hari (retd), was the Military Head of State from 1984 to 1985. In this interview in Ibadan, the professor of virology talks extensively on the person of Buhari that millions of Nigerians do not know. Excerpts:
Will it be right to describe Gen Buhari’s win in the just concluded presidential election as a personal victory to you?
It cannot be a personal victory to me; that will be too much. It’s
victory to Nigerians, victory to those people in Nigeria, who have over
the years have supported this cause. It is not for me. I was only one
person telling peo¬ple what he is. I have worked with him and I know
him. I worked very closely with him.
As an oil minister, I was
closer to him than most ministers because we have hotlines; few
ministers had hotlines with him. Whenever I talk about Buhari, I am
talking about somebody I know. I am not talking about stereotype, am
talking about somebody I know first¬hand.
He has good qualities. He
is a unique man. The for¬mer Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar,
described him as an extraordinary Nigerian.
Why do I love him?
First, he is very honest. He is not corrupt at all. He’s disciplined and
he’s focused. I worked with Buhari and I worked with Babangida (Gen
Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, retd). If you give a 20- page memo to Buhari
by 9:00 this morning, by 10 he has finished reading it and he will ask
you to come. When you get there, you will see that he has read it and
made notes. If you give the same memo to Babangida, he would not read it
for one week.
Buhari loves Nigeria, not only because he was a
sol¬dier and signed his life for Nigeria, I know from all the people
around, he’s the only person that I can vouch for. They used to insult
me that Jonathan (President Good¬luck Jonathan) is Ijaw and I am an Ijaw
man too, why am I supporting a Fulani man? I am not going to support
you because you are Ijaw, I am going to support you to lead Nigeria and
do well for the country
I have written two books on Buhari: one is
who really is Gen Buhari and the other one is 16 sins of Buhari, which
are qualities of Buhari. In the book, I wrote on the lies they are
telling about him. In fact, Femi Adesina (Managing Director of The Sun
newspapers) was the master of ceremony when I launched the book at
NI¬IA(Nigerian Institute of International Affairs) in Lagos.
I have a
third book on him, which I have not finished – General Buhari: A Rare
Gem. I don’t have Buhari’s phone number. I don’t phone him. Why do I do
that? It’s because I don’t want to be tempted to be phoning him to
discuss. If I want to talk to Buhari, I know how.
Buhari can turn
this country around. I have strong faith in this. If my father is
contesting an election against Gen Buhari as president, I will vote for
Buhari, not my father. I will tell my father: I know you are a good man.
But you have no business with politics. You cannot do it. you are a
banker, go and manage money. I cannot vote for you because Buhari will
do better than you. Buhari is a fantastic man.
For example, they are
talking of economy while the greatest problem in Nigeria is corruption.
If you can take care of corruption, everything will fall in place. Gen
Buhari refused to devalue the naira in spite of the fact that when he
came to power, Nigeria was broke. Shagari (Alhaji Shehu Shagari, former
president of Ni¬geria), was negotiating for N2billion IMF loan before he
Buhari told me he would not take IMF loan. I asked
him why and he said: If you take loan of N2billion now, we will not be
able to finish paying it before we leave. So, the debt will be there for
our children. He’s as care¬ful as that.
You must have read that
Buhari cancelled Lagos metro line. It is a lie. I have published the
story before. I don’t write anything without a research. I phoned him on
it and he said: No, when we came to power on January 1, 1984, Nigeria
did not know how much foreign debt they are owing. They don’t know the
figure. Shagari did not know.
He said Lagos State came with a
project, which would gulp over N100billion or so, guaranteed by the
Federal Government. It’s a big loan for the project in those days. He
said Federal Government could not guarantee the loan of N100billion when
we did not know how much we are owing. So, Lagos State government
thought of it, looked at it and jettisoned it by itself. He told me:
Look professor, how can I cancel a project that I am not part of? I
cannot cancel it.
Buhari cited another example. He said when he was
in PTF (Petro¬leum Trust Fund), the first N1.2 billion they made was
spent on Lagos waterworks. Many people just write, they don’t
investigate. This is why I don’t have respect for so many people called
intellectuals. When Bu¬hari was Head of State, $1.5 was N1:00; today, it
is over N190 to $1 dollar. Then, it was N2 to £1; today it is over N240
As regards the economy, they are talking that the oil price
has fallen. Oil is still being sold for $57 per barrel. When Buhari came
to power, oil price was $30 per barrel. During that time too, it went
down to about $15. But he managed the economy.
(Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to get the
market share, oil price fell to about $15 per barrel, yet we survived.
We survived because of good lead¬ership and good focus. Now, they are
saying the oil price is coming down, what will Buhari do?
absolutely certain that Buhari will turn the economy round. Why? It is
because some of the blueprints he had to turn the economy round, he had
not implemented before he was overthrown. I know that some of the
blueprints are still on his table. So, one of the blueprints we used was
very ingenious. The London Financial Times of May 1984 said it was
extra-ordinary. We made IMF irrelevant. It is very simple. The economy
I trust and love Buhari. He said something when he was
launching his book in Port Har¬court and I am very humbled by it. He
said: Ser¬vice to our country brought Tam and I together and the ideals
we share in common make us friends. He said: Tam is somebody you can
trust and that he can go to the forest with him, with¬out being afraid.
I like him. Everything I have said about Gen Buhari cannot be
controverted. He can change this country round. He loves the common man.
In 1984, I took a memo to the council on oil price, but Buhari said
even if we increase the oil price by 10 kobo or five kobo, kerosene
price must never be increased. Senator Chris Anyan¬wu is still alive,
she can bear me witness.
What is happening today? They have trillions of naira as kerosene subsidy, which is a lie.
During Buhari’s time, we never imported one litre of petrol; we were
even exporting petrol. Why is it so? It’s because you don’t need a
mid¬dleman. There is no petrol subsidy. Buhari and I had said it
independently, even Gani Fawehin¬mi. If you are talking about subsidy,
why do you need a middleman? The Nigerian middlemen go and import a
refined product from abroad. Of course, they inflate the price by giving
us all sorts of figures.
The petrol price in Nigeria should not be
more than N40 per litre. They were abusing me. I challenged Okonjo
Iweala (Minister of Fi¬nance and Coordinating Minister of Economy) to a
debate, she never came. A professor of pe¬troleum of Nigeria in Texas
wrote to one of the people and I still have a copy in my house, that
petrol price in Nigeria should not be more than about N35 per litre.
Why is it so? It’s because he’s a focused man. He’s not making money
from it. Buhari has not got oil bloc. He has no oil contract. As I am
talking to you now, it is not because I am righteous, I have never had
oil listing contract, oil bloc and shares in oil companies. When oil
companies were advertising for shares, which I could buy like any other
Nigerian; neither Bu¬hari, nor myself bought shares in those compa¬nies.
Even, if they gave us 1,000 shares, they gave to us because he was Head
of State and I was Minister of Petroleum. He is as careful as that.
Buhari served this country well and he can turn it round. I am happy and
I thank Almighty God, He has brought him back. What has happened is a
great victory for Nigeria and we must give all glory to God.
different images of Gen Bu¬hari portrayed by the opposition during the
electioneering such as being a dic¬tator, religious bigot and ethnic
jingoist. But you have always been a defender of his persona. Now,
Nigerians have given their verdict on what they think of the opposition
campaign. But there are fears that military mentality and tem¬perament
may come to the fore.
Do you know that Buhari’s executive coun¬cil
was more democratic than Shagari’s parlia¬ment? When he was Military
Head of State, he never liked the word president. While Baban¬gida
preferred Military President, Buhari pre¬ferred Head of State. Buhari’s
executive coun¬cil, which is like the parliament now, was more
democratic than Shagari’s government. I have evidence. There is nothing I
tell you that I can¬not support with paper evidence.
he was president, even com¬plained that to get some of his bills passed,
he had to pay his party men. I know a lawmaker, who complained to me
that before he got to House to vote, they used to meet in a senator’s
house in Victoria Island, Lagos, where they used to give them some money
before they would go and vote for the party.
If a minister came to
present a memo to the council, after the presentation, Buhari would ask
every minister to make general comments about what they feel about the
memo. Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon, of course, were there; they would not
react as ministers. After the general comments, he would say we should
In fact, I wrote an article entitled: Democ¬racy in a Military
Government. They could not believe it. Even at OPEC meetings, I had to
explain to the Europeans that it was a mil¬itary but we are running a
democratic system. At the policy making level, Buhari would say:
Gentlemen, you have finished speaking, how many ministers support the
memo. If you are in support raise your hands. He will count it and put
it down. How many ministers don’t support the memo? They raised their
hands to. He would say: Gentlemen, 10 ministers support the memo, eight
ministers did not support the memo. The memo is lost.
If we are
operating a democratic system of decision making, it is not new to him
now. For instance, I had a memo for some increase in pe¬troleum tax,
Buhari supported me and Idiagbon supported me. Buhari was so sure that
after the memo, we would win. Buhari told the Attorney General that at
the end of the memo, this part of NNPC law has to be changed. The
Attorney Gen¬eral walked up to me in council and said: Honour¬able
minister, look at this place, is it the place they are going to change
after your memo if you win? I said yes. But I was so sure. But when I
presented and voted, we lost. Buhari lost, Idiagbon lost and I lost.
Buhari just said: Gentlemen, we have lost; take the next memo.
his coming now is not new. Democracy is not just about voting. It is a
culture. Democracy is what you believe is right to be done. So,
democra¬cy is not new to Buhari.
There are fears that with the
enormous power of the executive president under the presidential system
of government, he may abuse his powers and bastardise our democracy like
former President Olusegun Obasanjo purportedly did in the removal of
Senate President, party leaders, EFCC selective persecution of opponents
with impunity and so on. What is your take?
Professor Ben Nwabueze
wrote a book after Obasanjo: How Obasanjo Destroyed Democracy in
Nigeria. Why didn’t he write when Obasanjo was the president? I have a
copy of the book in my house. Professor Nwabueze, a great man, but he
published it after Obasanjo had left office.
said Obasanjo is a democratically elected president but he has mil¬itary
instinct; but not Buhari. Democarcy is not something you just jump
into, you must believe in it. It must be part of our culture. Democratic
ethos is part of Buhari’s life. He demonstrated it when he was Military
Head of State that every member must be voted for democratically to the
extent that he himself lost a memo when we voted.
In democracy, we
have separation of powers – the executive, legislature and judiciary. We
also have checks and balances. Buhari, for instance, is somebody that
will not say like my friend, Obasanjo did sometime, he cannot cow down
the legislature. Buhari will not influence the judicia¬ry. In Buhari,
Nigeria will have real democracy and separation of powers. The Buhari
that I know will never interfere with the National Assembly. I know he
will never interfere with the judiciary. It is his culture. So, there is
nothing to fear.
To say that Buhari is a religious bigot is
abso¬lutely rubbish. If you read my book: 16 Sins of Bu¬hari, you will
discover that he is more religiously accommodating than anybody. People
also called him an fundamentalist, sometime some people write without
It was also speculated that he would Islamise Nigeria
No President can Islamise Nigeria. No Muslim Head of State can Islamise
Nigeria. No Chris¬tian Head of State can Christianise Nigeria. The
constitution is very clear. Even during military government when
constitution was suspended, no Head of State can do that. Do you know
when he was Military Head of State, when there was no constitution, he
could have done that. But he doesn’t believe in it.
Why do I say
that? To change any part of the constitution, you need two-third
majority of the states of the federation. To change a letter of the
constitution, two-third of the federation must agree and the Houses of
Assembly must agree. When he was Military Head of State, he could get
that as a military man, he did not even attempt it. How can he attempt
it now that it has to go to par¬liament? He cannot Islamise Nigeria.
To say that Buhari is a religious fundamentalist is a credit. My family
has been Christian for 106 years. I am an Anglican fundamentalist. When
you say somebody is a fundamentalist, it means that he believes in his
religion. I am a Christian fundamentalist. I believe in the Bible. If
you are a Muslim fundamentalist, you believe in Quran. So, what is wrong
about that? I don’t go to church on Sunday and go to Babalawo at night.
Three of Buhari’s domestic staff are Christians. His confidential
secretary is a Christian, his sec¬ond security officer is a Christian,
his second head driver is a Christian. They have been with him for years
Apart from being in his government, you have also, over the time, being
his close friend; who is the Buhari that Ni¬gerians do not know?
Buhari is more detribalised, more religious tolerant than anyone I have
met. In 1984, I stopped OPEC meeting from taking place. We met in Geneva
on December 22, 1984 for a tow-day meeting. We thought the meeting
would finish latest December 24. But the leaders said the matter for
discussion would not allow the meeting to end on December 24.
they said we should continue on Decem¬ber 25, which was Christmas Day. I
told them: I am sorry, I cannot stay here as Christian to have OPEC
meeting on Christmas Day. I have to go. Over 80 per cent members of OPEC
are Muslims. We argued. My friend, Saudi Arabia Oil Minister, Zaki
Yamani, had been minister for 24 years. We talked. He said the OPEC has
changed. He still insisted that we should have the meeting on December
Yamani said sometime in the 70s, the OPEC meeting in Riyadh
(Saudi Arabia) went up to December 25, and King Faisal had dinner for
both Christian and Muslim ministers. I said that’s very good. If a
Christian leaves his home to go to Saudi Arabia for Christian dinner,
then something is wrong with him. I said: Gentle¬men, I am the leader of
the Nigerian delegation, I am pulling out my delegation back to Nigeria
tomorrow, December 23 and I pulled out Ni¬gerian delegation, there was
crisis in OPEC. I told them: Gentlemen, can you people have OPEC meeting
on Eid-el-Maulud, date of birth of Prophet Mohammed? I object to it,
you can go on.
Do you know some Christians had told Bu¬hari to sack
me for causing international crisis? I have written a book on this,
nobody can chal¬lenge me. I don’t say anything without record. When I
arrived, I went to Dodan Barracks to re¬port to Buhari, he said he saw
everything on tele¬vision and heard it on radio. Do you know what he
did? He never sacked me. He congratulated me on what I did. He said we
must respect each other’s religion. That same day, himself and Idi¬agbon
sent me Christmas presents.
Many of Buhari’s campaign sponsors,
including the APC National Leader, Asi¬waju Bola Tinubu and Rivers State
gov¬ernor, Rotimi Amaechi, are perceived to be corrupt. Would their
relationship and influence on his government not affect the
They used to say, show me your friend
and I will tell you what you are. There is nobody that is corrupt that
can influence Buhari. He has made it clear that there would be no
discrimi¬nation in the fight against corruption. If you are corrupt, you
cannot work with Buhari. If you are corrupt, shed that corruption
before you come because he will disgrace you. His zero-tolerance for
corruption is one of his cardinal strengths. He cannot change it.
The 2014 National Conference con¬vened by President Goodluck Jonathan
came out with over 600 resolutions, most of which are perceived to be
against the North. Gen Buhari is from the North and his party, APC did
not believe in the conference. Do you think Buhari will implement the
They are talking about National Conference and
Petroleum Industry Bill. There are a lot of things that came up at that
National Conference that were nonsense. As one of the people that
drafted the 1979 Constitution, Wayas and Ona¬goruwa, said it is the best
constitution. But it is not constitution, it is Nigerians. With the
state of Nigerian system, people are lying. But that system was just
aided by the military. Murtala Mohammed gave them a blanket cheque. I
must correct this image, there are lies against Murtala Mohammed,
including some people that drafted the constitution.
Mohammed, I have the speech inau¬gurating 49 of us, gave us free hands
to oper¬ate. He asked us to suggest anything we like on how to move this
nation forward. Why do you choose presidential system? Many Nigerians
wrote to us and over 80 per cent of Nigerians wanted presidential system
because they are dis-pleased with the parliamentary system.
presidential system was chosen by Nige¬rians, not by the military, not
by 49 of us. The memos we received from Nigerian public, with¬in and
outside the country preferred presidential system. So, we chose
presidential system be¬cause of them, not because somebody told us to
choose presidential system.
That we are not operating presidential
sys¬tem well is because Nigerians are corrupt. Why should a Nigerian
senator earn more than the United States President, Barack Obama? The
Americans have operated presidential system for over 200 years and they
are still operating. America is one of the strongest economies in the
In Nigeria, we are wealthy, but we have a very poor economy.
So, why should a senator in Ni¬geria earn more than Obama? In fact,
somebody once wrote that a senator in Nigeria can employ four Obamas.
So, don’t blame the constitution. It is us.
On the allegation that
he is from the North and he will not implement the National Conference
resolutions, if I as an Ijaw man is the president and they bring the
report of the conference be¬fore me, I will sit on it. I know the drama
they did there. A lot of things there are very divisive.
one of them said his tribe had 90 per cent of what they wanted as a
people. Did you go there to work for Nigeria or your tribe? There were a
lot of things at that National Conference that did not go through at
all. If Jonathan imple¬ments the resolutions, it is a disservice to
Nige¬ria. I will urge him never to implement them. There must be a
plebiscite. A lot of things that were said there were not in the
interest of Nige¬ria. Many people went to fight for their ethnic groups.
So, that confab document should not be tak¬en hook, line, and sinker.
We must look at it very closely as Nigerians. Jonathan should not
implement it because he is PDP. No. If Buhari doesn’t implement it, it
is not because he is from the North. If they say most of the things they
are saying there are against the North, is that how to pull Nigeria
together? Did they go there to do one for the North and one for the
South? We went there to discuss something that will unite Nigeria and
move together as a people.
The confab document, as it is, should not
be implemented because it is not in the interest of Nigeria. They must
have another group to look at it and whatever comes out of that group
must be sent to Nigerians for plebiscite.
The same thing happened to
the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), don’t implement it. I am happy he
has not implemented it. I have written 40 pages of comments on the PIB,
which I will publish later. The PIB, which everybody was clamouring for,
if he implements it the way it is, the petroleum industry will die.
There are a lot of things that will make foreign investors to run away
from this county. Without the foreign investors, Nigeria cannot manage
the oil industry alone. Shell, for instance, produces 50 per cent of our
oil. Shell operates here and all over the world. If Shell closes its
operation in Nigeria, Shell will not suffer, it is Nigeria that will
suffer. Oil makes over 80 per cent of Nige¬rian budget.
cannot run the oil company without foreign participation because it is
capital inten¬sive. They provide the funds and the expertise. If we have
well-trained Nigerians, what of the funds?
When Rilwan Lukman was
there as the oil minister, what did he do? We have a Petroleum Institute
in Effurun in Delta State, which is about to be upgraded to a
university. Lukman estab¬lished another petroleum institute in Kaduna.
When they asked him why, he said it was estab¬lished to train
So, the PIB is not as good as people think. I
will advise Buhari not to implement it. He should set up another body.
He should select and delegate 40 of us from different backgrounds, from
different parts of the country and believe in Nigeria. Let them look at
the document and produce a working document. Even at that, don’t sign
it; send it as a plebiscite for Nigerians to vote for.
perceived high level of corruption in the hierarchy of the Nige¬rian
military, how feasible is the Presi¬dent-elect’s promise to bring a
swift end to insurgency in the North East?
Buhari has been there
before. Buhari stopped Maitatsine insurgency (of 1980). He was then a
General Officer Commanding (GOC). Why has Jonathan not been able to do
it? There is a bud¬get for the military. They voted huge amount of money
to buy equipment, it was there; they nev¬er did anything. Buhari
doesn’t need big project to fight corruption. Immediately Buhari is
sworn in, corrupt people will shake. They will correct themselves and
I was listening to the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen;
he said in one road contract alone, he was to find out that it was
overestimated by N11billion. He said he was kind enough to can¬cel it,
and they never complained.
The same thing happened during Buhari’s
time. A particular big man in Nigeria, whose name I will not mention,
wrote to Buhari that in one contract he had, he was going to remove N10
million. Then, one of the ministers said, af¬ter Buhari presented the
letter to us, said: This is a very good thing. The government should
write to the contractor to congratulate him. I said no.
What I am
saying now, I have witness; Pat¬rick Koshoni, former Chief of Naval
Staff, is still alive. He is a very brilliant and articulate man. Some
other ministers too are still alive. Kalu Idika Kalu is still alive. I
said don’t con¬gratulate him. If he on his own can give us N10 million,
there will be other N10 million some-where. He cannot do the contract
free. He was afraid that he would be caught. So, on his own, he purged
himself of corruption.
Many corrupt people will run away from
Nigeria without Buhari catching them. What I know is that the money they
have taken from this country, he will bring it back.
On Boko Haram,
Buhari is a General of repute and he fought Maitatsine insurgency,
which was worse thanBoko Haram. Boko Ha¬ram was started by politicians,
like Niger Delta militants. They used them and dumped them. Maitatsine
riot was not started by politicians. It was an upsurge of either
religious or fanaticism. But Buhari was able to stop them.
Shagari’s administration, Saad invad¬ed some parts of Nigeria. Buhari
was GOC and he drove them out. Even, when Shagari told him to stop, he
said in one interview, that he refused to collect the
Commander-in-Chief’s letter until he gave Cameroon breathing nose. He
can do it. The military will be stronger and the military likes him
because he knows where the shoes pinch.
What is your take on the
agitations of the people that Buhari should probe the Jonathan
administration and his aides as a result of alleged reports of
monu¬mental corruption under his administra¬tion? But Buhari said he
would not go after the past administration? What is your take on this?
Buhari said Jonathan has nothing to fear, yes I agree. But Jonathan has
nothing to fear, pro¬vided he has acted well. If he has not acted well,
he has everything to fear. If there is any dirt in his cupboard, he has
everything to fear because Buhari will clean the cupboard.
you think Buhari should do about people, who peddled vicious lies and
campaign of hate against him, during electioneering, because a lot of
people apparently believed them?
Two things; anything that has to do
with libel, I will tell him not to forgive but go to court. He has
already said he would take Femi Fani-Kayo¬de to court. I am one of the
witnesses. How can you so support somebody so much that you will be so
wicked and so violent? Ayo Fayose (Ekiti State governor) said Buhari
would die. But he was one of the first people to congratulate him; that
is cheap now. He doesn’t impress me and he doesn’t impress Buhari.
What should he do? People that have been very wicked to him, called him
name, take ac¬tion against them. But don’t punish anybody because he or
she abused you. If somebody says you are corrupt, make him to prove the