This is a reproduction of interview in the SUN Newspapers
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, has said the allegation of non-performance, nepotism and weakness levelled against President Muhammadu Buhari are unfounded.
While expressing optimism on the government’s journey to the “Next Level” in the current second term, he outlines what the government is doing about the myriad of problems plaguing the country as well as what the future holds for Nigeria in the next four years.
Four years as the presidential spokesman, what has the job taught you?
It has taught me a lot. It has taught me that taking this kind of assignment you must not just see it as a job, because there are easier ways to earn a living. You must see it as an assignment –one that you are convinced you need to do. If you don’t have a conviction about your principal, then it is not going to be easy. The job comes with a lot, including abuses. They throw everything at you, including the kitchen things. I believe it has taught me more patience and how to overlook many things.
How do you manage criticism?
I don’t bother about that anymore. For me, criticism is almost like water off a duck’s back. At times, I look at them –if they are founded. But the unfounded ones, I just ignore them, because you can see that they are twisting everything they see. Even if you write an article, and the thrust of that article is clear, they begin to turn it and begin to take if from a mischievous perspective so that, one, you will be exposed to odium and, two, they want to cause a quarrel between you and your principal.
Ruling Nigeria is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Do you think Nigeria has fared better under the watch of your principal, President Buhari?
Nigeria is on a trajectory now, and that trajectory will lead you to a better place. That’s what President Buhari has come to do. Nigeria has been badly vandalised, and when that kind of vandalism has happened, you don’t just snap your fingers or wave a magic wand, and things will turn to normal. You have to reset the foundation, and after resetting the foundation, you start to build on it. I want to believe that, in the first term, he has reset the foundation, and he is building on it. He will consolidate on that structure during the second term. By the time he finishes in 2023, Nigeria will be in a far better state than he met it.
In his first term, it took the President months to announce his ministers, which led people to say he was slow to act. Is he as slow as perceived when making decisions?
No, he wasn’t what they think. He took over on May 29, and, by November, he had appointed ministers, because of the peculiarities of that time. Now, those peculiarities are not there. So, it is not going to be the same thing. In 2015, there were no proper handover documents. It was hurriedly done. The handover documents should have been given to him some days in advance for him to study. It was not properly handed to him at the right time. When he came to power, the level of degradation was mind-boggling. Everything was degraded: the civil service, the economy, excess crude account, foreign reserve, everything! So, he needed to replan; that was why it took him time.
Many Nigerians were disenchanted, alleging that the President used his first four years in office for blame game, instead of providing the much-needed change he promised…
What they call blame game is just a reference to history. History is there; it is embedded; it is irreversible. Nobody can wipe it out. If Nigeria does not want to repeat those mistakes, then it must be trumpeted in our ears that this and that led us to where we are now, let us be careful so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. They may call it blame game, but I don’t see it as a blame game. It is just a matter of making us to realise how we got to where we are.
Four years as the Nigerian President, there are some Nigerians who believe President Buhari failed woefully in his first term…
If anybody chooses not to believe that President Buhari performed well in the first four years, there is no way you can convince him. There is a saying that, for those who believe, no explanation is necessary. But, for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible, because, if somebody has chosen to be willfully blind, if you put something in front of his eyes, he will say he didn’t see it. If somebody decides to be willfully deaf, begin to ring bells in his ears, he will say he didn’t hear. So, if anybody has decided that President Buhari has not done anything, there is nothing anybody can say. But for those who believe, they will see roads across the country and airports round the country; they will see strides in agriculture, food self-sufficiency –we are not importing rice again –they will see advances against corruption. There was a time they told us that stealing was not corruption; now, in Nigeria, any form of stealing is corruption. There are many things the president has achieved. For those who believe, we don’t need to keep trumpeting them again –they know that Nigeria is not the way it used to be.
The security challenges are still here with us, especially Boko Haram killings. Is Nigeria fighting a lost battle?
Boko Haram is not in the same shape it was in 2015. In 2015, you had bombs going off six, seven, 10 times a day, with corpses littering our towns, villages and communities. Is it the same today? No. In 2015, Boko Haram was in North Central; it was in North East; it was in the federal capital, Abuja; it was in Kogi State. Where was it moving to? South West! And if it gets to South West and South-South, the entire country is gone. It is not the same today. At a point, it became circumscribed in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. It was beaten out of Adamawa and Yobe. Then it remained limited to Borno, and that Borno was just the Sambisa Forest, which later fell. So, anybody who wants to be fair and truthful will say, though Boko Haram is yet to be completely defeated, it is not in the shape it was in 2015.
Are there efforts to ensure it is finally rooted out? ISIS has been rooted out of Iraq. But, in Nigeria, the Boko Haram menace is still lingering, particularly in Borno State where it all started.
Yes, one day it will be over. Remember the Tamil Tiger rebels in Siri Lanka: it took the better part of 28 years to get rid of them. I am not saying it is going to take that long in Nigeria. What I am saying that a symmetric war takes a while to end. But, will it end? Yes, one day, it will end.
Nigerians have continued to be killed and hunted abroad for crime, from Saudi Arabia to Dubai. Is there anything the federal government is doing to stem the tide of migration so that Nigerians are content staying at home?
Two things I will say about that: Mr. President will not support you if you break the law in another country willfully. Each place he travels, he takes time to meet with the Nigerian community, and he always tells them: “Obey the laws of your host country. If you break the law willfully, Nigeria will not support you.” But, if you are genuine, like it happened to that lady in Saudi Arabia, the country will rise up to plead your case. The other thing is illegal migration. It can be curbed through better condition at home. If at home, you have jobs, you have education, healthcare, security, and empowerment generally, why would people dare the desert to travel out abroad? Why would they dare the Mediterranean to go and drown?
So, how will these things come about?
It is by good governance. Earlier today, the president met a team, and said part of Nigeria’s problems was that, over the decades, Nigeria’s resources were not used to the benefit of Nigerians. So, if resources have been mismanaged over the years, it will lead to poverty and insecurity, like we have today. But, if you also have good governance progressively, then things will change. Mr. President has had his first term. He is having his second term. After that, if we succeed in having progressive governments again, you will find that, after sometime, all the woes of Nigeria will be a thing of the past. But, if Nigerians allow crooks to come and rule them again, then it is back to square one.
Rising cases of suicides among Nigerians, especially youths, is very disturbing and has exposed Nigeria to ridicule. Some analyst are miffed that the President is not rising up to the occasion…
It is not mainly a government thing. It is for parents. It is for religious leaders. It is for teachers. It is for everybody. It is not the president’s making. Well, the government should provide situation in which things are fairly okay for the common man. Fine, the government will do that. But, even in countries where things are okay, people commit suicide. So it is the duty of everybody: at the home, parents; even at the home, husband to wife, wife to husbands; in schools, teachers to pupil; at the workplace, the boss to the subordinates. We must learn to watch out for one another.
What of job creation? So much was expected from this government in the first term.
You see, job creation responds to other economic variables. I read a piece today where the Minister for Trade and Industries is saying, over the next four years, 20 million jobs will be created. You can begin to make projections like that when the economy has started to rebound as the Nigerian economy is doing.
But when the economy was in doldrums and you were fighting it, you had to, first of all, get it working before creating jobs. Mind you, the government just provides an enabling environment; it is the private sector that creates jobs more. With that enabling comes, you will see more jobs in Nigeria.
It is possible for a country like ours to have a vibrant social security as we have abroad?
It has started. The Social Investment Programme that this administration is running is the beginning of social security, and it will metamorphose. We need to build it gradually. Our Social Investment Programme is the largest in Africa. No country has it, and, I believe, it is the beginning of a properly articulated social security. For the homegrown school feeding, over 9.1 million pupils are fed daily in our different schools. It is in over 30 states now.
A section of Nigerians believes the President didn’t win the 2019 presidential election…
Well, they have a right to their opinion. The matter is in court, so it is not something we can talk about. But what we know is that he won the election fair and square. We leave the tribunal to do its job.
There is a disturbing claim of the ‘Fulanisation’ of Nigeria, which is gaining ground since former President Olusegun Obasanjo made the allegation. Is the President not worried by this?
When Obasanjo was brought to power by the North, there was no Fulanisation of Nigeria. Why is it now that he is talking about Fulanisation, and you know that Obasanjo has taken a position against this government and President Buhari. And when you have taken a position against a person, there is nothing that person will do that will be good. The Yoruba talk say the horse of your enemy is never tall. Even, if your horse is 10 feet tall, if your enemy sees it, he will say, “Look at this dwarf!” That is what is happening to President Muhammadu Buhari. So, he has a right to his opinion.
Like Boko Haram, the herdsmen crisis hasn’t gone away totally. When is the President going to be tough on the killer herdsmen?
You can handle this issue in a way that will exacerbate it. You can handle it in a way that hatred will pervade the entire country. In fact, a lot of people who are talking about herdsmen are talking from hatred, because every evil is blamed on herdsmen now. There was one lady who was missing and the news on social media was that she had been kidnapped by herdsmen. Later, the girl’s corpse, unfortunately, turned up in a canal in Lagos. There was also the case of somebody who posted lifeless bodies on social media reported to be killed by herdsmen along Lagos-Benin Expressway. But investigation showed it was the scene of an accident many years ago. So you find that a lot of people operate from hatred, and they are the enemies of this country.
If you look at the population of Nigeria, the Fulani people are minorities in the north. So all these things are stereotyping and negative profiling that is not good. Simply because a Fulani is the president of this country, they want to demonise every Fulani. It is unfair and unjust. But, is the president committed to peace between the real farmers and the herdsmen? Yes. There are steps being taken.
In the area of appointments of service chiefs, are we hoping to see an even spread this time, given the charge of nepotism levelled against the President’s choices during the first term, which saw the North dominating by a wide margin in a multicultural society like Nigeria?
You are trying to preempt the President. He is the one that has the mandate to rule the country, and there are certain things that are his prerogative as the president. Let him exercise that prerogative.
What are Nigerians expecting to be done differently this time as the President kicks off his second term tenure?
The answer is Next Level, which means a consolidation of what he has been doing. Security will be consolidated. The fight against corruption will be consolidated. Economy recovery will be consolidated. Added to these focal areas we have plenty of jobs. We will have infrastructure across the country –roads, rail, power, airport, etcetera. Lagos-Kano rail; Kano-Maiduguri rail. Everywhere! It is going to be like a net of infrastructure round the country. By 2023, even those who are willfully blind will begin to see reason to sing his praises.
There is a feeling we have sacred cows in the fight against corruption. The fight seems to tilt towards the opposition.
No, not with President Buhari. Why you think the fight is titled towards the opposition party is because the PDP was in power for 16 years, and it is the person who has access to the treasury that can mismanage it and loot it, and that person must answer. So, don’t they want to answer? They must answer!
There is this impression that the President is too weak to rule the country, which is why he allows a cabal to run the country….
I don’t know of any cabal unless you can tell me who the members are and how they operate. I know that the president was elected, he went round the country, and canvassed for votes, and he is running the country. As far as I am concerned, he is running it well.
What do you like most about the President?
His simplicity. Some times when I visit his house and see what he eats, you will be amazed at how simple his taste is. His attitude to life is very simple. I think it is one of his greatest attractions. He is a man not given to excesses.