“When you get too close to a leader, many people around do feel so threatened and envious and some even go extra miles to cause havoc.”
Noah Ebije, Kaduna
In 2011, Richard Mnenga was the first National Organising Secretary of the then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) of the Buhari/Bakare campaign organisation.
In 2015, Mnenga served in the media and communication Directorate of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation. The Benue born political scientist, is currently a member of the governing council of Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State and also a board member, representing North Central in the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).
He speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and its challenges.
What was your relationship with General Muhammadu Buhari before he was elected President?
I had a very close and cordial relationship with General Buhari before he was elected president in 2015, it was not just political but like father and son, he always listened and advised me like any good father would do to a son. It was with his encouragement and support that I obtained my second degree at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He played an active role and was one of my major financiers while I was schooling there. I must confess that I enjoyed a lot of privileges while with him and I as well, learned a lot from him.
One of the striking things I always remember is his constant advice to me all the time that a good name is more than riches; he always laid emphasis on the fact that we all have to account for all our deeds one day and hereafter. Such advices greatly influenced my philosophy of life, his honesty, simplicity and humility endeared me a lot. General Buhari is the most honest and responsible politician I have ever worked with.
Do you still maintain that relationship after he became the president?
You know he is now the president and has so many issues to attend to, personal and state matters. When he was sworn in initially, we maintained our cordial relationship and we were meeting frequently but things later changed. He would always send for me to go to either his office or residence and we could sit and discuss a number of issues. I strongly believe his health contributed to our not meeting frequently like previously because as you know, he spent a good number of days attending to his health challenges. As humans, anybody can fall sick at anytime. Secondly, you know so many things happen in politics. I was privileged to work very closely with leaders like the late Abubakar Rimi, the former governor of Kano state and minister of communications and Alhaji MD Yusufu of blessed memory, the former Inspector-General of Police and many others. I realised that when you get too close to a leader, many people around do feel so threatened and envious and some even go extra miles to cause havoc. This cannot be completely ruled out.
I believe some people are not comfortable seeing certain people around him all the time though we still meet but occasionally, unlike before he became the president when only sleep separated us. At times he may send for you but you may not be informed, that is if they don’t want you close again. But that doesn’t mean there is a problem between us, we still hold each other highly and he still has a high opinion of me just as I do.
Some Nigerians are saying that Buhari has not performed wee enough to deserve a second term. What do you think is responsible for Buhari’s low or poor performance so far?
Your question is relative, to others he has not performed lowly or poorly but it is a matter of one’s opinion. So if you generalise that he has performed poorly so far, you might be provoking some Nigerians who share a contrary opinion. Nobody born of a woman is perfect, no leader is perfect and President Buhari is not an exception. There are some perceived lapses in the administration which is normal in every government but to pass a final verdict that it is a total failure, I think you are not being too fair to the old man. I can sadly observe that most of the people I presently see around the president were invisible during our struggles over the years; I started seeing them after he won election and was subsequently sworn in. There is a particular individual who called and insulted me heavily for instituting litigation against the former president, Goodluck Jonathan that he was not eligible to contest the 2015 election. He even threatened sending his armed thugs after me if I didn’t withdraw the case. I bluntly told him to go to Lagos and jump into the lagoons. My partner in the case Mallam Shuaibu Lilli faced similar threats too, ironically, that very person is presently holding a very key position in the government.
This is a man whose ideological convictions are completely at variance with that of the president. Don’t you think he will be a saboteur? In my opinion, I feel that the perceived lapses of the administration are because the president has not carried most of his people along, his ideological partners and the main people who believe in the change mantra. I think his wife also mentioned that once, that her husband has been hijacked by some people but I think that is a domestic matter that should not form the basis of our discussion.
But I know a good number of people that have been with the president since 2003 but are just there doing nothing, such people can be courageous and bold enough to caution the president when he is going wrong because he knows them and they know him. But when you empower mostly people that you don’t know and people who don’t share your philosophies, they will lack the courage and will to call you to order. I believe this is one of the major mistakes the president has done, though there is time to correct it.
The other aspect is about the security situation in the country, I am particularly touched because I have lost a lot of loved ones in my home state of Benue. And you know as a practising and devout Catholic, I will feel the murder of reverend fathers in the manner at which it was done in Mbalom in Gwer council of Benue State. The president needs to take more proactive measures to end these killings. I was addressing some people in Makurdi a while ago and I told them and repeated with emphasis that the Buhari I know and have worked with very closely for numerous years will never ask or encourage anybody to go and kill. They almost attacked me, pointing out that the minister of Defence has been saying the anti-open grazing law enacted by the Benue State House of Assembly is responsible for the killings in Benue and to them that is President Buhari’s opinion too. It took time for me to convince them that the minister was expressing his own opinion as security personnel and not of the president. They also quoted the IGP who shares the same opinion and has expressed it at different fora. You see, the truth of the matter is that when certain people say certain things, they spur these militants to cause more havoc. Some of the statements sounded as if they justified the massacre going on in Benue State and other places. It is an established fact that the problem predates Buhari, but he should be more proactive, people are wrongly accusing him pointing out the fact that all the sensitive security operatives are Muslims and are sympathetic to the herdsmen. This may not be the case but the choice of Service Chiefs has made it look suspicious and the president should note this in his subsequent appointments.
Let me take you back to Shagari’s government, all Service Chiefs were Christians until in the later days of the administration when General Inuwa Wushishi was made Chief of Army Staff, nobody faulted the composition of the security agencies as it was done in good faith. The president should be fully aware that religion is now deeply rooted in the thoughts of Nigerians and any slight move is suspected even if it is not ill intended. The choice of Service Chiefs is the exclusive right of the president and nobody no matter the status in the society should decide for him but in doing this, he should take into cognizance the secularity of Nigeria.
With the defections from APC, do you think the party will win the presidential election in 2019?
I strongly believe that APC never won election but Buhari did, if Buhari had not flown the ticket of APC, the party would not have won election and mind you, don’t use the big names to judge but use the opinion of the masses to know. Since the entrance of Buhari into politics, the big names have never supported him. Take for example in the North, CPC was formed few months to election and most of the big names were not with us but we won almost all the states except a few where we got the 25 percent. I was the first National Organising Secretary and I know what went on, this time it may not be the same but the point I am trying to make is that use the masses to judge Buhari’s popularity and not the elite. As time goes on, we will be able to know how 2019 will look like.
What is your advice to government on how to get out of the ongoing economic hardship in the country?
The president should take the issue of our economy more seriously; there should be a Chief Economic Adviser. The government should take more proactive measures to stabilise the economy and to accomplish this, a renowned economist should be appointed as Chief Economic Adviser to the president. This office is very important as can be seen how it was taken very seriously even by the military who saw its importance. Babangida made very good use of people like Kalu Idika Kalu, Abacha appointed Prof. Sam Aluko, a renowned economist as his Chief Economic Adviser. When Obasanjo became president in 1999, he made Philip Asiodu, a renowned economist and retired federal permanent secretary as his Chief Economic Adviser. Yar’Adua followed suit in 2007 when he appointed Dr. Yakubu Tanimu Kurfi as his Chief Economic Adviser. The current administration can as well follow suit. President Buhari is a very prudent, just and honest leader and a vibrant Chief Economic Adviser will seriously assist in meeting his targeted goals especially about the economy of the nation.