…Says he’s in no hurry to appoint ministers
…Orders release of $21m to MNJTF
…Decries death of Africans in Mediterranean sea
…Boko Haram attacks Yobe town
By Sara Firth in Johannesburg and Jaiyeola Andrews in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has in an exclusive interview with ARISE News, a THISDAY sister television network, said that he was in no hurry to appoint ministers to his cabinet, wondering why there was so much anxiety over the make up of his cabinet.
Buhari, who met on Sunday night with the ARISE team after the dinner held for the heads of government attending the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, among other issues, also spoke on the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as the Senate president, stating that it was up to the members of the National Assembly to sort out the division created from the election that threw up the former Kwara governor as leader of the federal legislature.
On the announcement of his cabinet, he said: “I don’t know why people are so anxious for the ministers. But eventually we will have them.
“The main reason is that I had a Transition Committee which I agreed with former President Goodluck Jonathan that the ministers of the outgone government should handover their notes and documents to this Transition Committee so that we could be prepared.
“The ministers knew that they were going but the technocrats, permanent secretaries and so on, knew they will remain. So if anything goes wrong, they will be invited to explain.
“Unfortunately, the outgone government did not cooperate, so what the committee did was to divide itself into about five sub-committees, and I (only) got the report I think three days ago.
“I was waiting for that report because I would like to know what positions there are in the government, especially in terms of the finance and petroleum portfolios. So I’m not in a hurry to get ministers,” he said.
On Saraki, Buhari was of the view that it was left to members of the National Assembly to sort out any division that has arisen following the election of the former Kwara governor as Senate president.
Drawing an analogy between the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and last week’s election in the National Assembly, he said: “For example, when we came to our party’s primary for the presidential election, four of us stood (in the primary). There was no problem because it is part of the system.
“I happened to win and they agreed there and then that we should all work for the party. But unfortunately, in this National Assembly, there was a division. So it’s up to them (legislators) to sort it out.
Throwing more light on the decision reached by his party to present consensus candidates for the leadership of the National Assembly before his inauguration, he said: “There is a system in the National Assembly – the House of Representatives and the Senate – they have got their own criteria for choosing their leaders.
“We had a meeting and I told the party’s caucus that I’m not going to interfere, because constitutionally, I have (sic) no role as president-elect to tell the party who to recommend or put (forward) as a candidate.
“The party didn’t want to present two candidates because if they presented two candidates, what we heard occurred (would have) eventually happened.”
Alluding to the deal struck by Saraki and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (APC), Buhari observed that “one of the candidates went and got the support of the former ruling party, and he divided our party”.
That was why the party was not pleased about it. The party ran a primary and the one (Senator Ahmad Lawan) who was competing with Saraki won to become APC’s candidate in the Senate.
“But then Saraki did not agree with that; he virtually divided the party and he got the support of the PDP and he allowed a PDP senator to become his deputy.”
Buahri stated that he was interested in the outcome of the National Assembly election, because it was “purely a party affair”.
Also, Buhari yesterday ordered the release of $21 million (N4.16 billion) out of the $100 million pledged by Nigeria to the Multi-national Joint Task Force (MNJTF) set up by Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Cameroun, Chad and Niger against the terror group.
Buhari, who announced the directive while chairing the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) meeting at the weekend in Johannesburg, said the order should be carried out in a week.
He said the order was in response to the decision by the leaders of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and Benin in Abuja to immediately fund the MNJTF with not less than $30 million.
“The member countries of Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin met recently where far-reaching decisions were taken to immediately put into operations the Multi-national Joint Task Force.
“To this end, the summit approved the immediate provision of $30 million for the Multi-national Joint Task Force.
“Consequently, out of the pledge of $100 million which Nigeria made to the Multi-national Joint Task Force, I have directed that $21 million be released within the next one week,” Buhari informed the AU.
He said he was pleased with the support from Cameroun, Chad and Niger in the fight against the Islamist group.
“They are fighting alongside Nigeria under the umbrella of Multi-national Joint Task Force to defeat Boko Haram,” he said.
Buhari observed that the continent was inundated with crises of various forms which required urgent attention.
“We are witnesses to the rampant destruction of homes, roads, communications lines, vital infrastructure and displacement of persons not to mention the terrible loss of lives.
“This is true and I must add of the North-east of Nigeria where we are dealing with the scourge of Boko Haram.
“The Boko Haram insurgency has extended its reach to Nigeria’s neighbours but it is not necessarily limited to these immediate countries as terrorism is a global phenomenon with linkages across the globe.
“Given this dimension of global terror, it requires us to act accordingly in brotherhood and partnership to fight our common goals against agents of evil,” he said.
At the LCBC meeting of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Niger with Republic of Benin, Buhari had asked the leaders to articulate their needs for onward delivery to the G7 group of industrialised nations.
The request was based on the promise by the G7 to support Nigeria in the fight against terrorism when Buhari honoured the group’s invitation to attend its last summit in Germany.
Buhari, at the AU summit, also charged African leaders to strive to change the face of the continent positively, adding that it had become imperative for African leaders to do the needful in giving hope to the hopeless.
The president, however, expressed doubt over the silencing of illicit weapons in Africa by 2020 as promised by AU when it marked its 50th anniversary in 2013.
Buhari said it was his first time of attending the meeting, adding that he had the responsibility of presiding over the meeting by virtue of the fact that Nigeria was the chair for the month of June 2015.
Nigeria’s president observed that the African continent was inundated with conflicts of diverse forms, including the crisis in Burkina Faso, Mali, Libya, Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, and more recently in Burundi.
“As you are aware in 2013, during the 50th anniversary celebration of our union, we as African leaders committed ourselves to the objective of silencing the local guns in Africa by 2020.
“With just five years remaining, the prospect of realising this objective looks doubtful with pockets, individual countries and the continent as a whole.
“For us to appreciate and raise the level of development gains… we are witnesses to the rampant destruction of homes, roads, communications lines, vital infrastructure and displacement of persons, not to mention the terrible loss of lives,” Buhari said.
He said the meeting of PSC, which had as its objective reviewing the conflicts in South Sudan and Burundi, required African leaders to put the issues in a proper context.
“The people of these countries are suffering while their political leaders are bickering among themselves. I believe that it is incumbent upon us as leaders to always place the interest of our countries above narrow and personal interests.
“It is therefore my expectation that at the end of this summit, the PSC will come out with a united message to call on all parties to act in the interest of their people and the entire continent,” he said.
Buhari yesterday also described as unacceptable the drowning of African youths in their illegal attempts, and often times illusory hopes of attaining a better life in Europe.
He said the development was not only an embarrassment to African leaders, but dehumanised their persons.
“They combine to paint a very unfavourable picture of our peoples and countries,” he said.
He also congratulated President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on his election as the chairman of AU.
According to Buhari, African leaders owed it as a duty to reverse the ugly trend, adding: “We must put an end to the so-called push factors that compel our young men and women to throw caution to the winds and risk life, limbs and all, on this dangerous adventure.
“We must redouble our efforts to sustain the economic development of our countries, ensure empowerment of our youths, create more jobs, improve and upgrade our infrastructure, and above all continue the enthronement of a regime of democracy, good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
He stressed that these and other measures which engender peace and stability must be pursued relentlessly.
In this regard, the president said African leaders must persist in their collective endeavour to work together through the AU and their respective Regional Economic Communities (RECs), to uplift the continent and provide the African people with the enabling environment for the realisation of their legitimate dreams and aspirations.
“At this juncture, let me assure you of the unflinching commitment of Nigeria to the ideals and aspirations of the African Union as explained in the Agenda 2063, which is geared towards ensuring a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa in the next 50 years. It is for this reason that Nigeria is fully and irrevocably committed to the ECOWAS vision.
“We do so because we believe that African integration is best attained through the instrumentality of our Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as the building blocks of viable continental institutions.
“Nigeria will therefore continue to play her part in supporting the African Union Commission and other continental and regional institutions in their efforts to prioritise African development in all sectors of human endeavour.
“The journey might look arduous, but is certainly not impossible. There are opportunities in every challenge. If and when we adopt this call for a change of attitude, approach, and disposition towards agreed protocols and commitments, we shall be bequeathing a politically stable, economically developed, and socially harmonious Africa, thereby justifying the confidence reposed in us by our electorate.
“We will also demonstrate our qualities as statesmen and true daughters and sons of Africa,” Buhari said.
He stated that he was highly honoured to be able to address the meeting, barely two weeks after his inauguration as the president of Nigeria, following the 2015 presidential election.
The president said: “That process, which was adjudged as the fairest and most credible in the history of elections in Nigeria, was midwifed by the dogged and sustained determination of the Nigerian people, and their desire to deepen our democracy.
“Their quest was amply supported, and even encouraged by the goodwill of our friends and partners in the international community. I therefore wish to seize this opportunity to convey my very deep appreciation to all those who contributed to the success of that election.
“My election has been described as historic. I agree that it is indeed historic because for the first time in the practice of democracy in my country, an opposition party has defeated the ruling party in a keenly contested election.
“The election was also held against the backdrop of the fears and concerns expressed both in Nigeria and among our international friends abroad and partners that the outcome of the election could spell doom for Nigeria.
“I am glad that even though those fears and concerns were not without basis, the outcome was totally different, to the relief of all of us.
“I cannot fail to acknowledge the very positive role played by my predecessor, H.E. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in averting the feared crisis, and in facilitating the peaceful transition of power between the two parties.
“I also wish to express my deep appreciation to all who honoured us with their presence at my inauguration, and even those who for unavoidable reasons were unable to attend. I thank you all.
“It is gratifying to note that our union has made laudable progress over the past one and a half decades since its transformation from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU).
“Notably, we have been able to redirect our priorities at the continental level from mainly political goals to more diverse aspirations that are equally fundamental to our survival and development in a global community.
“It is however clear, Mr. Chairman, that some of the greater challenges to our peoples within this union still lie in the political, economic, as well as peace and security spheres.
“Our continent is currently bedevilled by the twin evils of terrorism and insecurity; poverty, youth unemployment, and underdevelopment. The destructive effects of the inhuman and criminal campaigns of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and neighbouring countries; the Al-Shabab attacks in East Africa; and the activities of the Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, all bear testimony to a continent under siege.”
But as Buhari unfolded Nigeria’s funding plans for the MNJTF, the terror sect yesterday morning attacked Babbangida in Tarmuwa Local Government Area of Yobe State, razing many of the homes, a resident of the community, Sule Ibrahim, said on the phone.
Babbangida, the headquarters of Tarmuwa, is 50 kilometres north of Damaturu and has experienced several Boko Haram invasions in the past.
Ibrahim, who fled to Damaturu as a result of the attack, said: “Boko Haram militants in the early hours of today (yesterday) invaded the town.”
He said the militants had a day earlier attempted to attack the town but the purported attack was thwarted by the military.
“On Saturday, being the market day, there were apprehensions of possible attack on the town but security forces were fully alert and the purported attack was thwarted,” he said.
He also revealed that residents left their homes and took refuge in the bushes for fear of the attack, as the militants regrouped at night and launched the attack on the town at 6.40 am on Sunday.
“As we were hidden in the bushes in the early hours of today (Sunday), we heard several gunshots and the chanting of war songs around Babbangida town, and not long afterwards we saw thick smoke billowing from the town which was indicative that homes and other structures were being burnt,” he said.
Ibrahim added that he attempted to call some of the people in the town after he fled but could not reach them, fuelling suspicion that the mobile phone masts might have been destroyed in the area.
A top military official who did not want his name mentioned as he has not been authorised to speak to the media, said the attack on Babbangida was a reprisal, as combined security forces had on Saturday launched an offensive on the insurgents at their hideout around Sasawa, a border town between Damaturu and Babbangida.
“We carried out an offensive attack on the militants as a result of a tip off. We gathered that they were preparing to attack Damaturu, the state capital, and the attack on Tarmuwa may have been carried out as a reprisal after our earlier assaults,” the source said.
According to another source, Sunday’s attack on Babbangida was unprecedented as damage to property was said to have been extensive.
The attack was the second in Yobe since Buhari took over as president and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
The insurgents, two weeks ago, had attacked Fika and Ngalda towns in the state.