Prof. Chidi Odinkalu is the former chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He says President Muhammadu Buhari’s actions and inactions have fuelled divisiveness, prejudices and subversion of the basic precepts of coexistence. He also says the president has failed to deliver on the cardinal promises he made in 2015, noting that he is incapable of changing anything.
President Muhammadu Buhari has just declared his intention to seek re-election in 2019. What are your thoughts on his declaration?
First and foremost, we must understand that there is a legal provision that a president or governor can hold that office for two terms of four years each. So as a legal fact he is exercising a right given to him under the 1999 constitution as amended, and I think everyone must acknowledge that. Whether he ultimately prevails or not will be a matter for Nigerians to decide and that will be based on his records.
Candidates can make you promises when they run the first time, but when they seek to be re-elected they will have to run on their records. So Nigerians will have to view, one way or the other, on President Buhari’s records during the election. Whether the elections are free and fair for Nigerians to make that choice, for me, is a more fundamental thing. If the elections are free, fair, credible and Nigerians exercise that choice and re-validate him then that will be up to all of us. I don’t want to impose my personal views on the choices Nigerians will make. Let the people decide whether the country that Buhari has led over the last three years is the kind of country he promised he would create. Whether the kind of divisiveness, prejudices and subversion of the basic precepts of coexistence is the way to go, it is up to Nigerians to decide.
As a stakeholder, what do you see when you look at the state of the country?
The country is deeply divided as it is now and I think the reasons are due partly to the actions and inactions of President Buhari. I am not the oldest Nigerian alive but in my limited lifetime I have never seen Nigeria this deeply divided and I think many of the issues have to do with this incumbent President.
How do you see President Buhari’s records?
There were certain promises that Buhari made to Nigerians when he was campaigning that made him appear credible. One of them is that he is going to fight corruption. The fight against corruption by the Buhari government has been very partisan, and has failed to carry people along. There are whole lot of graft around him that he hasn’t addressed, so he is leading a party with most of its leadership coming from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Many people who were in PDP before 2015, and had cases of corruption pending against them crossed over to the president’s party after 2015 and I think that is not a credible or serious way to fight corruption. The second thing Buhari promised was that he is going to fight insecurity, but in doing that he ended up appointing all the leading public officers in the security sector from one section of the country. The problem with that is there are security challenges in all parts of the country, so once you have all your security personnel from one part of the country, you will lack the wherewithal of exercising balanced judgement in deciding how to address the security challenges and that is exactly what is happening now. That is why you see a situation where to address the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) problem, you use a sledge hammer and then you brush over the farmers / herdsmen’s crisis. That is the problem that arises from having all the composition of the security chiefs from one section of the country, you have the Minister of Defence for instance trying to justify why people were killed. Insecurity is on the rise, everyday you wake up, you hear of people killed in different places and the president says nothing.
I don’t know if you noticed that on the day that Winnie Mandela died, 15 people were killed in Maiduguri and the president said nothing, he did not acknowledge their death. I think the previous day; about 30 people had been killed in Benue. The day after that many people were killed in the Offa, Kwara State bank robbery and President Buhari said absolutely nothing. But when Winnie Mandela died, he sent out a very powerful message. I think Nigeria should acknowledge the death of Winnie Mandela, she was a special woman, but so also are the many Nigerians that died. So far the president behaves as if Nigerians don’t matter, as if we don’t exist, as if he doesn’t need us and that he is doing us a favour. So on security there is nothing.
The third promise Buhari made was to transform agriculture. But agriculture is in a mess. So in my view, the three things that Buhari promised us, fighting corruption, addressing insecurity and transforming agriculture we have not made any progress in those areas. Another thing is that the president is manifestly unwell and for a man who always talks about integrity, he has dealt with his ill health with total lack of integrity.
Right now the president is out of the country, they say he is going for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which begins in about nine days time and that he will meet with the British Prime Minister, Theresa May and also meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury to hold discussions. You see all they have to tell us is that the president needs to consult with his doctors in the United Kingdom. That is not a terrible thing to say, it does not destroy anything. But they don’t have the confidence to say it and so they keep manufacturing inaccuracy. The president will sit down somewhere and the Archbishop will come and see him and they will say they have met.
But the president is on his annual vacation?
If you go to the twitter time-line of the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu and see his posts, many of it contradict the official statement that the president is going on leave. But even at that we are in the second week of April, we don’t have a 2018 budget and the president is going on leave, for what?
This is the second quarter, policy decisions cannot be followed through because people don’t know what the policy framework is going to be and a president who should be the driver of the ship is going on leave, do you really believe that?
Former Chief of Army staff and one time Minister of Defence Gen. TY Danjuma recently accused the army of aiding and abetting the herdsmen in their activities. What do you say to that?
General TY Danjuma was President Buhari’s commanding officer and had been one of President Buhari’s biggest benefactors. I am not going to get involved in war between two old soldiers who know one another too well.
Not long ago Boko Haram kidnapped and later returned over 110 school girls from Dapchi, Yobe state without incident from security officials. What do you make of that?
It does not make sense because what the Federal Government told us in the past was that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. Since then we have almost certainly failed to get back some of the Chibok girls, we have got back most of the Dapchi girls and the government says they are still negotiating and now there are talks about an amnesty deal.
The government has not been honest with Nigerians, it is either Boko Haram has been defeated or we are trying to work out a political strategy to manage them. The insurgency in the north is more than one entity and there are different leadership and those entities are getting stronger while the government tells us they are getting weaker. Casualties are increasing; the internally displaced persons are also increasing. Anybody who has minimal awareness of what is going on in the country can see all of these parameters, but of course people are not allowed to talk.
My personal position is that the government is not being candid with Nigerians. This problem requires honesty to be able to mobilise all Nigerians. Boko Haram is a common enemy of every Nigerian, unfortunately the federal government does not see every Nigerian as an asset in the fight against Boko Haram.
President Buhari ran on a mantra of change, but nothing has changed, not even the thinnest drop on his performance. He has changed nothing and is incapable of changing nothing. He is incapable of change, he is incapable of fighting corruption, he is not a person to unite Nigeria and he is not the person to transform the economy.
President Buhari has requested $1billion to buy weapons, but critics say it is meant for his re-election campaign. What do you make of it?
That is what they have been doing every year before elections since 2003. If you go back to the history of special funds and excess crude account, you will see that whoever was in power has consistently drawn money from the special funds every year since 2003 before the general elections, claiming it was for security or special projects.
Even if it is really for security, with an election up for grabs, the people around the president will do their own bidding because you are getting this poll of cash few months before a major election.
Do you think the present INEC can deliver credible election in 2019?
Credible elections are guaranteed by the citizenry. It is up to Nigerians to ensure that the elections are credible. INEC is an administrator. It has its powers but if Nigerians tell INEC it must behave INEC will behave by the will of Nigerians.