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The Muhammadu Buhari Interview: ‘Those Who Want To Flee When I Take Over Are Free To Run’ …Explains why Nigeria needs a strong leader



Even before Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), a former Head of State, emerged as the presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2015 general elections on Thursday, many book makers had predicted his victory. The prediction was predicated on what was described as the cult-like followership he enjoys, especially in the North. With a record of vying for the fourth time for the presidency, Buhari is challenging President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 presidential election. This interview gives a glimpse into the thinking of the APC presidential candidate on governance, corruption, insecurity, the economy, etc.

Some people look at you and the feeling they immediately get is one of amazement, others express amusement, while some are just bewildered; a few even pooh-pooh your ambition, describing you as a permanent presidential candidate. There must be a spirit that propels you because having contested twice before and seeing how it went, you are in the race again this time around, what is that driving force?
I am hoping that Nigerians would eventually be allowed to choose their presidential material.
I am going to refer you to the Electoral Act 2003 and 2006 as well as the Electoral Act of 2010 and 2011 as amended. I am also going to refer you to the judgment of the Supreme Court in December 2008 on the matter and you will find out that the way our presidential materials emerged was not the proper way. The judgment placed so much doubt on the outcome of that election that it split the Supreme Court into two. The records are there. Three Justices said the elections were not held properly and that they had their facts and the others said well we had to stabilize the polity and that conducting another election at that time would not be auspicious. The Chief Justice cast his last vote. For me, it is about doing good and the people give me the drive.

The President took a swipe at some former Nigerian leaders, describing them as those who have destroyed our economy and coming out now to complain. You have ruled this country once before and one of your economic policies was Counter Trade. Looking at the economy today, what are those things you would point at that are fundamental to making the economy prosperous?
I am not an economist but with my experience, it is about the indiscipline and lack of probity of the PDP government because they have been the government in charge in the last 12 years and so let nobody come out and blame others for the woes of their party which they have foisted on the nation.
Which ever leadership the President was referring to could not have been any other leadership but the PDP leadership that is so corrupt and inept and undisciplined.
Just go and take a look at our earnings since 1999 and tell me that we have proper records or that we have spent the money judiciously.
Okay, again, take a look at the state of our infrastructure now and tell me that since the PDP took over in 1999, things have really been far better than they were before they took over. You are a Nigerian and you know what I am talking about.

You have spoken in general terms but were you to make a presentation to the business community, what are those things you would be telling them about your economic agenda – in specific terms?
Firstly, let us secure our country. It means anything that comes to this country should be secure, but with people being kidnapped, armed robbery, bombings here and there, bad roads, fraudulent practices, nobody would come in and invest in quantum, nobody would bring substantial investment into this country, we are all joking. Which investor would bring money into the country and then you kidnap his manager and the money you are asking for as ransom is far more than the money he even wants to come and invest in the country, nobody would agree to that.
What the PDP governments in the past ought to have done is to properly manage this country and one of the best ways of doing that is by putting the infrastructure right and which would support the resuscitation of industries – that is power. Then there is the issue of roads and making transportation less of a burden for the people. Between Lagos and, say, Kano, you’ll be surprised that the number of road blocks on the road is as much as 50, with officers and men of the Customs, the police, FRSC, and almost all demanding for money – this kills the spirit. The PDP cannot escape responsibility for the mismanagement of the country and its economy. Under the PDP, everything has been going from bad to worse.

Give two examples?
The Jos and the Niger Delta crises!

What solutions would you proffer?
It is not about telling them what to do which I have as plans but we have to understand how the problem developed?
The ruling party must first accept responsibility for the failure of the nation before we can begin to talk about solutions. Let our people be honest about where they have dragged this country to.
These are facts.

But apart from the ruling party, the psyche of Nigerians has been beaten so badly that no matter how bad we complain about a government in power, the minute that administration leaves and another one comes in, people begin to say the past administration, which they lampooned so much, was even better. The Sani Abacha government, too, at some point in the life of the Obasanjo administration was beginning to gain primacy. How did we get to this level as a people, using your experience as a former head of state?
It is a correct reflection. You are absolutely correct; you are very correct and it is a correct reflection of how bad things have become.

Even you were a victim of this same mentality. During your regime, people started complaining that even the civilians were not as bad as you were, but after your government was toppled, and the new regime came and the value of the Naira at some stage began to nose-dive, people also said even the Buhari government would have done better?
You are correct. Just go and check the level of decay in the infrastructure and you’ll have a sense of why that observation is correct. Look at power and the money allegedly spent, what can we show for it? Look at the roads; look at water, people buy water in every part of this country. I do not think anybody can factually defend the incompetence, indiscipline and corruption of the PDP; I don’t think anybody can defend it with facts. Nobody can do it. And it is up to Nigerians to vote the PDP out.

Everything you have said paints a picture of hopelessness and helplessness. Why is it that the Nigerian people abhor righteousness. You brought War Against Indiscipline, WAI, which people applauded but suddenly, you were thrown out and the same people said ‘ah, thank God he’s no more’. Is there any hope that Nigerians would ever get a leader that would mean well and be allowed to do well by the elites?
That is the point, to the extent that Nigerians have to make the sacrifice of making sure that elections are allowed to be free and fair.
Kano and Lagos proved that Nigerians can elect the leaders they want. It happened in these states. I thank God that so far so good, I am satisfied that Nigerians are beginning to demonstrate that they would not allow the PDP to steal their votes again.
That way, they can vote into power the people they want and, if they are not satisfied with their performance, they can again vote them out at the appropriate time and vote in those who would perform.
It is becoming very clear in today’s world that you cannot have democracy on a platter of gold; you have to fight for it. You have to fight for it. And Kano and Lagos fought it without casualties and they proved the point and that is our only way out.

There are fears in some quarters and it is serious. Some people say a General Muhammadu Buhari becoming President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces would spell doom for a section of the elites. There are even talks that some people would just head for exile. I’m sure you’ve heard this talk before. What would be your response?
Well, it would appear that individuals are free to live wherever they choose to live and live comfortably.
Individuals are also very free to leave the country if they so choose especially since they would be able to afford it.
Those of us who are sentenced to live in Nigeria will continue to live in this country because, to us, we do not have any other country than this and we would not leave the country and go and seek comfort in another country.
Well, if people would feel unsafe, they can leave the country. We will continue here.

What I’m trying to say relates to a possible witch hunt; some people may be afraid based on past deeds?
If people feel unsafe to live under some leadership in Nigeria because of what they have done or because of some atrocities they have committed in the past and, therefore, would not feel safe to live under some type of leadership in the country, then may be they are using their sixth sense.

I ask that as a preamble to the issue of corruption in Nigeria. At a point, the index gave hope, but, at some other time, the index showed the opposite went down again and some people say the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is not doing enough to fight corruption? How would you tackle the issue of corruption?
One of the things that the we will do is to strengthen the institutions. We already have the police. We have said that security, prosperity will bring stability. We have been harping on these three things before. If we empower the police, it will do its work very well. There are too many boards or commissions handling this or handling that. We will look at the ones that would still be relevant to strengthen the police.
We will make the military more efficient by training and re-training and also by providing equipment and machinery. EFCC, there are volumes of representations which they cannot cover because of inadequate manpower or lack of resources. We will do our best to strengthen the institutions by managing resources judiciously. We have financial regulations in every department and every ministry and in every state and they have to work. There must be a proper accounting of public funds in all the three tiers of government and what is lacking is that judicious use of public funds. This is the aim of the CPC.

People say you are a good man and that you mean well?
(Cuts in) Thank you very much.

The question is: You would not be in every ministry or every government department or agency to properly monitor these things. So, how much confidence would you have in your point man because you gave an instance of politicians attempting to highjack elective tickets?
The laws and regulations on accountability in all these places you have talked about are not lacking at all. People just choose to do what they like. People just refuse to respect the laws of the country.
What we would do is to ensure that there is proper and judicious use of the country’s resources for the good of the people. The laws are there. You remember when Obama went to Ghana, he said what Africa needs are strong institutions and not strong people. In the case of Nigeria, I dare to say that we are unique.
We need strong people to create those institutions and they strengthen those institutions for effectiveness.
The truth is that, without a strong and clean leadership, Nigeria cannot be stabilized.
The other side of the coin is that you may not even be able to strengthen the institutions if you are not strong and firm as a leader.

Followership and leadership: Which one should come first?
Look, Nigerians cannot be taken for granted any more. As a state governor, you cannot be stealing state funds and then expect the people to fall in line and be disciplined. It will never work.
Everybody responsible for some part of the treasury would also be pocketing the money because they know what the governor is doing. If the President of the country is spending monies outside the approved budget or acts outside the approved regulations from the Office of the Accountant General, Nigerians would rise against such a person and would not even obey such a leader and they’ll do whatever they like. That is why we have had this mess on ground since 1999. The infrastructure we met, we refused to build new ones and even the ones on ground were not being properly maintained. Don’t forget, we used to have four functional refineries in this country with more than 480, 000 bpd capacity. We had more than 20 depots. I don’t know how many pumping stations. We had more than 3,500 kilometre length of pipelines.
The PDP government could not maintain them; instead, we are importing petroleum products at world market prices, something that we produce in this country. This is the height of corruption, killing the petroleum industry which the country depends on. Why can’t we refine our own crude and sell in our own country?
Instead, we give people contracts to import products and sell to Nigerians at world prices.

This interview was first published in February, 2011.

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