The Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Garba Shehu, in this interview with Mannir Dan-Ali on Trust TV gave insight on the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train, the upcoming national census and state pardon for ex-governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba states. Excerpt:
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Just a few days ago the Council of State announced that there will be a census in April but it is drawing some flak, what informed the decision to go ahead?
First of all, censuses are conducted, according to the United Nations mandate, on a 10-year basis but in our own case, the last time we had it was in 2006, so, we have lost time. Now, the matter of census was brought to the council because it is a constitutional requirement that before carrying it out, the council must be notified by the president. Before this time, there had been a build-up, so, it is not just coming up now. The census commission had been planning and demarcated the country according to enumeration areas. They have done all the mappings that are needed. What was next was for the government to give a go-ahead. They are sensitive to what is going on in the country. For instance, they would have gone to do the trial census by May but political parties are building up to their own political primaries now. So, they said let them do their primaries then we do the census after.
But the concern of people is that there is so much insecurity as a lot of people have been displaced from their abode and the census is supposed to count people where they reside?
They are entitled to their opinion but it surprises me because the fact that governments have problems in some areas, it will stop progress in places that are not affected. So, the government must continue. Two, the census we are going to witness is going to be a high-tech digitised census.
You mean all the communities in the North West and North East, even, as recent as two weeks ago, the speaker of the Borno State House of Assembly came out to say his local government is still under Boko Haram’s control and there are places in the North West which have been depopulated.
Let’s take this one after the other, the governor of Borno State, Zulum, I believe he is not a deceiver, three days ago he told the council that virtually all the major roads in the state have been reopened; major markets reopened, cross border trade has resumed and the only one local government council area, which is under the operation of the military because the natives have not been advised to move, is now being reoccupied.
If you have a question on reconciling what the speaker is saying with Governor Zulum, I think you better speak to them. But information available to the government is that insecurity in the North has been degraded and that the defence establishment in the country is telling everyone that Boko Haram is no longer a sustainable threat. Occasional threat, yes, nobody is saying they can’t strike like a flash in the pan but they are being hunted. Look at what the International Terrorism Index has just said about the state. It commended this government that more than 90 per cent of Boko Haram terrorism is now out of place. Therefore, we are making progress. The fact that attention is not focused upon by digital and other media, is a different story but the ground reality is that North East is substantially under control now.
Some are saying that even the Tucano that arrived about a year now have not impacted on the operation because the goalpost was shifted, we started hearing they are not being used because there are conditions attached.
When you are dealing with countries like America, you have to be sensitive to public opinion, which is important to them as it is to us. Yes, it is clear when they sold the Super Tucano to the government of Nigeria. They were looking at their law. The law does not allow you to use weapons on targets they classify as civilians otherwise America will no longer sell weapons to you. Don’t forget that it took a build-up of years of rejection until President Buhari came on the scene and was able to establish credibility with Americans and they say we will sell.
It is true that from the beginning, the air force could not use the aircraft in the North West and even after that, it took some time because these things also use precision type weapons. From my own understanding, this was not to be made available until March, we are just into April. But thank God, the government is also making heavy investments in drone technology. A lot of things are being done in the North West, quite a lot is being achieved with drones and we are getting more success.
What specifically will you tell the families of those abducted from the Abuja-Kaduna train who for the last few days have been out to the media crying to the president to come to their aid for the release of their loved ones?
I want to say I feel sorry for the situation they are in and very much disturbing and the president is worried about it. They have to be patient. The military, police and other law enforcement agencies are trained in a way to do things, we are talking about the rescue, not elimination. If the idea is to eliminate the terrorists and the captives, this can be done in 24 forces.
Is that why the Yauri girls are also still held?
I am telling you the military is a trained military. The president is responsible, if he finishes now, we want him to go and rest in Kaduna or Daura, we don’t want him to go to International Criminal Court, that is not the idea. We should allow them to use their methodical process for dealing with these things, let them do it.
Why are there no consequences for people in charge of the railway when they have been advised to stop the train by night with the railway MD confirming the communication but has not resigned or sacked by the transportation minister?
You have your view of it and they have their own view. In all the nations of the world, no country wants to be seen as submitting to terrorists. If you have to do that, there will be no end to it. We can’t allow terrorists to set the rules for the country.
What happens if we do not have the capacity to protect our citizens who are endangered when the criminals strike like it happened in Kaduna?
Get me right, nobody will defend the failure of responsibility. Please, when next you have Mr. Amaechi here in the programme ask him some of these questions.
But your principal is in charge of the transport minister’s schedule,he can fire him, he hasn’t fired him or anybody for failure?
On what basis will he fire Amaechi?
The security services have advised against these journeys.
These things you read in digital space, please exercise caution and be discreet, get your facts.
So you mean the security reports are false that there was no report saying there could be these attacks and nothing was done?
No, I’m saying that the president I work for will not be told that point ABC will be attacked tomorrow and he said, do nothing.
One of the key principles of the Buhari’s administration was corruption, so, there was uproar when the Council of State pardoned two former governors. Are you not concerned that it sends the wrong signal?
Two things are involved, one, I don’t want to talk about the enormous power of the president under section 175 of the constitution. The president has powers to pardon for all offences with or without conditions. But this is not the case. There are guidelines for doing these things, among them, is ill-health or old age. Now, in the Council of State, which supported the president in doing this are leaders of the country, they have conscience. That is why in the course of the deliberation, the other gentleman who had been jailed for 120 years and was asked to go home after six months, they said this is not right as they will be sending the wrong signal, so it is not as if we have lost it. The point is politics will creep in. It happens everywhere. When the American president makes pardons, people will look at the political angle and say you are doing this because of politics. The shame of the conviction itself, in many countries, is enough punishment.
What of some people who stole a goat and for many years are still in prison?
It is because the media has focused on these two because they are politically exposed but in a list of 160, you will be surprised that there are very low level people who don’t matter to the media therefore nobody is talking about them.
The vice president has thrown his hat into the ring, I don’t know how the president sees it?
I was not there when the president met him and was not briefed.
Are you in the presidency happy to see that the man next to the president is coming out to continue with the programme you started?
This is for the members of the party to decide. In terms of grassroots organisation, APC has the best in Africa, so it will be the party’s leadership to decide though the president has a role to play.