March 27, 2021

BUHARI: Garba Shehu Vs Hakeem Baba Ahmed

  • Govt has run out ideas … President should speak to us – Baba Ahmed

  • Buhari is doing a lot…he is not a showman for TV – Garba Shehu

By Dirisu Yakubu

Nigerians were treated to a feast of vitriolic between Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Director, Publicity and Advocacy of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, and Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday.

The two squared up on Sunrise Daily, the breakfast show on topical issues, produced by Channels Television. Like two parallel lines not fated to meet however long they travel, the two disagreed on virtually all issues raised throughout the programme. While Baba Ahmed sees the Commander-in-Chief as a leader incapable of securing millions of Nigerians across the land, Shehu dismisses him as an alarmist not in touch with the great achievements recorded thus far by the Buhari-led government. Here’s what was said by the two powerful spokesmen!

On Buhari’s scorecard in security

Garba Shehu: “I want to assure Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and all Nigerians that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is addressing multiple challenges facing the country especially in dealing with insecurity. We are making progress in agriculture, economy and anti-corruption which are the key policies which the government and the party vowed to tackle when they came into office. It is sad for the country that the opposition is exploiting some of these things and it’s quite unfortunate but I want to assure that the President remains focused in preserving the security and the unity of this country.

“I also want to say that it is an established fact that all nations of the world face problems but what is expected from well meaning members of the public is that they should team up with government so that together, we will all fight criminality, insurgency and all of that. We accept that dissent is allowed. This is a democracy and people have a right to tell truth to government but we must be careful in doing that because you can’t bring down the government.

“This is a government elected democratically. Happily Dr. Baba Ahmed taught social sciences in the university. He has been commissioner, secretary and a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Governments in a democracy come into office through periodic elections. If you have a government in office as we have, sponsored by a political party that continues to win elections, it is telling you that that confidence of the public is still there unless Dr. Baba Ahmed does not himself believe all that he has been teaching young people all these years as a lecturer.

“People with strong voting ambitions just have to suppress this. Wait till four years and in fact, in our own case, two more years to go. There will be an election and President Muhammadu Buhari will not be a candidate in that election. I want to say that the war against terrorism in the North has not stalled. It is making progress and it is almost finished. As we speak today, major towns whose traditional rulers had relocated to Maiduguri and communities who were in IDP camps, towns like Gwoza, Askira Uba, Dikwa, Ngala, Monguno, Damboa, etc, people are back in those communities. Their rulers are back as they are no longer in exile in Maiduguri. A lot of kidnapped people have been taken away, thousands of terrorists have been shot and killed, many of them arrested, weaponry seized and destroyed.

Is it the thought of the Presidency that people are trying to bring down the government? Channels asks

Garba Shehu: No. I am not saying there is no criminality or violence. The President always condemns the kind of things that have been reported. It is true that crime continues to mutate in our country. When President Buhari came into office, the biggest issue was Boko Haram. ThisDay Newspaper office was bombed, United Nations, UN Headquarters was bombed in Abuja as well as the Police Headquarters including every major city in the North including the FCT.

But from then, the government faced the farmers/ herders clashes, which escalated to levels that weren’t seen before. Again, substantially, this has been brought down. Nigerians clamoured that service chiefs be removed and the President granted this. But Baba Ahmed is saying nothing is changing. We must give these people a chance. It is too soon to say they have succeeded but we are seeing a lot of changes. They came with lot of zeal, energy and imagination. They are already putting their ideas into actions and we are seeing results already. The police are making huge arrest of sponsors not only of kidnapping but terrorism. We are not just going after the actors on the field. We don’t seem to be appreciating sacrifices of our service men and that is not fair to the nation.

Is the Buhari-led government failing?

Baba Ahmed: ”I have a lot of sympathy for Mallam Garba Shehu because it is very difficult selling a bad product. He is doing his job and his job is to make the administration look good and to hit back at people who say the administration is failing. But Nigerians know better. They  just have to look around the country. They know that this government is failing to secure them. We don’t need to label critics as people who are ambitious, who want to bring down the country or people who do not appreciate the sacrifices of the government.

The people on the streets know the truth and so are those in towns and cities. People in the North know that what he (Garba Shehu) is saying is not true. We still have millions of people living under the influence of Boko Haram. The numbers change, towns and cities change. Today they are in the hands of our troops, tomorrow, they are in the hands of Boko Haram. These are facts and we can’t wish them away. I wish what Mallam Garba Shehu is saying is true but it is not.

“Yes, service chiefs have been changed but we haven’t seen the result and if you expect us to wait for another three or four months or six months or a year before we see the result of the new service chiefs shows, then the security of the country is going to be considerably worse than it is now. The bottom line is that President Buhari came at a time that Boko Haram was the only security threat in the country but today, there are multiple threats. There is also a threat to national cohesion. It does not appear that the administration thinks that is a problem to fix. We are drifting apart from each other, creating enemies out of each other, we are telling Nigerians living in one part of the country to leave and it doesn’t appear that that is a concern to the administration. Three things are basically wrong with this administration.

“It doesn’t have a thinking capacity. It is living in denial, it doesn’t believe that the magnitude of this problem is real and so they don’t appreciate the fact that there is interconnection between their weakness and the opportunism which crime is feeding into.

“The reason kidnapping and banditry are escalating is because the kidnappers and bandits realise that there is a huge vacuum around governance and security. They are in control of thousands of kilometres of our forests. This is a fact. There is no way anyone can argue this away. Our military and police have no presence in huge parts of Nigeria including Katsina, the President’s home state. We are not happy to say this; we don’t want to bring down the government of President Buhari. We believe in the democratic process but we want him to work. But when he is failing, we will say so. He is failing to secure the country; children are being taken away from school and parents are worried.

Sponsors of banditry, kidnapping will be unmasked but not by government- Garba Shehu

“Three weeks is not sufficient time to say the more things change, the more they remain the same which is Baba’s language. I hope in the coming weeks, there will be massive disclosure of things that are happening in this country, going after kingpins and sponsors of those who harbour bandits, kidnappers and terrorists. I pray there will be that disclosure but it will not be done by the Presidency. The issue of a challenge of national cohesion is the language of the opposition and they are claiming to be neutral set of people.

READ ALSO: You’ve role in securing Nigeria, Reps’ deputy speaker tells traditional rulers

”I feel pity for Dr. Baba Ahmed because he is in very uncomfortable position where he is. There’s one online President declared a new Biafra recently. Lai Mohammed said some of them are charlatans. They are sponsored to bully, threaten the President, thinking that Mr. President will panic and take the wrong decision.

“Dr. Baba Ahmed was a strong actor in the government of this country that was executing opponents. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation was executed by state actors. This government is not killing people.

“There is no vacuum in dealing with kidnapping. Kaduna has a strong governor as we speak. Nigeria police is engaged as we speak, trying to convince Nigerians and institutions of government that it is not worth it paying ransom to release kidnapped victims. So long as we continue to pay money, it will continue to thrive and none of us will ever be safe in this country. Payment of ransom has to end for kidnapping to end in this country.

Whose responsibility is it to unravel the identity of sponsors of banditry and kidnapping?

Garba Shehu: “I don’t want to be preemptive because the arrests are ongoing but nothing is finalized as we speak now. If you are following the press, you will see that some people are already going to court to challenge certain detentions. We expected this- which obstacles would be placed in the way of the government but there is no kidnapper out there on the street that is probably not sponsored by somebody, may be an armed supplier or even somebody helping them to manage their own money.

Is government overwhelmed?

Garba Shehu: ”Government is not overwhelmed. Sometimes, criminals are the most ingenious people in the communities. If you are going this way, and they anticipate you, they change their own ways. There is a suspicion in the press that money is being paid to recover the students kidnapped in Kaduna. If you continue to do that, it grows into an industry. So, if you have a government like we have in Kaduna saying enough is enough, we won’t pay…that is the way to go. I am sorry for the family members but let’s also learn from experiences elsewhere. In Zamfara, the non-kinetic process is going on. The President is capable and is doing whatever is required of him within his sphere of authority to address this issue.”

When the President said Jengebe would be the last of abductions. Do you think he should apologize to Nigerians now because we have seen more schools raided?

Garba Shehu: “What Hadi Sirika who represented Mr. President meant (he later clarified that position) was that hopefully, that would be the last. He also said that in order to embarrass the government, some dare-devil elements will try this kind of kidnapping elsewhere and we are not surprised that they have tried it. We need to recreate the safe school initiative and the schools must be secured. If you are not sure the schools are safe, take them home. A lot of young ones are going to day school now in Katsina. Some of the structures we are seeing today now from the states, can anyone in all sincerity call them schools?”

Shehu said you were part of a government that executed people

Baba Ahmed: “I have no idea what he is talking about. I don’t know which Minister was executed. I was part of many governments. I was permanent secretary for ten years and I served under many governments.  Seeing him (Shehu) speak in this manner, I am very depressed now. This is how the spokesperson of the President will respond, telling us that arrests are being made?

We have not seen anybody being arrested. If they are arrested, why are they not being prosecuted? Who are these people, where are they? He is right to say kidnapping and banditry have become an industry. When you talk about 200 motorcycles, they have to be serviced, weapons have to be serviced and they have to be trained on the use of weapons. It has grown into a big industry right under the nose of the President. There is no way you can deflate attention from this. How do you explain the growing sophistication of criminals in the country? You can only do that by acknowledging the fact of the failure of the leadership to secure citizens. Listening to Garba Shehu, I think the Presidency has run out of ideas. When they are confronted with serious challenge, they go round looking for all sorts of diversions and excuses.

If you say the threat to national cohesion is not real because someone sat there and said he is President of wherever; clearly, the Presidency is locked in. They are not listening to Nigerians. There are genuine serious problems about people using language, taking actions that suggest that they are attacking the foundation of our national unity and the integrity of the Nigerian state. People are saying we don’t want to be part of Nigeria and all that. These are new. We have always lived together. People are saying the country is too insecure, nepotism is too much around the Presidency, there is no future for the young ones.

If people like Garba Shehu and the President do not understand that this represents existential threat to this country, then we are in a more trouble.

Is there going to be a change of approach in the fight against insecurity?

Garba Shehu: “There are problems in the way some of the groups operate and this is why they seem to focus on one thing which is the President and refusing to focus on one thing. When you look at what is happening in other parts of the country, some of the organizations that you have are busy organising security summits. There are problems in the country. Where there is total, unequivocal support of the community to the law enforcement bodies, some of these things obviously won’t be seen. They will be reported and taken care of.”

Do you think these attacks on government-owned institutions are a kind of message to the federal government?

Garba Shehu: “When thorough investigations are undertaken, yes, it is possible some attacks are targeted at the federal government institutions or people.  I don’t have the facts but I hope a thorough investigation will be able to tell us where all of this is coming from. But yes even if it is a village at the local government areas and it hits the screen, it not only embarrasses Buhari but also Nigerians at home and Nigerians in the Diaspora. It is certainly embarrassing and President Muhammadu Buhari will not rest until this is put behind us.”

This is to say that the president gets daily briefings on happenings in the country

Garba Shehu: “It is the kind of propaganda that is being raised by the opposition to question the capacity of the present government.  My warning to people who are in opposition is that don’t chance him, the president knows it all and he is the most ferocious reader and listener that you can ever find. I started with him as a media assistant in the campaign. I found it absolutely challenging meeting up with him. If only Nigerians know and let me reveal this secret that the fastest way you can reach the President is go to the press, reveal the wrong doings and he will read them before other Nigerians.”

Is the president worried about these worrisome calls for…

Garba Shehu: “The President is concerned about the unity and continuous existence of this country. In the period of the civil war that lasted for years, ask his contemporaries, he didn’t take a day off.  He fought to keep this country. But in this country there are people who will bring down the ropes so long they are not in the tent. This is the problem we have. The National Assembly want to amend the constitution, we want to restructure, but how many people are listening?  Obviously, people will have frustrations on everyday matter of living including our politics but we have chosen democracy as our system of government.  There’s a way of doing it, and we must do it that way. The president is an elected president who leads one arm of government. We have a parliament that is not swayed by vortex of power mongers; it is working for Nigerians.

What’s your reaction?

Baba Ahmed: Let the president fix security, if he can’t do it immediately then let him do something that indicates that he is capable of securing Nigerians. If he is not going to pay money to get the Kaduna College of Forestry students out,  then for goodness sake, he should use another means to get them out. It is not only the responsibility of the Kaduna state government to get them; it is also principally the responsibility of the federal government to do something to get those people out.

“Secondly, do something about how insecure we are, all these talks about how the President is very concerned are not good enough because every day, our lives are getting worse. We cannot wait for the President to get round to fix things. He was supposed to hit the ground from day one but he hasn’t. Every Nigerian complains about being marginalized and you just dismiss it as the problem of the opposition? Ascribing problems to the opposition doesn’t solve them. It is the opposition’s work to make your work look bad; it’s your job to make your opposition less effective in making you look bad. But if the only response of the Presidency is that every criticism, complaint, grievance, that people say and you say it is just talk;  then you are not dealing with the problem.

“On prioritization, yes maybe we are doing well with COVID-19 but we are going to still have to pay more for fuel. What does the president say about these kinds of things? Why doesn’t he say anything at all? A few weeks ago, the National Security Adviser of the president said that they couldn’t trace the money meant for arms, billions of naira. We haven’t heard a word either from the President or anyone at all to clarify this issue. Shouldn’t we be worried? Where is the President leading the governors?

“Bottom line is he hasn’t said a word on what Nigeria should expect in terms of fighting insecurity and that is our biggest concern now. We don’t care about what you do about COVID and other matters; we just want to be more secured. We want to stop fighting each other but should rather be fighting the criminals and the bandits. It is the responsibility of the president to pay attention to the grievances of Nigerians. They are real and a lot of Nigerians feel alienated. We can’t have a President who is sitting there and blaming the woes of the country on the opposition; that is not what we elected him for.

On governor of Niger state saying he is not getting support from security agencies

Garba Shehu: “This country is under the best democratic government we have had since the 4th republic. The President will not lock out people.  There are no assassinations by state actors under Buhari and people can say whatever they want to say.

What do we expect from Nigerians who are panicking as a result of what they read and see?

Garba Shehu: On banditry, the President has given a clear order that anybody holding Ak-47 illegally should be shot if they are not ready to surrender their weapons. What do we expect from Nigerians? First of all, we deserve a robust criticism from the media. But some of the elements in our media that make Boko Haram look like heroes don’t help anybody.

Government should give us Key Performance Indicators- Baba Ahmed

We would like to see less talk and more action; we would like to see the President come forward and address the nation, not just putting people like Garba Shehu to speak. He is our President, we elected him.  He cannot stay in the villa and send spokespersons to speak. We are not safe, we are desperate, we are worried, and he should talk to us.

Secondly I think the President needs to expand his access to information. We keep hearing Mr. President has given instructions for this and that but who is monitoring the effectiveness of all these instructions?

Should the President address the nation?

Garba Shehu: “What I will say is that every President has his own style. This president is not a showman for Television.  If Baba Ahmed is sick of seeing the face of Garba Shehu, well I speak for the President of Nigeria for his pleasure. If the President doesn’t like what I’m doing, I will be sacked immediately. And for God’s sake, Baba Ahmed, the latitude of information and intelligence the President has are not available to you, and are not available to any other Nigerian. And therefore, don’t underestimate the kind of information, data and perspectives that are available. The President at every time has his own choices to make.

Vanguard News Nigeria