Minister of Communication, Mr Adebayo Shittu, says he would make no new comments about former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who not only wrote an 18-page letter in which he described President Muhammadu Buhari as incompetent but also launched the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM) as an alternative to PDP and APC to unseat Buhari in 2019. Shittu also explains, in this interview, why he took Buhari re-election campaign materials to a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting recently. Excerpts:
Mr Olusegun Obasanjo, after he had literally caused an earthquake in Nigeria with his 18-page letter tagging President Muhammadu Buhari as an incompetent leader, went to Addis Ababa to shake hands with him. How do you react to the attitude that some watchers of events have described as double faced and likening it to the Chuba Okadigbo saga who Obasanjo dined with in the morning only to be sacked as Senate President in the evening or the Audu Ogbeh incident who the former President showed friendship to in the daytime only to be sacked in the mid-night as National Chairman of People’s Democratic Party (PDP)?
Honestly, I want to reserve my comment on Obasanjo. I won’t say new thing about him anymore. No comment and let us leave it like that.
Even if you are not commenting on that letter, it would seem like the President is being celebrated daily in Europe, Asia and even on the African continent. What does that mean to you in comparison to the issues raised in the Obasanjo letter?
More than any African leader, Mr Buhari has earned respect not only for himself but also for Nigeria. I got excited when I saw the picture of some African Presidents lining up to have handshakes with him. That is the kind of thing Nigeria deserves; a President that is respected because of his discipline, a President that is respected because of his incorruptibility, a President that is respected because of his passion for orderliness and enthusiasm not only for achieving goals and development for Nigeria but also for the entire Africa and peace of the world. And he is reflecting very dispassionately in Nigerian affairs and insisting that Nigeria shouldn’t be knocked down by religious, tribal killings that are seen in parts of the country. You see what the Igbo did some weeks ago when their leaders came to Abuja to pledge their support for him. Now a lot of infrastructures have been put in place in the South-East. And if you look at the distribution of ministers, the five Igbo states, it is only one state that has a minister of state; others are senior ministers. He didn’t look at the fact that he didn’t get votes from that part of the country. If you also look at the South-West, you will find that the zone has only one minister of state, others are senior ministers occupying critical positions: communication, housing and power, health, solid minerals and finance. These are very critical portfolios that the Yoruba have never occupied under any administration. Even the North-West and the North generally where the President got most of the votes from, there are more ministers of state than senior ministers. So, we have decided that we will be supportive of him because in him, for once, we have a compassionate father to all as the President of Nigeria.
Compassionate father! Is that the reason the Hausa/Fulani and the over 90 million Nigerian Muslims claim he has to be unfair to them by allowing undue sentiments and deprivations against them? For instance, they allege the killing of over 700 Fulani in Mambila Plateau, Taraba State, without him ordering action against the killers only for him to take action against them even when the killings in Benue were not confirmed to have been masterminded by them. So also is the way Muslims are being put on the defensive by the Christian Association of Nigeria as in the case of a University of Ilorin law graduate who was denied being called to bar by the Nigerian Law School over hijab? Muslims don’t believe the President has to deprive them of their rights just because he wants to be seen as the father of all. How do you react to that?
I see the emphasis in his being objective and being a very dispassionate person. In that objectivity, we have fairness and he has given it to Nigerians. He is trying to give every section of this country a sense of belonging. He appreciates also that what is improper is not the way everything talks. He has ensured that every religious person practices his or her religion without fear and that all religious and ethnic people in the country live in peace. That is what he has been doing and he has not deviated from that path. Furthermore, if you look at the works ministry, you will find that he has truly been fair to all parts of the country. Just look at road infrastructures and all of that. If you look also at what he is doing on railway, you will find that he is working hard to link all the parts of Nigeria; Calabar to Lagos, Lagos to Kano, Kano to Maiduguri, and Maiduguri to Calabar. So, the view of anybody saying he is depriving any section does not arise.
Somebody asked: How does the leadership of the country feel with the dangerous politics that people practise with fake news and hate speeches in the name of freedom of expression coming from the same Nigerians whose President is respected globally, a situation he said had not happened since the return of democracy in 1999? Any feeling of discouragement?
We will not be discouraged. We have come of age and so we will never get discouraged by all those things that we hear from some people in parts of the country. We will push on with what we believe is good for Nigeria. We only pity people who do not see what we have done. If you look at the last election for example, he (President Buhari) did not have access to all the monies that the sitting President had at that time and, yet, he emerged victorious. That should convince anybody that his emergence is an act of God to take Nigeria to where it should be.
You were said to have taken Buhari’s campaign materials to a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting and you are reportedly the South West Coordinator for the Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation…
I am not the South West Coordinator. I am Chairman of Board of Trustees of MBO Support Group. What we did was to open the South-West Zone …What we did with the caps was to say this man must possibly contest in 2019. We must start preparing for the campaign. One of the things we would need are face caps for the campaign and we need samples of the campaign materials for potential supporters and the samples were what we brought to the meeting. It is to prepare for the future. Again we tried to use that occasion to publicise some of the achievements of Mr. President. Over the last one or two years, a number of PDP apologists have continued to engage in misrepresentations and falsehood against the government, especially in the area of performance and achievements. And we thought it was fit for us to itemize the achievements of the government, which is what we said and we continue to say it that what the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government has done in two years, the PDP governments did not achieve in 16 years. And that is what we are opening up the South-West Zone for and that is what we publicized.
But what is the petition you wrote against Governor Abiola Ajimobi for?
The petition speaks for itself. I don’t have to go over it again. It is part of the things to get our party into noticing areas where things need to be put right in order that our party will not be affected in future elections. And I believe the authorities in the party will take appropriate steps to address the issue raised in that petition.
Some people say the party is backing Ajimobi against you?
I don’t know what evidence they have. That claim is presumptuous.
Congratulations on the award of doctorate degree conferred on you by a Benin Republic university. Will I be right to now address you as Doctor?
Of course, that is what I am: Dr. Abdulraheem Adebayo Shittu. It is based on what they believed I have done for Nigeria in the area where I have served the nation so far.