*Says: ‘ General Buhari is his mentor and a role model’
By Olayinka Ajayi
Peeved by naysayers that President Muhamadu Buhari has blacklisted him in his second term campaign bid, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications , Dr. Abdu-Raheem Adebayo Shittu in this interview with Pan African Visions, debunks such insinuation saying: “We set up zonal office to ensure that MBO got a boost nationally” among other issues. Excerpt:
Why did you close down the office being that you were the first ever to start 2019 campaign for the President inside a Federal Executive Council meeting?
The bond between me and General Muhammadu Buhari,is divine, unbreakable, cannot be interrupted, compromised and will be sustained for life. I was the first cabinet member to start Buhari’s re-election campaign and that is on record. On the issue of former office of MBO (Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo) Dynamic Group, I created national awareness for that organization. And in creating national awareness, I ensured that a befitting office was set up as zonal office to ensure that the MBO Dynamic Support Group got a boost nationally. One of the reasons is that, that office, which was N3 million per annum, we could no longer pay. Secondly which is also very important is that I had exited my patronship of MBO Dynamic Support Group.
But why did you exit your patron-ship of the group?
Because, I discovered that the leadership, which had an opportunity to protect my interest during the congresses, compromised. They were sent to Oyo State as part of the team to organize the congresses. I saw that they compromised by Governor Ajimobi. And so, there was no way I could continue to deal with people who could not be trusted.
But you once acknowledged that you are still campaigning for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari. How do you achieve this as you are not part of the MBO?
I have set up a bigger organization that is more relevant and more productive than the MBO. And the organization is called “Coalition of Grassroot Supporters for Buhari and Osinbajo Re-election 2019”. And that coalition, which is a coalition of Buhari’s supporters in all the political parties, will be formally inaugurated in Ibadan on the 5th of January 2019.
Once we stand on the feet, by the grace of God we will move from one Local Government headquarters to the other taking our campaign to the grassroots to ensure that Buhari is re-elected as Nigeria’s President.
Are other political parties endorsing President Muhammadu Buhari second term bid?
Of course! Take people in UPP, ADP, ADC, NCP and other political parties in Oyo State for instance, they were of the Unity Forum section of APC in the state, who were forced out of APC by Governor Ajimobi through the manipulation, not only of the congresses management but also, of the party primaries. And they all called me and said, “Look, you have not left APC because of your relationship with Buhari. We have left APC because we were denied a level playing field in getting tickets for our various aspirations. We are still interested and so, you provide leadership for us so that we can all work together to make Buhari win in this state.” And I accepted.
So, you mean you and the Governorship candidate of ADP in Oyo State are now together, despite the claims in certain quarters that his governorship candidacy of ADP is a game plan between him and Governor Ajimobi being the reason Ajimobi did not work to remove his candidate who is currently the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly?
All members of the various political parties but moved from APC would work, by the grace of God, for President Muhammadu Buhari . We have mobilized and that is what we are all going to do.
Even Lanlehin too, who is the ADC governorship candidate?
Lanlehin, everybody is with us and I can assure you.
But what we are told is that between you and President Buhari the relationship is no longer rosy. How about that?
That is the wishful thinking of mischief makers. I am one person who is ever grateful for whatever little that is done to me. I have benefitted from Buhari by him appointing me as a minister. If he had not appointed me as a minister, I would have remained a local champion in Oyo State. Today, by God’s grace, I have become a national figure, whether anybody likes it or not; such that today, again, when my name is mentioned, nobody would ask: “Who is he?” So, what would President Buhari have done, for me to ignore the fact that God used him to put me where I am today?
I asked this question because, one of the reasons people, who were with you but are now with Governor Ajimobi, are giving is that they left you because they found out that PMB no longer gives you the chance to see him or that you cannot have access to the President?
They are mischief makers. I am still a cabinet member and I know that I enjoy a lot of respect , adoration from Mr. President and the ministers in the cabinet I can say. I have a lot of respect for the President.
Well, I can say that I saw a copy of the letter personally signed by the President consenting to your intention to contest for the APC governorship ticket in Oyo State for the 2019 election?
If the President could do that (personally signing a letter consenting to my intention to contest), how would somebody manufacture stupidity that I no longer enjoy his love? Despite all the hews and cries of an NYSC service, the fact that I hold office in his administration I remain his cabinet member means that I still enjoy his trust, his confidence and his respect for me.
But what about the claim that the President at a time had asked you to go and resign because of the NYSC allegation?
Well, I don’t know where the President told them that. If the President has said that, I would not remain his minister and that has been so many months now. It is just that people would cast out fake news.
How right could the NYSC issue be ?
The NYSC thing is just a double standard by leadership of our party. Ajimobi himself did not participate in NYSC and yet he was allowed to take the ticket of the party for senatorial election. So, why different strokes for different posts if not mischief on the part of our National Chairman?
Does it mean Ajimobi is not doing anything about Buhari’s re-election?
Ajimobi is not my business and what he does is not my business. What I do is just to ensure that Buhari emerged again as Nigeria’s President. And our target is to get two million votes for President Buhari in Oyo State. That is our target.
So what is your assurance to your supporters in Oyo State?
We have supporters of diverse backgrounds, diverse missions in life, diverse aspirations, diverse orientations and diverse expectations. For those who are not patient enough to continue to make sacrifices with us, they would want to look for greener pasture which really they will not be able to find. On my part I have satisfied my conscience that I have done my part and I will continue to do my best for the followership within the available resources for me.
If I’m not mistaking, those that left believe that what they did not get from you, they are likely to get it from Governor Ajimobi?
I wish them best of luck. The question you should ask them for now is that, all those who have worked for Ajimobi over the last seven and a half years, how many of them has he satisfied? You see, Ajimobi is not a reliable person.
But why do you think that when a Minister is appointed from a state, the whole bulk of expectations lays on him but he is unable to take care of those expectations of his supporters, who expect that, as national officer he is better positioned to help them?
As a Minister, I am more accessible by the generality of people than the governor, Abiola Ajimobi, is. If you come to my office any day that I am there, you meet nothing less than 50 people. In my house during weekend if I am at home, you find not less than 100 people visiting either for school fees, rents or for medical expenses for various groups. But people hardly are able to differentiate between the resources available to a Minister, which is just his salary, and what is available to a Senator, for instance, who has constituency allowance of about N200 million every year and some other benefits of office, which are not available to Ministers. So, we are accessible but, as somebody who has always been a politician, I don’t distance myself from the people.
What would you say about issues between you and the President?
No. It is unthinkable. There cannot be issues. General Buhari has been my benefactor, my mentor and a role model, particularly, of incorruptibility as a national leader.
What are you doing at your level ensuring that the President will have senators and House of Representatives members from Oyo State, who will not make the Ninth National Assembly be as traumatizing for him and other Nigerians as the Eighth National Assembly?
Irrespective of political party affiliations, all those who will be voted in Oyo State would be the admirers of President Muhammadu Buhari. Like I told you, originally everybody belonged to APC, All Progressives Congress. Buhari didn’t offend any of them. It is Oshiomhole and Abiola Ajimobi, who offended and threw them out of APC. No matter which political parties we differently belong, we still have our commitment to Mr. President. And I believe that is enough to sustain the President when he gets ready to be re-elected.
As loud as you are from Oyo State, Governors Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and Rochas Okorocha of Imo State are louder. At a point President Buhari was meeting them together and the Governor of Zamfara State but now is meeting only Amosun so to say, whereas Amosun’s spirit is no longer in APC?
Amosun is as committed to Mr. President as I am.
But the question I am trying to ask here is that the President is not meeting you to resolve the issues between you and the party in Oyo State. Don’t you think this is another reason those who left your camp think that the President does not have flare for you any longer?
The President doesn’t have to meet me over that. We meet every Wednesday in cabinet meetings.
We are free to each other. He is accessible to me and I am accessible to him. I don’t have any problem. If I have any reason to meet Mr. President I see him. So, I don’t have any problem and I don’t have to make a publication of my meetings with Mr. President. I work directly under President Muhammadu Buhari. So, why must I celebrate my meeting with him any time I have to meet him?
Is there anybody working for the President that can’t see him?
I don’t think there is any Minister working for President Buhari who cannot see him. There are procedures to follow. If you follow the procedure, you will see him. Of course we are working under him and we are reporting directly to him. We are accountable directly unto him. So, the issue does not arise that if you want to see him, you will not see him.
What will be your stand to people whose major reason for seeing you in bad light is this?
This government is government of change. We had a profligate government before now, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, government, when the minister was king, when all government officials were kings, when they all had access to the resources of the country as they could appropriate and misappropriate as they wished. Under Buhari, we are a government of change and the aim is to ensure that things are done properly. Anybody who wants money should go into business. He should not bother to come into public office. So, I will not go beyond my resources and will not spend what I do not have. God does not place any burden on you heavier than your capacity. I feel very passionate about helping the needy, the poor. I wish I have power and I wish I have more money to assist everybody. As I am talking to you I have more than 75 people on my list waiting to be attended to. And as I get money I will give it out. I am just a distributive person and as they come I distribute. I have been doing just that and I am not making noise about that because I want the best of my reward to come from God. People should understand that Ministers do not have limitless sources of income. And with TSA now, even if you want to steal, there is no way to steal government money. So, we try to live within our means and do the best that we can.