The Director, Strategic Communications for President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 presidential campaign, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), faults the Peoples Democratic Party’s allegation of Federal Government’s clampdown on the opposition, in this interview with TOBI AWORINDE
What is your reaction to the Peoples Democratic Party’s allegation that the Federal Government is clamping down on the opposition as a strategy to retain power beyond 2019?
I don’t think there is any need for a persecution complex because that is what their action amounts to. The judiciary is always there as an impartial arbiter and you know that some people, who were charged to court, have been left (off-the-hook) long ago while some have been convicted. So, it is not just possible for the Federal Government to clamp down on people. And when you say ‘clampdown’, what does it mean? Clampdown means charging them to court. When you charge people to court in this democratic era, the court does not just send them to jail and keep them when the trial is going on. Almost all of them are entitled to bail, and at the same time, the court would be there to hear their cases. So, it would be better for them to explain what ‘clampdown’ means.
During the time of the PDP and (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo, all the former President’s perceived political opponents, whether within the party or outside the party, were targets. They (PDP and Obasanjo) told the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission at that time, Nuhu Ribadu, to just compile a list titled ‘Corrupt Nigerians’. They compiled a list of names and said all the persons there were disqualified from contesting (political) offices. That was what they did. However, many people went to court then and the court declared the list null and void. So, it is what they did that they are now thinking others will do too.
When different people see a knife, it means different things to them. To the meat seller, the knife is to butcher his meat. To the surgeon, the knife is to do his operation. To the hunter, the knife is to clear the bush path when he is going. So, the equipment or weapon means different things to different people. To the PDP, the acquisition of power equals abuse of power. They did it to people and so they assume others will also do it. That is why you can see that they have written letters to the United Nations, crying to high heaven that some people want to rig elections. That was exactly what they did, so they are already assuming — and it is just a wrong assumption — that others will do what they did too. You can see that is why they are not getting the sympathy of Nigerians.
They are not getting the sympathy of Nigerians because the people know that they (PDP members) are crying foul. Nigerians know already that these are people who are just bad losers and nothing more. I can tell you confidently that there is absolutely no way that the normal process of arrest, investigation, arraignment of a suspect in court, the granting of bail and the proper procedure of trial will not be followed. So, on the issue of clampdown on the opposition, that is a military term. It does not apply and it will never apply in a democratic setting such as this.
Some have complained that the APC is not prosecuting a lot of people within the party and that it is focusing more on the opposition. What is your reaction to that?
All they need to do is just point out those people who ought to be prosecuted and are not prosecuted. You know that the (former) Governor of Adamawa State is standing trial. He is an APC member. You know the Senate President is standing trial and he is an APC member. I am sure you read that two (former) governors, who defected to the APC, have been charged to court now. They were not in the APC (until last year). They actually defected to the APC. So, the facts don’t just add up. They are just crying foul for nothing.
But there is also a former Minister of State for Defence, who was accused of receiving N4.7bn from the Office of the National Security Adviser.
There has been a policy of this government. When it is time to charge people to court, it will charge them to court. Some people, who are willingly refunding money have not been charged to court. I’m sure you know that people like a former Osun State deputy governor, Iyiola Omisore (who until Sunday was a member of the PDP) refunded money. Has he been charged to court? People like former Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Abdullahi Dikko, returned money. Has he been charged to court? So, there has been some policy like that. For example, those who may not have known the source of funds — and I am not talking about all of them — but then decided to return it (to the Federal Government) after knowing the source of funds. That is the point we are making: if you did not know the source of funds, you may not be guilty. But having known the source of funds, if you then decide to keep the funds, that is when you would be guilty. At that point, you are an accessory after the fact.
So, is there going to be prosecution of people who willingly returned stolen funds?
At some point, they will take that decision at the highest level. But different governments have different policies. Some governments may say, ‘I am going to concentrate on the recovery of money’, which is also good for the masses because you are recovering money on behalf of the masses. Some may say, ‘I want to concentrate on prosecution’. So, at some level, the government will take that decision, but not at my level.
The opposition argues that the plan to release the looters’ list in portions is a political agenda towards the 2019 elections. Do you agree with this?
How did the looters’ list come about? It was the PDP that called for the looters’ list. It was the PDP that said, ‘If you have any of our members who had looted, please, release the names’. So, how can the same people now turn round to say the looters’ list is a deliberate political weapon? They are the ones who called for the looters’ list and the Federal Government obliged them. Can you see that these people are confused? The members of the PDP, with all due respect, are like somebody who had ‘killed’ so many people. I am not saying that literally; I am saying this as an analogy. They are like someone who killed so many people and blood is on their hands, then the person begins to behave like a mental patient because they have committed so many atrocities.
When you have committed so many atrocities, you don’t think straight again because the blood of people is now on your hands. They have committed so much sin against Nigerians that, right now, they are not thinking straight again. That is what is taunting them right now. That is why you see them issuing all kinds of inconsistent statements. Today, somebody says people want to assassinate him. Tomorrow, they say they are writing to United Nations; the next day, they say they are crying foul. They are no longer thinking straight.
As a key player in President Muhammadu Buhari’s second-term bid, what is your strategy?
You want me to tell you my strategy? That is expo (cheat sheet) now. You want expo? (Laughs!) Let me just say this on a very serious note: it is just to tell the people the truth. There is no other strategy other than making sure the people know the truth. There are so many lies, so much misinformation, deliberate spreading of falsehood and desperation. And when I say desperation, the desperation has not been so severe than it is now that they are prepared to do just anything to get back to power. Because of that, there are so many lies that they are peddling around. So, there is no other strategy other than to let the people know the truth. That is all we have decided to do: let the people know who the true enemy is and who their true friends are.
So many people feel the President is 75 and that it is time for him to step down, especially with all the medical trips he has embarked on. What do you say to those who are worried and concerned about his health?
Nobody should be worried and concerned about his health. The world has watched with excitement and happiness how much the President has bounced back to health since he came back from his medical vacation. And I am sure you have seen that yourself. The President is looking fresher, younger, cleaner, and more handsome on the lighter side. We are all excited and we thank God for him. We have all been sick in the past; there was a time I was down some years ago, not really down but the normal malaria that would keep you at home for two, three days. Some may be longer, and after that, you bounce back.
Ronald Reagan is one of the best presidents America has ever produced. He was elected at the age of 69 and re-elected at the age of 73. He was nearing 80 when he retired. Today, Reagan goes down in history as one of the best (presidents). He may not be the best, but he was one of the best. He had a 68 per cent approval rating when he left the office. So, it is absolutely not an issue at all. The President went for a routine check-up recently and said the doctor certified him very fit. We have absolutely nothing to worry about.
We have had presidents that were never sick before, but they just slumped and died, like the case of (Gen. Sani) Abacha. Was Abacha ever sick? So, who can come out and say, ‘I am God and I will not die tomorrow, even though I am healthy today’? Nobody can say so, absolutely none. Nobody should go there. These are matters in the hands of God and anybody who wants to play God will incur the wrath of God.
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