Interviewing Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Mohammadu Buhari always pops out sweet and sour scenarios. Sweet in the sense that he is always a Journalist’s delight, sour to the extent that he is always conscious and picky, editing his dictions on air. I have interviewed Adesina a couple of times since 2015 and he’s a familiar ground. I know his thought-processes and the thought-provoking questions to raise to elicit needed answers on turbulent issues for Nigerians. So, it was in that circumstance that we met again and had a one-on-one at the weekend on a wide range of political, social and economy issues. The outcome is therefore served for you to savour!
Will APC succeed itself or do you see something new happening in 2023?
Because it is democracy, and democracy is about the will of the people, we can only express our desire, we can’t be categorical. It’s about the will of the people, and the people will decide who should lead them. That is something the President has committed himself to repeatedly, both locally and internationally. The people must be respected and their wishes as to who leads them must also be respected.
Therefore, it will be wrong to just sit back and begin to perfunctorily dictate or determine who should be the next president. It will be undemocratic, it will be against the spirit and letter of democracy. The people must decide who they want. But then, do I have a preference? I have always written it when I was in active journalism, that the APC is my preferred party and in the past seven and a half years, I have worked with an APC government. If APC wins I will be happy? But then it is the will of the people that must prevail.
You are not sounding so sure-footedly. The President has said that because of the successes recorded so far, it would be better APC continues…
Yes, I prefer that APC continues so that the good work Mr. President has started for the country would continue with assurance. You know that the tendency in this country is for new people to come and start new things and abandon what has been done, good or bad. So I’ll be glad if an APC government succeeds an APC, so that we can be sure that a lot of the good works that have been started will continue. Those that have not been finished will be concluded. So, no doubt about it. I will like an APC government.
Nigerians craved for a change in 2015 and they got the change they wanted in President Muhammadu Buhari. For the first time, we saw an incumbent democratic president defeated. At the moment there is this craving by the youths and most people are tilting towards Peter Obi. Do you see Peter Obi winning, assuming the people decide?
If it is the people that decide, it is democracy? It is democracy. One thing about democracy is that the will of the people will always matter.
If on February 25, next year, what the people decide is that it is Peter Obi they want, so be it and Mr. President will ensure that whoever the people vote for is the one that emerges. He will not do anything to circumvent or to short circuit it. The will of the people must always prevail in a democracy. So, whatever is the will of the people as demonstrated on election day, is what must come to pass in my country.
The President has also said that he will conduct the best election Nigerians will be proud of in 2023. Do you think that will happen given what we have known in the past?
I don’t recall that he said “best”. What he said was that he will conduct a free, fair and credible election, and that is what he will do. Almost everything that you need to get that kind of election is already in place. You have the electoral law, then, you have primaries that have been held and you have the security people in place, you have an INEC that is truly independent. You have a mobilized populace. You have people that have registered, we have close to about 95 million registered Nigerians now. So, you have all that it takes to have a free, fair, credible election, the President has created the enabling environment for that and he will ensure that it happens.
There were speculations recently that INEC chairman might be removed?
I am glad you said speculations. So, if it is speculation that is what it is. Speculations often don’t have any reality to it.
But it’s often said in Nigeria there is no smoke without a fire.
No, no, no. It is unlike the President. If the President will remove anybody, then that person will deserve to be removed. But, if anybody does not deserve to be removed, know that this President will not do it.
Is the President finishing strong because he has a few months to go?
He will finish strong because the things he has set out for himself to achieve have been achieved. Governance in any country of the world is a continuum. You will do it up to the point you can do it or hand it over to the next person. It is like a relay race, you run your beat and hand over the baton to the next person. What did the President promise to achieve? I will secure the country. Has he secured the country? The answer is yes. The country was in a far worse state than we are now, security wise, in 2015. In 2015, you weren’t sure that Nigeria would exist in the next weeks or months. But, here we are today. In 2015, the major challenge we had was insurgency. Now we have insurgency, we have banditry, we have cultism, we have militancy, we have kidnappings, all sorts of things. But, the President is still keeping the country together because the security forces are battling all these challenges. And, like he has said, he will leave a country that is much more secure than in 2015. That he will do. So, in terms of security, the President would achieve more than has been achieved now. Even as we speak now, we know that the challenges are not as stiff as they were: one year, two years, three years ago, things are getting radically improved. And, within six months, they can improve a lot more. So, the President has achieved a level of security. That is what people have been trumpeting to try to tarnish the image of his administration, but by the time he will be leaving, they will find out they have nothing to say. Now, he said he will revive the economy. Nigeria for more than 50 years had a mono-product economy —Oil. That was the only thing we had as foreign exchange earner. And, the President came and diversified the economy. The Nigerian economy is truly diversified today. That’s an achievement. And you see, GDP, quarter after quarter improving. It may not be at the pace and the rate that we desire compared to our population, but at least, it is positive. You know that all the world is challenged now as an aftermath of COVID 19. But, despite that challenge, the Nigerian economy continues to improve quarter after quarter. That shows the strength and the resiliency of the economy that has been built and diversified by the Buhari administration. So, he is not nearly as bad as some people want it to appear, it’s not nearly as bad as people want it to appear. Some countries have inflation over 40%. One neighboring country, last week, what I saw there was over 47%. So, Nigeria’s institution is not half as bad as some people want it to appear. Then, he promised that he will fight corruption. Look at the statistics, just look at the statistics. Two weekends ago, I wrote a piece on convictions by EFCC between 2010 and 2015 and 2016 and 2022. 2016 to 2022, it’s nearly times three of what you heard. So, it shows you that the emphasis placed on anti anti-corruption war under Buhari is far, far higher. The latitude given the anti graft agency is far, far stronger, because the president fights corruption and he gives the latitude to the anti-corruption agencies to win the war. So, all those three key promises the President made are promises made, promises kept and being kept.
Let me take you on the economy. Do you honestly think that the common man on the street feels this revitalization of the economy?
It could have been worse. That’s what we must realize. When the world was shut down under COVID-19. There was no money. There was no international movement of goods and services. Imagine that we didn’t have home grown rice, 200 million people locked in, no food. It was a recipe for disaster. But, because emphasis had been placed on diversifying the economy with Agric we survived it. The president funded Agric. So, we had home grown rice. See all the palliatives given out then, mountains of rice, all home grown. If we didn’t have that Nigeria would have been in trouble. All grains, rice, maize beans, we don’t import them again. We used to import beans from Burkina Faso. We don’t import any of the grains again. So, we should be thankful that this president came and decided to put his money where his mouth is. And, that is why today, things are not as bad as they could have been. Yes, he will be happier and he has said many times. He will be happier when the average Nigerian feels the economy more in his pocket. But, the projections are that for the average Nigerian to feel the impact of the economy more, the economy must grow at a minimum of 6% vis – a – vis our population. We are growing at about 2.53%. The projection by the IMF was that we will grow at 3% this year. I think it was scaled down later but for Nigerians to feel the impact of the economy in their pockets, we must grow at 6% minimum. We are about 2 per cent but we are inching up. At Least, we are not retrogressing, we are making progress.
Let’s also talk about corruption. Part of the new measures to fight corruption, is it the redesigning of the naira that came up recently?
Yes, as President in 1984, he came in December 1983, he changed the naira, the colour. It was a master-stroke then. This is also is a master-stroke because you have heard stories of people bringing millions of Naira that have been gummed together because they have kept them, some in soak-away pits, some in water tanks, in different kinds of humid places that have changed the nature of the currency. So, I tell you that those who have salted away the commonwealth of this country will have a challenge, because I think that you can only deposit 50 million naira in a month for new accounts, and 5 million naira in a month for old accounts. So, if you have a new account, if for instance, you have stolen 500 billion and kept it away, and you can only change 50 million in a month, you have three months before the whole old currency will expire. So, you can only do 50 million. It is a master-stroke. Kidnappers and criminals who have been collecting ransom in hundreds of millions? What will they do? So, it’s a good development. That’s why the President has said repeatedly that he stands by that policy.
The President I know before used to be a friend with the talakawas but I don’t know now. Is he still friends with these common, poor people on the streets?
He has not changed. Let him make an appearance in the streets of any city and see how the people will gravitate and flock around him. And you know that the man has not changed.
By the time he will be exiting the presidency, do you think he would have reunited the country or disunited the country?
The country is complex, very complex. And, I make bold to say that Nigeria had always been divided
How do you mean, sir?
Divided right from 1914 when they were forcefully amalgamated. This was a country where the people were not consulted. They were not asked whether they wanted to be one country, whether they wanted to live together. It was done by force. Nigeria had always been divided right from the beginning. From time to time, it can be worse than at other times, but this country had always been divided. Therefore, Nigerians must make up their minds, whether they want to be united, whether they want to live together, whether they want to be one nation under God. Nigeria had always been divided. Every administration will therefore make his best effort to continue to unite the country. It must be the watchword of any administration that comes: unity in our diversity. Dismantling the nation must not be an issue. And, the President has said many times that those of them that fought the civil war will not be alive and see this nation dismantled under them. So, how else will a man pledge his loyalty to a country like that. So, he has done his best. All other governments that come must continue to work on it? Unity, Cohesion is something Nigeria must work on because right from day one, Nigeria had been disunited.
In 2015, we saw Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu assisting the president to become the president that he is today. And now, towards the expiration of his own tenure, the presidential candidate has said APC “owes me that, to support me to continue the legacy.” Do you think it is a pay back time for Mr. President?
Mr. President wouldn’t see it as that and I don’t see it as that. If it was payback time, he wouldn’t even have allowed Asiwaju to go through the party primaries. Yes, there was a democratic process. So, if Asiwaju had emerged, how would he have helped him to succeed?
How close are they?
They have always been close, always been close. They worked together to forge the APC. They work together because the progressives realized that if they were going to get rid of PDP, they needed an alliance, they needed a merger. And so, the old CPC, the part of APGA, and the old Action Congress of Nigeria, and the old All Nigeria’s Peoples Party; they all came together and APC was born, and they were able to take power from the PDP. If they hadn’t done that, remember that PDP threatened that it would rule us for a minimum of 60 years, they would never have been able to get PDP out of power if they didn’t merge. So, it shows that they had been allies.
What is there for you at the end of your service?
Me? I want to be a farmer and then return to active journalism.
Floating your own newspaper?
No, no. I have a job waiting for me.
Back to where you are coming from?
Yes. I have a job there waiting for me. I tell you that my publisher, Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu, is one of the best publishers I have seen in the world because he gave me all liberty I needed as MD/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun to run that newspaper. As MD/Editor in Chief, I had sympathy for APC. My publisher was in PDP. All he would tell me then was Femi just give me a professional paper. And that was what I did. I had my sympathy for APC and for Buhari, that you could see in my column but in treatment of news, we were neutral. So, a man like that when I was coming to government and I wanted to resign, he said don’t resign, I will give leave of absence.
So, you have been on leave?
I have been on leave of absence. He told me then. He said you may get to government and you don’t like it or you may be in government for eight years and you finish and you can always come back. And he gave me a letter. So, I have a job waiting for me. I would likely return there and then, do some farming.
There was a time terrorists actually threatened to to capture Mr. President. It made headlines. It was about the time Kuje prisons was bombed just before the President visited Katsina, his home State. Was he rattled in anyway by threat?
Is Nigeria a Banana Republic? It doesn’t even deserve an answer because we know that it will never happen in this country.
Many would think that he actually quickened things up to arrest insecurity and that was when he gave a time-line that December, insecurity would be put to where it belongs, finally.
Remember, the first deadline that came was in 2016 when the military was given a deadline to end Boko Haram. And, at the end of that deadline, it was said that they had technically degraded Boko Haram even though that the insurgency didn’t end completely. So, you can’t say it was because Mr. President was threatened that, then, he gave a deadline that, the thing should end. From the day he was inaugurated, remember he moved the command centre of the war against Boko haram to Maiduguri. So, it shows you that right from day one, he has been interested in seeing the end of the insecurity.
As we go into the election season, is there anything you want Nigerians to know coming from the presidency?
Be well enlightened, educated about who the candidates are and vote for the best according to your conscience. Don’t sell your votes. Don’t be violent. Just go out, cast your ballot for the person you want and see the will of the people prevail because that is what President Buhari has said.
So, votes will count?
They will count. They counted in Anambra. They counted in Ekiti, counted in Osun. All the off-season elections, votes had counted. Some are still in tribunal. When the tribunals finish their case, we will know where those things are going. But, one thing is that from all that we see, for now, votes counted.