In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, the Director, Strategic Communications, Buhari Campaign Organisation, Mr Festus Keyamo (SAN), speaks about trending issues ahead of next month’s presidential election
You and others have been promoting the candidacy of President Muhammadu Buhari and yet an audio clip in which the Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Rotimi Amaechi, was purportedly criticising the President for his handling of the government, went viral recently. Doesn’t this mean you all don’t believe in the product you’re selling?
When you say ‘you’, I believe you are not asking the right question.
I’m referring to the campaign directorate.
Did you hear any of such words from the campaign team? Did you hear such words from me? So, why are you using one incident to generalise? It is not a fair question because you are passing a subliminal message to the public and in Philosophy 101, it is called hasty generalisation, which is wrong. Don’t use the conduct of one person to judge over 4,000 people who are on the field campaigning.
The Director-General of the campaign directorate (Amaechi) was heard on tape saying that poverty had increased under this administration. So, how do you expect to sell the candidature of Buhari in the light of this audio clip?
Let me ask you a rhetorical question. Have you heard another version of the tape where he talked about corruption being rife and because corruption is being tackled, everybody is crying? Have you heard that? If you have, that means there is some evidence of doctoring somewhere. If you have heard a second tape in which the minister was situating his statement within the context of fighting corruption, it means there has been some tampering and once there has been some tampering and editing, everything has become tainted and once everything is tainted, I don’t want to talk about it. Once there is no honesty on the side of those who released the tapes and there is evidence of editing, everything has been sullied and that ends the story. It shows desperation on their part to cut corners.
In an interview which you granted a newspaper in 2017, you said Buhari’s economic team was not doing well. Have you now changed your mind because of your new appointment?
Did you read the full interview or just read the headline? If you read the whole body of the text, you would not be asking me this question because the headline itself was dubious. I never said the President’s economic team failed and I have corrected this impression on Twitter before but because of this same desperation and lack of honesty, my words have been misconstrued. I spoke to that newspaper on that day thinking that they were honest, but they went ahead to reflect a wrong headline different from what I said and that is what I always tell journalists. All I said at that time was that the economic team needed reinforcement and that they needed to add more people to the team.
The opposition has accused you of not running an issue-based campaign but rather focusing on issues like the inability of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, to travel to the United States, which some people consider as trivial.
Have you seen me, the campaign spokesman, talking about Atiku not going to the US on my own? It is always done in response to an allegation, and the opposition is always the first to cast a stone. It is the opposition that is always chasing shadows. They have made unfounded allegations which are false. They make allegations without evidence and unfortunately, many journalists celebrate these baseless allegations as headlines. They don’t fact-check, they just let it go. The following week, the PDP makes another allegation and the media celebrates it without even investigating the previous one. For example, consider the issue of shares in some companies which they said members of the first family bought. When the companies came out to refute the allegations, the PDP shifted gear again, saying that they discovered that it was money meant for arms that would be used in purchasing shares. Now, they have abandoned that allegation and are moving to another one. They ask for issue-based campaigns but they are the ones that engage in dirty, useless politics. They engage in diversionary tactics, making allegations every day.
Fighting insecurity was one of the cardinal points on Buhari’s campaign. However, Zamfara, Kastina and Benue have experienced an upsurge in violent crisis and even the Zamfara governor has asked for a state of emergency to be declared in his state.
You have quietly slipped in Benue State and it is not true. You are passing a wrong message to the public.
But crisis in Benue increased under this government.
No, you are referring to a recent upsurge and rating it along with Zamfara, which is not right.
Alright, let us talk about Zamfara and Katsina where the President comes from.
Fine, that is what you should have asked. There has been peace in Benue in the last few months, which means there have been conscious efforts to stem the tide. Yes, there has been an upsurge of violence in Zamfara and Katsina states and I agree. The governors cried out. The Katsina case is a one-off because in the last three years, we hadn’t heard very serious cases from Katsina. These things are bound to happen once in a while and what we want to concentrate on is what the government is doing in that regard. I am sure you know of the deployment of troops in Zamfara. Most of the bandits were either killed or arrested and investigations are ongoing. These are age-long problems but thank God there is no religious or tribal spin on it because it is happening in a core Muslim area. If it were down South a bit, you would hear Christians versus Muslims. We want to let people know that efforts are ongoing (to curb the problem). All countries have their sore point when it comes to security issues. The United States is still battling with cases of mass shootings. It happens a lot and it has to do with gun control in America. So, even the police of the world have their own challenges. It happened under former President Barack Obama and it is happening under President Donald Trump. It is the collective responsibility of Republicans and Democrats.
Is it true that Zamfara State has been neglected because the All Progressives Congress will not be allowed to participate in elections there?
There has been violence in Zamfara since last year. We plead with journalists to also help to educate the people. The state has been a sore point since last year. We have these security issues around the world. In Kenya, it is Al-Shabaab.
The government declared over two years ago that Boko Haram had been technically defeated but what you see now is many soldiers being killed. Doesn’t it show that this whole victory against Boko Haram was mere propaganda?
No, it was not propaganda. At the time they were described as being technically defeated, they stopped killing soldiers and seizing territories. This is an asymmetric war in the sense that it is not a war where there is a particular territory where two battalions are fighting and one overruns the other and the war ends, territory is recovered, no. This is an asymmetric war, in the sense that these are terrorists. The war is not just about seizing territory, but causing havoc. They blow up innocent people and abduct others. So, it is a problem all over the world. It is not like the Biafran War when the Nigerian troops overran the Biafran soldiers and the war ended. The war is not such that we can easily say it is over because some territories were recovered.
What caused the recent upsurge in attacks?
You have to understand that once in a while, there may be some lapses. I am not saying that is exactly what happened but there might have been some lapses at the war zone that would give them (terrorists) the opportunity to cause havoc. But let me say again that this is not good and it is not something to be proud of that our soldiers are being killed, but it is far better than when we took over in 2015. That is the point we are making because the other side is running a comparative campaign. They are asking Nigerians if they are better off now than in 2015. So, we cannot allow the main opposition to be making a comparative analysis and then you tell us to shut up, that we should not refer to the past. That is what they are using to harass us and I will not be harassed along that line. The PDP is not an opposition party. It ruled for 16 years so they cannot be branded as an opposition party. They ran a government and they have a record to run on. So, it is record against record, apple for apple, banana for banana. Let us see which fruit is better and riper. I apologise to Nigerians by admitting that we are not yet world standard and I hope you will not use this part as the headline to say, ‘Keyamo says Nigeria is not world standard’. Don’t misconstrue the context. I admit that we have a lot of work to do as a nation to reach a level of greatness but this greatness cannot be achieved by the PDP. They had 16 years while we have had three and a half years. You cannot compare both of us based on the time. For equity, at least, give us eight years first; after eight years, compare us.
Based on what you said, can we say Boko Haram has not been defeated?
Boko Haram, in terms of its occupation of territory and hoisting flags and establishing governments, has been defeated.
The PDP recently called on the Presidency to release the full report of the arms probe, insisting that only one part of the report was released. The refusal of the Presidency to grant this request has fuelled speculations that some people in government are being protected. Is this true?
I am not privy to the arms report. If the PDP knows anything we don’t know, let them come forward with proof. It is not just about making wild allegations. Let them invoke the Freedom of Information Act if they need the report badly. I don’t know if it covers that report. I am all for openness and transparency.
Isn’t the complaint by some soldiers that they don’t have weapons evidence that funds are also being diverted under this government?
But under the last administration, you people based your allegations on the complaints by soldiers.
Have you heard that the $1bn which the government asked for has not even been released? So what are we talking about? So, there is no issue of misappropriation of any funds. The $1bn which the President asked for has not been approved by the National Assembly.
You’re for transparency but $400m was unilaterally taken by the President for weapons without recourse to the National Assembly.
That was for aircraft and not weapons and they will be delivered in 2021. So, no fund has been misappropriated. We have argued this matter before. It has been shown that there was a case of an emergency where there was a deadline to pay and these were aircraft we had been trying to buy for many years. They were not sold to the Goodluck Jonathan-led government and they didn’t initially sell to us until they gave us a small window to pay the money and if we wanted to really follow due process, we would have gone to all the 36 houses of assembly because the funds belong to all the tiers of government. So, it is not only the National Assembly that we would have sought approval from.
You people criticised Jonathan for campaigning during the insurgency and now there is insecurity again. Is it not hypocritical for Buhari to be campaigning?
We didn’t criticise Jonathan for campaigning amid insecurity.
But when he went to Kano to receive Mallam Ibrahim Shekerau at a rally, the APC issued a statement attacking Jonathan.
That was a time when a particular incident happened. It was not as if we complained about his general campaign. There was a particular disaster that had just happened and we said look, just give 24 or 48 hours to respect the dead. That is what normally happens. Just give one or two days. We couldn’t have said he should not campaign at all. But now they are complaining that we are not campaigning. So, it is confusing.
But they said the President failed to attend the recent burial of the air force pilots that died in a crash because he went to do politics.
What are they saying? The PDP is a confused party.
Why didn’t the President attend the burial?
The most important thing about the protection of our troops is to ensure that their allowances are paid, to ensure that their widows are well-taken care of and not to be shedding crocodile tears. The job of the commander-in-chief is very important to the extent that it goes straight to the core of the welfare of the soldiers. Inasmuch as attending the burial of soldiers is very important, it is not the decisive element to show whether a commander-in-chief cares or not. But I agree that it is very important.
One of the cardinal promises of Buhari’s campaign in 2015 was the creation of three million jobs per year. However, the National Bureau of Statistics has been posting unprecedented unemployment figures with over 20 million persons of employable age left without jobs. Doesn’t this mean Buhari has failed?
No, he has not failed because when you make campaign promises, it is done within the context of what is called ceteris paribus, which means all things being equal. For any promise made anywhere in the world, you assume the indices will remain right, you assume you inherit a sane economy, you assume that the books will remain good and all that and then when we took over in 2015, what did we see in the books? We saw that there was a downward trend already in terms of economy; the Gross Domestic Product was fast falling.
But all this was in the public domain when the promises were being made.
Who said we were aware?
The NBS had been releasing figures, the foreign reserves and other information had always been made public even while you were all campaigning.
But who said we were fully aware of the books because we were not in government and they would not have opened the books to us. We could have sketchy knowledge of what was going on but not in-depth knowledge of the rot that happened. They didn’t tell Nigerians that they were borrowing money to pay salaries before the elections. They didn’t tell Nigerians that they had depleted the foreign reserves. Also, no one could have predicted the fall in the global price of oil. It would have been different if we had met a diversified economy, where agriculture was booming and solid mineral was booming. At the point we made so much money, we should have branched off into other sectors like the way Dubai did such that when oil prices fell, it did not really affect them since tourism was their strongest point. Why didn’t we do that when we had so much more than oil?
But Atiku is coming to create jobs. He is coming to diversify the economy and create new sectors just like the PDP did when GSM came to Nigeria.
I know even you don’t believe what he is saying. The GSM was not a special creation of that regime and they need to stop deceiving Nigerians. Even Benin Republic, which is a small country, got GSM before us. So, it was not a special thing. GSM was sweeping across the world at that time; it was a worldwide revolution and Nigeria was even one of the last set of countries to have it. So, it is symptomatic of the fact that Atiku’s camp has nothing to sell to Nigerians. So, despite the 16 years they had, they could not even fix infrastructure. They could have at least fixed power and all the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises would have boomed and unemployment rate would have dropped, but that was not done. So, it would take time to fix this critical infrastructure and that is why we think that because President Buhari is on the right path and redirecting the focus of the country away from handouts, he deserves enough time to do these things before he takes a rest.
But it is being said that the only thing Buhari is doing is taking credit for projects that were initiated by the PDP.
If it was so easy to complete projects, why didn’t they complete Ajaokuta and Warri projects that were inherited from the military? That rail line in Warri was already laid before the PDP came into power. All they needed to do was to revive it. It was a standard gauge, one of the best rail lines in Africa. All they needed to do was to buy coaches and revive the rail but for 16 years, they abandoned this. So, I ask again, if it was so easy to complete projects, why didn’t they complete Ajaokuta and Warri rail lines? Another simple question: If it was so easy to complete unfinished projects, why didn’t they complete the Mambilla power project, which is about to take off? So, what are we talking about? So, no one should ever downplay the importance of completing projects.
When will one naira equal one dollar as promised by your principal? Has the project been abandoned?
This is another lie which the PDP has been telling Nigerians. I have been telling people to show me one link where the President said it.
It was published by the News Agency of Nigeria in March 2015.
It was not Buhari that said it. I challenge you to put the link for Nigerians to see. Put it up so that you can disgrace me before Nigerians. If you don’t add this in your interview, I will issue a statement to that effect. Put the link in your newspaper report where Buhari promised to make one naira equal to a dollar. At what venue did he say it?
He said it at a rally in Owerri in 2015.
You must show us the link and the tape where Buhari said he would make naira equal to one dollar. If you cannot find the link, let that allegation stop here because Buhari never said such a thing.
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It was published by the News Agency of Nigeria
Well, you know NAN was controlled by the Federal Government at that time. So, let us see the link.
The President was quoted as saying recently that state funds should not be used in campaigning. But why are government agencies sponsoring Buhari’s adverts?
Did you see ‘vote for APC’ in any of the adverts? Are you saying the Ministry of Information does not have a duty of informing Nigerians because of elections? Should governance stop because elections are around the corner? What is the job of the ministry? Is it not to inform Nigerians?
Nigeria was among the fastest growing economies in Africa under Jonathan but today we are not even in the top five, according to the IMF.
We were not fastest growing under Jonathan. We were named largest economy at the time but what happened was that oil reached an all time high of $140 per barrel and production reached an all time peak of 2.3 million barrels per day because there was no militancy in the Niger Delta region. So, it was not an all-inclusive growth but it was based on earnings from oil at that time. It was an artificial growth and immediately after oil prices fell, the economy crashed. The World Bank had even said Nigeria had one of the highest rates of poor people in the entire African continent and it was put at 112 million extremely poor persons. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (former Minister of Finance) also told us to prepare for recession.
But can this 2019 budget lift Nigerians out of poverty since the money voted for payment of debts exceeds the one for capital projects?
It was done this way because we have to be responsible. The debts you are referring to were incurred by the PDP. They incurred debts at 19 per cent interest while Buhari is doing it at nine per cent. So, who is more responsible? And he is even trying to use some of the money to pay back loans that they took. It is not true that we have borrowed more money than them. We have not borrowed more than N4tn which is $10bn. They left a debt of$63bn.
But some of these loans were taken by states which also include APC states like Lagos and Osun.
But you can see the infrastructure development in Lagos. Did you see that of the Jonathan-led government?
Lagos still has a huge infrastructure deficit.
But you have seen the progress made in Lagos and bridges built in Agege, Aboru. You have seen the bridge built at VGC, Ikoyi. Oshodi has even been transformed with a terminus. The PDP government took all the money.
Why is the anti-corruption war one-sided?
How? Let us talk about conviction rate first because conviction is the end of all prosecution.
But can we say he has done well since all those whose prosecutions started since 2015 have been members of the opposition? The only APC persons who have been convicted are those whose cases started long before this government came into power.
At least the President didn’t stop their prosecution because they joined the APC. So, give him credit for that first. Don’t forget that some of these persons defected from the PDP to shield themselves from prosecution but their cases continued. So, we deserve commendation. Don’t forget that this government has concentrated on recoveries even more that prosecution. I hope you know monies have been recovered from even the President’s close associates. I hope you know that? One or two of them was found to have taken some arms funds and they returned the money. No one has been spared.
What of Godswill Akpabio (a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State), who was accused of fraud but is now in the campaign team?
What happened to Akpabio? This is just blackmail. What is Akpabio’s case? Is there a clear directive for his case to stop? Because Akpabio just joined the APC a few months ago. So, if there was a deliberate plan to charge him, they should have done that since. He has left office since 2015 and was in PDP for over three years before joining the APC. So, why didn’t they charge him if there was strong evidence against him?
What of the former SGF, Babachir Lawal, who is leading the President’s campaign in Adamawa State?
But you cannot stop anybody from campaigning for you.
But he has not been charged over two years after he was indicted by a presidential panel?
Is there a time frame? There are PDP members that have been under investigation since 2015 but have not been charged up till now because cases differ and don’t forget that you are using administrative indictments as a basis for him to be charged. Don’t forget that administrative indictment is different from criminal prosecution. I may sack you because I believe you have breached rules of this office but it may not amount to a crime
But the Senate also found him wanting.
But the National Assembly’s position is not a basis to prosecute. You also have to go through normal criminal investigation. What is done at the National Assembly is not criminal investigation.
But you have been using legislative indictments to campaign against Atiku.
In the case of Atiku, in America, apart from a congressional hearing that indicted him, there was also an FBI investigation that arrested and indicted and convicted his co-accused persons.
But the Department of Justice said Atiku was not under probe.
The DOJ said there was no pending case. And that is because there is a sealed indictment but they will not tell you. There are sealed and unsealed indictments in the US. What they are saying is that there is no pending charge. If it was an open charge, they would have asked for an extradition. I have said this over a month ago and Atiku’s people have not disputed this.