In this interview, Festus Keyamo, the Director of Strategic Communications for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, speaks at great length on a range of issues from why he accepted to serve in Buhari’s camp to the factors that he believes will return the president to power next February.
It’s an interview that will keep his opponents awake at night.
Were you expecting your appointment as director for strategic communications for President Buhari’s re-election campaign?
I have never had a sense of entitlement. In respect of government appointments or appointments into strategic positions by either the government or the ruling party, I have never had any sense of entitlement. So I have never looked forward to it. My support for Buhari in particular was far before he became President and I am sure you know that. So, any insinuation from any quarters that Keyamo must be doing this because of a particular gain he expects, the person must be very myopic. If it was for the gain, there would have been no better time to have done that than when Goodluck Jonathan, who was my kinsman, was in power. Before Jonathan lost, it was not a tradition for the incumbent to lose. So, it was safe to hedge your bet on him. Most of my kinsmen from the south-south went Jonathan's way. First, they never expected him to lose; two, that was where the money was; and three, he was their kinsman. So there was every reason for everybody to support Jonathan. That is why you can see the demographics at that time and how the elections turned out at the end of the day. So you must give some of us extreme credit, for staying above that kind of mentality. We did it on account of principle. If you stretch that logic further, you will know that the person did not expect anything thereafter. He just wanted to serve. So therefore, after Buhari's victory, I never lobbied for something, I never pushed for anything. I came back to my office and started doing my normal legal work because for me, I have a first and primary address, which is my law practice. Secondarily, I can look at politics and what is going on I government. In the larger context of what you are asking, I was not expecting them to call upon me to do this job. But I was informed two months before it was announced. I was called to a private meeting and told, they wanted me to do this. To that extent, I knew within the shortest time before it was announced. But on larger scale, I was not expecting anything like that.
You want credit. But we are in Nigeria and to your kinsmen, it was nothing but betrayal. Why do you think otherwise?
Those are primordial sentiments. Betrayal is when you owe somebody something and you don't give it back in return. That is betrayal. What do I owe Jonathan? What do I owe my kinsmen when it is about national interest? Anyone who listens to you will be laughing at you, that is if politics is all about loyalty to your kinsman, it is not about excellence. Then it is funny. First of all, did Jonathan wake up one morning when he was in power, to put $10,000 on my door mat every morning? When Jonathan was president, wasn’t I paying for my flight tickets? Is that the meaning of having a kinsman as president? You owe nobody anything. People who talk about your kinsman being president, that is what is destroying this country. At the end of the day, national interest overtakes primordial sentiments. Ethnic loyalist must be buried and subsumed in national interest. At every point in time, I have acted according to my conscience and for the national interest. I don’t owe Jonathan anything.
In a statement after your appointment, you said you’re proud to work for Buhari because your mentor, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, would have approved of the president. Do you think this Buhari is the same one that Gani knew for less than two years 30 years ago?
In 1984/85, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, my late boss, dared his colleagues at the NBA; he ignored all of them. In fact, it is just like some sections are so alarmed at what I am doing now. That was exactly the same position Gani found himself. There is no difference. How would Gani support a Buhari, a dictator? As a result of that, he was put on blacklist by the NBA. I hope you know that. It was because of Buhari that Gani was blacklisted. What happened? At the end of the day, in hindsight, years after Buhari left power, when Babangida took over power and now institutionalized corruption, Gani was proved right. And that how I know that I would be proved right at the end of the day. But what really happened? Twenty-two years after Buhari left power, so it is not correct to say he only knew him for two years. Twenty-two years after Buhari left power, in 2007, when he wanted to contest for president under ANPP, what did Gani say? He endorsed him again. So it was not two years. After 22 years, Gani still stood by his decision to endorse him for president. Even the first time he endorsed him, Buhari was a military head of state. Buhari was not as hard now as he was then. Don't forget, there were military tribunals, there was no rule of law, they were throwing people in jail and Gani supported it, not to talk about when they can even take people through some process of trail. So what you are asking is; what would he have done? I am telling you what he did.
You speak of Buhari 30 odd years ago. Then he projected strength. Today a lot of people believe he is projecting nothing but weakness.
Your question is the bundle of contradictions we find ourselves in now. Do you realise PDP is accusing Buhari of being a dictator? Do you realize that PDP and other people are accusing Buhari of being a tyrant? Have you heard things like that? It is a bundle of contradictions. You are saying he is weak where as other people are calling him a tyrant. So, thank you for reflecting the views that he is not even doing enough. He can be tougher than he is now.
A few months ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said Nigeria doesn't need strong institutions, it needs both institutions and strong leaders. In reality though one as to give way to the other. But then he obviously alluding to Buhari's weakness as a leader. Do you think Obasanjo is right to think Buhari can't impose his will even within his own government?
At the end of the day, what are they saying about my principal because you have just revealed a bundle of contradictions. Are you telling me my principal is weak or strong? Like I said, the major opposition political party is calling him a tyrant, that he is breaching the rule of law, that he is arresting people. It's a contradiction.
A former president has come out to say he is a failure in every respect.
No, no first of all about being weak, we will come to failure. Weakness is different from failure. In what area is the failure?
He does not seem able to get beyond his comfort zone; most parts of the country feel marginalised.
Who has he marginalized? The southeast has four senior ministers and one junior minister. The whole of the north has seven junior minsters. Do you realize that? Somebody just told me that in three years of Buhari, no government in history has moved into the southeast with infrastructural development as much as Buhari. They just hate him. They are constructing now, with the sukuk bond of N16.5bn, the Enugu/ Onitsha road. They are also constructing the Enugu/Port Harcourt road. The second Niger Bridge has gone far, they have even expanded the design from two kilometers to seven kilometers. Do you know the southeast you are talking about, in 16 years of PDP and with all the trillions of naira they got from excess oil earnings, the least they could have done for them was just to construct that bridge. It was only one major thing they did for the easterners in 16 years – the Onitsha/Owerri road. Only one road of just one hour drive. That is all they did in 16 years. Are they not ashamed of that? In less than three years, the Federal Government is constructing three major highways for them in the east. And it is also rushing the second Niger Bridge. It is good that you are not throwing me in the air to say he has failed or marginalized a group. We need to pick out one issue and address it with statistics. It is better that way.
Do you think that Gani would have supported the return of Abdulrasheed Maina to government through the backdoor, which Buhari knew about or his reluctance to fire and prosecute former SGF David Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke, the former NIA boss?
At the end of the day, where are those people now? Are they in office? Diezani, with all the story of sleaze, did she not remain in office till the end? The moment they brought it to his attention that Maina has been recalled... Did you see the president's signature anywhere or a briefing to the president? They appeared before the House of Representatives, don't forget that. People should not make silly comments in public. The head of service, the Attorney General of the Federation, including the minister of internal affairs, they all appeared before the National Assembly. They told us in graphic terms, how these memos were raised. And the memos moved from one office to the other. All of these memos from HoS to SGF, minister to AGF, all of these, was there one to the chief of staff to the president? We should not be pessimistic or cynical for nothing. All of these memos that moved up and down, was there one to the president before the HoS was queried? If there was none to the president, the first time we knew the president knew was when they raised the alarm on the recall before he was sacked. Did it last up to 24hrs when he was sacked? When there were reports that Maina had been recalled, it took the president less than 24hrs to order his sack. So what is the criticism; that the moment it became clear, it took less than 24hrs to sack him? So I will not want to dance to the tune of the opposition that will keep repeating a sing song a hundred times and make people believe the sing song. Maina cannot, by any stretch of imagination be a point of criticism for the president. For me, the Maina saga is credit to the president. The Maina saga, I will use it to campaign. You will use it to criticize but I will use it to campaign. That is because the man reacted to an issue of corruption and back door handling of an issue when it came to his knowledge.
Do the lopsided appointments under Buhari, especially in the security services, bother you?
The service chiefs, two are from the south, two are from the north. One is from Ekiti and one, I think is a Calabar man or so. Now, the SSS and the NSA, in some areas when the president concentrates on picking people from some areas, in other areas, he may decide to leave that zone entirely and concentrate on another zone. For the northerners complaining that the economic team, there is no one northerner in the team. You have the Vice President from the south. You have the Minister of Budget, he is the south. You the Minister of Finance, from the south. The Minister of Trade from the south. You have only Audu Ogbeh from the Middle Belt. Have the northerners complained? We have what they call a persecution complex down south. Apologies to my people. But they have a persecution complex. I have not heard one northerner cry out that we are not part of the economic team. And the economy is at the heart of Nigeria's survival. At the heart of our politics is the economy. And yet, they are not part of it. So, it is part of the discretion of the president at times to ensure there is balance in a general sense. He doesn't need a microcosmic balance. In a general sense taking all his appointments into consideration, there must be balance. That is what the constitution expects of him. Now, maybe the inner security circle is tilted to some area and the inner economic team tilting to the south. What is bad about that? And you the federal cabinet with 18 Christians and 18 Muslims. But the head of service and the SGF, they are both Christians, over and above the ministers. So there are more Christians sitting every week at the Federal Executive Council than Muslims. Have you heard them shout? All of these stories about marginalization, all of these stories about clannishness are only existing in the air. The facts on ground do not support the allegations.
What about allegations of nepotism and backdoor hiring at the CBN and other major public institutions?
But they don't even have the statistics. Remember there was a time when there was an outcry that they shortlisted certain people or there were more people from certain parts of the country. Like I said, when these things come out and they come to the knowledge of the President, what does he do? Do you really expect the President to sit down and compile names of those to employ in MDAs? We cannot vouch for people who work for him. I am saying that openly. I cannot vouch for them. Do you expect the President to sit down, take his pen and begin to shortlist people one by one? When the issue of shortlisted candidates was brought to public knowledge, that it tilted to some areas, he stopped the process.
There are a lot of his relatives within Aso Rock, within the government. Is that fair?
Did we not have a lot of Ijaw people at the Villa? If you an uncle staying with you, what is wrong with that? Do you expect a President of Nigeria who has been betrayed…don't forget that he has been removed from office before by people he trusted. He is a human being. People who saw him off to the airport (Babangida was laughing and saluting him). And as he was airborne, they removed him. They announced a coup. You think that kind of person should not take precaution about the inner circle he surrounds himself with? Will he come and pick you from the street, people he does not know. Will he because of ethnic balancing pick any person you see on the street to come and be part of my inner circle, who will sleep next door to me. If my uncle does not sleep next door to me, who will sleep? I think those are not criticisms, they are silly comments.
You have been attacked twice since your appointment. On the first occasion, the fellow who attacked you accused you of abandoning the defendant in the Ozubulu church killings. Do you feel conflicted?
I was not attacked twice. I was not attacked at all. You are mis-asking that question. There was no attack about abandoning a defendant. I went for a case involving the Ozubulu killings. One PDP thug also came for an event around there. Opposite the High Court, there is an arena like Eagle Square. So, they came for an event and the person was shouting from afar: “We no go vote for Buhari. We bi PDP, we no go vote for Buhari.” He was a PDP thug. We all smiled over it, entered our vehicles and left. All those reports are made up. Nobody attacked me. Nobody could have because there were so many people there who were shouting, “Sai Buhari! Sai Baba!!!” And they were shaking my hand.
What were your terms for accepting the job?
I didn't give any terms, there couldn't be any terms to serve my country, to help my people. There can't be any terms. You give terms when you are hungry. I am not hungry.
Under what conditions, if at all, would you have a second thought?
Second thoughts about taking this kind of job? Maybe if it was a military government. People forget that this is a democratically elected government, voted in by 15 million Nigerians. So if it was an autocratic government, a government that shot its way to power, perhaps I wouldn't have taken this job. If too, it was a government that came to power with very dubious results, like it happened under Obasanjo, under Yar'Adua, I wouldn't do it. But this is a private person who defeated an incumbent, there can't be anything more credible than that. An incumbent in Africa, with Air Force, Navy and all the security apparatus at your disposal and a private person defeats you, that is a revolution. It was not an election. What happened in 2015 was a revolution and I am happy to have been part of that revolution.
Are you surprised at the anger and disappointment in some circles that you accepted the appointment?
I only pity them. I pity those people. They are myopic. It is myopia. They are shortsighted to the extent that they don't know that when you are fighting for the masses of a country and the masses now speak through the ballot box, and say this is what we want and you support that cause openly, you cannot be a better hero among the masses than doing what I am doing. You can't be a better hero. It is only in those areas where they have pathological hatred for Buhari that you will think that the world has ended. I went to some parts of this country that love the president so much, I became an instant hero. They couldn't be thankful enough that I decided to help and to serve. They were mobbing me out of joy. They wanted to shake my hand, they wanted to take my numbers. And I am not here to be friends to everybody. My job description is to make some people who don't want to change, who love corruption, very unhappy and very sad and very angry. I am not running away from the anger. My job description is to give people who love the fight against corruption, who want us to go back to an orderly society, hope. And so, I want to let you know today, now that for those who say they are angry and are angry with me, I am also angry with them. They should know that today. I am not begging for friendship, I don't want to be friends with anybody who doesn't want to be my friend. Let them remain in their anger, I am also angry with them. Those who are happy with me I am happy with them. That is what life is all about.
You talked about people who do not have faith in this government or in its change agenda. Why would you say they are myopic for holding a different opinion?
Because we must have different views in the polity. Where you don't share my view, from my own point of view, I would see you as myopic. From their point of view, they will see me as myopic. Now, who is more open minded? They will tell us at the ballot. The ballot will show us who is more open minded. When I think your eyes are closed and you think my eyes are closed, we will now go to the polls. And in 2015 we know what the result was, whose eyes were open and whose eyes were closed. Between 2015 and now, has the president lost support? He may have lost support, people have been angry. But has the president also gained support? Yes, he has gained support. You saw all the massive defections from the big boys in the east into the party, you saw people like Modu Sheriff even in the north, the hardest critics are coming back to the party. People like Nuhu Ribadu came back to the party. You saw it yourself. So now, who has the right, you tell me, to calculate the number of people who have joined, who have left Buhari? These are the number of people who supported Buhari since then. It is only INEC that can do that in 2019. No human being can sit down and calculate in his house. He has gained some and he has lost some. When we go to the polls, we will now know who is myopic and who is not myopic.
You also praised the government’s anti-corruption crusade in your statement. But the anti-corruption campaign has been widely criticised as lacking in strategy and targeted at members of the opposition party?
It is those thieves that are criticizing it. It is the thieves. You heard what Okonjo-Iweala said two days ago? She said they fight back viciously. People who are against fight back viciously when you are fighting corruption. The target of this government has been to recover money stolen between 2011 and 2015. Those monies that were stolen through oil subsidy, through election, the Dasuki money and all of that. You tell me, give me one name within that target period, give me one name of those around the President now who was also in that circle between 2011 and 2015, who was in a position to also eat money. Those people who have been arrested like those PDP members who took campaign funds, oil subsidy, those around the president, give me one name who they are sparing now. That is selective, is it? Some people returned money by were not prosecuted. It was a policy, return and they won't prosecute you.
Buhari’s government has ignored multiply court rulings to release the Shiite leader and his wife; and also former NSA Dasuki. As a senior advocate, do you seriously want to speak for a candidate whose government defies court orders?
I will not support the detention of persons without trial. That is what I stand by. Detention without trial, I will not. And one of the things I hoped for the moment I decided to take this job, and I passes the word around. There is administrative bail first and there is bail after arraignment. Once you are granted administrative bail and government now decides to charge you to court, the administrative bail elapses. It is now at the court's discretion to grant you bail. For instance, as I speak with you, the Federal Government has no powers to grant El Zakzaky bail again. You know why, he has been charged to court. That has now moved to the realm of the court. El-Zakzaky has been settled. The issue of Dasuki, he has multiple allegations around his neck. I will not support a government that detains someone without trials and without obeying court orders. But let me explain what Dasuki's case is that people don't understand. Dasuki has multiple allegations hanging on his neck. If for instance now, and I give one very funny example, I am involved in rape, I am involved in armed robbery, I am involved in stealing and I am also involved I threat to national security. I want people to understand how the law works. I am now arrested for rape. If I am arrested for rape, and the person goes to court and says you must charge me court and he is charged for rape and is granted bail for rape. The moment he is granted bail for rape, somebody comes and says this person is an armed robber. Do you know that this person invaded my house last week with a cutlass and killed somebody? As you are coming out of the court for rape, you are arrested immediately for armed robbery and kept. Investigation begins for armed robbery. They investigate that to the end and charge you for armed robbery. As you are coming out for armed robbery, somebody says do you this person wants to overthrow the government? Dasuki has tested this law. There is no argument. Dasuki went to the Supreme Court to test it two months ago and he lost. He went to say they did not obey the order on bail. I am not more powerful than the Supreme Court. Nobody is more legal than the apex court. The court said sorry, the EFCC obeyed the court order here. You are being held by another agency for another serious offense. Go and answer that one. And Dasuki's offense, he gave money to hundreds of people. These allegations, every day you wake up, you hear them on radio. As they are doing one, another is coming up. Dasuki's case is a special case, one we have not seen in this country before with multiple allegations. They are charging him to court, granting him bail and allegations are coming up. It is a matter of national security. Now the Supreme Court has said in the case of Asari Dokubo that once national security is involved, human rights are suspended. And I did that case. So, no human being can come and stand in front of me to make that kind of argument. I was the only lawyer that made that argument about national security and bail. The Supreme Court told me to my face.
But then it is obvious to everyone that these charges are being amended and added to because the government is trying to circumvent the law just to keep him in court.
That is what you are now saying. You are now making a comment. This is what I warned you against. These are the small tricks of journalism that mislead people. I have been with journalists for years and I need to sound a note of caution. These are the little tricks that turn the minds of people. They see a journalist as someone with all the facts. Journalists at times also require facts. But when you now make a comment that I don't agree, that this is what is happening; people listening to you at home are going to take it as gospel truth. If you want to get comments and facts, ask or say however, the contrary facts come from so, so. Don't say people are saying. I got contrary facts from this source. What is your view about it? Don't say for instance that government is keeping him because they want him in detention. It is not fair.
But it is still the impression out there whether you agree or not.
The other perception I got is that the man is a thief. You should remain there.
Security was one of the strongest points canvassed by Buhari before his election. How do you intend to defend the widespread insecurity in many parts of the country – the farmers-herdsmen killings; the attacks on churches; the invasion of large sections of Zamfara by bandits. How do you intend to defend all that?
We are not defending. Nobody can defend that. People can only be extremely sorry about it. Because it has been an age-long problem, we must all sympathize with all of these people because it is indefensible that people are being killed. Nobody can sit down and say we want to defend and rationalize killings. The fact that it is happening alone is a deadly blow. But then, all over the world, governments have these kinds of problems to contend with. What you now ask is what are causes? What are the steps the government is taking? Despite everything said about guns in America, just yesterday there was shooting in Texas again, 10 killed. That is a local problem in America. It is local problem about access to guns and shootings. And these things have continued unabated, despite all talks, all the measures and everything. People have local problems to contend with. It is not a standard and a yardstick one should use. However, it is just to remind people who think this is just Armageddon here, it is happening only here. But let me tell you, there are two types of Fulani herdsmen that we have. There is one of the economic age-long, historical Fulani herdsmen and farmer's crisis. Two is the political Fulani herdsmen crisis going on now. What is the normal age-long one? It is the one Ortom just told us, no other person than the governor of Benue said the problem escalated in 2010. He said this last week. But the problem has always been there. There was a time as minister, when he was minister in 2014, he went to his own village and herdsmen had killed more 50 people that day. His own house was damaged. That is the normal problem we must all address. The problem has always been there. It is not an excuse for it to continue but it has always been there. It is only when people make comparative analysis to say that this President has brought about this type of suffering on us, that is when we are forced to mention the historical antecedents. It is not an excuse. Every government should stop it, tackle this problem. But when people ask questions that border on comparison, you have choice but mention historical antecedents. Now what is the political side of it we see now. The political side is what you now hear on the streets that political leaders are pushing to hold their people to ransom to vote for them. They will tell them that the President is the one arming Fulani herdsmen, encouraging Fulani herdsmen, pushing them to go and kill people. How wicked and how satanic and how idiotic can it be that people will now think that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would sit in a room, call lieutenants together and say we need to tell Fulani herdsmen to go and kill people. It is satanic, it wicked and it is outrageous. And that is how low politics can descend sometimes. Now, has the problem escalated more than it was before? I am sorry, it is immoral to be comparing dead bodies, I concede. But like I said, you pushed me to the wall when you said that more people have died under Buhari than before. I have no choice but to remind you that more people died before Buhari. If you google the number of people that died by Fulani herdsmen before 2015, it more than those that have died now. It is immoral, I repeat. Nobody should misquote me. But I am pushed to the wall because of the kind of comparison they want to make when they are asking questions. Now, what has the government done in this regard? I am sure you have heard the order to disarm every Fulani herdsman even when he is not using any weapon. If he is seen with a weapon, it should be arrested and prosecuted. The President has said so since. People don't want to hear because of politics. He is talking rubbish. He is supporting them. That is all you want to know. He has also moved Air Force bases to all of the middle belt states where these problems are rising. And then I am sure you have seen the slant of some parts of the media too. Some parts of the media, the slant of reportage where anywhere that is Christian dominated in the middle belt. Once there is an attack, you see the headlines: Fulani herdsmen kill four because they know it is Christian dominated. Almost all the herdsmen are Muslims. So, they are turning the Christians against the Muslims in a subtle way. They want to cause war. However, if it happens in Muslim dominated area like Zamfara, all those heavily Muslim dominated areas that have the same problems too, you will the headline, “Bandits kill 54.” They won't say Fulani herdsmen. So how did the editor sit down to know that killings that just took place in some areas are by Fulani herdsmen and those that took place in other areas are by bandits? How did they know if it is not mischief? I am sure you have seen the slant of those reportage. If it is mischief, so we should understand there is the political side of this crisis going on that I just pointed out to you. There is the political side and there is the normal economic problem that the government is working to come to terms with and find solutions to. What we want is solutions. And we can only boast about solutions, we can't boast of who died more or died less.
President Donald Trump is of the opinion that Christians are being prosecuted. How do respond to that?
It is the wrong briefing. That is why I say it is the reportage that created this kind of impression. If I want to take that as gospel truth, you want to take everything that Donald Trump said as gospel truth? He also said this is one of the most honest leaders in Africa. He said so. If the President was to be the one encouraging the killings, then he would a dishonest person. If he said Christians are being killed and you take it as gospel truth and he said the President is honest. Take it as gospel truth. It balances everything. It means the crisis is not traced to the President, it is a crisis he has to solve. And that is why Donald Trump said we need to work on this together. That is what he said. You cannot accuse home. You cannot take what Trump said on one hand and refuse to take it on another. As it is, he has said he is the most honest leader coming out of Africa. We should take it that he understands and that he knows Buhari means well to resolve the problem.
You have explained why you accepted to serve as Buhari’s spokesperson; but why do you think he deserves a second term?
Because at the critical point we find ourselves now in this country, we need two qualities of a leader to pull us through. Our major problem since 1960 has been corruption. Buhari is not the most honest person around. Buhari may not be the most corrupt-free Nigerian around. But he is the one we have found. He is the one that is trusted and tested. The other ones who are saying they want to run for president, they may mean well. They may be extremely honest, but they are not tested and trusted. I want to put all my eggs in the basket that I know is tested and trusted so that my eggs will nor fall and break. That is the major reason why I want to follow Buhari. I can trust him.
If you had not accepted to work for Buhari, which other aspirant would you have been happy to work for?
If I see anybody who is more tested and trusted than Buhari, perhaps I would have a rethink. But I cannot see anybody on the horizon now. He has been head of state before. I want somebody who has held the position of President before, who has gone through the thick and thin, people who have held positions at that level. I want people who are internationally, locally acknowledged for his honesty. Buhari is acknowledged by both friend and foe, both by opponents and fans. They know that he is not a thief. The PDP cannot call him a thief to his face. They know that. They have never even attempted to do so. That is the kind of person I am looking for. After 2023, I will look more. Maybe I will see.
The 2015 election was decided largely by insecurity and corruption. What do think would be the defining issues in 2019?
The defining issues will be the economy, it will be corruption; the anti-corruption crusade and security. Yes, security because of the herdsmen crisis. They will want to see how much Buhari would have achieved before December. You will acknowledge that he did well with Boko Haram. They are not occupying any territory again. When he was talking about security in 2015, you know he was not talking about the herdsmen to show you how dynamic society can be. When security was mentioned in 2015, nobody even thought of herdsmen. Everybody was talking of Boko Haram. He managed to push them back, reclaim our territory except for the soft targets where they were blowing themselves up. But there is no Boko Haram flag anywhere on Nigerian soil again. To be honest, the public will want to see how the president handles this herdsmen issue before the elections. If he has made giant strides before that, then perhaps they will trust him more in that regard. But I know he will do that and he is doing that right now.
Buhari refused to debate in 2015. As the director of strategic communications, would you advise him to debate this time?
When we get to that bridge we will cross it. Debates are always very healthy. They are good. But the dynamics change at times. Candidates at times express fears over certain things. We don't know what will happen. Even recently, the Kenyan president Kenyatta, in last election in August last year, he saw a lot of things going on. He refused to debate and he still won the election. Jonathan refused to debate in 2011. But he debated in 2015. Buhari debated in 2011; but refused to debate in 2015. So, these things go up and down.
What would you do if he refuses to debate?
I will look at the circumstance. I don't know the circumstance that will arise.
The President’s comment in the UK that a lot of Nigerian youths are lazy appears to have set him up against a critical voting mass. How do you intend to manage the fallout?
You must ask me what he said first. I will not answer you because he did not say so. These are the things I warned about, that the press, with apologies, has a way of deceiving the public and leading them astray. I am not talking of you. I am not personalizing it. But the way you framed the question. Now how will I react to what my principal did not say. It is a different thing if you ask me, what did your principal say? What is it all about. Can we get the true thing he said? Don't say he said Nigerian youths are lazy, what is your reaction? It is not right. I will say as we go on this journey in 2019, we should correct some of these things. I will be very vitriolic. Donald Trump has achieved a lot in America by fake news. It is now people are knowing that in fact, CNN network, they are fake news, because he decided to confront the issues. There is fake news. It was Donald Trump that made that thing popular. And I intend to also make it popular that there are narratives that the press push that are not correct.
Are you suggesting the president said nothing like that?
That is the question you should now ask. That is why I said, reframe your question. What did the President say exactly that is causing controversy? He said some youths in our country who did not go to school are waiting for handouts. Who are the people who are angry? The people who went to school, who are on Facebook and Twitter. These are people who went to school. They are writing good English. In other words, they are now jumping in a hole that was not dug for them. If you now jump in a hole that was not dug for you, who will blame? You are blaming the person that dug the hole. This is what they call typical guilty conscience like on a lighter side, in a face me, I face you, in slums. Someone will wake every morning and just be singing across your door; some people jealous me. Some people jealous me. And you come out and say, who are you talking to? Are you mad? I did not talk to you. I am just singing my own. This is the situation we find ourselves. He said some people did not go to school. You are now coming out and jumping in a hole, so there is even no need to answer because the president was not talking to educated hard working youths, those who are have gone to school. Anybody who has gone to school has worked hard. He has read. He was not talking to you. I have no answer for the social media community. I have no answer for them because he did not open that door in the first place.
What role do you think new media will play in the 2019 general elections?
Pivotal role. The press will play a pivotal role for those who are there. You have to be there before the fire will burn you. There are people on social media but for those who are out of there, it does not affect them. We will reach them in a different way.
Do you have any plans to use new media differently from your predecessors?
The way we want to plan to use it differently is to shoot down fake news. We will use the same media, new media to shoot down fake news because 90% of what's on social media are all fake. There are responsible blogs but social media is made up of everything now. Everybody now is an editor. You sit down, you edit a story, cut and paste and you will have one thousand shares, one million shares at times. Even a newspaper cannot do better. One person's page, and the person has twisted it. Is that not more powerful that an editor?
Unemployment, even by the government’s own statistics, is still a very big problem. An average of nearly two million jobs have been lost every year for the last three years under Buhari. How do you intend to sell this candidate to Nigerians?
I also do not believe those statistics. Where do the statistics come from? You should quote the source. I fight this problem. I will pick holes as we go into 2019. The National Bureau of Statistics have said some jobs have been lost. It is not two million every year. I want to correct some of these things. We know jobs were lost. One, because of the slump in the economy, the oil majors laid off so many people. It was a general economic downturn in all oil producing countries. Venezuela went into depression. Brazil went into a depression. Russia went into a depression. There was a general problem everywhere. The question is what is government now doing to reclaim the economy and to create more job? You have heard of the national investment programmes. Those are the powerful programmes government has initiated and they are reclaiming jobs by that. It is the N-Power. The boost in agriculture, there is export now for the first time in many years. Everybody acknowledges that. Even the enemies acknowledge it. The is a lot of employment coming up in that sector. So, they are closing the gap. But we are not there. There is still a lot of unemployed youth out there. The point I want to concentrate on is that, is the government losing the fight? They are not losing the fight. There is a fight back and we are getting there slowly.
Do you see opponents of the president as enemies?
What I mean is political enemies. I qualify them as political enemies not enemies in the extreme sense but political enemies in a loose sense of being opponents. And those who wished him dead are enemies. You know some governors wished him dead. They took out adverts and wished him dead. Those are all enemies. Those are political opponents. Some took out adverts saying he will die. Let not be overly political correct and assume that the president does not have enemies. There are enemies among the opponents.
Campaign funding remains a major issue of concern. There were mutual recriminations between the PDP and the APC about how the 2015 elections were funded. Which funding model will you advise your party to adopt, for transparency?
The ideal thing is for members to contribute. But we know it is not going to be practicable here. Members should contribute, all members. But the, once that is not possible, we should target rich members. Those who are well to do. And the campaign funding that they do in the US, we should look at the model too. There of course problems there too but they reduce them to the barest minimum. For example, the cap in campaign spending. What brings about all of this corruption is when people try to outspend the other. If there is a cap on your spending and there is a cap on my spending, we are going to address issues more than try to outspend each other, than trying to buy votes. In other words, let money play a minimum role in determining who votes for you. It will be the power of persuasion that will work more than the power of money.
Given the concerns over the President’s health for long periods during his first term, would you support a campaign that candidates should fully disclose their health status?
I agree that candidates should declare their health status. But if somebody is sick and is well now discloses that he is well now, fine. He is ready to go, he is fit to go. Abacha was not sick at all, no history, nothing and he slumped and died. So, the fact that somebody was sick for three months is not a yardstick at all. Abacha was not sick for one day. In my acceptance letter, I mentioned the case of Morgan Tsvangarai. He was the most bitter opponent of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for years and he used age campaign. Mugabe is like 30 years older. Tsvangarai was telling the man he was too old and he wanted him to die in power. What happened? Tsvangarai died at the age of 65. Robert Mugabe is still kicking and in fact is even fully involved in the election coming up at the age of 94 and still has a young wife on a lighter side. So, don't talk about health. The issue is left to God. The area of health, when someone will or who is strong. It is not for me and for you to determine.
The President is asking Nigerians to trust him. He also needs to be forthcoming about what we are trusting. You've said you are in support of disclosure. Should we as Nigerians expect to hear what was actually wrong with the President?
What he said is he is fine. The doctor says he is fine. I think that is enough. When the doctor says he is fine and he says I am fit.
Shouldn't Nigerians know his health history? The standard all around the world is to provide a health history.
Where is the political Bible? Is there a Bible from God to say this is what must happen in this country? There is no political Bible anywhere. Every country will adopt its own standard. Once he says he is fine, he is fine. So, let us not set standards that are not sacrosanct, that God did not drop somewhere and human beings should follow.
What is the single greatest reason why you want Buhari to return to power?
The single greatest reason is for him to instill a different political culture before he leaves. He needs time to instill that culture different from what we have learnt government is all about. Let us be honest about it, do you know that most of our generation, we grew up to meet the PDP system. It is all about money. Once you enter, just share the money. You are in government? Even this my small appointment that has nothing to do with money, it is voluntary work. There is no money attached, no salary. I am still there in my private office working. The moment people heard, appointment of Keyamo, they had not finished pronouncing appoint before my gate filled up. It is a culture that we should stop. And a sense of entitlement that if you work, you must get public office or have access to public funds, is wrong. That culture must change. That is why one of my brothers in APC, an officer in APC, once accused the PDP that the oxygen upon which PDP survives is money. That is what they breathe. If there is no money, they will see the difference in the coming elections. They will see the difference from 1999 to 2015 because there is no access to Federal funds. That was all that gingered their members. Elections are coming, Federal funds are coming. That is the truth. That is the PDP culture. People have been campaigning for Buhari, nobody will survive this kind of onslaught without money. He lost in 2003, lost in 2007, lost in 2011 and his supporters remained intact. Where was the money coming from? People were selling houses, an old woman gate one million to him. These are the kind of people around Buhari. He does not need to release Federal funds for him to win in 2019. We are still there. It is voluntary, selfless service. We work for him and we have always been there. So, money is not our oxygen. Belief, trust, commitment is our oxygen. PDP's oxygen is money. Without money they can't breathe. They will die. That is why it about to die now, there is no money to breathe.