Tuesday, January 15, 2019 4:10 pm
Barrister Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is the Director, Strategic Communications of President Muhammadu Buhari 2019 Presidential Campaign. He spoke to Ayorinde Oluokun on the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari, the 2019 general election and why Nigerians should stick with the incumbent occupant of Aso Rock for another four years. Excerpts
The PDP launched its campaign for the 2019 presidency with a zonal rally in North West held in Sokoto and we saw the huge crowd at that rally. The North West is believed to be a strong hold of the President, but with the huge crowd at the PDP rally in Sokoto, is the APC not jittery that it may have lost one of its strongholds to the opposition?
By the figures of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, we have 19 million votes locked up in the seven states in the North West. We are ready to give them (PDP) the 20,000 people in that stadium, because those in that stadium were like 20,000. We will give them the 20,000 votes out of the 19 million votes.
When is APC launching its own campaign, because PDP is saying that APC is not even planning to campaign, that its plan is to rig the election using the security agencies and the President’s refusal to sign the Electoral Act?
A man who got 15 million votes in 2015 without even having a Boy Scout – they have land, air forces, Army, Police and the INEC Chairman they appointed. They had all that in 2015, but they lost – they pushed their votes to 12 million, it was fake votes and they know what they did to get that 15 million. The man who didn’t have Police got 15 million. Are you saying those 15 million voters are all dead? And then, the same person who got those 15 million votes, his party has consistently won all the bye-elections since 2015, 90 per cent of all the elections. This brings me to the Electoral Act. PDP is only grandstanding about the use of the card reader for the election because they knew that the card reader is their waterloo. It is very simple to calculate – before 2015, when there was no card reader; PDP won 80 per cent of all elections – bye -elections, major elections. After the card reader was introduced, they lost 80 per cent of the elections. PDP should not deceive Nigerians that we are going into the election blindfolded. Elections that were considered free and fair in 2015 were conducted based on the 2012 Electoral Act that is still in existence.
In respect of the new Electoral Act, the President has the prerogative to sign or not to sign. But Nigerians should not think that the new Electoral Act is an all cure to our problems because there are genuine concerns about it.
One, it says there must be transmission of results from the units to the collation centres and that it must happen. If it does not happen, all those results are cancelled. What happened to all our voters – especially in the North that are in areas where there is no network? Are you going to cancel our votes? What provisions have you made for that? And you are saying that the President should sign? You want to disenfranchise our people? And they even made it an offence not to transmit- they said anybody who failed to transmit the result is guilty of an offence and will go to jail. But there is no electricity in some places; you cannot even charge your phone. So, what they did in 2015 when INEC saw the problems was that they said in those places, use incident forms – where there is no network, do manual accreditation. And the PDP is the greatest beneficiary of that- two of their governors were saved by that at the Supreme Court.They were celebrating the judgment then. We will go through the election; it will be free and fair. We have an honest President.
President Muhammadu Buhari centred his campaign on three main areas –anti corruption war, economy and security of the country. How well would you say the President has been able to fulfill his promises in these areas of national life now that he is seeking re-election?
Taking into consideration the circumstances under which he has had to operate, the amount of ruin and the damage he met on the ground, the resources available to him to operate, the President has exceeded expectations. However, if we want to judge him by the best of standards, we still have very much to do. But while we must judge him by comparative analysis, not the best standard, we are faced with a situation where it is the people who ruined our economy, people under whose watch Boko Haram, farmers/herders clashes got some kind of foothold, germinated and exploded that are telling us that they want to come back.
Taking them one by one, would you say the President has fulfilled his pledge to fight corruption?
There is no government in the history of Nigeria that has gone after those who have stolen our commonwealth as much as this government. The clear testimony to this is amount of recoveries that has been made because those are tangible things you can point to. As I speak with you, 407 mansions have been confiscated from those who looted the economy. Over 120 of the mansions are now on permanent forfeiture. About 250 high profile automobiles confiscated, nine filling stations have been confiscated by the Federal Government and on and on. Two convictions of high profile ex-governors have been achieved.
What about the argument of the opposition that the way the Buhari government has been carrying on with the anti-graft war is selective?
The convictions of the ex-governors answer the anti-corruption question and the selective question. Some say the prosecution of the governors started during their time, but they never complete anything. Some of these trials lasted more than nine years – they started in 2011 when those governors left power. On the anti-corruption front, we have moved far away from where we were in 2015, but we are not yet at the desired destination – stealing is still going on under this government, I have said that before. You cannot stop petty stealing – things like gratification all at once. But what the Buhari government has done is to concentrate on grand corruption – the open deliberate stealing without justification- just taking money out of the national treasury – like what happened before the 2015 elections when they just took N100 billion out to share.
They have tackled that through two proactive steps, because all these ongoing trials and recoveries are reactive. The proactive step is that you have a Single Treasury Account which the Buhari government has had the will to enforce. People cannot just go and take money out for whatever purpose. There is the Presidential Initiative On Continuous Audit, PICA , which has resulted in sieving out thousands of ghost workers from the system – these are people who have died, have retired, but some other people are still receiving their salaries.
With these efforts, Nigeria still went down in the Transparency International Index
There are just two clear responses to that. The Executive Secretary of Transparency International came to Nigeria in May, said the achievements we are making now will not reflect until some years later. So, people should not play politics with what Transparency International did. If you also juxtapose that with what world leaders have said – the African Union made our President the Anti-Corruption Champion of Africa, the United States’ President said that this man is one of the most incorruptible leaders coming out of Africa. In fact, what Donald Trump said was that ‘a lot of corruption has been going on in that country, but we are confident that you are tackling that.’ So, we have made a lot of progress on the issue of anti- corruption and we have a lot to gain by sustaining this honest leadership of the country for the next four years.
PDP is saying that Nigeria has been turned into a ‘killing field’ under Buhari and so, the President does not deserve re-election?
There are two main aspects to the security challenges – one is the insurgency, the other is the farmers/ herders and the communal clashes. PDP members should hide their heads under the table anytime the issue of Boko Haram comes up because the insurgency started in 2009 under their regime. They refused to nip it in bud and it grew to an octopus under their nose. But they now get up and say with their mics, ‘we will make you safer again’ and I burst out laughing. They are just running a self-indicting campaign. I am doing comparative analysis because I am not telling Nigerians that they are totally safe. I am not telling Nigerians that we cannot do better. I am telling Nigerians that it is that person trying to fix the mess he met that is being crucified. If they have had the intelligence to nip the insurgency in the bud from the beginning, if corruption did not take over the system and they were not ‘eating’ money for arms, there would be no Boko Haram. On that front, I would say we have made progress; we have not totally crushed them.
On the issue of farmers/ herders clashes, I repeat again that PDP should not play politics with age-long grievances between communities, especially in the Middle Belt part of the country. If you go and meet the people involved in the conflicts, they will not blame Buhari because they have been in this problem for long and they know.
So, are we better off now in terms of the security challenges the country is facing?
If you are saying are we better off, you must not deny me the opportunity of going to the past and counting dead bodies. So, please, they cannot crucify me for counting dead bodies. If 50 people were dying yesterday and I reduced it to 25, we are better off. In the year 2005, a governor was suspended in Plateau State from office. Why? It was because of this same Hausa/ Fulani versus Berom problem – 2,000 people were killed in one week. Let’s not put the blame for the crisis on PDP – I’m not like them. But the younger ones don’t know this. They think Buhari is the one causing the problem. That is what they are telling the younger ones: Yes, Buhari should have stopped it, yes, Buhari is the president; he should take the blame for what is happening now, but don’t go and tell the younger ones that Buhari is the one encouraging people to go and kill. That will be a wicked narrative.
And for Nigerians to know, these are people who have been feeding fat on the public treasury for many years. All they do is to pose as a voice for the religious class – Muslim, Christian, a voice for some tribes –but it is a lie, they are a voice for themselves, they are all common criminals, thieves. We heard a religious man who has been very close to the President lamenting recently that he has not seen one kobo from the President. He was lamenting. And I say this man was campaigning for Buhari whether he likes it or not. He was showing his frustrations and anger. But that is to tell you that the President is the same person in private and in public. He is a strange human being given Nigerian circumstances these days. If you turn him upside down, it is only ‘goro’ that will fall from his pocket. We will continue to educate Nigerians till February 14 that these people are only playing politics with these issues.
The PDP also said President Buhari did not deserve re-election because he has run the economy aground with the country entering into recession under his leadership and that Nigeria has become the nation with the largest number of poor people under his leadership?
The PDP is also running a self-indicting campaign when it comes to the economy. I was on television some days ago, where I asked people to go and do research. I took the pains to bring out old publications of 2012 and 2013 and I showed it on television where Okonjo-Iweala said “We are heading for recession,” and that was in 2012. And I dare say today that Jonathan easily conceded the election in 2015 because he knew a problem was around the corner. In the other newspaper report, she said ‘we are heading for recession.’ She used the word ‘recession’ that was in 2012. They said we became the world poverty capital with 87 million Nigerians in the poverty bracket. We’ve told Nigerians to check the number of poor peoples in Nigeria in 2012 and 2013. I regret to say that these figures are not salutary; they are not good for an economy like ours. We should be able to beat down and raise our GDP and per capital income. But we are dealing with an opponent that keeps bandying figures and if you don’t let Nigerians know that these figures are either incorrect, or compared to where we are coming from, the figures are not as bad as they are putting it, they (PDP) will run away with some kind of pyrrhic victory. The World Bank said in 2012/2013 that we have 112 million extremely poor people.
And this year, the World Poverty Clock says we have 87 million poor people, I just want to say we are still within the same cycle. I don’t want to boast that we have reduced the number. And it is a thing of pain that we are still within this cycle of poverty, but to play politics with it and deceive the Nigerian people that Buhari caused the poverty for Nigerians is wrong.
Read the cover story here: //www.thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2019/01/buhari-atiku-its-battle-royale/