Femi Adesina, a consummate journalist, is the current Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari. He is saddled with the responsibility of defending his Principal, amid killings and economic challenges in the country. Itâ€™s unenviable being in his shoes, especially when he has to defend the inexplicable, the assignment becomes a herculean task. But his unalloyed allegiance to his principal keeps him going. He tells Adedayo Adejobi why his job is an assignment, his lonely nights, how his daughter almost cried her hearts out upon reading unsatisfactory remark about her dad on social media and more
My Appointment Came as Surprise
Well, I had been supporting President Buhari since he was a military head of state. I was in my third year in the university and he was overthrown. I knew who I was supporting and I believe that that regime would have been very good for Nigeria if it had lasted longer. So when he entered partisan politics, by then I was a journalist writing a weekly column and then I used the weekly column to point Nigerians to his direction that this is a man who can bring enduring change to Nigeria. 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, I supported him. Along the line, we began to talk as my columns used to run on Fridays.
He either called meÂ FridayÂ night orÂ SaturdayÂ and we discussed anytime I wrote on him. We talked for many years like that until my mother passed on in 2013 and I just sent him a card to the funeral service, a Christian service. I was surprised he showed up and stayed throughout the service. Thatâ€™s the man people say is an ethnic bigot. But he came to a Christian service and stayed throughout. In 2015, I was among those that wrote urging him to run when he said he wasnâ€™t going to run again. In 2014, I wrote an article telling him he could always change his mind not bound by what he said in 2011, so I was glad when he changed his mind. On the night he won the election, I was home when my phone rang and somebody said please hold on for the President- elect. I was shocked and he spoke to me and said Adesina I want to thank you for your support over the years. There are people who could have paid you millions of naira for your support, but you didnâ€™t support them. Itâ€™s me that did not pay you anything that you are supporting. Thank you very much.
After that, I told my wife that the President elect called me, and I was hoping he wonâ€™t say â€˜come and work with meâ€™ later, because as Managing Director/Editor in Chief of the Sun and President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, I was just content with that. I thought I would do that for a number of years and then move on to something of my own.Â Along the road, it was your paper THISDAY that first carried the story on 20th may 2015 to say that Adesina will become Special Adviser Media to the president. It came as news to me just like to other people. You needed to see how my phone was jammed that day but then, I havenâ€™t spoken to the President elect, I didnâ€™t know what was going on, I didnâ€™t know if the story was true. OnÂ May 31st, aroundÂ 5pm, I got a call saying we are going to announceÂ tonightÂ saying you are the Special Adviser Media to the President, shall we go ahead? I said Yes go ahead and that was how byÂ 9pmÂ that day my name was announced. It was a surprise to me because it was THISDAY that first broke it, and then I knew anything could happen. I must add that Iâ€™m not a government person and I never thought I would serve in government if it is not President Buhari.Â I wonâ€™t be here. So Iâ€™m in government today because of President Buhari.
Why I am endeared to My Principal
Since his military days, despite the fact that some people called him a tyrant and all that, my greatest attraction to Buhari was his discipline. My father was a disciplinarian and an educationist. To the glory of God, his children turned out very well because of that discipline. The same will happen to Nigeria if we allow the man to whip us into line. If we had allowed Buhari in the Idi-Agbon regime then, Nigeria would have gone very far. I admire the discipline, integrity, accountability and simplicity of the President.â€™
Everything you do must have its own challenges
Yes, everything you do must have its own challenges, otherwise, it becomes boring, routine and youâ€™ll just tag along but I donâ€™t. Every day, I take the challenges as they come. What makes me glad is that a lot of Nigerians are with this President. Donâ€™t mind the vocal minority who have access to social media and traditional media and say all sorts of things. They are a vocal minority but the majority of Nigerians are with him, and the polls will show it. For me, it gives me a sense of fulfillment that Iâ€™m working with a man that is making a difference in Nigeria.
Buhari is a good listener
Anytime I meet him and I have anything to discuss with him, he always listens. He is a good listener but people donâ€™t know, they think he is a rigid unapproachable person. You need to see him laughing and cracking jokes; you wonâ€™t believe that that is the same person a lot of people are saying is rigid. In my relationship with him, he has my utmost respect and admiration and when you talk to him, he listens. I try as much as possible to stay within my purview which is Media and Publicity, but if there are other pressing things that are outside the confines of my job, I raise them to him. He is a man who likes fairness and justice. I tell him to look into it and he listens.
I am Not Arrogant
Cocky or arrogance is not part of my make-up. I wouldnâ€™t think so. Iâ€™m not the one that can assess or judge myself but â€˜cocky or arroganceâ€™ is not part of my make up because Iâ€™m a Christian and a believer and arrogance is not part of a true Christian. But what Iâ€™ve noticed is that some people do not like people who can hold their own. When you can hold your own, they say its arrogance. I think it is just that I can hold my own. Anything that you come with, I can always defend because I am part of the administration and I have inside knowledge. So, if you come with something that is not true, I can always debunk it. If anybody sees that as being arrogant or cocky I canâ€™t help it. But â€˜cocky and arrogantâ€™ I donâ€™t think so. I am not.
You know the social media just revels in abusing people, and saying all sorts of rude and crude things. I remember my daughter who was in the university then and she called me and was almost crying and said â€˜all these things I read on social media about you, this is not you.â€™ I then I told her â€˜since you know that it is not me, then let your heart be at peace knowing that it is not your daddy it is a creation of the social media.â€™ What amuses me is that when I say something, they twist it and make it negative. When I see them, I laugh because they are idle. If not, they wonâ€™t waste time in twisting what Iâ€™ve said.
There are lonely days, but itâ€™s a sacrifice worth the while
My family knows that Iâ€™m a busy person. By the time I came for this assignment, I had been married for 25 years. This year makes it 27 years Iâ€™ve been married, so my wife already knows my schedule as a reporter. Climbing the ladder in my profession, I was all over the country and world travelling. Iâ€™ve been a busy person. Even my wife knows itâ€™s a continuation of what I was doing before, because by the time I came to work for Mr. President, my son was already a pilot. He flies with Arik Air and my daughter was in final year in the University, so I couldnâ€™t move them to Abuja. If they were younger I would have moved them, so the family stays in Lagos. So itâ€™s dependent on me to go and see them once or twice in a month. Itâ€™s the first time we would have to live apart but for me, it is not too much of a sacrifice to make to serve my country. I would have wanted us to be together. There are lonely days and nights but itâ€™s not too much of a sacrifice for the country. The family understands and my wife is a praying person. At times if Iâ€™m tired and canâ€™t pray, I just relax because I know my wife is praying.
Serving the President is an Assignment
Each assignment has its ups and downs. But when the downs come, it is your motive of taking up the assignment in the first place that will stand you in good stead. When those moments come, I ask why I am here; Iâ€™m here to serve the President. And because he still needs my services I will stay with him. If itâ€™s just a job, maybe itâ€™s not worth it but for me, itâ€™s not a job, itâ€™s an assignment to serve and as long as the man is here and he needs my services, Iâ€™ll stay.
I canâ€™t work with another President in the same capacity
You do this kind of job once in a lifetime. Once President Muhammadu Buhari is gone, I know by then I would have also done my bit.
Intimidation can never come from Buhari
People who think intimidation can ever come from President Buhari over the coming Ekiti governorship election donâ€™t know him. I remember in a private conversation with him one day, he said â€˜if it is the only thing I would do for Nigeria, I would give a free and fair election in this country.â€™ Look at all the elections that held in states under him – Bayelsa and Anambra, APC lost. APC won Kogi and Ondo. So when you win, win fair and square and when you lose, lose gallantly. He doesnâ€™t interfere with INEC or the other agencies like EFCC, ICPC in anyway. Iâ€™m sure if you ask the INEC chairman, he would tell you the President has never picked a call to tell him do this.