By Lateef Adewole
On Tuesday, when news made round that President Buhari will be granting another interview to another top rated television, the Channels Television, there were much expectations and many of us looked forward to know what he wanted to say. There was also the second one on the Nigerian Televison Authority (NTA). I doubt if many paid much attention to that. Personally, I didn’t. This is the first week of the year. Many felt, may be, this year will be different and we might see and hear more of him in the media. This will be at variance with his usual taciturnity, if so.
When the cameras began to roll and I saw Maupe Ogun and Seun Okinbaloye of Channels Tv as the interviewers, I was impressed and expected an intriguing interaction. Although, with all due respect to them, they could not be said to be in the class of those who interviewed the president by Arise Tv crew last year. By my assessment, that Arise Tv interview was the most comprehensive one I have watched president Buhari ever granted, at least, since he became president in 2015. It was also where the president was most coordinated in his responses.
The Arise crew had the Chairman of the station himself involved, Chief Nduka Obaigbena, Dr. Reuben Abati and Mr. Segun Adeniyi. The last two are senior, highly respected journalists, who were once in that Aso Rock as presidential spokesmen. Maupe and Seun, distinguished journalists, representing the new generation in journalism. They performed very well, asked many relevant questions, without being intimidated, but it was many of the responses that were watery. Many so ordinary, contrary to incisive expectations. Many were off the point, while others were simply repetition.
I could see that the crew had so much to ask the president but they seemed to be under immense pressure to make it as snappy as possible, unlike during the Arise interview. One could also sense the feeling of being “done a favour” by the presidency. They are seen as “smaller fries”, compared to Arise crew. The inner feeling of the president could be caught in his passing comment on closing the interview, even when it seemed like a joke. He was so much in a hurry to end the interview and get away. While the crew thanked him, his response was: “thank you for punishing me”. As the Yorubas will say: “whatever a drunk says while in stupor is what he thinks about while he is sober”. That said.
There are many issues that the interview threw up, some of which have been trending, based on the responses that the president gave. We could categorise them into the usual tripod that the president’s campaigns in 2015 and 2019 were based: insecurity, economy and fighting corruption.
The successes recorded in the fighting of bokoharam terrorists who were in many states and controlled some local governments before his coming was reiterated by President Buhari. The liberation of those 18 local government areas by the military and constriction of the bokoharam and ISWAP terrorists to only small area in Borno state, is a feat that this administration should be commended for. Although, many people might still be in IDP camps but many others have been resettled back to their communities. This is an achievement.
In my opinion, internal saboteurs could be drawing back the hands of time in this regard because, they must be profiting from continued insecurities in that region. This is because, every time Governor Zulum of Borno state promised to resettle people from IDP camps, another attack usually happened within few days after. Those making money from the crisis, whether civilian or in the security circle, whether inside or outside the government, would not want peace to reign in the state. Adamawa and Yobe states have been relatively peaceful from bokoharam attacks. These are appreciable successes of Buhari administration.
Unfortunately, these successes have been wiped off by the preponderance of insecurities, perpetrated by the bandits across all other northern states. They have just been equally and reluctantly declared as terrorists few days ago, after they have wrecked unimaginable and unquantifiable havocs. These groups could have killed more in total, than the bokoharam. The grim statistics as usually reelled out by Kaduna state government and many other agencies are scary. 100 people were just massacred in Zamfara as at the time the president was granting that interview.
Thousands of people have been kidnapped, raped, maimed and killed by bandits. Millions have been displaced from their communities. Numerous communities and their farmlands have been razed down. All these within six years. The damages that bandits have done have almost outweighed those of terrorists. This is because they are everywhere. Towns and villages. They attack everything and anyone; young or old. Students, travellers, farmers, traders and just anybody. Unlike bokoharam who usually targeted particular location at a time, bandits are loose canons, destroying anyone and anything in their wake, with impunity, and less or no consequences all along.
This is the reason why they became emboldened, coming out publicly to grant interviews, having meetings with governors and security personnel and dictating to constituted authorities and giving them conditions, as seen many times in the past. Likewise in the south. The heinous activities of killer fulani herdsmen excalated in the last six years. They kidnapped, raped, maimed and killed as they wished. This gave cover to many other criminals who continued to commit these crimes under the guise of fulani herdsmen across southern Nigeria.
The escalation of instability due to the IPOB agitations, the establishment of Eastern Security Network (ESN) to battle insecurities in the South-East and emergence of unknown gunmen, who have almost destroyed the region, could not be considered improvement in general insecurities across Nigeria. No one could give pass mark for the administration in that, based on where we are now, when compared to where we were before their coming in 2015.
When the president was asked about a permanent solution to all of these, his fixation on cattle grazing routes and grazing reserves across the country is unnerving. What is it with him and this archaic practice of nomadic herding of cows in the 21st century? He kept talking about culture of the cattle herders. Where on earth is an outdated culture of a certain people, which is causing crisis and deaths of humans, is raised above national concerns?
Everywhere in the world, agriculture and animal rearing, especially cows, are being modernised with technology. This has helped increased productivity, improved yields and quality of meats and leather skins derived, as well as improve the health and well-being of the cattle and their herders. But, President Buhari wants his appointees to go and look for gazettes of 1963 and before, where lands were confiscated and assigned for cows. If human beings have occupied those lands, if they existed at all, should we send them away, demolish their accommodations, so that cows can live and move around? I don’t get it.
Now that bandits have finally been designated terrorists, we hope maximum force will be used to wiped them off as advocated by Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna. This was put to President Buhari but the answer he gave was not that forceful. I hope such body language would not impede the military from doing their jobs.
When a lie is repeated long enough, it will likely be accepted as truth. That’s how I can describe the often repeated claim by the president that for 16 years, crude oil productions were 2.1 million barrels per day and that the price averaged at over 100 dollars per barrel. This is not completely true. On few occasions that I have been told this by people, I have had to debunk it based on available data. Only in five years did crude price actually averaged at close to 100 dollars per barrel. They were 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. At other years, the price was lower. As low as less than 20 dollars per barrel in 1999.
In similar manner, only few years were crude oil productions ever “officially” crossed 2 million barrels per day (bpd). There was always crisis throughout Obasanjo’s administration due to his confrontational approach to the issues in Niger Delta. Pipelines were always blown off, oil workers kidnapped, oil rigs attacked, production and transportation of crude oil constantly distrupted. The volumes were far less than 2 million bpd most times. At the inception of President Yar’adua’s government, it went as low as 800,000 bpd or less. This informed his amnesty programme that eventually stabilised the region. Same peace we enjoyed till date. Oil production soared.
President Jonathan reaped this peace efforts, which he and many leaders of Niger Delta brokered and ensured, as he took over after the death of Yar’adua. More so, he’s “their son”, as we say here in Nigeria. The crude oil production was steady and increasing. So, in the 16 years, the crude oil production was still far less than 2 million bpd in many years. What they did with the proceeds is another kettle of fish. Nigerians believed they squandered most of them, especially in the last administration that enjoyed the oil boom period. This was one of the reasons they were booted out and the current administration, led by President Buhari, was voted in. Has there been much changes from the past? That’s also another issue entirely.
Seun Okinbaloye reeled out some economic indices now, compared with before Buhari’s administration took over in 2015. He said and I quote: “When you took over in 2015, our debt stock at the time was about 12 trillion, now it’s about 32 trillion. inflation rate was about 9%, it’s now sitting at about 15%, unemployment rate was about 9.2%, it’s now at about 32.2%, exchange was about 197 to a dollar, now it’s way over 400 naira to a dollar. Now people would look back and say before you took over some of these indicators are fair, and now the figures are not friendly at all”.
The president’s response was, and I quote: “well, I am not sure how corret your calculations are, but all I know is that we have to allow people have access to the farm. We just have to go back to the land”. This is one of the many off-point responses observed in the course of the interview. Either the poor economic performances were too embarrassing and indefensible by the president or he is not aware, given his opener of the sentence, querying the statistics. That’s another problem on its own.
No one needs to be told about the hardship that is bitting Nigerians now. People who live freely on our meagre collective resources might not feel it or feign ignorant of the current situation. With increasing poverty, question as to how the plan by the administration to lift 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years was going, was asked. The president could not provide concrete, concise and well articulated response. Generally, he seemed unprepared for that interview, despite that the questions were asked to be sent ahead of the interview, as a precondition for approving the granting of it. It is expected that all the answers to all the questions would have been prepared for him. He would have gone through them and get ready. That seemed not to be the case here.
The president mentioned how closing our land borders with neighbouring countries has improved our rice production to the point that we are now net exporter. I am still searching for which countries we export to and what quantities. This is because, the price of rice is still not cheap, including local rice, which still sells as much as 18,000 naira for 50kg, as against foreign rice that costs between 26,000. and 32,000. naira for the same size, depending on your location.
By the way, how does foreign rice still enter the country despite the closed borders? Has that closure truly impacted on our local economy and proliferation of firearms, as anticipated? I have my doubts. Since the closure, many manufacturing companies have had to sack workers as a result of low production since exporting to these countries were no longer possible. Some others outrightly closed down. The security situation has since worsened and gone out of hands in the last two years, despite the border closure. Something is definitely amiss.
The president claimed stealing has been stopped as a result of their fight against corruption. How so? To be fair to the president, many must have been scared in 2015 and had hoped to change their ways. This was evidence in the first few weeks and months of the administration. But, as the time went by, people realised this President Buhari is not the same General Buhari they knew as military head of state in the early 80’s. People went back to their ways. This is evident in many corruption allegations against people serving in the government as civil and public servants and political appointees.
Also, in fairness too, the stealing now is no longer “democratic” like in the previous administrations where everyone stole in any position they found themselves. They also flaunt their loots about town, lavishing money all over. Today, stealing is “exclusive”. It is confined to only people close to power. They do so surreptitiously and codedly. They do not openly rub it on the faces of masses like before, except in some occasions when they celebrate weddings of their children and the likes. That should count for something, as far as fight against corruption is concerned. At least, they “fear” President Buhari in public.
Many other questions and responses were just regular. Not detailed. He feared for the life of his preferred successor if he names him. That’s fair enough. Mentioning anyone at this time could destabilise his party and even affect the whole country. Also, he reiterated his position on the electoral amendments and made commitment to sign it once the concerns he raised were amended. We hope the national assembly will expedite action on it and resend to him for his assent. We cannot throw away the baby with the birth water. It is very critical to the successful conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Ekiti and Osun states, and moving to 2023. One would have thought state police will be of concern to a president whose country is in tatters due to insecurities. He just dismissed it casually when asked.
In all, it will be a great improvement in the communication strategy of this government if regular interviews by the president, such as this, is granted. It will keep the citizens informed of government businesses and know the thinking of their president, what he is doing, etc, instead of many situations that usually looked like he had gone “awol”, especially at moments of national challenges. In future, the president’s handlers should prepare him more properly, ensure he gets all necessary statistics to answer any question, which are true, not just what they know he would like to hear. The interviews are not for him, but for the people, Nigerians!
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
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