Femi Adesina is a deacon in the Foursquare Gospel Church of Nigeria. He is known in Christian circle for his passion for the spread of the gospel and his commitment to developmental causes. In this interview conducted online he shares the experience of his one year as the spokesman of President Mohammadu Buhari. Below are excerpts:
It is one year that you have been in government. How would you describe your experience so far as the spokesman of President Mohammadu Buhari?
Working in government is a new terrain. I had never done it before, indeed, I never thought it could ever happen. I accepted the offer because it came from a man I had always believed in, and still believe in. Therefore, believing in my principal keeps me going, even through thick and thin. Despite the turbulence, he will sail the ship of Nigeria to safe harbor.
What does the job actually entail?
My job entails conveying the mind of the President to the public on issues, informing them on his activities, expanding on those activities, defending him when necessary, and managing his image generally, so that he suffers no damage.
You came on board from a high pedigree, being the MD of a national newspaper and the President of the NGE; in comparative terms, what do you miss stepping aside from core journalism, and what are the exciting trends in your job in the presidency?
Yes, I miss active journalism, but the satisfaction one gets from the opportunity to serve one’s country more than compensates for it. Out of millions of Nigerians who qualify, I have been invited to be spokesman to the President. I should be thankful. I was reluctant to leave my job as Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Newspapers, and I had just been elected for second term as President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, but then, higher duty called, so I had to respond. I had advocated since 2003 that Muhammadu Buhari was the best candidate to be Nigerian President, so if he emerged finally in 2015, and he asked me to work with him, and I said no, it would have been hypocritical. Though I took much lower salary in consenting to serve, this is an assignment I could even do for free. It is about our country, and a future for our children, and generations yet unborn.
The president in the past one year have had very engaging times, what is a typical day like with the itinerary of the president in Aso Rock?
A typical day in the life of the President is determined by what he has to do for that day. He is a stickler for time, and if his day must begin at 7 a.m, or even earlier, you find him there right on time. But on a usual day, the first thing he does on getting to the office is to look at media highlights, which we would have prepared before he arrives. He goes through, and reads the newspapers in full later in the day. He takes scheduled activities, observing prayer hours in-between. And when he is done for the day, which is usually about 5 p.m, except there is any scheduled event, he goes home to rest. After prayer and dinner, he attends to people who have been booked to see him at home, and he does that till bedtime. Unless there are crucial meetings, which at times could last into the wee hours, the President does not keep very late nights. He is a very organized and methodical person.
You were not a politician, but now in the midst of politicians. How are you coping with the intrigues of politicians and the ‘cabals’ in government’? In what way would you describe the Nigerian politicians and how have you been able to cope with their nuances?
I work among politicians, but I am not one, at least not in terms of active partisan politics. So, I try to stay within my brief, which is media and publicity for the President. I do not have problem relating with politicians, because that is their calling, and I try to stay within my own calling. Politics is about management of intrigues. The more intrigue you can play, the better a politician you are. But that is not to say that there are no politicians who are altruistic. President Buhari is one. Altruism brought him into politics in the first place. There are good politicians, committed to serving the people. I pray we have more of that breed in the country.
A lingering concern by some people about PMB is that he has an Islamic agenda for Nigeria. How would you react to this sir? The Islamic conference that held for the first time in Nigeria, the Elrufai preaching bill, and the onslaught of Fulani herdsmen on communities give some people concern about whether Nigeria would not transcend to an Islamic nation under PMB watch, what is you take from the benefit of insight of your working relationship with PMB?
It is so very easy to fall into the bogey of an Islamic agenda, or a Christian agenda in Nigeria, depending on who is in power. It is one of the primordial fault lines in our country. Yes, every person has a right to defend his faith, but in President Buhari, I have never seen anything that bears the slightest affinity to religious extremism. A good number of his personal staff are Christians. Before the last Christmas, the President personally told me he would allow me some days off, so I could spend Christmas with my family. Is that a religious bigot? No. In fact, I have never seen anything with the slightest link to bigotry in him. When my mother passed away in 2013, and we held a commendation service for her in Lagos, the then Gen Buhari came, and sat through the Christian service. That is the man for you.
I think we have a problem of mindset in the country. It is a bogey of domination, which has made us paranoid about any faith that is not our own. For me, I fear no Islamic domination. I just want to be the best Christian I can be. When that happens, I spread the fragrance of Jesus Christ wherever I go, and I need not fear anything.
What exactly is the situation with the Aso Rock Chapel being relocated allegedly as a result of being too close to the president’s bedroom. What is the true position of things now?
The Aso Villa chapel was never relocated nor closed. I worshiped there two Sundays ago. The Vice President was there also. There are some people bent on sowing discord in the polity, and they were the ones behind rumour that the chapel was closed down. Nothing of such happened.
Many believe the APC led government has not been sincere about what it promised Nigerians. There are denials about the N5000 largess promised the Unemployed. The free meal for primary school students is yet to take off. What are your perspectives about this?
The promise to pay N5, 000 to the poorest of the poor in the country is already captured in the 2016 Budget, so it is fait accompli. The promise was not for unemployed graduates, as being erroneously interpreted. It is called conditional cash transfer. Free meals for pupils is also work in progress. The government has a 48 months mandate, it has just spent 12. There is more to come.
In what way would you articulate the achievements of the present government since it came to power?
To determine achievements, you ask yourself what promises have been made, and what has been delivered. The All Progressives Congress (APC) government headed by President Buhari promised to secure the country, revive the economy (with emphasis on job creation) and also fight corruption. One year down the line, the successes are clear.
On security, we knew what the situation was in May last year. Boko Haram was running riot round the country. Today, the war has been largely won, with mopping up going on. The insurgency will ultimately become history.
Other forms of criminalities like pipeline vandalism, herdsmen/ farmers clashes, kidnapping, armed robbery, etc are being handled. Security is key for this government. The President keeps saying you can’t effectively administer a country you have not secured, and that is true.
On job creation, with the emphasis on agriculture and solid minerals, a large number of opportunities will be made available. Our youths will be gainfully engaged, and the economy will be diversified, breaking the age-long dependence on petroleum.
And of course, the anti- corruption war is well and alive. Critics may say there are no convictions yet, but the executive does not convict. That is the duty of the legislature. But discerning Nigerians, and the international community know that there is no friend, no foe in the battle against graft in Nigeria. And our President is widely respected for it.
What lessons have you leant in this one year. Have these lessons robbed off on your philosophy about life?
Life is a school. You never graduate from it till your time is up. I have learnt a number of lessons from the time I’ve spent in government. But the most important is that a people get the type of country they work for. No matter how good a government is, if it is pulling in one direction, and the people are pulling in another direction, then it will end in futility. We must sink primordial differences, eschew ill will, and work for a prosperous Nigeria.
One of the highpoints of this government is its fight against corruption. While many Nigerians commend the fight, some believe the fight targeted at rubbishing the Jonathan administration. How will you react to this? Some believe the corruption fight seems to be about campaigns and funding of the PDP presidential elections. This gives an indication of a vendetta. What is your take on this?
Anybody that says the corruption war is meant to rubbish former President Goodluck Jonathan or the PDP is not being sincere with himself. If you don’t eat sour grapes, your teeth cannot be set on edge. But anybody that has questions to answer must be ready for it, no matter who the person is.
We hear of some incredible amount of money discovered in the houses of past government officials and about huge sums of money being refunded. Going by the figures being bandied around; one would have thought that Nigeria need not borrow to finance its current budget. What exactly is the true situation of things on recovered loots?
The President has promised that a time will come when an account will be given on recovered loot. Let Nigerians be patient till that time.
With what you have seen so far, don’t you think without proper restructuring of Nigeria we will still be going in circles?
Restructuring is not just physical. It is also economic, and in other dimensions. The Buhari government is on economic restructuring, other forms are still on the way.
Will PMB consider some of the issues of the last constitutional conference under President Jonathan?
The President will speak on the constitutional conference when necessary. A spokesman does not speak of his own. He says only what his principal tells him.
You have been credited with the coinage of calling some people wailing wailers, does that supposed to mean this government is opposed to people wailing?
Woe unto the country that does not have critics. Things will go awry in such land. Criticism is meant to help government perform better. But when some people are determined to see nothing good in a government, and keep wailing and concocting lies in the process, then they need to be pitied. The people I call wailing wailers have resolved to see nothing positive in the Buhari administration, but I pity them. They will wail in vain, lose their voices in the process, and eat their words at the end of the day. This government will perform, and perform brilliantly.
PMB’s foreign trips have been variously criticized. When should Nigerians expect the benefit of these trips. What are the concrete benefits so far?
Benefits of the foreign trips are multifarious. They include better security climate in the country, as we got armaments, training helps for our military, intelligence etc. We also have investments in various sectors, with China alone yielding investment benefits in excess of 6 billion dollars. You also have support for the anti-corruption war from United Arab Emirates, and many other countries. Above all, the respectability of Nigeria has increased many notches in the international arena. We have a President with integrity and huge brand equity as chief marketer of the country.
Your retinue of friends would probably have multiplied several times over. Some would have been pressuring you for favours especially friends, relatives and associates. How do you cope?
The essence of life is to be of help to humanity. As many as God helps me to be a blessing to, I am glad to do it
What has been the experiences managing people? How do you manage to respond to every mail. I know people who had never met you who told me it did not take you time to respond to their mails; even facebook mails. How do you do this effectively.
I believe it is part of good breeding to respond to calls as much as practicable, return the ones you must inevitably miss when you are at meetings, respond to emails, and other forms of communication. It would be unseemly not to do so, and as a Christian, I strive to do the right things at all times. As much as it lies in my power, I want to remain as accessible as possible. It is the proper thing to do as a communications person.
The change mantra is what brought this government on board, but with one year gone, citizens have not yet seen the expected change. Can you put a time frame to when Nigerians can look forward to the good times going by the current economic woes?
Change will come to Nigeria. It has begun to happen. The administration has a 4-year mandate. A lot of the changes will be seen within that period. It is as sure as night follows the day.