Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, in this interview, reviews the just concluded presidential election that saw his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected.
Considering the unease that characterized the last elections, how do you review the process because, to me, the struggle started on May 30, 2015 which was the time politicians actually started the 2019 race. Do you have any disappointment that they did?
Well, there is a saying that the politician thinks of the next elections, while the statesman thinks of how he can make a difference in his own country. So, in 2015 after the President got inaugurated, he put himself to the work and he was trying to bring change to Nigeria as he had promised. But because there were politicians out there, it is not disappointing that they started politicking immediately. That is the nature of politics and politicking because, after one election, they are thinking of the next election already.
But Mr. President applied himself to the work. Until he announced in 2018 that he would be running in 2019, he didn’t have inkling of politics at all. In fact, not many people were quite sure that he was going to run.
So, that shows you that Mr. President is always single-minded on anything he does. Anything he does at any given time, he focuses on it and he does not allow too many distractions.
That is why at the end of the day, he had enough to show that he deserved a second term.
You know I had always said that two things would determine who would become President in 2019: One would be the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to run for second term and other would be the achievements he has to put on the table. So he decided to run and he had many things to put on the table and the people voted him again.
Why then do you think that a President, who had many things to put on the table in terms of achievements in seeking re-election, would be faced with the heavy opposition we witnessed?
Looking at the entire process, it’s a quest for power and power struggle is always emerging circling, always demanding. And this particular one, I think, was much more demanding for both sides than the previous elections in the country because we were at crunch time in Nigeria.
It was a struggle between progressive forces and forces of retrogression. It was a struggle between integrity and opacity. It was a struggle between accountability and impunity. You would see that everything was thrown into that struggle. It became too much of desperation.
But why should power struggle be laden with so much desperation if not that there is something we the onlookers were not made to know?
Power struggle shouldn’t have that kind of desperation but here was a lot of desperation in this last election because of those things I mentioned: Struggle between transparency and opacity; struggle between honesty and lack of it; struggle between accountability and lack of it. So, Nigerians had to choose. And the outcome of the election has shown that Nigerians will never ever again vote a person they can’t vouch for as President.
That is what this last election has shown. Integrity will always matter in Nigeria going forward.
But despite your earlier comment that the President did not show interest in the 2019 election when it was started by politicians in 2015 because he didn’t want to allow distractions, what about the distractions that were actually caused by the activities of those who started it?
You really can’t beat politicians. If they don’t do it openly, they would do it underground. (Laughs).
Is that the reason that, despite that some people actually entered into a peace accord, we still experienced what we experienced during the elections?
You see that it’s all about integrity again. If people signed an accord and they didn’t keep to the letters and the spirit of what they signed, it shows lack of integrity. It shows that they can’t be depended on. They voluntarily entered into an accord and, at the end of the day, reneged from what they had signed. So, it shows lack of integrity.
President Buhari, your boss, is a major party that signed the peace accord. Your supporters are angry that you watched the breach of the accord go on without calling the attention of the National Peace Committee to it. Why?
That is not correct. The National Peace Committee has met with the loser in the election and it has met with the President. So, it is not about us. It’s not for us to start saying anything. The peace committee is at work and I am sure it’s reminding both sides what they signed.
Do you see any need to respond to the claim that the peace committee, when it met with Mr. President, brought a message from the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, listing conditions for peace?
It’s an insinuation and the thing about insinuation is that it is usually not based on facts.
So, we can now make it clear to the public that what they think about the peace committee is actually not what it is because, the thinking is that the National Peace Committee put the peace accord in place not for anything but work against President Buhari re-election, so that he will be hooked by his signature of it?
I have no cause to say that. All I know is that they are working for peace. Before the elections, they got all the parties to sign an accord and after the elections, they are still working to consolidate the peace.
Now talking more seriously, the President has been urged to drop his ‘I can work with anybody’ idea and show interest in who emerge as leaders of the National Assembly. What should Nigerians take home on this?
There is always a lesson to learn. What happened in this outgoing dispensation vis-à-vis the leadership of the National Assembly has opened everybody’s eyes and we have seen the need to have people who are responsible and people who are faithful and loyal to the party in place as leaders of the National Assembly.
There is no point the government going in one direction and the National Assembly going in another direction, particularly when the party has the majority.
So, I’m sure lessons have been learned from the outgoing dispensation and the next leadership of the legislature will be of a different hue in different variety.
Although I know it is not your way to be involved in the politics of the party, I must mention here that the outgoing leadership of the National Assembly not cooperating with the government was as a result of power struggle which showed that the ruling party actually lacked the capacity to manage success. Immediately after winning this second term, same power struggle has started again with some people complaining that allies of the President are affected one way or the other. Those complaining are also saying that it is an attempt to break the ties between the President and those allies. What dilemma do you think that President Buhari has found himself in, in all of these?
I have not seen the scenario you try to paint. I have not seen it and I don’t think such scenario exists. But what I would just tell you is that, the leadership that will emerge for the National Assembly will be responsible leadership and it will be one that will work harmoniously with the executive, while not being in bed with the executive and being a rubber stamp.
We have all learned from what happened in the outgoing dispensation.
The three-point agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari administration is premised on security, fixing the economy and anti-corruption. Although people who the public expect to feed them with information as par whether these points have been delivered upon or not claim they did not see anything, there are others who should inform and who have informed of tremendous such deliveries having been made. Now, NEXT LEVEL, what should Nigerians look out for on this three-point agenda and where will the anti-corruption be in the next level agenda?
Well, Mr. President has said many times that the three fundamental areas of focus will continue, that is, securing the country, reviving the economy and fighting corruption will continue. So, NEXT LEVEL means consolidation. This Next Level is a time to consolidate on what has been done on those three focal areas of the first four years.
But if you have studied the NEXT LEVEL Manual, you will know that many other areas of focus are coming in: Job creation, infrastructure, education, health, enterprise bank, money bank will be established for medium scale enterprises and, of course, many other things adjoining those focal areas.
Inclusive government is part of it too in which there will be more women, youths in government and there are some other areas of focus that will come in with those three.
Although you have been carefully choosing your words in describing the attitude of the media towards your government since it came in 2015, you never accused them of being anti but that they twisted and slanted news against the government in the last four years. No way that you would never have a feel of the kind of media that you have experienced. What do you think?
Yes, I have been a victim myself, many times. But I am a member of that institution. I can’t say because I’m working in government now, therefore, the media is bad all through. No, the media is not bad all through but, of course, not everything the media does is quite right. Because, you find people twisting stories to suit their purpose and they take headlines from their own mindset. Most times we even know media that would deliberately slant the story to make government look bad.
But it is not every media that does it. You have people who report government fairly and that is all that we require. Report government fairly, we are not saying don’t criticize government. Criticise constructively. We are not saying kill stories. No. But write objectively. That’s all we are saying.
What cooperation would you seek from the media in this yet another four years term coming?
Report the government fairly. Be a part of national development. Don’t be a tool of retrogression. Don’t pull back development.
The politicking, which we had, actually led to anxiety whereby people asked if politicians were not trying to turn Nigeria to Palestine, Syria and the rest of that bringing the international community to work against the interest of government. What state are we now? Is Nigeria stable and why should Nigerians not have cause for apprehension?
The opposition threw everything into that race including intimidation. What they tried to do by externalizing Nigeria’s domestic issue is to intimidate the government in power. But they don’t know that it’s not that easy to intimidate a government that knows its onions. It’s only a weak government that you can intimidate through that action.
So all those calling on the US, calling on the EU, calling on ECOWAS, calling on everyone (laughs) is just to intimidate, and you can’t intimidate a government that knows its onions. Even after the election they said they were appealing to the US, appealing to the EU, dragging Buhari to this and that. No. (Laughs). A country is not run that way.
The government you have in place now is not a weakling. It’s a government that knows its onions and Nigeria is stable. There is no cause for alarm at all.
And the Tucano aircraft President Buhari already paid for will not be affected by this?
I don’t think so. Those are international commitments. When you have made commitments, you don’t just renege on commitments like that because of internal politics.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as part of his criticisms of President Buhari, recently said the President should be careful. I don’t know how he is going to be careful. But how do you explain the President’s soft mindedness to a former leader that plotted to unseat him from power and now came back to say “I’m his boss and I will not stop to criticize him”?
The President, in his victory speech, told his supporters not to gloat. He said “this victory is enough for you”. So, that should just suffice. Even to the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the government will not gloat because the President says victory is enough.
You mean you too imbibe this culture of the President’s softmindedness, which, to many, is very difficult to stomach?
I have always been an apostle of that. When there is a contest, let the winner be magnanimous in his victory and let the loser be graceful in his defeat.
Like the President said in his birthday message to former President Olusegun Obasanjo that he has contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria, yes, and he has always been his boss and that he will respect him.
President Obasanjo wrote his letter in January last year. A week or two after that letter, we had a Council of State meeting and you saw the deference the President gave to him. Any time former President Obasanjo pressed the button indicating he had a contribution to make, you needed to see how the President referred to him.
For life, President Buhari would always respect former President Obasanjo. But then, respect is reciprocal. If the younger one gives that kind of respect, the onus is on you as a senior person to reciprocate.
But what if he (Obasanjo) had succeeded in his plot against the President?
But we thank God he didn’t succeed. Victory is enough (laughs).
Victory is enough for us, we don’t need to gloat over anything.