By Bashir Adefaka
The Presidency, through the spokesperson for President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, has a message for those it says are jubilating, for political reason, over the abduction of over 100 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State: You are enemies of Nigeria. Adesina fielded questions from Sunday Vanguard last Wednesday on the Dapchi kidnapping allegedly carried out by a faction of terrorist group, Boko Haram, among other issues.
Let us start with the abduction of the schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State which some people have been accused of politicising and, in fact, jubilating on the grounds that it is poetic justice for the administration following the way President Buhari and the APC, then in opposition, harassed the ruling PDP in 2014 when Chibok girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram under the Jonathan administration.
If anybody jubilates over that (schoolgirls abduction), that person is an enemy of humanity and he is also an enemy of Nigeria. If you jubilate over the abduction of schoolgirls, you hate humanity, you hate your country. To anybody that is jubilating over that, that is my message for him or her.
Six months into the administration of your government, you told me in your office at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja that those who were calling President Buhari a failure were unfair. You said the President has a mandate of four years and that his performance will determine whether he would go for second term or not. This is the
time to assess the President’s performance, especially in the light of current happenings in the country. What is the update?
First and foremost, what I would like to say is that, going for another term is the personal decision of Mr. President. He has not made that decision but when he makes it, just as he said very recently, he will address Nigerians. But the second part of the question is, does he have enough grounds to seek second term? I say more than enough all fronts: Political, economic, social, security, everything! On all fronts there is more than enough. Let’s take it one by one. He promised that he would secure the country, which he has done and he is doing.
In spite of the Dapchi kidnapping?
That was a freak occurrence, calamitous, very sad, but it is not what you should use to determine whether the country is more secure or safer than it has ever been. Those who live in the North-East would easily tell you. Roads that had been closed for years are now open. Emirs that had fled their palaces are back in the palaces. Places where NYSC orientation was not holding are now hosting NYSC orientation. Markets that had been deserted, people are back there. Farms that had been abandoned, people are back there. Of course, the region is a lot of safer. Does it mean that the insurgency is completely over? No. There are still remnants of insurgents who launch occasional attacks, and that is what happened in Dapchi. But in terms of securing the country, yes, the President has done quite well. The job is not fully done but he has done well.
The second promise he made was to fight corruption. If you are honest, despite even the recent report of Transparency International, you will know that at no time had corruption been fought vigorously like this in Nigeria. Do you know how many people are before our courts? Do you know how many people have decided to enter into plea bargain? The anti-corruption war is well and alive and we are making progress.
Despite the view in some quarters that the way the anti-corruption fight is going is one-sided?
They say it is one-sided and I ask, ‘All the former military chiefs who are answering before the courts now, are they PDP members?’ That is one big question they have been unable to answer. The administration’s position is that anybody who runs foul of the law must face the consequence. And the anti-corruption war is well, alive
and on course. The third promise was to revive the economy. The National Bureau of Statistics just said that inflation has dropped consistently in the past 12 months. As of this time last year, our foreign reserve was $24billiion. As we speak, it is $42.8 billion. If it was not a prudent government, how would that happen? In six
years of the previous government when oil price sold at $112, $113 per barrel, foreign reserve did not go up. How come under this government that took off at a time oil price dropped to $29 but is now between $45 and $50, foreign reserve has gone up? Also, the stock market is growing. It is on record that our stock market is number four best in the world and it has never been as active as it is now in the history of Nigeria. And then foreign investments are coming into the country, heavily, like they have never been. On the Ease of Doing Business, Nigeria has moved up 24 points. So, there is a lot that this government has done for Nigeria in different phases. So, if it is re-election based on achievements, the government has a lot to show for it. But then, like I said earlier, it is the President that will determine whether he is running or not.
In spite all of these, some people claim they have seen nothing that has been done and it is on that basis that they are calling on Nigerians to vote against the President in 2019. Why do you think somebody would live in a house and he wants the house to collapse on his head?
It baffles me why some Nigerians want to pull down the country. You see government pulling up and you see those people pulling down. I think they are people who have not got out of primordial sentiments and loyalties. They are people who will say, ‘Because the President is not from my area, he doesn’t speak my language, he is not of my
religion, so there is nothing he can do.’ Some are in pre-2015 election mood; you know that the 2015 election was very keenly contested. In fact, Nigeria was polarized along different lines; religion, ethnicity, language, everything; all our fautlines reflected in 2015. Regrettably, after the election, some people have still not accepted that the election had been won and lost. So, they are resolutely opposed to the government that had emerged.
But there could be natural consequences for all of these. What is your advice? It is a democracy and in a democracy, people have the right to their opinions. But this same democracy works for the society where we copied it from. Why is it not working in Nigeria?
We will get to learn. Let me just believe that we are learning. Our democracy is how old? Nineteen years. We will eventually learn and realise that this is our country and what we make of it is what it will be.
It was about the first time that any Nigerian President would appreciate his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity like President Muhammadu Buhari did thanking you for ‘holding out against mischief makers’ at a time hate speeches and fake news spread about him when what he needed was support for his quick recovery with prayers.
Talking more seriously, why would you think that such statement could come from the President to you?
Well, it shows you that the man has an appreciative heart; and that is just President Buhari for you. He has an appreciative heart that whatever you do for him, he appreciates. He never forgets those who have done him good. How did I come to work for him? Because since 2003 when he began to run, I had always supported him and, as a journalist, I had always written to support him. Whenever he read my articles, he would phone me and we would discuss. We didn’t meet one-on-one for many years. I think the first time I met him was 2009.
Professor Tam David-West had written a book on him, which was being launched in Lagos and I was the Master of Ceremony (MC) at that event. That was the first time we met one-on-one. And then when my mother passed on in 2013 and we were having a commendation service for her in Lagos and I sent him an invitation, he came, all the way from Kaduna! So, the President never forgets people who have shown him loyalty. Loyalty is two ways; when you show loyalty to a man, that man should always be loyal to you. And that is President Buhari for you.
Moving forward, you talked about how it is characteristic of President Buhari to appreciate his loyalists particularly anybody who has done him any good. Is that a confirmation of the claim that he gave some of his top government appointments to his loyalists or associates from ANPP, CPC days?
When you are going to give appointments, you start from the known before going to the unknown. When Obama came, first term, as President of the United States of America, who were the people he appointed? His college mates, his friends, those he had known for some time. Those were the people that were predominant in his administration. So, in appointment, you start from the known to the unknown.
But when you have the known behaving the other way expected of the appointing authority, what then happens to our perception about the appointment of the known like it happened in the Babachir’s case?
There are some things that are prerogative of the leader; the decision is his. When somebody is appointed and he turns out to behave contrary to expectation, it is the prerogative of the President to then act and decide what will happen and we leave our President to decide that.
But some people still believe, despite the sack of Babachir, for instance, that the President has refused to act on the matter. What about that?
The prerogative is his; let us leave him to exercise that prerogative. You replied Dr. Reuben Abati when he wrote about demons in the Villa. How come President Buhari who emerged on the platform of self-integrity and popularly suddenly became someone people talk ill of; recall the allegation of nepotism and so on and so forth? Is it not the Abati’s tale of demons in the Villa now coming to reality and does it not mean that you are already feeling the heat concerning what Abati wrote about, especially when even your colleagues in the media criticize you that you don’t tell the truth about your government?
Not at all. You know there are some people who just want to believe the worst about the next man. So, if that is their predilection and frame of mind, there is nothing you can do about it. But the thing is, we would continue to do what we are doing, we would continue to do what is fair, just and right. We would continue to tell Nigerians the truth. We would not deliberately lie to Nigerians. We have never lied to them and we would never do that. The President I am serving does not want me to twist information for him. He wants you to just tell Nigerians the way things are. That is what we would continue to do and there is nothing anybody will say that will push us out of that. Some people have just made up their minds that, ‘This is what he must say, this is what he must tell us’, and they want you to say it. But (laughter), it will never happen.