General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, at the Chatam House, London, speaks on why he wants to be president and what he will do differently if elected on March 28 election
| By Olu Ojewale | Mar. 9, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
IT WAS a kind of an opportunity that no politician worth his salt would like to pass off. Little wonder, General Muhammadu Buahri, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, used his address at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House in London, on Thursday, February 26, not only to present himself as a capable leader to lead Nigeria again, but also to tell the whole world that he is now a changed person from the dictatorial maximum ruler he used to be as head of state in the 1980s, to a reliable democrat. Buhari said: “I cannot change the past, but I can change the present and the future. So, before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time.” He said he was in the presidential race to restore Nigeria’s glory.
Buhari assured his audience that an aspect of his old self that has remained constant is intolerance of corruption. He said that one of his major priorities as president would be to fight corruption in all its ramifications. “There will be no confusion as to where I stand. Corruption will have no place and corrupt persons will not be appointed into my administration,” he said.
In his fight against corruption, he promised that his government would plug the holes in the budgetary process, especially all the leakages in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the Nigerian Customs Service which were the major cash cows for the nation. According to him, the proceeds recovered from corrupt people would be used to fund “our party’s social investment programmes in education, health, and safety nets such as free school meals for children, emergency public works for unemployed youth and pensions for the elderly.” He, however, warned that his fight on corruption “should not be misconstrued as settling old scores or a witch-hunt. I’m running for president to lead Nigeria to prosperity and not adversity.”
To win the war on corruption itself, he promised to strengthen all the institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption by giving independence and prosecutorial authority without political interference.
On the state insecurity in Nigeria, Buhari said that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP-led government had failed in any effort “towards a multi-dimensional response to this problem leading to a situation in which we have now become dependent on our neighbours to come to our rescue. Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service.
“We will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan, promoting infrastructure development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas,” he said.
Answering questions from the audience, Buhari who said he would personally lead the battle against Boko Haram also promised not to grant amnesty to any member of the Islamic sect if elected president. He said: “I think I will not go to that office with that promise. I have said in my address how, at least 13,000 Nigerians have been killed by Boko Haram, how millions of them have been displaced and are now kept in different camps called internally displaced persons camps.
“Schools have been burnt, there is so much disruption to normal life, people could not farm and where they are able to farm, they cannot harvest. So, granting amnesty to Boko Haram will be unfair to the system.
“We will secure Nigeria. We must have the time to collect enough intelligence to make sure that those that we got are given the chance in civil courts to be properly prosecuted.”
When asked his position on Sharia, he said, “The Nigerian constitution is superior to any other law. Sharia is on the same level as customary laws. Sharia is limited and anybody who wants to change this will need to change the constitution. ”
On his alleged health challenge, Buhari said he was fit as fiddle and battle ready for the March election. “I am very happy that I have been able to visit 35 states out of the 36. I haven’t broken down even though somebody announced my death yesterday (Wednesday).
“I had a call from Maiduguri that somebody rushed into a friend’s house crying and said they have just announced that Buhari has died in hospital in London, and so, he called me and I laughed my head off.
“Certainly, I will be expecting too much if I don’t expect people to wish me dead. But I am very pleased that I am fit, the doctors have declared me fit and I am going back for the final onslaught,” he said.
Responding to another question, Buhari said Nigeria could not afford to break up as a nation because its nationalities had bonded. “I appreciate the full import of this question. We have a problem as a people and if you are following my statements, I warned about six months ago that we have to be careful of Somalialisation of Nigeria. We are a group of nationalities like some people wants to call it. We are very different people, religiously, culturally and from different background and we happen to have come together after the amalgamation by the British in 1914.
“We find it difficult to separate now because there have been so many inter-marriages and somehow, we have become interdependent. Our constitution has been very deliberate in respecting our sensitivities and the freedom given in that constitution is a guarantee that we will certainly manage our differences.
“We are making a lot of efforts to make sure that we continue to understand ourselves and accommodate ourselves in spite of whatever impression is created among ourselves especially when people are talking so much about religion.”
The APC presidential candidate also spoke on his top three priorities to attract foreign investment, saying: “Nobody will take his investment to an environment that is insecure. That is why security is going to be one of our major priorities. We will secure the country and efficiently manage it. That efficient management is stopping corruption and getting jobs among others.
“The way of attracting investors is to persuade investors the world over that Nigeria is poised to cooperate with them by securing the country and helping them recoup their investment. It is not a question of having a free ride. They don’t invest for humanitarian reasons, but so that they can recover their capital and make some profit because that is what sustains them.
“So, we have to think very quickly and put in place assurances and improve the system so that the environment can be suitable for investment.”
On why he is the race, Buhari said: “You may ask: Why is he doing this? This is a question I ask myself all the time also. And here is my humble answer, because I still believe that change is possible, this time through the ballot, and most importantly, because I still have the capacity and the passion to dream and work for a Nigeria that will be respected again in the comity of nations and that all Nigerians will be proud of.”
Commenting on the reference made to him by British newspapers as a former dictator, Buhari said: “Dictatorship goes with military rule, though some might be less dictatorial than others.” He, however, said that he took responsibility for whatever happened in his government as Nigerian head of state.
Reports said both pro and anti-Buhari supporters almost clashed outside the venue of the event but for the intervention of policemen. The two groups arrived the arena with placards expressing their opinions of Buhari.
Supporters of the APC presidential candidate, alleged that the Civil Society and Support Groups-Diaspora, an anti-Buhari group, was allegedly bribed to demonstrate against Buhari’s bid to wrestle power from Jonathan.
That notwithstanding, Move on Nigeria, a civic action and pressure group, described Buhari’s lecture at Chatham House, London, as windy and full of lies. In a statement in Abuja by Clem Aguiyi, national coordinator of the group, said that the lecture by the APC presidential candidate “would have passed for a well-crafted speech if he was a first timer and we are ignorant of his antecedent and reputation. But because this will be his second tenure as president assuming he succeeds, having served first as a military dictator, we are fully aware of his reputation no matter how he tries to run away from the past.”
The group said that it was shameful that it was the first in 30 years that Buhari accepted responsibility for the ills of his military regime, “which include jailing of Pa Ajasin, even after the military tribunal had discharged him of all corruption charges. He held Dr. Alex Ekwueme in captivity throughout the period of his 20-month regime, even when no crime is traceable to him and he detained the late Igbo leader, Emeka Ojukwu, who held no political office.”
But Kolapo Ahmed, a public commentator said it is all politics and that Buhari should be given a chance to lead the country again. “Politics apart, this is the man that Nigeria needs, without reducing corruption to the barest minimum no country can move forward and that is why it has been the major campaign of Buhari. It is only when you stopped the loopholes you will have resources to do other things,” Ahmed said.
But whether Nigerians are ready to forgive Buhari’s past mistakes and vote for him in the next presidential election is another issue.