The Buhari Interview: I’m Not Too Old To Be President
Media Trust editors had a rare encounter with former Head of State and leader of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) at his Kaduna office. He bares his mind on several issues such as the recent attack in his home town, Daura; Asari Dokubo’s threats; Boko Haram; his calls for President Jonathan’s resignation; his secret deal with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and why he hasn’t groomed a successor, among others. Excerpts:
Some gunmen recently attacked your home town, Daura. Did the attack affect you personally?
Well, it affected me personally because the way I see it as a former military man, the attack was very efficiently planned and executed. It was the phase one of the agenda to destroy Nigeria. They attacked the security; the police stations in the town were destroyed, and I suspected they must have used incendiary bombs because you cannot repair the police stations. You have to demolish, bulldoze them and rebuild them.
They stationed what in the military we call cut off group; they stationed their men on all roads leading to Daura. People approaching Daura were attacked and the soldiers that were coming from Katsina town to give a helping hand to the police were ambushed and shot. I visited the soldiers that survived the ambush at the Federal Medical Centre, Katsina.
The group of the gunmen who broke into the banks, certainly they were very well trained and they brought enough explosives to blow the banks and remove whatever they wanted. There was another group of them that went around terrorising the people by just throwing bombs all over the place. They did not alienate themselves to the people they came into contact with in the course of their operation; their objectives were to attack the police, rob the banks and scare the people away. They were extremely successful in their operation.
About the same time as the Daura incident, there was an attack on security personnel Nasarawa State where over 60 security personnel lost their lives. The Director General of the SSS recently said they have forgiven the killers but a former director of NSO General Abdullahi Mohammed gave a contrary position. What do you make of this?
Firstly, we have to see the difference between Daura and the Nasarawa attack. The Daura attack has to do with security and economy because right now you cannot send money to Daura. The people there cannot send to you too because the entire senatorial district comprising about 11 local government areas has been financially paralysed.
Workers that normally take their money from these banks have to travel out of the area to get their salaries. However, the Nasarawa attack is a cult that infiltrated the police itself. The latest I learnt from you the press is that the number of security personnel killed is 56. The cult group slaughtered 56 security men. The SSS boss or whoever that said he has left everything to God has no right to do that.
Constitutionally, Nigerians can practice any religion they want or they can be atheists or anything they want to be, that is constitutional. But nobody should hurt a citizen of Nigeria and then get away with it, not to talk of slaughtering 56 law enforcement agents and then somebody coming out from the system to say such a thing. It is either that person doesn’t know what he was talking about or he shouldn’t even be there.
Maybe he is being cautious because of what happened at Baga, because the way security agencies were blamed…
This one is different from Baga and Daura. Nasarawa case is a cult case; they are part of the community that have got their religion. I’m even against the people that are suggesting that the cult’s ritual places should be destroyed. According to the constitution, you must allow them to go about with their activities as long as they don’t go against the constitution. But those that killed the 56 security men must be hunted and prosecuted no matter how long it will take because this is the bottom line about law and order and security in the country. They can’t be forgiven; they can’t override the constitution; Nigerians are being hurt and killed in their duties and those that killed them must be brought before the law.
Not long after you came back from Daura, you said President Goodluck Jonathan should resign. Why should he resign just because of an isolated insecurity episode?
No, I think I explained myself as briefly as I could. For the last 14 years there have been extreme security challenges in the country but in the last two years it was even worse. There are two fundamental things that make a nation state viable— its security and its economy. The two years under this person, the security and the economy of the country have been compromised and this was why I said he should resign.
Unless you are telling me that you don’t know the things that went wrong in the last two years from bombing of 1st October, 2010 to now. MEND said they were the ones that did it and he came out as President and said that MEND members were not the ones. Subsequent investigation and prosecution of those who did it in South Africa proved that they did it. How can a president do that? Then look at Baga, Bama and other cases that are happening daily from Kano to Maiduguri. So what is he still doing there?
This insecurity problem, the President has tried the stick approach and he has also tried the carrot approach. If you are to be in charge, what else will you do differently?
Well, I will really go by what happened which you and I know. Firstly, how did the militancy start? How did Boko Haram start? What actions did the respective administrations at state level where those things started took? The militants, based on reports in the newspapers, were trained and armed by some party heavyweights to get rid of their opponents.
When they succeeded and won the elections, they asked those boys to return the weapons, the boys said no way. The politicians withheld their allowances, and then kidnapping started. So you will get a secondary school dropout with an AK-47 getting about 50,000 dollars per day. If the same person goes to school, he can only earn N100,000 monthly after putting 20 years in his education, so how do you expect him to forget it? It doesn’t make sense to him. This was how militancy started.
And when late Umaru Musa Yar’adua was very generous, he pardoned them, he discussed with them, he gave them money and he arranged training and re-absorption programme for them, the thing went slightly down. Abduction has been institutionalised in the South-South and the South -East and it is coming up all over the country.
How did the Boko Haram crisis start? The military arrested their leader, Mohammed Yusuf and handed him over to the police. The police killed him and his in-law and levelled their houses. They became mad and the situation deteriorated from then up to now.
You see how the challenges started and how they were initially handled but now look at what happened in Baga and Bama. I tried to draw a parallel with what happened with Margret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister and insisted on having her convention at Brighton. The British security tried to stop her from holding it there, but she insisted. The hotel she put up in was blown up and some people died. Did the British law enforcement agents cordon off the area and shoot everything that moved? So there is a big question mark about the competence of our law enforcement agents.
You cited a foreign example but we can also cite a local example. Early in your tenure as military head of state, there was a major Maitatsine uprising in Yola and you applied a purely military solution. Or did you think of negotiating with Maitatsine’s men at that time?
You have to frame the question properly, I’m sorry to say. The Maitatsine started from Kano, then it went to Maiduguri and Bulunkutu and then to Yola. Since you limited yourself to Yola, I’m going to limit myself to it too. My number two man, Tunde was not in the country so as the Head of State I flew to Yola and I went to the area where the operation was being carried out by the military. And that was the end of Maitatsine. But go and find out, before the President [Jonathan] was persuaded to go to Maiduguri and when he went, the whole life of Borno State was tensed he couldn’t feel secure until when he left there. I went there of course bearing in mind that I was in the military and it was a military operation, but he is a civilian and the military were conducting the operation. So this is the difference.
When we knew who was Maitatsine, wasn’t he arrested, killed and his corpse shown to everybody? But this Boko Haram, if you could recall somebody recommended me to represent Boko Haram. I told them the honest truth that I didn’t know who their leadership was and I still don’t know who their leaders are. I don’t know their philosophy because no religion advocates hurting the innocent. So all those people giving it a religious meaning are wrong. You can’t kill a person and say Allahu Akbar (God is great). It is either you don’t know what you are saying or you don’t believe in it. It is one of the two.
It appears that many people around the president seem to think that is because you politicians in the opposition want to spoil the president’s show, that’s why there is this problem of Boko Haram.
You can effectively check this yourself. People are still being abducted and killed in the South-South and South-East. Are they doing it to spite their son of the soil whom they say if he is not voted in 2015, there will be no Nigeria?
Looking at that statement by former militant leader Asari Dokubo, what will happen in 2015?
When was he born? Did he know how many Nigerians died to keep Nigeria one? Maybe he was born after those events. But those who saw the 15th January 1966 murder of political and military leadership of some parts of the country and saw the counter coup of 29th July 1966 and those who participated in the 30 months civil war wouldn’t talk like that. He is just a spoilt child. He didn’t know what he was talking about. We wish God will bring us to 2015 and we wish to defeat Jonathan and we’ll see who can divide this country.
Talking of 2015, is it clear in your mind whether you will contest or not?
I’ve always been a very clear person. I’ve never been a confused man. I made a statement in tears when I saw how insensitive Nigerians are and they didn’t realise it until when my tears were dry. It is now their turn to cry now when there is no security and the economy is comatose. Is now their time to cry.
So will you comfort Nigerians now that they are crying?
I put it back to my party. I believe in multiparty democratic system. I sincerely believe in it and this is why I’m in it for the past 10 years. If my party which by God willing is going to APC, in approach to the processes of 2015 general elections give me the ticket, I will favourably consider it.
You were fairly clear in 2011 that you were through with running for elections. Given what you have been saying recently and which you just repeated now, could it be said that you have now become a normal Nigerian politician who says something and later changes his mind?
I expect people to say that but every situation is unique in itself. I have never denied the fact that I said I’ll not present myself but I was also very clear that I’ll remain in partisan politics to the end of my life. I did not say I will not participate again. People came with different convincing reasons that I should reconsider it and I told them that I’m prepared to reconsider it.
Now that ACN, CPC and ANPP held their conventions and have approved their dissolving into APC, where do we go from here?
I think you go back to the Electoral Act of 2010. That is where the answer is. The conventions of the parties you have mentioned is one of the criteria necessary for the formal application of the three parties, having met and agreed to merge and form one party. They have to take to INEC the resolutions of the conventions. Two, their parties headquarters’ must be at the nation’s capital in Abuja. Three, the names of the executives of the party as prescribed by the Electoral Act. So, the next move is for us to send the formal application to INEC according to the Electoral Act.
Those are the technicalities but what about the politics? Have you agreed for example on how you are going to merge the various state chapters?
You will not hear this from me now because we have a system. The resolutions of the three merging parties at the end of the conventions is that in the interim, the highest ruling body of the party—in our own case the CPC Board of Trustees—will continue to be the chief executives of respective parties until we formerly receive our certificate as APC. So no vacuum because nature hates vacuum. So we will continue according to the resolutions that we have passed which will entitle us to submit application and become APC. We will continue to work with this until we are registered as APC. We are APC from the date INEC gives us the certificate.
Have you agreed on who the national officers of APC will be?
That too I won’t tell you.
The public wants to know because 2015 is not far away.
This one too I won’t tell you. So, there are two things I won’t tell you.
What about this third one; we hear that the ACN leaders have conceded the presidency to the North while the party chairman will come from the South.
Well, I feel that for the stability of the party, at my own level I wouldn’t encourage rumour and I wouldn’t encourage incitement to make unprepared releases of our confidential discussions within the parties.
Several newspapers reported that there was an agreement between Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and yourself for both of you to renounce your personal aspirations in the interest of the new party.
I’ll resist all temptations to get me roped into making fundamental statements about this merger. When we formally submit our applications then I will answer such questions because then the documents are with INEC and I feel it is safe enough. Now it is not safe for me to confirm or reject your suggestions.
Is it true that when this merger process started personally you wanted it to be between ACN and CPC and you were not keen on allowing ANPP people to come in?
It is incorrect.
You don’t seem to be very comfortable with ANPP people.
You are still incorrect.
What is your current relationship with the ANPP chieftain Senator Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura? In 2007 when at one time he was the chairman of your campaign organisation a problem developed at some stage.
Well, he remained in ANPP and we went and floated CPC and we are in it. So we are in different political parties.
But now you are coming to the same party, APC. Given what happened between you and him six years ago, are you comfortable now that you will be in the same party again?
Yes, I feel comfortable because we have just discussed the legal terms of coming together and we have all accepted it. The three parties that are coming together. We are working towards the final stages of submitting our formal application to the INEC for registration. So, what else do you really want?
What about Ali Modu Sherrif?
He is the chairman of ANPP’s Board of Trustees and I’m the chairman of CPC’s Board of Trustees. Check the constitution of their party and see how much power their BOT has and check our own to see how much power our BOT has. We are trying to be very legal because this is the safest way to arrive at the merger. The legal documents involved are, firstly, the Electoral Act 2010. This is fundamental because it is the constitutional one so to speak. And then followed by the constitutions of respective parties and their manifestos. So we came and arrived at the top of the pyramid.
Are you sticking to the rules like this because you fear that people outside may try to scuttle the merger?
I think I have a different perception of the merger. There is Electoral Act on how to merge or form a new party and we are following the laws. I’m not too legalistic; I’m just trying to follow the laws.
This merger business is more politics than the law. Are you satisfied with the kind of people that are coming into APC because there are allegations that some of them are PDP moles.
You see, when we get the registration the next thing legally is for us to do our convention whereby the party will choose its political leadership at all levels, from ward upward. Moles or no moles, whoever wants to participate will be given the opportunity. So let all the moles be coming, let them go and register with APC in their ward, get their cards and then let them start, if they want to be councillors or president. This is what we are going to do.
You are coming together trying to displace the ruling party that is used to the spoils of office for so many years and obviously they won’t sit on their laps and wait for that to happen. Is that why you’re being careful about whole thing?
We are being careful because that is the right thing to do. You can’t ride shoddily on laws. You just interrogated me on what happened in Nasarawa State and I told you what I think is the lawful way to do address it. We came together to stabilise the system because PDP has compromised the security and the economy of the country. We realised that the only way to stabilise the system is for the opposition parties that have representation in the legislative arm of government at both national and state levels to come together and face PDP. This is the only way to stabilise the system otherwise they will keep on doing what they like.
Are you willing to make some sacrifices because I hear people saying that in the event it is not Buhari, will he back someone else, or must it be you?
I have answered that question. You know when you tell the truth you don’t forget it. It is lies that you forget. Somebody asked me the same question in Minna and I told him that after consummating the merger under APC, if somebody wants to become a presidential candidate and I agree myself to participate, we can go to the primaries together with that person. Let the party choose who becomes its presidential candidate for the 2015 election. I have answered that question, so please be fair to me.
You recently turned 70 and by 2015 you will about 72. Is it appropriate to run for office at that age?
Why not? I’m not a lawyer but I try to go by the rules. I think participating in voting and looking for political office by our constitution is from the age of 18 and they didn’t say when you reach the age of 100 you shouldn’t participate. So I’m even relatively young to seek for election. So it is up to firstly my party to give me the opportunity to participate and then secondly is for Nigerians to vote me or reject me because of old age.
Given the kind of political estate you built within short period of time with millions of followers, we haven’t seen a conscious effort on your part to groom a successor.
When you are running a system unless you are so primitive, I’m sorry to use that word, you don’t have to choose a leader for your supporters. You should allow the system to identify and pick its leadership. This is the beauty of the system.
Many observers say that CPC was a highly personalised arrangement with only one real political asset, that is you. That is why people say that if some accident were to happen, there won’t be CPC again.
No, no! We have got infrastructure on the ground and in spite of coming into the field relatively late, look at what we did. CPC was registered in December 2009 and look at what it achieved. CPC has done extremely well. We did our registration, congresses, convention and then the elections all between 2009 and 2011.
People say you mismanaged a golden opportunity to capture many states in 2011 election.
Golden opportunity to go outside the law? You don’t know what happened. You don’t know the way the elections were rigged especially in Kaduna. There was curfew imposed with the military on the streets during elections. Our candidates and our agents in polling units couldn’t move under the curfew but PDP agents and INEC officials can move.
Can that happen again?
But now when we have all the opposition parties together and we go back to our constituencies, empower and train our people, rigging will be extremely difficult. Rigging will be extremely difficult in 2015 with APC around.
You were able to win 12 states the presidential election only to come down to one state in the gubernatorial election a week later. Though the rigging you talked about could be a factor, there were also signs that perhaps you were interested only in the presidency and that you didn’t worry too much about winning governorships.
There was internal party squabble at state level. I will give you an example with my state, Katsina. There was so much infighting among the executives of the party [CPC] from ward upward. Everybody wants to be the governor or anoint the governor and because of the infighting, it was resolved by the state executive that they should all forget about positions but that they should go and campaign for the party.
CPC won all the senatorial seats in the state; it won 12 out of the 16 House of Representatives seats. How then can CPC fail to win the governorship? You see it doesn’t make sense. What makes sense is that greed divided the officials of the party in the state.
Some of those problem festered for a long time, like that of Kano State. How come it wasn’t resolved?
I have given you the breakdown of the time.
What is your take on the current crisis in the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF)?
It annoys me in the sense that we have more serious things for the chief executives of states to occupy themselves with rather than the NGF which is unconstitutional.
Could it be a dress rehearsal for 2015 probably because the Rivers State governor is seen not to be with President Jonathan?
Well, they are from the same political party, the same geo-political zone, so I don’t have the inner intelligence as to why they don’t want Amaechi to continue.
CPC’s governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State appeared to have voted for Amaechi.
Yes, why not? He knows as a person he cannot make much difference. Perhaps PDP is extorting him so much that he better shows them that he is not with them. He supports anybody that will give them a good fight.
This week we marked the 14th anniversary of Nigeria’s return to civilian rule. Do we have anything to celebrate?
I congratulate Nigerians. They have the patience to tolerate misgovernance. The government has failed in its fundamental duties of protecting lives and properties. They have woefully failed in providing jobs and in getting the infrastructure that will make the economy to pick up and to bring back manufacturing, employment and goods and services. I cannot congratulate failure. To me, our democracy is a total failure. Go to your local government and do some exercise.
Get the amount that accrued to it from 1999 to date and then check what was the state and number of schools; health centres; roads and water supply before 1999 and now. At any level, from local government upward to states and Federal Government, the money gotten from 1999 to date does not correspond with what is on the ground.
What you just said now about the record of 14 years of civilian rule sounds like your speech of December 31, 1983 when you overthrew a civilian government.
No, what I’m saying is that at any level from the local government upward to states and Federal level check what was the situation of infrastructure an before 1999 and now. Let me give you example, which is based on facts and not hearsay. There was hearing at the National Assembly on them.
The money spent on National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) now Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) from 1999 to date was between 11 to 16 billion dollars, not naira because they have turned our naira into paper. Look at the state of power now, after 16 billion dollars. In my town Daura about two weeks ago, there was no power for three consecutive weeks. If you go to parts of Abuja, sometime for a week there wouldn’t be light. This is after 16 billion dollars was invested in the sector.
They are now privatising the sector. Do you support that?
Who am I to support or reject it? It doesn’t make any difference.
It is good to know where you stand on major economic or social issues as major contender for the presidency.
But that’s just a stand. It was said that we have 8000 megawatts then, what do we have now and what have they put in infrastructure with the 16 billion dollars? You have to know where you are and where you are heading to.
What else will you do apart from probing?
I didn’t say I’m going to probe because if you say so the country will be at a standstill. We have to find out what happened between the periods; the amount that was actually realised; what is the level of infrastructure; where are the agreements and with which companies? Have they brought the equipment they promised in the agreement? Have they used technically competent people or firms to do the transmission or generation of power? All these vital questions must be answered by those who are responsible for keeping the country where it is.
Will you continue with the privatisation program if you eventually become the president?
You see, governance is not a question of whims and caprices of individuals, it is a system. You don’t sell a country’s asset by saying just go and take it. There is a process. Does the firm or individual have the capacity to run the firm? This question must be answered, not just because somebody is a former Head of State, therefore he is infallible. He went and floated companies and then he lobbied for the business and afterwards he will go and keep the money in Switzerland or invest in a developing country and allow his country to be going down. There is a system.
That sounds like you are going to stop the power sector privatisation.
How can I stop it when I haven’t even studied how it came about? I’m not an impulsive person. You can tell me that I’m rigid and this and that but I personally believe that I’m not an impulsive person. I’m a systematic person and a law abiding Nigerian.
People say that in your career you tend to over trust some people and they abuse power in your name. When you were Head of State, you over trusted Idiagbon; when you were in PTF you over trusted the consultants and now in politics you over trusted TBO.
I did not go to the university to study management or whatever. I learnt management of people in the field, especially people under fear, in war and in the battlefield. This is where you understand the strength and weakness of individuals. But when it comes to the management of people and materials you look for the clever ones, the armchair professor of everything. How can you have a structure without trusting people? No matter how greedy you are as a leader at every level you have to delegate to people. Even in your house, you have to assign some responsibilities to your wife. You can’t say you‘re going to the market, buy vegetables, cook the soup and count the meat. From the management of your house to wherever you find yourself, you have to trust people. There are things you can’t put in writing or talk about when you trust people because you’re not perfect and you don’t expect perfection from anybody. Only God is perfect.
I’m happy that the people I mentored, the people I’ve been accused of trusting have kept the trust. Nobody can blame Idiagbon of laziness; of lack of courage or of incompetence. Nobody can blame Afri-projects for short-changing PTF and the government. There is no type of inquiry that Obasanjo’s government didn’t put in place to get something against PTF. Not a kobo was found against us. Nobody can say Idiagbon has floated a company and gave himself licenses, so Alhamdulillah.
In politics, I have attempted and I was given presidential ticket by ANPP twice and by CPC. Yes, I have a team that is supposed to run the party but we were not successful. In each case we went to court, in 2003, 2007 and in 2011.
The Supreme Court judgement favoured PDP. Get the judgement, you can buy it, it is now a public document and study it in detail. You will find out that my team of lawyers and those around me did all that is humanly possible. Under our political development, they have done their best and I’m very proud that we have not been caught or disgraced in the system for dishonesty.
Do you have any regrets for something you didn’t do or you could have done differently as military Head of State?
It was a long time when I was Head of State and under the circumstance that I came in, I think we tried to do our best. When we came in, we did four things. One, we refused to devalue the naira. Secondly we refused to remove petroleum subsidy.
Thirdly, there were states that owed their workers up to nine months salaries; we got money from the federation account and paid them all. And subsequently we removed it from their allocations and we returned same to the federation account. Fourthly, we refused to remove subsidy on flour. I couldn’t regret doing any of these four things and making sure they all worked.
We also refused to take loans and we were servicing effectively both medium and long term debts according to the agreement entered into by previous governments. We were not a perfect regime but these are what we did in 20 months.
You don’t regret that you didn’t shoot some politicians Rawlings style?
No, we didn’t shoot anyone! It was deliberate; all those we arrested we said they should be kept in detention—president, vice president, ministers and some governors. We said they should be treated with respect until various tribunals successfully prosecuted them with documents presented against them and not by hearsay. There were people that were released because nothing was found against them. People like Adamu Ciroma, late Biliyaminu Usman who was junior minister of education and some were from the south. They were released and allowed to go because nothing was found against them. Of course they were embarrassed that they were detained.
Did you say sorry to them?
Yes, we said sorry officially.
How do you remember your daughter who died recently?
Zulaiha was my first daughter; she was to be 40 a week to the time she died. She had three children including the [one she got by] Caesarean section. She was a sickler but she was an extremely hardworking person. She went to the university and she was working with a Federal Ministry until she died.
Apart from politicking, what do you do in the form of exercise?
I think prayer is a good exercise especially when you are getting old, if you do it properly. I complement it with walking within my compound. I’m a lucky person and I thank God I’m a healthy person.
What is your favourite meal?
I think because of my military training and during the war, I virtually eat everything but I like kunu da kosai in the morning. In the afternoon I eat tuwon alkama da miyan kuka. I hardly eat rice and I eat a lot of vegetables.
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