Things Have To Change – President Buhari

Things Have To Change – President Buhari
December 30 11:07 2015

In this interview, President Muhammadu Buhari, says he is ready to hit the ground running. He also says he’s ready to change things as quickly as possible. Excerpts

How do you intend to manage the mass defection of politicians from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) following your victory at the polls?

I think that this is mainly a question meant for the party. I wish John Oyegun was here to answer you because we have a system. Just because I am the presidential candidate and the president, I don’t think that the system has allowed me to usurp the power of the party executive. But certainly, in a multi-party democratic system, fundamentally, it is the number that matters for the people. But for the party, what matters is the ability to manage the number so that the majority will have its way, so that there will be justice. No matter what the remnants from the PDP, I assure you or I assure them through you that there will be justice in APC.

What will be the focus of this administration?

It is a difficult time for Nigerians as you all know. I have said it in the past that in the last 16 years, Nigeria has never realised the amount of revenue it received. A barrel of crude oil rose to about 140 dollars and has crashed to about 50 dollars now. During these 16 years, we know some big companies that employed a lot of Nigerians and gave them training facilities like the Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Shipping Line. Even the Nigeria Railways is managing to be on paper with some refurbished engines moving from Lagos to Ibadan and a few other places. If you go to their stations all over the country, you will realise that they are in a terrible shape.

The important thing in a country with a huge population of youths with more than 60 percent of them under the age of 30 who are unemployed is that you need these institutions to give jobs and training to Nigerians.

It is very disappointing that the PDP government virtually failed to use those resources to make sure that the economy continues to grow in a sustainable way. I think the worst thing is the lack of accountability and the terrible budgetary system. Imagine that over 90 percent of Nigerian budget is on recurrent. How can you sustain development in a developing country like Nigeria with only about 10 percent of your income? Things just have to change. There must be more money available for infrastructure, for investment in getting the factories back, employment and getting goods and services for the population. I think the sins of PDP will be coming out for several years to come.

 Nigerians came out to vote for you in a peaceful manner. During the governorship elections, there were pockets of violence across the country. How do you feel about this?

I think there are less disruption than it was during the presidential election. I hope that it was as a result of the bandwagon effect because APC had the upper hand during the last election. But what happened in the South-South and the South-East cannot be compared to what happened April 11. What I saw was that there was a few ballot box snatching in some local government areas in Bayelsa and a few disruptions in Adamawa state, but that is nothing near to what happened on March 28. I don’t think it is up to 25 percent of what happened on March 28? I think that after the elections, both parties, APC and PDP will perhaps make their representations to INEC or the courts and then more details will emerge. Definitely maybe because the turnout is much lower. From what I have heard, the turnout is much lower from what it was on March 28. Maybe the people just wanted a president and once they got one, they just walked away. They are Nigerians and there is nothing we can do, but to convince them that they have to use this weapon which is the permanent voters card.

Are you planning a government of National Unity?

Again, you want me to encroach into the party’s main power. Even if I, as president wants to form a broad-based government, I think that the executive of the party will have some influence on that decision. So, for me to maintain a good rapport with the leadership of my party, I want to keep your question in abeyance until further notice.

There are reports of election violence in South-south and South-East, especially in Rivers and Lagos states. How would you respond to this?

I think we should allow INEC to give its comprehensive report. Meanwhile, as you mentioned in some of the states, especially in Rivers and Lagos, the two parties are slugging it out. I think we have to take our time and let us get as much report as possible in accordance with the Electoral Act. I personally want to be legal about this so that people will appreciate that we believe in a system.

What we need to do is to modify the system according to the law if we don’t like it and that no one should come out and do to the system whatever he likes. For what is happening in Lagos, I think that for whatever political reason, the PDP wants to have Lagos by all means. I have a lot of respect for the governor of Rivers state for his courage. It has been a long time as you all know there was a certain time, the Commissioner of a Police virtually hijacked the state and the governor was virtually sentenced to the streets fighting thugs without law enforcement agents to survive as a governor while the constitution made it very clear to all of us that the governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state. So, a lot of unconstitutional and lawless acts of the PDP are on record and we intend to make the PDP understand it and make sure that according to law, those who are responsible for that are taken to the court and properly charged.

We are in this system because we believe in it and we want it to be stabilized because it is better for our country. If Nigerians have the confidence that their votes count, then they will mind their own business and I assure you that there will be much security in the country. But when people feel that they are abandoned, then they will resist. I think that by nature, human beings are rebels especially in Nigeria. You either try and placate them, convince them or show them that their rights are respected, you will not have peace. From what we hear about the money that changed hands in this country, it would have been impossible for APC to win anything in this country because we don’t have any treasury in our pocket.

There was no amount of money that could convince Nigerians this time around. A lot of them took the money and did exactly what their conscience wanted them to do, while some even returned the money. Somehow, Rivers and Lagos were somehow seen as strategic to the PDP. Otherwise, how can APC have a marginal 100,000 votes over PDP in Lagos which is virtually the capital of the APC in the south west. A lot of things will come out, but we want to do it basically on facts which can be verified and quantified.

The current INEC chairman said he will not accept tenure renewal. What do you intend to do to ensure that the successes so far recorded are sustained and improved upon?

I think that Professor Jega knows exactly what to do. He has already said that he is not going to accept a renewal of his tenure in June. I believe that he has learnt enough and will submit a comprehensive hand over notes some of which he seems to have written. At the last National Council of State meeting, he submitted a document of INEC activities right from the last General election from 2011 to date with attachment showing the personnel trained, acquisition of election materials, the distributions, security among others and I don’t think that such that report can be faulted.

In fact, INEC was forced to accept the six weeks extension by the office of the National Security Adviser. Luckily, those six weeks were accommodated within the constitutional time limit within which election must hold. The law says election must hold 30 days before 29th of May. So, INEC did not have much trouble agreeing to the six weeks extension. As people say, it has come to pass.

Given the cesspool of electoral violence in the country, would your government set up a special court to try electoral offenders as recommended by Justice Uwais Committee?

No matter how you the media try, you will not catch me undermining the authority of my party. I will look for understanding and cooperation from the National Assembly when a change of the constitution or electoral act is necessary. So, for me to make up my mind here and later try to lobby is out of it because some of them, if they are very hard, they will give me a tough time.

I will say that I haven’t read the Uwais report, but I have read a few of the extracts from newspapers. I think it is a good thing and we will encourage it. But we need to get a comprehensive report from the field. The running battle from Rivers, South-east and the rest of the South-south, especially by Governor Amaechi, Rochas Okorocha and governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomhole with INEC officials and law enforcement agencies in lauding the Army is remarkable and I think it has to be totally exposed so that Nigerians will know which of the law enforcement agencies and at what levels are undermining the constitution of Nigeria because the electoral law is derived from the constitution of the country so that in future, those who are in a position will know that they are not above the law. I think that is what will bring more stability into the system. In view of that, I will try and work with the National Assembly to make sure that we do something about it.

There are speculations that wide spread looting is going on at moment after the fall of the PDP. What do you intend to do to check this problem?

I will like to work within the system because we believe in it. I have just told you about three governors and the battle they have had with the law enforcement agents in their states. We discussed and advised them to try and document these things legally so that it can be taken before the court and we will make sure that we register the cooperation of the court so that people who work against the law are prosecuted, especially those who have lost their immunity, especially those who think they have immunity because this is the best way to stabilize the system.

People must not benefit from being lawless. You can’t be in a position by virtue of the constitution, subvert the constitution and continue to enjoy the privileges offered by the constitution. I don’t think that will be acceptable by the APC. So, whether you are in the opposition or the government, you have to behave yourself. I think that is the way we can make progress.

There are a couple of people who were accused of polluting the system that are currently moving into the APC. Don’t you think they will also pollute the party?

For those that are coming into the APC, I have no fear because we have our party structure. The fact that you were a party chairman or you were a minister before you join the APC, we appreciate the fact that you remain relevant in your immediate locality. But when it comes to the centre, there is some equality in the way the government will handle you.

If we win majority of members in the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly in the states, it means that it is with the agreement of their constituencies that the federal government has the power that it has. If the federal government is insisting on accountability and being responsible, even if they go back to their constituencies, there is nothing they can do about the decision of the government. We are banking on that.

I will give you an example of my state, Katsina. In 2011, the CPC won all the senatorial seats and 13 out of the 15 House of Representatives seats but they lost the governorship. Who did the election? Did people from space come for the election? That is the bad thing about lack of cohesion in a party. Leadership at all levels must work in concert otherwise, what Katsina state has suffered, any state or the centre can suffer same. Chief executives from local government to states will be encouraged to work together so that those that are coming in, I hope they will accept that they are coming to join those who succeeded and they should cooperate with them. They can’t come and say that because they were once ministers under PDP, they will join APC and become ministers the following month or so. I don’t think that it will be acceptable even by their constituencies.

You introduced the war against indiscipline as military leader. Several years later, one of the biggest problems in Nigeria today is indiscipline. How do you intend to handle this?

I will mention how it came about. When we had our first Supreme Council meeting and governors were appointed in my office, it was only me and late Tunde Idiagbon. We discussed and agreed that the main problem of Nigeria was indiscipline. If we can get majority of Nigerians to accept which ever level they are, we will make a lot of progress.

I could recall that I advised that we should…to the Ministry of Information because there were a lot of people with first degree, masters and Ph.D who were sociologists and criminologists and who were just warming their seats. They should get together and come up with a programme that will last for years and not just for six months and fizzle out. That was how we came about war against indiscipline.

It was very well thought out. It was a military system. In democracy, people want a lot of freedom, but if they see the restraint in advanced democracies in Europe and America, they will realise that discipline is forced on people. There are things that, no matter how much you want to do them, you can’t do them. I think that we have suffered enough as a people and I think that people are more prepared to behave themselves now.

About two years ago, I made some remarks in Hausa and people felt because now, some senior civil servants who are directors either at the state or federal level can’t educate four children because the level of education has gone down so much. Those that can afford will rather send their children to Ghana or Sudan and those who can afford it more send theirs to America and Europe because the educational system in Nigeria has virtually collapsed. Therefore, we feel that by voting APC into power, Nigerians are placing confidence in us.

On security, economy, unemployment and corruption, I believe that Nigerians will give us the understanding to make sure that we get our priorities right. Education is going to be very important because when you educate the people, you solve half of the problems because there is a level that an educated person will not accept. But when people are sentenced to illiteracy, when they are exposed to all manner of a to social vices such as ethnicity and religion so that people don’t move forward, they are used to fight themselves.

During your campaigns, you promised to declare your asset if elected. Will you still go ahead with that?

I made a statement which has not been correctly captured by the media. I said that our generation, from late Murtala Mohammed made sure that those who had appointments must declare his or her asset and this was later articulated in the constitution. It is up for government to make sure that those who borrow money to build a house and ended up with another house somewhere else with 50 bedroom and 20 living rooms should explain to Nigerians how they get the money.

I could recall that I declared my assets three times. First was when I got my first political appointment as Governor of Borno state; secondly, when I was leaving government to go to the United States War College. I declared my assets then because I was closing my political chapter then technically. I could recall that General Jemibewon was the Adjutant General of the Nigerian army then. I had to declare my asset, deposit it there to be taken to court before I was allowed to proceed to the United States for my course. The third one was when I became Head of State. From General Obasanjo down till now, those of us that were in the Supreme Military Council, Council of State, Executive Council and even those who were Permanent Secretaries at the time we got our appointment, the courts were made to produce our declarations. So, all these noise about people getting rich and nobody is saying anything about it, why can’t you prick the conscience of the sitting government or are some of you part of the cover up?

There have been reports that you promised to end Boko Haram within two months, but your media team reacted saying you never said so. Clarify that?

I think I am too experienced in internal security to give two months deadline on Boko Haram. I don’t think I would have made that mistake because I tried to look at some of my experiences even when I was in uniform with the rebels from Chad, when I was GOC in Jos and with Maitatsine. So, for me to say that when I come into office, I will get rid of Boko Haram in two months. I don’t think I would have made that mistake. I didn’t.

As I mentioned in several occasions, we that have at one time or the other wore Nigeria military uniform felt terribly embarrassed that for six years, the Nigeria Military couldn’t bring order to 14 local government out of 774 local government in the country after Burma, Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Dafur where Nigerian military earned respect internationally for their performances. To fail to secure 14 out of 774 local government. I still can’t reconcile myself with that disgrace.

We will try and work with our neighbours (which is the first thing we should have done such) as Chad, Cameroon and Niger who are fighting Boko Haram for us. Look at Chad helping Nigeria or Niger or Cameroon. This nation has been humiliated by PDP. Nigeria has been humiliated by PDP. God willing, with our experience, we will quickly marshal support and we are asking Boko Haram to pack and go.