Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Muhammadu Buhari in this interview navigates through and sometimes around some knotty issues that have recently bestirred the polity. He spoke on among others, the alleged intraparty wrangling between the President and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the role of the President in the All Progressives Congress, APC’s victory in the Ondo State governorship election, and the criticism raised against his boss by President Olusegun Obasanjo among others. Excerpts:
How would you assess the government you serve in after more than one and a half years in office?
Well, Nigeria is not where it was when he entered office.
When you want to assess his government, assess it based on the promises he made. You know the tripod promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of security, reviving the economy and fighting corruption.
In terms of security the country, as heaven is as far from hell, that is where we are now, which is far from where we were on May 29, 2015. We know that by 2015 the entire country was almost overrun and nobody was sure what would happen the next day, the next week, the next month. But we know where we are today that the insurgency is virtually defeated, completely under control. What we are passing through is a mopping up process and the worst we can see is over by the grace of God.
So, in terms of securing the country, the President has kept to his promise. Roads that had been closed for three years have reopened. Emirs and traditional rulers that had fled their palaces have returned and are using the same palaces. Gombe had not had NYSC orientation for two years. They had orientation in Gombe this year.
So, you just need to talk to the people in the North East and they would tell you that it is a new dawn. They couldn’t farm for almost five seasons. They are back in their farms. Those who fled their villages are back into their villages. We know that there are still skirmishes here and there. There are cowardly suicide bombers here and there but it will be over. So, the President has kept to his promise of securing the country. Other fronts of insurgency like Niger Delta will be settled. Issues like kidnapping, armed robbery, the government is attending to them. This government has a capacity to secure the country and is putting that capacity to work.
And on anti-corruption, no matter what they say, “Oh, it is one-sided and all that,” what we all know is that the anti-corruption war is well and alive and it is a war that will be fought to a logical conclusion. Nigeria will never be the same again because the cleansing process is real and that cleansing will permeate every nook and cranny of the country.
The third area is the economy. It is still sticky but it is work in progress. I tell you, as clear as night follows the day, the government will put the economy of this country on a fresh foundation.
(Cuts in) So you mean there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Oh, definitely. Even now a new foundation of a diversified economy is being laid for the country.
We had had promises of diversification of the economy for five decades. This is the first time real practical steps are being taken to diversify the economy. Do you know what is happening with agriculture now? So much so that in two years time Nigeria will not import rice again and we will be able to even export.
How do you mean?
I mean we spend about two billion dollars annually importing rice. In about two years we will not import rice and we will be able to export. So, that is part of the new foundation for the economy.
The solid minerals sector is another foundation that is being laid for the economy of the country. The gestation period for solid minerals is long; in fact, the minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said it is up to 20 years, but that foundation is being made. And by the time Nigeria enters into the boom of solid minerals, people will remember the Buhari administration and give it kudos. So, it is promise made, promise kept and promise still being kept.
So, people crying over hard life should be patient with the government?
That is just it.
Loyalists of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu are saying the President has betrayed their leader? Why?
No. Don’t forget that I don’t speak for APC. I speak for the President. That question probably will be taken by the APC spokesman.
But what I can say on my own end is that the President whom I speak has utmost respect for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. From what I have seen so far, the President has high regard for Asiwaju Tinubu.
Asiwaju’s loyalists are saying that after helping to install Buhari as President that he has been betrayed?
You are a journalist and a political watcher. You can say whether somebody installed another person. I am sure as a political watcher you know it.
You know that getting to political office is usually a combination of factors. Each person has a role he plays and so, I don’t think anybody can come out to say, “I installed this person.” No, it is a wrong word. That person would then be playing God.
Asiwaju Tinubu is a political force to reckon with. He played his own part in the emergence of President Buhari and that is why the President has high respect for him.
What was the magic wand the President applied that gave the APC victory in Ondo?
As a political watcher because I am a political watcher, it could be that the people knew that APC was still the way to go. That shows that they still believe in the party and they still trust the President. You know a lot of people said, “If Buhari is involved, then, we trust the President, we trust that it will be right, it will be fair, it will be transparent and there will be integrity in it.” So, it is something that also worked for APC in Ondo State.
So for you the Ondo victory means the people have not deserted Buhari?
Those saying that President Buhari’s popularity has waned are not being scientific. I wish they can back it up with scientific proof. You will be amazed if you carry out a scientific exercise, the vote of confidence in the President will be overwhelming because, despite the tough time people know that serious work is going on and that with a bit of patience, better days will come for the country. And the number of people who are willing to wait for things to turn round are more than people who are not willing to wait. I have said that before.
Do you think the admonition by former President Obasanjo to President Buhari to focus on his job indicates a withdrawal of support by the former president for your boss?
It is only former President Obasanjo that can emphatically say if he has withdrawn support for President Buhari. He didn’t say he withdrew support. He just gave an advice and President Buhari respects Chief Olusegun Obasanjo very highly. And if he gives an advice, President Buhari would look at that advice very critically.
But did the advice go down well with the President?
I have not discussed that with the President. I speak for him and I can only say what he has told me. He and I have not discussed what former President Obasanjo said but I know that with the kind of respect that President Buhari has for the former President, he would look at what he said very critically.