In this interview, Festus Keyamo, the Director of Strategic Communications for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, speaks at great length on a range of issues from why he accepted to serve in Buhari’s camp to the factors that he believes will return the president to power next February.
It’s an interview you cannot afford to miss as Keyamo was at his best.
Were you expecting your appointment as director for strategic communications for President Buhari’s re-election campaign?
I have never had a sense of entitlement. In respect of government appointments or appointments into strategic positions by either the government or the ruling party, I have never had any sense of entitlement. So I have never looked forward to it. My support for Buhari in particular was far before he became President and I am sure you know that. So, any insinuation from any quarters that Keyamo must be doing this because of a particular gain he expects, the person must be very myopic. If it was for the gain, there would have been no better time to have done that than when Goodluck Jonathan, who was my kinsman, was in power. Before Jonathan lost, it was not a tradition for the incumbent to lose. So, it was safe to hedge your bet on him. Most of my kinsmen from the south-south went Jonathan’s way. First, they never expected him to lose; two, that was where the money was; and three, he was their kinsman. So there was every reason for everybody to support Jonathan. That is why you can see the demographics at that time and how the elections turned out at the end of the day. So you must give some of us extreme credit, for staying above that kind of mentality. We did it on account of principle. If you stretch that logic further, you will know that the person did not expect anything thereafter. He just wanted to serve. So therefore, after Buhari’s victory, I never lobbied for something, I never pushed for anything. I came back to my office and started doing my normal legal work because for me, I have a first and primary address, which is my law practice. Secondarily, I can look at politics and what is going on I government. In the larger context of what you are asking, I was not expecting them to call upon me to do this job. But I was informed two months before it was announced. I was called to a private meeting and told, they wanted me to do this. To that extent, I knew within the shortest time before it was announced. But on larger scale, I was not expecting anything like that.
You want credit. But we are in Nigeria and to your kinsmen, it was nothing but betrayal. Why do you think otherwise?
Those are primordial sentiments. Betrayal is when you owe somebody something and you don’t give it back in return. That is betrayal. What do I owe Jonathan? What do I owe my kinsmen when it is about national interest? Anyone who listens to you will be laughing at you, that is if politics is all about loyalty to your kinsman, it is not about excellence. Then it is funny. First of all, did Jonathan wake up one morning when he was in power, to put $10,000 on my door mat every morning? When Jonathan was president, wasn’t I paying for my flight tickets? Is that the meaning of having a kinsman as president? You owe nobody anything. People who talk about your kinsman being president, that is what is destroying this country. At the end of the day, national interest overtakes primordial sentiments. Ethnic loyalist must be buried and subsumed in national interest. At every point in time, I have acted according to my conscience and for the national interest. I don’t owe Jonathan anything.
In a statement after your appointment, you said you’re proud to work for Buhari because your mentor, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, would have approved of the president. Do you think this Buhari is the same one that Gani knew for less than two years 30 years ago?
In 1984/85, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, my late boss, dared his colleagues at the NBA; he ignored all of them. In fact, it is just like some sections are so alarmed at what I am doing now. That was exactly the same position Gani found himself. There is no difference. How would Gani support a Buhari, a dictator? As a result of that, he was put on blacklist by the NBA. I hope you know that. It was because of Buhari that Gani was blacklisted. What happened? At the end of the day, in hindsight, years after Buhari left power, when Babangida took over power and now institutionalized corruption, Gani was proved right. And that how I know that I would be proved right at the end of the day. But what really happened? Twenty-two years after Buhari left power, so it is not correct to say he only knew him for two years. Twenty-two years after Buhari left power, in 2007, when he wanted to contest for president under ANPP, what did Gani say? He endorsed him again. So it was not two years. After 22 years, Gani still stood by his decision to endorse him for president. Even the first time he endorsed him, Buhari was a military head of state. Buhari was not as hard now as he was then. Don’t forget, there were military tribunals, there was no rule of law, they were throwing people in jail and Gani supported it, not to talk about when they can even take people through some process of trail. So what you are asking is; what would he have done? I am telling you what he did.
You speak of Buhari 30 odd years ago. Then he projected strength. Today a lot of people believe he is projecting nothing but weakness.
Your question is the bundle of contradictions we find ourselves in now. Do you realise PDP is accusing Buhari of being a dictator? Do you realize that PDP and other people are accusing Buhari of being a tyrant? Have you heard things like that? It is a bundle of contradictions. You are saying he is weak where as other people are calling him a tyrant. So, thank you for reflecting the views that he is not even doing enough. He can be tougher than he is now.
A few months ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said Nigeria doesn’t need strong institutions, it needs both institutions and strong leaders. In reality though one as to give way to the other. But then he obviously alluding to Buhari’s weakness as a leader. Do you think Obasanjo is right to think Buhari can’t impose his will even within his own government?
At the end of the day, what are they saying about my principal because you have just revealed a bundle of contradictions. Are you telling me my principal is weak or strong? Like I said, the major opposition political party is calling him a tyrant, that he is breaching the rule of law, that he is arresting people. It’s a contradiction.
A former president has come out to say he is a failure in every respect.
No, no first of all about being weak, we will come to failure. Weakness is different from failure. In what area is the failure?
He does not seem able to get beyond his comfort zone; most parts of the country feel marginalised.
Who has he marginalized? The southeast has four senior ministers and one junior minister. The whole of the north has seven junior minsters. Do you realize that? Somebody just told me that in three years of Buhari, no government in history has moved into the southeast with infrastructural development as much as Buhari. They just hate him. They are constructing now, with the sukuk bond of N16.5bn, the Enugu/ Onitsha road. They are also constructing the Enugu/Port Harcourt road. The second Niger Bridge has gone far, they have even expanded the design from two kilometers to seven kilometers. Do you know the southeast you are talking about, in 16 years of PDP and with all the trillions of naira they got from excess oil earnings, the least they could have done for them was just to construct that bridge. It was only one major thing they did for the easterners in 16 years – the Onitsha/Owerri road. Only one road of just one hour drive. That is all they did in 16 years. Are they not ashamed of that? In less than three years, the Federal Government is constructing three major highways for them in the east. And it is also rushing the second Niger Bridge. It is good that you are not throwing me in the air to say he has failed or marginalized a group. We need to pick out one issue and address it with statistics. It is better that way.
Do you think that Gani would have supported the return of Abdulrasheed Maina to government through the backdoor, which Buhari knew about or his reluctance to fire and prosecute former SGF David Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke, the former NIA boss?
At the end of the day, where are those people now? Are they in office? Diezani, with all the story of sleaze, did she not remain in office till the end? The moment they brought it to his attention that Maina has been recalled… Did you see the president’s signature anywhere or a briefing to the president? They appeared before the House of Representatives, don’t forget that. People should not make silly comments in public. The head of service, the Attorney General of the Federation, including the minister of internal affairs, they all appeared before the National Assembly. They told us in graphic terms, how these memos were raised. And the memos moved from one office to the other. All of these memos from HoS to SGF, minister to AGF, all of these, was there one to the chief of staff to the president? We should not be pessimistic or cynical for nothing. All of these memos that moved up and down, was there one to the president before the HoS was queried? If there was none to the president, the first time we knew the president knew was when they raised the alarm on the recall before he was sacked. Did it last up to 24hrs when he was sacked? When there were reports that Maina had been recalled, it took the president less than 24hrs to order his sack. So what is the criticism; that the moment it became clear, it took less than 24hrs to sack him? So I will not want to dance to the tune of the opposition that will keep repeating a sing song a hundred times and make people believe the sing song. Maina cannot, by any stretch of imagination be a point of criticism for the president. For me, the Maina saga is credit to the president. The Maina saga, I will use it to campaign. You will use it to criticize but I will use it to campaign. That is because the man reacted to an issue of corruption and back door handling of an issue when it came to his knowledge.
Do the lopsided appointments under Buhari, especially in the security services, bother you?
The service chiefs, two are from the south, two are from the north. One is from Ekiti and one, I think is a Calabar man or so. Now, the SSS and the NSA, in some areas when the president concentrates on picking people from some areas, in other areas, he may decide to leave that zone entirely and concentrate on another zone. For the northerners complaining that the economic team, there is no one northerner in the team. You have the Vice President from the south. You have the Minister of Budget, he is the south. You the Minister of Finance, from the south. The Minister of Trade from the south. You have only AuduOgbeh from the Middle Belt. Have the northerners complained? We have what they call a persecution complex down south. Apologies to my people. But they have a persecution complex. I have not heard one northerner cry out that we are not part of the economic team. And the economy is at the heart of Nigeria’s survival. At the heart of our politics is the economy. And yet, they are not part of it. So, it is part of the discretion of the president at times to ensure there is balance in a general sense. He doesn’t need a microcosmic balance. In a general sense taking all his appointments into consideration, there must be balance. That is what the constitution expects of him. Now, maybe the inner security circle is tilted to some area and the inner economic team tilting to the south. What is bad about that? And you the federal cabinet with 18 Christians and 18 Muslims. But the head of service and the SGF, they are both Christians, over and above the ministers. So there are more Christians sitting every week at the Federal Executive Council than Muslims. Have you heard them shout? All of these stories about marginalization, all of these stories about clannishness are only existing in the air. The facts on ground do not support the allegations.
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