You once came out to accuse President Muhammadu Buhari of perpetuating the worst form of nepotism in Nigeria; do you still hold this view?
Absolutely! I have seen no evidence so far to make me change my mind. In the previous interview I granted you, I did ask Nigerians or anybody else to look at the evidence I produced and that evidence is very much alive and well and can be verified by anybody who cares to verify it. As far as I am concerned, I stand by everything about the allegations I levelled against President Buhari, Mamman Daura and other relations of his for being nepotistic and if you want, I can repeat what I said offhand because I am certain about my facts. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no response either from the people mentioned or from the so-called Presidency and their spokespersons. As far as I am concerned, everything I said still stands and if anybody is willing to challenge me, I am prepared. If anybody wants to challenge the identities of the people mentioned or their actual, exact connection with Buhari, I am prepared to go public. I am prepared to confront such people whoever they are or whatever they say.
A few days ago, you told the President’s minders to come out with the truth about the health of their principal; do you know something that Nigerians don’t know about him?
Not much except that I rely on my training as a medical doctor. I also have a few insiders within the system and I am also aware of the level of some people who are supposed to be his personal physicians. The main reason why I thought it is important for Nigerians to know the state of the health of their President is that one, the health of the person occupying the office of the President or the head of government is not a personal affair. It is also not the affair of his family or for that matter, his friends or cronies. It is the responsibility of all Nigerians to know what happens to the leader they elected. That information was not forthcoming and the previous information dished out was not only misleading but highly speculative and I think the nation was shortchanged. Nobody has the right to shortchange 180 million people. Besides, the idea that information should be hidden from the Nigerian public about the health status of Mr. President is misguided and in very bad taste. Attempts to also manipulate medical information by people who know next to nothing about medicine is, in my view, irresponsible. In mature democracies, when a nation is confronted with a similar situation, what they do is they bring in the doctors of whoever is the personality involved and ask him to explain in some reasonable detail the state of the President’s health when he is sick, when he became sick and when the illness is likely to remain, what is the prognosis, is he likely to come out of the illness, is he fit to carry out the onerous task of office as head of government? It’s his doctors that can answer such questions. It is his doctors who should ab initio issue a statement to tell the nation this is the state of the health of their President. But you know, small boys and hustlers hanging around the president just dabble into matters which are delicate. Any idiot can grab a sheet of paper, sit behind the typewriter or a little laptop and issue a statement on behalf of his boss. When talking about the state of health of the President, it has to be convincing, it has to be the truth, it cannot be manipulated if you are not a medical doctor. Any attempt to do that ends up in disaster and frustration especially on the part of family members, members of the National Assembly and the political party he belongs to. There are other professionals who will be looking at us to say oh, what kind of system are they running? That is why we cannot be economical with the truth by telling the people what is wrong with our President. Whether or not anyone likes the President or not, he is the one President we have, whether he likes other people, or whether he does not want other people and will want to continue with his opportune way of doing things, he must realise that he is the President of all Nigerians. The issue is, he is the President for all Nigerians and as President, there is an amount of privacy he or his family can enjoy because, whatever he says or does will attract public attention.
You claimed to have been a friend to President Buhari since he was a rising officer in the army, do you have to come to the open to criticise him instead of doing that privately?
There is a little story about this. I had occasion to speak about this issue about two or three times. Yes, the man has been my friend and I remember in 1998, I saw Buhari, he was then Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund and he asked me to see him in Abuja from Kano which is about 450-500 kilometres. Upon my arrival, I was lodged at the then NICON NOGA Hotel, the next morning, I joined him in the office at Asokoro over tea. After we had discussed other matters, I gave him the information I had about some dirty business going on in the Finance Department of the PTF. I mentioned names, I gave him details. And I told him, ‘Don’t trust me because I understand there are some people you normally trust, out of these beneficiaries, get some of them to investigate.’ Then we parted company and I returned to Kano. Three and a half months later, Buhari himself called me over the telephone and said, ‘Mallam doctor, can we see?’ I said yes. The next day, I went to Abuja and found that a hotel accommodation had been booked for me by one Sali Hidjo who ran the African Projects Consortium, the main consultants to the PTF. The next day, I went to his (Buhari’s ) office, the first question he asked me was, ‘Mallam doctor, what is your source of information?’ I told him I was not going to let him know my source of information because if I don’t keep my sources private, then I am finished as a public person. He kept quiet for a while; then he smiled and told me that everything I told him turned out to be correct. In fact, he said there were certain facts that I didn’t get but which he found out. He said he commissioned some people with accounting backgrounds and some officers of the SSS and gave them the freedom to recruit others to do a forensic audit of the records and the team submitted a report to him. They found that everything I said was the truth and he thanked me. Then I asked him, ‘Sir, General, what do you intend to do with these people since the head of the Mafia-he used the word, not me- was a man who was a director of finance in the PTF was the elder brother of a friend of his, a former military governor. Buhari said he and the former governor, now late, were friends. He said he (Buhari) he and the former governor had come a long way, that they joined the armed forces around the same time, though in the Air Force. He said they started soldering around the same time; they had been moving around together around the same stations, that they were made (military) governors and sworn in the same day when Murtala (Muhammed) appointed them governors. He was appointed the Governor of the North East and his friend was appointed the governor of North Central state, and they remained close until the man’s sudden death. It was his brother who was the mastermind of this fraud perpetrated under Buhari. And I said, “General, what are you going to do with these people?’ He said he summoned the culprit and scolded him blah, blah, blah. He said he also summoned the entire staff of the finance department and addressed them. I asked him, “Is that all?’ I think he realised that I was not satisfied; he said there was nothing he could do. I said it is not your personal money; it is the money belonging to the Nigerian patrimony, money belonging to all of us. If they have been found to have abused public trust, they should be taken to court and dealt with appropriately. If for whatever reason technical or otherwise, they are found not guilty, they should be allowed to go free, but in this situation, you cannot pretend as if nothing has happened. The way and manner you have handled this matter, I assure you no matter the explanation you will want to give about your personal relationships will not suffice.’ I was not satisfied; Buhari was not satisfied with my position. I stood up, we shook hands, he walked me to the lift, I entered the lift, then my car and left for Kano. So, when he started messing up this time around, a reporter whom I have known for over 40 years who is also from that state and has lived in Kaduna with Buhari asked me on live television why I decided to go public with Buhari- he volunteered the information to me that Buhari was aware I was going to grant the interview and in fact, would be watching the television station at that time. Then I said, this was what happened, and I decided I was not going to go to him. I said the experience I had with him was unpleasant and I found the standards I expected of him were not the standards he maintained when he became President. The people who asked me the question are very much around; one is Mr. Toyin Alabi, the General Manager of Liberty Radio and Television. The man who did the Hausa version was a man from a famous family in Zaria, Mamman Baba-Ahmed. You can verify from them. I believe that one if you are in a position of public trust, it is a challenge; I don’t relate to people who don’t take the truth I tell them, and I am not prepared to be associated with a leader who believes that his personal interest can override that of the public. I believe Nigeria is greater than all of us, including the President and if any of my friends believes their personal interests and that of their dubious cronies are greater than the collective interest of Nigeria, we will part ways.
The Presidency accused you of forming the habit of criticising, even insulting every Nigerian leader and that you do that just to grab the headline, why?
First, I am not in the habit of insulting every Nigerian leader. Those who level such allegations should check their facts. The fact that I have been consistent, I even understand that they even dragged in the name of Abacha that I didn’t criticise him because of some plot to eliminate me. I am not surprised. I have had reason to criticise people in government. Anyone in government is fair game; they have to be criticised; we are in a democracy. Unfortunately for the hustlers around Buhari now, they find it difficult to differentiate between the fascist dictatorship which he ran from 1983- 1985 and now. There is a world of difference between that government he ran and the government he is running now. When you ask the people many of whom are alive, with whom he ran the Supreme Military Council, there was this complaint that he was always trying to intimidate people. He was said not to sufficiently listen to the ideas of military officers some of whom were better soldiers and had come out of the civil war with better track records. To accuse me of criticising those in government is an honour because if I don’t know what I am talking about, I would have been silenced a long time ago. I have never heard of a democracy where people decide to put a limit to when and how leaders should be criticised. If people don’t want to be criticised, they should stay away from public office. As for me, I will continue to criticise for as long as I see things going wrong and as long as I am alive and in good health.
When you said the president should be honest enough to admit he has not achieved much since he assumed office, do you think that is a fair assessment of the Buhari government?
It is a fair assessment which I stand by even today. See, you have to look at the areas which he promised to look at. He promised that he was going to see the back of Boko Haram. I admit that he has done something regarding what has been happening in the North East. I said, and I repeat, Boko Haram is still alive and well. Even if they are not holding territory for a prolonged period in Nigeria, there is no denying the fact that they are still holding areas in the northern part of Nigeria, Ditto in the Niger Republic and part of Northern Cameroon. Whoever says they have been defeated is telling lies and taking diabolical liberties with a lack of the thorough knowledge that one is supposed to have before commenting on such matters.
Buhari inherited a very bad situation in terms of the level of corruption. It has to be admitted that in appointing (Ibrahim) Magu at the initial stages, he had given indication that he was going to do something about it. When you are dealing with a situation like the anti-corruption war, you measure success by the number of high profile convictions you have recorded. I want to be told how many of the big guns have been successfully prosecuted. The few people prosecuted were the small judges and some small fries here and there, a police man who ran foul of the law but the big guns are still sitting pretty. That is because Buhari still lacks an understanding of what it is to fight corruption. It is a systemic illness and you have to fight it in all its ramifications and you don’t fight corruption by just prosecuting the policeman who takes N20 on the road when you overlook his boss who stole billions. The idea that the people around him should dictate who should be vigorously prosecuted and those who should not be prosecuted is utterly disgraceful. The anti-corruption war ought to be re-lunched to have any serious meaning.
Some can say oh, Buhari met the situation that was so bad. I think former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo answered them adequately when he said he should stop talking about what he inherited whether it was a bad system or a good system because it was because the former guy was not doing well that was why people voted him out. So there is no need for him to continue to harp on the past. Obasanjo who was his boss in the Army, told him this, not only in private but publicly. He should sit down, get the correct people and the correct policies to get the country out of this mess.
Why did you say that of all the people that have ruled Nigeria, the late General Sani Abacha was the healthiest, how do you mean because Abacha was said to have suffered liver cirrhosis?
I don’t know where such people got their diagnosis. If he had liver cirrhosis with the large resources at his command at the time, how come nobody ever heard that he had such an ailment? And when he died, was there any postmortem? Who established liver cirrhosis as the cause of death? What they said about Abacha’s health was not true. I knew him; I knew his father and mother, brothers. I went to school in Fagge, as you know.
But former President Olusegun Obasanjo is someone that has not been associated with any illness, at least publicly. Are you saying Abacha was healthier?
Frankly speaking, I don’t think I remember comparing Generals Abacha and Obasanjo’s health at any time. I do not know Abacha as a sports man but I know Obasanjo as one man who takes his exercises seriously before he became head of state and during his time as President and even after leaving office. Even today, he still enjoys playing squash. I believe Obasanjo has been served and is still being served by his exercise which is almost like a religion to him. This tells on his state of health compared to others like him.
Buhari has come out to say that both Ibrahim Magu and Babachir Lawal have been cleared of allegations against them; do you think Buhari is protecting his appointees?
Precisely, that is what he is doing, and he is doing it in a very shameless manner too. The two cases (Magu and Lawal) are not the same. Magu got his appointment after a proper background check had been done as far as I can recall. Magu is still a serving police officer. The police keep a very meticulous record of their officers, and you don’t go up to the rank of an Assistant or Deputy Commissioner of Police with a bad record. As far as I am concerned, Magu was appointed because among those checked, he was considered as one who has what is required to carry out the anti-corruption war the way the President wants it fought. Now, those who have something to hide and members of the cabal around the President have, in cahoots with senators who feel threatened, are trying to deny him an opportunity to do his job. I have said in the past, and I repeat it today that the ambition of members of the cabal is to hijack the anti-corruption war so that they can use it to make money and exercise power. Magu has gone through a lot. If there is any evidence that he is teaming up with individuals to shortchange Nigerians at his duty post, he should not only be relieved of the job but also be prosecuted. The DSS report cannot be a basis of an indictment against Magu because the DSS is acting in cahoots with the cabal; they take directives from the cabal, and we have to be careful. In the case of Lawal, he should have been asked to step aside, but that was not done. And then to cover the tracks, the cabal and some elements within the Presidency tried to bring in the case of Magu to distract the public.
Nigerians have criticised Buhari for always going abroad for medical treatment despite billions budgeted for Aso Rock clinic, what is your opinion about this?
There is no basis to criticise the President on this one. He had been going to the UK for his medicals even as a private citizen. He cannot now be compelled to stop because he has become President. What Nigerians should find out is whether they have been getting value for the money spent on the Villa clinic which was set up to cater for the needs of members of staff of the Presidency, not just the First and Second families.
Buhari government is still insisting on getting the $29bn foreign loan, do you think the money would be judiciously spent if the national assembly gives the go ahead?
No. I do not support the National Assembly granting this request because I can say with a high degree of certainty that the money will be mismanaged. There is nothing wrong with loans if such loans are to be used to improve the lot of the people, but from our experience as a nation, the reverse has been the case. If you will recall, several governors were jailed by this same Buhari when the military toppled the administration. They were jailed for mismanaging federal government guaranteed loans during their time. It took the tenacity and courage by the Obasanjo administration which took over in 1999, to fight until Nigeria was given a relief by its foreign creditors.
Without media attention, the presidency said you would not have a life, is that the truth?
You have known me for about two decades now. I am sure if your readers or readers of other news outlets who seek out my views on national issues consider such views useless, no one will call me up to hear me out. As we speak, I have seven interview requests waiting.
Since you left the parliament years ago, why have you kept away from elective politics instead of criticising those who have attempted to participate?
Unlike most of the people who think this way, I have a profession. I am a medical doctor by training and practice. The decision not to take part in active politics was a deliberate one, as they have rightly admitted. I took part in elections, won and represented my people in the National Assembly. If in the future, I see the need to do it again, I will. But let it be known that I cannot be cowed by blackmail or intimidation.
What is your response to allegations that you took to criticising Buhari because you were not given an appointment?
I have learnt to live with the malicious rumour anytime I say something substantive about somebody in government. When they have no response, they come up with such mundane arguments. I am not in politics, and I know the limitations it places on you. I was never a member of the NPN, I did not expect Shagari to give me any appointment, and none was offered. I was a member of the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1983, and in 1983, I won again to represent my people. Even if I was offered, it would have been very stupid of me to leave my representation of the people of Kano to take up such an appointment.
Besides, I am eminently qualified to aspire for any office in the land by educational achievement and experience in public life and certainly more qualified than Buhari who could not pass school certificate. And up till today, he has not been able to convince Nigerians that he was able to pass school certificate. He has chosen to take the country on a judicial merry go round putting the case on and off until his term expires but the schools he attended are there and if they could not attest that he passed his school certificate, I don’t know how he can confirm that in a court of law. Frankly speaking, any leader who could be so mediocre as to fail his school certificate ought not to have been trusted by the people of Nigeria with such an awesome responsibility as that of the office of the President. I will not accept any offer of appointment from this government, and thankfully, none has been offered.
What is your view about calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to seek re-election come 2019?
If performance is to be the judge, not some tribal, ethnic or religious sentiment, if Buhari stands for elections, he will lose. And if he attempts to use the power of incumbency and rigs the elections to come back, there will be violence. My reasons are simple; he has not performed.
Curled from Punch