As part of Nigerian Village Square's interview series with all aspirants for the 2011 Presidential election, former Head of State, General MUHAMMADU BUHARI sat down for an hour-long interview with members of the NVS editorial team. Below is the unedited transcript of the interview.
The institutions that support democracy have been compromised... So, what we are saying is that we are going to take the fundamental things and try and rebuild the country.
Question: Thank you for taking the time to be on the NVS HotSeat. General, we will start right away. You are talking to two Nigerians of a certain generation, who went through all the experiences of military rule in Nigeria. I mean if you look at the bracket from 1983 to 1999, that is a huge chunk out of the life of your two interviewers, so they come to this with a certain mindset about former military leaders wanting to come back as civilian presidents. But that notwithstanding we thought we should give you the opportunity to earn your first two votes today. Why should Pius and Moses who are interviewing you - why should they vote for you?
General Buhari: Well, they may not be living in Nigeria, but I believe that their concern about Nigeria is as genuine as that of those of us who are here. Firstly, the physical and material insecurity in the country. The most important and fundamental thing that any government can do from 2011 is to secure this country. There is so much abduction and assassination. There is so much corruption. The institutions that support democracy have been compromised: the Nigerian police, the judiciary, the other law enforcement agencies, the civil service. Infrastructures have gone. You know it very well— there is no power, factories have closed, people have lost their jobs, [and] there are no roads. So, what we are saying is that we are going to take the fundamental things and try and rebuild the country. This is what we are saying.
VISION FOR NIGERIA AND SPECIFICS
Question: Well, thank you for that answer. This is Moses. You talked about a number of problems that the country currently wrestles with. Those are familiar problems that require immediate solutions, but projecting into the future, the issue with Nigeria is that we don’t just need to act today to solve our immediate problems; but we also have to develop strategic plans for the future. So, along those lines, let me ask you this question, General. Where do you see Nigeria, what is your vision for Nigeria in the next 20 years— say in the year 2030?
General Buhari: Yeah, if you will look at population projections, you look at social institutions, especially education, health care, infrastructure and, above all, power… [We need all these] so that factories can re-open, people can get employment, there will be less unemployment and consequently there will be less crime and [we can have] the other infrastructure [such as] health care, drinking water, good roads.
Now, in 20 years’ time we want to see that relative to the growth of the population, that at length, that the resources, both human and material, have to meet to make sure Nigeria makes the necessary impact in the global community. We have the people. We have the resources. Therefore, there must be the discipline, the leadership that can inspire and lead the people to make sure that there are achievable economic conditions that will provide employment and material security to generally uplift the country.
Question: Okay, thank you General. This is Pius. So far you have spoken in broad terms about what is wrong with the country? You have identified the problems and you have articulated what needs to be done [and] where we need to go. But the problem is that you need to tell us how you are going to do some of these things concretely. Let me take you back. You said factories need to reopened, for instance. Now we need to know how you hope to reopen the factories. Just give us an example. The textile industry, for example, in the north - how would you move from step A to B to C to D and ultimately ensure that these factories reopen and not just reopen haphazardly but in a sustained manner. What are your plans?
General Buhari: Well, I am still within the textile industry where I have an idea about…. The textile industry was employing about 300,000 Nigerians five, six years ago but now are employing less than 25,000. Why? A number of reasons. You are asking me how we can get them reopened to employ people and provide goods and services.
Power is the number one priority
..five years is long enough for Nigeria to see any impact and we haven't seen any yet.
If the money (on Power) had been judiciously used, the results would have surfaced - there would have been a lot of factories open, there would have been a lot of people working - under an effective leader.
We have to do something drastic about power because they will have to be able to operate effectively and at least break even. Now, without power, with the [current] state of power, it is almost impossible. There is a lot of publicity in the last four years or so that there has been money voted—about seventy billion naira— to help the industry to do so. It is just like throwing bad money after good money unless there are infrastructures in place for these industries to become viable and sustainable. So power is the number one priority. What is happening to our power stations? What is happening to our hydro power stations- Kainji, Shiroro, Jebba? What is happening to the planned Mambilla hydro power station to complement the thermal power station and integrated into the national grind, and so on?
There are a lot of stories about it but five years is long enough for Nigeria to see any impact and we haven't seen any yet. So what the next government will do, if it is a responsible government, is to make sure that whatever resources has been voted on this issue of power is used judiciously and all the infrastructures must be made to be working again, and then new ones are commissioned and sustained. This is our only way out because we don’t have the technology to provide power by solar, but what we have on the ground we should get them working and then build new ones.
Then, the money voted for it we have to find out where it is, because a lot of money has been voted for it. We have been hearing of hearings in the National Assembly about the money voted relative to what is happening in the power sector itself. All this has to be done very quickly.
WHAT MAKES YOU MORE QUALIFIED THAN OTHERS?
Question: Okay, General, this is Moses again. You have outlined a number of things that we need to do, that the next leader needs to do to resuscitate our industries and to get people back to work. My first question… I’m going to ask a two-part question.
The first one is, what makes you more qualified than, say Atiku, Ibrahim Babangida, Goodluck Jonathan and all other contestants for the presidency declared and undeclared? What makes you more qualified to do these things than they?
The second part of my question is, you talked about power being very central to the resuscitation of our industries. I’m sure you are aware of how much has been spent by the Obasanjo regime, the Yaradua regime and how little, if any, power generation improvement we got from it. So, how is your approach to power different from the approaches of Obasanjo and Yar’adua and how do you intend to fund that approach?
We will expose the incompetence of the ruling party
General Buhari: Well firstly, there is no limit to the number of Nigerians that can aspire to lead the country, based on the constitution and the Electoral Act. Now, according to the Nigerian constitution , political parties are the platform, and you mentioned Jonathan, Atiku, Babangida and myself and why I feel that I may be better than them. Well, they belong to their own party, I belong to my own party. It is up to my party to nominate me and it is up to Nigerians to accept me by the way I try to I sell myself to them, to ask for their vote and I think ditto for the other aspirants.
So, I think under the constitution it is very clear, legitimate and there is nothing to worry about. The only thing is to let Nigerians listen to and understand our manifestoes and ask from the ruling party what they have done in last 10 years, what they have done to Nigeria, whatever they are going to do next they have to base it on that because they have been responsible. For us that are contesting with them, we will try to expose the incompetence of the ruling party and therefore produce an effective manifesto which Nigerians will listen to, that we are going to do better. I think this is the normal thing. Now your second question on— if you can remind me.
Question: On power. What will you do differently from the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua approaches and how would you fund your approach because funding it is very crucial.
General Buhari:Well, I have just told you that there has been a hearing in the National Assembly about the resources, the amount of money voted during the Obasanjo regime and the Yar’Adua regime on power. That hearing or the recommendation of the hearing has never seen the light of the day and we need to know. But that, we cannot wait for. What we need immediately is to look at what is on ground and what can we do to salvage the situation. That will be the focus of our manifesto on power.
What is on the ground Nigerians know, but what has been spent by the previous administration that you mentioned Nigerians don’t know because they didn’t see the improvement, but they were told of the money spent, but what we will do is to immediately proceed to improve power. We cannot wait for the investigation that will show that the money was judiciously used or not. If the money had been judiciously used, the results would have surfaced - the issue of power in Nigeria now should be a different thing. There would have been a lot of improvement in power, there would have been a lot of factories open, there would have been a lot of people working - under an effective leader.
Nigerians are fed up with the indiscipline and the corruption of governance, and this is our greatest hope against next year’s elections - that they need change. They need a serious team to be in charge of the country
Corruption has become institutionalized and cutting it down is going to be quite painful, but I assure you that it has to be done
There must be some decency in the amount of money public officers are paid. National and state assemblies should accept a downward review of payments and allowances
Question: General, this is Pius again. The immediate threat, as the greatest threat to your vision for Nigeria, as you have articulated it thus far is the problem of corruption, and the thing with corruption in Nigeria is that you don’t even know where to start. So, my question is what do you propose to do differently? How do you plan to tackle corruption beyond what I will call drop-in-the-ocean approach of the EFCC that we have had thus far? How do you plan to move against…?
General Buhari: Yes! As you said, it is an established fact that Nigeria is notoriously corrupt. Most of the institutions have been compromised, but mercifully Nigerians are fed up with the indiscipline and the corruption of governance, and this is our greatest hope against next year’s elections - that they need change. They need a serious team to be in charge of the country, they want good governance and I assure you (that one thing I know) is that Nigeria is not short of rules and regulations about accountability and transparency in dealing with government businesses.
What we have to do is to ensure that our institutions from day one will go back to our rules and regulations about accountability whether it is public funds or private ones. Institutions have to account properly and clearly according to the laws. We have adequate laws. Our problem is implementation, and the implementation is the corruption of the institution. The elite has compromised the country as a whole. We will persuade the Nigerian elite that they have the capacity to turn the country around because they are knowledgeable they are energetic - All they need is to be encouraged and believe in the country and therefore deliver the institutions they are managing. So we have to secure this country and manage it.
Question: Thank you general. I have a quick follow up in terms of specifics. I am Pius again. I am happy that you mentioned the elite. My problem is that elite corruption as we have written previously in our editorials in the NVS. Elite corruption; there are many dimensions to it, and one dimension is legalized or institutionalized corruption where what they are doing is perfectly legal. For instance, the issue of the allowances, the outrageous allowances of the members of the National Assembly. There is no doubt about the fact that there is corruption, and you will be operating in this setting and not in a military setting, but in a democratic setting where your ability to intervene in what they are doing is severely limited. So how do you propose to go about issues like that: where corruption is perfectly legal, it is built into budgets and institutions of state? That aspect of corruption is just as dangerous as all the other features of corruption. So how do you propose to handle this institutionalized and legal corruption ?
General Buhari: Well, the institutions that you have commented on, that work on payments and allowances of the legislature their allowances and so on, they are playing a constitutional role of indexing salaries and allowances according to the country’s earnings. The same institution will have to be asked to review it and this must be given a lot of publicity which Nigerians will support what our government will do if we are elected to make sure that money realized which should go for social service, get industries up, infrastructure, should not be given to the people in the National Assembly and their counterparts in the 36 states of the federation.
So I think this is a very serious issue, and it has been topical here back at home and I think it will form part of the election campaign manifesto, which will be really articulated and sold to the public. There must be some decency in the amount of money public officers are paid. We can't just sit here and allow public officers to just share our revenue and kill all social services. That is not how to rule the nation and I believe that whoever eventually becomes members of the national and state assemblies should accept a downward review of payments and allowances.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL
Question: Thank you General. Finally, tell us something quickly about the freedom of information bill. How do you propose to enhance the process as part of your anti-corruption drive? Obviously, the more Nigerians are informed of governance and what they propose to do…
General Buhari: Well, this issue, from what I saw from the Nigerian press, has been on for a number of years. I am afraid that when we get there we have to look at it and see what is happening in other viably democratic countries and perhaps make some changes. But from my experience, what I will appeal to the press is to do a lot more investigative journalism when it comes to issues of corruption of institutions and individuals in high places.
Nobody, either in Nigeria or outside, can deny the fact that the Nigerian system is very corrupt, and this is extremely unfortunate. So, for that reason I think it needs an honest effort on the part of the press to do their investigative journalism so that real cases of corruption can be exposed, so that institutions like ICPC and EFCC can get a lead from the press who gets a lot of public opinion. This is an extremely important part of our campaign and manifesto.
Question: Thank you general. It's Moses. I want to ask you about security. One of the things you mentioned earlier is the insecurity of life and properties and the situation has worsened recently with kidnappings going on, with armed robbery, with all kinds of insecurity. As a person with military background, if you are elected as the president, how would you approach insecurity within a democratic environment, that is, using tools that do not violate the human rights of people and do not incense the human rights and civil society communities, that is protective of the right of the Nigerians but at the same time going after the bad guys, putting them in jail and making sure that they longer terrorize Nigerians? How would you balance those two seemingly conflicting aspects of your profile while still being effective in tackling the security issues?
General Buhari:Yes, I am sure when we started this interview I said our manifesto mentioned how we are going to secure and manage this country. By that it should have rang a bell that Nigeria is insecure physically and materially. Physically, as you mentioned, the kidnappings, armed robbery, and then materially, we are looking at systematic looting of the treasury in all the three tiers of the government - local state and center.
The corruption has become institutionalized and cutting it down is going to be quite painful, but I assure you that it has to be done because, resources of the country must be judiciously used for social services. There is no point allowing people to take the money out of the country and leave the country high and dry.
I believe we will get the cooperation of all Nigerians to ensure that The Police, the EFCC, the ICPC should do their job. They should be constitutionally ready to do their jobs. I believe they are well staffed. They are being well-funded. And also the police, there has to be retraining, re-equipping and seriousness should be encouraged by promotion and those that crime persists in their area of responsibility should be in position to answer for their inefficiencies.
SHARIA AND ETHNIC/RELIGIOUS CRISES
Question: General, this is Pius. I am almost tempted to ask you point blank what your current plans on Sharia and perhaps you know that it is one of the most polarizing issues that we are facing in this country now. You have been associated in the past with some controversial statements with regards to that. So how do you propose to create a framework, a national framework, for religious harmony in the country and a framework that could ultimately take care of all the flashpoints and the crises that we have from time to time? So Sharia and ethnic tension in the country, what is your take on that, General?
General Buhari: Well, the Nigerian constitution is very clear about that, and I believe as you know that there are twelve states in the federation that follow Sharia because the constitution allows it. The constitution allows that if their state assemblies agree on certain sharia laws to be implemented then those states are allowed to do it.
I'm afraid this court of sharia is being more politicized than..(coughs) or more political than religious because if you could recall there are cases in Sokoto and in one other state where a court overruled the decision of the Sharia court where a woman was to be stoned or to be executed, you know, for having sex outside marriage. So you can see that the constitutional courts which are not Sharia courts are superior to Sharia court, and people who have taken their cases from the Sharia court there have victory from it. So, really, there has not been a Sharia in the constitutional problem from the time some of the states in the country decide to practice Sharia. It is always the constitutional courts that become superior over Sharia courts, although sharia courts technically are constitutional so really, there has been more of politicking than religious issue of Sharia. People are just using it, but for whatever political reason they are using it I don’t know because the case of this woman in Sokoto and some other states where people have challenged the Sharia courts in the civil court and they won their cases. So I hope you are following this very closely because you are supposed to interpret or inform the people of what actually is happening about Sharia in Nigeria.
If you can go and study it further you will find out even when the British came and conquered the caliphate, they did not interfere with sharia - they only stopped two things - stoning and chopping of hands. They had to stop the chopping of hands for those who stole and stoning for those who have sex outside marriage. These are the only two things that the British stopped.
those who are talking about sharia are failing to implement it because they would be the first victims of sharia because sharia does not tolerate stealing of public funds.
So nobody ever interfered with sharia other than stopping the stoning, but sharia means so much discipline that those who are talking about sharia are failing to implement it because they would be the first victims of sharia because sharia does not tolerate stealing of public funds. It does not support injustice in any form. so those who making too much noise about sharia are afraid of Sharia itself. So, this is all I can say about Sharia. I don't think sharia has any more problems in this country, because nobody is stopping or denying Muslims from being ruled by sharia. It's more of their business now than business of other Nigerians.
Question: So, I have two quick follow-up questions. General, you mentioned the constitution and you do know that there is this saying that Sharia is incompatible with the constitution of the Federal republic and I was wondering if you have anything to say about it. I have even read people going as far as claiming that Sharia is secession by other means.
The second question is… religious violence. All these religious clashes we have had in the country, especially in the Northern part of the country. My fear is that part of the problems is that there is no discipline and punishment that comes through that and, as I know, from Maitasine down to the Boko Haram, nobody has ever been arrested, tried and jailed. So do you propose to have a workable format of discipline and punish for our problems of religious crisis?
General Buhari: Well, once again, you can’t blame people who abide by Sharia or don’t abide by Sharia. You blame the institutions, mainly the Police, to arrest and prosecute. For example, there is a certain story yesterday or the day before yesterday where the president has received a report on the crisis in Plateau State. Now, there has been at least five of these crisis. There have been around four reports. Where are they? Where are the reports? Why is the government at the state and federal level are afraid to implement the report of the commission they have instituted on religious and tribal clashes in the country which are more regular, I agree with you, more often in the North than in the other parts of the country.
You can’t blame the people there. You can blame the law enforcement agencies. If there is a crisis in Plateau or in Kano or in Ibadan, it is up to the police to investigate and prosecute and I am not aware of any state where the government, the Federal government which controls the police and the other enforcement agencies, has stopped them from investigating or prosecuting anybody. So why are the law enforcement agencies not doing it and why is the Government not making the law enforcement agencies to do it? You have to go back and put the blame on the Federal government, because if there were a crisis and 100 Nigerians were killed, the Nigerian police are constitutionally empowered to suppress the crisis, investigate it, arrest and prosecute. If they don’t do it, so why is the Federal government not enforcing it?
Question: General, I hope you’re aware that some years ago there was a controversy around a statement credited to you somewhere in Sokoto state in which you are reported to have said that Muslims should vote for Muslims. Now whether you were misquoted or not, whether you were misrepresented or not, that has caused some anxiety and some concern, understandably, to some Christians in the south of the country, in the Middle Belt, even in the north itself. So how do you intend to sell your candidacy to those people who have perceived you wrongly or rightly as a sectional candidate who is popular in the North because he is seen as the champion of Islam and Sharia? How do you propose to appeal to people who are concerned legitimately and anxious about you being a president who will implement Sharia nationally or who will limit the rights of Christians and promote the interest of Muslims? I want you to speak to those people.
General Buhari: Well, that perception remains. I know in 2003 I wrote to many Bishops and I could recall I visited (inaudible) in 2003 and 2007. As you said, it happened in Sokoto in 2000 before I participated in elections. The person who reported me by tribe is a Yoruba man, by religion a Muslim. He was not in Sokoto and does not understand Hausa, maybe he still doesn’t. How he got the story I don’t know. And the comment I made was that people in Sokoto know their people, that when the ban on politics is lifted they should choose the people that will represent them responsibly. This is common sense: if someone aspires to rule this country, he cannot afford to offend even pagans or even atheists—those who don’t even believe in God. These are the people that will vote. How can I say Muslims should not vote for Christians? Then do I expect Christians to vote me, a Muslim? I wrote to the Bishops. I explained to them, but I think, as you mentioned, perception, people hold on to their perception. Even the church leaders were careful to explain to their flock that there is no way any leader will, at the federal level, antagonize any of the religions. So, I wrote to the Bishops to explain but I am still very surprised that the perception remains.
So there is nothing I can do about it, but I will continue to explain my position. And I have backed it by facts that I have served the country’s military for 25 years. I did all the command and staff work, as a platoon commander to General Officer Commanding and the only still surviving officers that commanded three of the four commands in the Nigerian Army. And the Nigerian Army is about 75% Christian and nobody has ever said I took a decision against anybody because of his religion or his tribe. There are other tribes in the whole command. So, if for politically it sticks that I don’t like Christians, well it is very very unfortunate, but my performance in office at all stages has portrayed me as an impartial person, and I have believe that whoever is still bringing that case up, for whatever vote, will definitely fail in a free and fair election. The question of me being a sharia advocate and a hater of Christians has never happened and it will certainly fail.
INDIGENESHIP AND CITIZENSHIP
Question: OK, General, this is Farooq Kperogi formerly of Weekly Trust. I have a question on this controversy over indigeneship and citizenship, especially in the Northern part of the country, where I also come from. There is this enduring debate on who is an indigene and who is a citizen, and this manifested in the crisis in Plateau. But what happened in Plateau is an outward manifestation of a deeper trouble with every part of Nigeria, to be fair. What is your take on this? What do you think Nigeria should implement. People have emotional attachments to their communities and then the whole idea of citizenship is kind of new to us. It is not as enduring in our part of our the world as it is in the West. Do you think people have the right to indigeneship of places they are indigenous to or should everyone be free to contest elections anywhere, in any part of the country they are born? What is your solution to this lingering problem of indigeneship, settlership, citizenship?
General Buhari: Well, I think this is a betrayal of the Nigerian constitution by local authorities and some states at various levels. And, again, this shows the incompetency of the administrators. There is the case in Plateau where some of the people don’t even know the states they came from - they don't know anything other than Plateau state because their parents and their grandparents were born there. They built houses there, they are business people. But because their names sounded like not a local name, they have problems in terms of education, employment at state and local government. It is an unfortunate situation which shouldn’t be tolerated. It shouldn’t be tolerated by the Federal Government, and again I am going back to the police.
The police in this place should have investigated these cases. We said that between 1991 and today there were 5 major clashes. None of the reports have seen the light of day. I squarely blame all the federal governments that were in power for, you know, for not having effective judicial inquiries into the issue.
Ideally, Nigerians have the right to stay in any part of the country and if they have stayed long enough in the area they can aspire to any political office by registering and participating in their constituency. I think we can only blame the Federal government that failed to investigate properly and prosecute those who perpetrate such evils against the federation.
Nigerians have the right to stay in any part of the country and if they have stayed long enough in the area they can aspire to any political office
WAI, DECREE 4, EXECUTION OF DRUG TRAFFIKERS
Question: General, that was a perceptive response but let me very quickly ask this: when you were head of state between 1983 and 1984 one of your signature policies was the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Another was Decree 4 and the killing of drug barons. What will you do when you become president? Will you return the War Against Indiscipline as a policy? What is your policy on drugs and what will your relationship with the media be?
General Buhari: Yeah, you are talking about a different system when we had war against indiscipline and the fate of drug traffickers in the country. Now, under the current democratic system, what is in the constitution is what will endure. It is what we will be superior. The only difference is style. I will insist that the Police do their job to arrest and prosecute and the judiciary will punish the offenders according to the constitution, I can’t do more than that under this system. In the military we have laws that guide our conduct in the form of decrees and edicts and we work according to them and those in charge of the country just have to endure. So it’s the same thing under a different setting. The constitution is all-embracing. So it is in the constitution what will happen to drug traffickers in Nigeria.
Question: Ok General, let me quickly ask a follow-up. Part of your attraction to a lot of young Nigerians that I am familiar with is your zero-tolerance policy towards corruption, your insistence on things being done right. Now if you are going to give in to the current system by saying that you will allow the police to do their job, that you are not bringing back the War Against Indiscipline, people will wonder what is the difference between you and other candidates. The only reason General Buhari is popular among a lot of young people is your policy; your war against indiscipline was successful, your fight against corruption was successful. So you are not going to bring in your past antecedents as head of state, things that make you popular? You’re going to be like any other president— to allow the constitution and things to go the way they normally are? Do I understand you to be saying that, General?
Well, I think I’ve answered this question. What we would do is to make the institutions functional, especially the police, the civil service and other agencies and the judiciary, because our constitution and other regulations are comprehensive enough and the people understand it. The problem is the execution, and what I am saying is that it is going to be a question of time. Our time would be zero tolerance for corruption, as you said, and we will also fight against indiscipline.
Indiscipline and corruption are the two great problems in Nigeria, and I think it has gotten to a level where Nigerians are fed up and really want a change. They want leadership. They want transparency. They want accountability. And these are what we are going to give Nigerians, God willing.
PRESIDENTIAL FLEET AND PRIORITIES
My concern about Nigeria is fundamental.
Question: Thank you General. This is Pius again. Just to take off from where Farooq stopped. You also have a reputation for being a very simple man. I have heard people who know say, “He is a very simple man.” And I think you’re going to have a problem being a simple man if elected with 9 planes in your presidential fleet. There is going to be a problem, I think. The idea of a simple man who has 9 planes, that is the size of Ethiopian Airline in general and it seems that since General Obasanjo we have a practice of every president adding to their fleet, you know. He added 2, I believe, and Goodluck Jonathan is going to add 3. So how are you going to cope with the planes, sir?
General Buhari: This is a funny question. My concern about Nigeria is fundamental. What has the planes got to do with it? Our people cannot go to school. They cannot go to good hospitals. we don’t get our priority right in this country. When we don’t have electricity, when we don’t have drinking water, I assure you we will do away with wastage and get our priorities right.
Well my fellow country men and women, next year is going to be a watershed for us and our country. We believe in God. We want Nigerians to have the courage to exercise their fundamental right, to go and register, to go and vote in their wards, and to ensure that their votes count, which I respectfully demand from all Nigerians. Thank you very much.