The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, in this interview withOLALEKAN ADETAYO, speaks on the various allegations of dictatorial tendencies levelled against President Muhammadu Buhari among other sundry issues.
This government promised Nigerians a better life but in the last one year, all what they have experienced is suffering. Was the change mantra about a change for the worse or for the better?
It is mendacious to say that in the last one year, what Nigerians have been experiencing is suffering. It is not true. That can only be a private opinion. Whoever holds that opinion has a right to it but to say that all Nigerians have experienced in the last one year is suffering is not true.
There is a lot of hope in the land. When this government took over about a year ago, there was despondency in the land. One did not even know whether Nigeria was going to continue to exist as one country or not. But now, that is no longer the situation. In terms of security, anti-corruption fight and even the economy, there is a lot of hope.
Nigeria is like a plane taking off with its nose in the air. As long as the nose of the plane is in the air, you know that it is gaining altitude. Before this government came, the nose of the plane was down and one did not know whether it would land safely or crash-land. There is a lot of hope in the country now, so I will not agree that there has been suffering in the past one year, it is not true.
As this government clocks one year in office, can you mention one thing that the people have enjoyed so far?
Not just one thing but several things but I will tell you about the security situation. This time last year, we did not know whether Boko Haram would advance into the core South and core West. It seemed it would because Boko Haram was not just confined to the North East then; it was in the North West and North Central. The sect was active in Abuja, it was active in Kogi and the next thing was that it was going to make a foray into the South West and go into the South South and we know what would have happened to the country if that had happened. So if you compare the security situation this time last year with the situation now, you will know that Nigerians have a lot of reasons to be thankful to God.
Do you agree with Nigerians who blame this government for a lot of the economic woes the country faces today? For instance, one, there was a long delay in appointing ministers and in preparing the budget and when it did send the budget to the lawmakers, it was padded. Who do you blame for all these?
Anybody who blames this government for the nation’s economic woes does not understand the issues. A government does not run down the economy in 12 months. This government came on board to meet an economy which the President said had been vandalised. What this government has been doing in the last one year is coping with the consequences of the rot that the previous government left behind. It is not only about the previous government, but an accumulation of what was done by the many governments in the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party in power.
Do not forget that these were years that oil sold for an average of $100 per barrel and there was a time it hit $140 per barrel. How come we did not save? How come we have no reserve? How come infrastructure is at the stage it is? Anybody who says this government caused it does not just understand and I would want to pity such a person.
Why did the President and the Vice-President fail to attend May Day celebrations? Some people say it shows that they do not have value for workers. Is that so?
That is not true. The Minister of Labour and Employment was there. If nobody was there, we could talk. But as long as a government official was there, I don’t see any reason to raise issue about it.
There is so much confusion surrounding the liberalisation of the downstream oil sector. On one hand, the government is saying that it is deregulating it; on the other hand, it is putting a peg of N145 per litre on it. Is this government not confused?
Let me leave that for the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources to handle; it is his area. I will be pontificating if I now begin to talk on what I do not have all the details about. It is a developing situation. If you want an authoritative position on that, let the minister respond to that.
This government seems to be at a loss as regards dealing with the ongoing vandalisation of pipelines as there seems to be no end to the situation with our production dropping to 1.4 million barrels from 2.2 million. What is happening?
Saying government is at a loss is not right because each time this happens, in a couple of days, those who did it are apprehended. I am sure that in every where it has happened, those responsible have been apprehended within a number of days. So you cannot say the government is at a loss because it has the capacity to deal with it. I am not saying that it is by the use of force or arms alone that government is going to respond to it, but then, this government does not lack capacity to respond to that development.
It is not in record that power supply was ever at zero megawatts before this government came to power, but it happened during this government’s regime. Does this not contrast with all the promises made by this government?
It had occurred a number of times in this country before when the entire power architecture would just collapse. It had happened before and it has happened now. But we also know that vandalism plays a big role in what is happening in this country now. If a country like Iran came out of 33 years sanctions from the West and it has over 60,000Megawatts of electricity, it is because its nationals have not gone to vandalise installations. South Africa has over 50,000MW of electricity, it is because its nationals have not gone to vandalise installations. If Nigerians continue to vandalise installations, then they cannot in good conscience blame the government wholesale for the parlous state of power supply.
The Fulani herdsmen crisis is there and they seem to be attacking on regular basis and with impunity since President Buhari came to power. Do you agree with the people who say that this is going on because President Buhari is Fulani like them?
That will just be typical of some Nigerians, they are too suspicious. Some Nigerians are too suspicious of other ethnic groups. This has nothing to do with whoever is the President. The issue is endemic in Nigeria. It is almost as old as the country. It has always been there, it has nothing to do with who is the President but some people just find it convenient to attribute it to the President. This is unreasonable.
Some people say the President has been largely silent on the crisis.
That is not true. The President has not been silent on the matter. It is unfortunate that some people choose what they want to hear. The President has spoken against the crisis many times. We also issued a press statement on the matter. No stone will be left unturned in finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
There are also fears that President Buhari is gradually exhibiting dictatorial tendencies considering the invasion of the Akwa Ibom Government House and Ekiti State House of Assembly by the Department of State Services as an example. How will you react to this?
I won’t agree with you. We know that this President is a democrat and he is very liberal. We know him when he was a military ruler, now we have seen him as a democrat. We know he is playing the game according to democratic principles and ethos. I do not speak for the DSS. If you ask them, they may explain why what happened in Ekiti State happened. I do not speak for them, I speak for the President. One thing I can assure is that this President is a democrat.
For instance, the President also enlisted Nigeria into the Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism being spearheaded by Saudi Arabia. Was it not unlawful for him to have done that unilaterally without the approval of the National Assembly?
I believe there are some executive prerogatives. In doing that, the President just utilised the executive prerogative that he has. There is nothing that says that that decision must first be discussed at the National Assembly. I believe it falls under presidential prerogative.
The President has also explained why he took that decision. He said those causing this problem of insurgency claim they are doing it in the name of Islam. Again, the coalition is not a coalition of Islamic countries. Members are not necessarily Islamic countries. Nigeria is not an Islamic country; it is a multi-religious state and a secular state. But then, if there is something we can benefit from that coalition, why not? The President has explained this very well.
The President also allegedly failed to carry the Senate along in the unbundling or restructuring of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation?
In that case, even somebody in the Senate Committee on Petroleum came out to say that the National Assembly did not need to be carried along in that kind of thing. I am sure the law does not require that in any way.
Since the President already said that Boko Haram has been technically defeated, why did he enlist the country into the Islamic coalition again?
You know that the mopping up part of the war may be as difficult as the shooting part of the war, even if not more difficult. You know that as far as this insurgency is concerned, we are in the mopping up stage. We still need all the assistance we can get. That coalition may not necessarily be about the fighting part alone; it could also be that some assistance regarding rehabilitation and other types of assistance may be benefitted.
So Nigeria needs all the helps it can get either for intelligence, armament, rebuilding or for deradicalisation. There are many phases to the insurgency battle. It is not just about the shooting battle alone.
How will you react to the insinuations that the President’s decision was part of the plan to Islamise Nigeria?
I think it is the highest level of paranoia for anybody to believe that Nigeria can either be Islamised or Christianised. It is not possible. I think we should get out of that mindset of thinking that the country can be Islamised or Christianised, it will never happen. We should occupy our minds and ourselves with more productive things than to think somebody is going to impose a state religion on Nigeria.
Why is the President shutting down the clamour for self-determination by the people of Biafra?
The issue is that even among those who live in that geographical area that used to be called Biafra, is there a consensus that they want self-determination? Among those who are there, there is no consensus. Those young people got together because they never experienced war, they never knew the trauma of the civil war in which more than two million Nigerians died. They are the ones beating the drums of self-determination.
If you do a referendum in that geopolitical part of the country, I am sure that a larger number will prefer to stay within the Nigerian federation. Why did we fight that 30-month grueling civil war to keep Nigeria one if at the end of the day, people will just stand up and say ‘we are dismembering the country’? I am sure that generation that fought the war, that generation is still around, will never be part of that kind of quest.
The President has shown his willingness to negotiate with the Boko Haram sect if genuine leaders come forward but failed to show the same kind of willingness in the case of the group called the Indigenous People of Biafra. Is he not being sectional in his approach?
What Boko Haram is doing is insurgency. I doubt if IPOB has got to the level of insurgency nor will it get there because I believe that not too many people are going to follow that group into insurgency. I believe it will never happen. The leaders of thought in that part of the country are not with them, at least from all that we can see. So what is there to negotiate? For instance, what is IPOB asking for? They say they are being marginalised, when did they realise that they are being marginalised? Is it about 12 months ago when power changed hands? If the former President Goodluck Jonathan government had continued, would there have been that agitation? Were they not saying he is Ebele Azikwe and he is their brother and that his administration was an administration of the South East? For me, there is nothing to negotiate.
Many Nigerians have also expressed concern over the President’s style of speaking to them through foreign media organisations whenever he is abroad. How will you react to this?
The same people accept that the world has become a global village but when it comes to the President speaking, they will say he is speaking from abroad. If the world is indeed a global village, does it matter where you say anything?
Let me explain something to you. Before we travel, there is what we call a trip planning meeting. In the meeting, we organise what happens daily and hourly. For us in the media team, we have appealed to the President that anytime we are traveling, we want a slot for the media and the President has graciously agreed.
That is why whenever we travel, that slot comes and the President talks to the media, including Nigerian media. The Nigerian Television Authority and any other station that travels with us will be there and other Nigerian journalists will be there. Usually, you will see such news items on NTA and other stations whose correspondents travel with us. So why then do they say he speaks through foreign media? It is not foreign media. Even if he talks on foreign soil because that is where we can have the time, as long as what he has said got to Nigeria and it is consumed by Nigerians, there is nothing wrong in that.
Some aviation experts have criticised the BASA agreement Nigeria signed with Qatar recently, saying it is to Qatar’s benefit and not to Nigeria. Will the President consider their opinions?
Don’t forget that when we dissolved all boards and then it was pointed out to the President that there is an extant court ruling that says the boards of universities cannot be dissolved except there is a case of corruption or misappropriation, the President ordered the next day that the boards of universities be reinstated. I issued the press statement for the dissolution and I also issued the press statement for their reinstatement. So I can assure you that the President will listen to everybody and every group that has one thing or the other to say about government policies and agreements and will take the right decisions.