Former Head of State and a national leader of the opposition All Progressives Congress [APC] Muhammadu Buhari, has given insights into how his party will select its presidential candidate for the 2015 general election.
Mr. Buhari spoke to a team of editors from the leading Hausa Newspaper, Rariya, in his office in Abuja, recently.
PREMIUM TIMES’ Sani Tukur translated the full interview into English, with permission from Rariya.
Can you give us a glimpse into your typical day? How do you start your day, what’s your breakfast like and how do you coordinate your schedule?
Well, my day starts from 5 a.m. Normally the morning prayers are offered after that. I am an avid listener of Voice of America and BBC Hausa Service so I stay around to listen to the news on VOA Hausa from 6 to 6.30 a.m. and from 6.30 to 7 am, I listen to the BBC. After that I try go out and see how the environment is. After that, I come back in and I try to rest again and of course take my bath, have breakfast and then my appointments virtually start from 10 in the morning to 10 in the night – whether I’m at home or in the office. Sometimes I work from home. From 10 to one o’clock I take another break and rest. Then from 2 to 3.30 I have another break and then from there, depending on my schedules, I try to look at the newspapers — at least the headlines. I usually go back to the papers after dinner to read in detail. I then look at my appointments and mails and keep political appointments.
On daily basis, people want to discuss with you and these are people from all constituencies and they are from all geo-political zones. The most difficult are from our geopolitical zones, due to our culture. People without appointments but they feel they want to see you and they just bounce on you and want to see you. No appointment. Quite irritating but I give them audience. So really that’s how the days are except of course on weekends. On Fridays after mosque I don’t do much unless I have something to do in the office. Otherwise I stay home. People don’t respect weekends and that’s when they feel they should visit you. It is quite hectic.
What time do you go to bed?
Between 11.30 p.m. and midnight.
You always look fit and trim. Do you exercise?
Well I am lucky I have a good physique but my house is in a close, and there is a small space between the gate and the Boys’ Quarters. I take a walk within the precincts at least three times a week and I think this is good enough for a 70-year old man.
You have had a very robust relationship with people since you joined politics and I am sure it’s a different world from the military where expectations are predictable. What are the things you cherish most in people and what are those things that put you off about people generally?
The problem is mainly cultural. People feel that you should be accessible. They don’t appreciate that you may want to read or do something else. All they want is when they need you they want you to be there, even without appointment. It is cultural and it’s very difficult to deal with: giving access to people all the time. I try to let people understand, planning one’s life, even on daily basis with all these schedules is difficult. Especially from retired people in Kaduna.
Kaduna being the old capital of the north. It’s a home to a number of technocrats and the military and you need plenty of time. So I try to maintain contacts and we discuss serious issues.
What do you cherish most in individuals
Well, I think the spate of insecurity that is overwhelming and the unfortunate economic situation where people have lost not only physical security but material security are serious problems. People cannot, after retirement, especially those with school-going children, cope with educating their wards because of the standard of education that have really gone very low and then the few good schools that are available are unaffordable to them.
I will give an example, in early 2007 one of the members of our party, having lost both at the election and the Supreme Court, came to me at home in Daura and agonized over our loss, mainly because he was an educationist from ABU. He recalled the good old days at the university when government was functional. He told me that his children could not go to tertiary institution. He said he could not afford the fees. So he said that even as an educationist, he was raising illiterates in his home. This is a graphic condition we are in now in the country. People can’t educate their children. Talk of security, talk of infrastructure…we are really in trouble.
If you become the President today, how will you tackle these myriad of problems and restore confidence in governance?
First I have to secure the country, because unless you secure the country, nothing can be done properly, So, first it is security and then how to manage the country, that is by resuscitating the economy, the infrastructure, getting the factories reopened, getting employment and goods and services. It is much easier to damage than to rebuild, but everybody agrees that Nigeria is an incredibly resourceful country, both materially and human wise. So it is a question of the elite getting their acts together and making sure the country is organized in such a way that it can be secured and managed well. It is not easy because a number of the institutions have being compromised. What do you do with the Nigerian Police in terms of their efficiency? The military itself? The judiciary?
The recent happening in our country, especially the abduction of more than 200 girls from their school is unbelievable. For those of us who experienced the civil war, we can’t reconcile how a group like Boko Haram would come and collect from one school more than 200 children and after three months, the Federal Government cannot do anything. So for those of us coming from the 1960s to now, it is unthinkable for any group to emerge in Nigeria to hold everyone to ransom. I mean the so-called Boko Haram. I said this about six months ago. I said no religion advocates hurting the innocent. So the religious toga that Boko Haram is wearing can be exposed. You can’t wrap yourself with explosives and go and kill people in markets, churches, mosques, and motor parks, and also go and slaughter children in their sleep. It’s simply terrorism. This is my clear understanding of it and it is the duty of the Federal Government to stop it. Unfortunately, so far, the Federal Government has failed.
There was the unfortunate attack on you in Kaduna and then there was an investigation. Has there been any progress concerning that incident?
You are asking me of progress. Have you forgotten that over 200 girls are missing for over three months now and nothing has happened? Ok. I know I’m a former Head of State and I decided to be in politics of opposition. Imagine your daughter being among the missing girls. So to come and talk to me about a near-death situation while over 200 children are still missing is insensitive. I do not expect anything to come out of the investigation into the attack on me honestly.
You did say that Nigeria has the expertise to deal with the insurgency. Do you have an advice?
The problem is, as I have said in a few places, I have been in this struggle in Nigeria since 1966 when a certain group decided to wipe out our military and political leadership which led to counter-coups, which led to civil war, and which led to all sorts of unsettling instability in the society. I have been in it all and to boot, I too have been detained for more than three years. I tried to develop the capacity to bounce back and to appeal to people, especially the elite to be serious, to participate in politics so that credible people can be representatives and leaders in the country. That’s why I am in it. The National Assembly voted a year ago (or is it 18 months ago?) on the death of NEPA (may its soul rest in peace) after billions of dollars had been spent. What do we have now in terms of electricity? Nothing. In pension funds, in petroleum industry, it’s the same situation…and no single person is being prosecuted. What will you think of this government?
The question is if we see a Buhari presidency today, will these things be pursued vigorously?
Well, people have to be accountable, but there is a limit to what one can do if one finds himself as the president of this great country today. Earlier on, I talked about institutions being compromised so with who are you going to work? Whoever finds himself as the leader of this country next year, I hope he will not be overwhelmed by the problems and just sit back to watch the decay instead of doing something practical.
I think this is the right time to ask you this question. Are you going to contest the next election or not?
Well I have to say that I am a loyal party member. Yes I have my own rights and so on, but being part of the merger, and the merger is not a political accident. I participated in the presidential elections of 2003, 2007 and 2011 so for me to participate in the merger process is not an accident. I realised that my experience in partisan politics from April 2002 to now is the only way I think of in confronting this amorphous ruling party, the PDP. I think the way forward for our country is for the opposition parties that have representations in the state legislatures and in the centre to come together and face the PDP. Unless that is done, we cannot stop the bad system. I have said it often that I am a converted democrat since 1991 when the Soviet Union, an empire of the 20th century, collapsed without a shot fired. People panicked, left nuclear sites, missile sites and now there are 18 or 19 republics. That was when I came to the conclusion that the democratic system of government is the best form of governance.
The picture looks very gloomy. I remember what an elder statesman, Ali Monguno said “where did we go wrong?” So I ask you General, where did we go wrong?
I am sure you did not miss Obama’s statement in Ghana during his first visit to Africa. I think he came to tell us, especially developing African economies, that what we need to fix our countries are strong institutions, not strong individuals. But if Obama were in Nigeria, he would have arrived at a different conclusion. But we Nigerians know that it is strong individuals that destroyed strong institutions and so, we again need to look for strong personalities to renew these institutions.
When the British came, they found some of us in this part of the country with advance social set up. They found in the north the emirate council system that only required accountability. There was taxation system — cattle and personal — but it was normally put in the pockets of the Emirs. The office of the treasurer was just a name. The British came and instituted accountability, a reform that helped the system already in place.
In like manner, going forward, we need to reform this country. So the elite must make sure they participate in electioneering, even if they are not card-carrying members of any party. They must make sure that in their constituencies they participate, even if they don’t want to go and contest election. They must make sure that credible, responsible Nigerians in their constituencies are the ones who become lawmakers, chairmen of local governments, senators, governors and so on. This is the duty of the elite because of what has happened to us between 1999 till now. When I tried to introduce Buba Marwa to his constituency, I said it. Let him go to the local government and know what are the condition of their schools, health care system and security there then and what the situation is now.
When you talked about Obama what you are saying is that we need strong personalities to build strong institutions but now in the merger you have individuals who are described as strange bed fellows. How confident are you that from now till 2015, people will remain committed to the change we need?
Well, I assume that we have agreed on the reason why we needed to merge. That no single opposition party could defeat the ruling party so we had to bury our differences to come together. What we did was deliberate and according to the Electoral Act 2010 that when you want to have a party, you have to apply and satisfy certain criteria. We set up a series of committees one of which identified five political parties that should merge — ACN, ANPP, CPC, DPP, and APGA.
And we graded ACN first, CPC second, ANPP third, APGA fourth and DPP fifth. But we had to ask DPP and APGA to wait until after the merger because they had court cases and those could have been used to either delay or forestall our registration. Three of us – ACN, CPC and ANPP – decided to merge. We had to convene a convention, dissolve ourselves with the intention of registering a new political party. We did it successfully. We asked the three leading members of the parties-chairmen, secretaries and treasurers to apply but INEC corrected us, saying we needed 25 to 30 people, so we had to go to all geo-political zones and put in place interim management at the top until the convention where elected members formally took over. We had to put the structure on ground from local government to states. After all that, the registration became successful. To do that we needed card-carrying members to complete the process. So in every INEC-recognized polling unit, we registered at least 100 card-carrying members. Then we moved on with the convention. Now there is a party and we are looking forward to primaries and then to general elections.
No doubt you have achieved a milestone because this is the first merger in the history of Nigeria. You have organised a convention. How satisfied are you with the results of the convention? What role do you envisage for yourself in the primaries?
The most important thing is to remove self if one is serious. That’s what I call stabilisation of the system. As I said, we realised that no single opposition party could do it, so we came together. You can’t always have it your way. We insisted on having the registration because when we registered under the same party we can come together and discuss our differences. This is what we are doing. Differences exist and will continue to exist, but being in the same party, we have to find a way of getting over our differences. For example, we had to do what is called harmonization committee and especially when we were joined by five PDP governors with their structures. Naturally, they crushed my poor grassroot supporters. This is the reality on the ground. Forget about me. I convinced our colleagues that the first thing to do is to have the party on the ground; the party needs to be on the ground. Let us go and start from the grassroots. That’s where we are now. We are trying to kill the delegates system, we are going to do direct primaries. We will start from the ward and come up. The convention will just be to ratify it. So even for those who have so much money, there will be no delegates to buy, the people will have their way. And that is how our candidates, including that for the presidency, will emerge.
Your mantra during your first outing in 1983 was to fight corruption. How different was the Nigeria you met in 1983 and the Nigeria of today? Secondly, What is your vision?
It is how it was. As I said before, now my attention is on the elite. Let them search their consciences. Let them go to their local government areas and see the infrastructure there and its quality –schools, medical care, the provision of water, security and let them find out, what was the situation then and the amount of money allocated. Look at the money this country earned between 2003 and 2011. Nigeria has never realised so much money in its history. I give example of the National Assembly hearings on some institutions — banks, petroleum industry, NEPA and so on. Look at the billions of Naira that are missing. Just look at it. Even in Abuja there are areas where you can stay for weeks without light. Where are the billions of Naira spent?
The Nigerian educational system is in shambles. Recently, results released by WAEC shows 70 percent failure in Maths and English. ASUU went on strike for many months; polytechnics just resumed after many months of strike; How will you react to the situation?
Yes, as I said, the damage is done. We mentioned infrastructure and social services, including education, healthcare and water provision. But one has to start somewhere. For example, if APC forms the government, there will be no National Conference, that N7billion they said they spent would have been used to fund education and ASUU strike wouldn’t have taken place. Polytechnics would not have gone on strike for 11 months. Our children would have been in school instead of on the streets. So which kind of government is this? Do we have to go and tell them their priorities? That we have to keep our children in school? Do we have to tell them to keep the standard of education high? Are they not aware that 90 percent or 70 percent of our children do not have the opportunity to go to tertiary institutions because they couldn’t pay? Don’t they know that teachers don’t have the equipment they need to teach? I will give you an example which I mentioned to someone recently. It’s a result of a research I commissioned.
The study found that the late Ahmadu Bello was spending about 43 percent of the whole northern budget on education. Awolowo was spending more than 55 per cent. Go and check in the South-west, there is only one or two states that are spending about 20 per cent on education. We have to get a much more serious type of leadership. This is where we are and it is the responsibility of the elite to push for a change.
Do you think we should hold Jonathan responsible for the serious malaise we find ourselves in. Is his government incompetent or in your view? Do you talk to him or offer any advice?
The normal thing is that the leadership is held responsible for whatever goes wrong. If things go wrong in your house, who is responsible? Is it not you Mai Gida? It’s the same thing. It’s the leadership. Now when I talked about our past leaders — the Sardauna and Awolowo — and the most serious issue was provision of education. If you educate people qualitatively and properly, you don’t have to bother too much really. There is a level below which they will not agree to live. They will look after themselves and their environment but when you ignore education, and people can’t educate their children you are gradually killing the whole country, not only your own community. This is very obvious.
There is a kind of campaign out there that your party, the APC is so insensitive that it is contemplating the so-called Muslim/Muslim ticket. Is this a rumour or a possibility?
Well, when I started first in APP in 2002, who did I pick as my running mate? Was it not late Okadigbo? A Christian and Igbo. Who did I pick in 2007? Umezuoke a Roman Catholic Christian and Igbo. Who did I choose in 2011? Pastor Tunde Bakare. Is he not a pastor? So, what was the pattern of the voting? It was not based on religion. Anyway as I said, I am a loyal party member. My party will decide.
Your party doesn’t seem to be lamenting the exit of certain people like the former governors of Sokoto and Kano states. Is it a case of good riddance or a case of indifference?
I told you that when we wanted to fill the interim management positions, we gave ACN the chairmanship position. CPC was recommended for national secretary. ANPP had three governors -Borno, Yobe and Zamfara. CPC had only one. But it is known in the political circle that if ANPP were to face PDP alone, they would have been buried out of existence. They knew that CPC was more on the ground since we were sharing the same base in the northern part of the country. Some of the leadership said they did not agree and that they must have the national secretary. They are the people that have left the party.
We know whom they are working for. Their first objective was to scuttle the registration and to ensure that the merger did not materialize. Their second objective, which they are still working on, although they have gone back to where they belong, is to make sure that at every step, they make things difficult. This is partisan politics.
Who are those you consider your likes either among the Nigerian elite or the political leadership?
No I won’t answer that question. I will rather keep my genuine supporters because they are making sacrifices to make sure that people vote for us. I am going to give you one example. In 2010, having floated a new party (CPC), we realized that we had to do registration, congresses, primaries and convention before the general election and the Electoral Act 2010 for the 2011 election only came five months to general elections, and we weren’t allowed to go out to campaign so I said I was going to start to establish our offices so I started from Kano Senatorial districts. From Southern Kano to central and end up in Bichi which is the northern Kano senatorial district. Do you know that from the southern senatorial zone, the vehicles that came to meet me were from there almost to Kano bumper to bumper and each vehicle was decorated with at least five of my posters? When I came to open the office in Kano, I couldn’t come down from my car.
They only brought the string and scissors for me to do the ceremony because the security there could not stop the surging crowd. And do you know that people were making posters free. When somebody asked me about the crowd, I told him that the only money that came out from my pocket was the one used in fueling my cars. People got round themselves to finance that.
Why is Gen. Muhammadu Buhari not giving up on Nigeria?
I answered that question about 30 years ago that I remain committed to this country because I have nowhere else to go. I have been a governor in six states, I have been petroleum minister, head of state for 20 months, chairman of PTF for five years — at a stage we had fifty three billion naira in the banking system and all parts of Nigeria saw what we did. After serving this country at those levels, where do I go? The only time I operated an account was when I was in training in the UK, India and the United States and when I came back I closed all the accounts. I don’t have a property even in Niger, so where do I go?
What’s your last word for your supporters?
Let them remain steadfast and be prepared for Nigeria next year.