President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday went down memory lane, reviewing his career in the military and said it was hellish even as he recounted that he lived through the momentous events, particularly in 1966, which witnessed coups, counter-coups and later a civil war.
The president spoke during a pre-recorded interview aired by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) last night and commented on various issues of national interest, including his second term priorities, shape of his next cabinet, the nation’s worsening insecurity and relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government among others.
Buhari, who in his assessment of institutions of government rated the National Assembly and the Police low in performance, said he expected a higher level of efficiency from military service chiefs, refraining from blaming them for the escalating insecurity situation in the country.
Responding to a question: ‘Who is Buhari?’ from the show anchor, the president said: “I think I went through hell throughout my career in the military. I was a lieutenant in Lagos during the first coup, January 15, 1966. If you bother about Nigerian history, you read about coup and counter coup, civil war, coup, counter coup. I was all in it, including in detention for three and a quarter years. So, I am fully qualified, you know, [to be called] as a suffering Nigerian.”
But he thanked Nigerians for showing him love, noting that after been rejected thrice in the presidential elections, they found him worthy of leadership in the fourth and fifth runs.
Speaking on his impending second term, he appealed to Nigerians to trust him to make a good judgment on the choice of his next set of ministers.
He said if no one has had any cause so far to accuse any of his first term ministers of corruption or any act of misdemeanour, Nigerians should then be confident that he would again make the best choice for his second term in office.
Disclosing that he was yet to discuss any issue relating to the next choice of his ministers with anybody and would not start the discussion with the interviewer, Buhari reiterated that Nigerians should trust him to decide on who among the ministers he will retain and those he will bid the final goodbye.
“I have said goodbye to them for the fours years. I haven’t discussed it with anybody. You won’t be the first person I will discuss it with. And anybody who hasn’t got any evidence against any minister should trust me – which of the minister I will retain; which one I will say goodbye and very sincerely to. I won’t go beyond that because I haven’t discussed it with anybody yet,” he said.
Buhari also lamented the strained relationship he had with the National Assembly, saying he confronted Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, on their decisions to delay budget passage for seven months.
The president who said he rated the two leaders low on the issue of patriotism, said he told them that their action was harmful to the economy but his hands were tied by the constitution which orders him to pass through them.
He said: “I spoke personally to the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the leader of the House, Dogara. They could not deny it. I told them how do they feel to hold the country to ransom for seven months without passing a budget? I said for seven months they were hurting the country. So really, in terms of patriotism, I think I rated them very low indeed.
“Going by the provisions of the constitution, there are things that must pass through the National Assembly but to hold a budget for seven months cannot be justified.”
Asked how he felt on the rampant cases of kidnap and other forms of insecurity threatening the country, Buhari said he felt very bad, blaming the menace on people in the neighbourhood whom he said failed to expose the criminals living among them.
He also took a swipe at the police and traditional rulers, saying they ought to be at the forefront of the battle against criminal activities in various communities where they operate, but have failed.
While promising to reverse the trend, he said the police were not given uniforms and guns to impress people but rather to distinguish them and empower them to fight criminals.
He said: “I feel very bad indeed because there are failures of neighbourhood security in the sense that those who are perpetrating these atrocities against communities, state and the country, they come from somewhere in Nigeria.
“Their neighbourhoods know them. And we have the traditional rulers, then of course, the police at the frontline, the police in every major town and city in this country. As I said, they were not given the uniforms and the riffles to impress anybody but to secure the people. In this, I think the community leaderships and the police have failed this country.”
While alluding to his efficiency in his days as a military officer, Buhari said he was the only military personnel in his own time, who commanded three out of the four divisions at the time.
According to him, something went wrong with the military particularly between 1999 and 2014, which he said affected the sense of efficiency and accountability of military personnel.
He said: “You see, I was the only officer that commanded three out of the four divisions – the first division was in Lagos; the second division in Ibadan, the third division in Jos
“I am still expecting more but I am thinking of what happened between 1999 to 2014. I suspect that a lot of things went wrong, including accountability and efficiency of the military and other law enforcement agencies.”
Buhari also spoke on his frustrations and concerns in the last four years, pointing out that though some progress had been made in the anti-graft war, he is frustrated by the slow pace of the fight.
According to him, “In the process of going through the police, investigations and later prosecution, the process is slowed down and is frustrating.
“My frustration is that we cannot move faster in the prosecution and punishing the real big graft. We made some progress. We recovered a number of assets – fixed assets and money in banks, including in Europe and America, but under this system, you can’t be too much in a hurry, even including using whistle blowers.
“You have to go to the police to go through the rigmarole of full investigations before prosecution. That is my biggest frustration really.”