2019 Presidency: Atiku no match for Buhari

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The immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, has declared that his kinsman and Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is no match for President Muhammadu Buhari as far as the February 16, presidential election is concerned.

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Lawal who dismissed Atiku as a Facebook politician, maintained that by all ramifications, President Buhari towers above Atiku. Lawal who also opened up on his controversial removal from office over alleged contract scam, maintained his innocence in the allegation against him, while also saying that for the sake of making heaven, he had automatically forgiven his detractors. He spoke to AIDOGHIE PAULINUS in Abuja.

As a supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari, how sure are you that he will win the February 16, presidential election?

In terms of being sure, I am not God, there are always probabilities and possibilities of things according to God’s own plan. But as a human being and as you rightly pointed out, a supporter of President Buhari, I can claim from my own analysis and understanding of the terrain, there is no worry at all that Buhari will win with a landslide.

Even in the South East?

If you look at the southeast, in 2015, President Buhari, I think, got 198,000 votes. My own estimates and knowledge of the issues on the ground is that we will improve that to both 50 percent of the total votes cast in the southeast.

What accounted for the commencement of the presidential campaign in Uyo? Is it a bid to capture the South-South?

You have to start somewhere. Isn’t it? So, you have to start it going. It doesn’t matter where you start the campaign.

The South-South is also dominated by the PDP. How is the APC going to capture the states?

You are talking about scenarios arising from the 2015 election. Those are the outcome of the 2015 election where the South-South has majority governors and Buhari won. But the dynamics of today’s politics is that in the South-South, we believe, we have improved our chances of winning first, on account of the infrastructural work the government has done and generally, in terms of the governance in the past three years. The south-south people would have seen that the Buhari government is more beneficial to them than any other government.

There are people who also believe that even in the north, Buhari and Atiku will largely share the votes. What is your take on this?

Naturally, even during Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan shared the votes. But the question is about, what is the significance of the votes they get, like we shared the votes in the southeast, but we got only 198,000 in 2015. We shared the votes in the north, but the votes that will go to the PDP or any other opposition is insignificant. Don’t forget that PDP is not the only party that is contesting this election. So, even here and there, some people will get one or two votes and others will get the rest.

You sound very confident that President Buhari will emerge winner of the forthcoming presidential election. Are you aware of the complaints of kidnappings, killings and hardship by Nigerians against the Buhari administration?

Against the Buhari administration? The complaints cannot be against the Buhari administration. Buhari administration is not a kidnapping government. People do kidnap, that is true, but it is not the government that does the kidnapping.

Why do you want Buhari re-elected?

For the same reason that I wanted him elected in 2015; for doing good work for Nigerians.

Why don’t you prefer a much younger, more vibrant person?

What has age got to do with it? We have seen these young boys, as soon as they win election, even if as senators, or governors or House of Rep, the first thing they want to do is a house in London, another one in New York, another one in France, maybe in Dubai, and so on and so forth. They want to own private jets, they import Lamborghinis; you know, because they are young. They want to live life to the fullest and the issue of reputation and character has not developed in the youth.

Are you directly trying to write off Nigerian youths as incapable of handling governance issues?

I was once a youth, I have daughters who are youth; I have children who are youth, so I cannot possibly write them off. But, I mean, don’t say we should go and elect youth because of age. Age is not a barometer for performance, good performance, neither is it a constitutional matter that you must elect somebody because of age. Of course, there is a minimum age. Those who frame the constitution and put a minimum age were probably driven by the wisdom that you need experience of life to be able to provide good leadership.

If the president gets a second term, will you be willing to be part of his next cabinet?

Look, I never wanted to be part of the last cabinet. I was in this office doing my work when I was announced. I mean, there are other things I can do without being in government. You can do so many things: you contribute your own quota to the economic development, employment and empowerment of the youth. So many things you can do to contribute to the performance of the government without being a member of the Federal Executive Council.

You said you were not interested in being part of this government. So, how did you get into the government?

I have said that over and over before. I am tired of repeating it. Go and check my archives. I have been part of the political structure of President Buhari for years. And as I keep on repeating, which you probably don’t want to hear, I joined politics principally to enable Buhari become president.

Did you regret serving his government as SGF?

Why would I regret? I did well.

Looking back, what and who did you think was responsible for your sack?

You are a journalist. It is all over the public domain. So, I keep on saying that my own philosophy of life is that if you don’t catch a thief red-handed, just because somebody passed by while your things got lost, it doesn’t mean he is the thief. But as a journalist, you know they went on TV, they went on social media, they were at the National Assembly and they were all over the place. These are people that have the wherewithal to air their own views. So, it is not a secret who they are.

Are you saying that the report presented was cooked up?

I don’t know the report. Have you seen the report? I have not seen the report. So, I don’t know what is in the report. They didn’t give me.

Have you forgiven them?

For what?

I mean the allegation against you, those who were responsible.

Two things! Life on earth is transient. You will like to make heaven, isn’t it? I believe you are a Christian. I hope you are one. But one of the cardinal principles of Christianity is to forgive your enemies because if you don’t forgive, the basis for demanding or requesting forgiveness from God is not there. So, you will not make heaven. For my own selfish interest of trying to make heaven, I want to forgive them.

You have forgiven them?

It is automatic. This should never arise whether I should forgive them or not.

Since your removal from office, do you still have the same frequent access to President Buhari?

I didn’t have access to President Buhari because he was president. I had access to President Buhari long before he became president. In fact, I am a family member. So, whether he is president or not is immaterial. I can walk into his house and ask for food and I will get food long, long, long before there were talks of Buhari being president. Long, long before then! So, being a president doesn’t mean I have no access to him again.

There are reports about the likelihood of you facing trial for alleged corruption soon. Are you ready to defend yourself in court?

What do you think I should do if they decide to prosecute me? I do Dino Melaye or what do you want me to do?

How will you feel, seeing your own government prosecuting you?

We will go to court. Let them go to court. If they take me to court, we will meet in court.

How will you assess the Buhari government on security, anti-corruption and the economy?

I am not in the business of apportioning marks on government. And in any case, for obvious reasons of having been secretary to the government; for years, having spent quite a substantial part of my life trying to make Buhari president. It is only fair if I conclude he has done well. But it is much more than that.

You have some heavyweights from Adamawa supporting Buhari against your kinsman Atiku. Do you think you are strong enough to stop Atiku in the state politically?

I don’t like to discuss this. It is not a personal thing. It is not about Atiku alone per se, it is about PDP as a political party. There are many people in the PDP. It is not just about Atiku, but Atiku is their flag bearer. One thing I can assure you categorically is that come next month after the election, APC will win Adamawa with a landslide, the presidency not withstanding that Atiku is an indigene of the state. Because even in the state, everybody understands that it is a matter of comparison between two. Everywhere all over the country, if it is a matter of choice, you place Atiku side by side with Buhari, it is doubtful if anybody will pick Atiku. Is it experience? Buhari has more experience. He was head of state, Atiku was only vice president. Is it height? Buhari is taller. Is it looking fine? Buhari looks a fine man. So, whatever it is. Is it integrity? Whatever! There is no comparison at all. That simplifies the issues for us, the fact that it is a straight-forward choice before the voter. It is a straight choice between Atiku and Buhari. So, there is no comparison at all. There is none.

But one would have thought that you will be more comfortable having your kinsman in office than someone else and here you are, speaking for Buhari instead of Atiku. Why?

Why will you want to prefer your kinsman if the other person will do a better job for you? In the end, it will translate to your own personal position in life. I mean, you say security, economic prosperity and whatever are your ambitions in life as a person. The man who will create an environment in which you can pursue that ambition and sustain it is more important to you. It is possible that my younger brother, of the same father, the same mother, will perform worse for me than a stranger.

What kind of politician is Atiku?

Atiku is a Facebook politician. He gets all these smart boys and gives them laptop or smart phone and they write. They write anything they like. And then you go back and say ah, I am very, very popular or they organise bogus survey. Look, those who vote don’t have smart phones, they don’t have TV, and they just have in their minds that it is Buhari they want. The voter does not watch television. He doesn’t have time even if there is electricity in his village or even if there is GSM network in his village. He doesn’t have the money to buy data bundle. So, they are just deceiving people and just deceiving themselves, thinking that PDP has something and I think PDP, their campaign structure has disintegrated.

How about the governors? Are they with the president?

All the governors are working for Buhari.

Even those in PDP?

Even those in PDP. Why do you think you don’t see some of them in Atiku’s rally? A lot of the governors, their key interest is just to get their second term. Luckily for President Buhari and for them, most of them are first termers. South-south, south-east, south-west, most of them are first termers. So, their interest is how to secure their second term.

The South East made it very clear from the beginning that they had no interest in the presidency this time around. Any smart politician would have picked that vibe. They are saving their guns for 2023, but to fulfill all righteousness, they need to pretend that they are in the national side. They are not there. Let’s face it. Even if they don’t say it, why is it that you will never see in the rally, some of the governors?

What other strategy did the president use to get the governors?

It is not a matter of strategy. It is performance. You talked for example why the president went and launch his political campaign in Akwa Ibom State. It is because he is comfortable with the people of Akwa Ibom State. He has done projects there and he feels at home there. The first official visit the president did was to go and commission a road project in Cross River State. So, the president is comfortable. The people of Cross River know this. The people of Cross River for example, they are not unaware of the fact that for the very first time in the history of the state, they produced the Head of Service of the Federation, they produced the Chief of Naval Staff, they produced the Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Okoi Obono-Obla, the Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Have they ever had it so good? All along, they were just like making up the numbers.

So, with the governors working for the president, you are confident he will emerge victorious?

How can he lose?

There are those who believe that what happened to former President Jonathan in 2015 where people pretended as if they were genuinely working for him will happen to President Buhari in the forthcoming election. Is it true?

That is what they are doing to Atiku. It is typical of their character. In Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure, people knew he was going to lose. Discerning people knew he was going to lose. So, PDP political system decided to milk him dry, like get their own retirement benefits knowing that he was going to lose. So, they just looted him dry and left him stranded. That is what is going to happen to Atiku. It is happening already. Nobody is giving him money because they know he is going to lose.

Is Governor Bindow really for Buhari or Atiku as being alleged?

It is for Bindow to say whether he is for Buhari or Atiku. However, body language is also a conveyer of information. The problem with Bindow is that he seems to be a man lacking in integrity on issues. It was him who decided that he was going to pitch his tent with Atiku sometime back. Nobody coerced him to do it. He voluntarily said that Atiku helped finance his campaign and therefore, he was an Atiku man. But I am an Adamawa State indigene. I occupied a strategic position in the APC campaigns in 2014/2015. I knew the amount of money that the federal campaign system pumped into Adamawa for the elections. I know for example that the Central Campaign Organization funded the election day expenses for all the states for the president. Election day expenses are the largest component of election. That is when you pay agents, that is when you create a situation room and you pay your people. That is when you spend the money the most in a large sum. And I was there during the 2015 elections in Adamawa State.

Some say you nominated your successor who is your relative to shield you. Is it true?

It is Buhari you should ask. All political appointments in Nigeria lie with the executive president. So, he knows who he appoints and why he appoints. It is not for me to say that. That question needs to be directed to the president because even the beneficiary himself might not know through whom he got to know the president.

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