MY STAND ON PANEL'S REPORT - BUHARI
Former Head of State and presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), General Muhammadu Buhari is satisfied with the report of the Dr. Sheik Lemu panel on the post- election violence in some parts of the North.
General Buhari is convinced that the panel report completely exonerated him from any blame because the panel commended him for giving members the necessary support by personally giving them audience in Kaduna. He also gave his own view on what was responsible for the violence.
General Buhari, who is not favourably disposed to granting interview for now, spoke through Yinka Odumakin in a chat with Saturday Sun on his belief that the media deliberately twisted the position of the panel by screaming that he was to be held responsible for the violence.
Odumakin disclosed why the General decided to take the spokesman for the President, Dr. Reuben Abati to court for claiming in his column that the General is to be blamed for the violence. He debunked the idea that the General would not have gone to court if Abati were not to be the spokesman for the president.
The presidential committee set up to look into the causes of the violence after the last general elections has submitted its report and General Muhammadu Buhari was said to have been blamed for making some comments. What is the reaction of the General to the report?
We can understand that newspapers want to sell their papers and Buhari is always a good copy. He should have been president today but for the shenanigans that went into the last elections.
Be that as it may, when I read the report, I discovered that what the panel actually did was to absolve General Buhari. He was vindicated because immediately after the elections, there was sponsored propaganda by the PDP that Buhari asked people to go and lynch people. As we speak now, there is a case in the Lagos High Court between General Muhammadu Buhari and Reuben Abati. Abati wrote and was quoted copiously that Buhari said lynch anybody who wanted to take your vote. General Buhari has maintained that he never asked anybody to lynch anybody. All he asked people to do was to vote and guard their votes. Was he the only person who asked people top guard their votes?
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Attahiru Jega bought pages in newspapers asking voters to vote and wait to protect their votes. The issue started with the National Security Adviser (NSA) when he said voters should vote and move away. All social critics in Nigeria called on people to protect their votes. Religious leaders including Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the G. O. of the Redeemed Christian Church of God called on people to protect their votes. In fact, he said he would personally lead the protest if the peoples vote didn't count.
So, there was nowhere General Buhari asked people to lynch. What they said is that the people misunderstood his call for people to protect their votes. If The Sun newspaper writes a story asking Nigerians to pay more for fuel and some people decide not to go to the filling stations again because they thought that they are already paying more and they don't want to pay more. In what way is The Sun newspaper liable for the reaction of the people?
But we commend the panel for the fundamental observations it has made which the media have largely ignored. The media concentrated on the minor and left the major things.
The panel said that Nigeria risks a revolution because the causes of the violence were traceable to frustrations of the people. There is poverty, unemployment, and failure of governance because people are tired of government policies and they are looking for a change. That is what is going on all over the world where people thought there could never be revolts.
If Nigeria does not address unemployment, insecurity and joblessness, Nigeria risks something more than what is happening in other parts of the world. That was what the panel said and not from Buhari. They said that the monetization of politics is also the cause of violence after the elections.
The report also said that the fight over article 7 in PDP, which is zoning was a bitter fight within the party. The president said there was no zoning in PDP and others said there was zoning. It heated up the polity before the elections. It turned the election into Christian /Muslim and North/South divide. We saw this during the campaign. We got to a place in the North and at the PDP office after Jonathan had eliminated all northern candidates, they say Sai Buhari. This was at the PDP offices in the North. Where what they needed were senators, they said yes. But when they mentioned Jonathan, they said no, Sai Buhari. This was because of the way the PDP heated up the polity over zoning or no zoning. It was good the panel identified that.
They also identified that the failure to identify previous panel reports was a factor. There was Babalakin, Kariby White, Niki Tobi and others were never implemented. Once you don't punish crime, it is an incentive for others to do it. So, on the fundamental issues, the only thing they refuse to address is how to have free and fair elections.
Don't forget that this is the second panel submitting reports in two weeks. The panel on the North /East submitted reports two weeks ago to President Jonathan which was received by Sambo two weeks ago. It was on Boko Haram. The report also indicted government. It talked about unemployment, failure of security agencies as against the lies of PDP and the presidency that opposition people sponsored Boko Haram. So, this is the time for the government to admit that something is wrong the way the country is being run rather than looking for scapegoats, raking sentiments and playing politics with the lives of the people.
The implication of what you have said is that the General is happy with the report of the panel?
The report of the panel is good. There is nothing in that report that indicted General Buhari.
Did General Buhari meet with members of the panel?
General Buhari cooperated with the panel. He has nothing to hide. It is only the guilty that would be afraid.
How do you interpret the statement credited to the president that heaven will not fall when the white paper is out?
Well, I am not the president and I am not his spokesman. People are waiting for him to do the right thing. General Buhari has challenged him on many occasions to act as president. The president said he knows the sponsors of Boko Haram.
The General said if you know them, why don't you arrest them?
When Oritsajefor was saying after the election that they should arrest Buhari, we said ok, come and arrest him. He is in Kaduna. He has nothing to hide and he has nothing to fear. If he says heaven will not fall, let him implement the report to the letter. Heaven would not fall. He said he knows the sponsors of Boko Haram, let him arrest them and heaven would not fall.
Is it the Congress for Progressive Change that is taking Reuben Abati to Court or General Buhari?
The matter that is in the Lagos High Court is between General Buhari and Reuben Abati. The reason the General decided to take him to court is that he believes in the rule of law. He believes that the law should take its course. He was Head of State for 20 months and not a single journalist disappeared during his regime. None was murdered. The few journalists that had issues with him were dealt with according to the law.
Yes, we had Decree 4. We had issues with it. That was the law of the country. He never closed any media organization. It was the journalists who flouted the law the decree that were tried. He did not close the organization where they were working. That tells you that even as a military man, he believes in the rule of law and due process. That is why he is not happy that an editorial board chairman of a newspaper could quote somebody out of context that people should be lynched without weighing its implication. The General believes that such a person must subject his integrity to the judicial process. That is why he has filed his action against Reuben Abati.
Interestingly, when the action was filed and he was to be served, he refused to be served. General Buhari had to go to court to get a court order for substituted service. He was served after about almost two months. Interestingly, in a democracy, a spokesman for the president and not the president himself, refused to be served. Now, he has entered appearance and his lawyer has entered appearance for him. We hope that the matter should go on any moment from now.
He wrote the piece before he became spokesman to Jonathan. The General took him to court after he became spokesman to Jonathan.
Well, if you libel me, is there any law that said I must take you to court late?
Perhaps, if he were not to be spokesman to the President, the General would not have taken him to court.
That is subjective analysis and presumptuous. That may not be true. I think it is just important for people who have the opportunity to be mindful of what they write. It is not because he is the presidential spokesman that he is sued but because it is wrong for a man of his status to make such allegation without cross-checking his facts. The article was circulated around the net and people were writing all sorts of things about Nigerian politics. It was that article people used to castigate and damage the integrity of a man, who before he could take his salary in the 60s, risked his life to defend a prisoner of war in Congo, until his Commander asked him: What are you doing here? Here is a man who has served the country at all levels. He served as governor of Northeast, which had seven states. He was petroleum minister. He was Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman and Head of State. He faced Nigerians and said, 'I have been in these positions all these years and I have not taken a kobo. If anybody has evidence that I took one Naira, let him come out.' Nobody took up the challenge.
It is alleged that General Buhari spoke in Hausa when he told people to lynch anybody that steals their votes.
Lemu is a Hausa man and he was head of the panel that investigated it. Why didn't they get somebody who heard him saying so? It is propaganda. They don't have evidence. The NTA and other media covered all our campaigns. He has challenged PDP in three elections. They found nothing against him. Because they cannot find anything against him, the only thing they can use to attack him is to attack his faith.
They said he is a fundmentalist and that he said Muslims should vote for only Muslims. Till date, they have not been able to bring out evidence where he said that. But his opponents have spent a lot of money to propagate that all over the country. The driver, who has been driving his vehicle for the past 11 years, is a Christian. The late ColonelYohana Madaki gave a testimony about him before he died. He said when they were soldiers under his command, on Sundays, Buhari would give light duties to Christians because their religion said they should rest on Sundays. The Muslim officers now went to him and demanded that on Fridays, they should also be given light duties. He told them to go and bring their Koran and show where their religion said they should rest on Fridays. The Christian religion says they should rest on Sundays, you show me where your religion says you should rest on Fridays. That is the man they say is a Muslim fundamentalist. He picked a pastor as his running mate. He has challenged anybody who can say that he discriminated against anybody on the basis of religion to come out. Nobody has come out till date. It is to whip up emotional blackmail against him. They have nothing against him.