Recently, members of the Christian Press Association of Nigeria (CPAN) engaged the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina. He was the group’s guest at the maiden edition of its Breakfast meeting series. Adesina took the opportunity to iron out issues about his faith, person, office and President Buhari, stating that the President means well for Nigerians generally and does not discriminate.
Dayo Emmanuel was there, excerpts:
How is your government coping with some men of God who use their pulpits to criticize and castigate the government? For instance, some say the President is a clone from Sudan.
Like I said earlier on, I am a member of Foursquare Gospel Church since 1988. I go to a church once in a month and Foursquare Gospel Church like three times a month. Do you know that as I speak, I don’t attend the branch of Foursquare Gospel Church I used to attend again? This is because the pastor will just decide to preach against the government, which I believe is not needful.
He would say negative things against the President. It is not a Christian country, so you will not always have a Christian as your leader. The last leader we had even had a Christian name, how much of a Christian was he? I have been noticing the message a pastor has been preaching.
The reason I stopped going to that church was this: the Dapchi girls were taken and next Sunday he started saying all manner of things on the pulpit. The Dapchi girls were recovered within two weeks and the next Sunday, he didn’t say a word about it and that was when I was convinced his messages were malicious.
That is how people can misuse the pulpit. He said people that have died during this government’s tenure are more than people that died during the civil war, when it is on record that about three million people died during the civil war.
Have three million people been killed during this government? That is a lie. The pastor lied. One soul matters because it is not even good for a life to be lost not to talk about three million. So we should not even be comparing because no one can create a single soul.
So when you go to the extent of saying that more people have died than in the civil war, it shows the extent of abuse from the pulpit. I am not condemning him but from what we read from the scripture, I have my reservation against such kind of pastors.
Two Pentecostal preachers went to the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State before he decamped to the APC. They were in his house from 4pm to 4am when they heard he was going to decamp. They went to his house to plead with him not to decamp. They said God will judge those who have blood in their hands. They told him ‘just announce you are sick’ and they would fly him abroad to say he was going for medical attention. They were telling him to lie simply because they didn’t want him to decamp. They need to purge themselves. Two big Pentecostal pastors teaching him to lie. They should know they are answerable to God and will give account.
Have you ever been faced with a difficult situation that will make you lie?
What will now make me tell a lie? Sometimes, Nigerians have made up their minds on what to believe. Two things account for that. Nigerians have made up their minds to believe that government spokesmen are liars. But what is that thing that will make me tell a lie? None! My conscience will bear witness with me that I have never lied to anybody and to Nigerians.
Secondly, I have a principal who does not want you to lie. One thing with President Buhari is that if you are wrong, he will correct you, he will not want you to lie. Do I want to be exposed as a liar? Never! What is that thing that will make me tell a lie and liable to hell? The Bible says all liars will have their place in hell fire.
Reuben Abati and Segun Adeniyi were in the same office as you, they defended their principals and said they were having good intention. Is good intention enough to run this society?
Good intentions are good and good intentions for the country are being carried out and that is why he is seeking a second term so he can continue to carry out his good intentions. President Buhari has a good intention.
Who do you think will give us constant electricity and when?
The truth about Nigeria is that there are many problems and we need enough resources to combat the problems. The former government spent $16bn and nothing came out of it. They rather gave us more darkness.
Between 2012 and 2018 we know what oil price was. It went above $100. At a time, it went to $142 and stabilized, it stayed like that for four to five years and what did we find? What happened to all the money? What happened to the billions of dollars?
If it was only electricity that that government did, Nigerians would say at least they did light. They didn’t do that, they didn’t do road, they didn’t do infrastructure. What went wrong with the money in the coffers? This administration met just above 2,000MW. We have 7,000MW now and it is not even enough. It was 2,800MW when this government came in. Is it not a shame Nigeria has just 7,000MW?
The target is that in 2019, we would have a minimum of 10,000MW. If Nigeria has 50,000MW today it is not too much. We have to build it, we have to spend money to build it. It takes time and it takes money and we know we would get there.
Jesus Christ said ‘my kingdom is not of this world,’ if Christians seek political appointments which non-Christians also vie for, how do we situate these in the light of the word of God?
When we get a better perspective to that scripture when Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world, I can recall two various things that came up when Jesus was talking about the kingdom to come. Somebody asked him, ‘will you restore the kingdom to Jerusalem?’ Jerusalem was like the centre of the world, so they were expecting the messiah that was going to restore Jerusalem as the leader of all kingdoms in the world.
They were expecting a messiah that will make Israel the leader of the world and he told them ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ At another time, when he was arrested and they were mocking him, he said ‘my kingdom is not of this world, if it was of this world, my supporters will fight.’ So what Jesus was talking about there was an earthy kingdom, so that was the perspective. He is not telling the believers not to take interest in the matters of this world. What he is saying is that you are in the world but not of the world, so we are in the world and we ought to take part in certain things that are common to humanity. That is my understanding of that.
In taking a political position, if we put Christians to fill all the positions, we cannot make an impact. Why did Jesus tell the believers they must make their light shine? Why did he tell them you must be like the salt that seasons the food? We must make impact in the kingdom of heaven. It is not that we should say our kingdom is not of this world and we shy away. Christians cannot afford to fold their hands.
What is this government doing to get Leah Sharibu out of captivity?
The president has said it that whatever it will take to get her out will be done. People politicizing the matter of Leah Sharibu, particularly from the church, have been making noise as if the President deliberately left her in captivity because she is a Christian. We know that is not true. That is uncharitable. It is unkind as we know the nature of the people holding her.
Before Mallam Mamman Daura was removed as the DG of SSS, in the last meeting we had, he was assuring me they were near the point she was. That means they were making efforts not as if she was deliberately left there because she is a Christian. That Boko Haram is holding her and people are making it a political and religious matter is not helping the young girl at all. The president has said whatever it will take to get her out will be put in place.
You said it is only the negative parts of Christians in government that people are seeing. Don’t you think Christians in government should check to see if they are still Christians they were before going to government?
I think it is a mindset problem. Human beings usually have a mindset problem once people go to serve in government. They say they are all part of what is going on. I see people would say ‘Femi Adesina that used to write this and that, can he write it again?’ There is a saying that you cannot live in Rome and kick at the Pope, no you can’t. It is either you want to be in government and see things change from within, it is not done that you kick against the government.
Jimmy Carter as President of the United States of America was a Sunday school teacher in his church. I teach too in the Sunday school, that was what I was doing before I joined the government and when I leave, I will still go back to be a Sunday school teacher. But people don’t want to give me any opportunity at all just because I serve in government. Christians should not be like that.
Christians would never have a negative mindset. We don’t have evidence and people will say ‘oh I don’t trust Osinbajo again.’ People have their mindset that once you are in government, you are this and that and you have compromise. I think they need to be careful and watch themselves lest they fall into error. They would think once you are in government, you have crossed to the other side.
If Christians in government are under a lot of criticism, is the system designed to force Christians in politics to compromise in their stands?
I don’t agree. I am a Christian serving in government close to four years and I have not compromised my stand because of that. No. I don’t believe in that at all. A Christian can serve in government and preserve his testimony.
Diplomacy is used in government but there is no diplomacy in the Bible—If it is A, it is A. Concerning the identity of our President, are you saying he is the same man or a surgical man?
The president came back to the country finally on August 19, 2017. That day, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Olonishakin, was giving out his daughter in marriage. I attended that wedding, dressed in full agbada with a cap. If you go back to the footage of when the President came back, as he alighted from the aircraft and was shaking his aides, you’ll see him laughing. You know what he was telling me? He said ‘Adesina, this is the best I have seen you dress’ and we laughed. If he was Jubril from Sudan, how will he know I was Adesina? How will he know that was not how I normally dressed? He saw me in full agbada and said ‘Adesina this is the best I have seen you dress.’
When people came with Jubril, he didn’t even want to answer them because it was to think you have a clone President and people who work with him every day will not know. What people don’t know was when he came back from medical vacation he was fully recovered than when he left. Among those who were talking about Jubril was a preacher who used it as his message. They are operating from a mindset, it was their mistake. Archbishops, Bishops, Pastors whoever they are, they need to repent.
With your closeness to Mr. President, is there any intention of him or people close to him with intention to islamise Nigeria?
I have been asked this question on television before and I need to say that Nigeria can never be islamised. Nigeria can never be islamised or christianised. Nigeria will continue to remain a secular state. I don’t bother myself with such saying. If all of us Christians can strive to be better Christians today, we will not bother someone wants to islamise Nigeria. It is not possible to islamise Nigeria. One thing you cannot rule out is that once some people are in position of power, in some subtle ways, they would favour themselves.
Do you know, if a born again Christian becomes president, will he not use it to favour Christians? He will. Obasanjo with all his force, when he was President and I am a member of Gideon international, we got Bibles we were distributing for free. I had the opportunity to meet him. He removed the duty on the Bibles completely. Using your position to favour Christians is a good thing, we Christians must aspire to be President.
You said nobody can islamise or Christianize Nigeria but the scripture says ‘go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.’ Does it mean you are not thinking of evangelism any longer, are you sitting on the fence?
I used to distribute Bibles. We went to distribute Bibles in the police college to new recruits. I was there and someone said ‘he is distributing Bibles, what is wrong with him?’ It is how much love you have for the Lord Jesus Christ. If I have to preach in the bus today I will do it. One thing I always believe is that you preach better with your words. You must share your faith, preach the gospel as you have opportunity but it is even better to preach it with your life. If I go about expanding Christianity and my life does not reflect Christ, I am bringing shame to the name of God. So I believe in the life that I live more than the words I preach.
A word was credited to you over the herders-farmers crisis that people should choose between their land and their lives. Is that a good word from a Christian in government?
May be you didn’t make an effort to go and listen to what I said when they told lie against me. Do you know it was Christians that did that more than even Muslims? They didn’t want to go and listen to the original and hear what I said. The Christians at Antioch the Bible says would go back home and check if the things they were told in church were true.
The tape is still available on YouTube etc., the problem was the headline casted. The editor of the paper called me and apologised. He said we know the headline is bad. If you know the headline is bad, what do you do? You retract it. He said we will make amends. Let them look at the original and see if that was what I said.
People say when Christians get to power corridor, they change. Was your expectation of people in government the same when you got there, or are there some radical differences in your opinion today?
When I was there in the profession, I saw one side and serving in government I have seen the other side and I can make my final judgment. Now, I know what goes on in government. I have a broader perspective not a radical change. If I need to criticize, I criticize. When I need to point out things, I point out. I have known what goes on in decision making, not that I will turn round and will be defending the government. The same person I was before is the same person I am, no matter what people are calling me. I have not changed and will never change.
Advise us on going into politics.
I am a Christian and I have been in political party close to four years. Will I go into politics? No, I won’t go into politics. But will I support Christians in politics, yes, I will. I remember years back, one of my children in Sunday school went to contest for a political post. He asked me what to do when they asked him to buy ogogoro for them or to give them money to buy hemp. I said if you give them the money, what I have you done? I said a Christian should never do that. Can you do politics without breaking legs and without people dying? I said can you afford that? He said no. Should Christians now stay away from politics? Christians must go into politics and must play politics the right way