QUESTION 40: You often sound like a Muslim fanatic or fundamentalist. Are you not thereby encouraging religious intolerance and conflict in Nigeria?
ANSWER: I never pitched Islam against Christianity. Never! What I told my people at a book launch in Sokoto was that in 1904 or thereabout when the Europeans overran the country, they removed the criminal aspects of Sharia. They removed the beheading and cutting of limbs. These were the only sections that they removed.
If Sharia has degenerated, it was the fault of the Nigerian leadership, not the Europeans or anyone else. One British official serving in old Sokoto Province was so appreciative of the Sharia that he said a teenager could take gold trinket through the caliphate, from Sokoto to Adamawa, without fear that anyone would molest her on the way.
I said at the occasion that conditions, and therefore God, were forcing us to go back to how it used to be. I stated there too that the people must be alert and make sure they do not vote for people who would come seeking their votes only to disappear after their victory; and to return four years later to seek fresh support.
Make sure you elect honest people, I said.
How can anyone turn that round to say I told Muslims not to vote for Christians? Are there not dishonest Muslims as there are dishonest Christians?
I discussed it with President Obasanjo when he said there were accusations against me about Sharia and I refused to retract what I said. So I told him what I said. And he asked if that was what I said and I said yes.
I told him I would rather deal with a religious person, any religion, than deal with an irreligious person. A genuinely religious person understands what hurts his fellow man and knows that God does not approve of anyone hurting his fellow man unjustly.
God is for justice and honesty and those are the types of Nigerians I talked about but people wanted to play dirty polities with what I said.
Q 41. What guarantee is there that you won’t pursue a program of ethnic cleavage and exclusion if you become president?
A. There are too many unfair assumptions flying around. If I have not worked in the system, then it would be reasonable to fear such presumptions.
But I have and I showed myself without pretensions. Even the present system guarantees greater security, balance and equity for all in the polity.
Now look at the crisis in the appointment of the auditor general of the federation. How many times did the Senate reject the appointment of the nominee of Mr. President? And the Senate told the president why it would not approve his nominee.
First, the minister of state for finance who is a Yoruba has been the de facto minister in charge of the ministry because the minister was indisposed for a long time. The governor of the CBN is Yoruba, the Accountant General is Yoruba, while the head of Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation is a Yoruba
So, out of the five pillars controlling the nation’s finance sector, four are headed by Yorubas. You would think that Mr. President would be sensitive to the plurality of the Nigerian state and act accordingly. He insists on a Yoruba man heading the auditor general office.
It is sheer downright tribalism. The checks and balances in the constitution should make Obasanjo to act differently but he chose to do otherwise.
And this is in a democracy. You go to my records and see if you will find abuse of power or favoritism.
Q 42. The fact is that your regime had more Muslims and Northerners at the helm of affairs.
A. Appointments into the Supreme Military Council are based on existing command posts. The general officers commending (GOCs) were automatic members. So, apart from General Babangida who was Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Abacha who was Army Chief of Staff, Admiral Aikhomu was the Chief of Naval Staff and General Domkat Bali was also a member. Both Aikhomu and Bali are Christians.
Q 43. Corruption has become the worst affliction in present day Nigeria. Obasanjo promised on assumption of office that he would fight it. How do you intend to tackle it?
A. Luckily, the ICPC is a constitutional institution. I don’t like it being weakened. The government I will lead, God willing, will give ICPC full backing to be effective.
As I said, there are enough checks and balances. All we need is the will to do what is right. What has been lacking is supervision. The executive, the legislature and the judiciary have supervisory roles in checking corruption.
So far, these institutions have failed to act. Under my leadership, there may be, not may be, there will be sanctions because corruption has damaged Nigeria and Nigerians in all facets of life.
Outside Nigeria, we are held in contempt. Our green passport is not respected anywhere. Even the red passport for diplomats is nothing outside.
I do travel and so I’m in a position to know. And it is all because the government failed to apply sanctions, which are provided for by the constitution to make sure that the country is protected.
How many people are reaping from the corruption that has laid siege on the entire nation? May be one percent of the population. Why should we allow one per cent to ruin the life of 99 per cent others? Why? Because they are the ones calling the shots?
Q 44. The Nigerian dream is a prosperous economy with efficient infrastructures. But the economy is in a sorry state. The World Bank has said so. The Central Bank has said so and only the other day, the Nigeria Labour Congress said the same thing. What can you do about the economy?
A. Things have changed greatly since I was head of state 20 years ago. We had no line of credits before we came in. What the military handed over to the Second Republic was a stable economy but what we found after four years was pathetic.
Although things were bad then, yet they are not as bad as they are now. The debt profile then wasn’t too bad. The second republic government resisted the international pressure to devalue the naira excessively.
That is one credit to the administration, which I always mentioned. Because there were no lines of credit, essential needs could not come in. Machinery and spares and lots of other materials could not be imported and so industries were collapsing.
When we came in, we embarked in setting apart funds for basic needs and that became oxygen for industries.
What I hope to do is another emergency recovery exercise but this time around things may not move as fast as in the military because the process of getting things done differs.
But I believe I will make the National Assembly to see the urgency and co-operate because the situation now is critical.
We must reactivate production lines, create employment. We have enormous potentials but we have not had the right kind of leadership, a committed leadership to energize us.
We must return to the basics. How is the debt profile affecting us? It is not going to be a quick fix but a systematic and sustainable push.
Q 45. So you will be asking for a second term to make the desired impact?
A. No! No. Don’t excite such an inference. I had explained that government is not a switch-gear that you can switch on and off. Nobody should insist on staying on just to see his policy come to fruition.
The most important thing is to put an efficient structure on the ground. And truth is that if you do it, people will know and will remember.
To insist on a second or third or tenth term is sheer dictatorship and often depicts a character that has little or nothing to offer. At that point, people have reason to suspect that someone has a hidden agenda.
Q 46. When you were head of state, the Naira was strong. Have you a magic wand to revive the Naira if you become the next president?
A. I do not have any magic wand. We built on the strong will the second republic leadership displayed by maintaining a strong Naira. Alhaji Shehu Shagari had resisted the pressures from some powerful international financial institutions to devalue the Naira on their terms.
So, when we took over, we maintained the same stance. The people pressing you to devalue your currency make their living from currency sales.
If you buy their prescription, they make good. They know they have sold you poison that may or may not help your case.
Today, to get one dollar, you have to put down N140. That is ridiculous. Nigerians deserve better. One thing Abacha did well was resist international pressures and keep the naira at between N80 and N85 to a dollar.
With the current N10 margin of N130 to N140, you can’t plan an effective import schedule. People are shouting about human rights abuses and democracy. There is no worse human right abuse than sentencing people of families to hunger.
Government knows that devaluation is a tool for impoverishing the population and any government that readily applies it grossly abuses its people.
Q 47. The program of privatization and commercialization according to government sources is moving on well. But there is public outcry over the exercise. What would you do with the exercise if you become president?
A. The TCPC report, which was done by the late Dr. Zayyad, had very competent hands to package it. I was told that if government would follow the report, the exercise would be a success.
But government decided to jettison it and now, there are all kinds of allegations including sharp practices in the sales.
One of the obvious flaws in the exercise was abandoning the original idea of getting foreign capital into the economy by selling the shares in foreign ventures.
Instead, money from our system had been deployed to buy over the ventures, thereby heating up the local money markets.
We will review the exercise with a view to finding if there were breaches. We will not repudiate contracts arbitrarily but we must be sure that the terms and spirit behind the exercise were not breached.
Some people gathered and bought with money from within the economy. They have to prove they performed above board otherwise the ventures would revert to government.
Privatization was to draw money from outside and not take what already is within to take control of our common legacy. That was not the purpose.
Q 48. The state social order is founded on the ideals of freedom, equity and justice. These terms are more familiar to democrats than autocracies. What do these words tell you and are you comfortable with them?
A. These are terms that one can’t get away from as I said earlier. And I blame Nigerians for our terrible history and experiences.
The type of atrocities committed on the weak, on weak Nigerians are unprecedented. I can’t think of any other country in the world that would tolerate what our governments do to the citizens and get away with them.
Nigerians may be one of the most timid nationals in the world. There is too much wastage by the state that injures the citizenry gravely.
Take for example, Obasanjo has 45 ministers. I don’t know the number of advisers, special assistants and aids. Each of these has four to five cars, which are fuelled and maintained daily by government.
In the same ministries that this horde of officials is supervising, there are the directors-general, permanent secretaries, executive directors and other grades of directors. Offices are duplicated twice or more.
We can’t afford such wastage. Let us put the money to economic uses, into industries, into agriculture, commerce and we will be amazed at the outcome within three years.
We don’t need 45 ministers to run the ministries. What are the advisers doing? What does each director do?
Let’s have their job description. Many don’t have offices and live in hotels that cost fortunes weekly.
Q 49. Most of the appointments are for patronage. Parties are built on patronage. How can you cut the perquisites of office and hope to have the support of your party men?
A. You recall that when the late Chief Bola Ige was appointed into Obasanjo’s government and the man protested some of the goings on in the government, a PDP chieftain told Ige to keep his peace, that he was invited to come and chop and should see no wrong or evil!
Many of the appointments are immoral. You keep dozens of people in luxury hotels, provide them cars and what not and pay them fabulous sums at the end of every month because they are party stalwarts.
For me, I will talk to the party and remind us the reason we are in government, which is to serve the greatest number. The public voted for you in trust, believing you will put their interest first.
I will explain to the politicians why we can’t have so many ministers. For instance, if you take a gang of noisemakers and make them ministers, all they will give the public is noise, tons of words without meaning or value. If I become the president, I will do things differently, the way they should be done.
As we were going to press, we saw this piece on page 8 of the Vanguard of Wednesday, March 26, 2003. It speaks for itself.
BISHOPS ABSOLVE BUHARI OF CORRUPTION …
UMUAHIA: The Council of Bishops of Nigeria has investigated and found the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) presidential flag bearer, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari, upright, according to Archbishop Rogers Uwadi.
“Against the backdrop of accusations of impropriety against Alhaji Buhari, we carried out a private investigation and found him upright.” Uwadi, who is the Methodist Archbishop of Umuahia, said on Monday in Umuahia.
“We Bishops in Nigeria have carried out a thorough investigation of your past activities and found that you have not corruptly enriched yourself,” Uwadi told Buhari who paid him a courtesy visit.
Uwadi said that the clerics were not carried away by political smearing against Buhari. “We are sensible enough not to be swayed by all the political brickbat,” he said, accusing the press of not conducting investigations into issues that affected the nation before publishing them.
He prayed for the successful conduct of the forthcoming elections, urging INEC to conduct the elections as scheduled.
“Whoever works against that would be disappointed by the power of God,” he said.
Speaking earlier, Buhari said that if given the mandate, he would take the oath of office with the Holy Qur’an, so as to conduct his assignment honestly.
Buhari pointed out that the recent murder of the party’s stalwarts, including Chief Marshal Harry and its senatorial candidate in Imo, Mr. Ogbonnaya Uche, had caused damage to the political situation in the country.
On the other hand, however, the unfortunate incidents had strengthened the party in every part of the country, he said.
APPENDIX: PROFILE OF MUHAMMADU BUHARI
BUHARI, Major-General Muhammadu (rtd), fss, GCON, GCFR, former head of state and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria; born December 17, 1942, Daura, Katsina State; married Safinatu Yusuf, 1971; four daughters.
Education: Daura and Mai ‘ Adua Primary Schools, 1948-52; Katsina
Middle School, 1953-55; Katsina Provincial School (now Government College), Katsina, 1956-61; Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna, 1962, Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, United Kingdom, 1962-63; Defence Service Staff College, Wellington, India, January-November, 1973; Army War College, USA, 1970-80
Career: Commissioned Second Lieutenant, 1963; Platoon Commander, 2nd Infantry Battalion, Abeokuta, 1963; Platoon Commander’s Course, Nigeria Military College, Kaduna, 1963-64; Mechanical Transport Officer’s Course, Army Mechanical Transport School, Bordon, United Kingdom, 1965; Commander, 2nd Battalion, United Nations Peace-keeping Force, Congo (now Zaire) early 1960s; Mechanical Transport Officer, Lagos Garrison Transport Company, 1964-65; Commander, 2ndInfantry Brigade Transport Company, January-July 1965; Adjutant/Commander, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 1965-67; Brigade Major, 2 Sector, 1st Infantry Division, April-July 1967; Brigade Major/Commander, 31 Infantry Brigade; 1970-71; Assistant Adjutant-General, 1st Infantry Division Headquarters, 1971-72;Colonel General Staff, 3rdInfantry Division Headquarters, January-September 1974; Acting Director, Transport and Supply, Nigerian Army Corps of Supply and Transport Headquarters, 1974-75; Military Governor, North-Eastern State (now six states), 1975-76; Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Energy, 1976-78; Chairman, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, 1978-79, Military Secretary (Army), Army Headquarters/member, Supreme Military Council, 1978-79, General Officer Commanding, 4thInfantry Division, Nigerian Army Headquarters, 1979-80; General Officer Commanding, 2nd Mechanised Infantry Division, Nigerian Army Headquarters, Ibadan, January-October, 1981; General Officer Commanding, 3rd Armoured Division, Jos, 1981-1983; Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, Nigerian Armed Forces, 1984-1985; ousted from power and retired on August 27, 1985; Executive Chairman, Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, 1994-1999.
Award: Man of the Year, The Nigeria Road Federation, 1999.
National Honour: Commander of the Federal Republic; Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, 1992.
Decorations: Defence Service Medal; National Service Medal; General Service Medal; Republic Medal; Loyal Service and Good Conduct Medal; Forces Service Star; UN Peace-keeping Force, Congo, Medal.