Nigeria's president-elect, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, has revealed that his incoming administration would have a small cabinet that may go into action even before the swearing-in.
In this interview with journalists he explains his plans for the future of the country.
There has been an influx of defectors from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to your party, APC, since after your victory at the polls. Many think the development may destabilise the APC. How do you intend to manage the situation?
I think this is a question meant for the party. I wish 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, certainly, in a multi-party democratic system, 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 happens to the PDP by May 29, I assure you or I assure them through you that there will be justice in the APC.
A new government, which you will head, will soon be inaugurated. Can you tell us what criteria you will be using in selecting those who you will work with?
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. The price of a barrel of crude oil rose to about 140 dollars and then crashed to about 50 dollars. During the 16 years, we know what happened to some big companies that employ a lot of Nigerians and give them training facilities like the Nigeria Airways, Nigeria National Shipping Line.
Even 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 that you need these institutions to give jobs and training to them. It is very disappointing that the PDP government virtually failed to use those resources to grow the economy.
I think the worst thing is the lack of accountability and the terrible budgetary system. Imagine that over 90 percent of Nigerian budget is on recurrent. How can you sustain development in a 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 a government of national unity?
Again, you want me to encroach on the party’s main power. Even if I, as president-elect, want to form a broad based government, I think that the executive of the party will have some influence on that decision. So, for me to maintain a good rapport with the leadership of the party, I want to keep your question in abeyance until further notice.
The 2015 elections did not go without pockets of violence here and there. Does that strike you in any way?
I think there are less disruptions in the second leg of the general elections on April 11 than we had during the presidential and National Assembly elections. I hope it was as a result of the bandwagon effect because APC had the upper hand during the first leg of elections. But what happened in the South-South and the South-East cannot be compared to what happened on April 11.
What I saw was that there was a few ballot snatching in some local government areas of Bayelsa State and a few disruptions in Adamawa, but that is nothing near what happened on March 28. I don’t think what happened on 11 is up to 25 percent of what happened on March 28? I think that after the elections, both parties, APC and PDP, will perhaps make their representations to INEC or the courts and then more details will emerge. Maybe we had less infractions on April 11 because the turnout was much lower. Maybe the people just wanted a president and once they got one, they just walked away. They are Nigerians and there is nothing we can do, but to convince them that they have to use this weapon which is the permanent voter cards (PVCs)
Reports from Rivers and some states on April 11 indicated violence. How do you feel about this?
I think we should allow INEC to give its comprehensive report. Meanwhile, as you mentioned in some of the states, especially in Rivers and Lagos, the two parties slugged it out. I think we have to take our time and let us get as much report as possible in accordance with the Electoral Act. I personally want to be legal about this so that people will appreciate that we believe in a system. What we need to do is to modify the system according to the law if we don’t like it, and no one should come out and do to the system whatever he likes. For what happened in Lagos, I think that for whatever political reason, the PDP wanted to have Lagos by all means.
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I have a lot of respect for the governor of Rivers State for his courage. At a certain time, the Commissioner of Police virtually hijacked the state and the governor was virtually sentenced to the streets fighting thugs without law enforcement agents while the Constitution makes it very clear that the governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state.
So, a lot of lawless acts of the PDP are on record and we intend to make the PDP understand it and make sure that, according to the law, those who are responsible for that are taken to the court and properly charged. We are in this system because we believe in it and we want it to stabilize because it is good for our country. If Nigerians have the confidence that their votes count, then they will mind their business and I assure you that there will be more security in the country.
But when people feel that they are abandoned, then they will resist. I think that by nature, human beings are rebels especially in Nigeria. You must try and placate them, convince them and show them that their rights are respected or you will not have peace. On what we hear about the money that changed hands, it would have been impossible for APC to win anything in this country because we don’t have the treasury in our pocket. There was no amount of money that could convince Nigerians this time around.
A lot of them took the money and did exactly what their conscience wanted them to do, while some even returned the money. Somehow, Rivers and Lagos were seen as strategic to the PDP. Otherwise, how could APC have a marginal 100,000 votes over APC in Lagos which is virtually the capital of the APC in the South- West? A lot of things will come out, but we want to do it basically on facts which can be verified and quantified.
To some extent, the general elections are seen by many to be credible. Will you try to retain the INEC Chairman to build on the successes recorded even though he said he wouldn’t accept another term of office?
I think Prof. Jega knows exactly what to do. He has already said that he is not going to accept a renewal of his tenure in June. I believe that he has learnt enough and will submit a 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 2011 general elections to date with attachment showing the personnel trained, acquisition of election materials, the distributions, security, among others, and I don’t think that such that 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 to agreeing to the six weeks extension. As people say, it has come to pass.
For many years, Nigerians have been clamouring that something be done to punish those involved in election rigging. The Uwais Committee recommended a special court to try electoral offenders, but government has refused to implement that recommendation. Will your government set up a special court to try electoral offenders?
No matter how you the media try, you will not catch me undermining the authority of the party. I will look for understanding and cooperation from the National Assembly when a change of the Constitution or the Electoral Act is necessary. So for me to make up my mind here and later try to lobby is out of it because, some of them, if they are very hard, they will give me a tough time.
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I will say that I haven’t read the Uwais Report, but l have read a few extracts from news papers. l think it is a good thing and we will encourage it. But we need to get a comprehensive report from the field. The running battle in Rivers, South-East and South-South, especially by Governor Amaechi, Rochas Okorocha and governor of Edo state with INEC officials and law enforcement agencies and the army is remarkable and I think it has to be totally exposed so that Nigerians will know which of the law enforcement agencies and at what levels is undermining the Constitution of Nigeria because the Electoral Act is derived from the Constitution of the country so that, in future, those who are in position will know that they are not above the law. I think that is what will bring more stability into the system. In view of that, I will try and work with the National Assembly to make sure that we do something about it.
There are speculations that looting of public treasury is ongoing in the land. 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 I advised them to try and document these things so that they 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 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 government, you have to behave yourself. I think that is the way we can make progress.
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APC preaches transparency and accountability. But a lot of people with apparent questionable characters are 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. The fact that you were a party Chairman or you were a minister before you joined the APC, we appreciate the fact that you remain relevant in your immediate locality. But when it comes to the centre, there is equality in the way the government will handle you.
If we win majority of members of the National Assembly and House 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 lost the governorship. Who did the election? Did people from space come to do 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 who were chief executives from local government, to states will be encouraged to work together.
So, 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 or so. I don’t think that it will be acceptable even by their constituencies.
You introduced War Against Indiscipline, WAI, as the military Head of State in 1984 to fight indiscipline. Years after, the cankerworm has remained? 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 could get majority of Nigerians to accept, which ever level they were, we will make a lot of progress. I could recall that I advised that we should go to the Ministry of Information because there were a lot of people with first degree, masters and Ph.D who were sociologists and criminologists 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 WAI. 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 properly now. About two years ago, I made some remarks in Hausa and people felt, now, some senior civil servants who are Directors either at the state or federal 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.
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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 right. 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 such as ethnicity and religion so that people don’t move forward, they are used to fight themselves.
During your campaigns you promised to declare your assets if elected. Now that you have been elected, will you stick to your position?
I made a statement which has not been correctly captured by the media. I said that our generation, from the 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 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 Gen. Jemibewon was the Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army then. I had to declare my assets, deposit it there to be taken to court before I was allowed to proceed to the United States for my course.
The third one was when I became Head of State. From General Obasanjo down till now, those of us who were in the Supreme Military Council, Council of State, Executive Council and even those who were Permanent Secretaries, at the time we got our appointment, the courts should be made to produce our declarations. So, all the noise about people being 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 the Boko Haram insurgency within two months, but your media team reacted saying you never said so. Can you now set the record straight?
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 statement. I didn’t.
As I have mentioned on several occasions, we that have, at one time or the other, wore Nigeria military uniform felt terribly embarrassed that for six years, the military couldn’t bring order to 14 out of 774 local governments in the country after Burma, Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Dafur where Nigerian military earned respect internationally for their performance.
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 neigbours such as Chad, Cameroon and Niger who are fighting Boko Haram for us. Look at Chad helping Nigeria or Niger, or Cameroon itself. This nation has been humiliated by the PDP. God willing, with our experiences, we will quickly marshal support and we are asking Boko Haram to pack and go.
Can we know when your Transition Committee would be in place?
We have started discussing about it. Personally, I will make sure that 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 idea is to get knowledgable and experienced technocrats who 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, who are knowledgable 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 are not 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 get into action.(Vanguard)
General Muhammadu Buhari's determination to keep his cabinet small comes as no surprise after news that Ahmed Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi are at logger heads over the Senate president position.