The endorsement of former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate by former President Olusegun Obasanjo has stirred not a little controversy in the past few days. But the Director, Strategic Communications of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Festus Keyamo, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE not only castigates the duo, but insists Buhari’s achievements speak for him
What would you identify as achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari that should make Nigerians to re-elect him?
Right for the beginning of his administration, he started investing in the critical infrastructures of the economy- road, rail and power. He started with the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, a vital road for that matter, but which has been a death trap for years and you can see now that the area had witnessed major transformation. You know that is a road that was not attended to during the 16 years of the former administration. Also you have the Lagos Ibadan Rail line where work has commenced. You also have the Abuja-Kaduna light rail that was completed and is now in use.
The government took the N41billion Sukuk bond for road infrastructure which was spread into roads in the six geo-political zones in the country. As a matter of fact we now have President Buhari’s compendium of achievements which will be uploaded into the website very soon for all to see. Besides, we have the conditional cash transfers, trademoni, market moni and farmer’s moni running into about N12billion, currently being given out to promote trading and farming. Besides, you have the n-Power programme of this administration which has been helping a lot of Nigerians.
Security was one of his cardinal campaign promises. How will you rate him, in view of security issues in the country today?
At one point in this country, Boko Haram attacks took place every Sunday, and I mean, not every other Sunday but every Sunday. You know when these people move into your capital city, when they take over your capital city, that is the end of the country, because they put a new government in place and introduce Sharia because at one point in this country in 2015, Boko Haram at a point actually threatened to move into the Aso Rock Villa, capture the then President Goodluck Jonathan. They had come and moved to Yanyan, bombed a shopping centre, bombed the UN building, Police Headquarters, all in Abuja and I’m sure Nigerians understand what that would have meant. Foreign investors would have left the country and that would have been the end of Nigeria.
Forget about the North-East, Boko Haram was in Abuja. Remember, and I want you to be very honest about it, there was a time it became a fashion, that every Sunday, a church or a mosque would be benubed. It became a regular occurrence. All of that now has been drastically reduced. We are not only talking about the 14 local governments in the North-East from which Boko Haram has been pushed out. Of course that is part of it but it is more than that. But the entire people in the North-East, go and ask people in the Borno, Yobe and the rest. We cannot sit in Lagos or Abuja and be talking what we don’t know. Journalists who are investigative in the practice of their profession (may be they are afraid), should have go to the North-East, to those villages like Bama, Malagali and ask the people ‘are you happy now with the situation?’ And you will hear an overwhelming yes.
Now, the other issue is the farmers-herders crisis. You see, the very good thing that has come out now is the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as presidential candidate of the PDP is that nobody can tell us now to concentrate on the present and forget about the past. You know why? Because Atiku must run on his past record; it is now record against record. The fact is that nobody can deceive Nigerian people again to say ‘no, concentrate on your achievements.’ No. Like we say in Warri, (parlance), ‘God don catch them’. He has always hammered on ‘our performance in office’ when he was Vice President and I am citing that to show you, because that has been his sing-song. He has been talking about his achievements when he was in office with then President Olusegun Obasanjo. I am citing that to show improvements we have made during this Buhari’s administration in the crisis in the Middle Belt.
During the tenure of Atiku Abubakar and Obasanjo, this problem escalated to a level where a state of emergency was declared and a governor was removed from office. This was because the problem was of such a proportion that it led to the total failure of such state government. So we have to run on that record to show that if they had found a permanent solution to the crisis at that time, we would not have inherited it. And nobody should come and compare records, because if you do you will know that it was a complete disaster at that time.
I am sorry, though I have to say this. No life should be lost at all, and nobody should harass me to say don’t compare deaths, because we compare successes too. Buhari inherited that problem and he is struggling to solve that problem they could not solve in16 years. So it is very clear and evidently so that President Buhari has performed creditably well, in comparison, not in terms of utopian level or warped standards, but in verifiable facts and in comparison with somebody who was part of a government but failed to address the issue, but is now coming to say he can do better. So in comparison with that I say he has done very well.
Now, looking at the economy, how do you think he has performed, especially when viewed against inflation and job loss currently put at about 11 million?
Let us not mix two things. Job loss is not the same thing as unemployment. Unemployment rate has been a progressive problem, not one that started three years ago. It has always been there. For instance, the level of unemployment they met in 1999 is not the same thing as what they left in 2015. The level of unemployment in 2007 was far less than the level in 2015 and the reason is obvious the number of graduates that are produced yearly is far higher than the jobs were created. So the question we should ask is what did Atiku do to address the problem when he was Vice President? Did they create jobs to absorb all of those people, graduates and others that were churned out? He did not.
For 16 years, they did not create jobs; they did not diversify the economy nor invest in infrastructure. Countries like India and China have moved out of poverty. China has moved out of poverty and they started that industrial revolution since the 1990s and it took those about 20 years to begin to see the effects. What did they do? Very simple. China went into industrialization and investment in critical infrastructure. They did not depend on handouts or sharing money that should have been invested in national development. They did not do that. Actually, it is the path of growth that the current President has returned Nigeria to right now. The problems that this government inherited cannot be solved in three years.
Look at what he has done. He said let us cut down on recurrent expenditure, too much travels, too much overhead and invest in capital projects and over time it will begin to yield results. In 2016-2017, the highest ever investment in capital expenditure was made, in actual cash release for capital projects. In 2016, the total capital budget released was N1.2trillion and I am not talking about allocation, but actual disbursement for capital expenditure. In 2017, it was about N1.5trillion. Now that represents 30 per cent of budgetary of total releases for capital expenditure. It has never been so in the history of this country.
In the past, it was only 10 per cent they released for capital projects and why was that because they released heavy funds into recurrent expenditures. They spent everything and as money was flowing, people were dying on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and many parts of the country but they were all over the place with money. But since this government came into office, he has changed all those things. He has out this country on the path of growth. At the time we came into office, foreign reserve was depleted, oil price had crashed and we could not meet the 2.2million barrels per day oil export. But today, things have changed and Buhari has put the nation on the path of growth.
How successful has the anti-graft war, given the fact that it was one of the objectives of the government?
It has recorded and it is still recording lots of success. Let me tell you, that is another area we need to look at Atiku. He did not pretend about corruption. In other words, Atiku is not going to pretend about corruption. He said he is going to create jobs, security but did not make any reference to anti-corruption, but left out corruption altogether. Hello. How can you create jobs without fighting corruption? Hello, in Africa? Many countries in Africa have failed to record any success because of elephant in the room – corruption. But the person who wants to govern Nigeria left out that issue. And do you know why he left out that issue?
I am talking facts. That is his albatross. That is his albatross. Nigerians should call Atiku and sit him down, and ask him to tell us, this albatross you have around your neck, how do you intend to address it? This is the issue of perception. Perception is very important because if you want people to believe in you to fight corruption, you must be pristine; you must be clean. What is the perception today? You cannot just be talking about your current status, if it is so, then we should not be using the old perception index to judge Nigeria; that was a document released in 2000 or so. You cannot tell me that we should be using perception against the country, but cannot use it against you.
They said Nigeria dropped in the world corruption index, and that is perception. That is what they said. And you said we cannot use it against you? Let me tell you how important perception is. Perception is important because you cannot tell your workers to do a particular thing when he knows that you are doing exactly the opposite. There was this poll study of how you can determine workers’ readiness to work. I showed that workers in an establishment are likely to do better when they see that the head of that establishment is on the right path or so; that what they perceive him do is more important than what he asks them to do.
So it is not what the boss says, but what they perceive him to be that inspires workers. So Atiku Abubakar must not run away from his albatross. We still have to talk about it and he has come out clean of this albatross, because character is an issue. Corruption is an issue.
He must run away from his record in public office; hello, he cannot, because Atiku compares himself to Donald Trump. He makes me laugh. I want to laugh; Donald Trump, in a country like America that is well regulated? Even at that, Donald Trump never held public office before. He came from the private sector to run for the American President. Atiku has a public record. So he should not tell us some funny stories about his companies and people in his employment.
He should not because he has public record; he was Vice President, so he cannot run on promises. Nigerians should probe into his record as Vice President. We don’t want to know about your companies; those books are not there for the public, but the story we want to hear is your record while in office as VP, and what was it? It was a disaster. It is not me who said that but the person who brought you into office as Vice President, has said it.
In 2014, former President Obasanjo endorsed candidate Buhari then and then tongue-lashed sitting President Goodluck Jonathan, but now he has turned around to endorse Atiku. What do you make of this?
I want you to recall those events that happened before the elections in 2014 very well. Obasanjo, never, up to the point that people voted or at any time did he raise the hand of Buhari or tell people to vote for him. He only rated Buhari better than Jonathan, but he said he was done with party politics and all that. Of course that action and his body language showed that he preferred Buhari to Jonathan, but all through to the elections, because he is a coward, (permit me to use that language), he could not tell Nigerians to vote for Buhari the way he has now said they should vote for Atiku. He could not.
He played hide and seek up to the point of the elections, he did not openly show that support – ‘there was not time’ and all that, he only showed preference for Buhari but did not call out voters to vote for Buhari. Now, between you and I, yes he showed preference for Buhari in the past, he is not showing preference for him now, yes, but is that a deciding factor in Nigerian politics? I guess it is not. It is not a deciding factor at all.
So Buhari Campaign Organisation is not in any way threatened by the emergence of Atiku as PDP’s presidential candidate?
Every candidate is important. Not only Atiku. All the other candidates are important. You know why? They are Nigerians and every candidate of every political party in Nigeria has its own followers. We have seen situations in FA Cup in England before where a third division club would beat a Premiership club. So it is only a fool that goes into the field and would say he has an opponent but he will not play because he has a particular team. So we have to be ready for the contest, but the word threat is too big for us to employ, but do we take them seriously, yes we do.
What is your impression on the fallout of the APC primaries, especially with regard to Zamfara State, and the altercation between INEC and your party chairman and objection raised by the President’s wife over those who paid N22.5million for forms only for the party to organise primaries where consensus candidates emerged?
I will not respond to details of those issues, because the party is there to clear them. So leave me out of all of that. But my overall comment on all of those things that happened, both in the PDP, APC or APGA or any one that has any likelihood of winning the election, that is strong, that is big, that has some kind of governor already in office or that have some kind of following, that have some form of character, are those character respectable in public eye. When those characters collide in the primaries will they be able to stand? Not only in APC or PDP, but also in APGA. Even during APGA’s primaries, a party that does not have more than one governor, I learnt they even brought guns to the venue. Not to talk of the biggest party in Africa that has 22 governors, so such things do happen.
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