For close to 50 minutes, we sat glued on the couch in the visitor’s room of his official residence at the Presidential Villa, Abuja last week Sunday, distilling, dissecting and deconstructing the issues.
And the following was the outcome of the rapt and enthralling journalistic engagement with the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, Femi Adesina, a media Dean and guru who rose through the rung of the media hierarchy to become the Editor,Managing Dir.of the The Sun Newspapers and the President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, before his present office which started in 2015. Please, sit back and savour the interview.
It’s been 6 years in the life of this government. Next year, they say, is election year so to speak and 2023 is almost here when the hand over will be done. How far so far?
…….Nigeria, just like so many other countries in the world, is going through troubled times but the administration has waded through it all, has made impact despite the troubles. Some of the troubles are external. Others are internal and others are global like the corona virus pandemic.
Nobody could have stopped that downward spiral because it was already set in motion.The recession that came in 2016 was inevitable.Nobody could have stopped it due to some actions and inactions of the government that left.The coordinating minister of the economy then even said that the government didn’t have the will to save. If a government doesn’t have the will to save, what then happens when the rainy days come? Rain will beat you and beat you seriously.
That recession lasted for just about a year because the government pulled up its bootstraps, rolled up its sleeves and did the right things to exit the recession and as the economy began to gather steam, ready to take off again, the covid-19 pandemic struck and an economy that was about to fly nosedived again. And we know that for most of 2020, the world was shut down & the second recession too became inevitable. But then, the miracle of it was that we emerged from that recession again faster than anybody thought.
In fact, it is on record that the Nigerian economy is about the one that emerged fastest from the covid induced economy. It shows that the fundamentals of the economy are strong and the fact that President Buhari has put the country’s money where our mouths are, matters, diversifying the economy….
Ok. That’s on the economic front…
Yes, that is on the economy, I’ll talk of others because there were three things President Buhari promised: we will revive the economy and create jobs. On that economy, the promise is being kept. The other one? Security? A big elephant in the room. Security is a big issue in Nigeria, just as it is in many other countries of the world, but they will take care of their own issues and we must take care of our own.
You know that in 2015, the main issue in the country was insurgency. That insurgency was in north east, it was in north west, it was in north central because Abuja was being serially bombed, it was already in Kogi. From Kogi, where did you think it was going? It was southwest. And if you went to the southwest, the only place left would be the south south.
The whole country would have been consumed and there would have been no country again, if not that President Buhari came in in 1015. He came in, took the right decisions, did the right things, re-equipped the military, motivated them and see where we are today in the area of insurgency. In fact, there was a news report just today that Borno is closing all IDP camps by December 31.
Do close IDP camps if the issues have not been sorted out? To a large extent, I think the last figure of insurgents that surrendered was over 14,000. That shows that they themselves know they have been beaten, beaten and thoroughly beaten. See the leader of ISWAP, two of them have been taken out in two months. Al-Banawin taken out, his successor, Bako, taken out. It shows that the military is having the upper hand in terms of insurgency.
It was inherited. It started actually in Oct.2009 under Yaradua & inherited by the Goodluck govt, inherited by Buhari. But by and large, Buhari has almost seen to the end of it. I read of a lecture that Gen.Buratai, the former army chief delivered two days ago at Biu, the military university, thanking President Buhari for dealing a decisive blow on insurgency, boko haram.
So, that inherited front of insecurity will be concluded before Buhari exits and that is one front. Now, the insecurity became hydra-headed along the line. Banditry came, kidnapping, cultism & all sorts of agitation for separatism also added to the insecurity. The insecurity became hydra headed.The confidence we have is that if we could beat the insurgency part of it, we will beat all. We will beat banditry. In fact, banditry is been dealt heavy blows now. In no time, I have the confidence that we will see to the end of banditry.
I know you’re speaking on the three areas because we are coming to anti-corruption fight. But let me take you further on insecurity. A situation where the bandits shut down a military jet and all that, would you say actually that, yes, the government of the day has dealt a dirty blow to this insecurity? Because some Nigerians will be quick to say, No, we disagree with you, because we still have this thing going about and Nigerians have seen more insecurity now than before. So, how would you react to that?
It depends on what you choose to believe.
Still talking about banditry, not too long ago, the Senate passed a resolution asking the president to declare them terrorists and 24 hours later, the House of Representatives joined in that call and outcry? It does appear that the presidency hasn’t done anything about that. But then, Nigerians are still clamouring. Do you see that happening or not?
For me personally, mark my words, personally, it is a matter of semantics. Semantics is a theory of meaning in language. So, whether they are called terrorists or they’re called bandits, it is just semantics. A criminal is criminal.They either repent, change their ways or you eliminate them. That’s what matters.
Who are terrorist? Terrorists more often than not levy war against a nation and they seek to seize territories and occupy them. That is a terrorist and that is why Boko Haram are terrorists, because at the time before this administration came, they were occupying a minimum of 17 local governments in this country and they wanted more. They wanted to take over the entire country and create a caliphate.They’re terrorists
These ones, bandits, they have no ideology.They are just interested in criminality for the sake of criminality. Robbing, raping, maiming, stealing, no ideology. Have you heard that they seized territory? They are not interested. So, but like I said, criminality is criminality. Eliminate all of them and that is what our security forces are doing.
But they are multiplying, they are growing in their numbers everyday, spreading from Sokoto to Niger…
(Cuts in) No, they are not spreading. They are running. It is not as if they are spreading. You know they were concentrated on certain places before: Binin Gwarin side of Kaduna, there is a forest in Zamfara where they were, they were in the forest. But now that the battle was taken to them in those forests, they are now running. From Zamfara, they ran to Niger.
A couple of weeks back when the heat was on them in Zamfara, they were trying to cross into Niger state and the military ambushed them and 42 of them were killed in that ambush. So, it’s not as if it’s spreading all over place but rather, they are running and as they run, they spread sorrow, tears and blood on the way but the whole country is not big enough for them, in fact, the whole world is not wide enough for them to run. Justice will catch up with them.
Could they be responsible for the bombing of the Abuja-Kaduna rail track recently?
Anybody that does that kind of thing is a criminal. No matter what name they go by, they are criminals. And if the law catches up with them, they will be dealt with.
How did we get here, to this point as a country and as a people because before now, we used to hear these things happen outside and not in Nigeria?
When we heard of suicide bombers in other parts of the world, we said Nigerians loved life too much; that they would never be suicide bombers, suddenly it crept in here. So, it shows you that the world is truly a global village. And don’t think you are immune from what you see in other parts of the world. And one thing that exacerbated the situation of Nigeria is evil speaking
How do you mean “evil speaking”?
Particularly by those who claim to be leaders, leaders of thought, leaders of ethnic groups, leaders of opposition, they claim to be leaders but engage in evil speaking, they say those evil things which will eventually coalesce into violence, into eruptions, into bloodshed and murder.They are not innocent, all those who engage in evil speeches.
Is it really about evil speaking or about criticizing…?
(Cuts in) Criticism is different. Criticism that is well directed, well founded is even welcome. But one that is virulent, the one that sees no good in anything leads to this kind of thing that is happening whether any thing is good or not, they just criticise it. It builds up and leads to pent up anger, pent up anger leads to violence, violence leads to murder and bloodshed. All those who do these things are not free from the blood of human beings. The blood of the people of the people is on their hands.
But when you see some wrong acts or actions of the government, and you say no, that is not how it should be, government should do this & that.Would you also liken that to speaking evil? wink
I told you criticism is good if it is well directed.
But that to me is what I feel most Nigerians have always done.
No, no, no, no. What we see in Nigeria is evil speaking not even criticism. Criticism, in its essence, is meant to improve things. But the ones we see in is Nigeria is meant to pull down the country.
Let me take you on anti corruption. President Muhammadu Buhari was a military man and held sway between 1983 and 1984. With operation War Against Indiscipline, WAI, they wrestled corruption to the ground. And based on that, I would say Nigerians actually came out on enmass in 2015 and voted for him. But 6 years down the line, the monster is still there. In fact, many Nigerians feel that the officials of this government are even more corrupt than the past. How would you react to that?
Let me take the latter part of the question that officials of the current government are seen to be more corrupt. That’s a general statement. It is a sweeping statement. You don’t just accuse people of corruption in a blanket like that. You have to come out and say this person did this, did this, did this. And if government does not do anything about it, then you say it is tolerating corruption. The easiest thing to do in the world is to allege. It is just sit back and allege and that is what many people do. They allege that there is corruption without justifying it.
They allege that there is corruption without justifying it. Now, you talked about people electing Buhari because they wanted him to fight corruption. Yes, he’s fighting it but style must necessarily be different from the one he adopted as a military ruler. As a military leader, you rule by decrees, you just would just declare whatever you want to do, and you back it up with a law. And you go ahead to do it. That’s not the same style under a democracy. So the President is now a democrat, and he has to do everything like…
So to you, how far do you think we have fared in fighting corruption?
We have gone very far. The statistics even speak for themselves? Go and check the number of trials and convictions by the security agencies, you know, there is a lot. EFCC came out recently to speak, I think it was a week or two ago, right from 1999 to date, on the number of prosecutions, number of convictions. Go and look at it and see what has happened under this administration.
Some people will say that the wrongdoing of former SGF and the EFCC Chairman, Magu are cases of indictment on the government because they are officials of the government. If they had preached against it, how is that they are found wanting?
Those are cases that are running and pending. So, the less said about, the better. For the former SGF, the case is in court. For Magu, the President is also yet to make a definitive pronouncement. So, the less said about it, the better. But the fact that somebody in an administration is indicted for something is not enough a brush to tar the entire administration. There is no administration that is perfect. There is none that is complete in any part of the world.
Since you came on board as a government, would you say there are some actions you may not have taken because it appears you score the government 100% in all aspects even though you have two more years?
Not up to two, 19 months to go. I didn’t give that mark.
Nigerians before 2015 were buying a bag of rice N7,000 to N8,000 but today the price has so skyrocketed and you are having about N25,000 to N35,000 and there is so much hunger in the land. People are crying. The prices of good in the market are so high that the President in his October 1st speech blamed the middlemen. But Nigerians are saying no, that is not what he should be doing.
Middlemen are part of it and I think we also are part of our problems.
But there used to be a price control mechanism before now or am I wrong? I don’t know what is happening because I know in a situation like that the government comes in and says no, we cannot…
There’s something wrong about the Nigerian psyche. Everybody wants to profiteer at the slightest situation.
Tell me your love for this President (another general laughter) because I can see that you speak very good of this president. You are so much in love with this president. How did that come about?
Yes, yes, (smiles) I make no bones about it. And I will say this anywhere I love President Buhari, I love him.
Is it because you are working for him?
Before I ever met him I had loved him. I’ll tell you the story. In 1984, I was actually a third year student in the University. So you couldn’t call me an impressionable young person who will be hero-worshipping him, no. I had grown, I could make up my mind. In 1984 when he emerged as military head of state with Idiagbon and they were leading the country; I just liked the direction in which they were taking the country because I grew up under a very tough father.
My father was an educationist to the core, a school principal, a disciplinarian who ran the house with an iron hand (general laughter), just as he ran the school.
So, when I saw Buhari coming out and running Nigeria with that iron fist, then I felt the country needed it and so, I admired him. It was not a perfect government. You will not see a perfect government anywhere. He made his mistakes but he was doing well.18-20 mnths after, he was overthrown and I was very sad. That day, perhaps goes down as one of my saddest days in life. The day he was overthrown I was very sad. .
And then, in 2002, he now said he was joining partisan politics. It was my happiest day (long laughter). I rejoiced. This man is coming back because I felt the country lost. If it was the Buhari/Idiagbon regime that lasted for eight years, that the Babaginda regime lasted, Nigeria would never have been the same. But it lasted just 20 months. Nigeria would never have been where we are today if the regime had lasted but fortunately, it didn’t last.
And when he now indicated he was coming back through partisan politics, I rejoiced, was glad. Since he ran for the first time in 2003, I have been supporting him, 2007, 2011, I have been supporting him. And when after 2011 he said he was not running again, I said no, General you can run.
But some Nigerians faulted that move because if “a man of integrity” has said something…?
(Cuts in) No, no, no. It has nothing to do with integrity. We all can change our minds when superior arguments come. In fact, a man that does not change his opinion and his mind in the face of superior argument for positive reasons is a very rigid man and a danger to himself and to the society…..
In your closet, perhaps, with the President, have you ever thought of the immediate past government not relinquishing power to him in 2015 because most Nigerians would think it was unthinkable to defeat an incumbent President who was seeking re-election? No, you should recall that the eyes of the world were on Nigeria. I think John Kerry was the secretary of state then. He came here. Many, many foreign dignitaries came here to talk about the forthcoming elections. And there was a peace pact signed by all the candidates? No, it would have been dishonourable not to have honoured, not to have respected the result of the election. And I believe that President Goodluck Jonathan would have been the worst for it. It was good that he respected the wishes of the people and he left. His profile is better today.
If you had attempted to stay put, he would have landed himself in trouble and Nigeria in greater trouble. So it was good. I know that he must have heard different kinds of voices but he made up his mind to phone President Buhari to congratulate him.
The president tells us about that day that when he first got that call, and the person said this is President Jonathan & that he first kept quiet for some seconds. He first kept quiet because he was shocked.He didn’t think the conceding will come so early. President Jonathan conceded defeat, congratulated the incoming President and Nigeria is the better for it.
Going forward, before this government leaves office, do you think Nigeria will get any better?
A lot better. On all fronts. All the challenges will not be solved, all the problems will not vanish overnight. But government exists to solve challenges. This govt will solve as many as it can solve. And I tell you to solve many. But government is a continuum.
Nigerians out there hear and talk about a cabal in the Presidential Villa. How real is the cabal?
Well, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had been asked that question. I align with it. I don’t know of any cabal.
Most Nigerians believe the president is being lied to, that some persons lie to him like in this security situation, they don’t really tell him…
(Cuts in) All over the world, the president can be given false information all over the world…….