Buhari returns from vacation Monday —Presidency •Says, recession will end this year •Wait and see what happens next week on CJN matter

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The Presidency has disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari would be in his office in Abuja on Monday.The president had in a letter dated January 19 to the Senate disclosed that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would be acting for him while he proceeded on leave from January 23 to February 6.

By the close of work on Friday, no new letter had been sent to the Senate to change that arrangement.

Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, told Saturday Tribune on phone on Friday that the president would resume duties in Abuja on Monday.

His assurance came against continuous concerns around the country that President Buhari had serious health challenges, a claim Adesina repeatedly debunked.

On the non transmission of the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Adesina reminded Nigerians that the president still had up till February 10 to act.

Earlier on Friday, Adesina was on a live interview programme with the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) where he gave similar assurances on Buhari and the CJN issue.

He told the BCOS that the resumption date, which was communicated to Nigerians since the president began his vacation, was unchanged.

On why the president chose not to address Nigerians from the UK amidst the rumour of his death back home, Adesina said Buhari was clear about his mission and, therefore, did not need to yield to the antics of mischief makers.

“When he was leaving, he told you why he was leaving – a vacation, for medical checks, in that order. The problem is that some Nigerians reversed the order. They put medical before vacation.

“The president was going on vacation. During that vacation, he would do routine medical checks. That was it”, he said adding that the check-up was imperative, especially given the fact the president was over 40 years of age.

“Once you are over 40, at least once a year, you must do your medical checks”, Adesina emphasised.

He described those behind the rumour and the demand for the presidential address as “the tiny vocal minority” but said that there were millions of Nigerians, who were not in “a hysteria that he should come and talk to them”, who knew that it was well with the president.

Adesina, who described his principal as a man of a few words, said the President Buhari maintained enough engagement with Nigerians in terms of communication.

He insisted that Nigerians were being adequately briefed about the president and his activities by his media aides, including himself.

According to him, with him as the head of the media team, as well as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu and the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, “who speaks for the government”, Nigerians lack no information about their president.

“A president should always engage with the citizens. He [Buhari] does, but it is a matter of style. There are presidents who would talk directly. There are presidents who would talk through their spokesmen, and you know, the president has many [spokespersons] – myself, Garba Shehu and Minister of Information and Culture who speaks for the government” Adesina said.

Asking Nigerians not to turn communication into a fetish, the veteran journalist said: “There is no lack of information. What Nigerians need to do is to understand that they can’t have a template which they would hand over to the president and say this is how we want to you to relate with us. They president has a right to have his own template”.

When it was put to him by the interviewers that the president’s lack of adequate engagement with the public might have resulted in his wife, Aisha, voicing her concerns about his administration to the international media, Adesina described the affairs of the first family as being out of his job description.

“There are certain things that should be off-limits to people so as to work with other people. I am one of the aides of the president. His family is off-limits. I don’t talk about his family. It would not be proper for me to do that”, the presidential aide said.

CJN’s appointment

On the allegation of the Federal Government being reluctant to confirm Walter Onnoghen, whose role as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria lapses Friday next week, Adesina urged Nigerians to be patient as the one week within which, according to him, the matter would be resolved “is a long time in politics”.

He, however, faulted a claim that the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in the acting capacity was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria, citing the case of a former CJN, Justice Idris Kutigi.

“The law allows the president to appoint an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. But that law says he must not act more than three months. And when I hear people say it is unprecedented in the history of this country that we have an acting CJN, it is not true. They forget that Justice Idris Kutigi was first an acting CJN and then he got confirmed”, he said.

On the Niger Delta, he said so far, the presidency had been constrained from addressing the issues affecting the oil-rich region by a lack of consensus among the people of the area as regards whom their actual leaders were eligible enough to negotiate with the government.

On Southern Kaduna, he said President Buhari had responded well to the crisis by taking steps at dousing the tension in the area, especially through the setting up of military formations there to keep the peace.

He also dismissed insinuations that the crisis had been religiously motivated.

“Suddenly, it [Southern Kaduna crisis] is being given a religious coloration. No. It is more of a settler-indigene problem. It so happens that the settlers are Fulani, who are predominantly Muslims, and the indigenes are predominantly Christians. It is more of communal clashes over land. That’s all.

“As we speak, the president has given directives that two military formations be set up in Southern Kaduna which will be like a buffer between the people. And, of course, we know that police formations are stationed there permanently. Apart from the police formations, you even have the military and the military is never deployed without the authority of the Commander-in-Chief. Those are some of the things that the president has done” Adesina said.

“And our president is a man of a few words. He has spoken about Southern Kaduna. He has expressed his sympathy to those who lost relations. But beyond that, he has acted and, like they say, action speaks louder than words”.

Nigeria ’ll exit recession this year

Adesina gave the assurance that Nigerians had not been short-changed as regards the change mantra of the present administration, adding that the country would get out of recession in 2017.

“Change is a process. It begins gradually and it continues to grow until it reaches a crescendo. Change is both tangible and intangible. There are so many intangible areas in which change is evident. For instance, can you trust your president? Yes, you can. It is an intangible change. Is stealing not corruption? Yes, it is now. That is change,” he said.

“There was a time in this country when we were told that stealing is not corruption but we know it is corruption now. That is change. Is there more of impunity or less? There is less impunity because you know that if you are caught doing certain things, you will pay for them.

“Then, talking of the tangible evidence of change, a lot of people see change in terms of money in their pockets. Yes, we are going through a tough economic period but that change will come and the economy will rebound.

“Before we got into recession, it was predicted by those manning the economy that at the end of this quarter, the economy would likely go into recession. And then at a point they said, in 2017, we were going to exit recession. They [some Nigerians] believed that recession would come but they are not believing that we will exit it. We will exit recession. The World Bank has said it. The IMF has said it. Nigeria will exit recession this year and there will be more money in the pockets of Nigerians”, Adesina declared.

He added that: “Change is not a magic wand. Some people want the government to just wave that wand. It is just like that leper in The Bible…they thought that APC and President Buhari would just wave a wand and change would appear”.

He faulted the perception that those in government were not feeling then heat of the recession and that they are immune to certain conditions, saying “the market you go is the market we go”.

He said the country was earning $3.5 billion a month in 2014 and was now earning, sometimes, $290 million, $300 million, highest, $500 million a month, but Nigerians should be thankful despite “what is happening to us in terms of revenue as things are not as bad as they are in Venezuela”, where “they go across the border looking for food”.

He reiterated the assurance of the Federal Government that there would be no further increase in the price of petrol.

On kerosene, Adesina said the situation was being addressed, especially now that the three refineries producing the commodity had started functioning.

He, however, added that the country was now facing a situation where the supply of kerosene was at variance with the daily national demand.

“The consumption of kerosene daily in Nigeria is 10 million litres. All our three refineries that produce kerosene, put together, do between 4.5 million and five million litres daily. That is about half of the national demand. That means we also need to import a minimum of five million litres daily.

“These refineries, over the decades, have not been properly maintained. Is that the fault of this current administration? No. It is a cumulative problem. The three refineries were down. They were not producing a single litre of kerosene and that was why you found that the price went as high as N450/N500 [per litre].

“Now, about two weeks ago, the refineries started producing and gradually, the price of kerosene will go down”.

Payment of workers salaries

On how lack of payment of salaries of civil servants by state governments is reflecting on the central government, Adesina said the president respected the role of sates in government and, therefore, would not risk being labelled a tyrant by interfering in their affairs.

Adesina said the situation could not reflect badly on the Federal Government because federal civil servants were being paid.

According to him, N165 billion is the monthly wage bill of the Federal Government and the president has decided not to embark on retrenchment of workers even in the face of the difficult times.

On his assessment of Buhari’s government, he said the government had performed well in its three major campaign plans, namely, security, anti-corruption crusade and revitalisation of the economy and creation of jobs.

“There were three major campaign plans. There were some others but the three major are: one, to secure the country, two, to fight corruption and three, to revive the economy and create jobs. Twenty months down the line, how well has the government performed in these three areas?

“Of course, we know that security is like the poster of this administration. It has done very well in this area, particularly in combating insurgency.

“I know that some people may take me up that there are other pockets of security issues apart from insurgency; that you have kidnapping, Niger Delta [militancy], cattle rustling and all that but we know that the greatest threat to the existence of the country when this administration came was the issue of insurgency.

“Insurgency started in the North East and gradually, it moved into the North West. It moved into the North Central. It came into Abuja, the seat of the capital. And then it got as near to the West as Lokoja. From Lokoja, it was, like, coming down to the West, and from the West, it could go into the South-South. And what then would be left of the country? So, the administration has battled that head-on.

“We know the story today. Boko Haram is out of the North West. It is out of the North Central. It is out of Abuja. It was localised in Borno State and then further reduced into Sambisa Forest. And last December, December 22, to be precise, what was called cancerous fell to the Nigerian Army. So, as far as we are concerned, what we are going through now is a mopping-up process of that insurgency. Then, other areas of security like kidnapping, the Niger Delta issue, cattle rustling and then the Fulani herdsmen menace are all being looked into,” he said.

“One thing you cannot deny about this government is that it has the capacity to tackle these security issues. Look at the particular case of schoolgirls and some workers that were abducted recently at the Turkish International School, Lagos. After the matter was resolved, within two-three days, the kidnappers were picked up. And that is usually the situation in most parts of the country. So, you will notice that the police is improving its capacity to also crack cases of kidnapping, and that is happening in different parts of the country”.

On how the government has fared on anti-corruption war, he said: “We know that it is a war that is going on, on all fronts. In Nigeria, you always have allegations but we know that with this government, there is nothing like selectivity on the anti-corruption war. To President Muhammadu Buhari, if you have questions to answer on corruption, you are in for it, no matter who you are. All the retired Generals either in the Army or the Air Force are not PDP people, because the easy allegation is that it is members of the opposition that are being tried. The retired Generals, are they members of the opposition? No. Some judges that are being tried now, are they members of the opposition? No. So, the anti-corruption war cuts across”.

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