• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Buhari’s Channels TV interview

Buhari orders fast track of Abuja second runway construction, airport concession

In an exclusive interview with Channels TV, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke on the rising insecurity, unemployment and the upcoming 2023 elections. Below are excerpts:

In your New Year speech, you told Nigerians that consistent insecurity in certain parts of the country may have threatened to unravel the incremental gains achieved; did you envisage the enormity of the task when you promised to tackle insecurity as the president and commander in chief of our country?

I think you can recall when I was campaigning in 2015 that there were three fundamental issues, security, economy and fighting corruption and for Nigerians to be fair to this administration, they should try and find out from the time we won the election in 2015 till now, in the 3 promises we made in improving security, improving the economy and fighting corruption. well, securing the country in the North East, if you ask anybody from Borno state or Yobe state, there were a number of local governments about 18 in the hands of Boko Haram, none of them is strictly in the hands of Boko Haram or ISWAP so in that respect, we are doing something.

In the economy, I challenge so many people to go and check with the central bank or NNPC, the production in 1999 to 2014 was 2.1mbpd with an average cost of $100pb. When we came, somehow, the militants were unleashed in the South South and production was down to half a million barrels per day and the price again collapsed to about $37 dollars per barrel, but look at what we did between the time frame and resources available to us relative to the government we inherited.

You talked about how the militants were unleashed, some people will say president Yar’Adua also faced that crisis when he became president that was why he came up with the amnesty program. But speaking on insecurity, you spoke about the improvements in the North East and that is true, the camps are being emptied, the North West continues to be of concern where we see bandits unleashed in many parts of the North West, sometimes getting to the North Central of the country. Would you say we fully understand the problems of insecurity that we face in the North West?

In the North West we have the same people with the same culture stealing from each other, killing each other and burning villages, I think the only language they understand we discussed it thoroughly with the law enforcement agencies, the service chiefs; Inspector general of police is to go after the terrorists. We named them terrorists and we are going to deal with them as such and I believe if you go to those constituencies, the North West and north central, in the last four weeks there are improvement in the security.

It is true because the farmers-herders crises was one that was a big challenge some time back, it has somewhat come down but some people are attributing it to the seasons, now that we are entering the peak of the dry season we could see a resurgence again, would you say that we have dealt with that problem once and for all or do you fear it may rear its head again?

We cannot do much about the weather but about the security we are taking steps and we have seen the results, Nigeria is very susceptible to climate issues because of our population and the size of the country?

The ministers of agriculture from Audu Ogbe to Mahmood now, one of the issues I discussed with them personally is to go and get the gazettes of the first republic especially from the northern state, there are certain rules in grazing grounds and the cattle rears are confined to those areas those that go outside that area are arrested and farmers were encouraged to come and lay their claims, if they do not have the money then their cattle was sold and the farmers are settled.

So we said we have to go back to that system to try and make sure that we prepare the grazing areas with windmills and even veterinary departments so that the herders do not stray into people’s farms.

The concern here is finding a lasting solution. What in your mind can help bring a lasting solution to these issues; herder’s crises and issues of banditry?

We have a problem of culture and that needs to be studied in order to understand it. The life of nomad herders depends entirely on their cattle, they sell the animals, their milk to pay tax and fend for themselves and that is their way of life, so if those cattle are taken from them they normally become very wild. The way we do it, it starts from bottom upwards, the leadership to make sure that the grazing areas and the waterfronts are secured so they do not have to pass through people’s farms.

It was suggested that we need to corner these bandits in their forest, are you looking into a full military assault on them because what is on the mind of an average person in the north west is to see that these bandits are taken out totally?

We met at least four times with the service chiefs and other law enforcement agencies, each meeting taking at least four hours, we have discussed thoroughly what to do with the situation, we discussed on what we understand and we try to secure and make it safe for the leadership at communities level because they know who is who in their community responsibilities but we must make sure that they are safe because the bandits can be a source of insecurity to them and the members of their family and we are very cautious of that.

Please answer to the concerns of those who believe that security issues are majorly local and we have seen state and regional governments thinking in that direction, with Amotekun in the South West and Ebube Agu in the South East, now a lot of people are thinking a reformation of the police system, state policing, do you think this is a possible solution to insecurity in Nigeria?

The role of traditional rulers must not be undermined because in their areas, they know who is who, so we have try that system for us to have effective security in the localities, for example there are two governors that came to see me about a problem and said because the herders were in their forest, the animals were going into farms and eating the crops, I said as far as I know the farmers and herders have been coexisting in Nigeria so they can ask local leadership what went wrong and why there was a break in communication. They come on a seasonal basis, the route they follow, the forest they confine themselves to, also has these things been happening this year, last year or ten years ago.

State policing is not an option, find out now the relationship between state government and the local government, are they getting what they are supposed to get constitutionally?

Mr President, you performed a few activities, we all understand you are going to be winding down for a few days and we are thinking that perhaps the budget might not be signed again especially because of the signing of the electoral act which was sent back to the national assembly, surprisingly you signed the 2022 budget into law but you had very strong reservations about it, for example provision for as many as 10,733 projects were reduced while 6576 projects were introduced into the budget by the national assembly, do you fear that the budget might not be able to achieve its purpose?

Not at all, I am confident that we can successfully implement the budget, it is because most houses our party is leading. I consider myself lucky because my and arty and the competent leadership are both leading in the senate and the house of representatives which is why you do not hear much about me, I allow them do everything because I can’t go against my party neither can I go against people that I have absolute confidence in, I know they are doing their best.

So you do not think that the objections you have raised will bring any friction between the executive arm and the legislature?

The legislature is amusing me, if you recall about 60 percent did not come there, can’t they think of what is happening in their constituencies and we are so much supporting their constituencies they are free to make a mistake and they have even comeback, they have lost their jobs and maybe their names so they have to be careful.

Indeed, maybe that is why they are asking for direct primaries which you have told them that you are not going to support?

Personally, I don’t support direct primaries because I want people to be given a choice, you can’t give them one option and think that you are being democratic, let them have other options like direct, indirect, consensus, etc

Which is your favorite because as president when you were coming the first time under the APC platform, direct primaries is what your party went with, why are you now saying there has to be three options when you know that is perhaps the fairest option?

If you could recall the ACN, APGA, ANPP, CPC and other parties, we came together. PDP was so over confident because they thought they would rule Nigeria till the end of time but the opposition came together and overthrew them.

You overthrew them because you were able to emerge as the presidential candidate of your party and that was because of the direct primaries?

It was not as a result of direct primaries but opposition that came together and fought the PDP, it is because we are going to come together.

Do you think you would have had a fighting chance at that time if your party had adopted indirect primaries?

The fact that we came together is what gave us the success that we had and that was the mistake they made that is why they lost.

Should the National Assembly come back with the bill and edit out what you don’t like, would you still sign?

I don’t think I told them what I don’t like, all I said was there should be options. We must not insist that it has to be direct, it should be consensus and indirect and if they do that I will sign them. All I would like is that there should be options, you can’t dictate to people and say you are doing democracy.

Going back to the issue of the economy, I would like to know what kind of economy do you think you want to bequeath to Nigerians?

A free economy where you allow people and ensure that their industries are patronized, you have to stop smuggling, you have to stop developed countries from dumping goods into our country, because of technology we can produce faster and more with less resources so you have to protect your economy. That is why the ECOWAS and other organizations within Africa have to make sure that we have encouraged our own industry for employment, using our own resources, and for security.

Read also: Nigeria will need more than oil to lift economy

When you announced that Dr Doyin Salami will now be advising you on issues of the economy, what specific role will he play? Because he is the head of the presidential economic advisory council, what specific areas do you want him to play?

He is going to double as both because he is capable, for example the last time he briefed the executive council we found out that only 2.5 percent of Nigerian arable land is being used and people are shouting about unemployment. If we had invested more in agriculture, when we close the border, we stop importation of rice while Nigeria produces the rice we need and even export. We have to exploit our own capacities. Dr Salami is so committed and patriotic, hence we need him

Are you happy with where we currently are with the state of electricity in Nigeria?

I am not, because I have identified that no country can develop without infrastructure and this includes roads, rail, power, among others and this government is working very hard on the road, try to imagine what was happening between Lagos and Ibadan six months ago and what it is currently, and now we are doing from Lagos to Kano, from Abuja to Kaduna, Kano so we to have that infrastructure right, but when the infrastructure is not available, what will people do?

We can see some work in roads and rails but power is a big question, we are told we have 13,000 installed capacity and that TCN can do about 7,500 but we know that for some time what we have had on the grid is about 4,000 megawatts, what exactly is the problem in getting increased electricity for Nigerian homes and businesses?

TCN is 100 percent government but we inherited what they call discos and questions like what is the basis? Who owns them? are unanswered. They are not electrical engineers, they don’t have money , it is just a political favor and to remove a system and reintroduce one is not a joke. Luckily we have the TCN for transmission and if we can get our technology right all we need are panels all over the place and we cut the cost on transmission and the likelihood of sabotaging the lines and so on.

Still on the economy, you announced an economic projection plan of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, how many people have been lifted so far?

I can’t say that offhand now but I’m telling you that in Nigeria’s population, 35 years and below are the majority and they want the government to get jobs for them they do not care how but only 2.5 percent of arable land remains uncultivated so for now our attention should be on agriculture, clearing land, having machinery, etc, unfortunately, there is political problem, in the south there is problem of land ownership based on families, ruling classes, etc but the north, lands belong to the government.

On lifting people out of poverty, there were setbacks due to resource shortage because we needed to buy machinery like tractors, clearing the land, dividing it and encouraging people by giving them seeds like fertilizers and that cost money.

Nigerians are wondering how well you understand their sufferings especially those who cannot feed themselves, how much of this case will you say you are aware of ?

I am absolutely aware of but look at the vastness of Nigeria, we have to go back to using uncultivated land and we have started that, before people were depending of foreign rice before now we are exporting rice, we have made some progress especially after the border closure.

Some people have made progress leveraging the anchor borrower’s scheme, how do you intend to encourage people as fear of insecurity has discouraged people from farming?

Like I said we have had so many meetings with law enforcement agencies and we are being very hard on those criminals and there is improvement in the situation of security especially in the North West.

It has to be sustained because people have to be able to go back to their land and to do that we need to get machinery, provide fertilizer and seedlings.

During the course of your administration, a significant number of Chinese loans were taken with the possibility of taking more to build infrastructure in the country, there are fears that Nigeria might be plunged into a debt trap?

We take loans when it is necessary, we got the Chinese to help us with rail and roads and anybody that has preferred to come and help us build our infrastructure just like the Chinese is welcome.

When you took over the country our debt stock was about N12 trillion now it is about N32 trillion, inflation was about nine percent now it is over 15 percent, unemployment was about 8.19 percent now it is 33 percent, exchange rate was N197 to a dollar now it is over N400, before you took over office some of these indicators were fair and now the figures are not friendly at all?

All I know is that we have to allow people access to their farms, so far we have achieved some successes and people ought to measure what was achieved so far. The important thing is that the farms produce and we have to use infrastructure and we have identified that the rail needs to be functional, the roads need to be accessible. We need to appreciate what we have done within the time we have been here.

Recently you told a delegation of South East elders who visited you that you would consider their request for the release of Nnamdi Kanu the IPOB leader, do we have any update on that?

There is one institution that I would not dare interfere with and that is the judiciary, Kanu’s case is with the judiciary but what I wonder was when Kanu was safely in Europe abusing this administration and mentioning too many things, I never thought he won’t defend himself on the accusations he has, so we are giving him an opportunity to defend himself in our system not to be abusing us from Europe as if he is not a Nigerian, let him come here and criticize us here.

For those who are saying that he should be released, we cannot release him, although there is a possibility of a political solution if he behaves himself.

When you ran for office you had your goals for this country, when you look at where Nigeria is and think of the way forward do you fear for this country?

No I don’t, because from 15th January 1966, I have witnessed all the trouble in this country, I think Nigerians make noise to get a better deal but if they know we are better together than separate, I sincerely believe in that.

Some believe that if we continue at this rate we might not last much longer together and that we need to restructure to truly achieve our potential. Do you see that argument?

Those who talk of restructuring I want them to define what they mean in their own concept, do they want more states, and it will be at whose expense?

Some people think the federal government is too heavy and is handling too many things hence the state needs more power, they need to be able to unleash themselves and that if we are able to empower the state and in turn empower the local government perhaps state will be more autonomous to handle a lot more things at their level do you consider that argument sometimes?

I do but try to find out the relationship between the local government and the state.

What comes to mind when you see Nigerian youths?

I wish when they go to school and earn their degree they don’t do it thinking the government must give them jobs, you get educated and you are certainly better than an illiterate even in identifying personal problems. Education is not just for you to hang on the government to give you a job, have a house and a car with a 9-to-5 work, like the colonial masters indoctrinated upon us.

What comes to mind when you hear PDP?

Failure.

What comes to mind when you hear about Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the second Niger Bridge?

Looking at it, it is on, if we didn’t get people like the Chinese to do it for us, it wouldn’t have been working by now. For the second Niger Bridge, people in the South East are celebrating it before its completion as it provides alternative routes to get to the other parts of the country.

What comes to mind when you hear about INEC?

I think the professor is doing his best, he has already told us about the elections that are coming.

What comes to mind when you think of the 2023 elections?

It is not my problem, I am not interested in who succeeds me, whoever it is let him come. My concern is nobody should ask me to come and give any evidence in any court otherwise whoever it is will be in trouble, because all important things are on record.

I do not have any favorite in my party because he will be eliminated if I mention his name so I better keep it a secret.

What comes to mind when you think about your legacy?

I think my legacy is that I tried to make sure we conducted ourselves with integrity. That is, we stopped all the stealing as much as the system can allow, we also stopped misappropriation and for Nigerians that is very important. With its young population, the expectation form Nigerians is so high that we must make sure resources are managed properly and also ensure that they understand that, if they don’t understand and they revolt there will be trouble.