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On Tuesday, January 16, the public presentation of the book, Working with Buhari, written by Mr Femi Adesina, former presidential spokesman during the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will take place in Abuja.

In this interview with Saturday Sun, Adesina, a past president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), said the book details his experience as presidential spokesman for eight years, as well as the soft side of former President Buhari.

Adesina, who is also former Managing Director /Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Limited, added that the book talks about things the public don’t know about the former President. He spoke with NDUBUISI ORJI.

Your book, Working with Buhari will be formally presented to the public, next week. What is it about?

Well as the headline implies, my experience working with the President of the country between 2015 and 2023. I felt that the book needed to be done. One, because you find out that globally, when journalists serve in the kind of position I had served, they document their experience. It is the right thing to do.

Two, I felt it needed to be done, because the Buhari I knew and got to know better, is not the Buhari a lot of Nigerians think they know. Therefore, that book needed to be written for them to know the real Buhari. How he thinks. What motivates him. What are his passions? The things people don’t know about him; that is what you will get if you read the book.

When you lay your hands on it, read the preface. It will tell you that the book is not about economic policy; monetary policy, foreign policy, hardcore of government. Rather it is about the software of Buhari as a person; not the hardcore. So, those are the things that motivated me to write.

A lot of persons think that the Buhari they knew prior to his assumption of office was not the same Buhari they saw as President. They were sort of disappointed.

I asked the President that question and he answered it. He was aware that some people said they preferred General Buhari to President Buhari. The Buhari they knew was a 42-year-old Major General. Iron fisted. And he had a number two and a kindred spirit- Tunde Idiagbon, who was of the same mind. So, you see, they ruled the country with a rod of iron, because it was the military. That government was terminated.

Buhari came back 30 years later. Older. More mature, and more tempered. A 42-year-old man to a 73-year-old man.  There is a wide gap. He had been to prison. He had seen communism collapse. He had become a democrat. And all sorts. So there was a big difference. And that accounted for the new Buhari they saw.

Under military rule, he needed to just give the word and it was done. In a democracy, it is not that way. It has to go through the processes. Therefore, decision making and actuality of those decisions could not be the same thing. It was a Buhari who was a democrat. It was a Buhari who had been tempered by age, and like old wine, tastes much better. It was a Buhari who was more experienced and it was a Buhari who couldn’t be as ruthless as he was in his first coming. That is why a lot of people feel, well, the Buhari that was GMB – General Muhammadu Buhari – was better than Buhari who became PMB- President Muhammadu Buhari. But what they should understand is that the milieu was not the same. The military milieu was completely different from the civilian milieu.

If he hadn’t become a true democrat, they are the same ones that will be complaining that  “this man has not changed”. “He has even got worse”. “He is still an autocrat”. So, naturally, when the drumbeat changes, the dance step should also change. Even the clothing changed. Under the first Buhari, it was khaki. With the second Buhari, it was babariga.Ezoic

What have you to say in terms of his delivery on his promises, the promises the APC made, when he was coming into office in 2015? Fighting corruption, stabilising the economy, security, and so on? Many Nigerians think that nothing changed about these challenges in the eight years of the Buhari administration?

Those who think that the security challenges grew worse will not be honest with themselves. By the time Buhari came, bombs went off three, four, five times a day in this country. By the time he left, did you still hear of bombs going off? The security challenges in terms of bombing churches, mosques, schools and all that were few and far between. So, anybody that says they were worse is not being honest.

Yes, the security challenges were there. Not totally surmounted. But they had been drastically reduced. Every country has security challenges. Nigeria had peculiar ones. When President Buhari came, insurgency was the main thing. Later, it became hydra-headed. Kidnapping joined. Banditry came. Herdsmen joined. The security challenges became hydra-headed. How much can a country take on at a particular time?

No leader will come and decide to inflict anguish on his people. No. A leader is there to tackle issues. And as much as possible, Buhari tackled all these hydra-headed challenges. Anybody that says the security situation was worse than when he came in is not being truthful. Because we know what the security situation was. Nigeria was being completely overrun by 2015. Boko Haram was in North East, it was in North West. It was in North Central. It was in Abuja. Abuja was being serially bombed. You had Nyanya one. Nyanya two bombings. People couldn’t go to recreation spots again.

In churches you had to be frisked and security gadgets used on you before you entered. The same with mosques. Anybody that wants to be honest will admit that that security challenge had been tackled to a great extent. It was not completely eliminated; but it was reduced to a large extent. That is security.

Economy. You may talk of the dollar. Dollar will always respond to certain things, particularly how you get forex. If you don’t produce, you don’t export and you don’t earn forex, how do you keep the dollar under control?Ezoic

When Jonathan was in government, in the latter years, oil rose to as high as 144 dollars per barrel. At a point it stabilised at 100 dollars per barrel. When Buhari came in, it dropped to 37 dollars per barrel, and it stayed there for several months, if not more than a year.

Later, when it appreciated a little, COVID came and it dropped further. It dropped to 20-something dollars per barrel. All these facts are there for you to confirm. Therefore, if a country does not earn foreign exchange, how does it control its currency against foreign exchange, particularly the dollar?

One good thing the administration did was diversifying the economy, which had been a mantra since 1960. It became a reality under Buhari. Every government before his own had always said, ‘we will diversify the economy.’ It just remained at the level of promise. Under Buhari, it happened. He paid so much attention to agriculture that agriculture became the mainstay of the Nigerian economy.

When you look at the GDP of Nigeria, oil began to contribute less than 10 per cent, in fact, nine per cent to the GDP. Oil that used to be 80 something percent of the GDP before, began to contribute less than 10 per cent of our GDP. That is diversification.  The economy was diversified away from oil. Agriculture came in. ICT came in; contributed a big part of our GDP. Even manufacturing inched up a little, responding to some policy approaches of the administration.

After Buhari’s tour of duty, some of his ministers are seen as not as clean as they should be. For instance, the former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, under the Buhari administration has been a guest of the EFCC. And the former president was known for not sacking anybody no matter how bad the person is perceived to have done in office.

There were 42 ministers – 42 in the first term, 42 in the second term. How many of them have been questioned? How many of them have been brought to answer questions?  To the best of my knowledge, one or two. 

Even two in 42 does not qualify as ‘some.’ That is the mentality of Nigerians – they just want to demonise any administration. Tar it with the brush of corruption. Which is not correct. And the fact that a person, a former minister is brought in for questioning does not immediately stereotype that person as being corrupt, except in Nigeria.

When you serve in public office, you must be ready to give account at any given time.  Being called to give account does not mean that you have become corrupt. But in Nigeria, once you are invited, haaa, she is corrupt.’

Journalists are the ones that need to be in the vanguard of changing this mindset. When you are called to answer questions, if you are found culpable or there is a prima facie case established against you, you go to court. Until the court finishes the processes and there is a judgment delivered, you can’t say that person is corrupt. In Nigeria, once you are called for questioning, you are done for.

A lot of people hold the view that serving in the Buhari administration as his spokesman diminished you as a professional. How would you react to that?

You said ‘a lot of’. Show me your scientific survey. Show me your sample size. Show me the conclusions, then we will be sure that it’s ‘a lot of people.’ I have not seen your survey. And I don’t think you have any survey. You just heard some beer parlour comments and gossips, perhaps, and then you said ‘a lot of.’

Some people may have their opinion. They have a right to it. I am Femi Adesina, a journalist that went into the Buhari administration and came back the same. The same. I still remain the Femi Adesina that I was, eight years after I went in. I came out unscathed, to the glory of God.

With the benefit of hindsight, were there things you did in office, as spokesman to the President that you regretted or you wished you had done differently?Ezoic

Nobody does everything perfect all the time. That is one thing I want to establish. Nobody does everything perfect at all times. So, with the benefit of hindsight, you begin to say could I have done this better? Could I have done this thing this way, instead of that way?Ezoic

But in terms of regret, that is a strong word. I can’t think of anything I did that I will say I regretted. No. I did all that I did according to conviction, and according to how I felt they should be done at that time. So, nothing I recall now that I will say II regret. No. Regret is a very strong word. I can’t recall anything.

Even those who began to make noise and to condemn every move of the President that I described as wailing wailers, I still do not regret it. Because that is what they were. They kept wailing. They forgot that it was our country. And when a man has been elected, he has been  elected. They can’t wish him away. They have to just do their best to give him support. Give him encouragement for the sake of our country.

The author, Femi Adesina

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