President Muhammadu Buhari rarely grants media interviews but when he does, he makes the headlines for several reasons including gaffes. His interview with Arise Television, aired on Thursday, was not an exception.
Despite the ban on Twitter activities in Nigeria, Mr Buhari trended on the microblogging platform for several hours after the interview was aired across major televisions, indicating that it was one of the most discussed topics of the day.
The over 40 minutes interview, which, arguably offered more insights than the barrage of statements from his spokespersons, was an appraisal of his six years in office, touching on his successes as well as areas of deficiencies, particularly security and economy.
However, Mr Buhari’s answers to the questions posed by the four interviewees followed a pattern set in an interview he granted two years ago to the same medium, PREMIUM TIMES’ analysis showed.
This leaves anyone who watched the 2019 interview and the recent one wondering if Mr Buhari is just being consistent with his ideas or rigid to embrace fresh ideas.
Same analogies, same data
In the build up to the 2019 election, the president, who was seeking a second term, spoke with the Arise TV crew for 90 minutes. The majority of the questions centred on security and his agriculture-related projects.
But most of the responses, including the analogies he provided, were repeated in the Thursday interview.
For instance, he blamed the PDP’s 16-year-rule for the decadence of the infrastructure when asked about what his government has done differently in 2019. This he reprised in the recent one.
“You know after 16 years of PDP, with the resources I have just mentioned. There have been enormous resources at their disposal. And they will use everything at their disposal to discredit the administration.
“Once people are making trouble for us, I sit down and wonder what have they been doing for 16 years. Did you know that the condition of the road from here to Onitsha, from here to Port Harcourt, to mention a few, have been there since Abacha time?,” he said in 2019.
“Look at the state of infrastructure. Look at our roads. Look at the rail. Look at power. And tell me which country develops without infrastructure,” he said, blaming the opposition party for the decay in infrastructure on Thursday.
Also, he cited the same erroneous figures which have been fact checked to be false by Dubawa, Nigeria’s foremost fact-checking organisation, in 2018.
“This country was getting 2.1 million barrels per day and getting it out of the Nigerian territory. With a cost of, average 100 American dollars per barrel. It went up to 143 but when we came it collapsed … ,” he said in 2019.
“I would like you to check how much we are earning from 1999 to 2014. From 1999 to 2014, our production (if you check you will find out that) every production was 2.1 million barrels per day. At the cost of 100 American dollars per barrel. So, from 1999 to 2014, we were earning 2.1 million times 100 dollar per day,” he told the Arise Television crew on Thursday.
The president’s claim that crude oil was selling for $100 per barrel between 1999 and 2014 is false as available data showed that the figure is an average of $61.7 per barrel, Dubawa concluded.
On insecurity, particularly the bloodshed in Benue State, President Buhari’s perception of the herders-farmers clash has not been any way different from his views in 2019.
He does not believe that the indigenous herders can kill, maintaining his stance that the killer-cattle rearers are from Niger Republic and Central Africa Republic in both parleys.
His grouse with the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, was not also masked in both discussions.
“The Benue people know and I talk to the Benue Governor, the Nigerian cattle herder used to carry sticks and machetes to cut foliage and give it to the animals. But these ones have Ak-47,” the president said in 2019.
“The governor of Benue said I cannot discipline the cattle rearers because I am one of them. I cannot deny that I am one of them,” Mr Buhari said in the interview with Arise TV on Thursday morning.
“Fulanis from Mauritania or from Central Africa look the same. So, they think that they are the Nigerian ones,” he added.
PREMIUM TIMES also observed that the president’s solution to the herders farmers clash has always been rooted in the approach of the First Republic that provided for grazing routes and reserves.
“This was in the First Republic, they put houses there, windmills, even veterinary departments and any cattle rearer that allows his cattle to stray into the farm is arrested. Then the farmer will bring it,” he said in the 2019 interview.
“I have asked to dig up gazettes of the First Republic. There are cattle routes and grazing areas. You have to stay there and if you allow your cattle to stray into another person’s farm you will be arrested.” Mr Buhari said in the interview aired on Thursday morning.
This, however, did not consider the clamour of southern state governors for the ban on open grazing. They had opined that open-grazing is primitive and outdated.
When asked about his perceived skewed fight against corruption, Mr Buhari, as seen in the two clips, is always quick to recall how he was detained during the military era for fighting corruption.
He complains that fighting corrupton in a democratic setting is a herculean task.
“When I came to the military. I took them to Kirikiri. I told them they are guilty until they could prove themselves innocent. I too was arrested and detained and those who stole were given their money. Now I’m trying to come back to the system and you are calling me Baba go slow,” he said in 2019.
“When I collected people and put them in Kirikiri (prison) and said they are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent… But what happened? Eventually, I myself was arrested. Detained. And they were given back what they had looted,” the president stated as the reason for his ‘slow’ fight against corruption.
Mr Buhari was referring to the military era when he invoked the Decree Number 2 of 1984 to jail about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen for corruption.
According to Decree Number 2, the state security and the Chief of Staff, Supreme Military Council, were given the power to detain, without charges, individuals deemed to be a security risk to the state for up to three months.
This was against the provisions of the constitution and international practices that stipulate that an accused is presumed guilty until proven in court.
The former military ruler was later arrested and detained in prison after his Chief of Army Staff Ibrahim Babangida ousted him in 1985.
“I assure you”
Unlike the 2019 interview, President Buhari’s use of the phrase “I assure you”, reduced. It is however unclear if the repetition of the phrase is of mannerism or emphasis.
The phrase was repeated 10 times in the 2019 interview but five and with less frequency in the recent one.
In the five times the president gave his words of “assurance” in the Thursday interview, two were on matters pertaining to insecurity, two on his resolve to fight corruption and one on the need for better infrastructure.
“But I assure you, in spite of the problems we are having with the system, whoever we have correct intelligence that he’s not accountable, we ease him out,” he said on his fight against corruption.
“And I believe that if you make the infrastructure work, road, rail, I assure you that Nigerians will keep themselves very busy and leave you alone,” he stated at different intervals in the recent interview.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have derided the president’s performance in the interview, especially his blame of PDP’s 16 years in power.
While many have acknowledged Mr Buhari’s infrastructural strides in the last six years, the PDP insisted that the current administration has underperformed in numerous ways compared to the previous administrations and he failed to admit those failures.
“We want to inform President Buhari, since he is not always aware, that successive governments elected on the platform of the PDP built on these development plans leading to the expansion of major trunk roads across our country, railways and other legacy projects which, probably, his handlers are making him to believe are his,” the publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbodiyan, said.
On the other hand, the African Action Congress (AAC) said it is embarrassing that the president chooses when and how convenient to speak.
“Another shock is how, instead of reeling out his “achievements” over the last 6 years, the President sounded like an opposition leader. But for a closer look and the distinction of voice, one would have thought it was a member of the civil society or the NLC being interviewed. The President in his usual style blamed everyone but himself.
“May we remind the president that the youths he blamed for insecurity that has reached the highest crescendo, are not the ones who are constitutionally in charge of the Military and the Police.
“Talking about infrastructure, may we also remind the President that the youths are not the ones who took loans to the tune of trillions of naira with the promise that infrastructure would be fixed. The statements of the President confirmed the suspicion in many quarters that he is not conscious of the happenings in his immediate environment and his administration, except what he is told,” the AAC publicity secretary, Femi Adeyeye, stated.
Presidential spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, did not respond to calls and texts sent to their phones seeking their comments for this report.
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