The Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina was a guest on AIT’s programme Kakaaki on October 1st where he spoke about President Buhari’s recent announcement that he will be overseeing the Ministry of Petroleum resources.
According to Femi Adesina, Buhari will be bringing his track record of integrity and transparency while he served as Minister of Petroleum during Obasanjo’s military administration in the 70s.
Excerpts from the interview below…
Let’s look at the President’s October 1 broadcast. What do you make of it?
A: We must recognise that it is a National Day broadcast, and he started by reviewing the state of the polity, particularly our march towards nationhood 55 years after flag independence. Are we a nation yet? Are we just a conglomeration of ethnic nationalities? I think on a day like this, that is the most important thing, all the others are ancillary, though important. It was an efficient broadcast, it may be short but it touched a number of crucial issues.
One issue that has been generating lots of reactions is the ministerial list. The President did promise sometime in July that he was going to name his ministers in September. But what we saw was a submission of ministerial list to the National Assembly.
A: We also need to mind the process and the procedure, Our federal lawmakers would be the first people to kick if the President just reeled out the names of the Ministers and their portfolios. That would not be in order. What he does is to nominate and send to the Senate and after clearance, the Ministers begin to work. At any given time, procedure must be followed.
Part of the broadcast that a lot of people would have loved to hear more from the President is the issue of national unity and inclusiveness in running the affairs of state. It appears that the President did not dwell on that and a lot of people looking at Nigeria believe that national unity and inclusiveness appear to be quite elusive. One would have expected the President to reassure the country that Nigeria stays as one and this is what I am going to do so that everyone has a sense of belonging.
A: Well, let me read this paragraph if you will permit, the President says here, “We have all the attributes of a great nation, we are not there yet because the one commodity we have been unable to exploit to the fullness is the unity of purpose .This would have enabled us to achieve not only more orderly political evolution and integration , but also, continuity and economic progress. Countries far less endowed have made greater coherence and unity of purpose”. So, he touched on what you said.
Yes, he touched on it, but what I mean is that he should have dwelled on it, talking about Nigeria at 55.
A: You should also realize that he is President, and he should not be dwelling on just challenges, rather he should be working to achieve solutions , which is quite better.
There are some agitations that the President seems to favour some parts of the country, so the eagerness to see who and who will make the ministerial list…
A: He also said that order is better than speed. What Nigerians want in these appointments appears to be speed, so that they can calculate how many are from the North, South, East and West, and all that. But we will get there, that is what the President is saying.
The President wants to manage the country’s resources and he didn’t make any statement about the economy or the real sector, why is this so?
A: I think we are forgetting that it is a National Day broadcast. It is about Nigeria, our people, the way we have lived together. What are the challenges and how are the challenges being surmounted? All those other things cannot necessarily come into a National Day broadcast, that is what I feel.
How long shall Nigerians wait for the President to say something on the economic direction?
A: The economic direction is not an opinion of one man but an aggregation of what a team feels and what they have agreed upon. That team is unfolding, we have a list of proposed ministers, that list has not been unfolded and when they are approved with their portfolios , they are the ones that will articulate the economic direction. What if the President as one man has said ,this is the direction and the team comes and feels different?
Not as one man, because he has said that he has been in consultation with the Vice President and some other individual concerning solutions to our problems . Based on that statement, Nigerians are expecting that …
A: That would still not amount to an economic direction.
Let us talk about some things. It was reported that the President says that his relationship with the Senate president would depend on the outcome of the Code of Conduct trial. Could you confirm that ?
A: I was at a session in New York when the President was granting that interview to Sahara TV and he said the relationship between them is cordial. The interviewer asked if they communicate and he said , yes, many times. There were some appointments that he couldn’t have made without writing the senate president. He was further asked what would be the relationship in the light of the code of conduct tribunal trial that is going on, and he said, “Yes, I have to wait for that process to end and that would determine the relationship”, which I think is just right.
Ok, I think that you need to break it down further, when he said that he needs to wait for the process before the relationship becomes cordial. Does it mean, it is not cordial right now?
There is separation of powers between the executive and legislature…
The President and Senate president are from the same party and they need to have a very cordial working relationship for the President to succeed.
A: Is there an indication that the relationship is not cordial?
From the statement of the President that he is awaiting the outcome of the trial, it has pitched him on a particular level… it seems the President is saying that the senate President should not come close to me pending when the trial is over, to know whether you are clean enough or not.
What the president meant was that he was not going to interfere in any way and the process must play out. He was emphatic about that and of course if the process finishes, whichever way it goes, it determines the relationship between the two individuals. For a government that pays high premium on transparency and accountability, it is very important that whoever is in a top decision must be seen to be accountable to the people.
One would also ask if the President is conscious of the assumption of innocence until proven guilty.
A: In all he has said, there is nowhere that assumption has been breached, No way and nowhere that it has been breached. He says that the Senate president is innocent for now and when the process ends, they continue the relationship.
Ok now, let’s look at the ministerial list that was sent (September 30). We understand from what is in the news that just a few names were sent to the Senate, can you confirm this? And when would the rest be sent?
A: The President himself was clear about that, he said the first batch but nobody knows how many is in the batch
I am sure that you know…
A: laughs… No…No…, you know, you are a news person and you can’t depend on everything you hear. It has been addressed to the Senate president, the list is there, he will unfold it officially. Nobody can say precisely how many. You said a few, you can’t be sure because the Senate president has not unfolded it.
How many people are in the batch?
A: Well, it depends on the President. There are certain prerogatives that the President has. Ministers are one of them. He has said that this is the first batch, I think that we should wait and see who are those in the first batch and after that we know how many remains, because the constitution already states that there must be a minister in each of the states. We have 36 states in the country, so when the list is unfolded, we know how many remains.
You have just returned from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, we heard that a lot of things happened there, like missing meetings that the President was supposed to attend.
A: Now, let me talk about the supposedly missed meeting. The truth is that, you don’t miss meetings that you are not scheduled to attend, That is just the truth. If you are not scheduled for a meeting, can you miss it? No.
Was Nigeria not scheduled for the meeting?
A: No, Nigeria was not scheduled to be at that meeting, that is the truth.
O’Brien of the UN was reported as saying that he was quite disappointed that Nigeria was not at that meeting.
A: We have a Permanent representative at the UN, Prof Joy Ogwu. The invitations Nigeria received are seven pages in all. I have them. You won’t see that meeting in any of the invitations that we got. Nigeria was not invited to that meeting and not scheduled to be there. With the passion that our President has on the Boko Haram, do you think that he will receive an invitation to a meeting that will discuss that issue and he will not be there? The truth is that Nigeria was not invited. We have said it and even the President has said in an interview before leaving New York and I guess that should rest the matter. What is happening, as far as I am concerned is storm in a teacup. A lot of people just want to find faults unnecessarily. Nigeria was not invited to that meeting, if she had been invited , she would have been there.
*Secondly, it was a meeting on Boko Haram and insurgency, there were two high levels meetings within the General Assembly days and Nigeria was at those meetings. It simply shows that she was not invited to the earlier one. Let me make this statement: it’s like Nigerians have been lied to so much that they find it difficult to now believe the truth. And the truth is that Nigeria was not invited to that meeting.
Even if the President was not invited , was the Nigerian delegation aware of that meeting?
A: How could the Nigerian delegation be aware, when it was not scheduled? I have told you that every meeting that Nigeria was scheduled to attend, I have the list here and that meeting was not there. Nigeria was not scheduled for the meeting.
What would have informed the President’s desire to want to become the Minister of Petroleum, when he is talking about reforming the NNPC, making it transparent? Does he not trust anyone or believe that there are capable people who can be trusted to manage this ministry properly?
A: I think the question, we will ask ourselves is: What would the President be bringing to the table, if he is going to supervise the petroleum ministry? He has been Minister of Petroleum for 3 and a half years , that is a lot of experience. Those were years that things were done fairly properly in this country.
A lot of people will say that things have changed over the years and lots of structures have also changed and those days may have gone….
A: But there are things that never change in life. These include integrity, transparency, truth and responsibility. Those things never change and those are the things the President would bring to bear.
In the newspaper review this morning, it was reported that 21 names made the ministerial list. Now, based on the constitution, a Minister must be selected from every state. So, if the President wants to supervise the ministry of petroleum resources, how will this work out eventually? Does this mean that a particular state will have 2 slots?
A: The constitutional requirement you quoted talks about the minimum , it states that there must be 36 number of ministers, at least one from each state. We have lived in this country where we had 46, 48 ministers and all that. That already shows you that 36 is the minimum requirement but this administration is one that wants to cut cost. We don’t expect that it would have a ballooned number of ministers.
What would you say to Nigerians out there, who think that perhaps if some institutions are working, talking of EFCC, ICPC and some other regulatory and enforcement agencies, we won’t be talking about recycling of ministers or minister of petroleum in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari.
A: What is wrong with recycling if that person has something he is bringing to the table? Recycling would be wrong if that person is adding no value. But if he is adding value, what is wrong with recycling? I tell you that this is one appointment, if you can call it so, that will bring a lot of value to that ministry.
You said earlier that the President is bringing in honour, integrity, truth all those virtues into the ministry’s package. And the President has taken over 3 months to appoint ministers. I wonder, has he not found a Nigerian with all these qualities to run that office? We have seen in this country, where a former president oversaw this sector and there was not much difference.
A: Don’t forget that the buck stops at the President’s table. At the end of his administration, it is going to be called the Buhari administration and not the name of any Minister. Therefore, it is very important that what the President feels would make a difference in the country is what he does. At the end of the day, that administration would be rated with his name and not any other name.
The last words from you Mr. Adesina before you go