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General Muhammadu Buhari, Presidential Candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 presidential election, was Nigeria’s military Head of State and Commander-In-Chief from December 1983 to August 1985 when he was toppled by his Army Chief of Staff, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organisation, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.
*Selfish elite bane of Nigeria
*Debt burden not properly managed
*Anti-corruption good, but there are gaps
General Muhammadu Buhari, Presidential Candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 presidential election, was Nigeria’s military Head of State and Commander-In-Chief from December 1983 to August 1985 when he was toppled by his Army Chief of Staff, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Buhari was born on December 17, 1942 in Daura in present Katsina State, Nigeria. He had his primary school education at Daura and Mai’adua from 1948 to 1952. He attended Katsina Middle School from 1953 to 1956 and Katsina Provincial Secondary School from 1956 to 1962. He joined the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna in 1962. He attended Mons Officers Cadet School, Aldershot, England from 1962 to 63; Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna from 1963 to 1963; Army Mechanical Transport School, England, May-June 1965. He was also trained at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, January-November 1973 and Army War College, USA, 1979 to 1980.
General Muhammadu Buhari has held several staff appointments. He was Mechanical Transport Officer, Lagos Garrison Transport Company, 1964-65; Transport Company Commander, 2 Infantry Brigade Transport Company, January-July 1965; Battalion Adjutant, later Battalion Company Commander, 2 Infantry Battalion 1965-67; Brigade Major, 1 Infantry Division, April-July 1967; Brigade major and commander, 4 Infantry Brigade 1968-70; commander, 31 Infantry Brigade 1970-71; assistant adjutant-general 1 Infantry Division 1971-72; colonel general staff, 3 Infantry Division, January-September 1974; and director Supply and Transport, Nigerian Army, 1974-75.
General Buhari was appointed military Governor of former North Eastern State, 1975-76; military Governor, Borno State, 1976. He later became the Federal Commissioner (Federal Minister) for Petroleum Resources, 1976-78; and Chairman, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, 1976-79. In July 1980, he returned to regular army duties as the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 4 Division, 1980-81; GOC 2 Mechanized Infantry Division Ibadan, January-October 1981; GOC 3 Armoured Division Jos, 1981-84.
Highly decorated in Nigeria and abroad, Gen Buhari is married with children. He plays tennis, squash and golf.
General Buhari was interviewed by PINI JASON.
About Pini Jason
Mr. Pini Jason is a columnist for Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper, Associate Editor of New African, London (1987-2004), author of A Familiar Road and publisher/Editor-in-Chief of The Examiner newspaper. Mr. Jason has several years of experience in major Nigerian newspapers as well as international publications.
Your Excellency, you are arguably one of Nigeria’s most experienced elder statesmen. You have been a military Governor, a Minister, a General Officer Commanding, and a former Head of State. And recently, you contested an election for the presidency of this country. What would you put your finger on as the problem with Nigeria?
I will most sincerely say education. I think education will unchain our people from all their prejudices, whether it is ethnic, religious or whatever. And here, unusually, I have to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the elite. It is not the number of degrees each ethnic group holds that matter, although that matters; what does is continuous education in politics, the economy and security. It is amazing how groups are hijacked and held hostage by incompetent leadership in Nigerian communities, not allowing them to make dispassionate choices of representation and leadership. And really, ignorance is costing us so much in terms of development and the tension it creates. Of recent, I have been targeting the elite and its conscience. Let the elite wake up, go back to various constituencies and, directly or indirectly, continue to educate our people. Once there is an educated majority of Nigerians, I believe there is a certain level of standards they will not accept under any arrangement. But when people are allowed to wallow in ignorance, even concerning their immediate environment, they cannot be productive.
You said you have been targeting the elite. What has been the kind of response you are getting from them?
I don’t think anybody has disagreed with me publicly. But I think that inherent selfishness – and I am part of the elite – seems to have prevented this group from reflecting on my critiques, which I have aired several times, some of it published. We need people invested in going back to their various communities to organise and continuously educate the majority, in order to relieve them of the weight of ignorance and misunderstanding concerning their communities, and the serious consequences of a lack of national cohesion.
There are people who would put the problem squarely on the laps of the leadership of this country. But why should we have such a problem of leadership with the quality of manpower we have in this country, most of who can hold their own elsewhere in the world?
Yes, I think that question has been answered largely by what we have just discussed. If the elite would make the necessary sacrifice and educate the people, then credible leadership will emerge at all levels. There are some members of the elite that are really concerned about the state of the nation, but would rather not go public with their efforts. They would rather try to create education, industrial, or whichever funds, and give other people to manage it. But that is simply not enough! It is a good starting point, I will allow, but it is not good enough. This must be a grand, national effort that sits squarely on the shoulders of the elite. The elite historically make or mar a nation. In China, the success of the revolution of Mao Ze Dung lay in its military elite.
This ignorance you are talking about seems to favour the political elite exploiting it. Do you think the elite will be keen to commit what might amount to class suicide by educating the ignorant masses?
I tend to believe that sooner or later, the masses will bypass them, in any case. This is because the suffering in the nation is becoming intolerable. I will give you an example from my experience, since I became involved in partisan politics. My observation is this — from 1914, when the North and South were amalgamated, till date, Nigeria has never realised as much resources as in the past six years. But there was poverty across the country—from Badagry to Maiduguri, from Oyo to Sokoto, and from Gongola to Port Harcourt—as is the present situation. I know of the 1952-53 famine, and the extreme drought of 1973— like what was recently experienced in Niger Republic. But even that was confined to mostly northern Kaduna to northern Kano and upwards. Even so, across the country, there are so many resources; yet there is so much poverty.
This is happening for the firsttime since 1914. And I challenge people to research the number of industries that have collapsed since then; the level of unemployment and insecurity. And there is not a single town in Nigeria, including the capital, Abuja, where there is adequate potable water. With all the talk about the money we possess as a nation, and which we read about in the newspapers – what has the cost of crude petroleum and our production capacity proven? I mean, something is very, very wrong with our leadership. Imagine the lack of capacity. Why does the leadership not recognise that it needs to deliberate and draw up a plan to resuscitate the infrastructure and improve it, support the industries to provide jobs, and organise security agencies to provide Nigerians the security to work 24 hours a day? No. I think the leadership is a total failure.
One of the things that seem to create this malaise is corruption. When you came to office, almost 22 years ago, you launched a nation-wide crusade — War Against Indiscipline. Everyone, from the local government to the national level, embraced it.
Today we are back with an anti-corruption crusade. Would you not say that the intervening 22 years was a total loss to Nigeria?
I think it was. My administration launched the War Against Indiscipline because it was very much involved and concerned about our country. We recognised that the major problem in Nigeria was to do with basic indiscipline. If people would only accept whichever level they happened to be, and work hard to improve it, we will be much better off. I recall discussing this situation with my number two, the late Tunde Idiagbon, and pointing out the example of the 1973-74 Lockheed scandal, as a result of which governments fell like rotten fruits across the world, because of the corruption of the leadership in so many countries, including Japan. But in Nigeria, up until my time, nothing had been done concerning indiscipline.
In Japan, one could see that its GDP had gone up. That means that discipline can even accommodate some measure of isolated cases of corruption. But where a society is undisciplined in large measure, everything goes wrong. And this is the problem with Nigeria, at least one of its major problems. Unless we are disciplined, we can’t make any progress. And discipline means accountability; it means working hard, accepting your status in life and in society, and working very hard to improve it. Not an assumption that one can become this and that without working for it.
Nigerians seem to be divided about the effectiveness of the anti-corruption crusade. Is the war making any impact on corruption?
It is. It has great impact, because some of the untouchables have been touched. When you read about the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, being handcuffed and publicly brought to court, it sends a very important message. But I remain skeptical for one significant reason. It is assumed that Nigeria owes the Paris Club and other international financial institutions, $35 billion. But a statement made by a former Minister of Finance in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration revealed that the original money Nigeria actually owes is $17 billion. We paid back $22 billion, and we still owe $35 billion. What kind of arithmetic is this? The country deserves open and clear clarification of our accounts.
Compound interest perhaps? (General laughter).
Well. Maybe you are a mathematician. I have never been one. But you see, it is so irritating. These people hypocritically go around sending us relief materials where there are disasters in parts of Africa. And they don’t have the conscience to admit that they are ruining us. Now I expected Chief Obasanjo, with all the running around he is doing in the world, to have taken this up, and tried to prick the conscience of the Europeans and Americans as to how their systems are damaging us. There was a conference in Sudan in 1987 between IMF/World Bank and its stakeholders, and it was uncovered that more money was being invested the North, referred to as the developed world, than to the South, in terms of repatriation of so-called debts. So these organisations are consistently ruining us. Again, some of the policies of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are damaging to this country by not allowing our industries to survive. They are destroying our industries.
Where a country like Nigeria has the capacity to produce foreign exchange as a result of its oil wealth, or where the industry is, say, tourism like in East Africa, development is arrested by the albatross of debt. These countries keep on spending their foreign exchange on servicing debt. And when there is improper infrastructure, and a lack of relatively cheap electric power to sustain the country’s industry, basic goods like spare parts cannot be manufactured, and there is no reasonable means of communication. How then can we compete with Asia, Europe and America? And why should we be forced to participate on the same level? So what I am saying is that Obasanjo could have gone round, and pricked the conscience of these people, and he has not.
There is information from one of the United Nations' Agencies that Nigerians have over N100 billion in various banks in the country. It has also been discovered that certain individuals have taken between US$107 and US$170 billion outside the country. Obasanjo should appeal to the countries harbouring such monies, because they are aware of its existence. Every single kobo brought into their country, they know about and can account for. These countries should take their US$35 billion from such monies, and repatriate the rest to Nigeria. We don’t even want any pardon. Let them send the balance back here, and let the Nigerians who deposited it come and claim their money, and explain how they got it out of this country in the first place and why. So, if there is any seriousness, we will expect to witness that kind of dedication and then I will be convinced that this government is fighting corruption.
Another thing is the economic reform. Many people have criticised it as heavily tilting towards IMF/World Bank dictates. If you had won the election, how differently would you have reformed the economy?
Firstly, I myself, to be frank, have been pained by some of the contradictions in the policies of these foreign institutions on economic reforms. The first contradiction is this: how can we sell, for example, the Nigerian Airways, with all its assets, landed property, hangers, aircraft, whether flying or not; all the infrastructure that the country built over a generation, say for US$10 billion, and then sell it for one billion dollars? That’s my first observation. But then, paradoxically, again, I like reform.
I see how efficient private companies are, how people work themselves to death to make a profit, and to be competitive in terms of good services, compared to the lackadaisical attitude of public company operators. But my approach ought to be really different, because it is the Nigerian elite that worked in public companies that destroyed the Nigerian Airways, the Nigerian Railways, the Nigerian National Shipping Lines, you name it; everything that we used the ‘Seventies oil boom to build, the Nigerian elite has corruptly killed. But I think we have a solution, because the majority of Nigerians are good citizens. And they value their personal security. If we can employ good managers, and give them the power to hire and fire, I can assure you they will perform satisfactorily.
The other thing that pertains to leadership is this controversy over immunity for people in certain public offices, and its effect on the anti-corruption crusade. Do you think the immunity clause militates against the anti-corruption crusade?
I think it did up to the point when (Tafa) Balogun (Nigeria’s former Police Inspector General) was arrested, or up to the point certain ministers, including the late Sunday Afolabi, were arrested. They were even made a show of, when there was a Commonwealth meeting going on here, handcuffed in front of world leaders just to give an impression that corruption was being fought. But a lot more ought to have been done since then. One should not allow things to get to that pathetic level before one acts, in order to impress the world that corruption is being fought. Okay. I am all for anti-corruption. But it has to be more fundamental in the sense that in the government system, whether in the ministry or corporations, there has to be checks and balances. Those checks and balances should be properly resuscitated and given the constitutional teeth to function; not just that one person is ordered to be arrested, yet another is not, depending on political consideration or whatever. This is the suspicion of some members of the public.
Your Excellency, the issue of immunity seems to be what removes ‘that will to perform’ as it concerns certain public officers. We have recent examples. If one Governor was not arrested in far away London, he would not be standing trial. One is still sitting here as a Governor by the grace of immunity. That is an embarrassment.
It is, indeed, an embarrassment to the system that we are trying to copy. How did the other one escape? Again, I saw in the paper that he escaped through fraud. He somehow bought a Ghanaian passport, flew to Ghana, and then drove to Nigeria. But the British Police learnt a lesson from that; they did not allow Alamieyeseigha the same liberty. But this immunity thing — those who drafted the constitution, I think they had their reason for agreeing to put in an immunity clause. They thought, knowing Nigerians to be very legalistic in a way, that they might keep on harassing the executives, yet nothing would get done. I suspect they did it in good faith, but unfortunately, as you can be sure of Nigerians, they can turn things upside down any time. (Less than 72 hours after this interview, DSP Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State escaped from custody in London, and returned to Nigeria in the early hours of Monday, November 21, 2005).
I would like to go back to the issue of religious prejudice that you raised earlier in our discussion. It seems that since Nigeria’s independence, religious and ethnic prejudices have played sinister roles, especially, in our choice of leadership. How can we contain these two vices?
Again, as I told you, education is the solution. But it has to be education plus. It means education plus experience. There are people who are leaders at various levels. If a person has served as a minister or an army officer or a police officer or say an engineer in ministry of works, his job takes him all over the country, across religions and ethnic groups. And when people say they want good leadership, they can very easily conduct a survey to find out how such a man has been behaving. In his area of work, did the man allow Nigerians, irrespective of religion and ethnicity, to perform and be paid for their performance, or did he show undue favouritism for his own ethnic group or religion? Moreover, not that many people actually want to be president; so their past can easily be monitored. That is where experience comes in. But with those who have never been tested, you will just be taking a risk.
I would like to take you back to a statement you made when you became Head of State in 1984. You said the military was not only protectors but also promoters of our national interest. A few people thought that the statement meant that the era of military intervention in Nigeria’s politics had come to stay. What did you mean by that rather adamant statement?
You see, we have to accept that we are a developing country. And the disappointment of Nigerians is caused by the elite. The elite again. Most of the people of my generation and before have been very well educated. The education institutions here were first class, whether it was the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka or Ahmadu Bello University when they first started. People who earned their degrees there could fit in anywhere in Europe and America. Can you say the same thing now? But who is responsible for this relapse? Our people who were educated in Europe and who worked there were also first class brains with integrity. Then why did they relapse? Why did they relapse and fail to transfer this professional and personal integrity to Nigeria?
At what point did they start failing?
At which point did degrees from Ibadan, ABU, Nsukka etc, start being questioned? We have to be very serious about that.
The military does not exist in a vacuum. Just like the civil institution, the military is subject to the changes in the larger environment. The military was, up to a certain stage, known for its efficiency. Also, the military can be seen as a different institution in the sense that the military life can often be a question of life and death. It is my contention that, historically, the military seemed to be more patriotic than most other institutions and had a more global picture of Nigeria’s various problems than any other institution and perhaps, its members better prepared to lead.
I will illustrate this. I was in Owerri while General Ike Nwachukwu was the Governor, and there, I spoke about leadership in the military as we know it; our actions on coming to leadership. My speech was titled, The Basic Military Maneuver. I gave an example of six to nine soldiers whose commander might be a sergeant, or a corporal commanding six other privates. In the event of a battle, if there is firing from the enemy while they are advancing, the automatic drill is to take cover. And taking cover means dropping instantly, and crawling behind a bush or some other obstacle that will protect the soldier from a bullet. And if the troop cannot identify the enemy, the commanding officer will shout: “number one rifle man, or number three rifle man, double ten yards and hold on.” Although the soldier knows that when he raises his head, there is a possibility that he might be killed, he responds to the order. And that is the relationship between a senior man, an officer or a commander, and an ordinary man. And there is nothing higher than life. It has no spare. And if you can commit to saving the life of your colleague, then how can you cheat him? That discipline, courage. We bring great value to Nigeria and to the polity. That is my opinion.
Would you then recommend the Turkish experience where the Turkish Generals intervene whenever they feel politicians are not following the agreed principle of the state, whip the politicians into line then return to the barracks? For example, the Generals removed a Prime Minister who was interfering with the secularity of the state, conducted elections and then left. Until, that is, Gen Evrel decided to remain as President?
(Laughing). You are asking too many troublesome questions. But you have to appreciate the difference in the two societies. Turkey is more or less homogeneous. They are mostly Muslims. So if somebody tries to censor some Islamic injunctions that will not be too much of a problem, because, the country being mostly Muslim, will support it. And they are all Turkish; of course, we have the elements of Kurds, who have been denied their independence, and are giving trouble. I think that is the fundamental difference between that country and Nigeria. In Nigeria there are many nationalities, and we better accept that and deal with each other on that basis. You know the settled issue is One Nigeria, and I think this is possible.
Would you then agree that dialogue in this country has to be based on ethnicity as the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) is trying to promote?
No. I think the manner in which PRONACO is pursuing it is wrong. It is wrong in the sense that the South-West can send one Yoruba man to represent them.
The South-East can also send one Igbo man to represent them. You can’t say the same thing for the South-South and the North. You may find that in Adamawa State alone, there may be 50 ethnic groups. Would the South-West and the South-East then agree that 50 people should come from Adamawa State, alone, rather than their political zone? I think the depth of this issue needs to be given more thought.
There is an agitation for “true federalism,” which calls for zonal arrangements such as the old regions. Do you believe that the solution to is to go back to where we were coming from?
You see, to me, the local government and the state system ought to have rested this issue in the sense that communities, with the criteria that qualified them as a local government or a state, and with the revenue allocation formula, which can be dynamic, I think, can ensure that we accept the limits of division into pieces and so on.
This is important so that we don’t have to manage an administrative overhead instead of development. I think we can agree on a limit on that. I believe that if we have a serious, well-staffed and well-motivated Ministry of Economic Development; if we go back to making five-year development plans, and looking seriously into our resources and infrastructure to commit such resources to development, our people can live above starvation level and be happy as Nigerians wherever they may be. But there are those who are exploiting this division. It has become so recurrent that every household has become a local government. Where do you have the money then to develop the country and provide jobs and quality education? I think there is a limit to how much we can go on dividing the country.
In 2003, you contested election to be President. What have you learnt from that experience as the merit of democracy vis-ŕ-vis military rule in terms of delivery of services to the people?
I have answered this question so many times in different ways. As I say, I was only a converted democrat after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. From that time I have believed that multi-party democratic system, irrespective of whether it is in the North or South, is the best thing in terms of development. This is because there are different opinions. There are pressure groups. Multi-party system accommodates all that.
Prior to that time you were a Marxist or socialist?
No. I was a military man. After emerging from detention, I was still a military man (General laughter). But I continued to put out an important caveat: elections must be free and fair. And that is why I keep coming back to the question of the elite. Let everybody, who is interested in whichever party and whichever candidate, go back to the constituency, and lobby and educate and agree on who to present. This is my philosophy, and I want to be practical about it. And my approach to this issue began in when the Soviet Union — a whole empire, with all its technological advancements, including successful space missions, collapsed without a shot being fired. The Communist party collapsed under the idea that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
For instance, in an electronics factory, supervised by a party thug, people with more experience will, in the end, have to be hired to run the place. Consequently, this situation became top-heavy and collapsed. I saw that this was reason enough for us to take the cue to organise free and fair elections always. And unless there is a system of having free and fair elections, we’ll continue to go around in a circle.
You have spoken about the merits of a multi-party democracy. We now have a situation on our hands where the nation is wrestling with the encroachment of a one-party state. People say that this has been possible, because the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) to which you belong, has not given a credible opposition to the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Yes, you are absolutely correct in your observation. But again we go back to my caveat of free and fair elections. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo killed the PDP, because (and it was on record) he believed that only the one party system can solve the Nigerian problem. And he is intent on imposing this idea on the country. But we are resisting it. The ANPP may have failed to give the expected opposition to stabilise the system, but there are still people like me in the ANPP, and we are not agreeing to what they are trying to do. What they have done in the PDP, recently, is to virtually go against even the constitution of the party. There is so much dissension in the party now that its future is in question. The party for all intents and purposes is grounded because it followed unconstitutional means in arriving at the position it is now in.
At such a time, Nigerians yearned for a voice like yours to be heard. But, they never heard it?
At the right time, people do hear my voice. But if they don’t hear it often enough, it is because I am trying to control the internal wrangling that my talking could result in. For example, for two years, we’ve been going to court; I have been oscillating between Kaduna and Abuja. And knowing what happened to other electoral tribunals, from the councillors to the presidency, in which I am involved, I must not open any new front. I had to concentrate to make sure that I achieved my objective. But one of the objectives was to reach up to the Supreme Court, so that it would be on record what some of us have tried to do according to the system to encourage the proper development of democracy. And I don’t believe that talking too much would give me any better result; we might not have reached the Supreme Court. And if we hadn’t reached up to the Supreme Court, then the record would have been incomplete, because the Courts would not be seen for what they are. It is on record now that they are not better than the legislature; they are not better than the executive; they are not better than the parties! So we are in a fluid state of development. This is my personal opinion.
You described the Supreme Court verdict on your Presidential election petition as a political verdict. What do you mean by that?
I think all the answers are in the release that I read to the press. We brought 139 witnesses from all over the country who revealed how many people were killed in a number of places, how ballot boxes were taken away and stuffed with illegal ballots, some of this by law enforcement agents supposed to provide integrity to the system. Some of these agents did it for a fee, others for fear of losing their jobs; others merely for the heck of it.
In some instances, witnesses stood before the Federal judges and exposed parts of their bodies where they were shot by either soldiers or the police, while they were only armed with their voting cards! And thugs ordered people in uniform to shoot and kill Nigerians, and they did it. In one place in Benue, 20 people were killed. In Bayelsa people were killed. Nobody knows the number of people killed in the South-East and South-South. In the South-South they are still killing themselves, because some politicians gave arms and ammunition to thugs, and they refused to return them.
And now, we are faced with this manipulation for a Third Term for the present leadership, and there are strong hints from the National Assembly that some of its members are keen to change the constitution to allow this. In a situation such as this, your voice ought to ring loud?
It will. I will make sure it rings out loud. I have discussed the situation; unfortunately you either haven’t read about it or heard what I said. But to recap: I said that changing the constitution as prescribed in its guidelines is no simple matter. I even spoke about this before the formation of the Constitutional Reform Conference. I spoke in Port Harcourt, about this, and it was widely reported. I also spoke in Kano about it. So it is publicly known that I am personally against it. My party is against it. And we shall work against it.
Now, there is a catch here. For the governors, it will be similar to the win-win situation in the PDP in 2003 where governors received an automatic second term in order to endorse the president for a second term. Now, if the Third Term becomes a reality, they too will benefit. Therefore the governors can knock their state Assemblies into line to pass the concurrent constitutional amendment required to give the President a Third Term.
Yes. Your observation is absolutely correct. We are trying to fight that.
Our infrastructure is all in decay again. But, you were involved in trying to fix this as the Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund. You were able to deliver in all the mandate areas of PTF across the nation, in two years, with less than N200 billion. What was the principle behind the success recorded by PTF? I ask this, because the nation does not seem to have learnt anything by your work. Obasanjo’s enthusiasm to scrap the PTF, once he won the presidential election in 1999, appears to be a case of throwing the baby away with the birth water.
I mentioned earlier about the necessity for disciplined planning. I hate to work with people who are impulsive, who just think about something, and start moving with it without thinking things through! You cannot run a country or even a good organisation like that! When one thinks of a decent plan, one has to sit down and articulate it properly. If the plan involves public funds, then one must do a proper costing and proper scientific survey to see what resources are available then decide on priorities before the start of work. But Nigeria seems to be building on impulse now. This is why I said earlier on that we must return to our 5-year, six-year, or whatever, development plan structure, examine our infrastructure, our social services, and revenue critically and have a plan in place. This is the only way we can build solid infrastructure for sustainable development.
After your tenure in the PTF, some people tried to make political capital out of it, especially when you signified interest in contesting for the presidency. All manner of accusations of corruption surfaced in some newspapers. Did that disturb you?
It didn’t, because if they were truly serious they should have taken action. I wrote a proper hand over, from the first cheque we received to the last cheque we received, with appropriate annexure of who won contracts in PTF, and which banks handled the money. So I think we have talked enough in Nigeria. Let those making the accusations go and find out. After all they sent people to find out what we had done, and what did they discover? It is a good thing we had two accountants who were auditors. We had financial and project auditors who appraised the money we received up to payments, and audited the jobs to see that they were accomplished according to specifications and agreement. Why did no one or the government talk after I handed over?
Let us explore the continuing restiveness in the Niger Delta. Some have accused the government of not paying enough attention to the agitation in the Niger Delta and the ethnic militias popping up all over the place. What is your advice on dealing with these issues?
You see, it all amounts to a lack of real supervision. With the money invested in the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, and Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the boards ought to be performing better.
The Niger Delta should have actually experienced development with all the money allocated to rehabilitate the environment that is being abused by pollution, accidents of operation and so on. But when there is so much corruption, so much dishonesty — people passing the buck on the premise that government did not give enough money, that government couldn’t make the OMPADEC and NDDC perform — then the government is really to blame. If you recall, Bayelsa State made me the Chairman of their development Fund Raising, and this issue came up. I told them that for as long as I had been in Petroleum (as Minister) — for three and a quarter years — there seemed to be hardly any change in the area. I had to travel there by Helicopter then as now. One can go to check the records in the office of the auditor general or accountant general to find out if any of the governments at the center has ever failed to give the Niger Delta its allocation, from the time of General Gowon to the time of the creation of OMPADEC! What has been done about the local leadership that has been misappropriating the funds given? These are serious questions, very serious.
At the national level, do you think that the principle of zoning, or the rotation of the presidency can give us the type of leadership we really need?
Unfortunately, the political parties have failed to grow. I mean…they should aggregate alliances, come out with a manifesto that may be successfully sold to the majority of voters, religiously follow this manifesto, or change it with the agreement of the parties together. I mean, when the political parties, which are the platforms for representation and leadership, are not properly developed, who is to blame?
Will you run again for the presidency?
Yes! Yes, I said I’m in politics for good.
And if you do run, what would you do differently?
I have more time. The structure is on the ground. And my main programme is to look for enough committed members of the party across the country to agree to work very hard for my candidature. This is the only option open to me.
The last time around many people had different fears about your possible presidency, arising from your brief tenure as a military Head of State. Is there another side of you that you think Nigerians out there need to understand better?
Yes. A few important people were locked up during my administration, who thought that they were untouchable. These included smugglers, former ministers, the former President (Alhaji Shehu Shagari) and his Vice (Dr. Alex Ekwueme). Some Emirs and Chiefs had restricted movement. I think that people understand me better now, and perhaps appreciate the courage of my administration to make sure nobody was above Nigerian law.
I don’t think people should accept anything in exchange of this; that there are people who cannot be touched, and I have just told you that bringing (Tafa) Balogun to court, handcuffed, I think, sent the strongest message to Nigerians. Unfortunately, the system of politics now, going off and on to court, makes nonsense of this impact. The evidence ought to be out now! People ought to see results other than what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission claim they recovered from Balogun. But then, what about people like Sunday Afolabi (former Internal Affairs Minister) who must have died from a heart attack? I hear he was so close to the president; he may have been responsible for his election and other things. A few things went wrong, and the president clamped him with handcuffs in front of world leaders. That is enough to kill a respectable person; perhaps, that is what happened. (Tafa Balogun has since been jailed for six months).
Let me ask you this question on behalf of my constituency. (general laughter) That is Decree Four?
Yes. (prolonged laughter).
If you had to rule by decree again, would you enact Decree Four?
Will I lock you up again? (laughter). A lot of your questions, you know, have been answered there. When you listen to this interview again, you will find out that I am not unmindful of under which system I was a leader, and under which system I want to be a leader now. I hope this is clear?
Okay. You were accused by those who removed you from office of a lack of consultation. And my understanding of a military regime is that it is a hierarchical organisation as in the military, itself. Is that accusation right; that it was not a democratic regime?
Yes, but those who accused me, have they mentioned, have they told the nation, the examples of my lack of consultation; things that I had done without the Supreme Military Council, the Council of Ministers, the Council of States, the National Security Council, and any other institutional part of the constitution that we did not suspend? Have they told the nation of any fundamental thing I did on my own as Buhari? And this is the reason I refused to stand before the Oputa panel. I said the Oputa Panel can accuse me of personal things, but not my work in government.
Your Excellency, on behalf of the Chinua Achebe Foundation, I would like to thank you for sitting down for this conversation. Let me ask one last question: What is your vision for Nigeria?
Nigeria has great potential. This is the only country we have, so we should all work to salvage it! We have been blessed with great human and natural resources. We need to develop a nation where all Nigerians can be participants in our development, usher in an era when honesty, hard work, discipline, are once again virtues… where the talented are not scorned but can use their talent for development, where all Nigerians feel accepted and invested.
The Nigerian elite (for the most part) is competent enough intellectually, experienced and patriotic. They need to harness their skills appropriately and effectively to help lift the country out of poverty.
Development will require that we make the sacrifice, get together and bring this country out of the mess it is in. We need to curb corruption, make the leaders accountable to the people, and develop a culture of leadership by service (to the people)… That is my vision…Perhaps, we are waiting for someone to come from outer space to work marvels for us. And that will never happen.
You are welcome.
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