Even under the military. I experienced both systems. I will not change. I assure you that in spite of the problem we are having with the system, whoever we get correct intelligence on that they are not being accountable, we will ease them out without giving it publicity. Those that are holding responsible positions know that we do not tolerate corruption.
Q: Shekau is reported dead. Does that give an opportunity for us to zero in and secure the North East?
A: The problem of the North East is very difficult. The present Governor is working very hard. He is taking a lot of risks. I asked him, this Boko Haram, is it Nigerians or foreigners. He said they are Nigerians, most of them. You can’t kill innocent people and say God is great. I think we have a problem with unemployment. We have a lot of youth looking basically for what to eat, not to talk of accommodation and others. The level of poverty is almost unimaginable. Those who are keeping in touch with what we are doing know the difference between the time we came in and now. The people of the North-East and South-South are the best judges for the performance of this administration. They are in the know.
Q: Insecurity has moved from the North-East to the North-West. How do you respond to the issue of banditry in the North West?
A: We have had series of meetings and the whole security apparatus was changed. The ones that succeeded them have been part of the system. Each meeting lasted for more than two hours. firstly, I allowed them to go round and see the position on the ground. They made changes in their offices, commands. We are giving it less publicity because we do not want to make them aware that we are taking them head-on but I think those who are in the field know. For example, we stopped mining in Zamfara state, expelled the foreigners. We want to secure Zamfara, Sokoto and so on. The important is the question of local security apparatus. We have police in every town. They don’t wear uniforms and sling their rifle just to intimidate people. They just make sure they use it to bring security. I too was almost overwhelmed by the insecurity in the country but we are treating them as criminals now. The criminals have suffered a lot of causalities but they will not admit it because they don’t want to demoralise their other members but they have suffered a lot of casualties.
Q: Still on the issue of security, each zone in the country have taken matters into their own hands with different security apparatus like the Civilian JTF, Amotekun. Has the time come to now formalise state police in Nigeria?
A: I have been reading it in the newspapers. Those who are old enough to know the earlier Police and so on. At that time, the traditional institution leaders were very effective. I will give you an example that happened recent. Two governors from the South-East came to tell me that the cattle rearers were killing farmers in their states. I told them that you are the ones elected by your people, go back and figure it out yourselves. There are traditional leaders who have been there for generations so they know all the crooks in their locality. So the security operatives, cattle rearers, farmers and others should meet either quarterly or annually and discuss the security system. So I told the governors to go back to the old system so that they will have intelligence and know things happening in their constituencies. They cannot just go round during elections, only to win, relax and expect others to do their jobs for them.
Q: Mr President, the governors in the southern part of the country recently called for restructuring and announced a ban on open grazing. Despite that, the AGF said he didn’t know what they were talking about. What steps are you planning to take to put an end to the farmers-herders clash?
A: You want me to contradict my Attorney-General? What I did was to ask them to go and dig the gazette of the 1st Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving upcountry, north to south or east to west, they had to go through there. “If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims. The khadi or the judge will say pay this amount and if you can’t the cattle are sold. And if there is any benefit, you are given and people were behaving themselves and in the grazing areas, they built dams, put windmills in some places there were even veterinary departments so that the herders are limited. Their route is known, their grazing area is known.
But I am telling you, this rushing to the centre so I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into the cattle grazing. The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers. There is a cultural difference between the Tivs and the Fulanis. So, the governor of Benue said I am not disciplining the cattle rearers because I am one of them. I cannot say I am not one of them but he is being very unfair to me and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer was not carrying anything more than a stick sometimes with a machete to cut some trees and feed his cattle but those sophisticated ones move with AK 47.
So, from other areas, people rush to Nigeria you know and Fulanis from Mauritania and Central Africa look the same so they feel they are the Nigerian ones and I assure you that we are trying to resuscitate these cattle routes, grazing areas and make them accountable. We will also bring back taxation because, without it, they feel they can do whatever they like.
Q: Restructuring the country was part of the APC’s manifesto in 2015. What is your position on the devolution of powers?
A: The three tiers of government, if they had agreed properly on the devolution of powers, this problem would not have occurred at all. The local government is virtually killed and that is not good for this country because those who are the LG chairmen have been compromised. If your local government is entitled to 300m, a letter will come to you to sign that you received N300m, whereas you received 100m.
Q: How can we reduce the powers of governors and give more powers to the local government by writing a new constitution?
A: I think this question of accountability is very important. The education system has suffered a lot. If for example, in my generation, I spent nairas throughout. The Teachers then treated us like their own children. If you do well, you will be applauded before the class likewise if you perform badly, you will be flogged in front of the class. Basically, the standard of education has dropped.
Q: The schools in the north have been under attack by bandits who have been requesting money from parents of kidnapped students. How do you think that the goal of over N100m will be met?
A: Well, try and appreciate the efforts that the Federal Government has done. We have told the Chief of Army Staff and Inspector-General of Police to go round and see what the problem is. They are in charge. They are working very hard. All those killing and stealing in the name of Allah, as I said, will be treated in the language they understand. We have told the police and military to be ruthless. We told them that the bandits cannot continue keeping people from their families. Sooner than later, Nigerians will see the difference.
Q: How do you plan to restore peace in the South East?
“I was encouraged by what I heard, nobody told me. Two statements from the south-south. One by the elderly people, they said this time around there would be no (secession). And again the youth made the same statement; such encouragement. That IPOB is just like a dot in a circle. Even if they want to exit, they will have no access to anywhere. And the way they are spread all over the country, having businesses and properties, I don’t think IPOB knows what they are talking about. In any case, we say we’ll talk to them in the language that they understand. We’ll organise the police and the military to pursue them. That’s what we can do.
Q: How do you plan to include the people of the South-East in your government, especially in terms of security?
A: People who have been there for 18 years or even for 10 years, they trained in Zaria or in Abeokuta, they come through the ranks. And because they served under all the circumstances, the crises and everything and they gradually rise to that status and you think you just pick somebody just to balance up? These positions have to be earned. There are people who have been there for 10-15 years. You have to put someone who has suffered with soldiers, whom they know and will understand. It has to be someone who will expose himself to them.
Q: On power rotation, there is an agreement in APC to move power from North to South. Where do you think the next president should come from to keep your legacy going?
A: Shouldn’t we allow the party to decide, I just told you that we started from the bottom to the top. I told the acting chairman and a committee to give me the report by the end of the month on the convention they are going to conduct and then arrange general elections until 2023. All the elections. And we started this from the bottom to the up, so that members of the party will be sure they are involved in decision making. Nobody is just going to sit in Lagos and tell them what to do. This is what we are arranging. The succession plan depends on the party. The party will sit and make its decision by the constituencies they won. So those who want to be president, better join APC.”
Q: We are losing foreign direct investments to neighbouring countries. What will you do to make the country more attractive to foreign direct investments to the country?
A: This question was answered last year when there was the #EndSARS protest. Do you remember the young people that wanted to march here and remove me? I got members of the Executive Council to go to each state and speak to the governor, traditional leaders, business people to tell their youths to behave themselves if they want jobs. Nobody is going to invest in an insecure environment. Tell the young people to behave themselves and make the country safe, then we can attract real investors to the country.
Q: How will Nigeria deal with the issue of subsidy?
A: It is a very difficult question and I suspect you know that. Nigeria petroleum is being sold from here to Ghana. You see people smuggling fuel through borders, bushes. What we should do is to try and get the cooperation of Customs, Immigration so that they can secure borders and fuel will not be taken in substantial amounts to other countries. I have heard of Customs confiscating tankers and selling them yet Nigerians do not complain.
Q: Nigerians are curious about how your administration keeps carrying our infrastructure to the Niger Republic. They want to know your obsession with the country.
A: How many neighbours do we have? If we are not in a good relationship with our neighbours, Boko Haram will have worsened. I told you the border between Nigeria and Niger is less than 100km. There are Hausas, Fulanis, Kanuris in Niger Republic, justlike there are Yorubas in Benin Republic. You cannot absolutely cut them off. Niger has discovered oil and we do not want to let them go through the Benin Republic. We hope they will decide to send their exports through Nigeria rather than the Benin Republic. I believe if you make the infrastructure available, it will keep Nigerians busy.
Q: What projects will interest you after retirement?
A: Thank you very much for thinking I am okay. I have never abandoned my farm. I still have a number of cattle. When I leave, I will go to my farm and try and keep myself busy. I will try to keep on convincing Nigerians that I mean very well. I will continue to work for them. I am overwhelmed by the problems in the North-East but we will overcome them.