In an exclusive interview with a Punch Newspaper correspondent, the presidential Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, speaks on the various national issues as well as listing some achievements of the present government as it clocks 1 year in office.
President Buhari and his spokesman, Femi Adesina
This government promised Nigerians a better life but in the last one year, all what they have experienced is suffering. Was the change mantra about a change for the worse or for the better?
It is mendacious to say that in the last one year, what Nigerians have been experiencing is suffering. It is not true. That can only be a private opinion. Whoever holds that opinion has a right to it but to say that all Nigerians have experienced in the last one year is suffering is not true.
There is a lot of hope in the land. When this government took over about a year ago, there was despondency in the land. One did not even know whether Nigeria was going to continue to exist as one country or not. But now, that is no longer the situation. In terms of security, anti-corruption fight and even the economy, there is a lot of hope.
Nigeria is like a plane taking off with its nose in the air. As long as the nose of the plane is in the air, you know that it is gaining altitude. Before this government came, the nose of the plane was down and one did not know whether it would land safely or crash-land. There is a lot of hope in the country now, so I will not agree that there has been suffering in the past one year, it is not true.
As this government clocks one year in office, can you mention one thing that the people have enjoyed so far?
Not just one thing but several things but I will tell you about the security situation. This time last year, we did not know whether Boko Haram would advance into the core South and core West. It seemed it would because Boko Haram was not just confined to the North East then; it was in the North West and North Central. The sect was active in Abuja, it was active in Kogi and the next thing was that it was going to make a foray into the South West and go into the South South and we know what would have happened to the country if that had happened. So if you compare the security situation this time last year with the situation now, you will know that Nigerians have a lot of reasons to be thankful to God.
Do you agree with Nigerians who blame this government for a lot of the economic woes the country faces today? For instance, one, there was a long delay in appointing ministers and in preparing the budget and when it did send the budget to the lawmakers, it was padded. Who do you blame for all these?
Anybody who blames this government for the nation’s economic woes does not understand the issues. A government does not run down the economy in 12 months. This government came on board to meet an economy which the President said had been vandalised. What this government has been doing in the last one year is coping with the consequences of the rot that the previous government left behind. It is not only about the previous government, but an accumulation of what was done by the many governments in the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party in power.
Do not forget that these were years that oil sold for an average of $100 per barrel and there was a time it hit $140 per barrel. How come we did not save? How come we have no reserve? How come infrastructure is at the stage it is? Anybody who says this government caused it does not just understand and I would want to pity such a person.
This government seems to be at a loss as regards dealing with the ongoing vandalisation of pipelines as there seems to be no end to the situation with our production dropping to 1.4 million barrels from 2.2 million. What is happening?
Saying government is at a loss is not right because each time this happens, in a couple of days, those who did it are apprehended. I am sure that in every where it has happened, those responsible have been apprehended within a number of days. So you cannot say the government is at a loss because it has the capacity to deal with it. I am not saying that it is by the use of force or arms alone that government is going to respond to it, but then, this government does not lack capacity to respond to that development.
It is not in record that power supply was ever at zero megawatts before this government came to power, but it happened during this government’s regime. Does this not contrast with all the promises made by this government?
It had occurred a number of times in this country before when the entire power architecture would just collapse. It had happened before and it has happened now. But we also know that vandalism plays a big role in what is happening in this country now. If a country like Iran came out of 33 years sanctions from the West and it has over 60,000Megawatts of electricity, it is because its nationals have not gone to vandalise installations. South Africa has over 50,000MW of electricity, it is because its nationals have not gone to vandalise installations. If Nigerians continue to vandalise installations, then they cannot in good conscience blame the government wholesale for the parlous state of power supply.
The Fulani herdsmen crisis is there and they seem to be attacking on regular basis and with impunity since President Buhari came to power. Do you agree with the people who say that this is going on because President Buhari is Fulani like them?
That will just be typical of some Nigerians, they are too suspicious. Some Nigerians are too suspicious of other ethnic groups. This has nothing to do with whoever is the President. The issue is endemic in Nigeria. It is almost as old as the country. It has always been there, it has nothing to do with who is the President but some people just find it convenient to attribute it to the President. This is unreasonable.
Some people say the President has been largely silent on the crisis.
That is not true. The President has not been silent on the matter. It is unfortunate that some people choose what they want to hear. The President has spoken against the crisis many times. We also issued a press statement on the matter. No stone will be left unturned in finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
Why is the President shutting down the clamour for self-determination by the people of Biafra?
The issue is that even among those who live in that geographical area that used to be called Biafra, is there a consensus that they want self-determination? Among those who are there, there is no consensus. Those young people got together because they never experienced war, they never knew the trauma of the civil war in which more than two million Nigerians died. They are the ones beating the drums of self-determination.
If you do a referendum in that geopolitical part of the country, I am sure that a larger number will prefer to stay within the Nigerian federation. Why did we fight that 30-month grueling civil war to keep Nigeria one if at the end of the day, people will just stand up and say ‘we are dismembering the country’? I am sure that generation that fought the war, that generation is still around, will never be part of that kind of quest.
The President has shown his willingness to negotiate with the Boko Haram sect if genuine leaders come forward but failed to show the same kind of willingness in the case of the group called the Indigenous People of Biafra. Is he not being sectional in his approach?
What Boko Haram is doing is insurgency. I doubt if IPOB has got to the level of insurgency nor will it get there because I believe that not too many people are going to follow that group into insurgency. I believe it will never happen. The leaders of thought in that part of the country are not with them, at least from all that we can see. So what is there to negotiate? For instance, what is IPOB asking for? They say they are being marginalised, when did they realise that they are being marginalised? Is it about 12 months ago when power changed hands? If the former President Goodluck Jonathan government had continued, would there have been that agitation? Were they not saying he is Ebele Azikwe and he is their brother and that his administration was an administration of the South East? For me, there is nothing to negotiate.