In this interview with SUNRISE DAILY, an interactive show on Channels Television, the presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, speaks on the President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent return from a protracted medical leave and numerous questions it raised in the polity.
The interview was held after the broadcast by the president on Monday morning.
The interview was transcribed by Ifeoluwa Adeyemo and Kunle Sanni.
SUNRISE DAILY: How was it receiving the president?
ADESINA: Awesome, awesome, it was a time for thankfulness. It was a time of rejoicing. The door of the aircraft opened and he emerged. It was a glorious feeling.
SUNRISE DAILY: Let’s focus on what was said. The president did say that he has been following issues at home and would address frontally the issues of unity and security. When you look at what he said about security, what he intends to do and the fact that the National Assembly and the National Council of States would be the appropriate bodies to handle some of these things concerning unity. Does it mean he is going to be passing a memo to them or send bills to the National Assembly concerning issues that have been raised on restructuring?
ADESINA: Well you know that legally and statutorily, those two bodies are the ones that can decide on certain things in the country. The constitution vests that responsibility on them, so there’s no way you will sidetrack them. Anything you will do would have to pass through them if you want to follow due process.
SUNRISE DAILY: Actually, The National Assembly did request before they went on recess that the executive arm of government raise some of these issues that were discussed by Nigerians especially in the 2014 National conference, craft as a bill and send to them…
ADESINA: Well the fact is in the presidents first broadcast to the nation, and it shows that something is going to be done in that direction. How exactly it is to be done is a matter of procedure, which I’m not privy to for now.
SUNRISE DAILY: Let’s talk more about. You did say it will be a matter of… ‘It’s committal and yet non-committal?’
ADESINA: It’s committal because the president is trying to tell the country that these two bodies are the ones that can make pronouncement about certain things that have to do with our nationalism, our togetherness, our unity and there’s a process that would lead to that so its just a matter of saying, ‘Yes, action will be taken in that direction.’
SUNRISE DAILY: And again he emphasised that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable?
ADESINA: Yes, which I agree with. It may be discussed, it may be fine-tuned but then breaking apart is not an option and that’s (also) my personal opinion.
SUNRISE DAILY: How do you think the presidency is going to be handling people it perceives as troublemakers?
ADESINA: You know that our president is a very firm man and there are certain things he doesn’t brook including anything or anybody that would constitute a danger to the unity of the country. You know that the president does not take that lying low at all. So if it comes up that anybody, anything, any group or any influence is going to be detrimental to the unity of the country, trust me the President will act on it.
SUNRISE DAILY: He also told the story of how Odumegwu Ojukwu (ex-Biafran warlord) came and stayed as a guest in his hometown in Daura. Why do you think that the president had to tell that story?
ADESINA: The president I know is a man of vast experience, so if there was that parley between him and Ojukwu, it is very good that he reveals it at this time and that he (Ojukwu) said that his conclusion at that meeting was that Nigeria must remain one. So, those who are pandering to secessionist ideas should remember that the man who led the first secessionist bid recanted on it before he died.
SUNRISE DAILY: Would the president be meeting leaders of the South-east at least to hear their grievances to see how it can be handled?
ADESINA: He is the father of the country. The father listens to everybody in the family. Don’t forget that the acting president then had met with various stakeholders, so government is always a continuum at all times. I’m sure by the time he gets full briefing he will decide what to do next.
SUNRISE DAILY: Don’t you think that speech should have come after the ‘full briefing?’
ADESINA: Then it would be rather late. Some people even felt that that speech should have been done on Saturday. It was like some people felt it was putting them on tenterhooks waiting to hear what the president would say. They wanted to hear him on Saturday, so waiting for full briefing before he speaks may delay too much and don’t forget, this is just one step. There would be many other steps.
SUNRISE DAILY: Some people would argue that the speech he gave was not planned like the one he gave when he came back the first time. There are many questions that have been on the minds of Nigerians which were unanswered.
ADESINA: I would not quite agree with you that the speech was not planned. There was a text. He read from a text. So it was planned. Then it was a deliberate thing to tell Nigerians that he had been very ill and that he would still go back for further treatment. Compare March 10 when he gave that first speech and August 19 when he returned, there is a vast difference and we give the glory to God. It would be up to the president to give further insights into the state of his health and other details ahead. But as Nigerians, we believe God that the worst should be over in terms of his health challenges.
SUNRISE DAILY: Let’s talk about his status right now. We did know before he left, he handed over letter to the National Assembly informing them of his medical vacation and handing power to the vice president. What is the president’s status right now? Will he assume power immediately or do we have to wait for him to transmit another letter to the National Assembly.
ADESINA: Later this morning the letter would be transmitted to the National Assembly. And that letter is what signifies he is coming back to office. It would be done today.
SUNRISE DAILY: It would be done today? But the National Assembly is on recess.
ADESINA: Yes, transmitting it is what the Constitution requires. Once it is sent he becomes president automatically. The National Assembly does not have to read it and debate it. What the Constitution requires is for him to send it. Once it is sent he resumes office officially.
SUNRISE DAILY: So it hasn’t been sent?
ADESINA: It would be done this morning.
SUNRISE DAILY: In what capacity then did he address us this morning?
ADESINA: It is the same thing except we want to be legalistic about it.
SUNRISE: Taking a look at what was not said, do you think the president would go out again (for treatment)?
ADESINA: You mean go or travel or go on vacation? Well a poet once said hope beats eternally in the human breast. What Nigerians should hope for is that our president would remain whole. But if there is any reason to go out, why not? You need to first stay alive before you can lead the country.
SUNRISE DAILY: The return of the president seems to suggest to many that some of the problems which he did mention in the speech will be tackled as quickly as possible?
ADESINA: Yes as quickly and as possible.
SUNRISE DAILY: Is he ready for the task ahead and what is his next line of action?
ADESINA: I was part of the team that saw the president in London on August 12 . We saw a remarkably improved president. You could imagine when he arrived on August 19 and we saw that he was even a lot better than what we saw him on August 12. It shows that it is a progression in a positive direction. I believe that improvement would continue. I believe he is good to go, assume his office and serve Nigeria.
SUNRISE DAILY: A statement credited to the president on February 2015, noted that there was need to put the nation’s healthcare facilities in functional state so there would be no need to go abroad on medical leave. There was no comment on the nation’s health care facilities in his speech…
ADESINA: Well, that statement you just quoted, I have seen it a couple of times but I’ve not been able to authenticate it, you know that there are several statements always credited to the president. That particular one, I’ve not been able to authenticate it but you know that the president is committed to uplifting the state of the country’s healthcare system.
SUNRISE DAILY: Even if we’ve not been able to authenticate that particular statement, there was no comment whatsoever on Nigeria’s healthcare system. When are we likely to see changes effected in our healthcare system?
ADESINA: Like I said, this broadcast is just a first step. There would be many more steps after it. So if that didn’t come up, I’m sure that as we go forward, the president would talk about the state of healthcare in the country and you know this administration rode to power on the plank of change and before the terminal date of the administration, change must be evident in several ways. I believe that in our health care we will see that.
SUNRISE: People are not happy that he did comment on the issue of restructuring. Does that mean that he has completely shut that out because in today’s dailies, they say that there’s going to be a rally in the South-west on September 7th on restructuring?
ADESINA: You need to also put in perspective what the party has said about restructuring. You know the president came on the platform of that party. For now a president derives his legitimacy from his party and what has the party said? The national chairman has said restructuring is one of the things the party will do but it is not in the order of priority for now. The priorities are securing the country, reviving the economy and fighting corruption. Later, restructuring will come up. Don’t forget that the party itself has set up a committee to look into the issue of restructuring. If he didn’t intend to do something about it, why set up a committee? So you can be sure that that is something that will come up later in the order of priority.
SUNRISE DAILY: What difference will there be between what the acting president was able to accomplish and what Nigerians will see with the president’s return?
ADESINA: The acting president has done exceedingly well, a fact attested to by the president himself. He was implementing the agenda of the administration. Don’t forget that it is one presidency. We have a president and the vice-president who transmuted to an acting president when the president was away. So he was implementing the vision and agenda of the administration. So now it is just a matter of the two of them continuing with that implementation.
SUNRISE DALY: What steps do you see the presidency taking in the direction of addressing the challenges of unity in Nigeria?
ADESINA: The president has said it that he would not brook any threat to the nation’s unity. He described some people as irresponsible. That is the first step he’s taking.
SUNRISE DAILY: Which means what?
ADESINA: This means that any threat to the nation’s unity will be dealt with. That is what it means.
SUNRISE: Does it also mean there will be no parley whatsoever with the people he considers ‘irresponsible?’
ADESINA: Discussions, negotiations are vital parts of nation building. Be sure that if the president needs to discuss anything with anybody, he will do so. The acting president started that process while he was away and when he receives full briefing, if he thinks there’s still anybody to parley with, you can be sure it will happen.
SUNRISE DAILY: But don’t you think that the use of the term ‘irresponsible’ already means he has kept some people at arm’s length?
ADESINA: It’s just a frank word. If somebody is irresponsible, he is irresponsible. It’s just a frank word, you know the president is a straightforward man and he just said it the way it is.
SUNRISE DAILY: Will the president be granting any interviews very soon?
ADESINA: We will try to work on it. You know we can’t presume. We can’t be definite until we discuss it with him. As soon as he settles into rhythm, we will bring it up.
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