In this monitored interview of President Muhammadu Buhari on Arise Television, he spoke on a number of national issues. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
Abubakar Shekau is reported to have been killed; that gives us power to zero in and consolidate on insecurity. What is your position?
The present Governor of Borno State is working very hard and taking a lot of risk and I asked him; are these Boko Haram Nigerians or people from outside and he said they are Nigerians, if you kill innocent people you would regret it. But I think we have a problem of unemployment of a lot of youths looking basically for what to eat, not to talk of accommodation. The level of poverty is almost unimaginable. So, this is our problem. But those who are rarely keeping in touch with what we are doing know the difference between the time we came and now.
The people of North-East and South-South, I think are the best judges, and focus of this administration because they know where they were and where they are now.
Each zone has set up security apparatus, is this not time to formalise state police in Nigeria?
I have been reading in the papers and those of us who are old enough to know that the traditional rulers were very effective in their constituency. I would tell you one instance; two South-West governors came to me to say cattle rearers are destroying farms in their states; I asked them you were elected to serve the people; go back and solve the problem.
Because there was a system that all of us here can recall when there was security at each level from local government it consists of the traditional rulers who have been there for generations and knew all the crooks in their locality. Then, the police and those who would come either they are cattle rearers or information traders they meet either quarterly or monthly and discuss the security at that level if it is above them they pass it on. They need to go back to the old system to know what is happening in the locality. I just sent them back.
Governors of Southern part of the country banned open grazing and Abubakar Malami opposed it. What is your take on open gazing and steps you would take to end farmers-herders clashes?
I had to go and dig the gazette cattle routes, when they are moving up country; when any cattle destroys any farmer’s farm you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims and they say pay, if they can’t the cattle are sold. The people behaved. And in the grazing areas they put dams, in some places, even the veterinary department. Their routes are known; their grazing area is known. If there is any problem in the locality we know.
But I tell you this rush to the centre. So, I asked for the gazette and I know that these routes have been encroached. These cattle routes and grazing areas would be repossessed, and we would try to bring some order back.
The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers, there is a culture between the Fulani. So, when the Governor of Benue State said I am not disciplining the cattle herders because I am one of them. I cannot deny that I am not one of them, but it is very unfair to me, but I told him that a Nigerian cattle herder would not carry anything more than a stick and a machete to cut trees, but the sophisticated ones are going with AK47.
So, people rush to Nigeria from the Sahel region, Fulani from Mauritania and Central Africa. So, people think they are Nigerians. But, I can assure you that we are resuscitating the cattle routes, grazing areas and make them accountable. There is the problem of being accountable, so when there is tax, people would behave themselves, but without taxes people are doing what they like.
What is your assessment of the anti-graft war, and the difference between fighting corruption as a civilian President and military ruler?
I can assure that in spite of the problems we are having with the system when there is correct intelligence that he or she is not accountable, we ease him out. But we don’t give it too much publicity; but I can assure you that those who are holding responsible positions know that we don’t tolerate corruption.
There are agitations for restructuring. What is your take on devolution of powers?
Well, local government is the key, the three tiers of government, local government, state and federal.
If they were being followed properly we would not have all these problems. But the problem is that the local government is killed and that is not good for the country. Because those who become local government chairmen are being compromised; if your local government is supposed to receive N300 million and you are given 100 million.
And how can we reduce the power of governors and presidents?
I think this question of accountability is very important. The schooling has suffered so much. For example, in my generation, I spent nine years in boarding school and the teachers treated us as if we were their children; if you did well you were brought before the classroom and praised. If you misbehave in the class you are flogged in front of the class. But now the situation is different.
One of the children from Ogun State, who went abroad and came back; he told me when he went to his alma mater, he could not differentiate between the teachers and the children. So, the teachers used to have time but all that has collapsed.
Attacks on schools in the North and parents are now worsening; would that affect your goal of lifting one hundred million Nigerians out of poverty?
The Federal Government has removed the service chiefs and Inspector-General of Police and brought new ones. We allow them to go round to see the problems; they have been part of it all the time but now they are in charge.
We would make sure that their priority is to bring normalcy. People accept the responsibility of their offices and they are working very hard for that.
We don’t want to give publicity, because we don’t want to give information to the real criminals. The one in the North is different from what is happening in the South East and South-South.
In the North people from the same culture are killing each other, stealing each other’s cattle, and burning their villages. Like I said we are going to treat them in the language they understand and we have given the military and police the power to be ruthless and you watch it.
I think this time they will be different. Because we told them if we keep people away from their farms we are going to starve. And the government cannot control the people; if we allow hunger to permeate the society the government would be in trouble and we don’t want to be in trouble; we are already in enough trouble. So, we warned them, sooner or later you would see the difference.
How are you doing to resolve the problem in the South East and Nigerians are expecting when they can return to twitter?
South-East, I was encouraged by what I heard, two statements from the South-South, by elderly people they said this time around there would be no excesses. I am sure you understand what they mean. I believe the youths made the same statement.
And the way they are spread across the country having business and properties, I think the youths don’t understand what they are talking about. In any case, we would talk to them in the language they understand, we would organise the police and security forces against them. That is what we would do and we would do it. For twitter, let me keep that to myself.
How do you plan to include more people in the South East and South in general in your government, MDA and the security agencies?
When you look at the NNPC and military people who have been there for eighteen years, ten years, they train in Zaria and Abeokuta they come through the ranks. Because they serve under several circumstances and gradually rise to their status and you see you just pick somebody and balance up those positions they have to earn. When you don’t join, you aren’t forced to join; if you join you go through the system.
But thirty generals would be retired because their junior was appointed?
You can’t just pick somebody because of seniority you pick somebody who has been in the mill, who has suffered with the soldier. On individuals’ bases, I don’t know them, I forget. For soldiers to be effective experience is important; they know him and have to be somebody, he exposed himself to me.
You have chosen others like Okadigbo in the past; why not bring the South-East people close to you like a child?
Get a list of senior civil servants, there are people from the South-East and they know they have to pass through the mill.
There is the perception that the best way to avoid prosecution is to join APC. How true is this?
Because one or two have joined APC, what this administration can do is to make sure that APC lasts beyond this administration and we have started holding meetings in the ward, local government and state so that APC would know how many they are at these levels. So that when this administration is gone they will be firmly on the ground and we can continue. It is good politically for the country and the APC.
The economy is not attracting foreign direct investment and the country has barely improved. We are losing investments to Ghana. What can we do to gain them back?
This question was answered when there was #ENDSARS, you remember the people who wanted to invest.
And if you remember when I wanted to constitute the members of the executive council, the constitution says that there must be representation of a member from each state.
So, I got them on a Wednesday and I said everyone should go to his state and speak to the governor, traditional rulers and business people and tell them that in the Federal Government there is no more vacancy.
Go to any state, no governor would give you a contract; he would tell you there is no job. The same things also apply in the local government areas.
We may die before doing our job because nobody would invest in a place that is not secured. So, I told them to take the youth if they want a job they behave themselves if they want jobs. Make sure Nigeria is secure, so that people can come and invest.
God has endowed us, but nobody can bring investment. Look at the buses in Lagos, the governor came here with their demands and I said tell them to go and work. Who would go and invest in a place that is not secured.
Taking money for subsidy that would have been invested; how do we deal with the issue of subsidy in Petroleum and power?
Nigeria thinks they have their oil; so it can’t be expensive. Nigeria oil is sold up to Ghana. People would take it through the borders and ride it on motorcycles to the bush.
And if you are trying to be economical about it, Nigerians would say it is their own; they would push you out and say this is their oil, even if you are in the Presidential Villa.
So, what we are trying to do is to get the cooperation of customs, immigration and this border guys so they take a substantial amount. So, what we are doing is to confiscate the tankers and sell the content and tankers and the people don’t complain. They don’t talk to anybody, they don’t say it.
There is something surprising to Nigerians, why is the administration so obsessed about building infrastructures to the Niger Republic?
How many railways do we have, you have to cultivate your neighbours if not you are in trouble. If you remember when I came in, I went to Niger, Chad Cameroun. Look at what had happened with Boko Haram if we are not in good terms with them they would have done worse things to us.
The border between us and Niger runs more than 400 meters. Look at how we are repairing the rail and Niger has just discovered oil too and we don’t want to allow them to go through Benin Republic.
We want them to come through Nigeria, we hope they decide and do all their exports through Nigeria rather than by railway, from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, Kano to Lagos. And I believe if you make the infrastructures work, like rails, roads, I can assure you that Nigerians would keep themselves busy. But when the roads are not motorable there would be so much time to arrest people.
What project would interest you after retirement?
I have abandoned my farm, I still have a number of cattle, and when I leave I will be going to my farm daily. I would try and keep myself busy. But now and then I would try and keep on convincing Nigerians that I mean very well, and I would make sure that the three identifiable problems we have are security, economy and fighting corruption. I would continue to work on them. Just like I said visible we make progress in the North-East, we make progress in the South-South, but I am overwhelmed by the North West and they are going to make it very soon.
What would you like to be your legacy when you leave office?
I would like Nigerians to try and spend time and study when we came, the economy, and insecurity; where we were and where we had been from the eight years I may be around.
What is your last word to Nigerians in your six years in office?
Under this system Nigerians can say what they want, they are all rhetoric; they even don’t talk about the resources, but they talk about how we can disengage ourselves and how we can share the resources. How far are we going to meet ourselves? Try and see our young population, if we cut ourselves into pieces can we win the confidence of investors? People who would come and build factories and employ people to produce goods and services and then we earn from taxation and employment.
We have so much to learn and so much to guard together than trying to disorganise people; thinking that if we go our separate ways things would be alright. Let them see how long it took us between 1960 and now.