I felt happy because like the rest of the country, I had thought that the President was coming back in better health – probably in a better state of mind – to tackle the problems of the country, which in the 104 days of his absence have been compounded. They (the problems) have taken some ugly dimensions, which would require very careful handling. That was exactly my mood: I thought that the country would be better off by his return because he’s not a private citizen. I believe that even those who are now projected and presented as (unsupportive) people towards him are also Nigerians and they must have voted for him – or at least, they are concerned about the mandate he is holding for all of us. So, it was important that he came back in good health. That was my feeling.
Do you agree with those who believe it was the protests in Abuja and London that forced him to return home?
Honestly, in my entire public service career, I have never been given to speculation and thoughts that are not helpful. Secondly, they tend to create more dust than they really settle any problem. So, I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. But if actually, he came back as a result of protests on the streets and in the public domain, on social media, it shows that, at least, he is trying to be a listening president, which was not the case in the past two years that he has been in power. And perhaps it was time for a change to assert himself instead of allowing his mandate, which is legitimate and moral, to be exercised and abused by the cabal (he’s surrounded by).
There was a lot of fanfare when Buhari returned. Do you think it was genuine?
There was nothing genuine about it. They (the people who jubilated upon Buhari’s return) were rented crowds. We know how they were recruited. Some of the characters in the cabal and their lackeys have a voice in the media. Their thugs in town were the people who were given money and some transport was provided for them. Some came from as far as Kaduna, Jos and other areas — so, I’m not surprised. In my own experience in politics, if it is anything to go by, rented crowds don’t confirm or deny anything. And anybody who has been in (Nigerian) politics for over 40 years will tell you that rented crowds don’t prove anything and they don’t disprove anything either.
Are you saying Nigerians are not as happy or excited to have Buhari back as was portrayed?
I think the dominant mood is not one of excitement. It is one of relief because when we were voting for Buhari in 2015, we did not envisage this kind of situation; that within two years, half-way through his mandate, he was going to be completely ‘paralysed’; the government was going to be in complete doldrums — nothing is happening, nothing is being done — and that the entire nation is going to be consumed with speculations about his clinical and mental health, and many other things happening now. This is a nation which is already in economic recession. This is a nation also confronted by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and (militancy) in the Niger Delta. This is a nation being challenged by secessionist agitations in Igbo land. You can see that, really, we didn’t bargain for any of these. We wanted a government that fights corruption, maintains law and order, and he was a relief.
When former President Umaru Yar’Adua was away on medical leave before he eventually died, Buhari was one of those who said he should resign, instead of holding the country to ransom. What do you think about the length of time spent by Buhari outside the country?
Firstly, I don’t know if the constitution provides the minimum or the maximum number of days by which a president should be away from his duties. If a president is hale and hearty, even if he’s out of the country, it is assumed that he is exercising the powers of the president. So, wherever the president is physically is not as important as the fact that he is performing his duties. But his (Buhari) shutting himself in Abuja House in London and making himself accessible only to his blood (relations), particularly members of the cabal like Mamman Daura, has done this country no favours. Frankly speaking, he is there to be the President of all Nigerians and those who should have access to him are those people who have reasons to have access to him, not those who are his blood relations – who have been doing their utmost to mess up the government and his (Buhari) legacy.
We are supposed to be concerned about the state of the country — recession, armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy in the Niger Delta and terrorism in the North-East, economic mismanagement and the compounding problem of corruption. In addition to these challenges, it is really unrealistic to expect Nigerians to be happy, Buhari’s presidency has added more to the challenges. We now have a situation whereby the presidency is becoming too powerful, and unfortunately, the president is not in charge. There are some shady characters whom nobody elected. Mamman Daura has never been elected into any office in his life. As I speak, the man does not hold any piece of paper indicating that he has held any position. But he is more powerful than Buhari. He is effectively in charge of the country, under the presidency. This is a scandal, and if Buhari doesn’t see this as a scandal, it’s a shame.
How would you rate the performance of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the acting president?
Below par. He didn’t performed as well as I expected him to perform. The first time Buhari was (out of) town, he (Osinbajo) maintained the presidency on an even keel. Services were being maintained, people were being encouraged to be good citizens, and the country was at the forefront of his concern. Now, he decided to play politics. Firstly, he started by issuing irresponsible – and what I would regard as emotional – statements, saying that hate speech is equal to terrorism. In fact, lawyers are questioning whether there is any law (that prohibits hate speech) — and he (Osinbajo) is a professor of law. He should point out any law which shows that hate speech is a crime. In addition, he made some reckless appointments which favoured members of his tribe and church – he was careless in making appointments based on sentiments, not on merit, and not making sure that the people who were nominated were morally fit for their positions. You remember what happened with the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission) appointments and that became a morass. The cabal did not have the ‘free hand’ they had in the first absence of Buhari; it does not mean that Osinbajo did well during the second spell of Buhari’s absence. He did not.
Do you feel there was pressure on Osinbajo from those close to Buhari not to outshine the President?
I suspect that there might have been a political plan by the cabal, especially by Mamman Daura. But it is not a direct interference. They would go and put ideas into Buhari’s head. Sometimes, Daura was in the habit of trying to reach out to Osinbajo and suggest what Osinbajo should do and should not do. Mamman Daura has been known to be making intemperate and irresponsible statements that the government belongs to him and his ilk and they will do all they can to run the government. The grapevine in the North is very leaky. We talk to people who talk to him. We talk even to (Buhari’s) family members who are unhappy with the way things are going. They (the cabal) are ruthless. If they find that they can have somebody who will replace Buhari and do their own bidding, they wouldn’t mind collaborating with him.
Do you believe Tinubu has any influence on Buhari?
No, I don’t think so. In more ways than one, Tinubu has been more of a victim than a beneficiary of the Buhari administration. It’s unfortunate, because I think the man deserves better treatment. But I cannot say he has any influence on Buhari. He may have subterranean, under-the-carpet influence on Osinbajo, based on their personal relationship. But I don’t think he has any influence on Buhari. Time and again, this has been proven over the last two years that those who have real influence on Buhari don’t even have a position identified within the party or any (official status) in the government.
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