QUESTION 6: You enacted Decree Four of 1984, which prescribed punishment for journalists if theypublished whatever amounted to an embarrassment to the government even if the report was true. Why were you so disdainful of the media?
A. I recall the late Dele Giwa asked me this question, why I felt disenchantment with Nigerian journalism. I told him that first, we were in a different kind of environment at the time. Secondly, many journalists were not bothered about checking what they published.
At that time and I am afraid that even up till now, many journalists just make wild allegations without any consideration for the accused person. Journalism is a mighty weapon and you don’t just wield it indiscriminately.
There is investigative journalism. If you make an accusation that is capable of breaking down an institution, that is something serious. For instance, you point fingers at a person and allege that N2.8 billion is missing under his portfolio. That is very serious.
A billion Naira then was very big money. The matter had to go to a commission of inquiry. The Irikefe Commission was set up after we left office and there was nothing uncovered. But people continue to peddle the accusation till today.
Under Decree Four, two journalists were jailed. Compare that with what happened before or after us and you must concede that we did rather well.
We never closed down a whole institution. We would rather punish the editor and the reporter who published without ascertaining the facts. Would you rather that two persons who committed an offence are punished than have every one in the organization punished because when you close a media house, it affects thousands of people.
Q 7. If you become president, how will you respond to journalists and their practices?
A. As I have said on many occasions, we are now operating in a constitutional environment. Relationship between government and institutions is governed by the constitution.
For instance, I can’t pick up anyone and lock him up in a guardroom because the constitution does not allow it. Laws and the constitution now regulate matters. Libel is one of them. There are no short cuts. If someone libels you, you go to court.
Q 8. As head of state then, you enacted a decree on drug trafficking and backdated it. Three young Nigerians were condemned and executed under its provision. Why did you make a law that was so callous and why backdate it?
A. I have to take responsibility for what was done under my administration. After the tribunal found the suspects guilty, their case came to the Supreme Military Council, which was a kind of Supreme Court.
The Supreme Military Council is the final appeal court and once it ratified the judgment, I gave my assent. The victims were condemned under the law operating at the time and that was it.
Q 9. Were matters so bad that such a piece of law had to be made? Why back date because at the time the men were caught, there was no such law.
A. It was the law. The regime made laws and I sanctioned them. Every decree that was made was backdated. That was the practice. Check it out.
Q 10. When you came to power, you arrested all the political leaders. You placed the President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, under house arrest, but Vice President Alex Ekwueme was imprisoned at Kirikiri. Why were you so unfair to Dr. Ekwueme? Why the discrimination?
A. Every politician caught was put in detention. The people in Kirikiri were in for fraud or misappropriation of fund or outright theft. The protocol due to the President is not the same as is due to the vice.
Dr. Ekwueme, Alhaji Ciroma and many others were all in Kirikiri. As investigations into their cases were concluded, they were either released or jailed according to law.
Q 11. But Dr. Ekwueme was kept in custody long after he was tried and found innocent.
A. I am sorry I can’t recall now if Dr. Ekwueme was detained longer than was necessary. The decision was that once anyone was cleared, he was released.
Q 12. So, there was no decision to keep anybody in prison deliberately?
A. No! Anyone whose case was cleared was released. I believe if investigation on the case is conducted, the facts would come out.
Q 13. You are a Muslim and a Northerner. Your deputy then was also a Muslim. The feeling was that your regime was pro-Islam and anti-Christian. It was also perceived as anti-South and anti-Western. Can you defend these charges considering that most of those freed from detention after your overthrow were Christians, Southerners and Westerners?
A. All governors and their deputies were arrested and detained. All ministers and other senior party or government officials were equally arrested. There was no discrimination in picking up people who were deemed to have questions to answer.
Q 14. For the 20 months you were on the saddle, the economy virtually went to bed. What magic wand do you have now to revamp our prostrate economy?
A. The economy at the time we came in was in a very bad state. Nigeria had no line of credits, workers were owed huge salary arrears. We started to clear the backlog of salary arrears.
We halted further borrowing and negotiated and started servicing the debts…
Q 15. What magic wand do you have to revive a comatose economy?
A. First of all, we must know how much we owe the creditors. That’s the reference point. You know how much you owe and how much you are getting and you start planning.
We have to ask ourselves serious economic questions. Why are our industries dying and no new ones are emerging? What is the problem with agriculture and food production when we have abundant fertile lands?
We can answer that industries are not springing up because basic infrastructures that would sustain them, like power, water, roads and communications, are not available or are grossly inadequate.
If we don’t know our creditors, it may happen that a Nigerian vessel sails out and it is impounded on account of some debts. So we need to know what we owe, and negotiate new terms of settlement.
We must find ways to reconcile the books, otherwise you can’t move forward. Let’s consider trade liberalization. We see these things abroad.
One single policy relieves the government of much burden. Without employment, you have poverty and there is insecurity. So you see the wisdom in trying to protect the firms, support them so they can survive and grow.
The government loses in the short run but in the long run, it reaps bountifully.
Q 16. The Buhari Organization has conceived a program to modernize some of the key sectors like education, agriculture, security et cetera. The problem usually is not with drawing up programs but the implementation. How do you intend to execute your Project Nigeria?
A. You know Project Nigeria is founded on realities, on urgent needs of the economy and security. Each of the projects has its framework for implementation and these are detailed. No one can know in advance the exact indices but we worked on ensuring that each target is attained.
Why are Nigerians poor? Because we have not been empowered. That is why. We have not been protected. Our people have not been encouraged to stay in the villages and in our rural communities to make good living.
Our economy has not been protected. Rather, we expose it to unhealthy attacks. Both European and American farmers enjoy subsidies. Without subsidies their farmers will not survive talk less of experiencing prosperity.
This is the reality; not politics or sentiments. But international institutions pressurize us to remove subsidies from agriculture. It will amaze us how much difference a small amount of subsidy will do to our farmers.
Next, consider the unhealthy business environment. At the ports, your import is delayed unduly or you succumb and pay excessive charges. You pay triple taxation – to Federal, state and local government agencies.
The amount of bureaucracy in Nigeria is killing businesses. In other countries, industrialists are encouraged. Also, better infrastructures are available. You have tax holidays.
The governments do it because they know you are helping them to carry their social responsibilities. Employed citizens are not easily drawn to crime, so the state spends less on security and law enforcement.
We have to negotiate with the World Trade Organization (WTO) about liberalization of trade. We must work to improve the private sector. Now, it is difficult, sometimes almost impossible to start a business in Nigeria.
There is a syndicate of Nigerians who are against Nigeria. Under my presidency, these things will change. Our attitude to attract investments will change.
Nigeria is reported to be the largest importer of rice. This is a disgrace. Can we have the money to continue to import rice and money to send our children to school?
We have a lot of work to do in the country. I think we must tell ourselves frankly that we have not started yet.
Q 17. Why did you refuse to appear before the Oputa panel?
A. I also took Oputa Panel to court. Law binds everyone. I studied the charges against me and I knew they wanted either to ridicule or witch-hunt because if you look at the charges, they were acts of state. If I did anything on a personal ground, then you can hold me personally responsible. If I misappropriated or stole public money, you can hold me personally accountable. But look at the charges against me. They were acts of the state not acts of Buhari as a person. You hold the state responsible. That is what obtains everywhere.
Q 18. Questions about your integrity were raised over an alleged missing N2.8 billion when you were head of the Petroleum Ministry. Can you answer that?