• Faults proponents of president’s resignation
• Trades barbs with Jonathan over management of economy, projects
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Gboyega Akinsanmi in Lagos
Despite the uncertainty arising from President Muhammadu Buhari’s prolonged absence from the country over health concerns, one of his media aides, Mallam Garba Shehu, Monday has maintained that the president is “good enough to continue” if given the opportunity to contest the 2019 presidential election.
However, the presidential spokesman expressed ignorance over Buhari’s ailment, stating that the president would speak to Nigerians when he returns from his medical vacation.
Shehu spoke in an interview on ARISE News Network, a THISDAY sister company, in London Monday, two days after the presidential media team paid him a visit in the British capital.
The media delegation that met with the president included the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina; Senior Special Assistant, Diaspora Matters, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa; and the president’s Senior Special Assistant, Digital/Online Media, Lauretta Onochie.
The president has been away for more than 90 days getting treatment for an undisclosed ailment in London. This is the second trip he has made to the UK this year for medical reasons.
When he met with the media team on Saturday, he said he was ready to return home but would only do so on his doctors’ orders.
When asked if Buhari would seek re-election in 2019, Shehu said the president “is good enough to continue in 2009”, but added that the president’s re-election was not the issue at the moment.
“The main issue is the president comes back home in full health and resumes office. It is left for Nigerians to decide. I know the decision is with the people. But President Muhammadu Buhari is good enough to continue,” he said.
Shehu, however, said he could not speak specifically on the nature of Buhari’s ailment, assuring Nigerians that the president would talk to them about what he went through in the course of his treatment.
He said: “I cannot tell because I do not know the nature of his ailment. As he is, the president does not need prompting from anyone before he comes out and tells Nigerians what happened to him.
“When he came back last time, President Buhari told Nigerians what he went through in the United Kingdom. I think the president will choose the right moment to talk to Nigerians.”
Constitutionally, Shehu argued that nothing requires the president to disclose the nature of his illness. “In the constitution, there is nowhere the president is required to disclose his illness.”
“This is a country where past presidents never fell ill before. Even when they fell ill, nobody knew about it. This is a country where past presidents never handed over to their deputies. We had a president who was dying in office. Nobody was ready to talk,” he explained.
He also faulted those canvassing for Buhari’s resignation due to his illness and long absence, noting that their agitation was linked “to some elements in the opposition”.
“In any case, we are in a democracy. We cannot stop people from protesting or demonstrating.
“In a country of 170 million people, we only have two dozen people protesting and all of them with links with the opposition. Every person is entitled to his or her own view.
“Nigeria has a huge population. But there are people praying in churches or mosques for the president’s recovery,” he said.
He maintained that it was not correct to say that Nigerians were aggrieved over Buhari’s absence.
“Instead, Nigerians are missing their president. They want him to come back. The president himself listens to the mass media. He monitors what is going on at home. He was also critical of some elements.
“Nigerians have to understand the situation. We have a constitution. The problem with Nigeria in the past has been that our presidents rarely went on vacation. They never handed over to their deputies.
“In the case of Buhari, he handed over power. This is because he believes the right thing must be done. That is the law. That is the constitution. He followed it properly before he left the country. He handed over according to the law.
“All the ministers are doing their work. All the chief executives are doing their jobs. All the advisers are on their jobs. So there is no vacancy. There is no vacuum in the federal government,” he stressed.
Responding to a question on the time limit within which the president could remain out of the country, Shehu acknowledged the right of Nigerians to demand more information on the president, but argued that the constitution does not specify a timeline for any president to stay out of the country.
He said: “The constitution is open-ended about it. It does not say the president should be away for two months, for three months or six months. There is no timeline.
“So in this circumstances, the right thing was done before President Buhari went on medical vacation.
“The experience with President Yar’Adua was totally unacceptable. In that instance, Yar’Adua never handed over to his deputy. You are perfectly right that people will demand for more information. I believe at the appropriate time, it will be given.”
He disclosed that the media delegation spent about two hours with the president, noting that the meeting was broken, not because the president was exhausted, but because members of the delegation had to have their lunch.
“While members of the team were having lunch, the president waited for us because he had had his lunch earlier. We did not break the meeting because it was exhausting for him. He had had his lunch earlier. So he had to wait for us. There was no urgency,” he said.
Shehu, in a statement Monday, also blamed President Goodluck Jonathan for running the Nigerian economy aground before leaving office.
Shehu, who was reacting to the former president’s comment at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) non-elective convention in Abuja at the weekend that the economy was better off under his administration, said Jonathan had all the opportunities to lead Nigeria to prosperity with the avalanche of resources at his disposal but failed to do so.
According to him, despite high oil prices and sustained peace in the Niger Delta enjoyed by the Jonathan administration, there was nothing to show for it, adding that growth and development nosedived under his government.
Instead of developing the country, Shehu said corruption thrived under Jonathan, while there was no infrastructure development such as roads, railways, power generation, or boom in agriculture.
“The oil sector boomed under his tenure, with oil prices as high as US$120 per barel and peace in the Niger Delta. Nigeria earned unprecedented dollar revenues.
“Sadly, that is where the story turns sour. There is nothing to show for the revenues earned, no major capital project was completed, neither power generation, road development, rail or agriculture benefitted from the windfall earnings.
“Rather, the administration presided over the diversion of oil revenues on a such a massive scale, that even without the protection now accorded to whistle blowers, the then Central Bank governor blew not only a whistle but a trumpet. And he was hurriedly shown the door.
“Meanwhile, the acquisition by public officers and their cohorts of private jets, luxury yachts and the accumulation of expensive property portfolios worldwide continued unabated.
“Indeed the president (Jonathan) once celebrated having the largest number of private jets, whilst our youths languished without jobs, our fields stood idle and our factories began the lay off of workers.
“Government simply reticulated oil revenue through personal spending by corrupt leaders, wasteful expenses and salaries. This was done rather than investing in what would grow the economy.
“Economies grow due to capital investment in assets like seaports, airports, power plants, railways, roads and housing. Nigeria cannot record a single major infrastructure project in the last 10 years. In short, the money was mismanaged.
“Such was the looting that even the goose that was laying the golden egg was being systematically starved. The direct contractual costs of oil produced, in the form of cash calls, remained unpaid.
“Incoming President Buhari’s welcome from the oil majors included a demand for $6 billion owed by Nigeria for oil that had already been sold or stolen,” Shehu stated