An Abuja based weekly newspaper, Abuja Weekender, recently interviewed the president’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, who gave insights into the style of President Muhammadu Buhari and other topical issues. Below is excerpts from the interview:
Q: You don’t look to me like a man who has been under the sun; you know, like a man who’s been under the fire. Haven’t you been taking too much fire? Are you sure you are enjoying this job?
A: If you say that I don’t look like someone who has been under the sun, then it must be grace. The job has been going well. It can be challenging, it can be tough but I will say it’s going well because there is grace. Grace is available to take us through whatever we touch in life, whatever we engage in at any given time. I can say that grace is taking me through it.
Q: You are the trending superstar or should I say the trending Presidential Spokesman on social media, especially on Twitter. Lately, everyone is hitting out at you. If this job were offered to you again tomorrow, would you still take it?
A: It depends on who is offering it. If it is still the same person who I had always believed in, who I had always admired, who I had always felt was good for our country, I will take it. But, from somebody else, the answer is no.
Q: How can you say this, considering that nearly five months down the road even Nigerians who gave all to ensure his election are beginning to ask themselves if they did not make a mistake with President Buhari?
A: No, I’m sure a greater number of Nigerians do not think that way. The greater number still think they did the right thing by voting the man in and they are poised to see great things. They will see those things.
Q: You are in the bedroom of power, of presidential power in Nigeria. You should know the things that make this man tick. You should know the things the man has done that perhaps Nigerians don’t know what makes you to continue to believe in the man.
A: No, there are certain things that don’t change: integrity will never change, transparency will never change, and accountability will never change. This man personifies all these. These are things that will never change.
Q: But beyond these things, beyond his pedigree, beyond his persona, Nigerians want to see and touch presidential performance. Ours is a society that believes in signs and wonders. Five months on, the people are anxious to know exactly when PMB would start to do projects.
A: Yeah because they were waiting for a magician and that’s not what or who he is. Don’t forget that line in the 1st October broadcast where he said ‘…order is better than speed’. I think that should be a quotable quote for all Nigerians. Order is better than speed. The people want speed that could lead to disorderliness but no, he wants to take things gradually. There is still a lot of truth in that saying that slow and steady wins the race. This race deserves slow, steady surefootedness so that it can be won. If he wanted to play to the gallery, he could come and do all those gyrations and people will be hailing. But at the end of four years, you will look for substance and it will not be there.
Q: You talked about time and just now you mentioned four years. You know that at the end of four years, it’s goodbye. Do you think President Buhari has time?
A: He came in on a four-year mandate – clear 48 months. He has spent just four months and two weeks (as at today, the 13th October) so he still has about 36 months. He can pace himself properly. It is like somebody running a long distance race compared to somebody doing a 100 meters dash. If you approach a long distance race with the attitude of a 100 meters dash, you will burn out. But when you know it’s a long distance race, you’ll pace yourself properly so you last the distance.
Q: No doubt the President takes all available marks in the areas of pedigree, honesty, all his persona. He is near perfect under those subheads but we are looking for governance. Has he provided governance too?
A: As we speak now, we know ministers are being screened. I think that is like the last scene of the preparatory stage where we have been since June. It is like a period of cleaning the Augean Stable. It will not get cleaned completely in four months but he has done a bit of it. When you land and you land in mud, you can’t run immediately; you do some clearing. The President has cleared parts of the murk he met and the ministers can come in onto firmer ground. I‘ll say, governance can take off almost immediately.
Q: I wish you didn’t mention ministers because this is a President who knows the ropes. He has been Head of State before and he has been looking for this office for 12 years. Yet it took him more than four months in office to name ministers. How do you explain that to Nigerians?
A: Yeah, because it’s not about the ministers themselves. It’s not as if they were not available. They are Nigerians. They live in our midst; they are there, although it also takes a process to identify them. Why it took four months was the environment in which they were coming to work. What was met when this administration came to work is what you can call murk. It was real murk that needed to be cleared and if it was not cleared and he appoints ministers who come to serve in that murk, change will never come to this country; it would never have come. At the end of four years, we will just see that we have been going round in circles and we were not better than when Jonathan left. So it was necessary to create the right environment where the ministers will work. That environment is ready.
Q: Very well said but creating the right environment will also be tantamount to digging a round hole. There are some Nigerians who have said that the President promised us clean men and women. He didn’t quite give us round pegs, did he?
A: One: I have read and heard a number of people say he was looking for saints. He never used those words.
Q: But we know him and what he would prefer …
A: He just gave the qualities of the ministers he said he wanted.
Q: Do you think he found those qualities?
A: Not one of those ministers has a case pending against him; a case that has been instituted in a competent Court of Law. Not one! Suspicions, allegations, politics; that’s all we have. They cannot equate a charge. They may say one or two things about one of them but as long as there is no prima facie case in a competent court of law, then they qualify to serve.
Q: There was no prima facie against Diezani Madueke; yet Nigeria is almost on fire. Everyone is saying get her. There are also some former governors; for instance, Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State. His home State Government has been shouting and you say there is no case?
A: You mentioned Diezani. You would notice that not one person from this government particularly from the Presidency has mentioned her as a person because this presidency believes in the rule of law and will respect due process. Nobody has mentioned her. If anything will come up against her, it will be because there are evidences. This government does not believe in slapping mud on anybody.
Q: I ask you now as Presidential Spokesman: is the Presidency not working in tandem with the British Government to indict Diezani?
A: You would have heard us say so. The case against her is an offshore case and is proceeding.
Q: Is there anything against her onshore?
A: If there is any, it will be made clear.
Q: Chibuike Amaechi?
A: Yes! A Nigerian; former Speaker of a State House of Assembly; former governor; former Director-General of APC Presidential Campaign Organization; somebody who has served creditably. He’s been nominated as Minister and I believe he deserves it.
Q: Gov. Nyesom Wike and Company don’t think so. You know there are deafening complaints and shouts from his home State?
A: The complaints and shouts from his home State don’t tantamount to charges. If the security agencies determine that there is a prima facie case and they file charges, that is a different thing but we have not got there. What happened in his State is not done by a court of law and don’t forget that politics is involved. So anything could happen.
Q: I like the point you made that if along the line, the law finds him guilty, the President will take a second look at it. But knowing President Muhammadu Buhari as a stickler for process and fiscal hygiene, one would have thought that before he nominated him, he knew that the man is clean. Are we sure that ex-Gov. Amaechi has not already been cleared anticipatorily, as it were?
A: No, no, no. Only the court can clear anybody. Those who I will say are his antagonists have come up with allegations but these allegations don’t amount to charges and guilt. It is up to security agencies to look into the allegations and see if any of them can stick as a charge. Remember, as a Minister, you don’t have immunity.
Q: The other aspect I must take up with you is President Buhari and women. The man is not very fond of Nigerian women. And, I say that advisedly, in all ramifications.
A: He has a wife, he has daughters. (General laughter)
Q: We know. 11th October every year is the international day for the girl child. So this question is pertinent at this point in time. What one special thing is he doing for Nigerian women and our girl children? He has gone abroad a number of times on official engagements without a single woman on his entourage. Even his ministerial list bears just a few women. Does he have anything against our women?
A: Absolutely not. I think women are still going to have their due. They have about six or seven slots in the ministerial list that has been announced. He has nothing against women. They will have their due.
Q: There is also the part about his body language. How much change has that brought so far?
A: Yes, body language. If you see certain areas where you have seen some changes in the country, it is simply because people perceive that a new sheriff is here and that is why they responded to his body language. For instance, we talk about electricity; it is not as if he has brought a billion dollars into electricity. It was just that some things in that sector responded to the new sheriff. We talk about fuel and fuel distribution. It is not like he has brought in billions there. It is just that those who do certain things in the country believe that it can no longer be done the way it was done. Look at the refineries that are producing at certain capacities. It is not because so much money has now been pumped into them. It is just that some people in the chain know that we cannot continue to do it the way we were doing it. That is part of the essence of change. We can do better.
Q: Are there things in the system you worry about in the quiet of your cubicle? Are there areas you wish the President would do like differently? Are there things you feel would have been better done?
A: I have opportunities to talk to him and one good thing Nigerians don’t know about President Buhari is that he listens.
Q: Oh, he does? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that much recently.
A: He listens!
Q: But he doesn’t look like someone who does.
A: Oh well, that is the thing about perception. When he first came as military ruler, you know that the nature of military rule is autocratic so a lot of people don’t know the real man. He listens. I think I have told you this before. The first day I resumed this work, when he told me, ‘welcome to Sambisa House’; he also told me, ‘make sure you always tell me the truth. You know I can argue. I am a General. But if I argue, argue with me’. That was what he said.
Q: President Buhari?
Q: Do you argue with him?
A: Oh! Why not? A number of times.
Q: Can you give me one instance?
A: There are certain things I have had to take him up on and we discussed them. At the end of the day, he would either see it from my perspective or I would see it from his perspective. But one thing is that yes, we can discuss; we can argue. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that is out of bounds. I can discuss anything with him.
Q: Is that peculiar to you? Or …?
A: I guess each person that works with him would have to define how he/she relates with him. For me, since he gave me that open cheque the day I resumed that I should argue with him, I have taken him up on a number of things and as we go along, if there is anything I feel we should discuss, I will not hesitate to raise it with him.
Q: Don’t you think he backtracks too easily? Don’t you think he changes his mind too frequently?
A: Unless you give me instances…
Q: I have a truckload!
A: Okay, we will talk about them but first, let’s lay a premise for that. The man that does not change his mind once in a while, is a man bound to fail because even when he is going wrong and he is leading everyone down a wrong path, he will stick to it and he will not change; leading everyone to perdition. Thus every man, including leaders, should change their minds when they receive superior knowledge, superior information. Now, I will like to hear your instances.
Q: I have a number of them. He said that there were not going to be road blocks, and suddenly …
A: That has been explained over and over and over again.
Q: That has not changed the fact that he changed his mind.
A: No, he didn’t change his mind. The thing was misunderstood.
Q: Tell me!
A: I will tell you. That instruction came this way; at a security meeting with service chiefs at the time. I was also at that meeting. He gave an instance of how he was coming from Niger State. Then he had been elected but not inaugurated. He said there was this massive traffic build up on entry to Abuja, which lasted for many minutes and when he got to the source of the traffic gridlock, he saw that it was one single soldier who had reduced four lanes to one, and what was the soldier doing? He would just look at you and wave you across. So, he said when the soldier waved him across, he parked, came down and went to the man. He told the soldier: “I used to be General Muhammadu Buhari. This thing you are doing here, what is its efficiency? You have just caused traffic that stretches kilometres, what are you achieving?” Then, he told the then Chief of Army Staff that if that soldier had technological equipment to detect anything, it was okay. But if he didn’t have and all he was doing was waving vehicles across, he would just be causing traffic snarl for no reason. He told the Chief of Army Staff to move soldiers away from non-military duties. That was the instruction. Then, it was misunderstood as instruction to remove all checkpoints.
Q: Why do Nigerians always misunderstand him?
A: It’s not just him. A lot of Nigerians particularly love to misunderstand their leaders. That was why that instruction was clarified immediately, that the President did not dismantle all roadblocks particularly where the military was involved. He said in non-essential areas. He still spelt it out. He said in the areas where we have insurgency, in the areas where kidnapping is endemic and there are violent crimes, they should stay but when you have turned them to traffic wardens, remove them. That was it!
Q: That instance you just gave bordered on an experience he had on the road before he took office. On the 29th of May, 2015, he also made a statement that would remain for eternity. That is ‘I belong to nobody; I belong to everybody’. However, South Easterners in Nigeria today are saying that this President does not belong to them, as well.
A: That is a perception and perception might not be hundred percent reality. It’s just a perception.
Q: This one perception is not only reality; it is also tangible. I can almost touch it.
A: It is not.
Q: All major appointments, no Igbo man?
A: Who says no Igbo man? Unless you want to tell me that Chris Ngige is not an Igbo man? Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu is not an Igbo man?
Q: Those are ministers. I mean non-ministerial major appointments.
A: Unless you want to tell me that Ibe Kachikwu, NNPC Group Managing Director, is not an Igbo man. It is all perception and some of our brothers from the South East need to get out of pre-election mode and know that the rhythm has changed, and the dance-steps should also change.
Q: Two other areas we saw the President change is in one, TSA, and secondly, his relationship with the National Assembly. Our President told us that he wasn’t going to interfere but suddenly it seemed like there was going to be fire on his roof and he did. As we speak, what is the relationship between the President of Nigeria and President of the Senate.
A: On TSA, when a new policy comes, there’s room for fine tuning. It’s not the same thing as policy somersault. The president didn’t really change his mind. When the decision was announced, complete details were not unfolded. There had to be a few exceptions not to entrench unnecessary bureaucracy.
Interview excerpt from the Facebook page of Mr. Femi Adesina
Sharp Journal represents precision news reporting, balanced analyses, news behind the news and resources.