Nigeria has in the past few months taken over by hoodlums and power crazies, the public have been treated like fools and hoodwinked with lies, until one woman broke rank and exposed all the lies. The Nigerian Vanguard Newspapers had an exclusive interview with the Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyuli.
Prof. Dora Nkem Akunyili caught the nation’s attention with her unrelenting campaign against fake and adulterated drugs in the country in her immediate past employment as Director General of the National Agency for Foods, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Where many before her dreaded to dare, she simply plainly overwhelmed as her anti-counterfeit campaign literally uprooted the merchants of death from their fortresses. Her campaign came at a great cost including a miraculous escape from an assassination attempt. Her promotion as a Minister was generally applauded as a befitting reward for diligence in public service. Her efforts as Minister of Information and Communication have, however, not been the success many expected. Controversies with some subordinates and a determination to repaint the negative perception of Nigerians in the global community have been some of her major challenges. Buried in this imaginative campaign to re-brand the standing of Nigeria and Nigerians nothing exceptional was heard from Mrs. Akunyili until the controversy over the ill-health of President Umaru Yar‘Adua enraptured the polity. Her memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) seeking to empower Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President caused a tremor that shook the consciousness of many Nigerians. The National Assembly resolutions and the coherence of elder-statesmen for the empowerment of Dr. Jonathan as Acting President soon followed.
Following reports of the sneaky return of President Yar‘Adua to the country in the wee hours of last Wednesday, the emotions were again stirred in the Information Minister who was compelled to now inform a trio of inquisitive newsmen the truth of how a few have turned the ill-health of the President into a desperate game for political merchandise.
By Emmanuel Aziken
How would you describe the state of affairs of the country with the President’s return to the country?
The President’s return in the early hours of Wednesday, February 24, 2010 has actually exaggerated uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, fear and concern, not just by Nigerians but by the international community. These are the very sentiments Nigeria cannot actually afford, if we really want to build a modern nation. We have had uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, fear and concern reverberating across the country and even beyond.
Why do you think this uncertainty is there?
Well, it is there because things have not been properly managed by some people around our dear President. We were not told officially that our president was coming back. It was even Al-Jazeera that broke the news, but I didn’t hear it because I had slept. They broke the news that he was leaving Saudi Arabia for Nigeria. They also broke the news of the arrival. But I heard it on CNN. For the fact that it was not officially announced that our dear President was coming back and the Acting President was not even aware, from his interaction with Ministers yesterday (Wednesday), we knew that he was not aware.
That created a lot of concern among the populace and the tension is so high that even United States of America made a comment today (Thursday), which I don’t need to repeat of how afraid they are about the situation in Nigeria. Our Council did not hold yesterday (Wednesday). We were there at 10.00 am and waited till 12 noon, and as we were waiting, there was tension.
Whatever the council members feared was exposed when we got the Press Release from the Presidency, referring to the Acting President twice as Vice President.
That heightened the tension in the system because what it actually means by referring to him as Vice President is that whatever he has done in the past few weeks to stabilize the sinking ship of the nation did not mean anything to the people around the President. Otherwise, why would they even release that kind of press statement? We have gone through a lot in the past few weeks, which actually culminated in the legislative resolution that pronounced Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the Acting President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. So, it was very inappropriate for the presidency, on return of our dear President, to refer to Dr Ebele Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President. Dr Jonathan should be addressed as Acting President. There was no need for that tension. It was unnecessarily generated.
After the National Assembly resolution the Federal Executive Council supported the resolution and this was widely publicized. Across the world, this was praised. Our ship was stabilized and was stopped from sinking. The ship of the nation was stopped from sinking.
We are not yet stable because we are still working towards stabilizing the system. And since President Yar’Adua came back, we were expecting that he would, in one way or the other – knowing the type of person he is because the President Yar’Adua I know is very peace loving. He preached the rule of law and I believe he preached it from his heart. I never saw him as somebody that will come back to bring instability.
So, it is not President Yar’Adua. I believe that it is people around him that are gaining from the confusion; people around him that are doing to him today what 100 million political enemies cannot do to him. If President Yar’Adua were to be my father or my brother, I would not allow anybody to do to him what they are doing to him today. This is the President of a country. This is a man so loved by Nigerians. At least, he is humble. He is from a rich family, but his humility is disarming. He is sincere. Look at what he did with Niger Delta. He has done a lot for this country and suddenly, a few people are rubbishing it. They stole him into this country in the night.
This is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I think it’s something that is unnecessary and uncalled for and should be decried by all who sincerely love the President. When people now claim that they love President Yar’Adua, I laugh because very few of them actually love him and his family as much as I do. I remember when I worked for him with all my heart and I’m still working for him. He’s still our President. We have a President and we have an Acting President.
About four months or thereabout before he travelled, I went to the Publisher and Chief Executive of Leadership. After meeting him and his staff, he didn’t really know why I came. He thought it was just a courtesy visit because he’s my professional colleague. I said my brother, I beg you, the way you are bashing our President in your paper is too much.
How can we be re-branding when we are literally saying our President died or is a criminal. We cannot go on this way and I beg you in the name of God. I can’t remember exactly how I said it, but I really pleaded with them.
But it’s not good to discuss anything with journalists because he exposed it about two weeks ago. I guess he got angry when people were abusing me about memo and no memo. He got angry and said this woman is so misunderstood and this is how she came to my office. When people brought the paper to me, I said it’s not good to discuss secrets with journalists, because I went to him secretly and as soon as I finished with him, I was happy. I asked him if I could get audience for him to speak with Mr. President. I want you to become friends. Criticize him constructively, but manage the negative stories about Nigeria and about us. I went to one of the President’s close aides and told him that I want you to help fix a meeting for Nda Isaiah to see oga because there are misunderstandings here and there. He said he would but he never did.
Coming back to what you said about the way he was brought in, if he were brought in like a President and Nigerians had information that he was coming back, we would all go to receive him and he would be brought in as a President with honour and dignity and then when he comes in, prayers will continue. It doesn’t matter his state. He did not choose to be ill. There is no state of any human being that should call for anybody to feel happy or to gloat over. Anybody can be sick and people don’t even die because they are sick. We have an Igbo proverb that says people don’t die due to how long they are sick. You can be healthy today and tomorrow morning, you won’t wake up. You can go out and be shot. You just cannot hold life in your hand and boast of it. But what is important is the way we handle these issues. It has been so mishandled that it has made us a laughing stock and created all this confusion.
The international community is watching. They have started making statements and we don’t want it to degenerate. We have suffered too much in this country, right through the civil war and the various levels of political instability and I believe that it is time we settled down to nation building.
Here is a Minister of Information who will manage information in respect of the Presidency and the government of Nigeria and here you are saying certain things that may not go down well will them. What would you explain spurred you to be outspoken in this manner?
You manage information if you have information. We did not have information that our President was even traveling to Saudi Arabia until we saw it in the news, and when he was in Saudi Arabia, we hardly got information. I only got information once from Mr. Segun Adeniyi and that was what I reported in Council, that the doctors in Saudi Arabia said he was getting better and it’s only the doctors that would determine when he would come back and I reported it like that. That was the only information. When I asked him who told him, he said it was one of the aides of the President that gave him the information. Thereafter, it was they said, they said and they said. We never had a comprehensive channel of getting information that we are sure of and most of the information, sometimes, they don’t add up and it get’s very disturbing. When they don’t add up, you feel very awkward reporting such information. I believed the information, even though I kept wondering how things can be done better, until when I found that stories told by some of the presidential aides were not adding up, especially stories that are changed when they are told from one person to another. That was when I started feeling uncomfortable and that was when I now decided that I would go on holidays. People felt it was strange that I was going on holidays in the first week of January.
But I traveled because I needed to rest a little, have a retreat, pray and attend a two-day meeting in India. But I went out for about three weeks and I decided that by the time I return, I would never again report about Mr. President’s illness until I sit down with people that will tell me the truth and nothing but the truth, so that I will not be involved in deceiving Nigerians. I know that most Ministers are credible people. But some Ministers also complained openly that they had no information and that’s why they were handicapped. But I had a peculiar position of being Minister of Information to inform the people. So, I was even more handicapped than everybody.
When I came back from my holidays, I made up my mind, as I said earlier that I will not report about his health again and that was why the Executive Council meeting a day after my return, at the end of the meeting, I did not argue when the Attorney General came to brief. I did not say he should not brief because it’s the Minister of Information that should brief, because I had earlier made up my mind that I would not brief on our President’s health anymore. He came and did the briefing and I was stunned when he was talking.
He convinced everybody that the President was capable and I was getting worried. I was getting worried in that I asked myself that if he were capable, why could he not speak to Nigerians through our own channels. Why could he not speak to Nigeria through our NTA? Why speak to BBC? After that briefing, I really felt very miserable.
I got really very depressed and I asked myself: now that Chief Aondoakaa has briefed, what do I say about the President’s health next Wednesday? That depression went so deep that I used to take Lexotan twice at night to sleep and I would not sleep. I kept asking myself what I would say. How can I say I don’t want to say anything about the President’s health. Would it not look as if I’m disloyal to the President? Would it not look unfair to the Federal Executive Council? So, I was caught in a very bad situation.
Before even I traveled, because some Ministers said why didn’t I even consult; I called three Ministers differently. I just called and said what do you feel about what is going on? Don’t you think that we need to tell the public the truth? How do we get the truth? The reaction I got from these three different Ministers, I will never forget. One of them said don’t you think he has a reason not to hand over to Dr Jonathan. I never said let him resign. I said it is better to find a way to encourage him to hand over to Dr Jonathan so that the system will be stabilized and our hard earned democracy will not be truncated. But for each of the Minister that I found a way of introducing it, so that we could hold a discussion for us to mobilize more Ministers, I did not get a single support from one of the three. In fact, the reaction of one of them, as I said earlier is that he had a reason not to hand over. You don’t even go there. I said which reason? He said he must have had a reason. I talked to the second one.
He said those people that were all around Yar’Adua are now going to Jonathan. I didn’t see logic. The third one said be very careful about the way you talk. This your big mouth will land you into trouble. Don’t you ever try it because if you talk to somebody that doesn’t like you, they will go and tell them. I just felt that this is getting ridiculous. I needed to bring this because some people have variously said why didn’t you consult. When you consult three people and you get deadlocked, how can you continue? There was no way I could continue, just before I traveled. When I came back and couldn’t really live with myself, on Monday before that meeting, I was in the church doing my usual morning mass. I took so many tough decisions during mass. I said I must talk on Wednesday.
But I will say my mind constructively. Then, from that morning, I started praying over it. But by that Tuesday evening by 6 pm, I decided to jot down what I wanted to say and as I was jotting down, I said if I use talking points, people will misquote me. Some people that don’t like me will even say that I want President Yar’Adua to die. Some will say I want him to resign. Why don’t I put it down as I did during Abdulmutallab; as Ojo Maduekwe did during Abdulmutallab.
We put down our discussions on paper and circulated to council. I said let me put it down so that as I talk, I will not be misquoted. I started writing and when I finished writing about quarter to seven, I called my PA and said let’s go. We came home and we started typing and correcting. At about 10 pm, I called my Special Assistant and said I want you to go through something that I have for Council. He came and read it and when he finished reading it, he said this is suicidal. I said if I die, I die. I can only die once. Don’t worry yourself. I just want you to cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s. Then he added that it’s not just about you. Our job is also on the line. I said then you go and look for another job because if the military comes in tomorrow, your job will still be on the line.
So, he felt very bad. He came back in the morning and said what of Goodluck Jonathan; is he not going to be embarrassed. I said if I tell him about this and he heard about it yesterday, he will discourage me. He said did you consult anybody and I said who else should I consult except my God, because I talked to three Ministers and they rebuffed me.
But I felt that if we cannot continue waiting for who will talk. I just felt at that point that I needed to submit it. The next day, I circulated it. But even that morning, I talked to a few people. I didn’t say I brought a memo. I said don’t you think that we have to do something about what is going on. They said no, leave it. So, I didn’t have support. I told a few Ministers in that hall that I wanted to talk, but again, I didn’t have any support. So, I stopped. You know you will continue talking about something if you have support and you will get to the extent of saying this is what I want to say. But I didn’t get to that level because I was not encouraged. So, when I circulated it, by the time I started reading, of course, people had all read it and there was crisis. It was clear that nobody wanted it to be discussed. I felt very bad, but I felt a bit comfortable that I had gotten relieved of a big burden that had been weighing me down and not allowing me to sleep.
I came back to the office. I called my media people and said read it. After reading it, keep it. I’m not giving it to anybody because since they said it was not properly tabled. But I’m happy that I reminded everybody in council that Abdulmutalab’s case was also not circulated and discussed and what they said that day was that Abdulmutallab’s case was urgent. But when I look back, I wish we discussed it because the Council might have taken a position that day. But everything happens as God wants it.
When my people finished reading it, they said so this is what you went to Council with today. What happened? I said I won’t give you this paper until after Council next week. That was what I did with all of them.
Then, at about 4.00 pm or 5.00pm, somebody called me and said one of the internet blogs had it. When we read it we saw the second to last draft. You remember the one that has 145. But my final memo didn’t have it. When I saw it, I was embarrassed. The only difference between that particular one and the final is the removal of a section, and it was actually my S.A. that said remove this section because you are getting too legal. You are not a lawyer. He told me that morning to remove that section so that lawyers will not abuse you that you don’t understand the law. But the only thing we can arrive at now is that my Council box was forgotten in that council hall. Maybe I was so harassed that I forgot my box. It was at about 4.00pm that my Chief Detail, noticed that I did not come back with my box and he went back to collect it. But I cannot say whether it was during those few hours that somebody took it because I had a draft and the final in that box.
When we saw it on the internet blog I now called all my media aides and said take copies. If it’s on the internet and I’m saying that you people should not have copies, then it doesn’t make sense. That was how it happened.
In your statement yesterday (Wednesday) you said the Acting President had only been briefed by the President’s aides. Then the second part of it said the Acting President is even hoping to see the First Lady, from whom he hopes to get briefing on the President’s health.
The Acting President said he had been briefed by the President’s aide. He also heard that the President returned as we heard. He had been briefed by the aides of the President. He would try and see the First Lady yesterday evening (Wednesday) and that on Wednesday next week during Council, the Ministers that went to Saudi will brief us. He also added that when he sees Mr. President and gets briefed, he would call us back.
As at now, has he seen the President?
As of 4.00pm today (Thursday), he had neither seen the President nor the First Lady. As the Information Minister, I called one of his aides and asked if oga had seen the First Lady and he said no. Has he seen the President? He said no and I was worried.
Have you seen the President yourself as the spokesman of the government?
Am I more important than the Acting President? I think it would be too forward of me and it would be wrong if as the spokesperson, I go to see the President before the Acting President. I don’t think it’s right. Even if he is my father or my brother, I will say please see the Acting President before briefing me.
Going to see Turai for instance, should that be the normal line of communication?
I think that going to see Turai is very informal and there’s nothing wrong with it. This is the wife of the President. No matter the mistakes and whatever the aides have done, we should still face the truth. This is the wife of Mr. President. If he is very ill, we don’t even know. If he is too ill to see him, at least the wife would see him and discuss with him. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s not the normal channel, but the things that are happening these days are also not normal.
My problem is that there is no provision in the Constitution that talks about First Lady. Would you take directives from Turai if she instructs you to do something today?
The Acting President did not say he was going to get directive from her. Even if a husband is ill and people come to the hospital and the wife takes care of her husband, there’s nothing wrong in seeing the wife first. I think he said something informal that probably shouldn’t have been reported. But I think it’s also okay that it was reported. But he said when he sees the President, he would call us and brief us.
As the spokesperson of this government, what would be your reaction if journalists or a section of the media confront you and tell you that the President did not return, since nobody has seen him?
Actually, my mind skipped today when I read different people saying different things in the newspapers today. It all revolves around the people around the President who are doing to him what a million political enemies cannot do to him. The rumours around our President are very discomforting. One group said he never came back because they have shrouded everything in secrecy, and when there is a vacuum, rumours take over. Another group said that he came back and he’s still in the ambulance. Another group said that he had been carried into the house. There are three different stories and as at today, it is difficult to argue with anybody to say you are lying because I don’t know the truth. What I do when I hear these things is to keep quiet. When I read it, my heart really skipped a bit. I said God please, I hope this is not correct and I don’t want to believe it is correct because it’s not good for us and those people that are writing this story should still remember that no matter what mistake our President may have made, he still remains our President and a symbol of this country. So, there are certain things we should not even talk about, so as not to continue ridiculing ourselves before the international community.
If you as a Minister, you’ve lost certain aspects of your private life, it means that the President of a country has no private life, more so when he had been away for some days. The photographer who got the picture of the ambulance took the risk of his life because he was on top of a tree and the soldiers almost shot him dead and all this because you want to cover a President who had been away for over 90 days and…
(Cuts in) I don’t think they wanted to cover the President. They wanted to continue the too many lies they told in the past because the lies beget lies and this was done for personal gains and for people to gain fame, power and money.
We are talking about the journalists who came to cover the arrival of the President and the risk they took with their lives.
Journalists take risks all over the world. They are in war places all over the world and every job has it’s own risk. I believe that’s the risk of being a journalist and many of them succeed. A few lose their lives or get maimed, but that is the risk of the job and that is why some of us really appreciate the job they are doing for this country.
Have your recent steps and actions brought any consequences to you as a person?
I don’t want to indulge in self praise, but sometimes it’s good to say the truth. The steps I have taken in this matter is to relieve myself of a great burden. I was having a heavy load in my heart and in my brain. But I’m happy that I did because I believe, possibly, that the memo was a turning point in the politics of Yar’Adua’s illness, unfortunately. It was a turning for people to be sensitized and be goaded into action at various levels. I’m grateful to God about that. It’s not about me. How can it be about me? I don’t know any of the Ministers that is closer to President Yar’Adua and his wife as I am. I’m very close to them and it was not even easy for me to come out with that stand. It’s because I saw that we needed to do something I have been like that all my life, even as a child. If there was a problem between any two people, I would come out and say the truth.
Were they comfortable with that memo?
Very uncomfortable. My son called my P.A. from America and said I read mummy’s memo. What is wrong with mummy? Is she on drugs? My P.A. said she doesn’t even drink alcohol. So, how can somebody who doesn’t even drink alcohol think of being on drugs? The only drug that I take is Multivite.
But I want to ask what is it you want?
What I want is for us to stabilize this country because it is the only country we can call our own. I’m passionate about Nigeria and I didn’t start today. I literally took a bullet for this country when I was fighting drug counterfeiters for almost eight years. They nearly killed me in the village. I missed death by the whiskers. So, anybody who is saying why is she doing this, I say why are they saying this?
But why are you not discouraged because it appears not many people are following you?
It may not be as encouraging, but I will always remember what our Bishop said that somebody must speak up in the face of evil; that even if one of the Jews had shouted when they were saying crucify him, if somebody had said no, the person would have heard others saying no. After all, after the memo, did people not start talking? This time around, I feel like saying a few things to say let us do something. Those that are supposed to talk let them talk. Let those that are hearing what is wrong speak up because we have gotten to a point that if we all keep quiet, things will keep going down until we find ourselves in a situation that we may not feel comfortable about. There is need for Nigerians individually and collectively to come out in one way or the other to do the right thing, to tell people that are doing the wrong thing to right their wrongs and to find a way of stabilizing this ship that we have succeeded in keeping afloat because some five weeks ago, we were sinking. In fact, some people were even lobbying the army to take over.
Some army chiefs impressed everybody by coming out – I saw it on the pages of newspapers – and warning politicians to desist from lobbying them. It happened in this country in the last weeks. After our soldiers have shown us such level of professionalism, why can’t we do something as citizens of this country. It’s not about us. Your children will grow in this country. Even if they are abroad, they will still come back.
Nigeria is important in the comity of nations and therefore, we have a very important role to play. We cannot carry on as if we are an island because we are not. Bilateral, multilateral international relationships are all critical to the survival of Nigeria as a nation. Our national integrity is of great importance and when we think of what happened in the past and what can happen in future that can severely damage; I’ve actually become a laughing stock around the world. It is very important that both the players in the unfolding confusion and the people in leadership who ought to speak up and boldly take a stand against the orchestrated confusion and anarchy, take the time to seriously think of the roles they are playing and the roles they ought to play because posterity will certainly judge us all. Whatever we do, we should think of Nigeria before our individual interests because what is happening now is that some people are thinking of their own interests. If we allow things to go on properly, we are no longer going to be in control. It’s not about President Yar’Adua. Presidency is an institution. The President is in the Presidency. Look at what Condoleezza Rice came to tell us here. I’m not angry with her. We made ourselves mouse for the cat to eat us. If you make yourself mouse, the cat will eat you; I know that she is fantastic but many Nigerians are fantastic too, if not better, for her come to tell us to our face that what Nigeria needs are strong institutions and not strong leaders. I think that what she said, the statement America had made and looking at the tension in the system, Nigerians should individually and collectively think of what to do for us to come out of this impasse.
Has the frustration around you reached the point where you can walk out on the job? If not, why?
I think that you should know that before anybody can bring up that type of memo, the person has weighed his or her risk. In fact, some Ministers asked me if I weighed my risk. I said yes I weighed my risk. Some even came out to support me privately. Some that came to abuse me, I said is there anything in that memo that is not in the public domain? They will say it’s true but for you to just come and say it like that. It’s only one of them that came and said yes, there is something in that memo that I didn’t know. He said that aspect you said that the Vice President cannot take documents to National Assembly. I said it means you know over 90 percent of what is in that memo.
Coming back to what you said about my job, that’s why my staff told me that it’s not just about me but that their job is also on the line. So, when they tell you their job is on the line, it means that you can lose your job. I was not born as Minister. My life is not tied to the job. Anybody whose life is tied to a job is under bondage.
So, I’m not desperate for any position. This is a very good position because my salary here is four times my salary in NAFDAC. My allowances are ten times my allowances in NAFDAC. But the money, the perk of office and everything is not enough to make you see evil and keep quiet because you will not be able to live with yourself. I am not so tied to this job as to keep quiet in the face of evil so that I will save my job. If my leaving this job will bring stability to Nigeria, then it’s the best thing that can happen to me.
Why don’t you throw in the towel now?
If it will be of the benefit of our fledgling democracy, if it will stabilize the system and you can rationalize it for me, I will. Tell me what good it will do to the system if I resign today and I want you to be honest.
You are a lone voice.
You are not a lone voice when you make statement and you have people that will support you. People may not support you openly out of fear. But you will still have supporters. By the time I came in to submit my memo the second time, if people were allowed to vote, most Ministers would have voted for me to present. I believe it’s better to work from inside. But if anybody comes up tomorrow to explain to me why it is necessary for me to resign so as to help stabilize the polity, I will not waste one minute.
People believe that your recent action is a kind of volte face; a kind of 360 degree turnaround because initially, you were for Yar’Adua and by extension, the whole FEC members. Suddenly that your memo was a turnaround. What do we expect now that Yar’Adua is back and why did it take you so long to do this memo?
I think I explained it. It would have been insensitive, wicked and disloyal of me to start saying it’s better to hand over to Jonathan three weeks after the travel of my boss. What does that mean? I saw things degenerating and I started noticing that there were lies.
In the first few weeks, I didn’t suspect there were lies and I had not seen that there were problems in the system because there was no President or Acting President. The problem started unfolding with time. I didn’t notice any vacuum in the first weeks until I started hearing stories of the Vice President cannot submit documents to National Assembly. In the case of Jos crisis, people came to say why did he send soldiers? Things were coming up one after the other. That statement about why he sent soldiers shocked me to my marrow. I said so this man cannot really do much for us. They queried why we were holding Federal Executive Council meetings and that it’s illegal. We were all reading the papers and listening to commentaries. It was the unfolding scenario that made me feel that we needed to encourage our President to hand over to Dr Jonathan as the Acting President. People didn’t even read that memo well. They just say crucify her. I didn’t say he should resign. I still love him as my President. I knew that man from the campaign period. He has a beautiful spirit. I’m telling you this from the bottom of my heart. What is happening cannot be from him because a sick person that God helped to recover cannot conceive plans to manoeuvre over a whole country because if you have serious malaria, you are only praying of how to get well, not how to remain or how to make sure that nobody is there to act fully for you. So this question of why did it take her so long, would you not check my mental balance if I came out two weeks after my President traveled, when we had not started seeing problems. We were not seeing problems in the first few weeks until the Jos crisis and when people started talking about FEC as illegal. MEND started making statements that they were going to attack facilities. If all these things had not happened, I believe we would have still all relaxed that the Vice President was doing very well. But I noticed that if he carried on without being Acting President, the system would collapse because people were even going to court. So it didn’t start degenerating from the day he left. It happened gradually and it came to a point where I felt that if nothing was said and done, we could find ourselves in a very ugly situation. That’s why I talked. And before I talked, I tried to consult some Ministers so that we could form a critical mass, but I did not succeed.
You also said why sudden. How can you say sudden? Did I not stake my life for almost eight years in this country? And if you say sudden, when I came to the Ministry of Information and Communication, it was a different job all together. I started rebranding. What is evil about saying that we are basically good people and that this is a great nation; for those of us that are not doing well, let us change the way we behave, so that we can live up to that good name as good people and great nation. What is wrong with it? Is it deceit? Is it a lie? Did I ever say Nigeria doesn’t have criminals? Let us project our country positively and responsibly manage our negatives. So, where is it that people can look at and say volte face, as if I started deceiving people at any point in time? Which deceit? People have so abused me. When people were saying look at what they are writing in the internet, I said if not for the fact that Nigerian journalists are very understanding, we would have had more because the level of money that some of these people that are orchestrating this evil have, they can put in any amount just to be abusing me everywhere. Some people have even said in the internet that I should go and handle Halliburton and Ekiti. What is this? I’m not from Ekiti. I didn’t go for campaign in Ekiti. I didn’t vote in Ekiti. I’m not in INEC. So, where is my own? As the Minister of Information, I remember you people abused me so much after the Ekiti elections and your reason of abusing me is because I announced government’s position. There was nothing I didn’t hear and it’s been repeated these days on the internet through various sources. When you report government’s decision, it is not support for government. It’s a report. I want to also tell you that I will have to believe in a report for me to report it. That’s why when I stopped being in the story of our President, I decided to stop. The report of Ekiti, I believed in it and the report was that Mrs. Ajoke should come out and conclude the election she started. There is no Minister of Information in this world that would say that statement is bad. They are just looking for anything to malign me and to rebrand my name. What is important is for me to do something that will make me to be able to live with my conscience, to work from morning till night and lie down and be able to sleep, and to know that I have done my best. That’s it.
How do you respond to suggestions that you could be affected in a possible cabinet shake-up?
Quite frankly I will if given the opportunity like to remain in the Ministry of Information and not to just go anywhere else with just about one year to the end of the life of the administration. What can anybody seriously achieve in one year? Even if I can, it will be too stressful and I am already used to where I am.
The rebranding project has suffered a serious setback because of the Abdulmuttalab fiasco and the politicization of the health of the President and other things, but then I can still pick the bits and pieces and move on to consolidate the programme if it is the will of God.
Some Nigerian political watchers say you are being teleguided by Obasanjo.
Do I look like somebody that anybody in this world can teleguide? Some people said Obasanjo and others said Ojo Maduekwe. I found it funny because it all boils down to the fact that people don’t know me. As a regulator under President Obasanjo, I never referred to him for any case. I know that regulators refer to the President on cases. But I never referred to him on any case, and because I believe he also knows my character, he never interfered. When I closed down Dangote’s factory, have you forgotten that Dangote was one of his close friends. I didn’t even remember President Obasanjo when I was doing what I did. I didn’t talk with him before the memo. I did not talk with him after the memo and he did not ask me.
Has anybody commended you after the memo for being courageous?
People have commended me variously but Obasanjo didn’t commend me. But many leaders have commended me. Many people you cannot expect have commended me. Even people around the Presidency have commended me to say God bless you when you are saying the right thing.
In the circumstance, what would you offer as an advice to stabilize the polity?
My advice to stabilize the polity is for people that are raising this unnecessary dust around our dear President to cease fire, to know that this country is bigger than all of us and to know that if we destroy the system, we will all lose, and for people to advise them and people that can help in one way or the other to come out and help. If you can talk, you should come out and talk. If you can write, then write, so that people that are not doing the right thing will stop because our dear President may not be in a position to control what they are doing. That is the situation on ground now. They are being very unfair to Nigerians and utterly unfair to him and his family and they are not in line with what he stands for because he has always stood on the rule of law.
Madam, who do you take instructions from now?
It depends on what I want to do. I take instructions from the Acting President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and I will revert to taking instructions from the President when he recovers and comes back to work.
If you are given instructions allegedly from the President and you have not seen the President, will you oblige?
I will not oblige.