President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) recently spoke to newsmen in his home town, Daura, Katsina state after casting his vote, on a number of issues. Excerpts:
Since your victory at the polls, PDP members from across the country have been joining your party, the APC. How do you intend to manage this?
I think that this is mainly a question meant for the party. I wish John Oyegun were here to answer you because we have a system. Just because I am the Presidential candidate and the President-elect, I don’t think that the system has allowed me to usurp the power of the party executives. 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 remains of the PDP by May 29, I assure you that there will be justice in APC.
In composing your cabinet, what are those criteria you will use in selecting those that will work with you?
It is a difficult time for Nigerians as you all know. I have said it in the past that Nigeria has never realised the amount of revenue it received in the last 16 years. A barrel of crude oil rose to about $140 and it has now crashed to about $50. During these 16 years, we know some big companies that employed a lot of Nigerians and give 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 per cent of them under the age of 30 is employment. You need these institutions to give jobs and trainings to Nigerians. It is very disappointing that the PDP-led 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 per cent of Nigerian budget is on recurrent.
How can you sustain development in a developing country like Nigeria with only about 10 per cent 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.
Two weeks ago, Nigerians trooped out to vote for you in a peaceful manner. During the governorship elections on Saturday, there were pockets of violence across the country. How do you feel about this?
I think there is less disruption today (Saturday) 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 elections. But what happened in the South South and the South East cannot be compared to what happened today. What I saw was that there were a few ballots snatching in some local government areas in Bayelsa and a few disruptions in Adamawa State, but that is nothing near to what happened two weeks ago. I don’t think it is up to 25 per cent of what happened two weeks ago? 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 than what it was two weeks ago. 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 voter card.
Are you going to put in place a Government of National Unity?
Again, you want me to encroach into the party’s main power. Even if I, as President-elect want to form a broad-based government, I think that the executives 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.
Reports from across the South South, South East and some other parts of the country gave indications of violence especially in Rivers and Lagos States. How do you feel about 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 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. On 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 where at 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 makes 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 try and placate them, convince them and show them that their rights are respected, or you will not have peace. For 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 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.
INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega has said he will not accept renewal of his tenure. Talking about building institutions, what do you intend to do to ensure that the successes so far recorded are sustained and improved upon?
I think that Prof. 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 States meeting, he submitted a document of INEC activities right from the last general elections in 2011 to date with attachment showing the personnel trained, acquisition of election materials, the distribution, security, among others and I don’t think that such 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 elections must hold 30 days before 29th of May. So, INEC did not have much trouble to agree to the six weeks extension. As people say, it has come to pass.
For many years, Nigerians have been clamouring that something be done to punish those involved in election rigging.
The Uwais committee recommended a special court to try electoral offenders, but the government has refused to implement that recommendation. Will your government set up a special court to try electoral offenders?
No matter how the media try, you will not catch me undermining the authority of the 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 the papers, 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 Governors Amaechi, Rochas Okorocha and governor of Edo state 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 Act is derived from the constitution of the country so that in future, those who are in position will know that they are not beyond 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 widespread looting is going on at the 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 of about three governors and the battle they have 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, because this is the best way to stabilise 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 in government, you have to behave yourself. I think that is the way we can make progress.
You introduced the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) as a 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 the late Tunde Idiagbon. We discussed and agreed that the main problem of Nigeria was indiscipline. If we could get majority of Nigerians to accept it, whichever level they are, we will make a lot of progress. I could recall that I advised that we should approach the Ministry of Information because there are a lot of people with first degree, masters and Ph.D who are sociologists and criminologists who are just warming their seats, that they should get together and come up with a programme that would 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 restraints 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 especially 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 your 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 social vices such as ethnicity and religion, they will resort to fighting 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 the late Murtala made sure that those who had appointments must declare their assets and this was later articulated in the constitution. It is up to the government to make sure that those who borrow money to build a house and end 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 Gen. 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
The third one was when I became Head of State. From General Obasanjo down, those of us that were in the Supreme Military Council, Council of States, Executive Council and even those who were Permanent Secretaries, at the time we got our appointments, the courts should be made to produce our declarations.
There have been reports that you promised to end Boko Haram within two months, but your media team reacted saying you never said so. We want you to use this opportunity to 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 Maitesine. 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 on several occasions, we that have at one time or the other worn Nigeria military uniform felt terribly embarrassed that for six years, the Nigeria military couldn’t bring order to 14 local governments out of 774 local governments 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 governments, 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 itself. This nation has been humiliated by PDP. Nigeria has been humiliated by PDP. God willing, with our experiences, we will quickly marshal support and we are asking Boko Haram to pack and go.