President Muhammadu Buhari fielded questions on Arise News Television – aired yesterday. He spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpts
It’s a privilege to be with the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, being hosted this morning by the Arise News Channel. We’re engaging the President on the future of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on what to expect over the next two years of his administration. Mr. President, thank you very much for hosting us.
Mr. President, the nation is witnessing rising insecurity; banditry, arson, kidnapping. How did we get here?
When we came, it has been a very difficult undertaking, but we closed the borders with Benin Republic, we closed the borders with Niger Republic, we stopped smuggling. We asked Nigerians to grow what they will eat and eat what they grow, because of importation of rice and other foodstuffs, we stopped it. We made fertilizer available and we were very impressed and happy with the reaction of Nigerians, they went back to the farm and we made sure that our neighbours, especially Niger, understand that because there are Nigerians that order food in Niger for Nigeria market. The Nigerien government cooperated with us. So really, we depended on ourselves and Nigerians do not regret it.
Corruption is really difficult under this system, even under the military system, luckily I’ve experienced both occasions. When I collected people and put them in Kirikiri or somewhere else and said they were guilty until they could prove themselves innocent and put investigation panels, based almost on the geopolitical zones, for people that held positions; governors, ministers, commissioners, heads of parastals because then people don’t get those positions until they declared their assets.
Then they are faced with the bank statements and their assets. If They cannot explain the balance is taken away from them. But what happened? Eventually, I myself was arrested, detained and they were given back what they had looted. So, that’s why I wear agbada and joined to see what this partisan politics is even all about and I will not change, but the system here, those who have the money, they can take SANs, first class lawyers, the case will take 10 years and doing things with immediate effect is not possible, but I assure you that in spite of the problems we are having with this system, whoever we have correct intelligence that is not being very accountable, we’ll easy him out. We don’t give it too much publicity, but I assure you that those who are responsible, who holding responsible positions know that we don’t tolerate corruption.
Shekau is reported dead. Does that give an opportunity for us to zero in, consolidate and secure the Northeast?
The problem of the Northeast is difficult. The current governor is working very hard. He’s taking a lot of risks and I asked him, this Boko Haram, is it our people, that means, are they Nigerians? He said most of them are Nigerians. They are Nigerians. As I said, you can’t kill innocent people and say ‘God is great’. That worked very well, but I think we have a problem of unemployment, we have a problem of a lot of youths looking basically for what to eat, not to even talk of accommodation and all that. The level of poverty is almost unimaginable.
So, this is our problem, but those who are really keeping in touch with what we are doing, they know the difference between the time we came in and now and the people of Northeast and South-South, I think, are the best judges of the performance of this administration because they know what they were in and they know the condition now.
I was in Katsina last year, at the height of this security issue; banditry, insecurity has moved from the Northeast to the Northwest, people can no longer go to the farm. How do you react to some of these issues, especially banditry in the Northwest?
You know, the whole security apparatus was changed, as you know; all the service chiefs and IGP were changed. The ones that succeeded them have been part of the system. So, we had series of meetings with them, at least three meetings, each one lasted more than two hours. Firstly, I allow them to go round and see the position on the ground. They made changes in their offices and commands and we told them that we want confidence to be rebuilt, as you observed, for people to go back to the land, so that we wouldn’t have food problem and I think that is being done. We are giving it less publicity because we don’t want to make them aware that we are taking them head on, but I think those who are in the field know, they have been suffering a lot of casualties.
We stopped, for example, mining in the Zamfara State, we expelled the foreigners and we are talking to the governor, although he’s not in the federal government’s party, but we want to secure Zamfara, Sokoto and so on and you mentioned Katsina, but the important thing is the question of local security apparatus. We have police in every town and I’ve been talking to the police, trying to push them as hard as I can. They don’t wear uniform and sling the rifle just to intimidate the people, but to make sure, if necessary, they use it to bring security.
In the Northeast you know what was happening, in the South-South you know, I too was almost overwhelmed by what is happening in the Northwest, but we are treating them as criminals now. They are experiencing a lot of casualties, they will not say it because they don’t want to demoralize their recruitment constituencies, but they are suffering a lot of casualties. We know that.
Mr. President, still on the issue of security. Each zone has sort of taken matters into their own hands with different kinds of security apparatus like the Civilian JTF, Amotekun and what have you. Has the time come to now formalise state police in Nigeria?
I’ve been reading it in the newspapers. Those of us who are old enough to know the old NA police and so on, that time the traditional institutions’ leaders were very effective in each community. I’ll give you an example of recent. Two governors from the Southwest came to tell me that the cattle rearers in some of the forests there had killed farmers while their cattle were eating their crops. So I told them you campaigned to be elected and you are elected, he said yes. I said go back and sort out yourself because there’s been a system, as all of us here can recall, even in your local government, when there are security at each level; at the local government and state. It consists the traditional leader in that area, who had been there for generations. So, they know all the cooks in the locality. Then the police, then those who would come, whether they are cattle rearers or influential traders, they are part of it. They meet either monthly or quarterly and discusses the security at that level. If it is above them, they pass it on.
So, I told those governors to go back and go to the older system, so that they will have intelligence, you will know what is happening in your constituency. You just can’t go round winning elections and then sit tight and think somebody will do their job for them. I just sent them back.
The 17 governors in the southern part of the country recently called for restructuring, they also banned open grazing in the southern states, but despite that, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), said he didn’t know what they were talking about. What exactly is your opinion on open grazing and what steps are you planning to take to put an end to farmers/herders clash?
You want me to contradict my Attorney-General. What I did was ask them to go and dig the gazette of First Republic, when people were … There’s cattle routes and grazing areas where when they are moving up country; north to south, or east to west, they have to go through there. If you allow your cattle to stray into any farmer’s farm, you were arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims, the judge will ask you to pay, if you can’t, your cattle will be sold and if there’s any balance, you are given and people were behaving themselves.
In the grazing areas, they built earth-dams, put windmills, in some places, even veterinary department so that the herders are limited; their route is known, their grazing area is known, if there’s any problem from the locality, it’s known. So I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached cattle routs and grazing areas will be dispossessed and try to bring some order back into the cattle routes.
The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers. There is a culture … between the Tivs and the Fulani, so the governor of Benue State said that I’m not disciplining the cattle rearers because I’m one of them. I cannot refuse the fact that I am one of them, but he’s being very unfair to me and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer was not carrying anything more than a stick. Sometimes with a matchet, to cut trees, but those sophisticated ones are good with AK-47. From the Sahel areas, people rush to Nigeria, and Fulani for Mauritania, or from Central Africa, look the same. So they think that they are those from Nigeria.
I assure you that we are trying to resuscitate these cattle routes, grazing areas and make them accountable and then this case of taxes, ordinary people like it, but this problem of accountability, when taxes were being paid, people were behaving themselves, but now without taxation, people are behaving the way they like.
What measure is your government putting in place to diversify the economy and to further increase revenue?
Well, starting from the infrastructure, I will like to include more people in the southeast and indeed the South in general, in your government, especially in security services and MDA.
If you look at say the NNPC or the military, people who have been there for 18 years or even for 10 years, they train in Zaria or Abeokuta, they have come through the ranks. And because they server under the circumstances, the crisis and everything, they gradually rise to that status and you think, you just pick somebody just to balance up? Those positions have to be earned. There are people who have been there for 10, 15 years, and you knew just because somebody will say…well, if you don’t join then nobody else will join, you are not forced to join. But when you do, you go through the rigmarole. You go through the problem, throughout, and you learn by the system.
But your excellency the case of the chief of army staff where almost 30 generals will have to retire because of the rank of the current chief of army staff?
Do you know where he was serving before he became the chief of army staff? Maiduguri. You can’t just pick somebody just because he is wearing the seniority, you put somebody who has been in the mill , who has suffered with the solders, they know him, he fought with them and so on.
On lopsided appointments
You’re saying someone who had gone through military and police training all his life should not be appointed to lead the military or police department he works with just because we must balance appointments? What are you saying? The system didn’t restrict anyone from joining the military or the police, and if you decided not to join, we will not force you but you too will not force us to bring someone who is not qualified in training and experience when it comes to leadership of these institutions just because we want to balance some appointments……..”
But one would, have thought experience will be part of it?
It is because for the soldiers to be effectively led must be somebody that exposed himself to them.
Beyond security, I believe one of the things they are saying is signal of belonging. The south east they want to be secretary to government, they want to be other things, like you said you don’t have anything against them, so why don’t you as father of all bring them all together, let them have a sense of belonging, let them feel more like your children?
There are people from the south east but they know they have to go through the mill.
There is this perception that the best way to escape is to join the ruling party?
What this administration can do is to make sure that APC lasts beyond this administration and we started registration from pulling unit up to the local government to the state so that APC will know how many of them there are in state by state in even local government by local government. So that by the time this administration goes, APC will be firmly on the ground and they can continue, and that is the best thing politically for party and the country.
So it means there’s an agreement in APC that once you move to APC you move with your group?
No. You are very very unfair to us.
On power rotation. There is an agreement in the APC that you move power from the north to the south but where do you think the president should come from to keep your legacy?
Should we allow the party to decide? I just told you that we started from bottom up. And I gave the acting Chairman, the end of this month June, he asked for an extension for them, we put a committee in place and they are going to give me this report, by the end of the month. The convention, we are going to conduct and then arrange general elections, up to 2023, all the elections. And we start this, from bottom upwards, so that members of the party will feel they’re involved in decision making. Nobody is just sitting here in Lagos and asking them what to do, this is what we are arranging.
But there is a succession plan?
Yes you know succession plan depends on the party. We are going to give it to the party, your party will sit and make its decision, why the constituencies they want and so on. So those who want to be president, they better join APC.
Let’s talk about the Economy and the limited economic growth that we’ve seen recently, and I’ll start with foreign direct investment, even though your administration has given the right signal with regards to ease of doing business, Nigeria has barely improved. And when losing foreign direct investment, so our neighbours such as Ghana, what can you do to make Nigeria a more competitive and more attractive destination for foreign direct investment?
Well, this question will be answered by those who wanted to match here and remove me, And my answer to that I got the members of the Executive Council.
As you would recall by the Constitution, there must be a member of the Executive Council for each state. Within the Constitution, every state must be represented. So I got them on a Wednesday and I said go each one of them should go to state, speak to the governor, speak to traditional leaders, speak to the business people and tell them that the federal government no more vacancy, it’s full. Go to any contractor to give you job, he will tell you no vacancy, the same thing with federal government. You may have good degree but may die without a job. Why? Because nobody is going to invest in an insecure environment. So, I told them, they should tell the youths that if they want jobs, they should behave themselves and make sure Nigeria is secure. so that people can come and invest.
Nigeria is resourceful, people know it, we are a rich country God has endowed us. But nobody can bring… look at like the 200 buses bought by the former governor of Lagos, these children went and burnt the vehicles. The governor made an album and came here, I took the album and put it aside, and say go and tell them to work. Who will come and invest his money in an unstable environment? Nobody will, it’s just common sense. So you’ll be helping ourselves, you make Nigeria secure and people will invest.
You are the petroleum minister Mr. President, the issue of spending money for subsidy is taking money which would have been invested in infrastructure. How do we deal with the subsidy question of petroleum and power?
These are very difficult questions and I am suspecting you know it. Nigerians are dealing in oil so it cannot be too expensive. Nigeria’s petroleum is being sold from here upto Ghana. And Nigerian people will take it across the borders, they put it in jerrycans, ride machines into the bush. And if you try and give it the cost, it says that he has to be economic base, Nigerians will say this is their own and they will riot and push you out of wherever, even if it is presidential villa, they will push you out. so, what we want is to try to get the cooperation of customs, immigration and this border guards so that it cannot be taken in substantial amount. Customs are doing quite well because we are confiscating tankers, selling petrol, selling the tankers and people who we are disposing of this, they don’t come. They don’t talk to anybody. They don’t say it that they have taken away their tanker and sold it. We are doing it.
Many are complaining that because of heavy debt burden it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fund infrastructure. What measure is your government putting in place to diversify the economy to further increase revenue?
Well, we stew from the infrastructure. I will like to check how much we’re earning from 1999 to 2014. Our production if you check, you will find out that every production was an average costs of $100. So from 1999 to 2014, we were earning 2.1 million times $100. Look at the state of our infrastructure, look at our roads, look at power and tell me which country develops without infrastructure. And you did not ask all those regimes, which ever it is. No road, no rail, no power you know. I sit here and we are getting between Lagos and Ibadan. Now we are going to commission the rail. Ask the people now going from Lagos to Ibadan. What have they done with the amount of money they were getting. Look at power, there has been a lot of waste.
I must commend you on infrastructure, your government has done quite a bit on infrastructure. But what is surprising to Nigerians is that you are carrying a lot of infrastructure to Niger Republic, road rail. What is the attraction? Why is the obsession towards the Niger Republic?
How many neighbours? Moreso, individual or regionally, you have to cultivate your neighbours if you don’t, there might be trouble. If you could recall, when I came, I went to Chad, I went to Niger, I went to Cameroon. Because of that, what is happening with Boko Haram? If we are not having a good relationship with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the Boko Haram would done worse things to us. I told you the border between us and Niger is 1,500 kilometres. You see, I spoke to one French man about infringement, I said you people in 1885 sit down and use ruler and pencil and draw line. I said I have cousins in Niger. There are Hausas, Kanuris, Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin Republic, and so on you can’t absolutely cut them off.
But the rail look, if you read the plan, how we have been cheating the rail. Niger, they’ve discovered oil too and we don’t want to allow them to go through Benin Republic, we want them to come through Nigeria. We hope that they will decide when we take the rail upto Maradi through Nigeria rather than through Benin. If they come with the railways and the roads working, from maiduguri through Port Harcourt, from Kano to Lagos, people will be busy and I believe if infrastructure works, roads, rail, I assure that Nigerians keep themselves very busy and they will leave you alone. But when the roads are not motorable, the rail is verifiably crippled, people will have so much time to harass you.
Mr. president now that you’ve overcome your health challenges, you are looking great? What is the outlook for the last two years of your presidency? And then in retirement after 2023? What do you plan to do? a presidential library? What projects will interest you in retirement?
Thank you very much for thinking that I’m okay. I have never abandoned my farm. Instill have a number of cattle. When I leave, I will be going to my farm daily, I will try and keep myself busy. Between now and then, I will try to keep on convincing Nigerians that I mean very well. I will make sure that the few identifiable problem we have, security, economy fighting corruption, I will continue to work on it. And as I said, visibly, we made progress in the northeast, we made progress in the south south, which is I am overwhelm almost by Northwest, and they are going to get it very soon.
Mr. President, what would be your valuable legacy?
Well, I will allow Nigerians to discuss it. I hope they will be fair to me. I would like Nigerians to try and spend time and look at when we came, where we were in economy, security, where we have been in the eight years I will be around and try to…. I hope Nigerians would be fair. This the whole idea.
For Nigerians that maybe having fears, what is your message to the whole of Nigerians today. On your six anniversary on where we are and where we want to be?
Yes. Under the system, Nigerians would say what they want. They want their own republics. They don’t even talk of the resources. How we can disengage ourselves? How we are going to share what we have invested when we were together, how we’re going to share it out? How fair are we going to be on ourselves? And try and see our, young population. If we cut ourselves into pieces, can we win the confidence of investors, real investors? People to come and build the factories, employ people,produce goods and services? And then earn from taxation, employment?
I don’t like the way Nigerian elites are allowing ignorant or careless people talking all over the place. We have so much to learn, so much to gain together rather than disorganize people thinking that, thinking that if we become a republic things will be alright. Let them see how long it took us between 1968 and now how we came about. We will consolidate it.
On his statement about IPOB
Buhari: Yes, I said it and WE WILL DO IT.
“My statement about speaking in Language they understand is very simple. It is meant for all criminals in Nigeria. What it means for the IPOB is that I will go after them through the military and police and rid them of their criminal tendencies. I have no regret whatsoever…..”
On Twitter Ban
The President however turned down a question posed to him, regarding his stance on Twitter ban.
“I will keep that to myself,” he said
Still Insecurity, is it time for state police?
I have been reading it in the newspapers. In the past the traditional institutions were very effective.
‘’Two South West Governors came to me to say cattle rearers are destroying farms in their states, I asked them what happened to the grassroot security panels from Traditional Rulers to Local Governments who meet regularly to identify the root of their problems and identify crooks within their environment and apprehend the criminals. Who destroyed this system? Go back and fix it, give your people sense of belongings. I don’t like it when people campaign to become Governors and people trusted them with their votes and after winning, they can’t perform, they’re trying to push responsibilities to others. ……..we have three tiers of Government, Federal, State and Local.
What’s you position on the call for restructuring or devolution of powers
Devolution of powers, you have to define it. Well actually the local government system have been killed. The federal, state and local government if they agree to flow properly we won’t have all these problems. But the problem is the local government has been virtually killed and this is not good for this country, because those who became the local government chairman have been compromised. If your local government is entitled to receive 300 million and later you are only given 100 million and the Chairman will keep quiet…..is that how we will continue?”
So how can we reduce the powers of governors, President and give more powers to local governments by writing a new constitution
I think this question of accountability is very important. For example our generation I spent 9 years in boarding school and the teachers, if you do well you are brought in front of the classroom and praised, if you don’t you are flogged. But now, a friend (Bakare) who came back from the United States and visited his Alma Mater said he couldn’t differentiate between the teachers and the students. The teachers use to take students as their children and had all the time for them, but the standard has virtually collapsed.
Schools in Northern parts of the country have been subjects of attacks. If these schools are being attacked how do you think you can lift 100 million people out of poverty?
Well try and appreciate what efforts the federal government has done, one we have removed all the services chiefs and inspector general of police. We brought in new ones, we allowed them to go round and see the problem. They gives feedback all the time, but now they are in charge. They accept the responsibility of their offices, their priorities is to make sure they brought normalcy and are working very hard. We can’t give you some information because we don’t want to give earlier warning to the real criminals. The ones from north east we know, ones from south south we know, the problem is the north west . The same people killing each other, stealing each other cattle. Like I said we are going to treat them in the language they will understand. We’ve given the police and the military power to be ruthless and you watch it in a few weeks time there will be difference. Because we told them people cannot be kept away from their farm, The government cannot control the public, if you allow hunger to hold society, the government will be in trouble and we don’t want to be in trouble.
On the rising insecurity, corruption how did we get here and what’s the way out?
When we came in, we closed the borders with Benue republic, Niger Republic, we stop marketing. We asked Nigerians to grow what they will eat, because the importation of rice and other food stuff we stopped it. We are impressed with the direction of Nigeria and Nigerians do not regret it.
I believed the majority of the Boko Haram members are Nigerians after being told so by the Borno Governor Babagana Zulum. My government has done a lot to fight the terrorists but the problem in the “North-East is very difficult.
“Take the North West for example, people with same language and culture are killing themselves, stealing each other’s properties. Imagine the madness. Well, I have now told the military and the Police to be brutal. From now, we will speak the language they understand and in the coming weeks, you’ll get exactly what I am saying………”
Corruption is very difficult under this system. Even under the military system. But, I will not change. Whenever we have an intelligence of anyone that is being accountable, we ease him out. We don’t give too much publicity. I assure you that those who are responsible know that we don’t tolerate corruption
The problem in the north east is difficult. The present governor is working very hard. I asked him this Boko Haram is it Nigerians and he said yes. You can’t kill innocent people and say God’s great. I think we have a problem of unemployment, poverty. A lot of youths are basically looking for what to eat, not to talk of accommodation. The level poverty is almost unimaginable and it’s a huge problem. Those who are keeping in touch of what we are doing, they know the difference between the time we came in and now. They know what they were in and they know the condition now.
The service Chiefs were changed, the ones that succeeded them are still part of the apparatus. We had series of meetings with them which lasted for hours. Last year I allowed them to go round and see the position on ground, they made changes in their offices and told them that what confidence did you rebate as you observed. I think that’s is being done, we are giving it less publicity because we don’t want to make them aware we are taking them head on. But I think those who are in the field know. For example we stop mining in Zamfara, we expelled foreigners and we are talking to the government, although he’s not in the federal government party. But we went to secure Zamfara , Sokoto and so on. But the question is our local security apparatus. We have police in every town, who are supposed to be there to ensure security. I too was overwhelmed with what was happening in the North East, but we are treating them as criminals now. They are experiencing a lot of casualties, you will not see it because they don’t want to demoralize their recruitments. But they are suffering a lot of casualties.
Rail to Niger
He stated: “If you recall, when I came, I went to Chad, I went to Niger, I went to Cameroon. Look at what happened with Boko Haram. If we were not in a good relationship with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, Boko Haram would have done worse things to us and you say I am going to Niger.
“I told you the border between us and Niger is 1, 500km. I spoke to one French man and I had to tell him this. He spoke nonsense and I told him look, in 1885, you sat down and drew lines (boundaries). I said I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, there are Fulanis in Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in Benin. You can’t absolutely cut them off.”
On farmer/ herder conflicts, open grazing. What steps are you taking to put an end to farmers herders clash
I have asked to dig up gazettes of the First Republic. There are cattle routes and grazing areas. The routes and the areas are known. You have to stay there and if you allow your cattle to stray into another person’s farm you will be arrested.’’
So the herders are limited, there route is known, grazing area is known. So I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on the cattle route and grazing areas will be dispossessed. There’s a cattle this thing between the Tivs and Fulanis so the governor of Benue, Samuel Ortim said I’m not disciplining the cattle rearers because I’m one of them . I cannot say I’m not one of them but Ortom was unfair to me and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer was not carrying anything more than a stick or machete to cut some trees. But those sophisticated ones are going with AK 47. Fulani from some parts of Africa looks the same . So they think they are the Nigerian ones, so I assure you we are trying to resuscitate this cattle routes and grazing areas and make them accountable.
When you look at NNPC, military, the people who have been there for 18 years or ten years, trained in Zaria, or Abeokuta. They came through the ranks and because they served under all the circumstances and they gradually rised to that status. Those positions have to be earned. There are people who have been there for ten 15 years. When you join you go through the program and you rise by the system.
On the Army Chief, you can’t just pick somebody because of seniority. You put somebody who has been in the mill, worked and fought with the soldiers they know him.
On south east not feeling like they belong
Get list of civil servants, there are people from the south east.
On power rotation
My desire for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the centre to outlive this government after 2023.
It will be unfair for someone to sit in Lagos and dictate the party’s zoning formula for the 2023 general poll.
The hope of this administration is to see APC last beyond it. Therefore we should allow the party to decide. You cannot sit here in Lagos, for instance, and decide on the fate of APC on zoning. The restructuring of the party has begun from the bottom to the top with the membership card registration. Every member of the party must be involved.
We will soon conduct our convention. No single member of the party will be allowed to go against the wish of the party. We should allow the party to decide, We started from bottom up and I gave the …….chairman till the end of this month for the committee to develop terms on the convention that we are going to conduct and then arrange all the elections . We will start this from bottom up. The zoning depends on the party, the party sit and make its decision by the constituency and so on.
What can you do to make Nigeria more competitive for foreign investment
This question was answered when there was ENDSARS. My answer to that, we got the numbers of executive council …in the constitution every state must be represented. So I got them , I said each one should go to his state , speak to your traditional leaders, business people. The federal government no more vacancies, its full, go to any state governor and ask him to give you contract or job. He will tell you there’s no vacancy, same thing with local government.
Nobody is going to invest in an insecure environment. Tell the youths that if they want jobs they should behave themselves. Make sure Nigeria is secure. So that people can come in and invest. Nobody will invest in unstable environment. So you behave yourselves, make Nigeria secure then foreigners will invest.