EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘The cabal doesn’t exist’ – Femi Adesina

Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to  Nigeria’s President Muhammadu on Media and Publicity, in this interview with Newsdiaryonline in his office at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Friday March 29, 2019 gives intriguing insights into  his experience in office since 2015.He also  speaks passionately about the Buhari he knows.He cautions that truly those who have criminal records  have every reason to be afraid of Buhari’s second term,but those who have done nothing wrong need not fear.The presidential spokesman  is particularly dismissive of the existence of the cabal in the Buhari Presidency. Excerpts #TrackNigeria

By Danlami Nmodu, mni

Q: I thought we should start by reflecting on your experience as the Presidential Spokesman from 2015 till today,we are moving towards the end of this first term.I will like to have  share your experience some  experience with us,what has it been like.Some have said it’s a thankless job,some said it is worth doing serving the nation.Let’s get your perspective.

A: 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 here

Q:The man who calls you Kulikuli

A(Laughs) He calls me Kulikuli because he had known me well  before I came here. He saw me , he 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.For him to say this job you have come to do is thankless but with you, it will not be so.For me, it was very prophetic.And about 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, by God’s grace, that difference will be very clear.Therefore, speaking for the President in the past four  years, I would say yes is something worthwhile and fulfilling  to me..Okay, 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 the job.(Laughs again)I would never. 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.

Q: But I also know that there are critics of yours who say that you can do better; that you and Mallam Garba Shehu, you are being constrained by the Buhari persona, who is apparently not friendly with the press and is not allowing  you to blossom, the way you should be. Your reaction to this.

A: 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(laughs aloud  again).You will become a problem to that man, if you don’t condition the way you work round his personality.If he wants to keep quiet and you are there shouting and  making noise and saying things out of tune, then 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 and saying everything, you will become a problem to that man.Therefore, you must tailor your strategy round the persona of your principal.

Q: Interesting! So those who are saying ,ah, what is wrong with Garba Shehu and Femi  Adesina, they are  particularly wrong?

A: They don’t know.It is because they don’t know.We can pardon them.They are outsiders, they don’t know(Laughs) We are the ones that know our principal and we know what to say,when to say it ,how to say it.

Q: This your reaction to what I have just said leads me to what I feel and what some people have told me,you are some how,maybe a reflection of your character:avuncular ..And probably priestly

A:Interjects with laughter

Q:.. In your approach to being a presidential spokesman

A (Laughs) Well, that should be virtues .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.It is not a negative.It is positive.So if you add that to whatever you do,I think, it’s added value rather than negative.

Q: For the records, because, people will always come to this office.Which is the best approach: being combative, or being moderate, being avuncular or being priestly?

A: I think it is eclectic, a little bit of everything.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 another thing, they will start calling you an attack dog, which is not good for anybody.

Q: It’s is not good to be anybody’s attack dog?

A: No ,no, why should you be? And our President does not want an attack dog. He does not even need one.By his persona, by his style,by his make up, an attack dog, an attack dog would do him more harm than good.He just wants somebody that is sober, that is temperate,that does things properly.That is what our president needs.So your strategy should be a combination of all those  you have mentioned combative when you need to be,but not rudely combative,not negatively combative.Then when you need to use any style, it depends on what is on the table at that time.If you become permanent or   stuck in your style, that is not good.Rather, you should be ecclectic using what is relevant at each period of time.

Q:Let’s come to the issue of the (2019) election now.It has come and  gone and President has been declared the winner.The feeling has been that of joy and all of that.But what  do you think that means to the government and the country ?

A: What it means to the country is the consolidation of the good work that has started.What it means to the country is a better reputation among the comity of nations.Imagine the kind of reputation that Nigeria has built in the past four years,and then, that suddenly being eroded.From the reputation (of)  Nigeria being led by a man of integrity to a man of integrity and a man of accountability to a country suddenly being led by a man with many question marks. No, I think that would not have been good for Nigeria.And..

Q You mean voting Atiku would not have been good for Nigeria?

A: No,.. I didn’t mention anybody’s name.I said voting a man with question marks.Atiku was not the only presidential candidate that ran against the president.There  were about 72 others..I would say it’s a good thing that the president has won.

Q: But the President has also  promised that the second term will be tough.Was that a good thing to say?

A:There were some manipulation in what the president meant was that the second term will be challenging.That is what he meant in the actual sense of the word.But the media deliberately twisted it to mean  tough as in hard.As tough as in hardship.But no, it was on challenging

Q: But sir, he used the word “tough”

A: Yes now, 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.That I have to leave a good legacy.I have to leave Nigeria better than I met in 2015,so Iam going to put everything into it.So, for me, it’s going to be a tough second term.

Q: But as we prepare for the second term,we are having the Atiku challenge as in going to  tribunal.What does that mean?

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

Q:So the regime is not bothered about it?

A:No, no no.Not at all.It’s within hhis democratic rights.Like you know I used to work with Orji Uzor Kalu.Whenever anybody threatened to sue us,in the newspaper, 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.He can go.The court will still do what is right and fair and just.

Q: And you believe the President will triumph?

A: The President won that election  clean and clear with a wide margin of  over 4 million votes.It’s unquestionable.

Q:But if the president won clean an clear like most of us believe,what does APC losing some states (during the gubernatorial poll) mean?

A:APC losing some states is regrettable. But the fact that those states were lost without the use of Federal Might..

Q: And without the use of the President’s name?

A: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 lost 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 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 it.But not under President Buhari.

Q:From what you have said, I want to ask this:what do you think is the most pressing legacy the president wants to leave behind?Free and free elections or ant-corruption war?

A: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.

Q:I have heard it said that some people are sitting on the edge of their chairs because they don’t know what the president will do next because of the “tough” pronouncement and the possibility of strengthened anti-corruption war.Should people be afraid?

A: Yes, the 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.

Q: I have also heard it said that one of the President’s former bosses and one of his harshest critics,former President Olusegun Obasanjo has suddenly (relatively) kept quiet. What does that mean to the Presidency?

A: I don’t speak for Obasanjo.

Q: Yes, I know. But he has been bashing the president and the presidency has had cause to respond.But his sudden silence..

A: He has a right to be silent. And he has a right to (speak).It depends on him.

Q: Maybe I shouldn’t end this without asking this:There are two spokesmen.You are the number one spokesman,and there is an assistant.How does it work?Does it bode well for the presidency?

A: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 that it is possible two people will work there  like that and everyday you are settling them.We have not had any issue that anybody has had to settle  us.And Iam sure the President who appointed us  has not heard that we are at loggerheads.

Q: How come you have been able to work so well?

A:Well I will just say grace of God and I think too,maturity.You know if you look at the trajectory of the two of us,it’s similar.He (Garba Shehu) journalist who rose to become editor and then editor-in-chief.I journalist that became editor and editor-in -chief. He became President,Nigeria Guild of Editors.I also became President, Nigeria Guild of Editors.

Q: That is Mallam Garba Shehu

A: Yes, so we have a lot in common in terms of our career trajectory.And,that is why, I think one of the reasons we can work together quite well.

Q:Wow! And I also need to get some clarifications, because it is not all the time you get the opportunity of speaking with the Presidential spokesman.There are those who believe that Presidency, not necessarily under the Buhari government alone, that the Presidency has become over securitized.The presidency is more like a security environment;that there ought to be more civilianization and democratization of the structures of the Presidency.Educate us.

A:It depends on the state of the country. The state of the country at any given time would 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 th security of 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 now see that kind of  huge security apparatus.

Q; Now talking about security,what next do we expect in the battle against Boko Haram and bandits in other places?

A:Wiping them out.Wiping them out completely.That is what you expect next.

Q:People have been saying that would require some strategic shaking up of the leaders of the security architecture.Do we expect changes?

A: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.When the time is also proper to make a change –  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.

Q: Why do you think somehow,Boko Haram,particularly,  has refused to  just disappear despite all (that  has gone into the batte)?

A: It’s the nature of insurgency.All over the world,insurgencies, take a while.The Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri-Lankalasted for about 28 years.So the nature of insurgency is like that.They call it asymmetric war,it’s different from conventional warfare. So it takes a while to end it.But will it end? Yes, it will end.

Q:I know you have been asked this question but I want to ask again.Buhari’s next  cabinet,when do we have them.You have said maybe  before May.

A:No, no,I never said it will be before May.

Q: I have heard  it reported that you said it maybe by May

A: That yes, before inauguration, he will dissolve cabinet.That is what I said. And then post-inauguration, he will assemble a new cabinet.

Q:So people are anxious to know what the nature of the next cabinet will be like and when it will be made known,certainly not up to the next six months like ..

A:No no, he himself has responded to that in a previous interview , that it will not take as long as  six months it took in the first term to assemble a cabinet.Iam sure it will come in the shortest possible time

Q:Give us a hint or insight into the pressure now.Lobbying and all of that.

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

Q:So nobody will appoint his ministers for him?

A:He is  the President.The buck will still stop at his table.

Q: You know why I asked this question above? Because there is the feeling that there is a so-called cabal, that is deciding what happens.Some even suspect that some of the appointments we are having over the years are not necessarily from the President but from the cabal.

A:The buck stops at the table of the President.And in assembling a new cabinet and a team for his second term in office, the buck stops at his table .

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

A: Iam glad that you used the word perceived.So that answers the question.It is a perception(Laughs aloud)

Q:No no ,no,

A:It is a perception

Q: Seriously speaking..

A: The president himself responded to that question in America,I think about two years ago.He said he was the one that went round the country to campaign.He was the one elected president.He is the one running 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, the cabal doesn’t exist.

Q: The cabal doesn’t exist?

A: As far as Iam concerned, because my principal has said there is nothing like that.The vice President has said there is nothing like that.

Q:I know you have worked too  hard today, let me ask the last question

A:(Laughs again)

Q: ..I want you to give us your own impression of who the president is.Because the critics have made us believe that  the president is a man who is driven by nepotism,by militarization and all of that.Please,tell us about the Buhari you know.

A:You know some people

Q: And they seem to argue because of the kind of appointments he has made.

A: 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.Iam a Christian.The Vice President is 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,I know you are a Church person,(laughs)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,to try 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.

Q: And when it comes to appointments, people are watching to see where they come from.Quite often, they accuse him of appointing people close to him,..that other parts of the country are being marginalized.

A:You see 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 then the president, in taking some decisions, particularly with the security agencies,,he goes for the brightest and the best.He doesn’t consider where you are from,he doesn’t consider your religion.He just looks at personal records and picks the best.Coincidentally, it may happen that they now come from the same part of the country.But what is Mr.President’s primary consideration is  ability to do the job.

Q: I have seen you under pressure throughout the day,for instance today. But somehow, you still have the energy to laugh.How does it help you?

A(Laughs aloud) I thinks it’s my make up.That’s just the way Iam.That’s the way God has made me.(Laughs again)

Q:It helps you to suppress all the pressure?

A: O yes, I think.I think, how you respond to pressure also depends on your disposition to life.My disposition to life is just to take everything easy….