President Muhammadu Buhari fielded questions on a wide-range of national issues from a team of journalists from ARISE NEWS Channel. The excerpts:
On rising insecurity
When we came in, we closed the borders with Benin Republic, Niger Republic. We stopped smuggling and we asked Nigerians to grow what they would eat and eat what they would grow. So, the culture of importation of rice and other foodstuffs, we stopped it. We made fertiliser available and we are very impressed with the reactions of Nigerians because they went back to the farms. And we made sure our neighbours, especially in Niger, because of some, who would order food from Niger for the Nigerian market and the Nigerien government cooperated with us; we defended ourselves and Nigerian did not regret it.
War against corruption
Corruption is very difficult under this system and even under the military system as I have experienced both occasions. When I arrested people and put them in cages and said they were guilty until they prove themselves innocent and put investigation panels in most of the geopolitical zones for people who have held positions such as governors, ministers, head of parastatals and urge that people don’t get that position until they declare their assets. But when they were faced with a bank statement and their assets, which they could not explain, their assets were taken away from them. But unfortunately, eventually, I myself was arrested and detained and they were given back what they had looted. I assure you, that despite the problem we are having in the system, whenever we have correct intelligence that someone is not being very accountable, we would ease him out but we do not give it too much publicity. But I assure that those who are responsible and are holding position know better that we do not tolerate corruption.
Implications of Death of Boko Haram Leader
The problem of the North-east is very difficult. The present governor is working very hard and taking a lot of risks and I asked him if these Boko Haram fighters are our people; Nigerians or people coming from outside, he said it is our people. We tell them that you cannot kill innocent people and say ‘God is great’ and it has worked very well but I think we have a problem of unemployment and a lot of youth are looking for basically what to eat not even to talk about accommodation and others. The level of poverty is almost unimaginable and so this is our problem. But those who are really keeping in touch with what we are doing know the difference between the time we came in and now. And the people of North-east and South-south are the best judges of the performance of this administration.
Spread of insecurity from North-east to North-west
I have had series of meetings with the whole security operators – all the service chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police (IG). The ones that succeeded them had been part of the system and we had series of meeting with them, which usually last more than two hours. Firstly, I allow them to go round and see the position on the ground; they make changes in their command. And we told them that we want confidence to be rebuilt and for people to go back to their land so that we wouldn’t have food problem and I think that is being done. We are giving it less publicity because we don’t want to make them aware that we are taking them head-on. But those who are in the field know. There have been a lot of insecurity and we have stopped mining in Zamfara State, we expel the foreigners and we are talking to the government; although he is not in the federal government’s party we have to secure Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna and so on.
But the important thing is the question of local security operators. We have police in every town and I have been talking to the police and trying to push them. They don’t wear a uniform and use their rifle to intimidate people but to make sure, if necessary, to use it to bring security. In the North-east, you know what is happening but, in the South-south, I too was overwhelmed with what is happening but we are treating them as criminals now. There are a lot of casualties.
Reaction to clamour for state police
I have been reading it in the newspapers and those of us who are old enough to know the old era of Nigeria Police and so on, know that at that time, the traditional institutions were very effective in each community. I would give you an example; recently, two governors from the South-west came to tell me that the cattle rearers in some of the forests there have killed their farmers while they were eating all their crops and told them that ‘you campaigned to be elected and you are elected; so, go back and sort out yourself.’ There is a system where there is security at every level from the local government to state and it consists of the traditional leaders in that area who have been there for generations; so, they know all the crooks in their locality – then the police and then those who come whether they are cattle rearers or traders. They would meet either monthly or quarterly and discuss the security and if it is above them, they would pass it on. So, I told all the governors to go back and go to the old system so that they would have intelligence to know what is happening in their constituency. They just can’t go around winning elections and then sit down and think someone would do their job for them.
Reaction to open grazing ban
You want me to contradict my attorney-general (he laughs). What I did was ask them to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws. There are cattle routes and grazing areas. They were moving upcountry from north to south or from east to west and they have to go through there. If you allow your cattle to stray into any farmer’s farm, you are arrested. The farmers are invited to submit their claims and the outcome is to pay and if you can’t, the cattle are sold and the funds given to the farmer and people were behaving themselves. And in the grazing areas, they built earth dams, put windmills and in some cases, they even had veterinary departments so that the herders were limited. Their routes are known, their grazing area is known and if there is any problem, the locality would know. Those who have encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas would be dispossessed and try to bring some order back.
The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers. There is cultural disunity between the Tiv’s and the Fulani’s and so the governor of Benue State said I am not disciplining the cattle rearers enough because I am one of them. I cannot say that I am not one of them, but he is being unfair to me and I told him that a Nigerian cattle rearer would not carry anything more than a stick or in some cases a machete to cut some trees and give it to the cattle to eat. But those sophisticated ones are going with AK-47; so, from all the Sahel areas, people rush to Nigeria and they think they are Nigerians. I can assure you that we are trying to resuscitate these cattle routes, grazing areas and make them accountable. And then this problem about taxes is the problem of accountability. When taxes where being paid, people were behaving themselves but now without taxation, people are doing whatever they like.
Reaction to clamour for devolution of Powers
If the three tiers of government, the federal, state and local governments are being followed properly, we wouldn’t have all these social problems. But the problem is that the local governments have been actually killed and that is not good for this country. Those who became the local government chairmen have been compromised. If your local government, which is supposed to receive N300 million and you are given only N100 million, it is not fair.
I think this question of accountability is very important. The schooling and education sector is suffering so much. For example, in my generation, I spent nine years in boarding school and the teachers then treated us as they would treat their own children and if you do well, you would be brought before the classroom and praised. But if you misbehave, they would flog you in front of the class; so, you would have to behave yourself. But now, one of the chancellors in Ogun State said that when he went to his alma mater, he couldn’t differentiate between the teacher and the children there. The teachers used to take students as their children and they had all the time for them but over time, the standard has virtually collapsed.
Impact of bandits’ attacks
Try and appreciate what efforts the federal government has done. We have moved all the service chiefs and brought in new ones and we have allowed them to go round and see the problem. They have been part of it all these times but now they are in charge and we have made sure that their priorities are to make sure they uphold normalcy. They are working very hard on this and they cannot give it enough publicity because we don’t want to give warning to the real criminals. The ones in North-east we know and the ones in South-south we know but the problem is North-west. The same people with the same culture are killing each other, stealing each other’s cattle, burning their villages and that is why we have said we want to treat them in the language they would understand. We have given the police and the military the power to be ruthless. You watch it; in a few months’ time, it would be different. We have told them if you keep people away from their farm, we are going to starve. And the government cannot control the public because if you allow hunger to reign in the whole society, the government would be in trouble. We are already in enough trouble and we have warned them and sooner than later, you would see the difference.
South-east, IPOB and Twitter controversy
That IPOB is just like a dot in a circle, if they want to exist, they would not have access to anywhere. And the way they are spread all over the country, having businesses and having properties, I think IPOB doesn’t know what they are talking about. In any case, we said we would talk to them in the language they would understand; we would organise the police and military to pursue them and that is what we can do and we would do it.
What about Twitter?
That I would keep to myself.
On Nigeria – Niger Republic rail line
How many rail routes do you have? We have to cultivate our neighbours. If you don’t, you will be in trouble. If you could recall, when I came on board, I had to go to Chad, Niger and Cameroon, which was what happened with Boko Haram. If we were not on good terms with the three countries, Boko Haram would have done worst things to us than this.
About Niger, our border with Niger is about 1,400 kilometres. In Niger, I have to tell you this: the Europeans in 1885 sat down with ruler and pencil and drew lines and I say I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, there are Hausas and there are Fulanis in the Niger Republic just as there are Yorubas in the Republic of Benin. You can’t absolutely cut them off.
But the rail, look at the plan, if you watch the plan and why we are constructing the railway. Niger has discovered oil as you know and we don’t want them to go through the Benin Republic. We want them to come through Nigeria. We hope that they will send through Maradi all their exports, through Nigeria rather than through Benin.
With the roads and the railways working, those from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, those from Kano to Lagos and so on, definitely, if you make the infrastructure, road, rail, work, I can assure you that Nigerians will keep themselves very busy and they will leave you alone. But when the roads are not working, the roads are virtually crippled; people will have so much time to harass you.
Plan after retirement in 2021
Thank you very much for thinking that I am okay. I have never avoided my farm. I still have a number of cattle. When I leave, I will still go to my farm daily. I will try and keep myself busy. Between now and then, I will keep on convincing Nigerians that I mean very well, I will make sure that the few identifiable problems that we have, security, economy, fight against corruption, we will continue to work on it and as I said, visibly, we have made progress in the North-east, we have made progress in the South-south but I am overwhelmed almost in the North-west and they are going to get it very soon
I will like Nigerians to discuss it, I hope they will be fair to me. I wouldn’t like to say it myself. I will like Nigerians to try and spend time when we came, both the security and the economy, where we were for the eight years I may be around and try to look at it. I hope Nigerians will be fair to me. This is all I need.
Massage on 6th Anniversary
Yes, under the system, Nigerians will say what they want to say. They are all republics. They don’t even talk of the resources; how we can engage ourselves, how we are going to share what we have invested when we are together; how are we going to share it out to ourselves, how are we going to be fair to ourselves and try and see our young population.
If we cut ourselves into pieces, can we win the confidence of investors, real investors to come in and provide employment, build factories, produce goods and services and earn from taxation and employment? I don’t like the way Nigerian elite is allowing ignorant or careless people to talk all over the place. We have so much to learn and so much to guard together than to disorganise people’s way of thinking that if you become a republic, things will be alright. Look and see how long it took us between 1960 and now, how we came about; we have consolidated it.