…On sacked SGF, NIA DG: The President acted slowly but acted right
…What is happening between Buhari and Tinubu is not strange in democracy’
By Bashir Adefaka
Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, is another of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior aides defusing tensions and holding out against mischief makers trying to set his boss and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo against each other, although he understandably does not talk as he is not a spokesman for government.
The journalist turned politician, in this interview, speaks on several issues, including the relationship between Buhari and the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the much talked about 50 per cent members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Buhari’s government; the issue of the Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, as well as the Python Dance carried out by the Army in the South-East.
And Ojudu has a way of describing Governor Ayodele Fayose and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode as shown in the interview he granted in his Abuja residence on Tuesday. Excerpts:
As a person who is like a swinging door between the Muhammadu Buhari’s government and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s camp, could you tell us precisely if there has ever been any rift between President Buhari and Asiwaju?
Well, Asiwaju himself said it (Monday, October 30) that there is no rift between him and President Muhammadu Buhari. And there is no rift whatsoever between them. You know, sometimes, if you depend too much on what you read on the social media, you begin to think that the world is about to collapse. Most of the things you see on the social media and in the public space are not true. I therefore want to stand by what Asiwaju himself said that there is no rift between him and Mr President.
And you don’t think there is always an iota of truth in every rumour?
Believe me, there is no rift. Maybe people observe the distance or they are trying to add one plus one to get five instead of two or they are picking up the wrong information. But when the man at the centre of it has come out to say that there is no rift between him and the President, who are we then to continue to argue that they are quarrelling?
The perception was that Asiwaju was criticising the policies of the government, things that, according to them, he should have done in-house like what happened on Monday October 30 when he had closed doors meeting with the President in the Villa. You know, he now gives advice to the President publicly as if those pieces of advice will not be taken if he had given them in-house or that he had no access to him. So, these are the kind of things that made imperative the adding of one plus one to make five instead of two.
No. Let me take the issue of what you referred to as public criticism of the President by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I have not seen any stringent criticism from him so far. I have been a close watcher of Tinubu and I can say this with authority. I guess what you are seeing as criticism is when he sometimes come out to say ‘Okay, this is the way we are doing things and it should be done better this way.’ That to me is not strange in democracy. Even within a party, people have divergence of opinions on how things should be done.
You see, President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu are both Nigerian patriots. They want the best for Nigeria, they want the best for the Nigerian people and they can’t afford to go into any kind of rift! Look at it this way: what alternative is there? Is it the PDP? No. If you look at the trajectory of Asiwaju’s politics, he has never decamped to any party and he has never belonged to any conservative group. He has always been with the progressives and he has more and more looked at how to enlarge and protect his progressives’ camp. Same thing with President Buhari, from the ANPP he formed the CPC.
Let us even for a moment agree there is disagreement, it is my opinion they will always come back to agree and that is what you have seen happen that Monday. You needed to be at that meeting to see the camaraderie, the friendliness, the sophistication and the patriotism that was brought to the meeting. Everybody came out happy and hopeful that we are going to have a better Nigeria.
Governor Nyesom Wike once came out to say Asiwaju Tinubu, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar were on the line as PDP’s hope for 2019……
(Laughter) Nooooo! Any reasonable person will know that Wike’s statement was borne out of mischief. Let me tell you this, Wike said that thinking he could use that to cause a problem within the ranks of APC. But these are very mature people, who have gone through so many struggles in their lives and so, to them, it is just mischief and I don’t see anything that is serious about that.
When your predecessor, former Political Adviser to the President during Goodluck Jonathan era, Ahmad Gulak, was there, he was very vocal, making heavy statements and hitting the opposition big time. With all the perceived dangerous and fake news conveying the opinion that you are running a failed government or that your government is running on propaganda and lies, all of these being hurled at your party, government and the President to whom you are Special Adviser on Political Matters, what is the Political Adviser to the President, which you are, doing that you have not really been as vocal as Gulak?
When you talk of Political Adviser to the President, you are not talking of a spokesperson for the party or a spokesperson for the Presidency or the President. You are not talking of a spokesperson for the government. Mine is to advise and bring understanding to the situation on the ground to let them know and provide political intelligence. Styles are different. I don’t want to be on the front pages of the papers shouting, abusing and cursing. That is not my job and that is not my style. My style is much more different. It is being able to perceive and explain the situation as it is, giving understanding to what is happening within and among political parties, all of that is more of my own duties than going out every day and shouting.
Having said that, issues of disinformation and misinformation by the opposition are better addressed by spokespersons for government. We, however, have a Presidential Communication Team. This is where we discuss all of these things. We put things the issues on the table and those who are supposed to talk are asked to talk: The Minister of Information, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity and many other persons belong to this group. And we put everything on the table and then we ask those who are supposed to talk to go out and talk rather than all of us going out to talk.
But occasionally, where I think that the weight of my office could be brought on a particular issue, like when President Muhammadu Buhari was away on medical vacation and some people were going around, saying, ‘Oh! The Vice President is better than the President’, and all of that, I thought it was incumbent on me to come out and say something categorical at that point in time. You know it might not be the position of the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity or the party’s spokesman at that time, it was a political thing and I knew what they were up to; to cause division between these two persons and cause crisis within government and party.
When you come out occasionally and speak on things like that, people tend to listen and take you more seriously than when you are on television shouting daily.
(Cuts in) If you say people become irrelevant when they speak every day, how come people like Femi Fani-Kayode, Governor Ayodele Fayose and others who talk every day are still relevant?
Are they relevant? Is anybody taking them seriously?
Why are they on the pages of newspapers if they are not relevant?
Ha! They are on the pages of newspapers because of the nuisance value (laughs). I mean, how many serious people take whatever Femi Fani-Kayode says seriously? Likewise no serious person will take Fayose and whatever he says as serious. What you can say about these individuals is that they are loquacious and that is not to say they are taken seriously. They are national jesters.
I even heard that Fani-Kayode posted on his Facebook wall that President Buhari sacked a Christian and replaced him with a Muslim before he now knew that he was wrong and he quickly deleted it. When it comes to that kind of emotional misrepresentation of government or the President’s actions and it is reflected in the reports that come out on the pages of the newspapers like the headline, ‘After six months, Buhari sacks suspended SFG, NIA DG’, and so on, suggesting an agreement with people who smelled indecision over the delay, why do you think President Buhari, seriously speaking, would take that long to sack those allegedly corrupt officers?
As the President himself has said, he would be slow but steady. Mr. President himself came out to say that. You know that he is a very reflective person. He is not a man who acts before thinking. You just mentioned that Fani-Kayode rushed out on social media to say that Boss Mustapha is a Muslim and that Buhari had chosen another Muslim to replace a sacked Christian only for him to realise that Mustapha is a Christian (laughs). You know, you first of all think before you act. It is much better that way than for you to act before you think.
So, the man President Buhari is much more learned, much more experienced than to begin to bother himself with people like Fani-Kayode and Fayose. You know Fayose said, ‘Look, I have 54 photographs to show that Buhari is on life support.’ A week after, the man (Buhari) flew into Nigeria without any support, whether life or dead support.
So, people like that, who will take them serious? That is why instead for people to say Buhari is slow, he is not acting fast and all of that, the question they should ask is, for the time that he chooses to act, ‘Is he acting right?’ If a man does not act fast but acts right, you forgive him for lack of speed but you won’t accuse him of wrong decision.
Like in this case of suspended SGF and DG NIA now, he took his time in trying to take concrete decision. And on Friday, October 30 when Boss Mustapha was announced as new Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and as replacement for Babachir Lawal, everybody went clapping. It shows the popularity and acceptability of the new man who has been appointed.
Now talking about agitations in some parts of the country, particularly in the South-East where the IPOB took the gauntlet, is there any way it has resemblance of politics and what political explanation would you give to the public about the approach of President Muhammadu Buhari to the issue?
I and many of us know that the agitations across the country, either by those who want secession or by those who want restructuring, were largely political, largely about 2019; those who are looking for vehicles to express themselves, to show their angst and to mobilize people to be on their side in opposition to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
I know it was not going to last. I know Nnamdi Kanu was just like popcorn, popped up and popped out.
Has he popped out?
Has he not? Today where is he and who is left behind him? He has not even had the courage to talk from wherever he is hiding. Meanwhile, with the way he acted, it was as if the country was going to collapse.
That is President Muhammadu Buhari for you. He takes his time, looks at the situation, assesses it carefully and when it is time to take a decision, he moves. Just having soldiers on the streets of Abia, matching up and down, no gun was shot and the fellow fled and he has not spoken ever since.
That is to show that there was no sincerity of purpose and that it was just one young opportunistic individual trying to cause trouble. So, I believe that it was good the way it was nipped in the bud.
If you look at the Editorial comment of The DEFENDER, it was alleged that the IPOB was the making of the entire South-East. Do you share the opinion of that medium?
I don’t think Nnamdi Kanu enjoyed the full support of the governments and people of the South-East. You need to talk to the people from that part of the country one on one to know. Those who appeared to have supported him were blackmailed by the large number of young unemployed youths who followed him ignorantly. The elite of the zone were all the time looking for how they could be dismantled by the Federal Government.
They didn’t support Kanu and his IPOB. They were only afraid of the terror the young men and women could unleash on them. The agitators were too loud and dangerous. The business men, traditional rulers, clergy men who did not have the means of protecting themselves had to acquiesce. It would have been foolhardy for them to come out on the rooftop and condemn or try to stop those following Nnamdi Kanu. So, they were discouraged to do so.
But when the government perceived that the reasonable voices from the region were being drowned by the cacophony of those young people, government then moved and just made soldiers to parade the streets. And that was it. And it was just a matter of Python Dance and the agitators began to dance away.
But some leaders of the South-East cried foul that it was not well handled by the soldiers.
To me, it was well handled. I know there was so much propaganda by the people crying massacre. Let us therefore ask how many families have come out to say their children died. Or how many burials have we witnessed of those who died in the course of the dance?
There was so much noxious propaganda at that time, which could not be supported by facts. Some went as far as Rwanda to take photographs of the past, photographs from Uganda were doctored and those ofseveral parts of the world where there were crises, making them look as if they were in Nigeria. But people saw through them; international bodies saw through them.
Let me lump two questions together here. First, Mr. Ayodele Fayose wants to become the President of Nigeria and this is coming from the state of the Political Adviser to the President, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Minister of Solid Minerals and Deputy National Chairman (South) of the governing APC. How do you view the development? Second, all the talk about Buhari not being popular any longer and will fail if he dares to contest in 2019, how do you look at it?
Starting from the first question, Fayose wanting to become the President is not a slight on us. Every community, every society and every family does have its own clown. Fayose happens to be our own clown from Ekiti State.
And so you are managing him?
Nobody is taking him seriously, not even from his own camp. I have people in his own camp that I talk to almost on daily basis. There were issues that I raised and they just said, ‘look, that guy is just a clown and a jester’.
So, why do you bother yourself about that? To become the President of Nigeria is not a tea party. Here is a lad who has been given a state to manage by accident and look at the mess he has made of Ekiti State. Look at the mess he has made of the image of the people from that state. So, now, who then would now handover Nigeria to him to govern?
All of the noise about Fayose wanting to be President is a joke. You can see the way the President is treating him. President Buhari is treating him as a joke, as a non-issue. I have never, either at meetings or any function, heard the President mention Fayose or even bother about him.
You need entertainers in the system for comic relief. Things are tough, you know, and you need comic relief. So, whenever he talks and opens his mouth, people laugh and get relieved from their daily challenges. That is the way Fayose is looked at.
On your second question, those who say President Buhari is no longer popular and will lose in 2019 may not be reading the situation correctly. At the (APC) NEC meeting, the party gave a report on the state of the party and, when the party looked at the elections held in the last two years, we found that we won most of them. Aside the loss we suffered in Osun West, all other elections we have won. Many people have defected to us. About six senators have defected from the PDP to the APC. Also about 10 House of Representatives members of the PDP defected to our party. Former governors have defected. Major political personalities have defected. You cannot point to a single APC that has defected to another party.
Now, how do you then measure popularity? How do you measure the growth of a political party? Almost all of the elections we have contested we have won. In Rivers where they thought they had all the senators, we got two back.
So, to me, it is growth rather than a decline.
But from the comment of the Customs Comptroller-General, it doesn’t seem that all these defections are favourable to the APC.
He may be right but his observation is that, ‘look, a number of our party people are angry’. But these are not issues that cannot be resolved. These are not people who will be angry to the point of dumping the party.
What he (Hameed Ali) did was trying to be self-analytic and anybody who is self-analytic is on the right path. When you are in a situation and you are able to tell yourselves the truth, it does not mean that you are accepting failure. It is trying to say this is the reality today so that we can work on it. No organisation is perfect.
No situation is perfect. ‘This is the situation we have at hand today and this is what we can do better’. Yes, there are still elements of PDP within the system, who are exploiting the tolerance of President Muhammadu Buhari to cause disaffection.
Yes, the President believes that we are all Nigerians. He would give you a chance even when you are not a member of his party. He will allow you to be. But the moment we now see that you are abusing that trust, then, something will have to be done and that is what the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali, was trying to point out.
Have you as political adviser or as party stakeholders been able to sit down with the President and tell him that this idea of ‘I can work with anybody does not work?’
You see, again, you cannot win in this circumstance? Like he told us and I want to quote him now, he said, ‘When I was military Head of State, I arrested people for corruption, I took them to Kirikiri prison and I said they remained guilty until they could prove they were innocent. Now, I am a civilian President, we are arresting people and we are saying they remain innocent until we can prove them guilty.’
People are still not satisfied. This man is trying to move far away from the label of the past whereby people say he was a dictator; he was dealing with people with iron hand and so on and so forth. He said, ‘Okay, fine, I won’t rule with iron hand this time around. I will allow all opinions to flower. Let democracy prevail.’
There is an election to choose the leadership and he said, ‘Okay, I will allow that to go as it is the wish of senators themselves. People have been appointed into positions of authority in the public service. There is a law guiding those appointments. They have tenure. Do I come and say ‘okay, get out of here, you are not member of my party?”
But some former Presidents did sack such people and replaced them with their own people. What about that?
Yes, some former Presidents did but President Buhari says he will not do it this time around! Because if he starts doing that, you the media will also be the ones who will criticize him and say that he is not keeping to the law and that he is flouting the Constitution of Nigeria.
Is that how PDP got into the said 50 per cent control that they are said to enjoy in the Buhari administration?
Most of those appointments were made by the PDP government. Some of them just six months, one year before they left power and they have terms of service.
And the President does not want to interrupt those terms of service?
In the face of the clear exploitation of those appointments to sabotage government that tolerates them, for how long will good heartedness continue to endure the setback caused by that sabotage?
Still, the President cannot remove them because they will go to court and the court will rule in their favour.
But they have not been going to court in the past when such happened. Many people would ask, is it now because they know the President is lenient or do I say too gentle?
Well, but he would insist that these are, first and foremost, Nigerians before they became members of political parties. If the law says you are appointed to be in office for four years and you are appointed just one year to the end of the previous government, your term automatically runs into his government. If without you committing any crime, he now removes you and you go to the media, the media will come back to say, ‘This man is unjust. This man is unfair.’ You will accuse him of impunity.
So, the man said ‘okay, let them run their term and when their term is over they can go’. You see now that it is a no-win situation.
But there must be a measure to check their excesses because no Nigerian will judge whatever failure that occurs as that of the PDP.
Yes, that is what we are trying to do now, to ensure that they do not sabotage the government in a way that becomes almost irreparable. Attention will be paid to people like that and they will be monitored closely till their term ends.
I do not want to bother you with on the insinuation that some of your party men want to remove Chief Odigie-Oyegun as National Chairman.
Well, again, that is something you pick up from the media. Oyegun was the Chairman at the NEC meeting. He was Chairman at the caucus meeting that preceded the NEC meeting. Nobody raised the issue of removal. It didn’t come up at all. There was even no hint.
Your final word to Nigerians over the confidence they repose in the APC.
My message to Nigerians is that they should continue to have confidence in the APC because there is no alternative to the ruling party. Is it the PDP? Wait for them to go through the election of their Chairman and you will see the kind of thing that will blow out from there.
Look, what brought the PDP together was sharing of money. There is no money to share now. They were in power at a time crude oil was selling for $110, $140 per barrel. Today we are talking of less than $50 per barrel and there are quite a lot of challenges facing the country, there is dilapidation of infrastructures, which the present government is trying to work on.
So, what is there to share? And Nigerians are much more vigilant than when they (PDP) were in power. Every citizen is now a journalist and an expert in all of these areas (laughs) and where they cannot get the facts, they cook up lies.
So, it is going to be a very different environment and a very difficult terrain for them to operate. So, the PDP is not an alternative. I look at everyone who is parading himself as possible presidential aspirant; I do not see any of them that can match the APC.
Therefore, Nigerians should stay focused, stay resolute behind the APC. A lot is happening and a lot is changing.
Let me give you an example, in the past, we were importing almost 580,000 metric tonnes of rice for consumption. Now we import less than 50,000 metric tonnes. That means we have drastically reduced our rice import. By next year, we will be self-sufficient in the production of rice in Nigeria and even have enough to export. By 2020, we will not stop importing wheat because we will be self-sufficient in the produce. Many people are going back to farm and we are pushing forward. A lot of the farm produce we are consuming now are locally grown.
(Cuts in) Although Nigerians are crying that the Buhari administration is causing them hardship…
Yes, they are still crying but the President said, ‘If we have to continue to import, we will continue to grow the economy of other countries while our own economy is going down. We are providing jobs for citizens of other countries while our own are jobless’. Now, thousands and thousands, even millions of young men and women are going back to farm. And giant strides are being made at the level of solid minerals too so that we don’t have to depend solely on the income from oil.
But these are not things that you achieve in one or two months. Power situation is gradually improving. It takes time. For example, you don’t buy on the shelf all of those equipment and the inputs in power production. It takes time. And the distribution itself is not something you can do in a day.
So, for the discerning, for those who are not mischievous, you can point to indices indicating that the economy is getting better. We are out of recession now.
The economy is improving, things are changing, we are beginning to be proud of ourselves; we are beginning to be less dependent on other nations. If you then stay put and maintain the course and you do not waiver, in five, six, seven, eight years, things will change in a very positive manner and Nigerians will know that this government meant well.
Unlike in the past, you don’t come by free money anymore. This is no longer like the past when people were throwing money around for jobs not done, people stealing money, people claiming to import fuel that never got to our shores.
In those days, some people just sat in one office, signed invoices and loads of money was taken money away just like that. This is no longer there. I am not saying corruption has been completely eradicated, no, and there is no society that is corruption free, but we are saying that this government has blocked a lot of the leakages that characterized our national economic life.