Shortly before the one year anniversary of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Sani Tukur, on the achievements of the administration, how the president spends his time outside official hours, his family life, and capacity to govern Nigeria.
Read excerpts of the interview below:
PT: One year after how has the journey been?
Adesina: So far so good, I will say. Because, if you recall how our country was this time last year and compare it with how it is today you will see that there is a big difference, particularly in the area of security, in the area of the anti-corruption war, you can say that this government has done very well. The third one is the economy. That one is still tricky and it is work in progress. Then you take it one by one because they are three key promises APC made while campaigning. The president believes that you cannot administer a country you have not secured. And that is why he has gone all out to try and secure the country. You recall that by this time last year you weren’t quite sure where Nigeria was headed. Boko Haram was not just in the north east, it was in the north west, it was in north central and it could go down south anytime. That was the fear in the country. After sometime they pushed them back, got them circumscribed within the north east and as we speak they are even in the narrower area which is the Sambisa Forest. You can say other battles fronts have been opened in Niger Delta, herdsmen, kidnapping. Those are issues but one thing that is not in doubt is that this government has the capacity to deal with all these issues. I am not saying they are all going to be by armed conflict or by force of arm. Where they need to dialogue, they dialogue and where they need to negotiate, they negotiate. But this government does not lack the capacity to secure this country. So that gives us a lot of hope. Security wise, the government has done very well. On anti-corruption, of course we know what has been uncovered in this country. I remember in the UK about two weeks ago, one foreign media asked the president – did you know it was this bad? He confessed that he knew it was bad but he didn’t know it was that bad. It has turned out very, very bad. But it is also something that the government is tackling and the president is determined to leave a saner and cleaner Nigeria in terms of accountability and probity by the way he is going. No matter what anybody says about this corruption war, no friend not foe, no retreat, no surrender. Anybody, irrespective of who he is, if he has questions to answer on corruption, he will have to answer it. I heard people say that it is selective. They need to prove. He who alleges must also prove. The anti-corruption war is going on and going on very well and it has earned Nigeria a lot of respect in the international community. The third promise he made was to revive the economy. Like I said earlier, that one is still key and touchy but it will be done because when the economy collapses as Nigeria’s did, it is not something you bring back by a snap of the fingers. It takes a lot of re-tooling and re-engineering to bring it back. It is work in progress and we will get there. No doubt, jobs will come from agriculture and solid minerals and other policies will stimulate the economy. It is N6 trillion budget for instance for the first time. If it is properly implemented and there is no reason why it will not be properly implemented, it will stimulate the economy. There will be more spending money at the disposal of Nigerians. So, I will say so far so good, the government is on course. I have used this illustration before I will use again. It is like a plane that has taken off and it is gaining altitude and its nose is in the air. As long as its nose is in the air, it is climbing. If the nose is down it is a danger signal.
PT: Since you brought up the issue of economy, let’s talk about it. Suddenly there are talks about recession and devaluation. Are these palliatives you mention capable of correcting the insinuations coming up in terms of recession, devaluation?
Adesina: I would rather leave that question to the economists to answer. But then one thing I can assure is that whatever would happen, this government is going to do its best to ensure that Nigerians, particularly the ordinary people will not suffer it again. Things may be tough, may be difficult but it will get better.
PT: Maybe we should take you back to the issue of the war against corruption. Are we really winning the corruption war? Some people out there still say it is selective. They say if it is not, point to any APC member that is in court? Also, there appears not to be any corruption case that has been concluded.
Adesina: You don’t just go running after people because you want to give the semblance of a balance. If there is no allegation against an APC person or if there is no prima facie case, you don’t just bring them to trial just because you want to create a balance. But if there is any prima facie case or there is a need for any APC person to be pulled in for question or to tried, you be sure that that will happen. Then the second leg of the question is – how many people have been convicted? Unfortunately, the executive does not convict. The executive does not pronounce judgement. There is absolutely nothing the executive can do in a polity where there is separation of powers. There is separation of powers and so the executive cannot convict and it cannot lean on the judiciary to begin to convict. The onus is on the judiciary to know that it has a role to play if Nigeria will win this anti-corruption war. But has the war been on course, no doubt it is on course.
Adesina: There is no immunity for probing it but is it the president that will probe himself? No. Nobody stops anybody from probing it.
PT: Maybe because the allegations are not there yet!
Adesina: If they are there, trust the security agencies!
PT: Some Nigerians say there are some corrupt people in the Buhari administration. You may regard this as a rumour but looking closely would it not earn the administration a bad image?
Adesina: The president has answered that question and the challenge he threw was – give me the evidence against them. You can’t just on the basis of suspicion say this person is corrupt. If there is evidence against them, give me the evidence. He said it even at the media chat. He said if you have evidence even against a serving minister, that minister will answer for it. That is the president for you.
PT: Talking to you is almost like talking to the president. You are always around the president, you travel with him. In the eyes of the ordinary Nigerians they see a president that is always strict and serious all the time. What are those things about Mr. President that Nigerians don’t seem to know?
Adesina: It is his great sense of humour and his humanness and humanity. I have done a piece which I called “Buhari, Beyond The Iron and Steel.” Beyond the iron and steel you need to know the president as a man of humour, as a man who feels touched by what happens to people and what happens to Nigerians generally. You need to know him. I have done my bit.
PT: He also looks like somebody who takes his time to do things not minding whether people expect him to act in a particular way all the time. Why does he take his time? I give you an example. Everybody is waiting for an appointment into Board of Parastatals. The president is taking his time just like he did in the appointment of ministers. Why does he think that is the best? Even now he is delaying in appointing the Special Advisers.
Adesina: Don’t forget when he was a military leader there was something he used to say – “This administration will not be rushed.” Even as a military leader. He used to say it. It is still the same way – painstaking and methodical. Don’t rush me! Don’t rush me! That is how to lay a foundation that is solid and enduring. It is so easy to rush and get all the applause and at the end of the day everything is built on quick sand and collapses. But when he does things like that methodically and painstakingly, it is more enduring. That is why it took him time to even name his ministers. Because when he came he did not envisage the enormity of the rot that confronted him. As I said before when you land and you land on solid ground, you can run. But if you land inside mud, how do you do it. How do stand, how do you begin to run. That was what happened to this administration. He could believe what he met when he came and so there was a need to begin to re-lay the foundation. And that was what he did and ministers did not come until November. That is the president for you. Anything he needs to do he does it methodically. You said all the Special Advisers have not come. It is also because he is also cutting the cost of governance. When he came he met 42 ministries. Now they have 24. He has approval to take about 15 Special Advisers maybe he has used three, four five or something. He still has a large number that he has not filled because one, he will fill them according to need. There is no point in just amassing them without pressing need, wasting government’s funds.
PT: Some say this delay tactics also have disadvantages. Some persons say the economy is in shambles this way because he did not appoint ministers early. Do you share that view?
Adesina: That would not be true. He met the economy in shambles. Economies don’t collapse in weeks. Well, if you do some things badly, yes economies can collapse in days. The Nigerian economy that President Buhari met was in complete doldrums. To use the president’s world – he said they vandalised the country. The country was completely vandalised by the time he came. So, it really has nothing to do with it. What we see and are still seeing now is what I call the consequences of corruption. A certain part of the country says they have no road and they have no infrastructure. Do infrastructure break down in six months, ten months, in one year? No. They broke down over the years. What is evident in Nigerian is consequence of corruption. And so anybody that says it is this government that led to what we are seeing now is not being fair. If they want to be fair to this government, it met a collapsed economy and gradually it is trying to stimulate that economy and rebuild it. And we will get there.
PT: Aside the economy, are there some things the president discovered that you will want to tell us?
Adesina: The president has promised that the May 29 broadcast will be quite revealing and I can tell you it will be quite revealing. You also know that apart from the economy, even the inter-ethnic relationship in the country was an issue. The president met a country that had been badly divided, more than at any time in the history of this country. Because we in the last days of the last administration all the things that divided us were emphasised because they wanted to win the election at all cost. They used religion, used ethnicity, used the language, used where you came from, threw everything into it. He inherited a country that was almost breaking apart. It is gradual process to put the country together. We are not there yet. We know that there are still some agitations in some parts of the country. Those are still fallouts of the things he inherited.
PT: Is the president bothered about the trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who is the number three citizen of this country?
Adesina: The president answered this question sometime in the US. I was there. The question had been – what is his relationship with Saraki vis-a-vis the trial? And what will his relationship be after the trial? The president said the outcome of the trial will determine what his relationship will be. So the president knows what is going on, he is aware of his environment, he keeps tab, naturally he is not touching the issue in any way either influencing it positively or negatively. The president will not do that. Even in the choice of the leadership of the National Assembly you know he didn’t do that. So like he said his relationship with the senate president will be determined by the outcome of that trial.
PT: What about his relationship with his party?
Adesina: The president recognises that the platform that brought him is the party. No president has legitimacy without a platform and the APC is his platform. From time to time he meets with the party, meets with the NWC of the party and twice in the life of this administration he has gone to attend meetings at the party secretariat. That already shows you the importance he places on the party.
PT: But there are stories that he does not help the party in terms of funding?
Adesina: How do you expect a government to fund a party with government’s money? Part of the problem the last party in government had was that it took official money to campaign. And that is why they all answering in court today. Knowing President Buhari, he will never do that. There are many ways to fund a political party but he will not dip hands into the coffers of government to fund a political party. He won’t do it. Don’t forget that when he came in 1983, a lot of politicians went to jail for using official money to enrich political parties. How do you think a man like that will then come and do the same thing? Not this president.
PT: Does running Nigeria negatively affect his relationship with his family?
Adesina: If you know the president and how organised he is then you will know it won’t affect the family much. No doubt it is a demanding job. It will mean that there is demand on his time more than it used to be but because he is so organised I am sure he still has a lot of time to spend with his family. One thing you need to know about the president is his respect for time. On the dot of the hour when he has anything to do he is there. If he should finish, he finishes. That therefore makes it easy for him to plan his schedule when he starts in the morning till evening. You need to get to his house in the evenings. When I need to see him even about official things I go to the house in the evening. You need to see the place. One day I went to see him after the 8 ‘o’ clock prayers, just two of us were waiting to see him. The second person was a top person in government before and he told me ‘look at this vast place and only two of us are waiting to see the president. He said in one dispensation that I will not mention, come to this place at 2am or 3am it is still like a market place. When any government runs like you know it is not good. You know it is either they are wheeling and dealing or cutting deals and when a president is still up by 2am or 5am when he will still get to work the next day, how effective will be in the office and all that. Not this president. By the time he has his dinner, just a few people that have been scheduled to see him and he goes to bed.
PT: How does he spend his weekends?
Adesina: Because he is president of a country of 170 million people, work is not restricted just to the office. There are things he treats at home. He has an office at home where he continues his work. But you will be surprised that on weekends his grand children jump on him, they climb all over him just like a typical grandfather.
PT: Between your own office and the media you have given a lot to the media. What have you got from it?
Adesina: You know it is my constituency and as much as possible I try to keep in touch with it. if any media person calls me and I miss that call maybe I am the president’s side or there is no network and I come back and I see it I will call back. I try to keep my doors open for the media because if they can’t reach me I have no reason to be here. The reason I am here is to serve as an interface between the media and the president and the presidency. I think I have had a good relationship with the media. The media is quite critical. I am not saying the media should not be critical. I am only asking the media to be fair. That is all I require. Once the media is fair to us, I am okay.
PT: Are you getting that fairness?
Adesina: To a large extent! Sometimes we receive I think is unfair. But when it is unfair I can always complain. I can always point out this and this and this. But by and large I think we are okay with the media.
PT: That means you have stopped stories before?
Adesina: No we don’t. We don’t attempt to stop stories. If anybody calls me I give our side and I never asked don’t use. No.
PT: Has the job also affected your relationship with your family?
Adesina: Yes, naturally because this is the first time I have to leave apart from my family. My family is still in Lagos and I go once or twice a month to visit. I have been married for 25 years and this is the first time I am leaving apart from my family. But I think it is a sacrifice. For me I see what I am doing not just as a job but as an assignment. For me, it is a national assignment and I am happy doing it. Part of the sacrifice is that I see less and less of the family and they too, it is part of the sacrifice they are making.
PT: What are we expecting from this administration in the next one year, by May 29, 2017?
Adesina: I have no doubt, God sparing our lives, by this time next year there will be a far better situation- security wise, economic wise, anti-corruption war, job creation, Nigeria will be in a far better situation. The president was promising earlier today that by 2018/19, we will not be importing food again, particularly any kind of grains – rice, maize, wheat etc. The first year I will say is a year of laying the superstructure for this country. The second year the government will build on that structure and you can be sure that at the end of the second year of this administration things will be radically different from what we have now. It will be a lot better.
PT: In a nutshell, how would you score this administration?
Adesina: That should not come from me. I would rather it comes from Nigerians. But I will just say that there is a lot of reason to hope that the future will be a lot better. It is different from when there is despondency. Here we can almost be cocksure that things will get a lot better.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted before the president travelled to the United Kingdom on vacation.