- Reveals How Presidency Copes With ‘Social Media Terrorism’
Chief Femi Adesina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity was in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State recently. (This was when his Principal was away on a 10-day leave). He paid a scheduled visit to the corporate headquarters of PMParrot.com/PMParrotng.com and Parrot Xtra Glossy Magazine, located at Oni & Sons Bus Stop, Ring Road. The former MD of The Sun Newspaper was engaged by a team of reporters ably led by the Editor-in-Chief, OLAYINKA AGBOOLA and WOLE ADEJUMO. The soft-spoken presidential spokesman answered questions on various issues in the country including the recent sack of the Director of the State Security Service as well as the certificate issue involving the Finance Minister. Excerpts:
To some people, The Presidency has been quiet on pertinent issues, for instance there is this issue of the NYSC Certificate of the Minister for Finance, Kemi Adeosun, the invasion of the National Assembly, would you agree that the presidency has been quiet, and if you do why the quietness?
What does it mean to be quiet? To be quiet means, you didn’t talk. But hasn’t the Presidency talked about those two matters, we must talk. On the certificate saga, Alhaji Lai Muhammed who speaks for government has spoken that the agency in charge, which is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) says it is investigating and when it is ready with its findings, it would be unfolded to Nigerians, so you can’t call that quiet. Then the blockade of the National Assembly, immediately, there was a statement condemning it and there was an action that followed the occurrence, so you cannot also describe that as quiet.
There are insinuations in some quarters that the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, not being a substantive President is not in a position to fire the DSS DG appointed by the substantive President without the National Assembly’s approval. Do you think the action of the Acting President was not sub-judicial?
It is ignorance, when power is transferred; everything about that power is also vested in the person who got the power transferred. An Acting President has all the powers of a substantive president. And talking about the National Assembly, National Assembly did not confirm the DSS DG. That position is not subject to confirmation by the National Assembly; it is the president that has the prerogative to appoint the DG of SSS and somebody that has been vested with the power of the President can also act in the same way.
Looking ahead to the 2019 general election, the President seems to have acquired ‘enemies’, especially on social media platforms, people tend to express different opinions, almost everything the President says gets twisted, what do you make of this sir?
According to the latest population figure, in Nigeria, we are 198 million, you can’t expect 198 million people to think in the same way and move in the same direction all the times, but what matters is for majority of that number to at least cooperate with government. And I can assure you that majority of Nigerians are with the President. Those who slant everything he says, and wail on social media are people I can call the vocal minority. They are a minority but they are very vocal, when they are making all the noise and shouting, you will think 10 million people are making it and they may not be up to 10,000. They are the vocal minority. What they do is what I call terrorism of the social media but this government will refuse to be terrorized.
There is an allegation from Nigerians about Mr. President being too slow to act on some major issues, taking into consideration, the issue of Kemi Adeosun, Babachir Lawal, and the NNPC head, especially as Nigerians expected him as an anti-corruption crusader to take decisive actions on some cases, do you think the President is being too slow as being alleged by some Nigerians?
Well, what some Nigerians consider as slow is what I call painstaking; the President is a painstaking fellow. It is better to be painstaking and get things right than to be fast and rash and make mistakes; because in Nigeria once you make a mistake and you discipline somebody who is not guilty, Nigerians are not ready to hear any other thing. So before the President takes a step that will lead to discipline or that will lead to dismissal, he takes his time and he makes sure that, that person is truly guilty of what he has been accused of. The President takes his stand and does things calm and in a collected manner.
How does President Buhari feel when he discovers or is shown potent evidence or evidences that this person is corrupt or anybody around him is corrupt?
The President is the Chief Security officer of the country; he gets a lot of security reports. But one thing about him is when he gets a security report about anything that tends towards corruption, he ensures that it is investigated and is doubly investigated before he makes a move. Because if he makes a move before it is confirmed then he has been unjust to that person. One thing the President does not like is to have done injustice to anybody. I hear that from him a lot, he will say “if I do this now, have I not been unjust to this person?” That is why he takes his time but once it is confirmed, then he can take a decision.
So you are saying the war against corruption is still very much on course?
If you don’t have skeletons in your cupboard, you have nothing to fear. The war is very well on course and is alive.
But without deploying funds from corrupt people, how does he intend to fund his second term election?
He got into office without access to official funds because people who believed in him supported him. This time also, people are already supporting him in different ways. The money that he needs will come, he got it without being in office, Now that he is in office, he will have many more people who are willing to donate towards his second term.
There are allegations that PDP members are being wooed by the APC and this has apparently been confirmed with the recent resignation of Senator Godswill Akpabio as Senate Minority Leader and his defection to APC. Many people attributed the development to Mr President’s desperation for second term, how true is this allegation?
Now, let me give you an example, about fourteen or fifteen senators decamped to PDP and the President says I am going on holiday two days after, is that a desperate man? If he was desperate, he would have stayed in the country and rolled out the treasury so that he can buy as many senators as possible. This shows that for him, his position as the President is about service to the country.
Could it be that the President was shocked?
Shocked? Do you just decide to go on a holiday on the spur of the moment? It was something he had planned for long before the issue of mass cross-carpeting of Senators took place.
Let’s talk about the present situation of the country. Before the Buhari presidency, what was in vogue was the Boko Haram issue, now we are talking about herdsmen, bandits and kidnapping especially in the North Central zone of the country, do you think the President has been proactive in tackling these challenges?
Recently, we rolled out what the government has done on the security situation; I would like to refer you to that statement in which we gave account of what the President has done particularly from January of this year when all the killings started, starting with the response of the police, then to the military as well as other security operatives in the country, we outlined all these. It is not as if the President has not responded, he has responded. But one thing about security is that if people are determined not to live together, there is no government that can keep them together. There is no way the government can enforce security. This means that the people themselves have a role to play in ensuring that the country is secure. The constitution says that the security of lives and properties is the responsibility of the government, but it is made easier if the people themselves are willing to live together. If you see your brother as an enemy or as a stranger and refuse to live peacefully with him, and you say this is my land, you cannot stay here, then you are contributing to the insecurity.
I will be going a bit personal now, your job puts you in a position to be ‘attacked’ on social media, how have you been coping? Secondly, working with President Muhammadu Buhari must have taken some things from you, what are those things?
Well, the first one, the social media, I have learnt to ignore. You see that when they start wailing on social media, you don’t hear me say a word because they will get tired after some time and indeed, they get tired and move to something else, so, I don’t respond to them when they begin to wail. This is because in a country of 198 million people such is expected, and for some people, they just do it for the sake of doing it, they don’t truly believe in what they are saying.
Some just look for somebody, a public figure who they can hit; they are wasting their time because for me it’s like water off the duck’s back. Secondly, working with President Buhari; I took on this assignment out of conviction. When I was invited to serve as the Special Adviser, Media, I didn’t quite need a job because I was in a comfort zone professionally. When I was invited, if not for the person of the President, I wouldn’t have taken it. If someone else had invited me, I would have said thank you but no. But because President Muhammadu Buhari is somebody I had admired right from his days as the military Head of State – that is why I took it. And of course, the assignment has taken a lot from me. Go and find out what government pays, and then go and find out what I used to earn as the Managing Director of a newspaper company, about one third of my salary is what I earn now. And again this is an administration that doesn’t throw money around. There were some administrations that money was just flowing around but in this administration, money is prudently spent. Yes, it has taken a lot away from me, but I am happy.
I know you are not a partisan person but maybe working with the President has made you a little partisan. APC won in the Kogi bye-election and also in Kastina contrary to the speculations that the goodwill of the President is dwindling. Do you think the President can now rest and be assured that the 2019 presidential election is his for the taking?
Well, politics, particularly elective office is always a contest and in a contest, you don’t rule out the opposition no matter how confident you are. Don’t rule out your opposition, don’t be over confident. Come 2019, by the grace of God, the President will win, he will win with a wider margin than the one of 2015. However, the opposition is not being underrated or ruled out.
What is giving you that confidence?
The confidence is that the people are with him, particularly the ordinary people. Those that are kicking and wailing are those I call the vocal minority, who have access to social media, they don’t even vote during elections. As I said earlier, we cannot do anything about it. Did you read the report about what happened in Bauchi State? The women who went to vote, they kissed the ballot paper and said ‘Sai Baba’ before casting their votes. Those were the real voters and they are in millions. There was a time that there was a lot of wailing on social media about the youths being lazy or not, a week after that when the President visited Bauchi State – I have never seen a crowd like that in my life and you know what? 70 to 80 percent of the crowd were youths, yet some people were boasting that the youths are angry, the youths will show him… It is easy for people to sit in a little cozy corner and start making threats but they will be surprised.
Can you give a graphic description of how your schedule is and how President Buhari runs through his typical day?
For me, my personal day is determined by the schedule of the President; till the President closes I don’t close. Before the President traveled, there was no day that we closed before 11pm because of the numerous political meetings. The President gets to the office between nine and 10am. The first thing he does is to read the news highlights for the day. This means that before 10am the news highlights should be on his table. He so much depends on the news highlights that he may afford not to read the newspapers again, when he reads something in the news highlights and he needs further information, he then picks the newspaper. He reads the news highlights to be abreast of what is happening in the polity. If you see that picture I took with him on the plane the day he was traveling you will see the number of newspapers on his table; that is a president that is abreast of whatever that is happening in the country. After that we have his schedule for the day, meetings based on minutes allotted for the day, and then he observes his prayers between 1:30pm and 1:45pm. After that we have another scheduled meetings till evening when he closes. And of course Wednesdays, that is when we have the Federal Executive Council meeting. Once we start at eleven, we may not leave until five, he doesn’t even break for prayers on such days; that is how he runs his schedule. One thing about the President is that, once he closes from the office, he sees very few people at home, when he gets home, he rests a while, observes prayers and then he goes for dinner. He is such an organized person, he sees very few people because he must have his rest, he must reflect on what happened during the day, he also takes files home. He is such a methodical and organized person. He is also very time conscious – this, I think he got from the discipline he got as a military officer.
When it is time for the Federal Executive Council meeting, at the dot of the hour he is there and immediately he steps in, the doors are locked and nobody can enter again. I will tell you an experience to link it with the respect the President has for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. One day the President was hosting some APC leaders to dinner and Asiwaju had sent a message that he would be 15 minutes late. The President had entered and all the doors had been locked. The President beckoned to me and told me to tell those at the door that the Asiwaju had sent a message earlier that he would be 15 minutes late and he should be allowed in when he comes. It is hardly done; when the door is locked, it is locked. It shows you that he even bent the rule for Asiwaju that night. He is a stickler for time.
How difficult is it for you to project the Mr. President’s chances putting into consideration the security and economic policies?
Not very difficult, the economy is turning, it is looking up. Things are better than they have ever been. We know that the Nigerian economy slowed down from 2012; by 2016 it went into recession. That recession only lasted a year and this shows that a lot of work was done within that one year and all the indices are positive now. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other agency have given positive forecast for the Nigerian economy and the intention is that by 2019 there will be seven percent growth in the Nigerian economy which is a lot. So, economically things are looking up. On the issue of security, you know that one of the strongest achievements of this administration is security. And then some hidden hostile hands connived to ensure that they puncture this achievement in the soft underbelly. So, security challenges, yes some are there while some are deliberately man-made and some are products of hostility and power play. Does the government have the capacity to solve the security problems? Yes, it has and they will be solved.
For media people in the Southwest, what message do you have for them?
Yes, media people are the same everywhere but I know they talk about the Lagos, South West as the hub of media practice in Nigeria. I will just say that they should keep at it. The economic environment affected the media but as the economy is looking up, it will also affect the media positively and things will get better.