Ouit notice: FG working to ensure equity—Ojudu
Senator Babafemi Ojudu is the Special Adviser (Political) to President Muhammadu Buhari who is also involved in the plans by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to resolve the growing ethnic tension in the country. He told Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, the Federal Government was working to address the frustrations caused by hunger, anger and perceptions of exclusion and inequity in the land. He spoke on other national issues: Excerpts:
AS Special Adviser Political to the President, how do you read the series of agitations across the land?
My job as the Political Adviser to the President entails gathering of political intelligence, relating with political personalities and advising the President on issues that have to do with politics generally.
There’s a bit of anomaly in your appointment compared to previous dispensations. As SA to the president, you are in the Vice President’s office. Does that not impact negatively on your relationship with your principal?
That’s the way the president wants it. Same thing with (SA) Economic Matters and other special advisers. Except for the Special Adviser (Media) the the President, all other special advisers relate directly with the Vice President. That’s the way he wants it. And he must have his reasons for doing that.
Does it not have some consequences on the way you relate with the president? You should be one of the closest advisers to the president but are you able to relate with him.
I relate with him. Yes.
You don’t go through an intermediary, say, the Vice President?
Sometimes, through the Vice President. Sometimes, directly with him. Sometimes, I have memos that are directly to him or through the Vice President. Whichever one that works at any particular time, that’s what I do.
The advent of this administration has witnessed tensions in the South South, South East and now the North. There must be a problem. Why are all these happening now?
There’s mutual suspicion on the part of the ethnic groups against one another. Part of the problem too has to do with exclusion. A lot of Nigerians feel that they have been excluded over the years from governance, from the good life, from everything. There’s high rate of unemployment which we are trying to tackle several other things and issues that have to do with the economy. All of these have combined together to put people on edge to cause frustration. This government realizes that and we are trying to tackle those problems and that’s why for example, the Social Intervention Programme of the Federal Government was set up to provide employment to thousands if not millions of people who are out of school without jobs. We can assist people who want to do one training or the other and they have no means to do it. We can assist people who want to go into farming who do not have the means to spend on the inputs that go into farming.
So, we just need to address the socio-economic problems facing Nigerians. It is because people are angry, people are frustrated, people are hungry that the few who are extremists among us find their recruitments. So, we just need to address that.
Government had suppressed protests with force particularly in the case of IPOB and Shi’ites. It gives the impression that it is heavy handed. As the political adviser, are you not worried about the perception of government being high handed?
Rather, what I have heard is that this government has not been high handed enough. That’s what people have accused us of. That people are calling for secession, they are operating pirate radio, they are doing all kinds of things, they are bringing guns in and they have not been dealt with in a way that the military would have dealt with people in that kind of thing. And we say look, we are in a democracy. The acting President has even argued that anybody can say anything they like for as long as he is not doing anything to destabilize the country. So, the accusation of high handedness for me, is not for this government. How many people have been arrested? How many people have been tried? How many people have gone on exile for example? People publish all manners of things and they sell them in traffic.
I see all manners of Biafran literature in traffic and nobody has arrested anybody or put them on trial. So, (Nnamdi) Kanu who was arrested was taken to court and was granted bail. He has even violated the conditions of the bail. He is still walking free. So, I don’t think this government can be accused of high handedness. No. I have been long here enough to know what high handedness is. I was a journalist and I was critical of government. I knew how many times I was arrested and locked up. I was even once locked up for as long as nine months at a time. I lost a reporter who worked under me who was tortured to death. So, I knew what high handedness was. I had many friends who went on exile for many years. That cannot be said of this government. So, I disagree.
There appears to be a marked difference between the way President Muhammadu Buhari views agitations and the way acting President Osinbajo sees them. There are some people who believe that Buhari assumes a much tougher stance when dealing with the issues and Osinbajo is much more circumspect. Why the difference in approach in the same government?
Let me tell you that whatever it is that he (Osinbajo) has done so far both in terms of going to the South South to talk to people and dialogue and this current (consultations) we are going through, they are things that the president advised that should be done. They both agreed that this is the way to handle it. So, it’s not a question of one person preferring dialogue than the other person. No. They both have discussed this thing and they have agreed that it should be done the way it is being done now.
How would you advise the president to resolve the IPOB agitation?
Again, we believe that there’s nothing, no crisis, no issue that cannot be resolved by dialogue. People are bound to differ from you. But when you get them on the table and discuss, you argue and then, you can come to some form of agreement. The engagement we have done in the last few days has shown that some of these things are not problems that cannot be solved. The conflict can easily be resolved if people can come together and dialogue. That’s what has been going on. We entered into meetings with elders of the north, we came out all of us smiling, things were amicably resolved. The same thing with the south east. On Sunday, we are meeting with traditional rulers from the east. Next week, we are going to be meeting with everybody from across the country. So, I think that the more we dialogue, the more we get to understand one another and the more we get to resolve our problems. For me, that is the only solution. War is not the solution. Secession is not the solution. Expelling people from a particular part of the country is not the solution.
Anybody who has experienced war, who has seen war will know that war pays nobody. And the latest experience is that war no longer ends. If you look at Afghanistan, it has been war for more than 30 years, it has never come to an end. You go to Syria, it has never ended. You go to Iraq, war has never ended there. You go to Somalia, it has never seen and end. We thought that when we break Sudan into two, into North Sudan and South Sudan, that would solve the problem. The problem has not been solved. There’s a lot of humanitarian crisis going on in the Sudan now that the world is managing. So, for us, and that was the conclusion that everybody came to in the consultations we have had that we should all agree that we can live together peacefully. We should address injustice where we find it and the government should be equitable in the distribution of resources across the country. And then find solution to youth unemployment and the frustration that is confronting most of the young people across this country.
What do you think about the demand for a referendum by IPOB?
Nobody has tabled that in all the discussions we have had. Nobody, I can tell you. Ohanaeze came with a prepared document. They never talked about referendum. They never. They never even talked about secession. They made complaints about police harassment at road blocks. They made complaints about losing some key positions, not being appointed into security positions and all those kinds of things. And these are things that can easily be addressed. Nobody canvassed secession at those meetings, nobody canvassed referendum.
But the major character in IPOB, NnamdiKanu, was not invited. Was it deliberate?
Well, the thing is that we were looking for leaders of the people, leaders of thought and we do not see him as a leader of thought in the east. May be opportunity will come at one time or the other for him to be engaged. But so far, what we have done is to look at people who have influence in the communities, whether it is religious, whether it is traditional, whether it is political, social or governance. These are the people we brought in for discussion.
Senate has asked for the 2014 conference report to be re-submitted. Will you advise the Presidency to do that? They have asked for that? They want it presented to the Senate?
Okay When the request comes to us, we will see what we can do with that. We will debate it and find an answer.
The president has been on and off the country for some months now because he is seriously ill and some people are saying he should contest the 2019 presidential election. Would you advise President Muhammadu Buhari to contest in 2019?
Well, none of us…we are not God. I’m not God and people sleep and never wake up at 20, at 30, at 40. An old man may fall sick at 76 and God will heal him and he will live for 100 years. So, when we are talking about human life and human health, nobody can be definitive about anything since we are not God. God gives life and takes life. So, I don’t like speculating on matters that involve people’s lives. No. Nobody has control over that, not even medical doctors.