Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, was a guest on Channels TV, where he spoke on the controversy surrounding President Muhammadu Buhari’s health, efforts to get Nigeria out of recession and other issues of national interest. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, who monitored the session, brings excerpts:
Q: The president travelled and one is curious because he left earlier than scheduled, contrary to what the president said in the letter that he transmitted to the National Assembly and the press release issued by your office. Two days after he left, there were negative reports about his health. What is the true state of the president’s health?
A: The true state of the president’s health is that he is not ill. I have been in touch with the president and the people around him today, just as I was also, yesterday. The president is not ill, the president is fine. Don’t forget, the statement we issued said he was going on holiday and during that holiday, he will do medical checkups. The sequence is very important. Holiday first; medical checkup second but Nigerians want to turn the sequence as medical checkup first instead of holiday first. It’s a holiday. He is 74. Even if you are not 74, you need to check your health. So, there is nothing wrong with the president. He is hale and hearty.
Q: A lot of Nigerians are wondering that the president has severally gone to seek medical attention overseas. What is your take on that?
A: When you say severally, you make it appear as if it is every other month. It’s been twice. Severally could be two and above but it’s just two.
Q:Even if it is two, one will be wondering why the president will be seeking medical attention overseas. Does it mean the Aso Rock medical facilities and any other medical institution in Nigeria cannot attend to the president’s medical concerns?
A: You also have what is called medical history, where you consult people who are used to you, your constitution and your health. They have your medical history. Before he became president, he had been using those same set of people. So, it stands to reason that the same people continue to attend to him.
Q: Does he use the medical facilities in the Aso Rock villa?
A: I can’t say, because when the president is at home, I have never seen him fall sick, but he has a personal physician who attends to him. I will not be able to say categorically whether he uses the Aso Rock facility or not.
Q: At a time, he went to visit the Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist in London and some doctors said we have very qualified ENT specialists in Nigeria who can effectively handle the issue. Don’t you think he should stay at home in order not to encourage medical tourism?
A: It‘s the same issue of changing the order of our statement. When he went out then, we said he was taking a vacation and during that vacation, he will use the opportunity to see ENT doctors. He had been attended to in Nigeria then, and he was going to ask for another opinion where they will look at him again. He was originally attended to in this country. It was in the statement we issued.
Q: You attend cabinet meetings. There are some openings in the cabinet such as the late Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi, and Mrs Amina Mohammed. Will the president be rejigging his cabinet?
A: I only know of the late Ocholi. Mrs Amina Mohammed will not be out of the cabinet until March 2nd. On the issue of the president re-jigging his cabinet, it is his prerogative. So, he will do it if he wishes to do it. He has appointed them. He assembled that cabinet. The prerogative is also his own if he wishes to rejig it.
Q: Do you think he needs to rejig it?
A: I am not in a position to answer that question.
Q: But you advise him, don’t you?
A: Yes, I advise him on media and publicity
Q: But don’t you hear people talk about his cabinet in the media?
A: Yes, people have a right to say what they are saying but they will have their say, and the president will have his way because the president is the one that has been elected and he is the one that assembled that cabinet.
Q: Are you in touch with what is happening in the grassroots, in the local areas about the suffering of many Nigerians?
A: Very much so; I tell you. There are days I decide in the evenings to visit the president at home, after office hours. One day, I went to see him and we were talking and I said ‘Mr. President, people are going through tough times’. And he told me ‘I know. I know. I have people come visit me here even from my own constituency and they tell me what they are passing through’. So, it’s not as if he does not know, he knows.
Q: And what is he doing about it?
A: What he is doing is governance; good governance, which will translate to better life for the people. It’s not going to be by sudden flight. It’s not a magic wand that he will wave; rather, it is by policies that will yield over time, and lead to the improvement in the lives of the people.
Q: A lot of things have changed since the president took power two years ago in terms of purchasing power. People are asking ‘Is the APC government really living up to the billing compared to the promises the party made at the poll?
A: Things are going to change again, and change for the better before the end of this year. That is inexorable. The change will be very evident.
Q: Does the president have a map to get Nigeria out of recession?
A: Definitely. That goes without saying. For instance, all the prognosis have shown that Nigeria will likely exit recession this year. World Bank has said it, IMF has said it and even before these institutions, the government itself has said it.
Q: One of the reasons why Nigeria may exit recession is the oil price, which is not determined by the decisions and policies of the federal government. Don’t you agree with that?
A: What was the reason that got us into recession in the first place? Oil price. So, if oil price got us into recession and oil price gets us out of recession, then what are we complaining about?
Q: People will say one of the reasons why we entered into recession is because of the slow decision of the Buhari government. For example, it took over six months before President Buhari could set up his cabinet.
A:You can’t continue to beat that dead horse. It’s been said by economists, by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and by so many people, that Nigeria was primed for recession. That recession was inevitable the way Nigeria had been run two, three, four years prior to the time we went into recession. Nigeria was just primed for it, there was no way it would not have happened.
Q: Are you saying the APC government was just waiting for it to happen?
A: APC was just unfortunate to be on the scene when it happened. It was bound to happen.
Q: Some people have said the APC does not look like a party that is ready to govern. The party spent a year complaining about how bad things were…
A: It’s a matter of opinion. We must talk about how bad things were, and going forward, we will still talk about it because there is always a nexus between the past and the present. So, it is something that we will continue to talk about. We will not talk about it as if we are moaning or bemoaning our fate. No. We will talk about it as a signpost for Nigerians to see why we got to where we are, but moving forward, we will get out of it.
Q: Speaking in terms of the Nigerian economy, people are wondering what exactly are the major ideas of the Buhari government to get Nigeria out of recession?
A: It would have been self-dependence and it is still self-dependence. Even when oil price rises again, Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari will not fall into that false sense of security of thinking that everything is alright because oil price is high. No. President Muhammadu Buhari is building a new economy founded on solid structures. Agric, Mines and Steel development, and many other things, and going forward, even if oil price hits $120 or $150 bpd, we will not take our eyes off that ball. There must be an alternative for Nigeria’s economy, apart from oil.
Q: What concerns some Nigerians is the high foreign exchange rate and particularly the value of the naira to the dollar. It is alleged that there are different rates for different kinds of people, and some people profit from it. Do you have any knowledge this?
A: I wouldn’t know about that. You know that in every system, there are people that subvert the system. However tight that system is, some people know how to subvert it. I wouldn’t say for sure that it happens. All I will say is that disparity between naira to the dollar may continue until we begin to earn foreign exchange. The way it is now, how do you defend your currency against the dollar and other foreign currencies? What do we sell? What do we export? The only thing we sold used to be oil. Now, oil crashed, nothing else fetches us foreign exchange. Unless we begin to earn foreign exchange through other commodities and products, then the situation will remain the same.
Q: What is the president’s stance on restoring peace in the Niger Delta?
A: The president has said it a number of times that dialogue is still the way forward. On Christmas day, he still said it when he received people in government and outside Abuja and environs, who came to the villa to greet him. He even appealed to the Niger Deltans to let peace reign so that Nigeria can move forward. Many options are on the table, no doubt, because for government, there will always be many options, but the number one option for the president is peace and dialogue.
Q: Has he dropped the military option?
A: I said it. I said there will always be many options for the government but the number one is peace and dialogue.
Q: The president once said he needs genuine leaders from that region. Has he found them?
A: A lot is going on now. Remember that Vice- President, Yemi Osinbajo was in that region last week. A lot is going on behind the scenes and very soon, we will see the fruits from those initiatives.
Q: Was President Buhari invited to the Trump inauguration?
A: It is the height of ignorance to expect a sitting president at the inauguration of an American president. It is never done. They don’t invite heads of governments. They don’t invite foreign presidents. We have never seen one there. What they do is that they invite the ambassadors of the countries to attend. Did you see any foreign leader at the inauguration? Did you see any at Obama’s inauguration? It is ignorance to say a president was not invited. They don’t invite sitting presidents.
Q: Did the president as the Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces get the permission of the National Assembly before deploying troops to Gambia?
A: I think that was also put in proper perspective by the Senate president. He read a part of the law which allowed the president to do what he did and then come back for assent from the Senate. So, the president acted strictly within the law.