Mr Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, was on Channels TV to field questions on state of the nation from Mr Seun Okinbaloye during Sunday Politics programme (March 27, 2016).
Q: The queue for fuel is still persistent because I was on queue for 5 hours to get N5, 000 fuel before I was able to refuel.
A: You got fuel eventually. That is what matters at the end of the day. There is hope.
Q: We have seen too many queues at filling stations in less than a year of President Buhari’s administration. Isn’t it bothering this administration?
A: You seem to forget very early that before this administration, it was like that. It is an endemic Nigerian problem and is not peculiar to this administration.
Q: Should we now live with it right now?
A: If it means living with it for a while, we have to, until it gets better because it is not going to be by a sudden flight, it is going to be a methodical and systematic process, but we will get there.
Q: It takes ordinary Nigerians to just have hope when they have to face the rigour of queuing for fuel for their ‘I pass my neighbour’ generator to power their home appliances.
A: That is sad and regrettable, but it is the reality of the moment. We have to live with it for a while but we know that better days will come.
Q: You have heard the comment of the Minister of State for petroleum, Mr Ibe Kachukwu about the fact of the availability of fuel and a number of Nigerians have taken him up for it. Even the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has said that his statement is not acceptable, when will the queues go away?
A: The Minister is the one who has the authority to give the actual position, he has given it and I think it is what we should believe.
Q: That the queue will stay another month?
A: He has more brief….
Q: What is the official brief from the President?
A: There won’t be another official brief apart from what he has said.
Q: The President should have a better brief because he is the chief executive of the state. People are suffering across board. In some states, fuel is N130 per litre above N86 official rate.
A: Once you don’t have a control of all the variables, such things are bound to happen. We lived in this country 16 years of PDP, even before then, there was the military rule, the process of refining petroleum locally was virtually short- circuited .The refineries were there and were allowed to run aground and when you don’t have the variables under control, anything can happen. It used to be that NNPC imports 60% petroleum products, at a point it crept up to 70%, now it is almost 100 per cent. When a situation like that is on ground, anything can happen. Once, there is a slight hitch, it throws the process into a tailspin. Once you don’t have complete control, things like that can happen.
Q: The President is the father of the nation and if your children are going hungry, he should be able to tell them ‘wait till night, I will bring you food’, when are we expected to see relief in our filling stations?
A: The Minister of Petroleum said in weeks and that amounts to May. I think the Minister spoke with candour, maybe he didn’t weigh the words but he said the truth at the end. Would people rather prefer him to say in two weeks and it doesn’t happen? The month of May is how many weeks away? Maybe about five weeks. I think the Minister should not be crucified for his statement.
Q: So, Nigerians will suffer for another few weeks and probably buy it higher from people who are hoarding it?
A: If that came from the Minister of Petroleum, we should believe him and I think that word was modified thereafter, when he said it would be a couple of weeks, not May. The truth of the matter is that Nigerians including me may need to wait a while more before normalcy returns to filling stations. But will normalcy return? Yes, it will. Will Nigerians get out of this rough patch eventually? Yes, we will get out of it.
Q: The President has apologised to the nation a few times on some key issues and Nigerians are wondering if apologies will solve some of these issues? And some critics in some quarters have said that Nigeria needs a strong direction in terms of economic recovery policies, especially some of the governors.
A: I know what you are driving at. Some of the governors have a right to their opinions, we don’t join issues with them but then, if the President apologises to the nation, it is a problem and if he does not apologise, it is another problem. With Nigerians, head or tail, you often lose. Would you rather that he does not apologise when things have gone wrong like that…
Q: Nigerians will never want him to apologise but for him to fix the problem. Which is much better.
A: Because Nigerians always want a magic wand and it does not necessarily work like that. …
Q: The president and his party during campaign promised almost magic…things that are unrealistic
A: Mark your own words… almost magic. But not magic.
Q: The president promised that by end of 2019, there will 10,000 megawatts, looks like magic
A: it doesn’t look so
Q: is that realistic?
A: Don’t forget that about four weeks ago, Nigeria had 5,070 megawatts of electricity with a promise that by December 2016, another 2,000 megawatts would be added, which will make it 7,070 megawatts. If at the end of 2016, we have 7,000 megawatts, what makes 10,000 megawatts not possible by 2019?
Q: That 5,070 that you mentioned because we are back to less than 3,000 and many Nigerians are not aware.
A: You know what happened? After we had that 5,000, we had a vandalism in Bayelsa, we lost about 1,600 megawatt, thereafter in Delta, we lost another 1,000 megawatt. If some Nigerians are crying over power outage, they should hold those people who vandalised the installations responsible. But 10,000 megawatts as the president has promised is a possibility by 2019.
Q: Again, does this nation have a clearly defined economic policy direction?
A: Now, let me illustrate with this, you have a government in which the number 2 man, the vice president heads the economic team, the finance minister, Trade and finance minister, Minister for budget and National planning, Central Bank governor, Economic Adviser to the president, and yet people still keep asking for an economic team? What else do they need?
Q: The economic direction is what Nigerians are asking for?
A: Yes, are they not the people that will fashion out the direction?
Q: We want the direction and the average Nigerian doesn’t want to know the people in the team but where we are headed to as a nation?
A: It is clear were we are headed to as a nation and those people manning the economy will tell you where we are headed. I am not an economist but I know that the direction in which they are headed is that there are luxuries that we cannot continue to indulge in, those luxuries are being weeded out. Essential forex is being warehoused and saved in the real sector for more productive usage.
Q: After the Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka asked for an economic summit, few days later, there was an announcement of economic retreat. Would you say that retreat was fruitful at the end of the day?
A: I will just like to correct the sequence that you just went through. Prof Soyinka asked for an economic summit but what happened was not what he asked for because before he asked for a summit, the National Economic Council had decided to hold a retreat. And don’t forget that the president at an interview in Qatar had said if someone people want to sit and hold a summit, the government is not averse to it. But what happened last week was not what Prof. Soyinka canvassed for. The National Economic Council had decided to hold that retreat before Prof. Soyinka spoke.
Q: Do you think that retreat was fruitful?
A: Well, to the best of my knowledge (I was there at the opening ceremony, the other two days, I was not.)A report is going to come out on that summit and thereafter, we will be able to judge. I know where you are driving at because a governor has been saying some things and he has rights to what he has said. We know those who were at that summit are not frivolous people.
Q: You are saying it wasn’t a jamboree?
A: It is not by any means, because this government is not given to jamboree anyway.
Q: How much was spent on that summit?
A: I heard a ridiculous amount that somebody mentioned, let him justify it,
Q: N250 million has been spent so far on the retreat…
A: The person who alleged that that amount was spent should justify it. (It may as well be N1 billion or any figure but let him justify it.)
Q: Very interesting. But again, we understand that the budget has been passed at the National Assembly, has the President received that budget?
A: You need to know the process. When the National Assembly passes a budget, which was done on Thursday, a clean copy would then be communicated to the President .Of course ,if the presidency had sent a budget, which was reduced by N17 billion, he would need to study it to see things that were taken out. And then, if some things had been juggled, you need to see and be sure that you agree with the juggling.
Q: This clean copy, you are talking about has it been communicated to the president?
A: You know that was done on Wednesday, and Thursday was the last working day for the week. (I am not quite sure whether it had got to the president as at Thursday)
Q: Look at the current economic reality that we face as a nation, oil production rate, oil benchmark, the dollar system, which is some of the spine of the budget that was passed. The dollar still stands at N300 at the parallel market, if you look at it, do you think that the president is not losing the steam from the perspective of the average Nigerian on the street.
A: Losing steam as how?
Q: In terms of promises made before the election and people have been waiting for almost a year and the budget is just passed. People are just wondering that for almost a year, we have not really seen the dividend that has been promised by the APC government.
A: You are not likely to see the dividend within a year because it is a four –year mandate. If you are in a long distance race, you pace yourself. You may start with a burst of energy and stop mid-way. And those who have paced themselves properly will pass you along the way and breast the tape before you. It is a four-year mandate, this is the 10th month and there is still 38 months to go. We need to be a lot realistic. I just pray that those who have been cynical and critical will be humble enough to eat their words when they begin to see things happening.
Q: So Nigerians should begin to see things in a big way?
A: I can assure you
Q: He travels so much isn’t it, averagely even more than President Barack Obama, when he became president of the United States?
A: if there are trips that are essential, why not?
Q: Couldn’t he have sent his vice?
A: There are trips for the vice president, where a president can be represented and he often gets represented. But there are other places where you expect to see Mr President. Our president is not a frivolous man. Let me tell you something, in September last year(2015), the United Nations Assembly was going to hold on Salah day, the president was in Katsina state, he prayed in the morning, they slaughtered the ram, by 2pm on that same day, the president took off for New York. Now, would he not have loved to stay with his family for Sallah? But that is the sacrifice the man is making for the country.
Q: Nigerians are impatient and waiting for the dividend of democracy
A: The dividend will come but I hope and pray that when they do come, these people who are so critical will be humble enough to admit that they were wrong, and say sorry, Mr President. We got it wrong but you got it right.
Q: Will president Buhari run for election in 2019?
A: That is his decision to take.
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