President of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) fought for the protection and rights of journalists at every forum. In this Exclusive Interview with GEORGE ELIJAH OTUMU, he talked about varying issues regarding the style of governance of President Muhammadu Buhari, his deep love for Mr. President’s Integrity, the war on corruption, why those he calls wailing wailers plant lies in the media, accomplishments of this government, and other matters.
Q: Can you describe your daily schedule working for Nigerian President as Special Adviser on Media & Publicity?
A: My daily schedule revolves around that of the President. When he is very busy, I am also very busy. When his schedule is light, mine is also light. But you know that more often than not, a President is very busy. As long as he has events that need to be covered and disseminated to the public, I am at my duty post. When he holds political meetings, some lasting far into the night, I am also there.
Even when one is not with the President, there are media inquiries from all over the world, some coming at odd hours. They are all part of a day’s job. So, it is around the clock assignment, really. But journalism prepares you for that kind of schedule.
Q: How do you counter biased stories emanating in local and foreign press against this administration?
A: There is no way biased stories would not come, particularly in a democracy, where you have the opposition. The aim of the opposition is to win the next election, and what they do is to weaken the party in government as much as possible. They throw everything into it: biased stories in the media, disinformation, misinformation, outright lies, concocted, fictive stories etc. So, the first thing a spokesman does is to try and identify where the biased story is coming from. If the opposition is behind it, you may react or just ignore it. But one thing you can be sure of is that biased stories will always come.
Q: What procedure have you in place to monitor, censor stories that are being churned out in Federal Government-owned news media so as to correctly educate and rightly inform the masses?
A: We do not have problem with Federal Government owned media houses, as we meet with the headship fairly regularly. So, we all know the strategic direction of the government and give adequate media support.
Q: What are some of the toughest media decisions you had to make?
A: There are always tough decisions to make. The toughest? Really can’t put my finger on it.
Q: Are there times you had to close late at work and do some damage control on ‘bad press’ planted in the press, to keep the record straight?
A: With a President like Muhammadu Buhari, you really don’t need to do damage control. Whatever he says is straight from the heart, so you don’t need to spin and explain whatever he says. He’s as straight as an arrow, and you don’t need to spin
any yarn on his behalf.
Q: When you received offer from President Buhari to serve in your present capacity, what were the virtues you saw in him that drew you to accept the appointment?
A: Let me say that I had always admired Muhammadu Buhari since he was a military head of state. I admired his discipline, his integrity, forthrightness, and simplicity. The things he represented just resonated with my lifestyle, maybe because I grew up under a father who also stood for such things. It was, therefore, my worst day when Buhari was overthrown in 1985. I believed Nigeria had missed an opportunity to be great, and one was proven right.
When Buhari joined partisan politics in 2002, I was quite glad. As a journalist who wrote a weekly column, I supported him in 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015, when he won the presidential election. I had never wanted to work in government, but when I got an invitation to serve as Special Adviser on Media, I accepted because it was Buhari. With any other person, my answer would have been a flat no. President Buhari’s integrity, transparency, simplicity, and patriotism were the things that brought me into government.
Q: What lessons have you learned so far in your present position?
A: At every stage in life, you learn lessons. Some of those I’ve learned in government include the fact that some people do not care a hoot what happens to the country, as long as they realize their personal ambitions. That is why they would lie, perjure and assassinate the character of those serving the land faithfully. The power game can be quite devious.
Q: Can you mention few of the lofty accomplishments of President Buhari’s government since assumption of office?
A: The achievements are many. Beating back the insurgency in the North-east. Rekindling hope of a better future for the country. Setting a standard for transparency. Bringing corrupt people to book. Managing the treasury efficiently, despite the crash in oil prices. Rolling off the diversification moves through agriculture and mining. Teaching Nigerians to look inward, and not depending on imported products. Giving us a new reputation in the comity of nations. Attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment. The achievements are really many, and the government is still warming up. Nigerians are in for a good time.
Q: Why do you think Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and other oppositions whom you once described as ‘wailing wailers’ have not yet found any single achievement in President Buhari’s administration?
A: Why have the PDP and those I call wailing wailers not seen all these achievements.? Well, it could be that they have deliberately turned a blind eye. They are like the child whose lollipop is taken away and is throwing tantrums. Because their candidate was given a bloody nose at the 2015 elections, they seem to forget that elections are over, and we should all team up to build the country. But whether they like it or not, whether they see it or not, the good work will continue.
Q: As a renowned journalist, what is your position on the current investigation and detention of Reuben Abati, Special Adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, and Femi Fani Kayode, a former Director of Media & Publicity for PDP, being investigated and detained on graft allegation?
A: The fact that the two gentlemen you mentioned were called in to answer questions shows that a day of reckoning will always come. When you hold certain positions, always be ready to give an account. Days of impunity are gone. But if their hands are clean, they have nothing to fear.
Q: A segment of the foreign and local media had been shouting that President Buhari should permit EFCC to open the investigation into the alleged fraud of Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation and the President’s Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari. Do you think this is feasible?
A: President Buhari does not direct the EFCC. He maintains a critical distance from all the anti-graft agencies and does not dictate to them. So, if any Minister has a tidy case built against him, the EFCC does its job without waiting for directives from the President.
Q: How come it is under President Buhari’s government that EFCC suddenly woke up from slumber and seen to be performing?
A: Anti-graft agencies watch the body language of whoever is the President at any point in time. If your body language is tepid towards corruption, the agency would be at best lukewarm. But if you set your face like a flint against corruption, the agency would also follow suit.
Q: Regarding the ongoing investigation of former Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan, do you think if she is eventually found guilty in the court, she may go to jail? Or will there be a ‘soft-landing’ for her, since sending any former First Lady to jail will be unprecedented in Nigeria’s history?
A: President Buhari does not interfere with the judiciary. The courts would always determine cases based on the evidence before them, and the law is no respecter of persons.
Q: What steps is this administration taking to ensure Nigerians enjoy surplus food at cheaper prices to beat rising inflation in the country?
A: Food sufficiency is a goal of the administration, and that is why budgetary provision for agriculture is so high. It is envisaged that by 2018, we won’t import rice, or any type of grains again.
Q: Recently, Nigerians in Diaspora Monitoring Group in the United Kingdom issued out press statement denouncing steps taken by Godwin Emefiele, Governor of Central Bank, to save Nigeria’s economy as ‘Incompetent’. They are demanding for outright sack of CBN Governor, will President Buhari approve of this request?
A: The Central Bank governor is responsible to the President, and it is his principal who can adequately assess him.
Q: Ekiti State House of Assembly petitioned EFCC claiming that Kayode Fayemi, former Governor, present Minister of Solid Minerals allegedly squandered the sum of N40billion during his reign as chief security officer of the state. What is your
A: Dr. Fayemi has responded to the insinuations and allegations, and I believe he
has responded well.
Q: There are rumors that President Buhari is making plans to reshuffle his cabinet, retire tired hands and appoint more competent Nigerians into national service. Is this true or false?
A: The President assembled the cabinet, he has his standards for assessment, and he decides whether to reshuffle or not.
Q: How do you think Nigeria’s currency, Naira would be stronger on the Foreign Exchange market?
A: I am not an economist, but I believe the naira will be stronger in the foreign exchange market when we begin to earn foreign currencies. For now, oil price is down in the international market, and we don’t have many other export commodities.
Q: Finally, what should Nigerians expect from this administration as lasting legacies that would positively impact on their lives forever?
A: President Buhari would leave a strong, secure, prosperous, corrupt-free country. A country the citizens are proud of, where the youths have a future and a hope, a country that commands respect in the international arena. These would be lasting legacies.