Mallam Garba Shehu, one-time President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), is Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity. In this interview, Shehu gives reasons Nigerians should eschew sentiments about the administrative style of his principal as, according to him, Buhari will not be judged after four years based on ethnic or religious benchmarks but on performance. He, however, says appointments will go round according to the Constitution as the President is a law and order person. He also speaks on Buhari’s 100 days in office, corruption, the economy, etc.
Nigerians are divided in their reactions to President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments which many people described as pro-North. How are these decisions expected to take Nigeria to achieving the set goals?
President Buhari is President with responsibility for the entire Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is not a sectional leader. Appointments will be made one step at a time. Others are still coming and it will even run like that throughout the four years of the mandate of the administration. What people should have on this matter is patience. Those who feel they have not been reached will definitely be reached. A government that has a lifespan of four years should not be judged by its action on day one. No. It should be that by the time the President says, ‘Now, I have finished my appointments’, they should be able to look at it and pass judgment as to whether he was fair to all sections of the country or not.
The Constitution of the country protects every part in terms of representation, in terms of clear guidelines as to Federal Character, in terms of representation to give a sense of belonging to everybody.
President Muhammadu Buhari is a law and order person. He is a Constitution-oriented person. He will not fail Nigerians and he will do what is right. We think that much of the anger that is coming is emotional and premature because there are thousands of appointments that can come. And then on the aggregate, people will look at it and judge.
Let me give you an example. When former President Goodluck Jonathan took over, in the first 50 appointments he made, the South -West was not represented. There was a document widely circulated; and even translated into Yoruba and was being aired on local radio stations in the South West and people were being told, “This is not your government. This is what they are doing.”
In the appointments President Buhari has made so far, people should, first and foremost, take consolation in the fact that those he found in the offices, he was not in a hurry to fire them quickly just because he felt he did not appoint them. This is the first time we are witnessing this kind of attitude to governance in Nigeria. This country has a spoilt system by which a new government will fire everybody in office so that they could bring in their own people. President Buhari is doing his own on a case-by-case basis insisting that whoever is there for the good of the country and is adding value to the nation, it would be unfair to carelessly fire him. And this is essential because four years down the line, when Nigerians come to assess what nature of governance President Buhari has given to this nation, the record of success will not be measured by the number of ethnically or religiously based appointments he made. He will be
measured by how many jobs he has created, how much of the prevailing corruption in the country he has curtailed, how much of the infrastructure including power and roads he has fixed and how secured we are because he will be asked whether he has eliminated Boko Haram. These are the things the judgment of his administration will be based upon and on these he is not wavering. He has given 100 percent attention to all of them and people who are kind to him should give him the environment that he needs in order to do more.
How is the President taking the public outcry against his anti-corruption campaign, considering the fact that one of the cardinal reasons he was voted into office was to fight corruption before it kills Nigeria?
Well, it must be disappointing not being appreciated but, beyond all of that, President Buhari is not the gallery kind of politician, who wants to get applause by being populist in his actions. He is looking at the bigger national interest and he believes that he is making a huge sacrifice.
Given all of the service he had rendered to this country, assuming things were going right for the nation, he would have been happier enjoying his rest somewhere. But he ran to be (civilian) President of this country three times and didn’t make it until the fourth time when Nigerians felt it was the right time for him to come and govern them. Things have changed since then. If he had come in 2003, I would say things were bad. Now, things are rotten so much so that there is far more work to do than there were in 2003. So, he is making a huge sacrifice to bring back the nation to the point of sanity and clean all the mess. Yes, corruption is a cancer that has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation. Without it being addressed, there will not be development in the country. Foreign investments will not come, better life will not come into Nigeria, education will not run well, economy will be shackled, undermined and
infrastructure will not work well.
Look at what is happening with electric power. As I speak to you now, there are so many parts of the country that are enjoying 24-hour power supply. Some,16 hours, some 20 hours daily. Not many people thought this was possible until it came under President Buhari. And people will be shocked to learn that this government has not started to pump money into this thing, yet, it has started to work.
Then what did he do to make it so?
It is the body language of the President and doing the right thing so that all the laziness and sabotage in that sector took flight. We now have far more generated power than we had ever generated in this country. It is not to say that it is adequate for 170 million people but, given the narrowness of the distribution, the power that is being generated today is far more than what the system of generation can handle. So, that poses the next challenge, that is, to expand and renew generation per grid and then make more power to be distributed. So that with the national grid system, if they call Abuja and say, ‘We have more power for you’, they will be glad and say, ‘Oh, pump it’, so that they will give it to people for them to enjoy.
So, we are getting somewhere and the President promised during the campaign period that if he was voted into office, from the day he was sworn in, official corruption would go down by 50 percent.
Voluntarily, people relinquished 50 percent of the corruption that prevailed in the country and that is what has happened.
A member of the House of Representatives recently alerted over a particular distribution company covering his constituency in Oyo State, and its territory extends to Abeokuta, Ijoko, Ota areas of Ogun State, how they are making epileptic power the order of the day whereas other Nigerians are enjoying. Don’t you think things like this will sabotage President Buhari’s effort on power if nothing is done to really check these DISCOs?
They have their own system. Under the system put in place by the National Council on Privatization, distribution companies are supposed to be fined for even taking light thereby not allowing the people to access the power that is allocated to them from the national grid. I want to believe that such penalty will be meted out to them for failing in discharging their duties to the people once found to be so.
The Central Bank of Nigeria reportedly said the economy was at this state because there were no fiscal directions….?
(Cuts in) Nobody will tell you that there is no fiscal direction. President Buhari knows where he is going. Look at what is happening in the country with oil, in terms of failed price, which has come down from $120 to $43 per barrel and the prediction is that, it may even fall further. With sanctions on Iran being gradually removed, by the time Iran resume their place in the oil market, they will pump more oil and the price will still come down, coupled with the fact that this country has a record of unprecedented oil theft that President Buhari is trying to curtail and eliminate eventually. Therefore, the earnings of the country are down and a responsible government must do whatever it can in order to reduce the wastage of foreign exchange. Government is trying to manage that.
Look at the issue of importation of rice; billions of US dollars expended on this, on a commodity that is locally growable and is available. Seven states have already taken the challenge under this government and they are saying, ‘We can provide Nigeria with rice to export beyond our capacity to consume’. But there are other things that are so frivolous and annoying just like where Nigerians buy tooth pick from China. So, what they (CBN) are saying is, ‘Manufacturers or somebody setting up industry or a productive venture, going overseas on medical, school fees and all of that, don’t even go to the parallel market. Come to the CBN, we will give you forex. But if it is frivolous items that they have listed and advertised, no, go elsewhere and source your foreign exchange’. And that is why even when oil price has gone down, our foreign reserve has risen.
But in its own assessment, the main opposition party, PDP, said the economy had worsened under the Buhari’s 90, 100 days administration. How do you react to that?
It depends on their judgment about assessing an economy. May be they are talking about their personal economy that it is worse than it used to be. They ran an economy in which they put government money on the table and shared it. This is what President Buhari has stopped.
Nigerians should be patient with Mr. President. By the time he addresses the nation on the recoveries that are being made in the oil sector, in the national security sector that has come under probe now; of procurement of weapons and this Air Force jet that crashed killing pilots of the Nigerian Armed Forces! …because people bought equipment that were left unattended to, you see, by the time President Buhari will address the nation on all these, a day will come when people in the street will ask, ‘Are you PDP?’ and you will reply, ‘No, I am not PDP’. Yes. And it will be so because of the shame to answer the name of PDP.
So, the economy of the PDP is under threat. The economy of the Nigerian nation is being revived.
What could you really point to of this government’s achievements in the last 100 days?
It is too early to assess the government or any government in terms of its failure or success in 100 days. But 100 days are sufficient enough to know and understand a leader and his government on where they stand on issues of the day; where they are coming from and where they are going. So, there is enough on the table for Nigerians to see and understand President Buhari, where he is going to and he has given clear indications as to where he stands on issues of the day.
He would not steal money and would not allow others to steal. He would reinstate our international relations, which had been mismanaged. America, Europe, even our neighbors, now we are friends with everybody. President Buhari would be business friendly. Foreign investments will come because he is bent on creating a secured environment. He is going to defeat terrorism. He has given three months’ timeline to the service commanders and they have accepted the challenge. They are saying, ‘Mr. President, we can even do it in shorter period of time’. They are doing it and it is ongoing. So, infrastructure is being revived. We just talked about power now which industry is happy about. And the thing then is to continue to expand the generation and distribution of power and this is there in the APC manifesto of more than 20,000 megawatts in four years. We hope that we will get there.
There is going to be massive transformation of agriculture and mining, because those are where the jobs are, so that all these young people will be cleared off the streets by the jobs in agriculture and mining unless they are not willing. Already we are enjoying dividends of peace. Neighborhoods are becoming safer. People are sleeping nicely and dreaming sweet dreams because security is getting better. More of these will come. So, President Muhammadu Buhari has given indication and I think, by-and-large, 90 percent or more of Nigerians are happy and are identifying with the direction he is going.
There would be a few people, as I said, especially PDP, who are not happy. How will they be happy? Governor Adams Oshiomhole said somebody stole $6 billion. That person will be a fool if he doesn’t bring out one billion, two billion (Naira) to go and compromise public opinion and try to corrupt the judiciary with that kind of money. So, we expect attacks would come. These are people who pay for Buhari to be attacked, but he would not be deterred because he is determined to remain on course.