Mr Femi Adesina is the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity. He spoke to Ayo Oluokun on efforts made by the Buhari administration to tackle security and economic challenges facing the country and other issues.
What’s your reaction to the call on the President to resign particularly by the Northern Elders Forum, who said he has nothing else to offer Nigerians with the state of insecurity in the country?
The first question you should ask yourself is, ‘who are these northern elders?’ Ango Abdullahi, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and a few others. And what was their position in the 2019 election? They supported Atiku Abubakar. So, they have lost all moral authority to make that call. They are partisan people. And do they speak for the North? They do not. The so-called Northern elders are political people because they had a candidate they backed in 2019 who failed at the election. So, they will not see anything good in the President because, so to speak, the President gave them a bloody nose at the election and that was why they are saying what they are saying. The second thing you should ask is that you say the President should resign just a year to the end of his tenure. Who does that? And when he resigns, what happens? Do you want to destabilize the country further? You want things to be topsy-turvy in the country. It doesn’t make sense.
But is there no sense at all in what they are saying given what seemed like a spike in insecurity and killings in some parts of the country, especially in the North West and North Central in the past few weeks?
That also tells you that there could be some hidden, hostile hands working. At times, you find calm in the country and things seem to be returning to normal. But suddenly, there will be a spike. We should be suspicious with that hike. It shows that some hidden hostile hands are engineering things in this country– all for political reasons, all to grab power. And then, look at a country like the United States – how many mad shootings have you had in the past year? As we speak now, there was that one on the subway. Have you heard anyone call for President Biden’s resignation? Almost per week, you have mass shootings in America. Do they call for Biden’s resignation? So, it shows the level of thinking of the people asking for resignation because that is not the way to go. It is the government that is docile, idle, and that is not doing anything about the situation in the country that you will ask to resign. If there is any government that has tackled insecurity heads on, it is the Buhari administration. No government has funded, equipped, trained and encouraged the security agencies as the Buhari administration has done. This is a situation that is being confronted head-on and then, you are asking for resignation. It shows their low level of thinking.
You said no government has confronted insecurity as President Buhari has done. But what the people are saying is that the killings in Plateau, Benue, the attack and abduction from the Abuja-Kaduna train and so on are indicative that no serious attempt is being made to tackle insecurity by the government?
That’s not true. The fact that those things are happening is not a confirmation that insecurity is not being tackled. It is being tackled, but it spikes for several reasons. One, some are historical – if you talk of Plateau, it is a historical thing. You talk of Southern Kaduna, it is a historical thing. Then, some are nascent – banditry, insurgency which was also inherited, but has been decimated and reduced to a large extent now. When President Buhari came to power in 2015, the greatest problem in the country was insurgency, but that has been reduced to the barest minimum – banditry, cult killings, and kidnappings for ransom joined.
What the people are saying is that the Buhari government inherited insurgency in 2015 and one of the planks on which the government was elected was the promise to tackle insecurity and government has been tackling insurgency, but banditry, kidnappings have joined and we seem not to be making too much headway in tackling them?
If the government makes headway in tackling insurgency, it has already displayed capacity. And it has displayed capacity in tackling insurgency, it shows it can also show capacity in tackling insurgency and other security challenges. Nobody can say there are no security challenges in the country. There are plenty, plenty. But is the government as overwhelmed as some people are trying to say? No. if the government has responded and keeps on responding, you cannot say it is overwhelmed. The intensity of the challenges may rise higher, but then, it continues to be confronted. Part of the problem is the media itself. It is my industry; I am also a member of that industry. You will see that when our security agencies make advances, it is underreported, but when the criminals make their advances, it is blown up. So, I think the media also has a role to adequately project and reflect what our security agencies are doing so that the generality of Nigerians will know that this is not a one-sided war. As the criminals are making their advances, our security agencies are also dealing with them.
You said the President has facilitated training, has equipped the military and so on. But some critics also said the President has not been open to new ideas in tackling insecurity- some people have talked about state police, hiring of mercenaries – some of the advice came from governors…
When you say ‘governors’ – that is not correct. Maybe one, or two-three governors have spoken about that out of 36.
What about the establishment of a state police which is even part of the restructuring promised by APC?
Would you say the kind of insecurity we have in the country is for the police to handle? But you know it is not a police affair. Police are for civil enforcement of the law. It is not for insurgency, banditry and criminality to this extent. You need the military to confront that. And the President has confronted the insecurity head-on and what I am maintaining is that if Nigeria is winning the war against insurgency, it will win the war against banditry. It will win the war against cultism and kidnapping. This country will win.
Will the government put an end to all the security challenges before its exit from the government in 2023?
You see, there is no one government anywhere in the world that solves all the problems in the country. It has never happened and it will not happen, not anywhere. The Buhari administration will do its level best – if it can end this thing decisively, it will end it. And if it does not end it decisively, the next government continues. That’s why we said the government is a continuum- no single government anywhere in the world solves all the problems of the country. It has not happened and it will not happen.
So, the Buhari government will hand over banditry and other security challenges to its successor?
You didn’t seem to listen to me. I said the Buhari government will do its best, if it can end it, it will end it. That’s what I said.
Is the President concerned about the state of the economy – the rising prices, and inflation rate which many Nigerians are now complaining about?
You didn’t get the full picture of the economy. You have also spoken from one side. What was the state of the economy when President Buhari came? It was on a downward slip. The Minister in charge of the economy at that time told Nigerians that the economy was already primed for recession. The Coordinating Minister of the Economy – she warned. Even, former President Obasanjo warned that the economy was primed for recession. And truly, that recession came. But it lasted just one year because the government rolled up its sleeves and did what it should do and we came out of that recession. The second recession came after COVID- it was all over the world. America, Britain – almost every country in the world got affected by the economic downturn that accompanied COVID. But where are we? What was the last GDP figure? Nigeria recorded the best performance in its GDP since 2014. That was early this year. So, that doesn’t call for renunciation and repudiation of the economic policy of the administration. Rather, it is encouraging. The economy is like a plane ascending with its nose in the sky. As long as the plane is ascending and the nose is in the sky, it tells you that it will keep climbing. But when the nose suddenly dips, that’s a danger signal. So, Nigerians should be patient. They should know that this government is working for them and we will get them. The economy is not where it was. There was a time that the inflation figures were reduced by about seven months. But did we hear anything from anybody? They didn’t talk about it. But when for some reason, things turned and the inflation figure began to increase, you heard all the noise. The inflation what is the current figure?
About 15 per cent
But do you know it has been beyond that in the life of this administration? There was a time it was at 11 and it was going to single digit. Nobody spoke at that time. So, that is what we should learn as a country. Life is like being out on the sea – you have the rough and you have the smooth. But the negative picture you have painted is not what is happening in the country. The economy is improving and will get better.
But when you say the economy is improving, the common man who used to buy one egg for N50 for instance, but now has to pay N100 or a bag of rice for about N8000, but now has to pay nearly N30,000 despite Buhari’s administration’s massive investment in agriculture may not agree?
That was when the rice was being imported – a bag of rice was N8000 when it was being massively imported and we are spending three billion dollars per year to import it. Now, not a grain of rice is imported, at least legitimately. Everything is grown here, so there is a difference. When there was a lockdown globally in 2020 from COVID-19, did Nigerians cross the border to look for food as Venezuelans did? Venezuela, I think is richer in oil than Nigeria. But during that time, they were crossing the border to look for food. It didn’t happen in Nigeria because the Buhari government had invested heavily in agriculture – all grains – maize, beans, rice, everything. Not a single grain is imported again at least, not wholesale. If that had not been done, would we have survived the lockdown? One, if we want to import, there was no money. Two, all the countries of the world have locked their borders and three; they would not even sell to you because they will be considering self-sufficiency. So, we should learn to count our blessings and be thankful for what the administration has done and the successes that have attended it through God.
But what people are saying is that if the government has invested so much in agriculture, it should translate to cheaper food for Nigerians?
Yes, we will get there. There are some concerns – middlemen and all that. All those concerns after some time will fizzle out and the prices will come down. But it is still better to have our homegrown products than to import them.
Another concern about the Buhari government is the rate at which it is taking loans. Anytime the Debt Management Office, DMO announced Nigeria’s level of debt, the general response of the people is ‘this man is going to sell this country to creditors o before he leaves office
No, it is because they are not listening very well to the DMO. The DMO in its last release said the debt level is still sustainable. People just hear the figures, they don’t listen to the other things. The DG DMO said this is the figure, but it is still under control. Many times, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning has said viz-a-viz our GDP, the borrowing and the debt level are sustainable.
But some economists said rather than GDP, we should look at the debt level of our income, especially now that we are using most of our income to pay the debt?
And what is wrong with paying your debts? As long as those debts were not taken to be stolen, to be pocketed as it happened under the previous administration that I won’t mention. As long as you pay those debts and you used them for development – rail, power, airport, then, your economy can carry it and you can payback. No country does not borrow. America, with the biggest economy in the world, is also the highest debtor country in the world.
Why has the President who is also the oil minister not been able to defeat oil thieves with our production not at 1.3, 1.4 million barrels per day, the lowest in recent years as a result of thieves vandalizing pipelines to steal crude oil for illegal refining?
Has any administration defeated oil thieves in this country?
But some administrations have tried and under them, we were doing over two million barrels per day
Is there an adequate response to oil theft now? Yes, there is an adequate response to it. Look at the response of the Navy, look at the response being coordinated by the Chief of Defence Staff. Things are happening there now and in a matter of weeks, you will not hear about the massive theft of oil again. And the reason there is massive theft like that in the country is with the people, not the government per se because it is the same people that will complain about the lack of healthcare, roads, and education. But the resources that will be used to fix those things, you have stolen. But it is being tackled.
Many Nigerians also have issues with the delay by the President or presidency to react to issues of concern, for example, we have not heard anything about efforts to rescue the people kidnapped from the Abuja-Kaduna train?
You don’t do everything on the pages of the newspaper. So, you don’t know what is going on. It may even be counterproductive to start talking about what the security people are doing every day. It is a tricky situation. You don’t go charging into such a place so you don’t end up killing all the people that have been taken hostage because they use them as a human shield. It is a delicate and sensitive thing and we need to be mindful of those people being held. What is important is that they come back alive.
Is there any guarantee that this insecurity will end under this President?
Why are you talking about President, the president?
Does the buck not stop at his table?
The President is just one man. He has an apparatus of government and that apparatus is working. He gives them all the support they need. He gives them all the encouragement they need. Do you expect the president to carry a gun and go charging into the forest to kill the bandits himself? When he was younger, remember he led Nigeria to flush out Chadian soldiers who had made incursions into the country. But that’s not what we expect him to do now. What he needs to do is to give direction, support, finance, and hold strategy sessions with those who are in charge and he does that from time to time. I tell you if there is one thing the President is on top of, it is the security situation in the country. It may be difficult, hydra-headed, multifarious, but it does not mean that the President is not in charge of the security situation.
But what the people are saying is that the President has done all that and there is no tangible result
I disagree that there is no tangible result. There are results daily. Saying that there are no tangible results will be unfair to our security agencies. They are laying their lives down for us every day. We sleep in our own homes, but they are there out in the forest. In the afternoon, we are in air-conditioned offices, they are there in the boiling sun. So, to say that is to be unfair to those who are fighting this insecurity. Insecurity is an intractable thing the world over, particularly, this kind of insecurity. If you are fighting a conventional war, it is a different thing. But this is what they called asymmetric war. So, it takes a while to win.
Is the President still keen on the war against corruption?
That question is not an issue if you are following development. Just two, three weeks ago, the EFCC came out with the number of convictions it has recorded in the past six, seven years compared to the years before then, it is almost double or treble of what this country has ever seen. So, it shows you that corruption has never been fought as vigorously as it is being fought now. Just look at the statistics from ICPC, and EFCC and then, you can make up your mind. Don’t just assume a position that a lot of detractors will prefer to push as the correct narrative in the country.
What the critics are saying is that if the President is still keen on fighting corruption, he would not have supported a person who still has a corruption case hanging on his neck to emerge as the chairman of APC
Is allegation an indictment? Doesn’t the law presume you innocent until you are found guilty?
But is it not better to keep away from a person with such an allegation on his neck?
No. Has this man been found guilty? It is a global norm that until you are found guilty, you are presumed to be innocent. The fact that a person was charged does not mean he is guilty. What happened to that case? As a journalist, found out. If he has now been charged, indicted, and found guilty and he was now entrusted with that kind of position, you can talk. But when the case reached a dead end, why are you presuming that he was guilty.
Looking at what happened at the APC Convention, some critics also accused the President of behaving like a dictator by imposing his choice of chairman on party members
I don’t recall that there was an imposition because there are three possibilities when you want to fill that kind of position. You can do direct, indirect primaries and consensus. So, it is one of the legitimate approaches that was used.
There are also concerns among some party members that the President may also want consensus to be used to choose the presidential candidate of the party
That is for the party to determine. I speak for the President; I don’t speak for the party. It is the party that will determine the approach that has to be used to get its presidential candidate.
What kind of legacy will the President leave for Nigerians?
President Buhari will be remembered for his strides in infrastructure. Many governments have said they will do a second Niger Bridge, but they couldn’t do it. But the Niger Bridge will be commissioned in October. Bonny-Bodo road and Bridge have been on the cards for 42 years, no government has the boldness to tackle that project, but it is almost done now. Lagos-Ibadan expressway was there in the 16 years of PDP, they kept going back and forth, and it will be commissioned this year. Loko –Oweto bridge that liknks Nasarawa, Benue with East has been done. There are projects all over the country like that. Airports – Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Port Harcourt – brand new airport terminals have been constructed and commissioned. AKK pipelines that will carry gas from Ajaokuta to Kaduna and Kano are in operation, hopefully, to be concluded before this administration leaves. Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressway is being done. Infrastructure everywhere and then, somebody will say that person has failed.
There were criticisms of the Vice President and others who said they will continue from where Buhari stopped when they declared their intentions to succeed him…
Because you are listening to the wrong people – governance is a continuum. You don’t come and erase what the government has done – good and bad. Rather, you continue with the project. For example, if Niger Bridge was not completed, it was to cost about 201 billion, but they ended up spending N156 billion – you can check the figures. There were savings from that project. Now, somebody comes and says I don’t want this project, is that not foolish. Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road will be about 55 per cent completed by the time this government leaves. Somebody comes and abandons that road, will that not be foolish? So, as I said, no government can do everything that has to be done in a country. That’s why the government is a continuum. Look at President Buhari – do you know that nearly all the projects he inherited, he continued with them and for many years, he was completing and commissioning. And even if PDP began to say ‘it is our project’. But you didn’t finish it. Should he abandon it? Look at the Abuja-Kaduna train that was unfortunately bombed- when the Buhari administration came, it was maybe about 70 per cent completed. If the last 30 per cent was not done, would the train have been put to use? He completed it and it was put to use for the good of the country. That’s how governance is. It is only mean, small-minded people that will see it as negative for somebody to say he will continue with the negative things being done.
What is the President thinking about all these people coming out saying they want to succeed him? Does he have a favourite among them?
He said in an interview that in his mind he has somebody that he prefers, but that he will not mention that person or his name, that he will keep the name to his chest.
That’s why some people believe that the President may also work toward the party using consensus to select its presidential candidate
Wait till that time and like I told you earlier, it is not a question for the presidential spokesman, it is the party that will speak on that and determine how that will go. No matter how revisionists try to change history, President Buhari will go down in history as somebody that came and did his best for Nigeria. They also know that security was his strong point. When he came, he tackled security headlong and in the first one, two years, things were looking good. And then, they like open hell against Nigeria. This insecurity is global and is also prevalent in the Sahel region – Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger Burkina Faso and so Nigeria is not immune from what is happening. And some people have turned it into politics. They just want to use it to define the government so that they can get power. What is happening in Nigeria is a power struggle, a class struggle, it is an economic struggle. But I tell you, Nigeria will win. President Buhari will win, and history will be kind to him because this is a man that loves Nigeria and has done his best despite the distractions, the foul language deployed at him. He just concentrates on what he is doing.