Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Femi Adesina, was guest on Radio Continental programme. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Fulani herdsmen have on several occasions been accused of ransacking places they pass through while they are herding their cattle. Nigerians are wondering and asking why there seems to be a very loud silence on the part of the federal government on the matter?
A: If anybody says there is a loud silence, it means that person has not been listening. At times, it is so very easy to say there has been silence, when that is not the case, because on this issue, last week in a major interview the President spoke on it. It was relayed on NTA for about two days running. He spoke on the Fulani herdsmen issue and a statement also came out from our office on the matter. So, if anybody says the President is silent or has been silent on the issue, it baffles me. The President spoke in an interview that was relayed on NTA and TVC, and he said it is a perennial problem, and something would be done about it. He talked about cattle grazing route, and he said between the federal government and the state governors, this matter would be looked at and tackled decisively. I also remember that Chief Audu Ogbe, the Agric Minister, has also indicated that quite soon, problem of herdsmen and farmers would be over in the country because they would do something about getting feed from Brazil for cattle rearers.
Q: How does the government intend to reach these herdsmen because they are not all in a place at the same time; the President has spoken as you said, but how do you get this information to filter across herdsmen so that they are aware?
A: That is the reason the President said it is going to be between the federal government and the state governors. The state governors are closer to these herdsmen, through the state and local governments, there is a way they would be reached. They are not spirits, they are humans and they operate in environments where people can reach them, and the President has said between the federal and the state governments, something can be done. In the past, there were grazing routes in the country, it is either we return to that, or there would be something else, but I know the issue would be dealt with.
Q: Nigerians are not happy about some things that we seem not to have gotten right. One of it is the issue of power supply. Service has deteriorated, yet people are made to cough out large sums of money monthly as tariffs. What is government policy direction to ensure constant and uninterrupted power supply? We seem to be hovering around on this issue of 2,000 megawatt, sometimes 3,000, sometimes it comes down to 1,000. We cannot over emphasize on the benefits of having constant supply. Is there any intention to review the contracts that the previous government entered?
A: On the issue of power, it seems Nigerians are their own problems. You can recall about four weeks ago, the power ministry came out to say that the megawatts we had was 5070, which is an all-time high in 16 years. A few days after, some people blew installations in Bayelsa, we lost about 1600 megawatts immediately. After that, installation was blown in Delta and we lost another 1,000 megawatts. What would the government do in that kind of circumstance? If the people who should be provided power are the ones sabotaging installations, they can’t turn round to say government is not providing power. Nigerians need to determine what they want. If South Africa has about 50,000 megawatts, it is because their own people are not sabotaging their installations, they are not going to blow up the lines. If Nigerians continue to blow up and sabotage, then they can’t come around to say that there is no power.
Q: Are you saying that government is helpless in terms of protecting this vital infrastructure, with the security agencies we have? Are we saying that we are helpless, so if they keep on blowing the pipelines, we can’t do anything about it?
A: Government is not helpless, and government should never be helpless. A government that is worth its’ salt should never be helpless, but there are so many things that the government can deploy attention to, and when the attention is focused on securing installation instead of what we can call other weightier matters of the law. It is just a waste of time. We are wasting our time as a country, because other countries don’t have that distraction, they don’t have to deploy troops to monitor installations, because nobody would sabotage installations since he knows the thing is for his own good. I think, in this country we need to get to a point where we should realize that when we do certain things, we are hurting ourselves and not the government.
Q: Now that we know the issue is there, what do we do to eliminate sabotage?
A: Government will do what it should do, but short of lining up soldiers from Lagos to everywhere, in fact it can’t stop. We Yorubas have a saying that you are never as smart as the person watching you, because he would find a time when you are distracted, when you are not alert and strike. That is what is happening. No matter the security that you put round these installations that cover several hundreds or thousands of kilometers, how do you monitor them and those who want to sabotage would not find a place where they can attack?
Q: Shouldn’t the government have a counter plan to make sure that these people do not have their way?
A: The government is not omnipotent or omniscient. The government cannot be everywhere at every time. That is the reason the onus is on Nigeria to see these installations as their own. When you blow up installations, who are you hurting? You are hurting the people and the society. That is what we should realize. Last week in Qatar, the president said vandalism is a disincentive to foreign investment, because potential investors hear and read all these things, that installations are sabotaged in Nigeria. So if investors refuse to come because of that, who gets hurt? It is not the government, it is the people. I think we need a lot more patriotism in that aspect.
Q: Is there no other source of getting power?
A: Don’t forget that when the power ministry announced that we had 5070 megawatts recently, it also said that by December, another 2,000 megawatts would be added to it; giving us 7,070 megawatts. That brings a lot of hope, but that hope is dampened, when few days after, they begin to blow up installations, and you lose 3000 megawatts. Talking of alternative sources, a lot is in process. Because every country the president has visited, power has been an issue, and I know that a number of people have come up with alternatives, what they can do to help Nigeria, and talks are on-going. Very soon, I believe that those talks would yield results.
Q: What is the panacea to end recurring fuel queues, especially with the issue of building new refineries?
A: Let me try to put in perspective the fuel supply situation in the country. What caused the latest round of queues is that there is a breach in supply, which came from two ends. One, from the importation end and two, from the distribution end in the country. We have NNPC bringing in 70 per cent of fuel used in the country and the other 30 per cent is supposed to be provided by independent marketers. The independent marketers are not really doing much because of the differential in dollar rate currently. Before they can import, they expect government to do something in terms of dollar differential; but government is limited because we are not earning much dollar. The only way Nigerian government gets dollar is through sale of crude oil, and we know that price has gone continuously down, that is what caused the breach in supply, because everything is imported. We are not refining much most times; and added to that is the fact that Europe is in winter. During winter, you cannot predict importation as in other seasons of the year, because there are some parts of the world where the seas are virtually frozen and ships can’t sail. A ship that you could predict would arrive after 30 days during summer, would arrive at 40-45 days because of the vagaries of the weather. This is another thing that affected importation into the country. There is this third issue, which is very important because it links to what we have said earlier. All these ships that bring in fuel are insured internationally, and international insurers are refusing to insure ships going to Port-Harcourt and Warri because of the aggressiveness in the area. They follow all these things, all these pipelines that are vandalised and all of that, they follow. Therefore, those ships land in Lagos, and then you transport fuel by road to those areas. All these are complexities about our country that need to be looked at. I have said that Nigerians themselves must decide to address these complexities.
Q: What is government’s policy on new refineries?
A: You would recall that Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who is NNPC GMD and minister of state for petroleum, has said that our existing refineries are not better than scraps, and that already has foreshadowed the fact that there would be a new policy for refineries.
Q: What is your answer on the issue of stipend of N5, 000 to the vulnerables or graduates because there seems to be contradiction. Is government paying because it is included in the budget?
Q: There are two things we need to isolate. There is this notion that government was meant to pay N5,000 for unemployed graduates. That was the popular notion and that was what the President corrected, that instead of paying N5,000 to unemployed graduates, he would rather provide infrastructure, he would rather give them enabling environment to be useful than giving out dole to them. But there is one that is already captured in the budget, it is called the conditional cash transfer, which is going to be given to the poorest of the poor.
Q: Nigerians are complaining about many things. Is the government aware?
A: I think Nigerians have always complained, and we should learn to stop complaining and believe more. If you have elected a government because you believe it can bring change;(because these complains started from the first month), and you have not allowed them to isolate what the problems are, and articulate what the solutions would be, and you begin to have all these complaints, I think it is not natural. What government needs at a time like this, is cooperation and support. The President said this at an interview last week. He said things deteriorated over 16 years that PDP was in power, this is the ninth month of this government, and you want everything to have changed. It is not real. There must be realistic expectation, and realistic expectation will demand that people are patient, supportive, and encourage the government. This is a government that is working for the people. Somebody said two days ago that this is a government that is “pro-poor”, which is true. Then, all these complaints would not do anybody any good. Rather than complaining, let us cooperate, support and encourage.
The promised change would come. Don’t forget that our President said it would take a minimum of 18 months to revive the economy. Nigerians don’t listen to something like that, they want magic immediately. It doesn’t happen that way. This change will come, but it would follow a process, and it would be enduring.