•Vows not to work with them for President’s re-election
• ‘Despite my NYSC issue, l still have Buhari’s confidence’
•Says if you want money, go into business, don’t serve under President
By BASHIR ADEFAKA
Minister of Communication, Dr Abdulraheem Adebayo Shittu, is on record as the first cabinet member to openly support the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari when he took campaign materials to a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. But he soon closed the office of the platform he had opened for the President’s second term and abandoned the group working for Buhari’s re-election. Shittu, in this interview, explains why his actions were inevitable. He also speaks on the allegation that he dodged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the attitude of his principal to the stand of critics that he should step down as minister, as well as his efforts to mobilise support for the President’s second term bid.
Going by reports on why you closed down the Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo (MBO) Dynamic Support Group’s zonal office in Ibadan (the capital of Oyo State), it appears there is no clear-cut position on whether it was because of APC’s alleged unfairness to you or not. Why did you close down the office especially since you were the first ever to start the 2019 campaign for President Buhari inside a Federal Executive Council meeting?
The bond between me and President Muhammadu Buhari is a divine one, which is unbreakable, which cannot be interrupted, compromised and which, by the grace of God, will be sustained for life.
With all sense of humility, I was the first cabinet member to start Buhari’s re-election campaign, like you said, and that is on record.
On the issue of MBO (Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo) Dynamic Group, I created national awareness for that organization. And in creating national awareness, I set up the zonal office.
One of the reasons (for closure) is that, that office, which (rent) 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.
Why did you exit the group?
Because, I discovered that some of the leaders, who had an opportunity to protect my interest during the congresses, compromised.
Some leaders of MBO?
Yes. They were sent to Oyo State as part of the team to organize the congresses. I saw that they compromised. And so, there was no way I could continue to deal with people who could not be trusted.
But in one of your media interviews recently, you said you were still campaigning for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari. How do you achieve this now that you are not with MBO?
I have set up a bigger organization that is more relevant and more productive than the MBO. And the organization is called the ‘Coalition of Grassroots Supporters for Buhari and Osinbajo Re-election 2019’. And that coalition is made of Buhari’s supporters in all the political parties.
Once we stand on our feet, by the grace of God, we will move from one local government to the other, taking our campaign to the grassroots to ensure that Buhari is re-elected.
Now, what you are saying in essence is that people in other political parties actually support President Muhammadu Buhari?
Of course yes! Some members of ADP, ADC, NCP and other political parties in Oyo State, for instance, were of the Unity Forum of the APC in the state, who were forced out of APC 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, but we have left APC because we were denied a level- playing field in our quest to get the 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.
You mean (former governor) Alao-Akala, that is, the governorship candidate of ADP in Oyo State, and you are now together?
All of them who are members of the various political parties but moved from APC would work, by the grace of God, for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election in Oyo. We have mobilized and that is what we are all going to do.
Even Mr Lanlehin (ex-APC chief in Oyo) too, who is the ADC governorship candidate?
Lanlehin, everybody is with us and I can assure you.
That is interesting! But what we are told is that between you and President Buhari, the relationship is no longer rosy. How about that?
That is a wishful thinking of mischief makers. I am one person who is ever grateful for whatever little that is done for me. I have benefitted from Buhari by his appointing of me as a minister. If he had not appointed me as a minister, I would have remained a local champion in Oyo. Today, by God’s grace, I have become a national figure, whether anybody likes it or not; such that 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, are giving is that they left you because they found out that Baba no longer gives you the chance to see him or that you no longer 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, a lot of adoration from Mr. President and the ministers in the cabinet. And I have a lot of respect for the President.
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?
Okay, if the President could do that (personally signing a letter consenting to my intention to contest), how would somebody say I no longer enjoy his love? Despite all the noise about dodging NYSC, the fact that I still hold office in his administration, I remain his cabinet member, means that I still enjoy his trust, his confidence and his respect.
But what about the claim that the President, at a time, asked you to resign because of the NYSC dodging allegation?
Well, I don’t know where the President told them that. If the President had said that, I would not have remained his minister and that has been on for many months now. It is just that people like fake news.
I even did a joke that ‘if Mr. President asked Minister Shittu to resign because of the NYSC allegation, he would have been the one to lead the way because of the issue of ‘no certificate’ allegation against him’. I then told the people behind such report that the President Muhammadu Buhari that we know would not act on unverifiable information which was the reason he called the bluff of the ‘no certificate’ thing against him and the NYSC allegation against you. How right could we be!
It is clear that Governor Ajimobi and you are not on the same page on the 2019 polls even though you are in the same party. What are you doing to ensure that President Buhari does not lose in Oyo?
He (President Buhari) will not lose by the grace of God. Our target is to get two million votes for President Buhari in Oyo State. That is our target.
For confidence building now, what is your assurance to your supporters in Oyo?
Let me tell you, even politically now, we have supporters from 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 my available resources.
If I’m not mistaken, those who left believed that what they did not get from you, they are likely to get it from Governor Ajimobi!
I wish them best of luck.
But why do you think that when a minister is appointed from a state, so much is expected from him but he is unable to meet those expectations of his supporters, who think that, as a public officer at the federal level, he is well positioned to help them?
As a minister, I am very accessible to the generality of the people. If you come to my office any day that I am there, you meet nothing less than 50 people. In my house during weekends, if I am at home, you find not less than 100 people visiting either for school fees or rent or for medical reasons.
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.
Just for clarification, once again, what would you say about the claim that there are issues between the President and you?
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.
In that case, what are you doing at your level to ensure that the President that you have worked with for long time, politically, will have a crop of 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 for in Oyo State would be the admirers of President Muhammadu Buhari. Like I told you, originally, everybody belonged to the All Progressives Congress. Buhari didn’t offend any of them. It is some highly placed people who offended them and threw them out of APC.
No matter which political parties we differently belong to, we still have our commitment to Mr. President. And I believe that is enough to sustain the President’s re-election.
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 he is meeting only Amosun so to say, whereas it is believed in many quarters that 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 recognise you any longer?
The President doesn’t have to meet me over that. We meet every Wednesday in cabinet meetings.
And you chat after meeting?
We are free with 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?
I think what this interview will achieve is giving us the opportunity to educate those who say there are some ministers working with President Buhari but who cannot see the President. Isn’t that right to say?
(Laughs) 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 procedures, you will see him. Of course we are working under him and we are reporting directly to him. We are accountable directly to him. So, the issue does not arise that if you want to see him, you will not see him.
You have talked about limited resources available to ministers unlike, for instance, the resources available to a senator. But it is not as if a minister should not be able to spend. What is your final word 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, Peoples Democratic Party 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.
Now 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. And, like the Qur’an has taught us, God does not place any burden on you heavier than your capacity. So, whatever I am able to afford, and I can tell you that more than 60 percent of my income goes to public good by way of sadaqah, by way of assisting the needy.
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 (laughs) 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.