Read President Muhammadu Buhari’s full interview below
How have you fared with the fight on corruption?
Corruption is very difficult under this system, even under the military system. Luckily I have experienced both occasions. When I collected people and put them in kirikiri and say they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent and put investigation panels based almost on the geopolitical zone with people that have functions as governors, ministers, commissioners and heads of parastatals. Because people don’t get that position until they declare their assets, they appear with their bank statements and assets, if they cannot explain their wealth, the balance is taken away from them. But what happened? I was arrested and detained and they were given back what they had looted.
That is why I wear agbada and join to know what this party support is all about. And I will not change.
But the system here is that those who have the money can take SANs and cases would take 10 years. So doing something with immediate effect is not possible. But I assure you that in spite of the problems we are having with the system, whoever we have correct intelligence that he’s not been very accountable to, we ease him out. We don’t give it too much publicity. But I assure you that those who are holding responsible positions know we don’t tolerate corruption.
Shekau has been reported dead. Does that give an opportunity for us to zero in and consolidate and secure the Northeast?
The problem of the northeast is very difficult. The governor of Borno State is working very hard and taking a lot of risks. I asked him, ‘Are these Boko Haram Nigerians or people coming from outside?’ And he told me that they are Nigerians. As I said, the only time we got them around, was telling them that ‘you can’t kill innocent people and say God is great’. That worked very well.
But I think we have a problem with unemployment. We have a lot of youths looking basically for what to eat, not to talk of accommodation and others. The level of poverty is almost unimaginable so this is our problem. But those who are really keeping in touch with what we are doing would know the difference between when we came in and now. The people of Northeast and South- South are the best judges of the performance of this administration because they know where we were and they know the condition now.
It appears that insecurity has moved from the Northeast to the Northwest. People are also leaving their farms. How do you respond to this?
I have had a series of meetings and we have changed the whole security apparatus, all the service chiefs and IG. The ones that succeeded them have been part of the system. So, we’ve had a series of meetings with them too, at least three and each meeting lasted more than two hours. Firstly I allowed them to go around and access the situation; they made changes in their command and operations. And we told them that we want confidence to be rebuilt. As you observe, people are going back to their land so that we won’t have food problems. I think that is being done. We are giving it less publicity because we don’t want to make them aware that we are taking them head-on. But those in the field know because they are suffering a lot of casualties. And we have stopped mining in Zamfara State.
We expelled the foreigners and we are talking with the government. Although he is not in the party of the Federal Government. But we want to secure Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina.
But the important thing is the culture of the local security apparatus. We have police in every town. And I have been talking with the police trying to push them as hard as I can. They don’t wear uniforms and sling their rifles just to intimidate people. But to make sure that if necessary they use it to bring security. We know what is happening in the South- South and Northeast. I was almost overwhelmed with what is happening in the Northwest. But we are treating them as criminals now and they are getting a lot of casualties. They would not say it because they don’t want to demoralize their recruitment constituencies. But they are suffering a lot of casualties and we know it.
Each state seems to have taken matters into their own hands and have started different security apparatus. We have the Civilian JTF, Amotekun and what have you. Has the time come to now formalise state police in Nigeria?
I have been reading it in the newspapers. Those of us old enough to know the old police and so on, at that time the traditional leaders were very effective.
I will give a recent example. Two governors from Southwest came to tell me that the cattle rearers in some of the forests there have killed farmers while their cattle were eating their crops. So I told them that you campaigned when you were elected they said yes and I told them to go back and sort themselves out. Because there has been a system as all of you here could recall. There is security at each level from the state to the local government and even to the traditional level. We have the traditional rulers that know all the crooks in the community. They meet monthly or anytime to discuss security within that level and if it is above them they pass it. I asked those governors to go back to the old system so that they would have intelligence and know what is happening in their states. You can’t just win elections and then sit tight and be thinking that somebody would do their jobs for them. When they come I send them back.
The 17 governors recently called for restructuring and banned open grazing. But the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami SAN came and said that they didn’t know what they were talking about. What exactly is your opinion on open grazing and what steps are you taking to put an end to farmer/herder clashes?
Do you want me to contradict my attorney- general? (general laughter) what I did was I asked them to go and dig the gazette of the first republic when there were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes are for when they are moving upcountry to South or East or West they have to go through there. If you allow your cattle to stray into people’s farms you are arrested and the farmer is arrested to submit his claims. If you can’t pay the claim, the cattle is sold and the money is used to pay the farmer and the balance is given to the herder. People were behaving themselves. And in the grazing areas they built dams, windmills, in some places they had veterinary departments, so that the herders are limited, their route is known and their grazing area is known. If there’s any problem from the locality is known.
I asked for the gazette so that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas would be dispossessed and try to bring some order back.
The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle herders. The governor of Benue said that I am not disciplining the cattle herders because I am one of them. I cannot say that I am not one of them. But he is being very unfair to me. And I told him, does the Nigerian cattle rearer carry anything more than a stick or cutlass they use to cut trees for the cattle to feed. But those sophisticated ones are good with AK47. So from all the Sahel areas people rush to Nigeria, Fulani from Mauritania and Central Africa look the same so they think they are Nigerian ones. But I assure you that we would resuscitate these cattle routes and grazing areas and make them accountable. And the cancelling of taxes, the ordinary people like it but the problem of accountability. When taxes were being paid people were behaving themselves and now without taxation people are behaving the way they like.
Taxation worked during the first republic but they are no longer working now and that is why people are talking about restructuring the federation to make it work. And devolution of powers and restructuring was part of the campaign promises of the APC in 2015. What is your position on devolution of powers?
You have to define what devolution of power means.
It is about taking some things in the legislative list to the residual and keeping a few at the concurrency, while we have a strong defence in the centre.
If the federal, state and local system were being followed properly we would not have all these problems. But the problem is that the local government has been virtually killed. And that is not good for this country because those that became local chairman are being compromised. You as a local government are supposed to receive ₦300 million. A document is given to you to sign that you have received 300m but you are given only 100m.
So how can we take some from the state and give it to the local government? Is it by writing a new constitution?
I think this question of accountability is very important. The schooling and education is suffering so much. For example, during our generation I spent nine years in boarding school and the teachers then treated us like they treat their children. If you do well you’re brought in front of the class and praised. If you misbehave you are flogged right in front of the class. So you just have to behave yourself but that standard has collapsed.
The schools in the north have been subject to attacks by bandits and you want to lift 100m out of poverty and when parents are under threat. How do you think that would go?
Try and appreciate the efforts of the federal government. We have changed the service chiefs. And we have allowed them to go around and access the problems. They have been part of it all the while but now they are in charge. And we made sure that their position is to bring normalcy. They are working very hard. We don’t want to give publicity because we don’t want to give prior warning to the criminals. We know the Northeast and South -South. Take the North West for example, people with same language and culture are killing themselves, stealing each other’s properties. Imagine the madness. Well, I have now told the military and the Police to be brutal. From now, we will speak the language they understand and in the coming weeks, you’ll get exactly what I am saying, there will be a difference.
Because we told them if we keep people away from their farms we will starve. And if we allow hunger to permeate the whole society, the government would be in trouble. And we don’t want to be in trouble. We are already in enough trouble. And sooner than later you’ll see the results.
When would the government lift the ban on Twitter and how do you plan to resolve the crisis in the Southeast?
The way the south easterners are spread all over the country, having businesses, properties, I don’t think IPOB knows what they are talking about. In any case, we said we would talk to them in the language that they understand. We would organise the military and police to pursue them. That is what we can do and we can do it.
I am particularly impressed with the SS Leaders regarding their stand about Nigeria. Both their elders and Youths. No one told me what they said, I listened to them myself and their message was clear. God bless them all.
My statement about speaking Language is very simple. It is meant for all criminals in Nigeria. What it means for the IPOB is that I will go after them through the military and police and rid them of their criminal tendencies. I have no regret whatsoever.
That IPOB is just like a dot in a circle. Even if they want to exit, they will have no access to anywhere. And the way they are spread all over the country, having businesses and property, I don’t think IPOB knows what they are talking about.
In any case, we say we’ll talk to them in the language that they understand. We’ll organise the police and the military to pursue them.
And what about when you’ll remove the ban on Twitter?
On Twitter, I will keep that to myself.
How do you plan to include more people from the southeast and the south in general in your government, especially in security services and MDAs?
You look at the military or the NNPC, people have been there for over 10 years. They have gone for training in Zaria, Abeokuta and all over Nigeria. They have risen through the ranks, and served under all circumstances. So are you saying that they cannot get the office because of their region? These positions are earned.
The chief of army staff is an example, almost 30 Generals senior in rank have to retire because of that appointment?
Do you know where he was serving before he was appointed?
He was serving in Maiduguri at the Operation Lafia dole
That is it! ‘Yes, in the military, only those who are always with the troops lead the troops. You can’t just pick anybody from the Generals because of seniority. You put somebody who has been in the mill, who has suffered and fought wars with the soldiers. Soldiers would want to be led by someone they know that faces the war front with them.
You’re saying someone who had gone through military and police training all his life should not be appointed to lead the military or police department he works with just because we must balance appointments? What are you saying? The system didn’t restrict anyone from joining the military or the police, and if you decided not to join, we will not force you but you too will not force us to bring someone who is not qualified in training and experience when it comes to leadership of these institutions just because we want to balance some appointments.
Southeast aside security wished to be Secretary to the government or other positions. You said you have nothing against the region. So why didn’t you as a father bring them like your children?
There are South East people in the service but they know they have to go through the mill.
One of the challenges you referred to earlier about fighting corruption and how difficult it is in democratic setting, but there is a general perception that the best way to escape is to join APC.
So because one or two governors joined APC you now think they want to escape from being investigated.
It depends on the perception…
What this administration can do is to make sure that APC lasts beyond this administration. And we have started registration from state, local government and ward. So that APC can know how many they are state by state and local government by local government. So that by the time this administration goes, there would be a family on ground and they can continue. And that is the best thing for the party and the nation.
APC has no other strategy to win elections apart from mobilising people from bottom to top as seen in our party membership registration and we will continue to bring more people in.
Our hope of this administration is to see APC last beyond it. Therefore we should allow the party to decide on what to do. You cannot sit here in Lagos, for instance, and decide on the fate of APC on zoning.
The political party has to know how many members it has state by state. This is the right step to go about.
This administration under APC has achieved a lot. Go look at what was on the ground before we came in and now.
The party leadership has requested for 30 more days in which a date for convention will be set. Politics is about the people. By end of this month, we will have all our programmes from now till I will leave in 2023.
APC will continue to run Nigeria after my Tenure. So, Abati, tell anyone who wants to be Nigeria’s President in 2023 to join the APC.
On power rotation, there is an agreement in APC to move power from North and South, but what part of the South? Where do you think the presidency should come from to keep your legacy going?
Shouldn’t we allow the party to decide? We have just started from bottom to up. I gave the acting chairman and committee to do a report on the conventions we are going to conduct and arrange the general elections. And we’ll start from 2023 upwards. So that members of the party can be involved in decision making.
So there is no succession plan?
The succession plan would come from the party. We’ll leave that to the party.
Let’s look at the limited economic growth that we have seen with foreign direct investment. Even though your administration has given the signal of ease of doing business, Nigeria has barely improved and we are losing foreign direct investments to our neighbours like Ghana. What can you do to make Nigeria competitive to attract more foreign direct investments?
This question was answered during the #EndSARS. You remember the young people who wanted to match here and remove me.
My answer to that is I got members of the executive council. By the Constitution there must be a member of the executive council from each state. So I got them and told them to go to their states and speak to the government down to the traditional leaders and business people and tell them that the federal government has no more vacancy, even in the state and local governments there is no vacancy.
Nobody would want to come and invest in an insecure environment. So I told the youths that if they want jobs they should behave themselves and make sure that investors can come in.
We are resourceful people, and God has endowed us. But nobody would come into an unstable zone. Look at the 200 buses destroyed in Lagos.
Debt service to revenue ratio under your watch has risen from about 40 per cent to 90 per cent. And many are complaining because with this debt it is difficult to fund infrastructure. What measure is your government putting in place to diversify the economy and increase revenue?
I would like you to check how much we earned from 1999 to 2014 with our production. If you check you’ll find out that every production was 2.1 million barrels at the average cost of $100. Multiply 2.1 million by $100 and see the amount you have. Yet look at the state of infrastructure, our roads, rails and power. Did you ask those other administrations what they did with all those monies?
If you see the amount of casualties we are getting between Lagos and Ibadan on a daily basis, tomorrow I’m going to commission the rail and the road and ask people who are living in Lagos now going to Ibadan or coming upcountry, how easy they have found it. But what have they done with all the money they were getting? Look at the power sector. There has been a lot of waste.The previous earn more with nothing on ground. Did you ask them where they kept our money? If I knew where, may be I would not borrow. They sold oil at $100, we sell at $25 sometimes. They wasted money on power, no light, no road, no rail. We are the ones constructing bridges, building roads and rails. Today, I’m commissioning Lagos Ibadan Railway, I will commission Lagos Ibadan Expressway later, I will commission more across the country. No country can survive without infrastructures…..”
I must commend you on infrastructure, your government has done a lot about infrastructure but there is something that is surprising to make Nigerians say that you’re carrying a lot of this infrastructure to the Niger Republic. People are wondering why the obsession with the Niger Republic?
How many neighbours do we have? Both on individual or national rule, you have to cultivate your neighbour if you are in trouble. If you remember when I came in I went to Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Look at what would happen to Boko Haram, if we were not in a good relationship with Niger and Chad and Cameroon, Boko Haram would have done worse things to us.
The border between us and Niger is 1400 kilometers. I spoke to one French man and I told him how they sat down in 1885, brought a ruler and pencil and drew lines as boundaries. I have five cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, Hausas and Fulanis in Niger republic, just as we have Yorubas in Benin republic and so on. You can absolutely cut them off. But look at the plan, Niger has discovered oil too as you know and we don’t want them to go through the Benin Republic, we want them to come through Nigeria. We hope they decide when we take the rail after Maradi then they send their exports through Nigeria rather than through Benin because with the railway and roads working both from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, Lagos and so on people would be very busy. And I believe if you make the infrastructure work, the rail and roads, I assure you that Nigerians would be very busy and they would leave you alone. But when the roads are not motorable and the rails are crippled people would have so much time to harass you.
You look great and seem to have overcome your health challenges. What is the outlook in the next two years of your government and in retirement what projects would interest you?
Thank you very much for thinking that I am okay. I have never abandoned my farm. I have got a number of cattle and when I leave I will be going to my farm daily. I will try to keep myself busy. Between now and then I will try to keep on convincing Nigerians that I mean very well and I’ll make sure that the three identifiable problems we have- security, economy and fighting corruption, I’ll continue to work on it. And as I said, visibly we have made progress in the northeast and in the south but I am overwhelmed most by the northwest and they are going to get it very soon.
What would be the Buhari legacy?
I will allow Nigerians to discuss it and I hope they will be fair to me. I Won’t like to say it myself. I will like Nigerians to try and spend time and compare when we came, the worst economy and security where we were, where we had been for the eight years I may be around. I hope Nigerians would be fair to me. That is all I need.
What is your message to Nigerians on your sixth anniversary on where we are and over the last few years?
Under the system Nigerians would say what they want. They don’t even talk of the resources, how we can disengage ourselves, how we are going to share, what we have invested, how fair are we going to be to ourselves and try and see our young population. If we cut ourselves to pieces can we win the confidence of investors? Dividing Nigeria to piecemeal is not any solution. It’s a wrong signal to all investors. So each Republic will become a paradise? How do we share what United us? What we have done together within such a record time? I’m surprised Nigerian elites watch these uniformed lots to make criminal statements everyday. We are all better off as Nigerians”I don’t like the way Nigerian elites allow careless people talking all over the place. We have so much to learn and guard together than disorganised way of thinking, believing that when they become a Republic that things would be alright.
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