President-elect Muhammadu Buhari speaks about Boko Haram, transition committee, assets declaration, PDP chieftains’ defection to APC, among others, in this interview with newsmen in his Daura residence. Excerpts:
Since your victory at the polls two weeks ago, a lot of PDP chieftains across the country have been flocking into your party, the APC. How do you intend to manage this?
I think that is mainly a question for the party. I wish Chief John Oyegun was here to answer you because we have a system. Just because I am the presidential candidate and the President- elect, I don’t think the system has allowed me to usurp the power of the party executives. But in multi-party democratic systems, fundamentally, it is the number that matters for the people. But for the party, what matters is the ability to manage the number so that the majority will have its way and there will be justice. No matter what the remnants from the PDP is, by May 29, I assure you or I assure them through you that there will be justice in APC.
The APC is about cleaning the system, but right now, we have a lot of people who are accused of polluting the system moving into the APC. Don’t you think they will also pollute the APC?
For those that are coming into the APC, I have no fear because we have our party structure. That you were a party chairman or a minister before you joined the APC, we’ll appreciate the fact that you remain relevant in your immediate locality. But when it comes to the centre, there is some equality in the way the government will handle you. If we win majority of members of the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly in the states, it means that it is with the agreement of their constituencies that the federal government has the power that it has. If the federal government is insisting on accountability and being responsible, even if they go back to their constituencies, there is nothing they can do about the decision of the government. We are banking on that.
I will give you an example of my state, Katsina. In 2011, the CPC won all the senatorial seats and 13 out of the 15 House of Representatives seats but they lost the governorship. Who did the election? Did people from space come for the election? That is the bad thing about lack of cohesion in a party. Leadership at all levels must work in concert. Otherwise, what Katsina State suffered, any state or the centre can suffer same. Those chief executives, from local government to states, will be encouraged to work together.
So, for those that are coming in, I hope they will accept that they are coming to join those who succeeded and they should cooperate with them. They can’t come and say that because they were once ministers under PDP, they will join APC and become ministers the following month. I don’t think that will be acceptable even by the constituents.
In composing your cabinet, what are those criteria you will be using in selecting those Nigerians that will work with you?
It is a difficult time for Nigerians as you all know. I have said it in the past that in the last 16 years, Nigeria has never realised the amount of revenue it received. A barrel of crude oil rose to about 140 dollars and has crashed to about 50 dollars during these 16 years. We know some big companies that employed lots of Nigerians and gave them training facilities like the Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Shipping Line. Even the Nigeria Railway is managing to be on paper, with some refurbished engines moving from Lagos to Ibadan and a few other places. If you go to their stations all over the country, you will realise that they are in a terrible shape. The important thing in a country with a huge population of youths with more than 60 percent of them under the age of 30 who are unemployed, is for these institutions to give jobs and training to Nigerians. It is very disappointing that the PDP government virtually failed to use those resources to make sure that the economy continues to grow in a sustainable way. I think the worst thing is the lack of accountability and the terrible budgetary system. Imagine that over 90 percent of Nigeria’s budget is on recurrent. How can you sustain development in a developing country like Nigeria with only about 10 percent of your income? Things just have to change. There must be more money available for infrastructure, for investment in getting the factories back, employment and getting goods and services for the population. I think the sins of PDP will be coming out for several years to come.
Do we expect to see you put in place a government of National Unity?
Again, you want me to encroach into the party’s main power. Even if I, as President-elect wants to form a broad based government, I think that the executives of the party will have some influence on that decision. So, for me to maintain a good rapport with the leadership of my party, I want to keep your question in abeyance until further notice.
Prof Attahiru Jega has said he will not accept renewal of his tenure. Talking about building institutions, what do you intend to do to ensure that the successes so far recorded are sustained and improved upon?
Prof Jega knows exactly what to do. He has already said that he was not going to accept a renewal of his tenure in June. I believe that he has learnt enough and will submit comprehensive hand over notes, some of which he seems to have written. At the last National Council of States meeting, he submitted a document of INEC activities right from the last general election from 2011 to date with attachment, showing the personnel trained, acquisition of election materials, the distributions, security among others. And I don’t think that such report can be faulted. In fact, INEC was forced to accept the six weeks extension by the office of the National Security Adviser. Luckily, those six weeks were accommodated within the constitutional time limit within which election must hold. The law says election must hold 30 days before 29th of May. So, INEC did not have much trouble agreeing to the six weeks extension. As people say, it has come to pass.
There is speculation that wide spread looting is going on at the moment, following the fall of PDP. What do you intend to do to check this problem?
I will like to work within the system because we believe in it. I have just told you about three governors and the battle they have with law enforcement agents in their states. We discussed and advised them to try and document these things so that it can be taken before the court and we will make sure that we register the cooperation of the court so that people who work against the law are prosecuted, especially those who have lost their immunity, and those who think they have immunity because this is the best way to stabilize the system. People must not benefit from being lawless. You can’t be in a position by virtue of the constitution, subvert the constitution and continue to enjoy the privileges offered by the constitution. I don’t think that will be acceptable by the APC. So, whether you are in the opposition or in government, you have to behave yourself. I think that is the way we can make progress.
You introduced the War Against Indiscipline as military leader. Several years later, one of the biggest problem in Nigeria today is indiscipline. How do you intend to handle this?
I will mention how it came about. When we had our first Supreme Council meeting and governors were appointed, in my office, it was only me and the late Tunde Idiagbon. We discussed and agreed that the main problem of Nigeria was indiscipline. If we can get majority of Nigerians to accept, whichever level they are, we will make a lot of progress. I could recall that I advised that we should go to the Ministry of Information because there are a lot of people with first degree, masters and Ph.D who are sociologists and criminologists who are just warming their seats. They should get together and come up with a programme that will last for years and not just for six months and fizzle out. That was how we came about War Against Indiscipline. It was very well thought out. It was a military system. In democracy, people want a lot of freedom, but if they see the restraint in advanced democracies, in Europe and America, they will realise that discipline is forced on people. There are things that, no matter how much you want to do them, you can’t do them. I think that we have suffered enough as a people and I think that people are more prepared to behave themselves now.
About two years ago, I made some remarks in Hausa and people felt because now, some senior civil servants who are directors either at the state or federal level can’t educate four children because the level of education has gone down so much. Those that can afford will rather send their children to Ghana or Sudan and those who can afford it more send theirs to America and Europe because the educational system in Nigeria has virtually collapsed. Therefore, we feel that by voting APC into power, Nigerians are placing confidence in us. On security, economy especially unemployment and corruption, I believe that Nigerians will give us the understanding to make sure that we get our priorities correct. Education is going to be very important because when you educate the people, you solve half of your problems because there is a level that an educated person will not accept. But when people are sentenced to illiteracy, when they are exposed to all manner of social vices using ethnicity and religion so that people don’t move forward, they fight themselves.
During your campaigns, you promised to declare your asset if elected. Will you still go ahead with that?
I made a statement which has not been correctly captured by the media. I said that our generation, from Murtala, the late Murtala, made sure that those who had appointments must declare their assets and this was later articulated in the constitution. It is up to government to make sure that those who borrow money to build a house and end up with another house somewhere else with 50 bedrooms and 20 living rooms should explain to Nigerians how they got the money. I could recall that I declared my assets three times. First was when I got my first political appointment as governor of old Borno State; secondly, when I was leaving government to go to the United States War College. I declared my assets then because I was closing my political chapter then technically. I could recall that General Jemibewon was the Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army then. I had to declare my asset, deposit it there to be taken to court before I was allowed to proceed to the United States for my course. The third was when I became Head of State. From General Obasanjo down till now, those of us that were in the Supreme Military Council, Council of States, Executive Council and even those who were permanent secretaries, at the time we got our appointments, the courts were made to produce our declarations. So, all these noise about people getting rich and nobody is saying anything about it; why can’t you prick the conscience of the existing government or are some of you part of the cover up?
There have been reports that you promised to end Boko Haram within two months, but your media team reacted saying you never said so. We want you to use this opportunity to clarify on that?
I think I am too experienced in internal security to give two months deadline on Boko Haram. I don’t think I would have made that mistake because I tried to look at some of my experiences even when I was in uniform with the rebels from Chad when I was GOC in Jos and with Maitatsine. So, for me to say that when I come into office, I will get rid of Boko Haram in two months, I don’t think I would have made that mistake. I didn’t. As I mentioned in several occasions, we, that have at one time or the other worn Nigeria military uniform, felt terribly embarrassed that for six years the Nigerian military couldn’t bring order to 14 local governments out of 774 local governments in the country after Burma, Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Dafur where Nigerian military earned respect internationally for their performances. To fail to secure 14 out of 774 local governments, I still can’t reconcile myself with that disgrace. We will try and work with our neighbours, such as Chad, Cameroon and Niger who are fighting Boko Haram for us. Look at Chad helping Nigeria or Niger or Cameroon. This nation has been humiliated by PDP. Nigeria has been humiliated by PDP. God willing, with our experiences, we will quickly marshal support and we are asking Boko Haram to pack and go.
When will the Transition Committee be put in place?
We have started discussing about it. Personally, I will make sure it is not too big because if it is big, they will start thinking of how to influence the choice of ministers either for themselves or those they want to be ministers. But my hope and idea is to get knowledgeable and experienced technocrats that are really patriotic to study the handing over notes by ministries and make recommendations. I want them to be completely detached people who are patriotic Nigerians, and who are knowledgeable and experienced. If we get majority of politicians involved, it will lead to a lot of row and we may end up with inconclusive recommendations which will not be very helpful in our condition. When I get it ready and before it is published, I will show it to the leadership of my party and the terms of reference as well as the time limit and the result of their work, we will quickly study before the inauguration so that before we are sworn in, we’d get into action.