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WE'VE JOKER FOR APRIL POLLS - BUHARI

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Buhari
Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), has passed a damning verdict on the present state of affairs in the country, saying: 'Nigeria is going neither left nor right.'

In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun in Abuja, the former military Head of State, who said he was 'encouraged by the response of Nigerians in their awareness and support for good governance,' discarded his earlier statement that there may be no Nigeria in 2011.

Hear Buhari: 'With what has been happening since the last election, the country is going neither left nor right and there is a lot of wastage because of lack of focus and collapse of infrastructure, insecurity, corruption, indiscipline, the whole lot. For that reason, Nigerians are now prepared to listen and they are listening very hard.

'It is worrisome because I asked your colleagues to go into the archives and find out how much this country earned in the past 12 years of the PDP government and then compare it with the state of our infrastructure.

'Did you save the Nigerian Railways? Did you save the Nigeria Airways? Did you save the Nigerian Shipping Line? Did you save, at least, some motorable roads, North, South, East and West? All these have gone with all these resources and if this clique insists on holding Nigeria hostage again for another four or eight years, God knows the end of it, what we will find, what will remain of Nigeria.

'There will be Nigeria in 2011. I don't think Nigerians are not committed to having one country and I don't think they can fail to find a way of getting rid of those that have sentenced them to insecurity and poverty.'

Not done yet, Buhari bared his mind on his choice of Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos, and Chief Convener of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), saying he chose Bakare as his presidential running mate because both of them have the same commitment to Nigeria.

'I think we have the same commitment to Nigeria. If you could recall, there was almost a constitutional crisis about succession when the late president was sick and the vice president was supposed, as you know, to act. Pastor Tunde Bakare then, on the auspices of the SNG, which he initiated and led, demonstrated at the National Assembly the fact that Nigeria must be run constitutionally. And if you could recall, about the same time, I issued a statement on behalf of an organisation I was heading then, I was chairing the National Democratic Initiative or National Democratic Movement, that there is no problem about succession in the Nigerian Constitution. It is absolutely clear.

Where a president becomes incapacitated for whatever illness or he drops dead, the vice president is automatically sworn in. So, there was no problem and we appealed to Nigerians not to allow anybody to cause any constitutional problem where there was none, and we proceeded after that to the National Assembly with a signed letter, and so, President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, sent the letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. And it arrived virtually the same time Pastor Bakare was fighting everybody, you know, who was trying to introduce some constitutional crisis where it was none existent. So, I think from there we began to understand each other, when people didn't even realise this.'

Buhari also spoke on his third missionary journey, including the perceived crisis in his party, the CPC, the much talked about 'tactical alliance with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)', and other sundry issues. Excerpts:

Your Excellency, you have been on another round of presidential race for quite sometime now. How would you describe the journey so far?

Well, you know the journey has been tortuous. You know in 2003 we were in court for 30 months, and in 2007 again, we were in court for 20 months. So, the journey so far, as you asked, has been very rough, but our objective is very clear, hence we will maintain focus.

So, what have you done differently this time around that you believe will ensure your victory at the forthcoming polls?

The main difference is that I am contesting on the platform of a new political party, the Congress for Progressive Change. And if you recall, in 2006, six political parties, including mine then, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), making them seven, went through the processes and they adopted me or rather, gave me the ticket. These six parties were the Progressive Action Congress (PAC), under Nwodo (Jnr); the National Conscience Party (NCP), under the late Gani Fawehinmi; Nigeria Advance Party (NAP), under Tunji Braithwaite; Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), under Chief Olu Falae; Peoples Salvation Party (PSP), under the late Dr. Kumo; and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), under Balarabe Musa. So, really, we have enjoyed the support of other political parties.

How is your party, the Congress for Progressive Change, fairing?

We have conducted our congresses, convention and primaries successfully. Our people have only observation in two or three states - Bauchi, Kano and Katsina - and we still have at least, a week to agree with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), reconciling the candidates in those areas where there are representations to INEC.

General, like you rightly mentioned, crisis seems to be rocking the CPC, most importantly, in the North. Why?

There are three states I mentioned. How many states are there in the North? At least, there are 19 states in the North. So, when you have crisis in three states, I think we are not doing badly.

Then, is the CPC a viable opposition to displace the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming elections, most importantly, the presidential election?

Yes. We are very hopeful, we are very confident and we are going to consummate some form of alliance with other political parties to make sure we make Nigerians understand and support us, because we are going to give a clearly better alternative to the PDP.

Your Excellency, tactical alliance with other opposition parties; how realisable is it?

It is realisable after a day before the polling starts. Of course, I must publicise what is between the Action Congress of Nigeria and us. And even that one also, the leadership of the party gave the impression that the discussion with alliance had collapsed. It hasn't collapsed. We are still talking with them. Although, they have put out their presidential and vice presidential candidates, we have choosen our own, but there are still areas we believe we can cooperate, elective areas that we can cooperate.

The refusal of the presidential candidate of ACN and former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, to step down for you, has been perceived as one of the reasons the CPC/ACN alliance is crumbling. How true is this?

(Heaves a sigh) The question of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu refusing to step down ought not to have arisen, because this is a problem between CPC and ACN. Not between Buhari and Nuhu Ribadu. I think this is very clear to ACN and it is, of course, still clear to us.

The Action Congress (AC) was hoping, and I am sure when you go back to your archives, you will find that they will give me a ticket so that I can contest on the ticket of AC before it even became ACN. But then, we registered our party after waiting for 11 months and 17 days before we got the registration from INEC. Having got the registration, the least we could do was to see the structure on ground, but it took too long with those opportunities to match ACN, as it were, but it was still possible and it is still possible that we can form some a sort of alliance with which we can go to the polls next April.

The election of Prince Tony Momoh, who people believe to be passionate about your ideals, as National Chairman of CPC; how was he elected as CPC National Chairman?

It was overwhelming. The results were published; the primaries and convention were very, very transparent. There was a lady from the South-South who wanted to be the chairperson of the party, and delegates from all the states were lined up and Prince Tony Momoh scored the highest. So, he has been elected chairman of the party, by the party, throughout the country.

And your friend and attorney, Mike Ahamba, left?
Yes, he did. I read it in the paper, and I replied him.

Okay. What do you have to say about the candidacy and inclusion of Muhammed Abacha, son of former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha, as the gubernatorial candidate of CPC in Kano State by INEC and the crisis it had generated?

Yes, it is because we go by the Electoral Act. And INEC, by the Electoral Act, does not impose any candidate on the party.

We submitted names of those to be our candidates and INEC has the responsibility by the Electoral Act to see if there is any observation through the fact that they are supposed to supervise the election, if there is any observation, to discuss it and not to go to the press and counter our recommendation because the Electoral Act is constitutional and it is supreme. Not individuals ruling INEC.

Your Excellency, the issue of the choice of your running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare, is currently the topic of discussion everywhere, crippling that of Goodluck/Sambo. What necessitated the choice of Bakare as your presidential running mate?

I think we have the same commitment to Nigeria. I have answered this question for the umpteenth time to some of your colleagues.

If you could recall, there was almost a constitutional crisis about succession when the late President Musa Yar'Adua was sick and the vice president was supposed, as you know, to act. Pastor Tunde Bakare, then on the auspices of the Save Nigeria Group, which he initiated and led, demonstrated at the National Assembly the fact that Nigeria must be run constitutionally.

And if you could recall, about the same time I issued a statement on behalf of an organidation I was heading then, I was chairing the National Democratic Initiative or National Democratic Movement, that there is no problem about succession in the Nigerian Constitution. It is absolutely clear that where a president becomes incapacitated for whatever illness or he drops dead, the vice president is automatically sworn in.

So, there was no problem and we appealed to Nigerians that they should not allow anybody to cause any constitutional problem where there was none, and we proceeded after that to the National Assembly with a signed letter and so, President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, sent the letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. And it arrived virtually the same time Pastor Bakare was fighting everybody, you know, who was trying to introduce some constitutional crisis where it was non-existent. So, I think from there, we began to understand each other, when people didn't even realise this.

Are you saying you chose him because of his courage and forthrightness?

Yes. His courage, you know, his energy and his forthrightness. Yes, we share the same sense of patriotism. We are so concerned about this country, Nigeria. This is a country that can be really secured and managed, hence we have the same objective about our country.

Are you saying you did not find other credible hands than Bakare or like Bakare?

He is the one that really presented himself. We fought the same cause, about the sanctity of the Constitution of the country, which is very, very stabilising, and some people wanted to destabilise the country for their own selfish end. We fought against it, no matter how briefly.

How sure are you that the Buhari/Bakare ticket will fly, considering that some people believe both of you have not been traditional politicians who are used to distributing money and more so, that both of you are viewed as extremists in terms of religious beliefs?

People are now prepared to listen and we are asking for their understanding and support. And with what has been happening since the last election, the country is going neither left nor right and there is a lot of wastage because of lack of focus and collapse of infrastructure, insecurity, corruption, indiscipline, the whole lot. For that reason, Nigerians are now prepared to listen, and they are listening very hard.

Sometime last year, precisely August 8, 2010, you granted a lengthy interview, saying 2011 was critical for the country, that there may be no Nigeria, adding that you were scared about the Somaliasation of Nigeria. Do you still maintain this hard-line and worrisome position?

Thank you. You changed it from hard-line to worrisome. It is worrisome because I asked your colleagues to go into the archives and find out how much this country earned in the last 12 years of the PDP government and then compare it with the state of our infrastructure. Did they save the Nigerian Railways? The Nigeria Airways? Nigerian Shipping Line, or at least, some motorable roads, North, South, East and West? All these have gone with all these resources, and if this clique insists on holding Nigeria hostage again for another four or eight years, God knows the end of it, what we will find, what will remain of Nigeria.

So, what happens if there is no Nigeria in 2011?
There will be Nigeria in 2011. I don't think Nigerians are not committed to having one country and I don't think they can fail to find a way of getting rid of those that have sentenced them to insecurity and poverty.

Your Excellency, so you have changed from your earlier position?

I have not changed, but I am encouraged by the response of Nigerians in their awareness and support for good governance.

So, now there will be Nigeria in 2011?
I hope so.
During your presidential declaration, you said you would not go to court after the election. Why did you say so? Is it because you are sure of victory at the polls this time around?

No. Not because I am sure of victory, but because I am sure Nigerians will take the decision themselves.

How about the programmes you intend to put in place if elected president of Nigeria, could you let Nigerians know what General Buhari wants to do differently?

I would rather wait a little for our manifesto, which I don't want to do in piecemeal. But in short, we have four very important things under which other things will fall. And this faceless security you see, this country has to be secured. Secondly, it has to be managed.

The cost of management entails the utilisation of resources. I talked about you finding out how much this country earned in the last 12 years and the state of the infrastructure now. Education, healthcare and even drinking water, and really, if you see what the richest government has been getting from every quarter and then you find out that the services are collapsing, and then you can't trace where that money is going, I think it is worrisome.

Then, the famous War Against Indiscipline (WAI), will you launch it again if elected president of Nigeria?

I think there will be need to re-launch the War Against Indiscipline because even under the military, they accepted it and people were voluntarily behaving themselves, cleaning up their environment every last Saturday of the month, on their own.

You know, people generally accept their status in life and work very hard. So, I assure you, this is what we hope to carry out through the Orientation Agency, an organisation, which is in place and will be empowered to perform.

Your Excellency, I have heard, seen and read your exploits in different areas, most importantly, how you pursued the Chadian Army that invaded and took 19 islands in Lake Chad within Nigerian territory, as far as 50 kilometres into Chadian territory when you were the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Armoured Division between December 1981 and December 1983.

General, from what you have been able to put in place so far, politically, can you confidently say you are sure of emerging victorious in the forthcoming presidential election?

I am confident because of the understanding and support we are getting now. Our people now seem to be very, very receptive mainly because I think they feel they have suffered enough. So, I am expecting and I am confident that people will vote for us massively, and God willing, we are going to form the next government in this country.

Any word for President Goodluck Jonathan; should Jonathan assemble his belongings for preparation to quit the

Aso Rock Villa in May 2011, or should he defect to the CPC?

I wouldn't expect him. I wouldn't expect him to join the CPC.

Why, Your Excellency?
He is already an ostrich to the PDP. So, he cannot come to the CPC (laughs). But I would expect him to make sure that nobody makes more Nigerians his enemies. For example, what happened in Nassarawa State the day he flagged-off his presidential campaign. His party must be much more tolerant.

I understand there was a group that decided to come out and show the process of other presidential candidates than him and immediately the gubernatorial candidate, who was not in the state, was arrested and detained. We expected him to intervene immediately on such occasion so that he would not be presented as an intolerant leader.

And for the generality of Nigerians, my message is consistent; that I hope they have all registered, and I hope they will vote, and I hope they will insist that their votes count, otherwise, they shouldn't blame anybody for any mis-governance in the future.