Mr Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, was on Channels TV to field questions on state of the nation from Mr Seun Okinbaloye during Sunday Politics programme on March 27. The interview generated lots of controversy from different quarters. Here’s the full excerpt of the interview;
Q: The queue for fuel is still persistent because I was on queue for 5 hours to get N5, 000 fuel before I was able to refuel.
A: You got fuel eventually. That is what matters at the end of the day. There is hope.
Q: We have seen too many queues at filling stations in less than a year of President Buhari’s administration. Isn’t it bothering this administration?
A: You seem to forget very early that before this administration, it was like that. It is an endemic Nigerian problem and is not peculiar to this administration.
Q: Should we now live with it right now?
A: If it means living with it for awhile, we have to, until it gets better because it is not going to be by a sudden flight, it is going to be a methodical and systematic process, but we will get there.
Q: It takes ordinary Nigerians to just have hope when they have to face the rigour of queuing for fuel for their ‘I pass my neighbour’ generator to power their home appliances.
A: That is sad and regrettable, but it is the reality of the moment. We have to live with it for awhile but we know that better days will come.
Q: You have heard the comment of the Minister of State for petroleum, Mr Ibe Kachukwu about the fact of the availability of fuel and a number of Nigerians have taken him up for it. Even the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has said that his statement is not acceptable, when will the queues go away?
A: The Minister is the one who has the authority to give the actual position, he has given it and I think, it is what we should believe.
Q: That the queue will stay another month?
A: He has more brief….
Q: What is the official brief from the President?
A: There won’t be another official brief apart from what he has said.
Q: The President should have a better brief because he is the chief executive of the state. People are suffering across board. In some states, fuel is N130 per litre above N86 official rate.
A: Once you don’t have a control of all the variables, such things are bound to happen. We lived in this country 16 years of PDP, even before then, there was the military rule, the process of refining petroleum locally was virtually short- circuited .The refineries were there and were allowed to run aground and when you don’t have the variables under control, anything can happen. It used to be that NNPC imports 60 % petroleum products, at a point it crept up to 70% , now it is almost 100 per cent. When a situation like that is on ground, anything can happen. Once, there is a slight hitch, it throws the process into a tailspin. Once you don’t have complete control, things like that can happen.
Q: The President is the father of the nation and if your children are going hungry, he should be able to tell them ‘wait till night, I will bring you food’, when are we expected to see relief in our filling stations?
A: The Minister of Petroleum said in weeks and that amounts to May. I think the Minister spoke with candour, maybe he didn’t weigh the words but he said the truth at the end. Would people rather prefer him to say in two weeks and it doesn’t happen? The month of May is how many weeks away? Maybe about five weeks. I think, the Minister should not be crucified for his statement.
Q: So, Nigerians will suffer for another few weeks and probably buy it higher from people who are hoarding it?
A: If that came from the Minister of Petroleum, we should believe him and I think that word was modified thereafter, when he said it would be a couple of weeks, not May. The truth of the matter is that Nigerians including me may need to wait a while more before normalcy returns to filling stations. But will normalcy return? Yes, it will. Will Nigerians get out of this rough patch eventually? Yes, we will get out of it.
Q: The President has apologised to the nation a few times on some key issues and Nigerians are wondering if apologies will solve some of these issues? And some critics in some quarters have said that Nigeria needs a strong direction in terms of economic recovery policies, especially some of the governors.
A: I know what you are driving at. Some of the governors have a right to their opinions, we don’t join issues with them but then, if the President apologies to the nation, it is a problem and if he does not apologise, it is another problem. With Nigerians,head or tail, you often lose. Would you rather that he does not apologise when things have gone wrong like that…
Q: Nigerians will never want him to apologise but for him to fix the problem. Which is much better.
A: Because Nigerians always want a magic wand and it does not necessarily work like that. …
Q: The president and his party during campaign promised almost magic…things that are unrealistic
A: Mark your own words… almost magic. But not magic.
Q: The president promised that by end of 2019, there will 10,000 megawatts, looks like magic
A: it doesn’t look so
Q: is that realistic?
A: Don’t forget that about four weeks ago, Nigeria had 5,070 megawatts of electricity with a promise that by December 2016, another 2,000 megawatts would be added, which will make it 7,070 megawatts. If at the end of 2016, we have 7,000 megawatts, what makes 10,000 megawatts not possible by 2019?
Q: That 5,070 that you mentioned because we are back to less than 3,000 and many Nigerians are not aware.
A: You know what happened? After we had that 5,000, we had a vandalism in Bayelsa, we lost about 1,600 megawatt, thereafter in Delta, we lost another 1,000 megawatt. If some Nigerians are crying over power outage, they should hold those people who vandalised the installations responsible. But 10,000 megawatts as the president has promised is a possibility by 2019.
Q: Again, does this nation have a clearly defined economic policy direction?
A: Now, let me illustrate with this, you have a government in which the number 2 man, the vice president heads the economic team, the finance minister, Trade and finance minister, Minister for budget and National planning, Central Bank governor, Economic Adviser to the president, and yet people still keep asking for an economic team? What else do they need?
Q: The economic direction is what Nigerians are asking for?
A: Yes, are they not the people that will fashion out the direction?
Q: We want the direction and the average Nigerian doesn’t want to know the people in the team but where we are headed to as a nation?
A: It is clear were we are headed to as a nation and those people manning the economy will tell you where we are headed. I am not an economist but I know that the direction in which they are headed is that there are luxuries that we cannot continue to indulge in, those luxuries are being weeded out. Essential forex is being warehoused and saved in the real sector for more productive usage.
Q: After the Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka asked for an economic summit, few days later, there was an announcement of economic retreat. Would you say that retreat was fruitful at the end of the day?
A: I will just like to correct the sequence that you just went through. Prof Soyinka asked for an economic summit but what happened was not what he asked for because before he asked for a summit, the National Economic Council had decided to hold a retreat. And don’t forget that the president at an interview in Qatar had said if someone people want to sit and hold a summit, the government is not averse to it. But what happened last week was not what Prof. Soyinka canvassed for. The National Economic Council had decided to hold that retreat before Prof. Soyinka spoke.
Q: Do you think that retreat was fruitful?