Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Presidency has explained why the tenure of former Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, was not renewed saying the former chief revenue collector failed to meet set targets and generate enough revenue for the country.
Fowler, whose term of office expired on December 9, 2019, was replaced by Mr. Muhammad Nami.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, while speaking with journalists at the weekend in Abuja, also said that it was not a scandal for the federal government to borrow more money to finance infrastructure in the country.
He explained that what is commonly used to adjudge countries if they have over borrowed is the debt to GDP ratio, adding that Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio is very low even among West African countries.
He noted that at about 20 per cent, ‘it is not a threat’, adding that Japan’s GDP debt ratio, it is more than 100 per cent.
Shehu stated: “It is not a scandal to borrow, the bad thing about borrowing is when you deployed it to your pocket. This has happened in the past in this country, President Buhari is borrowing to do railway, to do East-West express way, to do second Niger bridge, to do Mabilla power, to do Abuja-Kano expressway, to Ajaokuta-Abuja gas pipeline. These are projects that are beneficial to the economy, these are basic infrastructure projects, railway, power, without which this country cannot achieve development.
“So, if you ask me, from my own understanding, the problem we have in this country is the revenue issue. We have a revenue problem because we are unable to generate as much money as it is needed to do more capital infrastructure and also service debt.
“Because of the low revenue earnings, people look at the size of our debt repayment and they scream. But government is doing something about this and I’m happy you have seen the change that has happened in FIRS, give them a chance, let see how they would perform. Government is optimistic that things will look upward and the revenue will improve. And once there is inflow that is sufficient to do a lot of these things, we may not even need to borrow.”
On the regulation of social media, Shehu said social media has become a problem for many families because the rights of women and children are being abused, noting that there was a need to protect vulnerable members of the society.
He added that there was need for media stakeholders to collaborate with Minister of Information to formulate the kind of regulation they want so that government would not be accused of imposing a regulatory mechanism on the media.
Shehu appealed to media stakeholders to give it serious consideration and see how the media in the country can work together with government to find communication solution to purely communication problem.
He explained that social media regulation was not political, adding that federal government has no reason to undermine or weaken the mass media.
According to him, “In country where the mass media are being suppressed, where there is no freedom of expression and information, you find out that the media space tends to decline, it becomes smaller, media houses close down but the irony of what is happening in the country is that while some civil society groups are crying here that the freedom of expression is being threaten and in any case we know why they were shouting because they are looking for donors abroad who will send in US dollars for the protection of hate speech, that is basically it is a selfish thing.”
Shehu said that recently, the federal government licensed about 300 radio stations and it is also processing almost 500 requests for radio stations, insisting that media cannot be expanded if it is being oppressed.
He also accused The Punch Newspaper of campaigning against the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying, “in fact, the rate The Punch is doing, PDP doesn’t need a publicity arm, they are doing an excellent job for them.”
He described The Punch criticism of the president as uncharitable, stressing that The Punch was shut down for a year by ex-President Ibrahim Babangida, but noted that The Punch never for one day stop calling him president or described his administration as regime.
Sheheu said that under the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, newspapers were shut down, copies were seized, but it as never happened under this administration, not for one day.
He said he made bold to say that there is no journalist under the order of President Muhammadu Buhari that has been detained.
Sheheu argued that the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore is a politician who contested for the presidential position during the 2019 election, saying that was why he didn’t mention his name.
He said Sowore was equally detained after he called for an overthrow of government, which he said is treasonable under the constitution.
The presidential spokesman accused The Punch of supporting those calling for overthrow of the administration of Buhari.
He said: “We never said The Punch support a coup to overthrow this administration, but they are supporting people who have made that call and I think that’s is not bad that Daily Trust did an editorial to call them to order. Because the thing is that if there is a backlash against journalism as a profession in this country, it is not only Punch who will suffer, other practitioners will suffer, I’m not issuing a threat that harm can come to anybody…”
Commenting on the perception of some Nigerians that there is cabal in the government, Sheu noted that there is no government in this country that has not accused of being hijacked by cabal.
He said every administration must have a secretariat and every president must have people who advised, stressing that “It is not a sin, it is not an offence to have people that you take into your own confidence.”
He emphasised that in other countries, they call it kitchen cabinet, but in Nigeria, they are derogatorily termed cabal to tarnish their good standing.