During the week in London, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke on burning national issues to journalists from four media houses, including TheCable.
Below are the excerpts.
ON A PERMANENT SOLUTION TO THE HERDSMEN CRISIS
The problem is virtually as old as Nigeria itself. Culturally, the herdsmen don’t stay in one place. They move with the season. Normally, harvest is completed much earlier in the north. Then they have to move southwards for green pasture. In the first republic, there was what they called cattle routes and grazing areas. They were marked. Infrastructure were put in terms of windmills, earth dams, even veterinary clinics. Now after first republic, people turned these places into farms. And if you have 500 cows, if they don’t eat for 24 hours, or need water, you can’t stop them [from moving around].
What they used to do then is that if anybody went outside the cattle route, or outside the grazing area, he would be arrested, taken before an alkali’s court, fined. If he can pay, okay. The money is taken and given to the farmer. If he can’t pay, the cattle is sold and the farmer is paid. People were behaving themselves. So when people came and took away the land for the cattle route, for the grazing areas, you find out that from Kaduna to Bayelsa, Nigerians are fighting cattle rearers now. But when I was in the Petroleum Trust Fund, we made a comprehensive study of cattle routes and grazing areas throughout Nigeria. I am referring the governors’ forum and the minister of agriculture and rural development to the report. Let them see what they can do and save the situation.
Meanwhile, there seems to be some credibility that there are other than Nigerian cattle rearers involved. Now this is because of what happened in Libya. Gaddafi, during his 43-year regime, trained some people from the Sahel… militarily, he trained them. And when his regime was overthrown, those people were again dispatched to their countries. They are gone, carrying their weapons and they found themselves even in Boko Haram. It is a major regional and virtually African problem. They work with al Qaeda, with Boko Haram, and so on. It is a government project now to trace them, and disarm them and if necessary try them and lock them up.
ON NIGER DELTA MILITANCY FLARING UP AGAIN
I was elected by the whole country and the least I can do is to keep the country together. I assure you, we will develop the capacity to do it. If you could recall, I appointed a retired brigadier-general, Paul Boroh, and when I give people assignment and give them the terms of reference, I allow them to do their work. I spoke to the chief of naval staff and other service chiefs to work with him and help him to make sure that those who are blowing the installations and subverting investments in Nigeria, we will deal with them eventually. The militants are saying the agreement entered for the amnesty, including payments and training and employment were not being met. To the best of my knowledge, these are their grievances. So we put this officer who is from there to revisit the agreement, and see which part the federal government needs to fulfill.
ON THE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE PAYMENTS
We have to secure Nigeria before we can manage it efficiently. And I assure you we are going to do that. We will try and develop confidence in our ability to do it eventually.
ON IF HE BELIEVES IN PRIVATISATION
I believe in privatisation. It is efficient. But we have to talk to those who make a lot of noise about privatisation. Their own privatisation, how successful is it? We are trying to be in a state of “beyond the token”. [For instance], if you claim to be a good farmer, how much investment did you put into it? Then we help you with tractors, with advisers, to make sure you do produce. We give you seeds and fertilizers. But we don’t just believe whatever you say.
ON CHIBOK GIRLS NEGOTIATION
My problem is that you just don’t produce five [and say you want to negotiate]. Over 200 girls are missing. We need at least 50, to be sure they are safe, and we join them to their families, take them back to their schools, then we can negotiate. Whatever they did in the past is not the issue. All we want is to recover the girls.
ON HIS ASSESSMENT OF THE ANTI-CORRUPTION CRUSADE
So far, what has come out, what has been recovered, in whatever currency, from which ministry, department and individuals, I intend on the 29th [of May] to speak on this because all that Nigerians are getting to know are from the newspapers, radio and television because of the number of people arrested by EFCC, DSS. We want to make a comprehensive report by May 29.
ON PUBLISHING THE NAMES OF THOSE INDICTED
Eventually, it has to be done because we want to successfully prosecute them. But you know you can’t go to the court unless you have the documents to do your prosecution – where some of these people sign for these monies, send it to their personal bank accounts. Their banks gave a statement that the money is there when it came how much of it available and so on.
ON ‘SELECTIVE PROBE’ OF PDP CAMPAIGN FUNDING
The accusation will be against the law enforcement agencies. But I can assure you we don’t interfere. Try and get the list of those who are now under arrest, either with EFCC or already taken to prison, you will find out that it is across the board.
ON IMPLEMENTING THE BUDGET DESPITE LATE PASSAGE
It depends on the technocrats. We have six months to implement the budget. But you know why there was a delay. There is something called “padding”. I’ve been in government since 1975. I was governor of the north-east state, which is now six states: Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, and Taraba. Then I was in Obasanjo’s cabinet, in the petroleum ministry, for three and a quarter years. I was head of state for 20 months. I never heard the word “padding” until this year. I never heard about it. And what does it mean? It means that the technocrats just allow the government to make its noise, go and make presentation to the national assembly, so they will remove it and put their own. So, when we uncovered this, we just have to go back to the basics again.
Ministers again had to go and appear before the minister of budget and planning and make presentation again. And this was clearly brought out by the minister of health. I saw with my own eyes, nobody told me. I was watching NTA. He appeared before a committee. And they said, ‘Oya, minister, come and defend your budget.’ He looked at what they presented to him as his own budget and he said I have nothing to defend. They said what do you mean, and he said this is not what I presented. And subsequently we discovered that it was not only the ministry of health. So they allow you to talk rubbish as government and then they do what they like.