was inheriting was the worst since the Great Depression and that was true. And we are at a point now where even states cannot pay salaries. Some states owe as much as four months. This is the worst we have ever seen in recent Nigerian history. I even know a state that owes 11 months’ salary.
The last days have been hard on Nigerians in the face of fuel scarcity. Will the new administration remove or retain subsidy?
That is a decision that the administration has to make. Of course, you know that the President will very shortly address many of these issues. It is not just the question of subsidy but the whole of what to do in the oil and gas sector, especially the downstream issues which are the major concerns of the common man. What I am saying is that the administration will be responding to the whole downstream sector. How that response will be and what it will be, you will just have to wait and see.
Will amnesty and contracts for ex-militants continue in the new administration?
One thing that is certain is what we said during the course of the campaign, which is that we are very concerned with issues regarding the minorities and clearly, the Niger Delta issue will be very prominent in the consideration of the administration. We think that the important programmes that have been started must be looked into and we must ensure that we are able to address the real concerns of the Niger Delta people. Their concerns are very important to this administration and as a matter of fact, all issues concerning minorities, Buhari has pledged to take a good look at them and see what we can do better than has ever been done in the past regarding not just the Niger Delta but all other ethnic tensions and issues.
Are there some programmes of the previous administration that your administration will continue?
Well, that will be on a case by case basis and as you know, government is a continuum and there are many things going on that will, of course, continue but you can only deal with these things on a case by case basis. It will be very difficult to say whether you are going to adopt those policies or not. We will have to review policies on a case by case basis as we go on.
What are the changes we should expect in the Buhari administration?
One thing that we should expect is that this will be a transparent and open government. This is a government that will not tolerate corruption. This is a government that will take security seriously. We will take very serious and firm views regarding the economy. President Buhari has already stated that the three areas of concern will be security, corruption and the economy. So, you will see a disciplined government, a government that will be serious about discipline and transparency. We will also look at the huge cost of governance.
When you talk of corruption, are you also referring to people who committed acts of corruption during the previous administration?
President Buhari has said we do not intend to set up huge probes but we certainly will be looking at some things. For instance, he has said he will investigate the issue of the missing $20bn.