By SaharaReporters, New York
But perhaps the most surprising comments during the wide topic Skype interview with Sahara TV, were the former General’s comments, and his posture of walking in confidence. This comes in spite of being a major target of Nigeria’s most vicious terrorist group, Boko Haram. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, said that he has no fear of Boko Haram.
“I am not bothered by them (targeting me,”) said the general who describes himself as a proud Muslim. The resident of Nigeria’s northwestern region said that the “government has given me adequate protection,” even amid recent strikes by the Boka Haram that has left carnage in much of the northeast.
Muhammadu Buhari took sharp aim at what he called the cowardly targeting of children in playgrounds, school students eating lunch, and shoppers at souks, by the radical Islamist group.
In a recent interview with the Voice of America, the general referred to Boko Haram as “Devilish,” and he did not let up when pressed further by Sahara TV’s Rudolf Okonkwo. “Nigeria has the capacity to nip this in the bud,” he said, adding that one way to fight the group, and other would-be terrorists organizations is coming to agreements with neighboring countries, like Chad, Cameroon, and Benin Republic over the unauthorized circulation of weaponry, and training grounds.
In perhaps his most surprising comments about Boko Haram, he compared the group with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the tenure of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The two groups, he noted, were similar, and so are the comparisons of issues surrounding the Nigerian army’s tarnished reputation fighting the group, and its relationship with average citizens. The same criticisms of rape, brutality, and distain of the public were leveled against the British forces, as is the case now with the Nigerian army.
“The Nigerian military’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens,” he said. Yet, according to several human rights groups, the Nigerian military has come under fire with wide reports of rape, theft, and outright brutality. It is the same sort of criticism British forces were targeted with while fighting the IRA, the general said.
He said he believes the Nigerian army has been properly trained to fight insurgents out-of-uniform, when compared with other countries.
On other topics, the general was less forthcoming, and seemed evasive about his own future, and his party’s plans for the upcoming 2015 elections. This evasiveness carried over to subjects ranging from the recently frozen assets of Sani Abacha by U.S. officials; the soon-to-come national convention; his receiving an award from sitting president Goodluck Jonathan during centenary celebrations; and the fear of a Buhari presidency among Nigeria’s elite.
The general said that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was an important lesson for Nigerians, and the world. He said, (“the) multi-party system is best for Nigeria, and (Not one party rule.”)
On receiving an award from President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari during centenary celebrations, he said that it is important for a nation to look at itself after one hundred years. While others rejected receiving awards from the sitting president, Buhari accepted his without fanfare. But he was cagey on whether or not a past leader should receive such an award if there had been disclosures of wrong-doing while in office. He called the issuance of such awards “the beauty of the system” inside Nigeria. Yet, that passing on awards should “not be a difficult thing” if past leaders declare their assets, before and afterwards in receiving such an award.
Without directly naming the sitting president, he did say that the current government is “shy about punishing past wrong-doers.” Adding that some governments are “restrained” by constitutional rules to punish.
As for the 2015 election, he would not commit on whether he would enter the race, but did say that his “supporters (within the party) are insisting he participate.” He said that he would watch the party process of selecting a candidate, including pre-election primaries. Should that end is a stalemate, he said that then he would consider another run.
There is the perception that the fate of his APC party is tied to what he decides to do in the coming election. But he bristled at that suggestion, saying that his party does have “strength on the ground,” regarding canvassing and ‘getting out the vote.’ Yet, those strengths are not tied to what he does, the general asserted.
On why many inside Nigeria’s elite fear him, he would only say “they know (the reason) why.” He said that he wants order and accountability in Nigeria’s government, and that government does need economic partners who share his view of de-riding corruption in government.
The upcoming national conference is unnecessary, and in his view, was a process yet to be seen. He said that the National Assembly is in charge of the government, and nation, and that they can amend the constitution if need be. He decried the 7 billion dollars that is being spent on the national conference.
On how he wants to be remembered, and whether or not he as plans to write a memoir on his time in the military, and time as head of state, Buhari said he has already started putting pen-to-paper on that effort. He wants to be remembered as a man who pushed for democracy, and who did not give up.
He said that he is an optimist, despite all of the challenges currently facing Nigeria, but added that the current state of affairs is “a shame for all.” His attempts at political office in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections was his attempt, he said, “to make democracy work straight.”
The country’s ‘brain drain’ is a concern, he said. With so many of Nigeria’s professional class living abroad, the nation suffers in ways not immediately apparent to observers.
Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s comments were wide ranging, but his stance on Boko Haram is sure to gain attention. In spite of it, he said, “the country can be mobilized, and that gives me hope."