In this interview with The News Chronicle, Femi Adesina, Senior Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity speaks on sundry issues – the Buhari government and its critics, being linked with certain unflattering remarks like allegedly labelling President Buhari’s critics as ‘Wailing Wailers’ or the alleged remark about ‘your life or your land’ in response to herdsmen’s attacks in some areas, allegations of clannishness and Fulanization against the President – and many more.
TNC: First, let me thank you for finding time from your very busy schedule for this interview. Can I start by congratulating you on your re-appointment as the President’s SSA Media. I will really like you to look back at the last four years or so that you acted as the President’s spokesman. What will be your assessment of that journey? Any regrets? What are the peculiar challenges of the job?
FA: Do I have any regret in four years as spokesman for President Buhari? I’ll tackle the question this way: I have no regrets taking on the assignment, which I did voluntarily. I was not looking for a job at the time, and I didn’t expect it. I have admired President Buhari since he was military head of state, and the admiration has not waned nor diminished. So, I am happy to serve him. Have I done everything right in the past four years? We are mortals, and fallible. I may have fallen short in some ways, and if I reflect deeply, I may not do those things same way, if I had the opportunity to act or decide on them again. As human beings, we should always improve, so I don’t believe that we do everything perfectly at all times.
The peculiar challenges of the job include deliberately being misunderstood, and my words twisted, particularly by the media. It is worse on digital media. They try to make you look bad, and become enemy of the public, through a deliberate twisting and misconstruing of whatever you say. But I’ve learnt to take it all in my strides. God knows our hearts, and a large number of Nigerians are discerning, no matter the attempt to obfuscate issues by a tiny but vocal minority.
TNC: How do you feel when people link you with certain unflattering remarks like labelling President Buhari’s critics as ‘Wailing Wailers’ or the remark about ‘your life or your land’ in response to herdsmen’s attacks in some areas?. What are really your views on Buhari’s critics, the herdsmen-farmers’ crisis and the controversy over the now suspended RUGA scheme?
FA: In the early days of the administration, PDP made it a point of duty to condemn every action, every move the government made. Olisa Metuh spoke for PDP then. There was a day I responded to him, because it had to do with the President directly, and said no matter how virulent PDP was in their criticisms; they would always lose, as Nigerians had rejected them. I said they were wailing wailers, borrowing from the name of the band of the late reggae star, Bob Marley.
It was amazing to see the expression catch on like wildfire. All those opposed to the Buhari administration appropriated the appellation to themselves. They willingly assumed the name, saying I called them all wailing wailers. If they wanted the name, who was I to say no? And that is what they are till today, though I used it for Metuh and his PDP cohorts then. No regrets. Since they have decided to baptize themselves as wailers, I won’t begrudge or charge them for copyright violation. They should wail on, while President Buhari works on.
Your land or your life? It’s all part of the twisting I spoke of earlier. The full text of the interview is available, and anybody that wants the truth should listen to it. But if anyone wants to rely on the twisted interpretation, good luck to him.
All hands are on deck to permanently resolve the perennial farmers/herdsmen crisis, particularly through the national livestock transformation plan. And we will get there. It was a crisis foisted on the nation by many factors: climate change, shrinking resources, incursion of foreigners, insularity, hateful minds, and many more. The government is handling it with maturity and good sense, and it will soon become history in our country.
No government can exist without criticism. The Buhari administration has its fair share. We are not averse to it, and criticism does not make the critics less Nigerian. We take the ones that are well founded, and the ones that come from sinister motives, we simply discard. Woe betides the land that has no critics, because they will continue to make mistakes, till they land in perdition. There will be nobody to say hey, you are getting it wrong.
TNC: Let us talk now about your principal, President Buhari. It took him almost six months to assemble his cabinet during his first term in office – and it was blamed on the Jonathan’s government allegedly for not co-operating with the incoming Buhari government. In his second term, it also took him about five months since he was announced the winner of the 23 February 2019 presidential election to submit the list of ministerial nominations to the Senate. There are still parastatals whose boards are yet to be re-constituted since they were dissolved a few months after the President came to office in 2015. Several key aides are yet to be formally appointed. What is your take on the President’s pace of doing things?
FA: The pace you adopt depends on the prevailing issues. There are times you need to be swift, at others, you need to ponder and be reflective. President Buhari adopts the pace that is necessary at any given time. There is no leader that will satisfy everybody in terms of pace.
TNC: One of the recurring allegations against President Buhari, especially in the Southern part of the country, is his supposed clannishness and Northern bias. A key example often used to buttress this is the ethnic/regional and religious composition of the country’s current security architecture. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently mainstreamed these allegations when he accused Buhari of harbouring a ‘Fulanization and Islamization’ agendas. What are your takes on these?
FA: Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has our respects. He has a right to his opinions. He backed the wrong horse in the last elections, and he lost. He still feels sore, naturally, so he reacts like someone who ate sour grapes. But if you carefully look at what he said, and which was interpreted as Fulanization, he didn’t directly use the words. He’s a nationalist, he’s not always right, but you can’t deny him his place in the annals of the country.
TNC: Let us talk a bit about nation-building. I am among those who believe that the primary problem of the country is the crisis in the country’s nation-building process, with several Nigerians de-linking from the Nigerian state into one form or the order of a primordial enclave, often regarding the state as an enemy. I believe strongly that unless we have a nation, any solution thrown at any of the country’s myriad challenges will quickly become part of the problems. While the process of de-Nigerianization obviously did not start with Buhari, do you feel he has done enough to re-start the stalled nation-building process? Some actually believe that he exacerbated the situation. How would you respond to this?
FA: Nigeria has many fault lines. The faults are primordial. Past leaders have worked on them. President Buhari is doing his bit, and it would be wrong to heap faults on anyone. Nigerians themselves must even decide to forge a nation. We have not got there yet. A lot depends on us as citizens.
TNC: I will like to talk briefly about the President’s economic policies. There was no remarkable economist of stature in the last Economic Team – which was dominated by lawyers. At the same time the country seems to be on a borrowing binge – with an estimated 70 per cent of the country’s revenue now used to service debts. How do you respond to these? And what is your overall assessment of the President’s economic policies?
FA: Recent developments, particularly the composition of an Economic Advisory Council (EAC), have sorted out this matter. The President said the initial approach to the economy was necessitated by facts on ground, but now that new dynamics are needed, the paradigm has changed. It will end in praise (as we Christians say).
TNC: As an opposition figure, Buhari was emphatic that there was no subsidy on fuel when the Jonathan government was contemplating removing part of the fuel subsidy. Now we learnt that the government is subsidising Premium Motor Spirits (PMS) more than the Jonathan government did – after increasing the pump price of fuel from N87 to N145. How much does the government really spend on fuel subsidy? And what has really changed since Buhari and Tam David West (both former Ministers of Petroleum) emphatically declared that there was no subsidy on PMS?
FA: These are technical questions best answered by those who run the oil sector. Thanks.
TNC: What do you think of some of the government’s economic policies like school feeding programme and the TraderMoni (which remarkably seemed to have been stopped after the elections). There are people who believe that these are among the wastages in the current government – for instance using food to attract pupils to come to school, when many of such schools are under trees or in dilapidated buildings and teachers are neither properly trained nor well remunerated. How do you respond to these?
FA: It is erroneous to say that these [TraderMoni] stopped after the elections. Please refer to explanation by the office of the Vice President on the same allegation. The initiatives are gathering strength, rather than slowing down. They are well applauded, and recently won international awards.
TNC: I will also like you to comment on the continued detention of former National Security Adviser Dasuki Sambo and Ibrahim El Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (otherwise known as the Shiites) – despite court orders granting them bail. With respect to El Zakzaky, some see it as a proxy battle between the predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia and the predominantly Shi’a Iran on Nigerian soil. Some even read an ethnic angle to it – that the members of IMN are predominantly Hausa and are being persecuted by the predominantly Sunni Fulani. How do you respond to these?
FA: The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is the right person to respond to this.
TNC: Finally how would you assess Buhari’s first term in office and what should Nigerians expect from his second term in office?
FA: The first term was a time to lay the foundation, and it has been well laid. Securing the country, fighting corruption, massive infrastructure works, retooling and diversifying the economy, and so on. The second term is for building the superstructure. That is why we say Next Level. Nigerians accepted Change, as enunciated in 2015, they have also accepted Next Level, as advocated in 2019. The train is on the move, and by 2023, when the administration exits, Nigerians can only count their blessings. Even cynics would have no option than to grudgingly accept that enduring change had come, and we were no longer at the level we used to be.