TheCable: Why should Nigerians prefer you to any other candidate in the presidential race?
Buhari: We need to stabilise the system. And the beauty of democracy is competition. I honestly welcome the competition. I have tried to be elected president three times and I failed three times, and I ended up in the Supreme Court three times. I try to explain to those who are interested why I have been ending up in the Supreme Court. Not because I was hoping that the court would change the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announcing that it was the PDP that won, but I wanted to get it on the record that when we are trying to stabilise this system, these are part of the difficulties. We provided evidences at the tribunals. There are people who try really to see that the system stabilises, to make sure it reaches credible and international standards. That is a role I have been trying to play all along.
TheCable: So what qualities stand you out from other candidates?
Buhari: That is an unfair question. I would not like to blow my own trumpet. But I think Nigerians are the judges. The only thing I would say is that I have been a governor. To begin with my career as a military man, from lieutenant colonel, that is one pip, in charge of 36 people, to a general commanding a division… I am proud to say that I am the only officer in the Nigeria army that commanded three out of the four divisions then in the Nigeria army: the second division in Ibadan, the third armoured division in Jos and the fourth division in Lagos, which was moved to Enugu and renamed 82 division. I commanded three divisions out of the four. And then I became command-in-chief, as short as it was, for 20 months.
And politically, I was governor of the northeast, which is now six states, comprising Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Taraba. From there, when Gen. Murtala Muhammed was assassinated [in 1976], and there were additional states in the country and I was moved to Lagos, I was sworn in as member of the Supreme Military Council under Obasanjo’s government and then made federal commissioner of petroleum and chairman of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). And from there I went to the War College in the US, came back and became head of state. And I ended up in jail for three and a quarter years (general laughter). After that, I went home and I decided to join partisan politics in April 2002. So anything a Nigerian politician wants to be, I have been, although in khaki. So I have been attempting since 2003 to go back in civil dress and play partisan politics.
TheCable: A lot of people are saying the problems of Nigeria are so many now, more than what you met in 1983 as military head of state. If you were elected president, what would you do differently from President Jonathan on power supply, for instance? How can we tackle this problem?
Buhari: It cannot be done overnight. The hearings conducted by the National Assembly on NEPA or Power Holding Company of Nigeria, of blessed memory, pension fund and petroleum industry show the extreme mismanagement of what Nigeria stands for… because if you remove petroleum industry, if you remove the organisation of pension funds and power, Nigeria will collapse. I refer you to my declaration that in 1999 when the PDP came, power generation was hovering between 3,000 and 4,000 megawatts. It is now hovering between that number again after $20 billion had been spent. This is what the hearings exposed. And nobody has been punished.
What happened to the $20 billion? What happened to pension funds? What happened to another $20 billion exposed by a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria [Lamido Sanusi]? All these things the PDP governments between 1999 and now have not been able to explain to Nigerians. And the remarkable thing about Nigeria is that: because having been a minister, governor and head of state, you do not go to any parastatal or any ministry without meeting financial instructions and administrative instructions, but Nigerians have the audacity at each level to cast that away and keep doing what they like. And no one is being punished.
TheCable: Would you like to dig up the report before we move forward?
Buhari: If you try to do that, the state will immediately collapse because a lot of the institutions have been compromised. With whom are you going to work? My own belief now is that you just have to draw a line and move forward. But since cases are in the court no matter what, you have to allow the judiciary to do its job. We can hurry them up a bit, but we must allow the judiciary because it is not a profession you can take over their duties. It is the third arm of government. We can come as the military as we did and remove some parts of the constitution, but most of the constitution have to remain and again it is the judiciary that will have to interpret what remains.
But in a democratic setting, you cannot do what the National Assembly and the Judiciary are empowered by law to do. It is impossible. And look again, when our soldiers started giving interviews to the foreign press that they were being sent to the war front [against Boko Haram] with obsolete weapons, the National Assembly attempted to call the service chiefs and show them the budgets they have been approving over the years for arms and ammunition and for military hardware and software. Where is the money? Have you heard of the hearing again?
TheCable: What do you think they are doing wrong in the power sector?
Buhari: If you could recall, after 1983 elections, NEPA virtually collapsed. But when we came in 1984-1985, we had the late Lukman, an engineer. He was in Plateau when I was working as GOC 2 Armoured Division. I got to know him. He was an extremely truly hardworking engineer of great integrity. I put him in charge of NEPA. If you could recall, I did the tour of NEPA installations and some industries. And we ordered some spare parts mostly of the thermal station and we were using the military C130 aircraft to bring spare parts.
By the time we were removed in August 1985, blackout in Lagos had been forgotten because the thermal station had been made functional. Lagos was the home of industries. Industries were given priority because of employment. If you close the factories, as they have done now, there will be no goods and services. Power is the most important thing for our sustained development. But unfortunately, the PDP government has failed to understand or accept that. Hence money, billions of dollars, goes down the drain.
If from 1999 till now, in my own perception, Kainji, Jebba, Shiroro had been repaired and brought to optimal usage, and we do the thermal stations… it is a question of changing spare parts because the gas is there. The studies of Nigerian petroleum, the studies of 1970s when I became minister of petroleum, showed that Nigeria was a petroleum country in name; mostly it is a gas country. In the east of the Niger, the gas reserve there was fantastic. That was why LNG project was initiated. You cannot initiate LNG except you have a 30-year reserve to back you up. But this means nothing to the PDP government. It is not a priority. That’s why we find ourselves where we are.
TheCable: What’s your position on petroleum industry bill?
Buhari: I know the PIB is a non-issue as far as this government is concerned. So I am telling you practical things that will transform the economy [beyond the PIB]. I will tell you one thing about industries. The Nigerian textile firms in Ikeja, Aba, Kaduna, Kano, they used to employ over 300,000 Nigerians in the 1980s. Now they employ less than 30,000. A serious government would get worried if over 250,000 in one industry are put out of job. Because behind every Nigerian worker are five dependants. This is my problem with PDP government. Unseriousness. That is the textile industry alone.
TheCable: Part of the key recommendations in the PIB is deregulation that will lead to the removal of petrol subsidy. Removal of subsidy is sensitive issue. How do you hope to handle that if you are elected president?
Buhari: When we came into power, technically in December 1983 but we started in 1984, I had been part of Obasanjo’s government in petroleum. Nigeria handed over to the second republic government a relatively physically-secure and economically-safe country. I can’t recall exactly how much foreign reserve we had, but there was physical security and the economy was good. That is what the military handed over to the second republic.
By the time the military came back and I happened to be the head of state, if anybody told you that he knew how much Nigeria was owing, it was a lie. So we had two committees, one international and the other local, to find out the debt Nigeria had accumulated over those years and how. This report has never seen the daylight because up to the time we were removed, it was not brought to us. But when it was eventually brought, by which time I was safely under lock and key, nobody could do anything about it.
Secondly the American president then, Ronald Reagan, sent his friend, General Walters, to me saying we should accept the IMF programme. What was the IMF programme then? World Bank and IMF wanted us to remove the so-called petroleum subsidy, to devalue the naira, to remove the subsidy on flour, as they perceived it. But what we knew was that in some of the states, workers were being owed nine months salaries. I was in Plateau state and I saw the so-called progressive governors crisscrossing this country almost every other month, making a lot of noise when the ordinary worker was not being paid.
I told Walters we were not going to devalue the naira; we were not going to remove any subsidy. And if you recall by the time we were removed, one naira was equal to 1.2 or 1.5 dollars. The naira was run down to N80 to a dollar by General Babangida’s regime. I refused to remove the so-called petroleum subsidy. I said I had been in the petroleum industry for three and a quarter years. I signed the contracts for Warri and Kaduna refineries. I signed the contract for more than 20 depots, from Makurdi to Ilorin to Gusau to Kano to Maiduguri. And then pipes were laid over 3,200 kilometres. Nigeria didn’t borrow a kobo.
I can understand Nigerians being charged the cost of petroleum if you can work it out… because we know how Nigerian crude costs per barrel from the world market, the transportation cost to the refinery, the money for refining and then the transportation to the filling station. I agree Nigerians should pay for that to sustain the industry.
But for someone to say they are subsidising, who is subsidising who? This industry, the prospecting and development, were paid for by the Nigerian people. We spent money to discover the oil. Who then is subsidising who? To come and kill Nigerians, you know, to put that amount of burden on them when their salary is hardly enough for them to eat, pay for their bill of their healthcare, and education of their children. Who are you subsidising? It is Nigerian petrol, it is Nigerian capital that was used to mine it, it is Nigerians doing most of the work, so who are you subsidising? Subsidy for what?
And even then, if you go and interview Tam David-West, when I came back as head of state, and we stopped [illegal] bunkering, Nigeria was choked with product. We were exporting 100,000 barrels per day of refined products because Warri, Kaduna, Port Harcourt alone was doing 250,000 a day, the old refinery and the new one built… and we found out Nigeria was normally consuming about 300,000 barrels a day. All the people that were doing the [illegal] bunkering abandoned their jetties, their barges, because they knew who were sending them to jail or beyond. But now, Nigeria goes to world market and buys petrol as much as any other person does with all the infrastructure in place. That is how efficient the PDP government is (laughter).
TheCable: Some of your allies in APC believe in fiscal federalism, resource control and restructuring of the federation. What is your position on these issues?
Buhari: The important thing is to change Nigeria. And with the economy which is almost down and out, how can you bring sustainable economic development? There is the terrible problem of youth unemployment. The first one is security. Nigeria has to be secure and efficiently managed. This cannot be done overnight. Nigerians have to be prepared, at least from 2015 to maybe about 2018 to really work extremely hard. We have to work extremely hard because a lot of institutions have been compromised. Education down, infrastructure down, security almost non-existent.
So for anybody to come and create the impression that he can work wonders [is a lie]. Nigerians have to be prepared to suffer for at least five straight years before we can stabilise this country, security wise and economically because so much damage has been done. And Nigerians are feeling it. No matter how much you like Nigerian voters, if you lie to them they will know, because so much damage has been done. But we can quickly recover as we showed between 1984 and 1986 until the naira was killed, literally. We were recovering.
TheCable: Do you believe in resource control?
Buhari: Who is to control what? All this is said mainly on petroleum because it is what Nigeria depends on. It gives us at least 90% of our foreign revenue at the great danger of ignoring agriculture and solid minerals, which Nigeria has great potentiality in. In fact, in my declaration speech, I emphasised the question of agriculture and solid minerals. For employment of youth generally, we have to go into agriculture very fast and solid minerals to complement the petroleum industry and stop the illegal oil bunkering and outright theft.
And we see what we can do with education, the standard of education, and the lack of it in parts of the country, especially the north. I believe some generations have been betrayed because if people fail to go to school or become dropouts before they go to university or tertiary institutions, and without going to training schools to become electricians, bricklayers, mechanics, and so on, we have really destroyed their lives. I was listening to a programme now, from the BBC, there are 64 million Nigerians that have missed education. 64 million.
Now, out of the population of a 160 or 170 million, you have a youthful chunk that has missed education. We can only take them to agriculture, solid minerals, give them quick training, for them to get employment and a means of living because you can’t say you’re going to send them to polytechnics, and universities that are overcrowded, lack of infrastructure, no equipment, no qualified teachers. Oh God! We’re in very, very bad shape. Nigerians need to know we are in very, very bad shape.
TheCable: Do you think there is a need to restructure the federation?
Buhari: To start with, those who are clamouring for more states, I think they are exploiting the ignorant people of their respective constituencies. Look at the overheads, try and observe a meeting of governors’ forum and see the number of expensive vehicles costing more than N10 million a piece [that they bring to the venue]. How many of them? Again, look at the vehicles the police and the military are using for their operations in the north-east. Consider their maintenance and cost of fuelling. We are extremely wasteful. Really, the Nigerian elite have to sit up because we are throwing our resources down the drain.
Let me tell you. I went to the United Kingdom for training as a motor transport officer in 1965. What I discovered in the British army, all the vehicles are properly registered, from motorcycle to aircraft, each one has a book, and that book is the recommendation by the manufacturer of how to maintain it, and successive commanders, from bottom to top, either monthly, quarterly or yearly have to sign that book certifying that those machineries are being maintained according to the specifications provided by the manufacturers.
If you give it to the Nigeria police or army now for their Toyota vehicle which is supposed to last 10 years, some of them don’t last 18 months. We are extremely wasteful at the expense of our country. For you to bring the culture of sustained development, the elite must wake up because if the country collapses, they are the first victims. They are the ones with air-conditioned rooms, generators and can afford to go abroad to get treatment. If the country collapses, I’ll like to see where they will go. The elite need restructuring (general laughter).
TheCable: Some people say the quota system and federal character no longer have a place in Nigeria, that originally they were meant to equalise the states, but that now virtually every state has educated people, that the field should be thrown open. What’s your position on this?
Buhari: I think it is important in the federation when you come to the centre, it is better for people to feel that they too are participating at the centre. But it must not be at the expense of standards. Any geopolitical zone or state, if they want their people to participate at the centre, must ensure they can compete professionally. You can’t take somebody who did not go to school or who said he went to the university but cannot write a two-page memo, to become a permanent secretary. How will he do it? How can he articulate policies that will be taken to executive council to be debated by ministers? We really have a problem. We have to remove sentiments and not excite or provoke our constituencies that they have to participate. You can only participate if you develop the capacity to participate.
TheCable: So it should not be at the expense of merit?
Buhari: Exactly! If you want your state to participate you must make sure you do something about education in your state. That you can produce qualified people to participate. But because you are part of Nigeria, you kill education in your state and you want your child to be taken and made permanent secretary even though he cannot write his name.
TheCable: We know you as an honest and upright man but in a democratic setting you have to deal with the National Assembly and the judiciary. How do you fight corruption within these constraints?
Buhari: As I just mentioned to you, if you go to any ministry or parastatal in Nigeria you will not fail to find out financial instructions and administrative instructions. Schedule of officers, expenditure, tenders board, but Nigerians put it in the waste basket and do their own thing. And because leadership has been compromised at various levels, if you are a personal assistant and chief clerk and your head of department knows that you are a thief, he cannot stop you from stealing. These are Nigerians, we know what is wrong with us. That is why I am putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the elite. We have a constitution and all sorts of laws… let us revisit them. Let us move forward and stabilise the system. I am very concerned about stabilising this system.
TheCable: You said you were not going to run again in 2011. People are now using it against you. What has changed?
Buhari: The moment I made this statement, in my party and among those who support me, hell was technically let loose. And I think I wrote a letter where I mentioned some people who told me I cannot do that. Luckily for me or the system, I did not say I was abandoning partisan politics. What I said was that I would not present myself for elective office, but people told me I could not do that because to some people I no longer belong to myself, I belong to them. People really, including technocrats that were out or still in government, came to me and said if you say you are remaining in partisan politics, then you have to present yourself. It is now up to those who are backing you to come out and support you.
And if this declaration is anything to go by, going by the number of people that came to the event, I am impressed. That crowd cannot be rented. And when the ruling party conducted its TAN the following day, they were only limited to the podium. There was nobody elsewhere. The amount of people who came from the south for my declaration was amazing. It’s just because we all dress as Nigerians, you won’t know. People were sleeping on the streets of Abuja just to come and witness the declaration. Just declaration.
TheCable: Critics are saying that with politicians like former Bayelsa governor, Timi Sylva, who is currently undergoing trial, supporting you, your hands will be tied as president to deal decisively with corruption. What do you say to that?
Buhari: I think I have partly answered that question. You have to draw a line. I firmly believe since there is a case in the court, you have to let the process take its course. If you start interfering with the court then you are asking for confusion. But the important thing is to understand the role of the court and make it clear to the judiciary that you don’t like any lowering of standards, you know, like these laws are for these states and for these members of one party only. People can give you so many examples now where some people don’t get prosecuted.
At the beginning of this discussion we talked about the hearings, pension funds, NNPC, NEPA and the attempt by the National Assembly [to question security chiefs] when soldiers started talking to the press that they were sent to the front without proper weapons and ammunition. The way state institutions have been compromised, if you say you are going to dig, you keep digging until you finish your term and you will not reach the water level. This is the fact. You cannot tamper with the judiciary. Even in a military government, you only suspend parts of the constitution to legitimise yourself. The judiciary must still interpret the rest of the constitution.
TheCable: There are fears in certain quarters that if you don’t get APC’s ticket you may not back whoever wins the ticket. Is it true?
Buhari: No. I promised to stabilise the system. My definition of stabilising the system is this: what is in the electoral act and what is the constitution of the party? We must religiously follow them. Because as long as we refuse to develop the discipline, to respect laws, to be law-abiding, so long the confusion in the country will continue and so long sustained development will be impossible. If you make a law, you have to obey it. If you want to change it you have to go through the processes and change it. So you don’t make nonsense of laws and the constitution itself.
TheCable: So others should rest assured even if you don’t get the ticket that you will work for the party?
Buhari: I would work for the party because I didn’t say I’m jettisoning partisan politics. It is not quite right.
TheCable: And there is this sensitive issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket…
Buhari: You see, Nigerians will always discover impossible room for manoeuvre for politicians. I had to face one of the governors in our party’s meetings. I told you I joined partisan politics in April 2002. In 2003, I was given a ticket. Whom did I chose as my running mate? Chuba Okadigbo. He was brought up by Zik. And he was senate president and was a serving senator when he accepted to be my running mate. He was a Roman Catholic. He was an Igbo. In 2007, whom did I pick? Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. He was a Roman Catholic. He was an Igbo. And in 2010, I even chose a pastor. Pastor Tunde Bakare. Honestly, what do Nigerians want me to do? If they don’t believe I’m not a fundamentalist, what also can I do?
In any case, who attempted to kill me? Is it Boko Haram or who because I told them they were ungodly? Again I repeated it during my declaration that they are ungodly. Because no religion advocates hurting the innocent. No religion. So if you go and kill children while they are sleeping, blow people up in churches, in mosques, in the market place, and motor park, you can’t say “Allau Akbar”. Because “Allau Akbar” means God is great. Now if you believe God is great, he says you must not hurt the innocent. There must be a justice system, investigations… if you find people guilty, punish them. So, you either don’t believe that God is great, or you don’t know what you are saying. Is it for this that they attempted to blow me up? Or somebody else did it?
So the question of this Muslim-Muslim ticket, although it was a long way from Abiola and Kingibe [in 1993], all the same, I have not absolutely closed my mind to picking a Christian or Muslim as running mate if I get the ticket. Because I firmly believe that Nigerians, having gone through what they have gone through, realise it is not a matter of religion, but a matter of Nigeria. And the main religions, Christianity and Islam, they know and they believe in the almighty God. The question of stealing and short-changing people in the name of religion should stop. Why did Nigerians line up and elect Abiola and Kingibe, both Muslims? The late Joseph Tarka, in a clearly Roman Catholic environment, brought Ibrahim Imam from Borno, to his constituency to represent Tivland in the Northern House of Assembly in 1961. This new phenomenon of religion is another blackmail political confusionists in Nigeria are bringing to the fore.
I will tell you something. Tinubu’s wife is a Christian, Governor Fashola’s wife is a Christian, Governor Amosun’s wife is a Christian, Bisi Akande’s wife is a Christian, Governor Ajimobi’s wife is a Christian. For goodness sake, the children of these political leaders in Nigeria were bred and brought up by Christian mothers. You think those people, wherever they participate, they will bring a religious issue? What kind of people are we? Nigerians will always bring something to cause confusion while we are trying to stabilize the system.