From Samuel Bello, Abuja
Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, Bashir Ahmed, has said that the perceptions of the president as not having listening ears are just mere speculations.
In this interview, he also revealed how he came in contact with the president and his working relationship with him.
What motivated you as a journalist to feel that you can contribute your quota in helping the president actualize his dreams of making Nigeria great?
Actually, anyone that looks at Nigeria’s situation, especially we the youths know that a lot of things are happening, especially those of us that read a lot of books, we found out that so many countries of the world have developed beyond our imaginations and as a meaningful Nigerian, your wish is to see Nigeria attend that level of advanced development.
I was not born when President Muhammadu Buhari became the Head of State in the 80s (1983-84). I did not witness his tenure and I can’t account anything that happened then. Even his other engagements after he left office as a result of coup d’etat, that is chairman of PTF during General Sani Abacha’s regime, I am too young to account for anything. His involvement in politics and his popularity, especially we in the northern part of the country, almost everybody is with the president’s party. Since the 2003 presidential election, the majority voted for him, but he did not win the election. He contested for the 2007 election, the majority voted for him, but he did not win the election. So, also in 2011, he did not win until 2015 when he won the presidential election. If you can view the political situation in our country, even a councilor in our community, hardly finishes his tenure without people seeking for his change. But the president started as a petroleum minister, Head of State, then PTF chairman. Still people love and admire him. People look up to him at that time as a man of integrity, dignity, discipline and respect, one who has the ability for positive change in our country. So, looking at all the attributes given to him, you know you can hardly get a councilor with such popularity and loved by the people. But with all the key position held by him, people still love him. As a result, I started making a deep research about his biography. I engaged myself in a lot of write-ups about the president, especially on the Internet. I did a special write-up on the president. I posted it on my blog before the 2011 election, titled “My reasons for loving the president”. The content of the write-up is analyzing his integrity, dignity, discipline, truthfulness and steadfast for zero-corrupt society. That was my reasons for the love I have for the president and I threw a question on my blog. If there is any candidate with such qualities I can drop my candidate and pick him. To my ultimate surprise, I just did the write-up with a free mind. But without my knowledge, one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s aide read my write-up and showed it to the president. The president asked the aide to call me. His first call, I was at school receiving lectures. I did not pick and he later sent a text me: “Bashir, if you have time call this number”. I later called him, his respond was “he will call me later”. When he called he asked me, if I was Bashir Ahmad, I said yes; and you did a write-up on President Muhammadu Buhari and you wrote if there is any candidate with better quality than Buhari you will drop him, I said yes. He asked me have I ever met him; I said no, and I don’t even know who I was speaking with. Actually, anytime the president comes to Kano, we were not allowed to see him. He asked again how I will feel if I am to talk to the president direct and I said I will be delighted. Then he said I should hold on that the president wants to talk to you. That was the first time I spoke with the president. Politely, the president asked me how is Kano, I said fine, he then asked me some prominent people in Kano I told him I know some, but I don’t know others, he then asked me what I am doing now, I said I am a student. He advised me to work hard, that all his struggle to become president is for our better tomorrow and I said thank you sir. That was around 2010 before the 2011 general election; it was my first engagement with him. During the 2011 CPC campaign rally in Kano, I was willing to see him. But because of political unrest in the party (CPC) between the supporters of the two governorship candidates (Muhammad Abacha and Col. Jafaru Isa) I was unable to see him. The first time I saw him was at the coronation of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Emir of Kano. At that time, I was working with Rariya Media as a reporter and editor. I used my press ID to gain access to the event. We saw, but did not talk. After my graduation I moved from Kano to Abuja. I started working with Leadership newspaper, which gave me another opportunity of meeting him at the APC party headquarters around 2013 to 2014. At Rariya Media, I was an editor and also Sports reporter, but in Leadership newspaper I was the deputy editor online news and attached to the Leadership newspaper chairman office; when the chairman, Dr Sam entered politics and instructed me to be his social media aide. We travelled around the nation for campaign rally. I had the opportunity to see and talk with the president. During the APC party stakeholders meeting, I went with my boss, Dr Sam. I went to President Buhari and I greeted him and introduced myself as Ahmad Bashir from Kano. To my ultimate surprise, he said to me have you finished your studies, I said yes and I am working with Leadership newspaper. He congratulated me and prayed for me to succeed. During the campaign tour of my boss, Dr Sam, we met the president and he prayed for success. At that time he was not willing to contest for any political office. He even cracked jokes with me: “They snatched you from me” and we both laughed. He advised me to be upright in anything I am doing. When President Muhammadu Buhari’s political ambition was announced at that time, my boss was seriously engaged with campaign. My boss understood the keen interest the president had shown me, because he has seen us discussing severally during our campaign tours. When Dr Sam was preparing for the kickoff presidential campaign, I pleaded that I should be given invitation card for President Buhari and my request was granted. I took it to him and I said Baba, we are inviting you to our kickoff campaign in Niger State. He smiled and said why did you not come for my own campaign kickoff. I said we were there, but so many people made it impossible for us to be recognized. He promised to come even though he was engaged. Unfortunately, he was in Rivers State when we held our event in Niger State, he kept to his promise and sent strong delegates to represent him. I was glad and delighted for his honouring our invitation. I felt it to the deepest part of my mind that the president has keen interest in me. The APC primary election came and at the end, President Muhammadu Buhari emerged victorious. I congratulated him for his winning. That was in early 2015 in Lagos. I returned to my work atLeadership newspaper to continue from where I stopped as a result of campaign tours. The president started forming campaign committees. He personally presented my name to the head of his campaign committee as a member. When the news came to me, I went to my boss and told him, he said no problem and he wished me good luck. We started campaign with the president across all the states of the federation and I was always among those closer to him. After every campaign day, he always said to us, may the good Lord bless you and good night. We are all so delighted that God has blessed our efforts. As usual I went and congratulated him when he won in 2015 and went back to my Leadership newspaper office. The president called me after six months in office to work with him as media aide. That is why I am working in the presidency as media aide to the president.
What are your views on the numerous complains, accusations critics and speculations that the president does not having a listening ear and doesn’t read newspapers?
People have different perspectives and approaches towards national issues. From my own view as close media aide to the president, I can boldly say it is not true. President Muhammadu Buhari does not allow any of his aides to select or pick any newspaper for him to read like the tradition of most presidents. Even if you select some sensitive pages for him to read, he prefers to read all. Even if the newspaper accuses him or praised him, he reads all news. Even if the president is on a foreign trip, he goes with our national daily newspapers and the newspaper that is unavailable, he goes online to read. One of his hobbies is watching national news, especially on NTA. He also listens to national radio stations especially Hausa programmes. So, people’s perceptions of the president never listening, reading or watching news are just mere speculations. Remember he is a president of a country with more that 200 million people with different backgrounds. So, he has to be extra-careful in decision making especially at this time of social media generation. Let me tell you, the president is having more than 1000 aides and each comes with his or her reports to him, apart from ministers. Simply because your opinion, complaints, or advice is not attended to does not mean he neglected it. For instance, the national issue of border closure, it took the presidency two years debate before any decision was taken. Some people came out praising the government’s decision while others were condemning it. You see as a president he has to be extra-careful with people, decision, opinions, complaints, suggestions, advice, in taking any national decision.
What are the challenges you have faced from the general public from the beginning till date as a media aide to the president?
I will say the first challenge was the first time working in presidency as a media aide. But from general public, I did not face any challenge because I am working with the man that almost everyone loves; especially in the northern part of the country, almost everybody loves and admires him. So working with him makes me feel comfortable. Remember there is no work without challenges. Some of the challenges I faced are from my immediate family, because they look at me like I’m too young to be in national politics. The second challenge is the only current challenge we face which is the way people look at the president. Their thought was that immediately the president took power he is going to change everything over night. That he will automatically take Nigeria to the next level. They even started to compare Nigeria with other advanced countries like USA, China, Indonesia and others. Most people do not have time to read books or history. If we are to look at history very well, especially America’s political system, it took them 200 years to be at their present time with a lot of obstacles, failure and success before attaining the admirable position now. Nigeria as an independent state, we are just 59 years with different leadership styles from military rule to politics also with different developmental projects without continuity, which is affecting us till today. People’s trust on the president made them believe it’s like a switch once pressed, everything will be happening automatically. Even the president when he took power, found out that there are some peculiar challenges that will take a longer period before solving. The next challenge is the work as a media aide, which is normal in any working environment. When I post any write-up, it’s always viewed with double opinion, some applaud and others criticize. It is normal. It will never make me a weaker vessel, but enables us check and balance our write-up to carry people on board. Since I understand that, social media challenges are not bothering me like before in trying to please everybody.