I Encouraged Buhari To Run For President Again – Femi Adesina

I Encouraged Buhari To Run For President Again – Femi Adesina
June 18 22:34 2015 Print This Article

In this interview with SAHARA TV monitored by ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, the
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi
Adesina, who is also the immediate past Managing Director of The SUN
and President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, speaks about his
appointment

Are you excited about your appointment?

Well, it is a call to service and one should be thankful when called
to serve one’s country.

With this appointment, will you be switching sides that is, from
scrutinising the government to defending the government?

Let me first of all examine what you said, that I will switch sides
from scrutinising to defending the government. No. The scrutinising
part will still be part of my duty. Before I can speak for the
government, I must first scrutinise the decisions and the policies and
then make an input before I can then defend. So, it is not a total
switch. There must still be a lot of scrutinising because anything I
am going to defend, I have got to be able to understand it, agree with
it and see the rationale behind it before I can defend it. So, it is
not a total switch.

So, what if you do not agree with a policy? How will you approach it?

If I don’t agree with a policy, I will first ask for an explanation
and when I am given the explanation, I will make my input. But then,
my input does not have to override what may be in the public interest
or what is in the interest of the larger number of people. My opinion
might not necessarily be the correct one. So, when such challenges
come, you have to weigh it and say, ‘is it in the larger interest of
the people, is it in the interest of the country? Will it eventually
result in a better standard of living for the people?’ That is the way
to look at it. It doesn’t have to be something I must agree with all
the time. I should be able to appraise the decisions that have been
made and seek to understand them and then make my contribution as
necessary.

There are reports that you know President Muhammadu Buhari very
closely. What is your relationship with him?

I will say ‘yes’. The President is somebody that I have admired for a
long time since he was a military ruler. When he was a military ruler,
I was already in my third year in the university. So, I can say I knew
him and his style and I liked it. I felt sorry when his government was
overthrown. So, when he came back into partisan politics in 2003, it
was something that was very exciting for me and since then, I have
been supporting him. I am a journalist and I write a weekly column. I
have been pointing Nigerians in his direction since 2003. And whenever
I wrote anything in his (Buhari’s) support, he would call me on the
telephone and we would discuss and he would thank me. I remember in
2009 or thereabout when Prof. Tam David-West wrote a book on Buhari
and it was to be presented at the Nigerian Institute of International
Affairs. I was the Master of Ceremony on the occasion; so, we got to
speak and know each other better. That was the first time I would meet
him (Buhari) in person. Thereafter, he ran for Presidency in 2011 and
I still wrote in my column that I thought he was the best person to
rule Nigeria and bring a change. Whenever I wrote those things, he
would call me and he would thank me and we would talk.

So, eventually, in August 2013, I lost my mother and we needed to do
her funeral. So, I sent Buhari an invitation card. The service was in
Lagos and lo and behold, before the service started, he drove in. It
was a pleasant surprise. It was a Christian service and he sat through
it. Those who had said that he was a religious bigot were shocked.
This was a Muslim man that came for a Christian service and attended
the full service and yet they were saying he was a religious bigot.
So, that act cemented our relationship because after the event, I
phoned him the next day and thanked him but he said he was the one
that should be grateful because he had never given me a kobo and yet I
always gave him all the support. He said there were people that could
pay me millions of naira for such support but I had decided to pitch
my tent with somebody that could not give me anything. So, that
cemented our relationship.

You know, in 2011, he said he would not contest the Presidency again
but in the run up to the 2015 elections, I felt he should still run
and I wrote that the fact that he said in 2011 that he would not run
again could not be carved in concrete and he could change his mind if
he wanted and the rest, they say, is history. He changed his mind, he
ran and he won. Significantly, on the night that he was declared the
winner, my phone rang around midnight and one of our leaders in the
media called and said, ‘Please hold on for Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’. I
was shocked and when he spoke to me, he said he appreciated my support
throughout the campaigns and now that victory had come his way, he
just wanted to say thank you. So, that was how it played out.

How did you get the appointment? Did he call you or were you interviewed?

After he had been declared winner and after he had called me on the
telephone, I deliberately stayed away from him for two reasons. The
first was because I knew he would be under a lot of pressure. A lot of
people would be calling to congratulate him and probably seeking one
thing or the other. So, I think from that night, which was March 31, I
deliberately stayed away from him because I did not want to add to the
pressure that would be on him and secondly, I didn’t want it to be
that I was seeking a position in his government. I am a born again
Christian and I want anything that happens or comes my way to be what
God has ordained. I don’t push anything; I don’t lobby for anything,
so I kept my distance from him. But then, people around him kept
talking to me and kept telling me that they believed I was the best
person to be the spokesman for the incoming President. However, I did
not give any commitment for two reasons. The first, as I said earlier,
was that I didn’t want to lobby and secondly, I have a job that I
enjoy doing: Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of one of the leading
newspapers in the country, The SUN, and then, I was also the President
of the Nigeria Guild of Editors. Those are high calibre jobs and
responsibilities. So, I wasn’t looking for a job, but then, people
around me kept talking to me till eventually, there was some sort of
interview but I would not say it was a direct interview but people
singled me out to say, ‘Well, if you are invited to serve in
government, will you serve’? My conviction had always been that I
would never serve in a government except one headed by Muhammadu
Buhari. So, when they singled me out, I told them I didn’t think I
wanted to serve in the government but since it is Muhammadu Buhari, I
will consider it. But I also reminded them that I also have a job and
I have to consult with my Publisher (Orji Uzor Kalu) and I have to
seek his blessings. Reluctantly too, my Publisher gave his blessings.
He told me that they would not know the sacrifice he had made by
letting me go but since it is a service to the country, I have his
blessings. So, I got back to them and told them ‘yes’, that I had
sought my publisher’s blessing and the next I heard was the
announcement that I had been appointed Special Adviser on Media and
Publicity.

You will be going into the job in a changing media landscape. You will
grapple with the social media and the traditional media. How do you
hope to navigate these two worlds?

I would rather refer to the social media as digital media because the
social media is just a variant of the digital media. Nobody can do
anything successfully in the media today without factoring in the
digital media. The social media, the digital media and every other
thing will be used together. You would have seen the role they played
in the campaigns. You could feel the pulse of the electorate and could
already discern the direction the election would follow by merely
following the digital media, particularly the social aspect of that
digital media. It played a major role in the campaigns and there is no
way you are going to ignore it. The traditional media has its place
because there are people who are still glued to it. But the younger
generation uses the digital media, so, you then need to use all the
avenues to reach the people.

So far, what do the media headlines, regarding Buhari’s
administration, say to you about what you are going to be dealing with
on the job?

I will tell you that it is no tea party. It is going to be a hectic
work, but then, it is going to be me working for somebody that I
believe in. So, I guess I will have to throw my all into it. I am
under no illusion that the job is going to be easy or a picnic. It
will not be. But I will throw my all into it and as long as my
principal remains who he is: straight, accountable, focused and
someone who wants to effect a change in the country, I guess we will
get it done. When you have a good product, the marketing is easier.

Have you spoken with previous government spokesmen like Dr. Reuben
Abati and Mr. Segun Adeniyi?

I have spoken with Segun Adeniyi (the late President Umaru Yar’adua’s
spokesman); I have spoken with Ima Niboro who was former President
Goodluck Jonathan’s first spokesman; but I have not spoken to Reuben
Abati.

What advice did they give you?

They gave me an insight into how to do the job successfully. I have
spoken with Segun more than once but I have spoken with Ima Niboro
just once. I will meet with Segun again and we will talk.

culled from The Punch

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