The Presidency has expressed confidence that none of President Muhammadu Buhari’s contemporaries in the army and former leaders advising him against seeking reelection can stop him in 2019.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said in an interview in Abuja that even if they contest against Buhari, he would defeat them.
A former president, Olusegun Obasanjo and a former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida had earlier this year wrote scathing letters advising Buhari not to run for the 2019 presidential election.
The presidential spokesman said he would advise Buhari to run for second term" because he richly deserves a second term in office."
He said: "My response to them (Buhari’s contemporaries in the military and former leaders) is that if they like, they can come and contest against President Buhari. He will defeat them, all of them."
Shehu also explained that Buhari was yet to declare his intention for 2019 because he was focused on the problems facing the nation.
"The president himself, his passion is for the country. This is a president whose passion is not even for the office. Even when everyone is asking him to go for a second term, he is keeping quiet because his focus remains the nation and the problems of the country," he said.
For those asking Buhari not to talk about second term when people are hungry, Shehu said: "With all the noise the PDP is making, even during their tenure as president did they give breakfast lunch and dinner to every citizen? Is there any country in which someone does not go hungry? I am not saying it is perfectly in order but they are just politicizing these issues.
"This is a government that has removed this country from the shame of food importation, every state of the country now is into rice production, and we are feeding not only Nigeria but to west Africa. And the government is working on having respectable prices for food items, food inflation is coming down grossly. Everyone complaining of hunger should go and work.
"And you know that this is the only government that has introduced social investment schemes, we pay out now for the poorest of the poor, the least they will get is N5,000.and a lot of these job that are been created are from loans with little or no interest from the central bank, Bank of industry, Banks of Agriculture, Development Bank and the rest. So, there is a lot going for people who really want to go out there to work especially in Agriculture."
The presidential spokesman hinted that Buhari would continue working with all his ministers since he had not sacked them as being demanded in some quarters.
Replying some Nigerians in diaspora seeing the delay in cabinet reshuffle as Buhari’s weakness, Shehu said: "The president is the one who wears the shoes, he know where it pinches. if the president hasn’t sacked his ministers, it means that he wants to continue to work with them.
"Maybe those agitating for the sack of the ministers are also looking for a chance to come in to replace those who are there. In that case, then they are driven by selfish motive. As president and commander-in-chief, he reserves the right to hire and fire.
"For the fact that he hasn’t done that does not mean that he does not have the power to do that. I am sure if he wants do it, he will do it at his own pace and time. But people who want to become ministers, how many minister can we even appoint in this country? I think people should just be busy let them go and start farming instead of sitting down to speculate whether they can be made ministers or not."
Shehu defended the proposed amnesty for the Boko Haram insurgents, saying there is nothing wrong in making peace with an enemy.
He said: "Whoever is peddling these rumours that Boko Haram is being granted amnesty and so on I would ask them who doesn’t want to make peace with the enemy? In any case, as it is proverbially said, all wars end up in the Boardroom. You can defeat people technically in the field but at the end you must come to the conference room to resolve all issues.
"So, if Boko Baram would lay down their arms and stop fighting and stop preaching that negative ideology, the country should be able to embrace them welcome all of them so that they continue to live normal lives and be useful to the nation. What that means is that we will be saving cost, saving lives that are being lost through bombing, killing of service personnel and we will be saving money that we are using to procure weapons so that such money can go into services and infrastructure and welfare of the citizens of this country. It is a win-win situation".
He said the assertion that Buhari was shielding herdsmen from prosecution was a colouration of the social media
"This is an administration that has done so extremely well and to a president who has sworn to an oath to defend the constitution and protect every life and property, it’s very unfair and uncharitable to say that he’ll shield anybody. In any case, the president controls only one layer of authority, what are the governors doing? is the social media also saying that the governors are protecting the herdsmen from the law? Are they saying the local governments are also protecting them? It has to take everyone at various levels of authority to shield somebody from the law in those circumstances."
Shehu disagreed with critics that Buhari had failed to fight insecurity.
He said: "The problem between farmers and Herdsmen predates the independence of Nigeria, if you read history, you’ll see that farmers and herdsmen had fought for space in this country even British colonial rulers were here. So, this is not something new."
He, however, added "I’m not saying it’s welcome, but I think it’s over amplified now, there is a media spotlight on it because the opposition cannot engage Buhari administration on any other issue other than this lacuna that they have found. They cannot discuss the war against corruption because that’s a very uncomfortable area for them, they don’t want to discuss issues of infrastructure with Buhari, they don’t want to discuss economic diversification which this administration has achieved a lot of success, today we have 12 million rice farmers in this country, 6 million new jobs are being created.
"In agriculture alone, food import has gone down by 95%, we’re feeding ourselves. This year, the government is planning a ban on rice importation. So, we’re doing so well moving from over reliance on oil to agriculture and manufacturing. I’m not saying it’s okay that the farmers and herdsmen are fighting, but we’re doing a lot. The recent activity, especially the military operation now in the northcentral, has led to the recoveries of large quantities of weapons illegally held by militias and even herdsmen. So, something is being done about it. I know by the time this is done with, I don’t know what else the opposition will be talking about."
Asked how he would rate Buhari’s government, especially on infrastructure development, Shehu responded: "The records are there for everyone to see that no government, no past administration in Nigeria has invested as much as we’ve done or let me say we’re currently doing in infrastructure development. From day one when he took power, the president gave a target of not less than 30% of annual appropriation devoted to infrastructure development. Without infrastructure, we can not lay the foundation for growth.
"When this administration came to power, between 95 and 96 percent of public expenditure was going into overhead cost leaving only about 5 or 6%for infrastructure. The allocation of 30% under this administration has led to tremendous improvement in the provision of infrastructure so far in the country. Now, there is a lot of work going on, building new rail lines and the rehabilitation of the old rail system networks, roads are being done all across the country…This is a government that has spent N1.3trn on capital expenses under 2016 budget and has also spent as much as that under the 2017 budget, and it’s almost closing on records for last year which was N1.3trn."