• 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.
Omokri: Time for Propaganda is Over
But in a swift response to Shehu’s strong putdown, Jonathan’s former aide, Reno Omokri, said that the former’s excoriation of his boss had only exposed why the country was in recession and floundering in all spheres.
In a statement Monday, Omokri said: “It is quite sad that Mallam Garba Shehu does not know that oil constitutes only 15 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP and thus a fall in the price of oil should not lead to a collapse of the Nigerian economy as has been experienced under President Buhari.
“If Garba and his boss are willing to learn, the Jonathan Foundation and the Peoples Democratic Party can arrange a course for them to be tutored on the subject: how to grow your economy to be the largest in Africa. We make bold that we are experienced in that area.
“When Mr. Shehu says ‘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’, he only further exposes his intellectual laziness and failing memory.
“Obviously, Garba Shehu has forgotten that when his boss was commissioning the Abuja-Kaduna 187km fast railway that enables Nigerians work in Abuja and live in Kaduna, he was forced to admit that the project was conceived, built and completed by the Jonathan administration.
“At that event, President Muhammadu Buhari said about the $1.5 billion project and I quote: ‘This project was conceived by a previous administration, started by the last government.’
“My question to Mr. Shehu is this: who is a liar between him and his boss? I also urge Garba Shehu to take note of the fact that the only federal university in his boss’s home state of Katsina was built by the Jonathan administration in addition to 13 other universities and 165 Almajiri schools built all over Nigeria.
“For people who don’t value education, I am not surprised that they see this as ‘nothing to show!’
“It may also interest Garba Shehu to note that the Jonathan administration revived the moribund Nigerian Railway Corporation to the extent that the loquacious Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was forced to confess on December 15, 2015 and I quote, ‘In fact, I think we have a problem; most people don’t believe that the railway transport is functioning in Nigeria. I didn’t even know, until I started this tour, I never knew that the railway was functioning, it was even from his (MD’s) speech that I learnt that there are some coaches or services that go to Kano or Port Harcourt or elsewhere’.”
Pointing out that these were just a few of the infrastructure legacies of the Jonathan era, Omokri expressed surprise that Shehu now praises the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II.
“Nigerians have not forgotten that it is the same Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now Muhammadu Sanusi II, who carpeted the economic policies of the Buhari administration, saying that under the Buhari administration, and again I quote, ‘There is one rate for petroleum marketers, there is an interbank rate, there is another for money market operators such as Western Union and Money Gram, there is the bureau de change rate and there is a special rate you get when you call the CBN for a transaction.’
“My other question to Garba Shehu is this, how will an economy not collapse when you have multiple exchange rates?
“Malam Garba and his boss continue to show that they are in over their heads by their statements. For instance, Garba says, ‘At the inception of the current administration, 21 states were unable to meet their salary bills and the spectre of workers’ arrears had commenced. The PDP solution was to raid the Ecological Fund and selectively grant N2 billion each to the PDP states.’
“Is it that Garba Shehu and his boss do not know that Nigeria is a federation and that the federal government cannot control the states? No wonder they are against restructuring and want to throw the report of the 2014 National Conference into the dustbin.
“We have already proved that the accusation about the Ecological Fund is a lie and it shows desperation on the side of the presidency to rehash it.
“When that notorious liar, Nasir El-Rufai, first made the accusation, we showed, with documentary evidence, that core PDP states like Akwa Ibom, where the then chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum comes from and Ekiti State which was the only PDP state in the South-west, did not benefit from the Ecological Fund.
“Meanwhile, 10 states which were of the then opposition All Progressive Congress did.
“Apparently, when Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed speak, they speak their native language, lies!
“Garba Shehu would do well to remember that his boss promised Nigerians 3 million jobs every year. Rather, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 4.58 million jobs, created by the Jonathan-led PDP administration, were lost in his boss’ first year.
“Laughably, Garba Shehu cites the fight against corruption and the terror war as major achievements of the Buhari administration.
“How can Garba Shehu reconcile his so called anti-corruption war with the fact that Nigeria has made NO PROGRESS in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index under Buhari and in the latest CPI Transparency International said and I quote, ‘Some other large African countries have failed to improve their scores on the index. These include South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya.’
“On the alleged terror war, Nigerians will recall that President Muhammadu Buhari said that Boko Haram had been technically defeated.
“My question is how can a defeated Boko Haram now have the ability to kidnap policewomen and oil explorers? How can a defeated Boko Haram attack military formations? How can a defeated Boko Haram carry out more suicide bombing in the last eight months than at any other time in Nigeria’s history?
“Has Garba Shehu forgotten that on July 6, 2017, the World Economic Forum named Nigeria as the fifth most dangerous country in the world? Or that on the 4th of February 2017, the United States Congress cited Nigeria as the most dangerous place for Christians in the world?
“Garba Shehu can continue living in his fool’s paradise but he should give Nigerians more credit than to issue the pathetic tissue of lies that he called a response to former President Jonathan’s comments at this past weekend’s non-elective congress of the PDP.
“Dr. Jonathan spoke generally about the positive impact of the PDP administrations on the lives of Nigerians and specifically on some of his exemplary achievements that made life better for the citizenry.
“He spoke about his reforms in the electoral process, transport, rail services, industrial and automotive policy, as well as the transformational impact of many other policies like YouWin, Youth Enterprises with Innovation (YouWin), bank verification number (BVN), the treasury single account (TSA) and the e-wallet system which were all measures designed to fight corruption.
“The time for propaganda is long gone. Anybody who wants to differ should speak to those issues raised, and not boasts about accomplishments that are not visible. The succeeding administration has been on the saddle for more than half of its four-year tenure.
“This is the time for it to display its scorecard, especially since the blame game no longer connects with Nigerians. At some point under the PDP oil prices fell to as low as $30 and the party never cited that as a reason for non-performance.
“It is up to Nigerians to determine if they are better or worse off today than they were in 2015, when former President Goodluck Jonthan left office.
“Finally, I urge Garba Shehu to go back and read Mallam el-Rufai’s memo to President Muhammadu Buhari where el-Rufai said, and I quote, ‘In very blunt terms, Mr. President, our APC administration has not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight change but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance outside of our successes in fighting the Boko Haram insurgency and corruption’,” he added.
Barkindo Visits Buhari
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mr. Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, Monday visited the president in London and declared that Buhari had made a remarkable recovery.
According to a statement by OPEC, Barkindo and Buhari reviewed current oil market conditions and the implementation of the OPEC-non-OPEC “Declaration of Cooperation”.
The statement said Buhari expressed satisfaction with the steady progress being made by all participating countries under the agreement and urged them to remain focused and resolute.
Buhari also commended Barkindo for the landmark decisions taken in 2016 and 2017, and for the significant turnaround in OPEC since he assumed office a year ago.
The statement noted that the president has been following events within OPEC and the oil market with keen interest, especially as he was once and is currently Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources and had represented the country in OPEC for several years.