*Says Buhari putting nation’s economy on fresh foundation
*’President has high respect for, common man, Obasanjo, Tinubu’
By Kemi Kasumu
The DEFENDER was granted interview audience in the Presidency, where precisely President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, spoke on some of the issues bothering on what the President has done so far in the light of the current situation in the country side-by-side looking at the extent to which he has gone with fulfillment of his party’s campaign promises. The alleged strained relationship between President Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was also brought to the table for discussion during the interview, and the former Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of Sun Newspapers and former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mr. Adesina, made clarifications. He said more. Excepts:
One year seven months in office, talking about President Muhammadu Buhari, how far so far?
Well, so far, so good in the sense that Nigeria is not where it was when he entered office. When you want to assess President Muhammdu Buhari’s government, assess it based on the promises he made. You know the tripod promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of securing the country, reviving the economy and fighting corruption.
In terms of securing the country, as heaven is as far from hell, that is where we are now, which is far from where we were on May 29, 2015. We know that by 2015 the entire country was almost overrun and nobody was sure what would happen the next day, the next week. But we know where we are today that the insurgency is virtually defeated, completely under control. What we are passing through is a mopping up process and the worst we can see is over by the grace of God.
So, in terms of securing the country, the President has kept to his promise. Roads that had been closed for three years have reopened. Maiduguri-Dangua Road that was closed since last three years is now opened. Emirs and other traditional rulers that had fled their palaces have returned and are using their palaces. Gombe had not had NYSC orientation for two years. They have orientation camp in Gombe this year.
So, you just need to talk to people in the North East and they would tell you that it is a new dawn. They couldn’t farm for almost five seasons. They are back in their farms and they farm this year. Those who fled their villages are back into their villages. We know that there are still skirmishes here and there because there are cowardly suicide bombers here and there. But it will be over. So, the President has kept to his promise of securing the country.
Other fronts of insurgency like Niger Delta will be settled. Issues like kidnapping, armed robbery, the government is attending to them. This government has a capacity to secure the country and is putting that capacity to work.
On anti-corruption, it is evident, seeing what the government is doing about anti-corruption. No matter what they say, “Oh, it is one-sided and all that,” what we all know is that the anti-corruption war is well and alive and it is a war that will be fought to a logical conclusion. Nigeria will never be the same again after this administration because, the cleansing process is real and that cleansing will permeate every nook and cranny of the country.
The third area is the economy. It is still sticky but it is work in progress. I want to tell you that, as clear as night follows the day, the government will put the economy of this country on a fresh foundation.
(Cuts in) Meaning that despite all that we experience economically, there will be light at the end of the tunnel?
Oh, definitely. Even now a new foundation of a diversified economy is being laid for the country. Don’t forget that we have had promises of diversification of the economy for five decades. This is the first time real practical steps are being taken to diversify the economy. Do you know what is happening with the agriculture now? So much so that in two years time Nigeria will not import rice again and will be able to even export.
How do you mean?
I mean we spend about two billion dollars annually importing rice. In about two years time we will not be importing rice again and we will be able to export. So, that is part of the new foundation for the economy.
The solid mineral is another foundation that is being laid for the economy of the country. The gestation period for solid minerals is long. In fact the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said the gestation period was up to 20 years, but that foundation is being laid. And by the time Nigeria enters into the boom of solid minerals, people will remember the Buhari administration and give it kudos. So, it is promise made, promise kept and promise still being kept.
Meaning that being patient with the government won’t be in vain?
That is just it.
But the problem with the people seem to be that they think President Buhari knows that the Niger Delta militants’ activities are main reason the economy is worse but that he doesn’t take action against them. Is the President handicapped?
Handicapped? I am not sure government is handicapped. Rather, government is committed to solving that problem. But then, the militants or the insurgents are the ones who must also cooperate with the government except they have ulterior motives that we do not know. If it is just an agitation, government is willing to address the causes of agitations. But this government is willing to address the issues.
But if, like the Niger Delta leaders came to the President today, brought a 16-point agenda and the President is studying that, at the very next day the militants bombed an oil installation again, so, what do you want the President to do?
To stand up to the militants and deal with them once and for all. Can’t he?
Of course but you see, this government does not lack the capacity to take action, and the President has said it repeatedly that if it comes to using military action he will use it.
And how is he handling the protests by the communities against the presence of soldiers in search of the militants?
That is why the communities themselves have a role to play in this. They should fish out those who are doing this evil and hand them over to government. It is an option; the communities themselves must identify those who are playing this criminality and hand them to the government.
One more thing, they say the government is not sincere with them. How do you react to that?
The government is very, very sincere. What interest does the President have except to unite the country, have a prosperous country and have a country where the people are happy? That is the interest of the President. This is one President that does not have personal agenda. This is one President that has just come to serve.
Now let’s mention this issue of agitation by loyalists of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu saying that the President has betrayed their leader who installed him. What is the heat like with the presidency?
No. Don’t forget that I don’t speak for APC. I speak for the President. That question probably will be taken by APC spokesman.
But what I can say on my own end is that the President, whom I speak for, has utmost respect for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. From what I have seen so far, the President has high regard for Asiwaju Tinubu.
Having said that, we still come back to the question that the issue at hand affects not only the APC but also the person of the President because the Asiwaju Tinubu’s loyalists that are talking are saying that their leader installed President Buhari but that he has betrayed him. Now, did Asiwaju Tinubu actually install President Buhari and if so, why did the President betray him?
You are a journalist and a political watcher. You can say whether somebody installed another person or not. I am sure as a political watcher you know it.
Now, you know that getting to political office is usually combination of factors. Each person has role he plays and so, I don’t think anybody can come out to say, “I install this person.” No, it is a wrong word. That person would then be playing God and nobody should play God.
Asiwaju Tinubu is a political force to reckon with. He played his own part in the emergence of President Buhari (just like others played their own parts) and that is why the President has high respect for him.
Before the Ondo State governorship election, many people within the APC particularly loyal to Asiwaju Tinubu never believed that APC would win in the state because they suddenly began to say because the popularity of the President had gone down as a result of the hardship in town. But after the President himself took up the challenge, APC won. What was responsible for the victory despite the many odds from within and outside the party?
As a political watcher (because I said I don’t speak for APC but for the President), it could be that the people knew that APC was still the way to go. That shows that they still believe in the party and they still trust the leadership of the party, I mean they trust the President. You know a lot of people said, “If Buhari is involved then we trust the President. We trust that it will be right, it will be fair, it will be transparent and there will be integrity in it.” So, it is something that also worked for APC in Ondo State.
“The common man was the one who virtually voted President Muhammadu Buhari to the office. In fact, the masses are his bedrock. They are the ones that the President leans on and so they brought him into power. They are still in reckoning because the President reckons with them. What I just want to tell them is this, be patient. The purposes for which you elected the President will be achieved and in the lifetime of this administration. They would reap the dividends of their actions because there would be life abundant for the common man before the end of this administration.”
In essence, the saying that Buhari’s popularity has waned has been knocked down by his delivering Ondo for Rotimi Akeredolu and APC?
Those who are saying that President Buhari’s popularity has waned are not being scientific. I wish they can back it up with scientific proofs. You will be amazed if you carry out a scientific exercise, the vote of confidence in the President will be overwhelming because, despite the tough time, people know that serious work is going on and that with a bit of patience, better days will come for the country. And the number of people that are willing to wait for things to turn round are more than people who are not willing to wait. I have said this before.
How did President Buhari take the recent admonition by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who said he should know that changing things for better was not by giving order and that he must act fast, which many have interpreted as Obasanjo withdrawing his support from him?
It is only former President Obasanjo that can emphatically say, if he has withdrawn support from President Buhari. He didn’t say he withdrew support. He just gave an advice and President Buhari respects Chief Olusegun Obasanjo very highly. And if he gives an advice, President Buhari would look at that advice very critically.
Did this last advice go down well with the President?
I have not discussed that with him. I speak for him and I can only say what he has told me. He and I have not discussed what former President Obasanjo said but I know that with the kind of respect that President Buhari has for the former President, he would look at what he said very critically.
Finally Sir, what is your general message to these categories of people I want to list: the common man, the elites and the leaders?
Okay, let us start with the common man. The common man was the one who virtually voted President Muhammadu Buhari to the office. In fact, the masses are his bedrock. They are the ones that the President leans on and so they brought him into power. They are still in reckoning because the President reckons with them. What I just want to tell them is this, be patient. The purposes for which you elected the President will be achieved and in the lifetime of this administration. They would reap the dividends of their actions because there would be life abundant for the common man before the end of this administration.
Now the second category, the elites, I can’t say the elites are not with the President. A large number of them is with the President. It is just the few particularly the urban elites or a vocal minority that is making noise. And I understand a lot of them hold political convictions, they were with the former government and they are with the opposing party and they have a right to ventilate their opinion. I just like to tell them to keep an open mind and they would see what would happen. I tell you, before 2019, a good number of them will change what they are saying.
“…getting to political office is usually combination of factors. Each person has role he plays and so, I don’t think anybody can come out to say, “I install this person.” No, it is a wrong word. That person would then be playing God and nobody should play God. Asiwaju Tinubu is a political force to reckon with. He played his own part in the emergence of President Buhari and that is why the President has high respect for him.”
If they are a vocal minority and the way they talk is capable of derailing your government, how do you manage them?
This President is not a talkative. He is a President that believes in action more than words. He action is what will convince that local minority.
And talking about the leaders, is President Muhammadu Buhari going to reshuffle his cabinet as envisaged?
He has the right to keep his cabinet and he has a right to reshuffle it.
But do you agree with those that say some of the ministers are nonperforming?
It is not for me to say because it is my principal who appointed them. And because he appointed them, he is in the best position to assess them. When he appointed there was a matching order he gave them. There is what is called timeline and delivery meaning that you must achieve this before this time. He is the one who knows that timeline he set for them and that is what he would use to assess them.
Keeping the cabinet, rejigging it, dissolving it, whatever, is the prerogative of the President.
Still on the leaders, could you enlighten us about what happened when people complained that some people in the cabinet are corrupt and the President is refusing to remove them. Why is he doing that?
You don’t remove people based on allegations. You remove people based on facts. The President is so fair minded that he will never act against anybody based on allegations but will rather act against him based on facts. So, anybody that is alleging anything against anybody in government should please come out with facts.
Lastly, I have been told by one former politician now a first class Oba who said the way the President is allowing antagonistic opposition is dangerous to his government. What is your response to that?
In a true democracy there must be opposition. It is left to the opposition whether it will be a virulent opposition or a factual or critical opposition. It is left for the opposition to decide the way they want to run their opposition.