He said as he planned to serve for just one term, he would urgently tackle two major issues, if elected: “There are two issues and I have said it in one sentence. Security and power. This country has to be secured and managed. People in Nigeria must not go about fearing that they would be abducted. You must not be afraid to the point that you can’t drive from Kaduna to Kano any time of the day. If you are in Lagos, you should have jobs to the point that you can afford to have three shifts in a day...”
General Buhari added further that, “We have to revive the electricity sector so that people will have access to power to carry out their businesses. Others include the roads, the railways, the shipping lines, etc. We used to have all these things. In spite of what we earned in the last eleven years, the whole infrastructure has already collapsed.”
The CPC presidential candidate stated that his choice of the leader of the Latter Rain Assembly in Lagos, Pastor Tunde Bakare, as his running mate in the forthcoming election was not as a result of any religious concern, but for the commitment Pastor Bakare showed in his presidential ambition.
General Buhari said the difficult negotiation for alliance with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) could be fruitful even with Pastor Bakare as running mate, considering the fact that there were power-sharing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which should have been considered by all the parties to the alliance.
He told Sunday Trust that: “There are questions of appointments, if we win the elections and form the government. The only thing you are talking about is that of the presidential candidate. There are other things, power sharing formula and all those. Things can be worked out. There are working documents developed by each of the parties.”
(General Buhari’s interview on Pages 5, 6, 7)
How do you feel running for the presidency the third time since 2003?
I feel more or less contented that in each of the cases you mentioned, we followed the system. We did them with integrity. You can see that the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has had a convention and we did it very transparently. Everybody lined up. Delegates came and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) supervised the process and, in the end, the question of I, being the presidential candidate, was ratified by the convention. A new executive was elected very transparently and there was no incident at all.
You said there was no incident, but your friend and associate, Chief Mike Ahamba, wasn’t happy?
He gave a press conference and since he didn’t talk to me personally before he went to the press, I, too, replied him through the press. The problem is I, as the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and according to the constitution of our party, important decisions to be taken are referred to me. But I always require that these issues are sent to me in writing to ensure they are on record, instead of somebody forgetting and denying them. The party offices were shared among the six geopolitical zones. This will ensure that there are people who represent each of the geopolitical zones. When the arrangement was sent to me, it was from the executive of the party. There were no names put against any position, whether Chairmen, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. All they said was a particular position should go to a particular geopolitical zone. They claimed to have done it for the sake of federal character. I said, okay, I accepted it. I didn’t know that Chief Mike wanted the chairmanship of the party to be zoned to the South-East. Unfortunately, the executive of the party zoned it to the South-South. Since it was the executive that did it, nobody can claim that I ordered it, or that I was a party to it. Even if it were zoned to the South-East, one thing could have happened. There are five states in the South-East: Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi States. Mike happens to come from Imo State. There could have been people from each of these states to compete with him. It could have been anybody’s guess. Anybody could have won. For him to be so upset to think that somebody in the executive of the party zoned him out of the chairmanship, I think is not right.
Chief Ahamba is very close to you. Are you now saying he never told you he was interested in the Chairmanship of the CPC?
He said he was interested, but that is not how I operate. Mike knows better than anybody, I should say, since we have been with him since 2003. I will not deliberately zone the chairmanship to the South-East so that Mike becomes the chairman of the party. If you follow my antecedents, you will know that my running mates in 2003 and 2007 were from the South-East. For anybody to make any skeptical suggestion that he was zoned out is unfair.
But you are not choosing anybody from the South-East this time?
That is up to the party.
Are you so distanced from the party?
You see, that was what drove me out of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). It is what the party decides. I have to be given the liberty to decide who should be my Number Two. I must have trust and confidence in him. I must know the antecedents of the person. Look at what happened between 2007 and now. If you look at what has happened to President Goodluck Jonathan, that is fate. He was deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and now president. That is fate.
What lessons did you learn from your experience in 2003 and 2007, and which will guide you in the contest this time around?
The lessons I learnt made me to get out of the ANPP. The ANPP didn’t say they would not give me the ticket, but I mentioned the events that took place that necessitated my exit from the ANPP, and I have said it so many times. In 2003, we were in court for 30 months. In 2007, for 20 months, we were in court. Between these two elections we were in court for 50 months!
You were abandoned by the ANPP during the 2007 court case?
Yes, that’s just one of the issues. I said I wouldn’t go to court after the 2007 elections, but the party said I contested under its banner, therefore, I must go to court. They were right. I said, let us have seperate legal teams, because it was allowed by the Electoral Act. Let the party take its own legal team, and I, as presidential candidate, I will take mine. Virtually, the impossible happened. While we were still in court, they withdrew the case without even saying ‘goodbye’ to me. Now, the implications of that are what most people do not think of.
What are the implications?
The implications are that if I hadn’t my own legal team, that would have been the end of the case. There would have been nothing I could do, constitutionally. People wouldn’t think of that as a real ANPP affair. People would say, ‘he must have been given something. He must have been settled.’ Nigerians will be quick to believe that. Luckily, I had my own legal team, so I continued. The second thing they did was to get into the so-called Government of National Unity (GNU), and they are still there. The third thing was that, they didn’t consult the constitutional structure of the party to do all they did. They didn’t consult the National Working Committee, which was supposed to be running the party on a day-to-day basis. They didn’t consult the caucus of the party, which comprises the governors, chairmen of the party, chairman of the BOT, the presidential candidate and his running mate. We were not consulted. And, most importantly, the issue was important enough for the National Executive Committee (NEC) to sit and deliberate it. They didn’t do it. So, from all intent and purpose, there was anarchy in the ANPP. There is no room for me where there is anarchy. I just had to leave.
You have been quoted as saying if you don’t win the election in 2011 you wouldn’t go to court?
Yes, I said that!
Even if you have evidence that you are rigged out?
Having been in court for 50 months between 2003 and 2008, if I’m rigged out again, I will not go to court. I will leave the party to deal with the case. The CPC can, but I, as the presidential candidate, I’ve made up my mind never to go to court again on that issue.
Is it because of the expenses involved?
There is the expenses, but look at what happened in 2007. The decision of the case split the Supreme Court in the middle. But look at what they came up with.
Does that mean you have lost confidence in the Judiciary?
That’s very heavy to say. I can’t say I have no confidence in the judiciary, but I’m not happy with the judiciary because even from the lower court up to the Supreme Court, we brought documents, INEC documents. We proved it to the lawyers and the judges in court. There was no election in 29 states out of 36 states and Abuja. It’s their documents. They just stamped documents and went to the radio and announced them. It was recorded. Then, one, at one of the collation centres in Abuja, the former INEC Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, my representative, another one for Atiku Abubakar, were sitting with Iwu when results from 11 states, including Abuja, were received. Iwu said, ‘excuse me,’ as if he was going to the toilet and announced the results. That was the result that stood! That’s three Justices of the Supreme Court said the election should be annulled. Three said, there were cases against the election, but, blah, blah, blah, let Umaru continue. Of course, he continued. So, why should I go to court again? When we proved with documentary evidence that there were no elections in 29 states, and still the Supreme Court, with the Chief Justice of the Federation casting the last vote, said the election should stand. Why should I go to court and waste my time again?
There was so much talk about an alliance between the CPC and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Suddenly, there are indications that the alliance is not working. What happened?
I don’t know where you got the idea from…
Last Saturday, I called Chief Bisi Akande and he told me nothing was happening?
I’m very surprised if Chief Akande would say that. I had a meeting with him last (penultimate) Tuesday in Abuja. I, with the Chairman of our party, Chief Tony Momoh, two members of the BOT, one Mrs Joy Okunnu and Sule Hammah. Chief Akande was there; he chaired the meeting, because we went to where he was lodging. Chief Segun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Niyi Adebayo, former Governor of Ekiti State, and Alhaji Musa Gwadabe. We were all there and we had a meeting on that Tuesday and we said we were going to meet tomorrow (last Tuesday), and Akande said he did not know what was happening?
But January 31 was supposed to be the day the name of the presidential candidate of the allied parties should be submitted to INEC. From all indications, it has not?
We have done our convention and my name will certainly be sent to INEC. If ACN decides to send the name of their own presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, they are free to do so. Still something can be worked out.
The deadline is January 31. What do you think can be worked out?
Yes, but up till February 21, you can still make some changes.
We understand that one of the major problems inhibiting the alliance is the running mate. You are insisting on Pastor Tunde Bakare, while ACN wants one of their own. Why do you insist on Tunde Bakare?
Why not? It is the prerogative of the presidential candidate. I have been ratified by the convention of my party and I can choose my running mate. I asked Pastor Bakare to fill the forms. Now we can negotiate outside the vice president and presidential candidate. It is possible.
But that is affecting your alliance talks with the ACN?
It depends on what remains of the negotiations.
What is remaining of the negotiations?
There are questions of appointments, if we win the elections and form the government. The only thing you are talking about is that of the presidential candidate. There are other things, power sharing formula and all those. Things can be worked out. There are working documents developed by each of the parties. They will be discussing based on them.
You have goodwill all over the country, but we have crisis in state chapters of the CPC: Kano, Katsina, Bauchi. What is happening at the state levels of the CPC?
Well, how many states? Kano, Katsina, Bauchi. How many states do we have in Nigeria? There are 36 states.
But, why are you not intervening, in let’s say, Katsina, your home base?
Why should I intervene? We have a system. If people don’t want to follow the system, the system will throw them out.
How does the system you are talking about function?
For instance, as a new party, we registered with INEC. What we did was to send the membership cards to the states and fix the price of each card at N100. What happened in one of the states you mentioned was that people hoarded the cards. They refused to give them to some of those they don’t want in the CPC to participate at the polls. Secondly, some people refused to account for the money realized from the sale of the membership cards, the money that should be used for running the party. Thirdly, some people printed fraudulent cards, sold them and put the money in their pockets. We, therefore, decided to do the registration again. We got a security firm to produce membership cards that cannot be easily imitated. Again, it was made impossible for some people to get the cards. When we came for the congresses, we said the congress should start from 8.00am to 3.00pm or 5.00pm. Some people conducted their own from 10.00pm to 8.00am. So, our problem is that both caretaker committees and the substantive committees were not following the party’s constitution and guidelines. This is really unfortunate. It shows indiscipline, the lack of commitment, and the prevalence of corruption. These were obvious. For this reason, in some states, we had to do congresses and primaries three times each, instead of doing them once and for all.
How is the party going to sort this out?
We are sorting it out. You know, it is in the Electoral Act that anybody who uses money or thuggery is barred from being a candidate, and we’re doing that. Where there is a clear evidence from the constituency that somebody used thugs to intimidate, humiliate and wound people, we’ll stop him. Somebody who visibly used money, and we have evidence, we’ll drop him. The party is doing something about it.
Are you saying that in Kano, for instance, where there were protests, you are going to deal with the ‘sponsor’ of the protests?
Why are you so particular about Kano?
You have a lot of supporters in Kano. So it’s one of your catchment areas?
Where don’t I have supporters?
Do you suspect that those who left PDP for CPC are behind some of these problems?
Well, that is to be expected. If you’ve got somebody in the opposition, wouldn’t you try to make him uncomfortable? This is natural. We shouldn’t expect PDP to pet us on the back, and send us some money to do our primaries, etc. But if they send people on a mission to destroy the CPC, I assure you, they will fail. We go by our constitution, the Electoral Act, and our principles.
Are you making efforts to detect those ‘agents’ of the PDP who may be destroying your party?
Why should we waste our time trying to detect infiltrators. You see, uptill February 21, we have a very tight schedule. We have to make sure we get our candidates correct: gubernatorial, National Assembly, States Assembly, etc. This is our fundamental priority and objective now. We don’t have time to start fighting the PDP. If we do so, we’ll be wasting time and resources. Let the PDP face their own problems.
Text messages were circulated shortly after the PDP primaries saying ‘vote Buhari, vote Islam’. What is your take on this?
I don’t believe it’s our supporters who sent it. I believe it’s from the other side. I got it myself and we countered it. You can’t come and ask for any constituency’s support in any part of this country and you base it on religion. If you want to be the president of this country and you start talking about religion, you will fail. By the constitution of this country, there is no state religion. In Nigeria, Islam and Christianity are the biggest religions, but there are people who are so confused, they don’t believe in God, but you need their votes. What do you do about them?
Are they trying to label you an Islamist?
Not that they are trying. They have. From 2003, I have visited Bishops and I have started the rounds already.
Is it because of the Islamic labelling that you are making Pastor Tunde Bakare your running mate?
No, that’s not the reason. Pastor Bakare came to this office, and sat where you are sitting (referring to the reporter). He came with his people and said he believed I’m the best of those who have come out to contest. He proceeded to tell his church, both nationally and internationally that I’m the best candidate. This is not a question of religion, but a question of somebody who has a base and beliefs in our cause and programmes, and he came out without being persuaded. Bakare has been on and off since the last eight months or so, contacting churches, going internationally and selling the idea.
In 2003, you were reported to have asked Christians to vote Christians and Muslims to vote Muslims?
That happened in 2002. What happened was that a certain Sheikh from Sokoto told me he wrote a book on Shariah, and he wanted me to chair the launch. The man was over 70 years of age. I told him I would go. Among the audience at the launch of that book was the late Sultan Abubakar, and I suspected that even former President Shehu Shagari was there. If you recall, in 2002 there was no partisan politics. At the end of the launching, I, as the chairman of the occasion, was asked to comment. I looked at that book. I hadn’t the knowledge to comment on that book. That man was in Saudi Arabia for 11 years, studying Sharia and Islam. There was no way I could comment, because I didn’t have the depth. So, I said, well, you people from Sokoto, you know your people. Very soon, there will be partisan politics. Please try and vote people who will work for you and work for the country honestly. And apparently, the person who wrote that story in Thisday newspaper was not a Muslim, he is Yoruba, he doesn’t speak or understand Hausa. He was not in Sokoto. How did he come up about the story?
Did you speak to the people in Hausa or in English language?
I spoke in Hausa. The whole event was in Hausa. How did he come about it? Somebody somewhere just cooked up the story. But this is part of the problem we have in this country.
How do you intend to enhance religious harmony in Nigeria?
Religious harmony in Nigeria is simple. I believe the most important thing is education. If we educate our people, they’ll look after themselves, and there’s a level of nonsense they will not take from anybody. But when you allow education to collapse and you start working on ethnic and religious sentiments, then you will be harming the country. My answer is education. Let people not be afraid of educating their people, because if they are educated they will disagree with them. But how can you build a country without educating the people.
Why did you say you will do just one term, if elected?
I’m not getting younger. If I succeed and do one term, I will be 73 years old.
If you’re doing just one term, you may want to urgently do some things? What are they?
There are two issues and I have said it in one sentence. Security and power. This country has to be secured and managed. People in Nigeria must not go about fearing that they would be abducted. You must not be afraid to the point that you can’t drive from Kaduna to Kano any time of the day. If you are in Lagos, you should have jobs to the point that you can afford to have three shifts in a day. That is eight hours each. But people are now very scared wherever they are. People have built houses worth over a billion naira, but they are afraid to live in them. What is the use? So, security is number one. Number two is structure. We have to revive the electricity sector so that people will have access to power to carry out their businesses. Others include the roads, the railways, the shipping lines. We used to have all these things. In spite of what we earned in the last eleven years, the whole infrastructure has already collapsed.
What else can you do? Obasanjo made so much efforts, pumped billions of dollars into power projects, but nothing happened?
What happened to the hearing in the National Assembly about the $10 billion spent by Obasanjo in the power sector? What was the result of the hearing? It has been killed.
What would you do to tackle Plateau and Borno State killings?
Well, I will try to find out what has happened and fully ascertain the problems. Go to your archive. You will discover that between 1991 and now, there have been about 12 panels of investigations. In most of them, there have been government investigative panels. What has the government done? Something concrete should be done. The case of Borno is most recent, but it is becoming the most volatile. We have to find out the truth, and we can do so through proper intelligence by the law enforcement agencies, the police and so on. Before I get there, I may not know the whole truth. When I get there and know the whole truth, I will know what to do.
We’ve seen what the power of incumbency can do in politics. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was beaten at the PDP primaries because of the factor of incumbency. Are you not jittery over the face that, once again, you are going to face an incumbent president in 2011?
Whenever you contest, there must be an incumbent president.
How are you going to handle this incumbency?
We are hoping for a free and fair election. If the government fails to allow a free and fair elections, well, the government will be prepared to handle the consequences. I have asked people to register and they are doing so. I’m impressed by what the church leadership and muslim leaders, traditional leaders, etc. are doing. I’m very much impressed with it.
With the situation on ground today, are there issues that would give you any iota of doubt that there would be free and fair elections?
If you studied the failure of the 2003 and 2007 elections, I think the government didn’t intend to have a free and fair elections, hence the logistic support to difficult parts of the country was not given. I made mention of it when I registered. Like the Niger Delta area, the Mambilla Plateau, the vast rural areas of the North. No government can say that it doesn’t know this country. Because I had the rare opportunity of being the Governor of the North East, and Petroleum Minister, when the beginning of the North-East was the place that has the same latitude with Lagos and up to Lake Chad. When I was in Petroleum, I mainly operated in the Delta region, and I was hopping in helicopter from place to another, at least every other year. So, I know this country. That terrain is virtually impossible. So, for INEC to have people and material in place at the right time, the government must apply itself to these issues. Honestly, in 2007, election materials didn’t arrive at Mambilla until a day after the elections. Does the government not know that Mambilla and the Delta area are difficult? If the government wants free and fair elections, they can organize it. If they don’t want, they wouldn’t. If they don’t they will face the consequences. If they were not having free and fair elections previously and got away with it, I tell you that, this year, if there are no free and fair elections, they will not get away with it because the level of awareness now, Nigerians are demanding for nothing less than free and fair elections. Nigerians want to be given the right to decide who their leaders will be. This is what Nigerians are demanding now. But if this government thinks that it can frustrate the system, by refusing to give proper logistics, then I think they will have themselves to blame.
You don’t tend to have a presence in the South-South, South-East and even South-West, though we expect your alliance with ACN to take care of the South-West. What are you doing about all these regions?
Well, there is not much presence of the CPC in the South-South, but you know I was there twice. I was in Port Harcourt, I was in Bayelsa. In the South-East, I was in Imo and from 21st of this month we’ll have our programmes of campaigns and I will visit those states. Again, we have our gubernatorial candidates and we have others for positions in the National Assembly and state assemblies. Anybody who is interested in winning elections should go and deliver his constituency. You can’t just come and fill INEC papers and in party headquarters, and just go and sit down in your house. Everyone has to deliver his constituency, otherwise what are they doing in the party? If you want to be a member of the House of Assembly, local government, Senate, you have to go to your people to canvass for votes.
How healthy are you at 69?
I try to keep fit and with my desire to go round the country, I have to keep myself fit.
Are you strong enough to face the stress as president of Nigeria at 69?
I have said this often. In 2003, I visited 34 states. Some of them several times. I only went to four of them by air. I went to Maiduguri and drove back through Yobe and other states. I went to Akwa Ibom State by air, I went to Rivers by air, and Lagos by air. I went to all other states by road, ditto, 2007 elections. No presidential candidate did that. If you could recall, Obasanjo campaigned by air for Yar’adua, because after a few campaigns, Yar’adua had to be evacuated to Europe. Other presidential candidates would talk to journalists on television and radio. No presidential candidate went round this country like I did.
How are you going to tackle the problem of corruption in Nigeria? Every other failure is as a result of corruption. What ideas are you bringing to tackle corruption?
I think this time around, when I talk about awareness, it’s not about being elected alone. There’s awareness on the part of the electorate to know whether, after what we went through in the past 11 years plus, whether PDP can produce any leader capable of being accountable. Try and find out what is earned in the three tiers of government, local, states and federal. Look at the state of our infrastructure and social services. They’ve virtually collapsed. Look at the money we earned. Where is the money? Where is the performance? We have more than enough to tell the electorate. Based on free and fair election, based on performance, PDP will have no chance; they’re lucky to have received so much money in the past 11 years, but they have only succeeded in destroying the infrastructure. They cannot account for the money they have received.
Are you going to ask them to account for the money if you are elected president?
If you insist on that, you wouldn’t do anything. They have done so much havoc. The best thing is to, as much as possible, draw a line and continue. But the cases with EFCC, ICPC, the police, and so on, you allow them to take their courses. I think this is the only way to achieve results. But if you say you are going to investigate in the local government, states and federal, I assure you, you wouldn’t do a thing. Even if you had two terms, you would finish them without achieving anything.
Are you satisfied with how the EFCC and ICPC do their jobs today?
Well, they can say they are doing their best.
How do you strengthen them?
I have to do some institutional strengthening in the form of training, equipping, and effective supervision. There is no way a minister should bring a memo to council asking for $2 billion for Thermo stations or refurbishing of Kainji or Shiroro or starting Mambilla Hydro Electricity project, and then you ask him for progress before or during the following budget, and several billions of dollars have been taken from the Central Bank of Nigeria, approved by the presidency, and you fail to trace the expenditure approved and paid for, and you allow that man to stay peacefully in Nigeria? It is not under our administration.
How would you create jobs?
I told you about infrastructure. The first thing is to make sure we resuscitate the power sector. When there is power, the factories will open shops. The overhead of maintenance of generators, fuel, spare parts, will help them to break-even. Secondly, the roads should be motorable. Thirdly, you have to wipe out the corruption at our entry points, whether it is the airports, sea ports, or land. So that, among other things, the INEC machines wouldn’t be missing. Then, you remove all unnecessary bottlenecks in the bureaucracy, so that entrepreneurs can bring in their money. You have to reopen the factories and allow them to have access to essential raw materials. Then, we talk about agriculture.
I don’t know if you have heard this before: General Buhari is the right man for this job, but those who benefit from corruption will not allow him to be voted as President. Have you heard such expression, and what are you doing about it?
Yes, I have. But I will ask you, journalists, what are you doing about it? I have talked so much, of recent, about the responsibilities of the elite. I always give examples of Kano in 2003, and Bauchi and Lagos in 2007. People in Kano came together: the university community, the traders and the youths. They decided to change their government and they did. In 2007, Bauchi and Lagos decided to have free and fair elections imposed on their states and they did. It’s up to the youths. Instead of allowing the people to use them; give them weapons and drugs, send them against their own people, let them resist. Why did they allow education to collapse, siphon the money and then pay the drop-outs to go and kill their own people? It’s up to Nigerians.
But as a presidential candidate, you have that responsibility to create this awareness and resist those who would prevent you from winning?
Yes. That’s why I’m talking about Kano, Bauchi and Lagos. Where people don’t organize themselves and decide to have a free and free election, then there will be problems. It’s possible to replicate this in other states. The elite have to go to their constituencies and deliver them democratically. Talk to the educated ones in rural areas, and ask them to participate in mainstream politics at their levels.
What is your message to Nigerians?
What I will tell Nigerians is that, no matter the pains they have to go through, let them register. They may decide not to vote, but let them register, for God’s sake, no matter the frustration. And of course, I want them to elect the CPC.