Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Buhari and Me (1)



Buhari and Me (1)
Two days ago, when it was clear that the APC had won the 2015 presidential election, a call came through from an old friend, Joachim, whom I had not spoken with in a while. He said the moment he saw Gen Buhari winning the election, I immediately came into his mind because of a question I asked the president-elect when I hosted him on my radio show in 2010 as he was gearing for the 2011 election then. My friend reminded me of a question I put to the general, “General, you ran for president in 2003”, Joachim paraphrased my question, “and you ran in 2007; in both occasions you were defeated, and now you are running in 2011. Must it be you? Why only Buhari?” He went ahead to remind me of Buhari’s light-hearted answer which actually elicited some mirth in the studio that day, “I am a General and a General does not accept defeat.”
Joachim called me to express his excitement at the emergence of Buhari as the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but, more importantly, also to share with me his awe of the General’s determination and doggedness and how it finally paid off.
I had been wondering what to write on about the election and its outcome, as I reckoned that the media will be awash with sundry analyses of the whole saga and anything I will come up with will be said, some way somehow, by another writer or commentator. But the moment Joachim reminded me of that interview, I thought that it will be nice to bring some excerpts from it for your pleasure.
During the campaigns to this presidential election, I decided to have a cursory listen to that interview myself. I remember being struck by what I consider the simplicity and authenticity I perceived from Buhari on that day of the interview, but when I listened to it about two months ago, I realized how very consistent the man has been: what he said in 2010 was the same thing he was saying in 2015.
Below is a transcription of our seventy-five minute chat, in 2010, on the topic “Accountability and Credible Elections” with the president-elect, which is almost verbatim save for minor adjustments for better readability.
Me: In your career, you were, at various times, GOC, Petroleum Minister, Head of States, and later you agreed to be Chairman PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund). Given your sum experience at all of these levels, what has the concept of accountability come to mean to you?
Buhari: Well, whichever system you are in, whether military or civil, it’s very clear that, at every level of management, you are supposed to be responsible for the public funds, resources, assets and so on… and there have been systems in place since colonial times to date, like the audit departments, treasurers and so on. And assets and hard cash, whether in banks or in bonds are normally accounted for every year, because it is public funds. So at every level, from the three tiers of government, in every institution, there’s a government rule and regulation on how to manage public resources. So, as far as I’m concerned, as far as military and civil training is, whoever aspires to lead at any level, one of the most important things is “how do you account for public resources and public funds?” I hope it’s not getting out of fashion to do that. But, all I know, the books are there and when the chips are down, one has to account it if not to the public then, for those who believe in the hereafter, to God.
Me: Your stock is the military. The twin to accountability is transparency. These twin virtues, if not finally killed, were most definitely nailed in the coffin by military rulership in Nigeria, on a general note. How did you render account while at the helm of affairs in order to demonstrate transparency?
Buhari: I think the most important one, which the public knew or perhaps could recall, was that when we were Head of States from 31 December, 1983, to 23 August, 1985, late Tunde Idiagbon, who was my deputy, every month, used to get you, the press, and tell you what we had in terms of monies in the foreign account, how much we earned and how much debt. That one we knew. Because the important thing we did when we came – very few people will bother to recall – was that when we came in, no one knew how much Nigeria was being owed. So we put up two committees – one international, under Chase Bank, and the other here under the Ministry of Economic Development – to find out, all these monies Nigeria was even owing, how did it come about? Up till the time we were removed, we hadn’t received the report, but I understood when I was in detention that eventually, we (Nigeria) received it but the report never saw the light of day. But one example that came out before we left was that the amount of sugar Nigeria was supposed to be consuming was more than that of the whole of Africa south of the Sahara less South Africa. Now you know that was impossible. So what was being done was that papers were just being stamped by the banks including the Central Bank (CBN) and so on. So there was a syndicate virtually taking Nigeria’s foreign exchange out for whatever.
To be continued next week…
 

BLUEPRINT Newspaper Thur. March 2, 2015

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