Cabal Doesn’t Exist In Buhari’s Govt – Femi Adesina - Welcome to Uju Ayalogu's Blog

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Saturday, 6 April 2019

Cabal Doesn’t Exist In Buhari’s Govt – Femi Adesina

Cabal Doesn’t Exist In Buhari’s Govt – Femi Adesina

Mr Femi Adesina is the senior special adviser to President Muhammadu on Media and Publicity. In this interview with Danlami Nmodu, he speaks on perception of people concerning the incumbent President, his re-election and next four years

I think we should start by reflecting on your experiences as the presidential spokesman from 2015 till date. I will like you to share some of your thoughts with us. Some have said it’s a thankless job, others say it is worth doing. Let’s get your perspective.

Yes, anything you do to serve your country is worth doing. I remember in the very first month I came unto this assignment, the sultan of Sokoto came to the Villa and…

…the man who calls you Kulikuli

(Laugh) He calls me Kulikuli because he had known me well before I came here. He saw me and said, “kulikuli, this work you have come to do is a thankless job, but with you, it will not be so. I found that very prophetic.

And four years down the line, I would say, it’s not been a thankless job because I have come to serve a man that I admire, a man that is like my political hero, a man that I believe will make a difference in our country and he is making that difference. Now that he has got a second term in office, by the time he finishes, that difference will be very clear. Therefore, speaking for the president in the past four years,

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I would say is something worthwhile and fulfilling to me. You are familiar with my professional record. I was at the very peak of my career when the offer to speak for the president came. If it was not President Buhari, I would never have taken up the job.

As MD of a national newspaper, as president, Nigerian Guild of Editors, I would never have taken a spokesman’s job for anybody else. I took it because it was President Muhammadu Buhari and I have no regrets.

I know there are critics of yours who say you can do better; that you and Mallam Garba Shehu are being constrained by the Buhari persona who is apparently not friendly with the press and does not allow you to blossom, the way you should be. Is this true?

Well, you don’t speak for yourself. You speak for a man and when you speak for a man, you condition the way you work round the personality of that man. If you don’t do it, you’ll become a problem to that man. If, for example, he wants to keep quiet and you are there shouting and making noise and saying things out of tune, you are not helping him.

If he would rather keep quiet or say a few words about certain things and you are there being verbose, you will become a problem to that man. Therefore, you must tailor your strategy round the persona of your principal.

Interesting! So those who allegedly said that something is wrong with Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina are wrong?

They don’t know, so we can pardon them. We are the ones that know our principal and we know what to say, when to say it and how to say it.

Somehow you are a reflection of your character, probably priestly in your approach to being a presidential spokesman.

Well, that should be virtues and not vices. So, if they are virtues, then they should add to the assignment rather than detract from it. Unless you want to tell me that being priestly is negative. So, if you add that to whatever you do, it’s added value rather than negative.

For the records, which is the best approach: being combative or moderate; being avuncular or priestly?

I think it is eclectic. A little bit of everything as the situation demands. If you need to be combative, by all means be but don’t make it a permanent style, otherwise, you will become an attack dog which is not good for anybody.

You mean it’s not good to be anybody’s attack dog?

Why should you be? The president does not want an attack dog. By his make up, an attack dog would do him more harm than good. He just wants somebody that is sober, temperate and does things properly. That is what our president needs.

So, your strategy should be a combination of all those you have mentioned. When you need to use any style, it depends on what is on the table at that time but if you become permanent or stuck in your style, that is not good. Use what is relevant at each period of time.

The general elections have come and gone and winner declared. What is the implication of that for the government and country?

What it means is consolidation of the good work that has started. What it means to the country is a better reputation among the comity of nations. Imagine that the kind of reputation Nigeria has built in the past four years gets suddenly eroded.

From the reputation of Nigeria being led by a man of integrity and accountability to a country suddenly being led by a man with many question marks. I think that would not be good for Nigeria.

You mean electing Atiku would not have been good for Nigeria?

I didn’t mention anybody’s name. I simply said voting a man with question marks. Atiku was not the only presidential candidate that ran against President Buhari. There were about 72 others. I would say it’s a good thing that the president has won.

The president says his second term would be tough. Is that a good thing to say?

There were some manipulations in what the president meant that the second term would be challenging. That was what he meant in the actual sense of the word, but the media deliberately twisted it to mean tough as in hardship.

But he used the word ‘tough’

Yes, but there is also the context of a word. The context of that word means challenging because it would be a term for legacy and he has to ensure that he leaves that legacy. That is what he meant by tough in order to leave a good legacy and a Nigeria better than he met in 2015.

But as we prepare for the second term, we are having the Atiku challenge as he has gone to the tribunal. What does that implies?

That is part of democracy. It’s within his democratic rights. It means nothing.

So the administration is not bothered or jittery?

Not at all. Like you know, I used to work for Orji Uzor Kalu. Whenever anybody threatened to sue us, he would say, let them go ahead, the court is not anybody’s father’s sitting room (Laughs). So, if Alhaji Atiku has gone to court, it is not his sitting room. The court will still do what is right, fair and just.

And you believe the president will triumph?

The president won that election clean and clear with a wide margin of four million votes. It’s unquestionable.

But if the president won on a clean note as you said, why did APC lose many states in the gubernatorial poll?

APC losing some states is regrettable. But the fact remains that those states were lost without the use of federal might.

And without the use of the president’s name?

Yes, it should even be positive for the party and for the president. You know there was a time in this country, the ruling party never lose any state it had, because it would use everything to keep it but the president is somebody that believes that the people should vote according to their conscience. So, it’s both plus and minus for APC.

Minus in sense that the number of states they control is reducing, but plus in that there can be free and fair elections in Nigeria. With the power of coercion that is available to the party in power at the centre, if he wants to take all the states in the country, he can take but not under President Buhari.

What do you think is the most pressing legacy the president wants to leave behind?

Of course, it is going to be a complete basket. Free and fair elections, anti-corruption war, a secure country, revived economy. It is going to be a basket of goodies, so the president is working towards that basket.

Should the people be afraid of the president’s next moves since he once talked about the second tenure being tough?

Yes, criminals should be afraid. People who have abused trust should be afraid. People who have dipped their hands in public coffers should be afraid but anybody who has not done anything at all need not fear.

The president’s former boss and harshest critics, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has suddenly kept quiet. What does that mean to the presidency?

I don’t speak for Obasanjo.

But he has been criticising the president and the presidency has had cause to respond, but his sudden silence…

He has a right to be silent and he has a right to speak. It depends on him.

In the presidency, there are two spokespersons. You are the number one spokesman and there is an assistant. How does it works for the presidency?

Well, we have been able to work well. Four years down the line, we have worked together well. We have not had any issue that is unresolvable. Not a single issue. You know that it is possible two people will work like that and everyday you are settling them. We have not had any issue that anybody has had to settle. I am sure the president who appointed us has never heard that we were at loggerheads.

How were you able to overcome all that?

Well, I will just say it is the grace of God and I think too that it is a matter of maturity.You know if you look at the trajectory of the two of us, it’s similar. He (Garba Shehu), was a journalist who rose to become editor and then editor-in-chief.

I also became editor and editor-in -chief. He became President, Nigeria Guild of Editors. I also became, so we have the same background. We have a lot in common in terms of our career trajectory and that is why I think we could work together quite well.

There are people who feel that security around the presidency is so much as against the civilian population. Why is that so?

It depends on the state of the country. The state of the country at any given time determine how the presidency looks. If there are security challenges in the country like we have had even before the advent of this government, it is only natural to ensure that the security around the president is guaranteed.

We have visited countries where things are not so tight security –wise round their president. It reflects on the state of the country. Iam sure we will get to a point in Nigeria when things are better security-wise and then you will not see that kind of huge security apparatus.

What do we expect in the battle against Boko Haram and banditry in the country?

Wiping them out completely is what you can expect next.

People have been saying that would require some strategic shaking up of the security architecture. Are we expecting changes?

Yes, the president said it, that he kept them because it was not time. The time was not proper to have done it because of the security challenges. You don’t just make a change for the sake of change but when the time is ripe for a change, it’s the prerogative of the president to make that change.

Why do you think despite the fight against Boko Haram, it has refused to cease?

It’s the nature of insurgency. All over the world, insurgencies, take a while. The Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri-Lanka lasted for about 28 years, so the nature of insurgency is like that. They call it asymmetric war; it’s different from conventional warfare, it takes a while to end it but it will end.

When are we expecting the composition of the next cabinet? Is it May as you reportedly said?

No, I never said it will be before May.

I have heard it reported that you said it would be done by May

Before inauguration, he will dissolve the cabinet. That was what I said. And then post-inauguration, he will assemble a new cabinet.

People are anxious to know what the nature of the next cabinet will be like and when it will be made known. Hope it won’t be after six months

No! He himself has responded to that in a previous interview that it would not take as long as six months it took in the first term to assemble a cabinet. I am sure it will come in the shortest possible time.

Give us a hint into the pressure and lobbying for placement probably going on now.

Naturally, you know there will be such but you also know that President Buhari is not somebody that you can put unnecessary pressure on. You can mention things to him which he will listen to but you don’t mount pressure on him .He is someone that has a mind of his own.

So, you mean nobody will nominate his ministers for him?

He is the President. The buck will still stop on his table.

I asked this question because there is the feeling about a so-called cabal that decides what happens. It is even said that some of the appointments were not necessarily from the president but the cabal.

The buck stops at the table of the President. In assembling a new cabinet and a team for his second term in office, it would still be the same.

You seem to be dismissing the existence of the perceived cabal. Don’t they exist?

I am glad you used the word perceived. So that answers the question. It is a perception.

Seriously speaking..

The president himself responded to that question in America two years ago. He said he was the one that went round the country to campaign; he was the one elected president to run the country, so he doesn’t know of any cabal. The vice president himself has said he doesn’t know of any cabal, so if the two of them have said that, then as far as I’m concerned, cabal doesn’t exist.

I want you to give us your own impression about the president. This is because critics say he is a man driven by nepotism and militarisation. Tell us about the Buhari you know especially about the kind of appointments he has made.

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Some people would rather call the dog a bad name in order to hang it. They just want to believe the worst about other people. The President Buhari I know is a man that loves this country, passionate about Nigeria’s unity, passionate about the ordinary people, passionate about a country where the resources are used for the good of the people. He is a man that is devoted to his religion, but does not look down on other religions.

I am a Christian, the vice president is also a Christian. I remember our first year in office when it was a week to Christmas, I went to visit him at home. He was the one who told me, saying, “I know you are a Church person, (laughter) When it is Christmas time, go and be with your family. I will tell the vice president too to also take some time off. When you come back in January, I too will now take some time off.”

Voluntarily, he was the one who said that to me. And we all know, those of us who are his personal aides that when it comes to Christian holidays and festivals, he encourages us to take it and be with our families. And that is the same person some people call a religious bigot. I have been around him for four years, I have not seen any indication of bigotry.

Those who cast him in the mould of a religious bigot did that for political reasons, just to de-market him in certain parts of the country. He has beaten them in 2015, he has beaten them in 2019. (Laughs) So they know that they have failed.

When it comes to appointments, people often accuse him of appointing people close to him while other parts of the country are being marginalised.

When Obama fist became American president, do you know the people he appointed as his personal aides? Most of them were his college mates. Most of them were people he had known as a youth. So, you start from the known to the unknown particularly in terms of your personal aides. You appoint people you know.

And the president, in taking some decisions, particularly with the security agencies, goes for the brightest and the best. He doesn’t consider where you come from or your religion. He just looks at personal records and picks the best.

By coincidence, it may happen that they now come from the same part of the country but Mr president’s primary consideration is ability to do the job.

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