Mallam Mohammed Lawal, a member, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation board is one of closest political allies of President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview with Iyobosa Uwugiaren, he spoke on some of the recent issues raised by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan. Excerpts:
In the last few days, the political space has been heated up by comments from the Minister of Women Affairs and a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. As an associate of President Muhammadu Buhari, what is your take on the emerging discourse?
Well, we are in a political season. It is beginning to appear people, who have been hiding their plans, their mischiefs have started showing up. We already know. The President knows very well â€“ right from the beginning when he gave Aisha Alhassan that appointment that she is an associate and close political ally of Atiku Abubakar. And we are not surprised, because we are in government. We know about their machination and meetings in order to discredit the government. It started after the primaries and President Mohammadu Buhariâ€™s victory in 2015. We know what they have been planning underground.
They have been disappointed, because the President refused to react to all their mischief. If there is a person who is a political saint in this country, it is President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, he demonstrated to be the greatest democrat with military background that Nigeria has ever had. If there are other pious politicians or saintly politicians, he is the most pious among them. He didnâ€™t react; he kept the Minister of Women Affairs there and continues to get along with her gentlemanly. But it became overbearing to them that they had to burst out and started exhibiting their secret plans.
God in his infinite mercy made them to start talking. There are people like them. We are not saying that President Buhari is somebody that all the stakeholders must agree with 100%, but the majority of them are with Buhari simply because of what he promised Nigerians. He is keeping to his promises and he has continued to listen to peopleâ€™s aspirations. He is ready to listen and President Buhari is not Mr. Know-it-all. If you have something reasonable that is going to improve the governance of this country, he is ready to listen and work with it, even if you are not an Atiku and Aisha. So, we know what they are after, and we are waiting to see how they will continue to react towards all our good policies in the government.
Aisha is in government, she is a minister by the grace of God and by the magnanimity of President Buhari, knowing full well where she came from. She has been with Atiku 100%. They lost and still President Buhari gave her ministerial appointment together with many of Atikuâ€™s people right now in the government. When Atiku was fighting former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was there anybody among Atikuâ€™s loyalists who fought Obasanjo as Aisha is doing now? It didnâ€™t happen. So, loyalty has to be absolute and it is a two-way affair.
Buhari has demonstrated his loyalty and magnanimity to her and Atiku even though Atiku is saying that he had been abandoned. It is not true. What help did he render to Buhariâ€™s campaign? He left this country immediately after the primaries that produced Buhari as the candidate of APC, and he didnâ€™t return to the country under the pretence that he was sick. He didnâ€™t come back till Buhari was sworn in and he only came to congratulate him. And the first outingoutside Abuja by Buhari was to attend Atikuâ€™s daughterâ€™s marriage in Yola. I know all these because I was a deputy director in Buhariâ€™s Presidential Campaign Council.
So, what did Atiku promise Buhari during the campaign?
He promised to assist in providing logistics and collapse his political structures to assist in the campaign, but his structures withdrew completely. So, he didnâ€™t contribute anything meaningfully. By the way, who told Aisha that Buhari promised to serve one-term? How did she know when they were nowhere to be seen? They were nowhere in the campaign. They left; they withdrew completely after the primaries. In fact, Atiku granted an interview to BBC saying he was sure APC would not win the presidential election with Buhari as the candidate. From the information we gathered, that was a preparation for him to go back to PDP immediately APC loses so that he can take over from former President Goodluck Jonathan.
So, there was no agreement â€“ no commitment by Buhari to serve just one-term in office as alleged by Alhassan?
Agreement with who? Buhari is a Nigerian and he knows the constitution like you and I do that his mandate is to serve the country for two terms. How can you do an agreement with somebody to serve for one term? When he went through the rigour of the 2015 campaign, was there any symptom or disability, intellectually or physically that would make somebody to contemplate that Buhari should serve for one term? There was no reason for such commitment. Aisha Alhassan lied.
Are you sure Buhari will go for second term?
He will go for second term, God willing. What will prevent him from going for second term is what can prevent a 30-year old Nigerian from going for second term.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
Like maybe death or ill health.
But is Buhari really strong enough for a second term in office?
The President of this country was not elected to go and push cars or start cutting grass in Aso Rock. The issue here is intellect â€“ proper and sound delegation of authority in order to achieve governmentâ€™s policies and programmes. We need somebody of sound mind, who knows the rigour of governance; who has the correct temperament to work with people like you have seen. If not somebody with the correct temperament, how can he keep Aisha, knowing full well what they have been planning with Atiku, right from the word go.
If you listen to Buhariâ€™s speech when he came back from his medical vacation, he said look, we are all free to pursue our own legitimate political evolution. That is what he meant. Political evolution is to underscore the fact that this way of governance is not static; it evolves; it changes. So, anybody can come and bring an idea that is for the best interest of this country and that would move this country forward. That is what Buhari said. He is not saying that he is closing the issue of restructuring. Positive restructuring, he is for it and the government will soon come up with how the issue will be addressed. There is no doubt about it.
Does Buhari believe in restructuring?
Well, call it whatever name, he said it in his recent speech, and it covers even beyond restructuring. Even after Buhari is gone, 10 years, 20 years to come, our children will still want to evolve something out of their union. So, what Buhari is thinking is even beyond restructuring, because he understands like anybody who is sound in his mind that the political structures evolve over time and that was what he said.
Do you think Atiku is playing a spoiler-game?
Atiku and his people have been planning, scheming to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. We didnâ€™t believe it initially. But we still continued to work with him and his accolades, who are serving in the government, like Aisha. And suddenly, he came out and started talking about restructuring â€“ that Nigeria must be structured along this and that. Surely, he is playing a very destructive game.
If the likes of Atiku are aggrieved, donâ€™t you see political challenges for Buhari, especially in the North?
Who is Atiku in the north? I tell you Atiku doesnâ€™t have anybody in the north. He has abused our sensibility, our culture, our traditions and the north is waiting for him. They may forget but they may never forgive. Look, anybody not only Atiku, who wants to leave the APC on his own volition, is free to leave. It is their fundamental human rights as individuals to associate with you or not.
But donâ€™t you think your population would be depleted if he leaves and it might be strong?
Atiku is a baggage. He is a liability for some of us in APC, especially from his primary constituency, the north. Go and see what is happening in Adamawa State; listen to what people are saying outside. The problem with Atiku is that he has small educational background. It affects him badly and misled him into thinking that he can ride roughshod on the political scene of this country, simply because he has world class exposure as a custom officer. So, he thought there is no limit with the kind of money he has. Letâ€™s wait and see. 2019 is around the corner.
What if President Buhari decides not to re-contest?
If President Buhari decided not to re-contest, that is his choice. Those who want to take over from him will be guided by his directive.