President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior media aide, Femi Adesina has been under fire lately over a few sensitive and controversial issues. But in defence of his principal, he took time out to address some of the issues. He spoke to Adedayo Adejobi. Excerpts:
A recent report that Leah Sharibu had been married off to a top Boko Haram commander did go down well with many people. What is President Buhari doing to expedite her release over two years after her abduction?
From the words you have used, the adjectives alarming, disturbing, subject to abuse and all that, I wonder who you have been listening to, because that already shows who you have already been listening to. You have been listening to the agitators, who don’t have the fact and who just came up with conjectures.
Yes, we know if someone is in captivity it can’t be a normal life. But some people are also playing politics with it, because they don’t know how the girl is living. So, the adjectives you have used may be right and may be wrong.
All I will like to say is that, yes, it is inhuman to keep such a young lady away from her family, but then the way you spoke shows you have been listening to some people, who have been playing politics.
You know that some people have used Leah Sharibu as an avenue to oppose the government; they are people who perpetually oppose the government and Leah Sharibu is another avenue for them to play opposition, which is unquestionable. It is not good; you don’t use the travail of such a young lady to play opposition politics, and talking of opposition politics, I am not talking of political party.
We know PDP is an opposition party. I am not talking about PDP alone. There are some activists, who have used it to oppose the president and the government. It is conscienceless to use the travail of such a young lady to play politics. To other part of your question: what has the president done?
I will say what has the world done, because Leah Sharibu is a blot on the conscience of the world not just Nigeria now? The world itself, when you say the world is a global village, it’s not just in terms of communication and the rest. It is in terms of our collective humanity. Then coming home, the president has always said whatever it takes to get the hostages coming home he will do, even including paying.
If payment will do it, he will pay. He said that in his first year of his administration there were some hostages that were released that some ransom was paid. There were some that no ransom was paid. But if you find out that ransom was paid it’s in line with what the president has said he would do and there were some that a dime was not paid and government said that we didn’t pay for that.
Therefore, every effort has been made and it is still being made to rescue Leah Sharibu. I can tell you on good authority that there is a window of communication between our security forces and those who are holding her, but those who are holding her know that she is a person of interest not just in Nigeria but globally.
They are holding her as a sort of ransom, a shield, bargaining chip/tool. That is why it has been so tough to get her released. But we should never give up hope. I like Alexander Pope and I quote him again “hope beats eternal in the human breast”. Hope must continue to beat in our heart that one day Leah Sharibu will come out anytime.
SERAP has asked President Buhari, VP Osinbajo and governors to declare their assets. With the President’s seeming veiled crusade and body language on corruption, do you think he will set a precedent?
Your choice of word: ‘seeming crusade’ gives you out. Now the president will do whatever is legal; he will do whatever the law requires of him, and what does the law require? Declare your asset. Has he declared? Yes, he has declared. If he will go beyond what the law requires, it would be voluntary, nobody will compel him.
You made some controversial remarks on the Christian Association of Nigeria, and it hasn’t been taken lightly. What prompted you to speak in that tone especially, after the beheading of one of its chairmen?
Yes, CAN fired the first shot. They came in a statement in which they made wild allegations not only wild, but non-rational allegations. Mark my words. I didn’t say irrational because irrational will be a bit abusive, so I said non-rational. They said the federal government is colluding with insurgence to ensure that the battle against insurgency does not end.
They said that the killing of Rev. Andimi, CAN chairman in Michika was a deliberate plot to reduce the number of Christians in the north. I am tempted to say irrational but I am still maintaining that world non-rational, because I should not talk anyhow to certain group of people.
But if those who lead the Christian Association of Nigeria begin to behave in an unchristian manner, then they don’t deserve the honour that they should get. What evidence do they have to have accused the president that way? It’s a hateful mind and the life of Christ is not hateful. Like there is nothing that bears affinity to hatred in Christ, so, if they are following Christ they won’t make such non-rational allegation.
As seen in some of the lopsided appointments, there is the apprehension that the president has serially and masterfully completed the configuration of the entire national security architecture firmly in the hands of the northern Hausa/Fulani alone to the exclusion of other ethnic blocs. Is this also a lie?
It is ignorance. Those who are making these allegations don’t even know who the Fulanis are. If you look at the security apparatus from top to bottom, it’s not likely you have more than two to three Fulani’s there. Chief of Army Staff is not Fulani, Chief of Naval Staff is not Fulani, Chief of Defence Staff is not Fulani, Inspector General of Police is not Fulani, and so what are they saying? They don’t even know who a Fulani is.
They have failed, because they don’t know who a Fulani is. When they talk about fulanisation, their argument is based on a weak premise. The fact that you are from the north does not make you a Fulani. They don’t know that particularly in the north, Fulanis are minorities.
It’s just, because the president is a Fulani, they want to put everything around Fulani, because of a hateful mind. If you have apathy against the president, why are you going to robe a complete ethnic nationality in that infamous garb? Why are you trying to dress them in anti-famous garb? It’s hateful; it’s unfair. So, those who are saying all that do not know what they are saying.
The media think you defend the indefensible, come out to say so much that do not gel with the Southwest, whilst some say you could be non-rational and non-professional in defending your principal.
It’s an opinion, and I don’t agree with all opinions. When you say the media, I am in the media. The last 35-36 years of my life had been spent in the media. So, I am in the media. When you say in the media, I don’t agree with you. What scientific study have you done? Maybe you have heard one, two or three people say it. Do you know how many media people we have in the country? So, you have not even done a scientific study, I don’t agree with you. The media, which is my own constituency that I know, does not hold that opinion.
Do you think in defence of your principal, you have done so with some level of caution?
I can’t assess myself. I can’t judge myself, but all I know is that I do what is required of me to do. What is required of me as special adviser on media and publicity to the president is I should ensure that the country knows what he is doing: churn out information on him on a daily basis what he is doing for the country. I do that. Then, I should expand on what he is doing; give perspective particularly, to the media so that they understand why this is done and how this is done, then why is it good for the country.
Part of my duties is to defend him when they have said malicious things, hateful things, unkind things, because of carryover of sentiment of the past.
It’s my duty to defend him and that is what happened to CAN. CAN came with a narrative that has long been thrown overboard in the country, because there was a time the then Gen Buhari was de-marketed as anti-Christian and then a time came, when even Nigerians, particularly Christians, voted him into office first time and second time.
Now, CAN is still suffering an overhang of that and is coming up with these allegations. It is my duty to defend the president and I do that without fear of failure.
How does your principal feel about the appendage added to his name by way of being called a general especially, in a democracy?
He has personally responded to that in an interview incidentally published in the paper. He said, “I am a General of the Nigerian Army and the rank I didn’t pick it in the street.” That settles it. He is a General, retired one, who served meritoriously.
But the context in which he was called a general was not nice.
It’s their cup of tea. Let them deal with it. But as far as the president is concerned, he is a General, retired one, who served meritoriously.
In these few weeks, Arewa has spoken more against Amotekun than it has spoken against Boko Haram, what is the president’s take on Amotekun?
It doesn’t matter. I am a Nigerian. Yes, I am a south-westerner, I am proud of it, O’dua ni mi tokan tokan. And besides being a westerner, I am also a Nigerian. I don’t speak for Arewa, I speak for the president, so, Arewa can speak for itself, can defend itself. The southwest can speak for itself, and defend itself.
On the issue of Amotekun, we have heard people, who spoke for the federal government that surpasses it. You have found that the issue is being sorted out at the instruction of the president to the vice president. He said ‘meet with these governors’ and you see that progress is being made. That shows you that the president is interested in peace and progress of the country.
The media under the President are suppressed, and it speaks to lack of press freedom, disregard for court orders, detention of citizens and the shrinking of the civic space under this government. Are you not worried?
Give me one, two, or three examples in what ways the media have been suppressed, because you have mixed two things together in that question: the general question and the media?
How about the case of Omoyele Sowore?
Omoyele Sowore himself said he is not a media person but he is an activist. He himself said it that he is not principally a media person; he is an activist. So, the media is an incidental part of his life and the case is in court, so, the less said about it.
How about the other cases like Dasuki?
Is he in the media? You are mixing things together. You said the attack on the press and shrinking of the civic space under this government and then we are bringing an extra media issue.
It’s a three-pronged question, or are you more convenient answering one than the other?
No, because if you are going to talk about Dasuki. It’s a case in court, so it’s best left alone. When people come with that mind-set that ‘oh it’s an abuse of rule of law, court orders are not being obeyed,’ you ask them to give three examples, they can’t give, so, it shows it’s a mindset.
Nigeria has gained negative attention from the world especially, on grounds of insecurity, ethno-religious tensions and persecution of Christians. Is the president bothered?
But it’s not true. We live in Nigeria and those who are outside can’t know what is happening in our country more than us. All those things you mentioned there are no religious sentiment, persecution of Christians and I am sure you don’t see it because you can’t give me four to five examples.
So, Andimi is not a government thing, it’s the insurgents, who abducted him and every effort was made to release him. They were even raising money and beginning to talk with the insurgents and the next thing in news was that he was beheaded. How is that the fault of government?
It touches us as it touches anyone. It touches the family, the President, every right thinking Nigerian, but to offload this right at the door step of the government is hate. We don’t need to hate our country, we don’t need to hate our president; we don’t need to hate our government. It’s an ill wind that blows no good.
How did you see the report by Transparency International that corruption has worsened in Nigeria?
It does not reflect the reality in Nigeria. The reality is that corruption is being fought to a standstill in Nigeria. And the awareness of corruption as evil is more now than and that battle is being fought and convictions are more than ever before. So, if TI comes with that perception index, it is because they don’t understand what is happening in the country.
Nigeria is fighting corruption now more than before and when such a perception index comes, a number of people think it is against government. It is not against government; it is against Nigerian people, indictment. It is for Nigerian people not for government.
A number of them are rejoicing that Buhari has been scored low. No, not Buhari that was scored low, it is the Nigerian people. So, if they say not much progress has been made in the battle against corruption, it is true but it is an indictment of the people, not the cabinet.
But is the fight against corruption not lopsided?
An eternal question we keep answering, yet, we will continue to answer it. But what we know is that you need to have fiddled with the cookie jar before you can be called to question. If you have not done anything wrong, you don’t have to fear but it is those who have run the treasury for a long time particularly, for 16 years, who could also abuse the treasury.
If you have not run the treasury, they can’t come and carry you in your house that you fiddled with it. Therefore, there will necessarily be preponderance towards one side, because they are the one that ran the public coffers for a long time. But one thing that we know is that President Buhari has no friend, no foe, when it comes to anti-corruption. Anybody that has question to answer will answer.
The insinuation that a certain ‘cabal’ runs his government is rife. What do you say?
If you check the papers, the president has said he was the one that went round the country to campaign; he is the one that Nigerians voted for and he is the one sworn into the office to run the government and nobody exercises power on his behalf. So, some people, who want to or are operating on a mindset are the ones who keep repeating that.
If you say all is well, could 200 million Nigerians be so averse to their environment?
It is not Nigerians, because 15 million people voted for him. Nigerians are with him. They are on his side otherwise they wouldn’t have voted him twice. Look at the vote in 2015, look at the vote in 2019; those who are voting for him have even increased, not dwindled.
So, it’s not Nigerians, it’s just a tiny minority. I call them vocal minority, because they have access to the media of mass communication; traditional media, online social media, digital media, they make so much noise and, because of that noise, you would think they are so many but they are tiny.
Both the electoral body and the judiciary are perceived as compromised. Is that also an isolated case?
So those people know more than the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is still the apex court in the country and its ruling is the final, unless those people know more than the Supreme Court.
There were allegations that the President was taking a second wife. This must have obviously angered his wife. In the wake of it, a video surfaced of rancour in the villa. What really transpired?
Family issues are off limits and I don’t talk about family issues except I have an instruction from the president, who is my principal that says this, or relates this. Beyond that, I don’t talk about family, because you need to respect a man’s family. The highest thing in a man’s possession is probably his family. You don’t begin to interfere or tamper with the man’s family.
On a scale of 1-10, what do you think is the relationship between the president and his deputy?
Yes, see this is coming from the president, ‘My relationship with the VP Osinbajo perfect, says PMB’. Now, ‘Buhari: there is no cabal running my government’ have already been answered by the president himself and he is the man at the centre of it. He has spoken on it, what else can you say that will be superior to what he has said?
As one close to the president, does he listen to you?
The President listens. He is a good listener. When you have something to tell him, he listens. Let me tell you something that happened on the very day I resumed this assignment June 1st 2015. I went to meet him, where he was staying temporarily, when he hadn’t moved into the villa. And when I told him, I had reported, he welcomed me and then he told me, ‘Adesina, one thing I want from you as we work together is the truth, make sure you tell me the truth at all times.’
He said I may argue, because I am a General, so those calling him General, it’s nothing new, because he is a General. He said I may argue, because I am a General but please argue with me and if you have a superior argument with me, I will accept it. That’s the president. So, if I have something that is very germane. If I don’t see him in the office, I go to see him in the house and I discuss it and he listens.
Do you think, in all honesty, that history will be kind to your principal?
Very kind because the history would not be written by jaundiced people, history will be written by fair and dispassionate people; that is the true record of history. President Buhari promised to secure the country and he is working towards it. It’s work in progress. I am sure by the end of eight years that he will be exiting you won’t be able to compare the security situation in the country with what he met in 2015.
He promised to revive the economy, by the time he is exiting after eight years, Nigerian economy will not be where he met it. Already, it is not where he met it, we met an economy that was singularly dependent on petroleum, so, anytime petroleum prices crashed, that economy crashed. He was seeing that in terms of diversification. The economy is diversified particularly, with agriculture.
Solid mineral resources are also coming in and the manufacturing is inching up. At the end of eight years, the economy will not be where the president met it and he also promised us to fight corruption. Already, listen to EFCC, ICPC and there are real achievements and records for him. So, in all the three areas that the president promised, there are successes and he is still working.
What would you say the President has achieved so far and what’s his focus for this term?
You see that during the campaign he still maintained those three things that he campaigned on in 2015. He said we would still maintain our priorities; we’ll secure the country, we will revive the economy, and we will fight corruption. This work started in the first term and his work is continuing now.
A job not done is not done yet, you continue it and that is what is happening in those three areas, which is work-in-progress and I can tell you confidently that by 2023, where we will be by the grace of God can’t be compared to where we were coming from.
Read his letter to Nigerians on January 1 2020. There is a chronicle of what he has achieved and also what he wants to achieve in 2020. But then, there are some people, who have chosen to be wilfully blind. If you put it in front of their faces like this, they’ll say they didn’t see it. Some have been wilfully deaf if you noise it in their ears, they will say we didn’t hear it. Those people we can only say good luck to them but those who know, know.