Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Weekend, was guest on Radio Continental, 102.3 FM. Here are excerpts from the interview posted on his Facebook page.
What do you have to say about the Chibok schoolgirls? Any negotiation in progress with Boko Haram?
We need to know a little bit of what happened behind the scenes, between the last government and some people masquerading as the leadership of Boko Haram who wanted to get the Chibok girls released. They actually turned it into a franchise, it became a commercial thing and they got money, possibly in millions of dollars, only for government to discover it had been swindled. They kept saying they could get the girls released , they could interface with Boko Haram and they went smiling to the bank with all that money, and nothing happened. So you should understand why this government is being careful and the President has said the genuineness of the leadership of Boko Haram must be determined before any negotiation takes place.
The commendation actually goes to you and your media team, for the media chat of President Buhari a few days ago. Arising from that chat, it is reported that the president said that he would not grant bail to former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, and Nnamdi Kanu of Biafra. What was in the mind of the President.
Our president is a straight shooter, whatever is in his mind is what he tells you. He doesn’t believe in manipulating or any form of rigmarole. What he said, was that those people had grievous charges against them, but then, he does not preclude bail, if there are no pending charges against them. The situation now is when bail is granted, before that bail is perfected, those who are prosecuting them would have come with fresh charges, which warrant their being held further. So, that is the position, if there are no fresh charges, and there is bail, there is no reason to hold them. But the truth is that there are fresh charges leveled against them.
One of the APC men has been arrested by EFCC, and that is Col Jafar Isa. What does that mean to you?
It means that in this corruption fight, no friend, no foe. One of the quickest ways for President Buhari to lose confidence in anybody is for that person to be tarred with the brush of corruption, and if proven to be true, you are on your own. All those who have said he is selective, it is because they do not know him. We know how much he detests corruption, and if any case is proven against anybody, no matter how close the person is, no matter how high ranking, that person will answer for it.
Does Mr President actually hate Igbos?
When the President ran for political office in 2003, who was his running mate? Dr Chuba Okadigbo. And in 2007? Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. If he hated Igbos would he run with them?
That shows you the respect and the regard he has for Igbos, it was political reality that compelled him to come south-west in 2011 and in 2015. Let me tell you a story.
There is a prominent Igbo family in this country, if I mention their names you would know them, they are very prominent in the society. They told me a story that in the 70s, President Buhari was Minister of Petroleum, the family wanted to join the petroleum industry and then they made a bid. By then, there were not too many Nigerians playing in that industry, and there was a lot of scepticism from those around the then Lt Colonel Buhari, who was Oil Minister.
They all said they don’t believe that the company as represented by that family had the capacity to play in the industry. This family told me that eventually, they got to Lt Colonel Buhari, he listened to them, and asked them; ‘Are you sure you have the capacity to do this?’ And they told him, ‘we can do it’. Then he removed his military cap, banged it on the table and told them, ‘it is done.’ And he instructed that they give them that opportunity they wanted in the oil industry and today that family is so big and they never forget that the then Colonel Buhari as oil minister gave them the break they needed. They told me that story about three weeks ago.
The next day, when I saw the president, I told him the story. He laughed and then went on to tell me that when people say he is against the Igbos, it baffles him, that really he never knew that family, he just trusted the assurance they gave him that they could play in the oil industry, and today they are very big. He went further to say that even under PTF, so many Nigerians, including Igbos, benefitted a lot. So there is no way you can say the man hates Igbos.
The second Niger bridge is on the budget in 2016. Let’s recall that the last President sometime in 2011 said that he would complete that second Niger bridge before 2015. He didn’t even go beyond the architectural drawing, but in 2016 budget, that project is there.
On Forex policy of CBN, and Miss Christine Lagarde of IMF talking down on Nigeria, despite corruption allegation against her back home
If Miss Christine Lagarde has any corruption allegation, it is not Nigeria that has brought it against her. Nigeria has absolutely no role in that, we know what happened to her predecessor in office, when he had issues over sexual assault and all that. He was removed and he answered for it in court. We leave that to them for them to handle.
But in terms of talking down, there was no talking down at all. I was at the meeting that she held with the President, there was absolutely no talking down, she spoke nicely and decently, I don’t agree that she spoke down on anybody. In fact she ended up commending the President, commending Nigeria, and she said she wouldn’t expect to hear a knock on her door any day from Nigerians asking for support because she has seen that Nigeria has all it takes to pull through this rough patch that she is passing through. I wouldn’t agree with you that she talked down on anybody, she had the right as MD of IMF to make prescription, Nigeria has the right either to accept or reject.
When would the disability bill be signed into law?
This is the second time this is coming up on this show, because I remember this question came up the last time I was here and now that the Ministers are about two months in office this is also something that I would bring up.
Please lead us into the privacy of the President.How does the President carry the enormous problem of this nation? How true is the statement that the only thing he is doing now is fighting corruption, neglecting issue of economy, infrastructure and welfare of citizenry?
I would like to begin by saying that corruption is central to every other thing in this country. If we want to talk about the economy, education, health care, if all the funds we would need to address these are squirreled away, how then do we address them? Fighting corruption is central to Nigeria’s development, therefore the President has taken it as one of the key things that his administration would do. But then, that doesn’t mean that corruption is the only thing he is fighting, you need to see the man’s schedule. He gets to the office in the morning about 9 a.m, the first thing he has required us to do is get the highlights of newspapers ready for him, and so before he comes in, we have reviewed the newspapers, we have done all the highlights and that is the first thing he looks at. Then he begins to attend to all the other things lined out for him. Across all the sectors, ministers and directors of agencies are meeting with him. He is a hard worker and at 73, I wonder how he does it.
He does that till early evening, when he then retires home to have a late lunch and a rest, and then in the early evening he takes on people that have been scheduled to meet him, if there are. One thing about this President is that as much as possible, you don’t get to his house and see a market. I was told that in the last dispensation the place would still be a beehive of activities as late as 2 a.m. But this man is methodical, he plans his days and in the process he is able to attend to much more. All the sectors are receiving attention, I can assure you.
Funding the real sector is going to be very important in getting diversification, in getting the economy back on track. What about our developmental banks?
Talking of the real sector I know of BOI because, I engage with them, the MD, the corporate affairs people, we spoke two days ago and they have this programme on television which I follow. I think BOI is doing well and they have to be further empowered to do more. Talking of Treasury Single Account (TSA) it is work in progress, the rough edges are being smoothened. You heard the President on National Media Chat saying that about N1. 5 trillion has been harnessed into TSA. If you don’t harness this money, how do you use it? Now that that money is there, that is when we can talk of using it for the real sector.
What is the plan of the government on state police?
I know that the APC had some promises in that respect, don’t forget that APC promised to look at our federation, and re-tune it, rework it, and part of the promises was to look into state police.
The Nigerian Labour Congress is threatening to call out Nigerians to embark on strike, the reason is based on subsidy removal, which was alleged would bring untold hardship to common Nigerians. Could you shed light on this issue?
What hardship can be greater than what Nigerians passed through in the past four- six weeks, queueing endlessly to buy petrol and at the end of the day buying it at N200, N250, N300 per litre; what hardship can be greater than that? On the flip-side, what we are entering into now is something that would make life a lot easier for Nigerians, getting petrol, making sure that the supply is sustained because with crude oil prices down, why should Nigerians pay so high for refined petrol?
That is what government is doing. Now that crude prices are down, this is the opportunity to arrive at appropriate prices for refined petrol, that is why we now have N86 from NNPC, N86.5 from other marketers, and it has also been said that this would be subject to review every quarter. That means if oil prices inch up again, it would affect how much we buy petrol. Labour, I am sure will look at the matter again, and know that it would be better that Nigerians get petrol at clearly affordable prices, reacting to prices of crude oil, rather than a subsidy regime that is fraught with so much corruption.
What are the foreign policy plans of this administration?
We just had a minister of foreign affairs, who is settling down. The Ministers would just be two months in office soon. Economic diplomacy is very important for us. We know that we have engaged with the West, we have also gone East; China for instance is doing a lot of with us. Economic diplomacy is very important for Nigerians at this time, because like the President says, no country in the world can afford to stand alone again.
Even President Obama said it at the UN General Assembly last September, no country in the world can afford to stand alone again because the things that unite the world now are economy and security. No country can afford to do it alone, so Nigeria’s foreign policy would also be conditioned by that.
Restructuring our federalism, what is the President approach to it?
As I said earlier, restructuring the federation is part of the promises the APC made when it campaigned, but you would also agree that it is not a one man show; it is not the President that would say, this is the way to do it. No, It has to be a deliberate policy, starting from the party, to the national assembly and then it becomes law and all that. It is not the President that would direct it.
We want to bring five members of this parliament to Aso Rock, I mean people who call in on this radio, and present our needs to the president.
I assure you that it can be done. I will raise it with the President
Most business people are having problems funding their transactions. What is being done in terms of bridging this?
It is not targeted at anybody. It is a policy from the Central Bank. During the Presidential Media Chat, the President promised that he would get the CBN governor to look at the matter again. He said it openly and publicly. But one thing about economic downturn and revival is that it is not at the snap of a finger, economies don’t collapse in a flash, it is a gradual thing. So you can’t expect that it’s going to be by the snap of the finger, and the economy is revived again. It has to be rebuilt, the foundation has to be relaid, that is what this government is doing, and with a government that is serious and focussed like this one, we would get there. All of us have to be patient to get there.