President Muhammadu Buhari has said his administration would reinstate cattle routes and grazing areas across the country to ensure that herders have free access for their animals.
He also directed the military and police to deal ruthlessly with insurgents and other criminals across the country.
Buhari, who expressed confidence that the order would yield positive results within weeks, recalled that he had in the past visited Chad, Niger and Cameroon as part of efforts to promote good neighbourliness and security at the nation’s borders.
Warning that the country might experience food shortage, Buhari said there was the need to decisively tackle insurgents who are keeping farmers away from their farms.
The president also defended the administration’s appointments, insisting that there were made based on merit.
The president, who expressed the hope that Nigerians would be fair to him while assessing his administration, also urged them to question previous regimes on what they did with the nation’s humongous earnings.
He spoke, yesterday, during an interview with Arise TV.
In apparent response to the ban on open cattle grazing by the 17 Southern governors, he said when the governors gave the directive that open grazing would be banned, he referred them to the gazette that makes provisions for cattle routes and open grazing areas.
“What I told the governors was to ask them to go and dig up the gazette. There are certain routes and grazing areas so that when cattle rearers were moving from the north to the west, they were allowed to go through there. But if you allow your cattle to stray into any farmer’s farm, you are arrested and the farmer is invited to submit his claims. Those who encroach on these cattle routes and grazing areas would be dispossessed. The problem is trying to understand the culture of the cattle rearers. The Governor of Benue said I am not disciplining the cattle rearers because I am one of them and I told him that the Nigerian cattle rearer doesn’t carry anything more than a stick or a machete. But I can tell you that we are trying to resuscitate these cattle routes and grazing areas.”
Buhari said fighting corruption in a democratic setting is a difficult task to accomplish.
He, however, stressed that his administration had succeeded in easing out corrupt public officials without making noise about it.
Buhari recalled that much was achieved in the fight against corruption when he was military Head of State in the early 80s “when a lot of people were sent to prisons before I was also booted out.”
The president frowned at the way and manner local government system was being managed, saying the local government administration was almost non-existent in the country.
He cited situation where state governors continued to starve the local governments of funds saying “in a situation where N300 million is allocated to local government and they are given N100 million is not fair”.
•IPOB like a dot in a circle — we’ll defeat them
He described the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) as a dot in a circle, saying the group is isolated in its call for secession.
Buhari said he has been assured by the elderly people and the youths from the South-South that they have no intention of seceding.
He said IPOB will not have access to anywhere even if they eventually secede from the country.
The president then reiterated his statement that IPOB members will treated in the language that they understand.
“I was encouraged by what I heard, nobody told me. Two statements from the south south: one by the elderly people, they said this time around there would be no (secession). And again the youth made the same statement; such encouragement.
“So that IPOB is just like a dot in a circle. Even if they want to exit, they’ll have no access to anywhere. And the way they are spread all over the country, having businesses and properties. I don’t think IPOB knows what they are talking about.
“In any case, we say we’ll talk to them in the language that they understand. We’ll organise the police and the military to pursue them.”
IPOB has been agitating for the secession of the South-East.
•Bandits in N/East
On activities of Bandits and kidnappers particularly in the North West and North Central zones, President Buhari said he had given the police and armed forces instructions to be ruthless with bandits and vandals terrorising innocent citizens across the country.
He said he had told the security agencies to treat bandits and other criminals in the “the language they understand”.
“Problem in the north-west; you have people over there stealing each other’s cattle and burning each other’s villages.
“Like I said, we are going to treat them in the language they understand.
“We have given the police and the military the power to be ruthless. You watch it in a few weeks’ time there will be difference.
“Because we told them if we keep people away from their farm, we are going to starve. And the government can’t control the public.
“If you allow hunger, the government is going to be in trouble and we don’t want to be in trouble.
“We are already in enough trouble. So we warn them sooner than later you’ll see the difference,’’ he said.
Buhari dismissed the assertion that majority of Boko Haram members were foreigners.
On call for the creation of state police, Buhari revealed that two governors from the South-West governors visited him with complaints about encroachment by herdsmen on farmlands in their states but he urged them not to be idle but that they should work hard to protect their states because that is why they were elected.
“Two governors from the South West came to be complaining about herdsmen encroaching on their farms and I told them that they campaigned to be elected, so they should go back and secure themselves. They cannot go round and win elections and think that someone will do their jobs for them, so I sent them back.”
On the calls by Southern governors for devolution of powers, the president said if the three tiers of government were working as they should, there would not have been such social problems. He said the local governments which are under the control of state governors are dead, which he says is bad for the country.
“The local governments are virtually dead and it is not good for this country because if your local government is supposed to receive N300 million, they will sign that they have received N300 million but they will be given only N100 million. So our local governments are dead.”
•Anti graft war
When asked about the success of the fight against corruption which was one of his campaign promises, the President said that fighting corruption in a democracy is more difficult than fighting corruption under military rule. However, he said that despite that, if anyone he receives intelligence about anyone in his administration, the person will be held accountable and eased out.
“Corruption fight is very difficult under this system and even under the military system and luckily I have experienced both sides. When I arrested people, I put them in Kirikiri and said that they were guilty until proven innocent. I set up investigation panels based on geo political zones for political leaders and civil servants. Then people didn’t get positions until they declare their assets but what happened? Eventually, I myself was arrested and detained. I will not change but the system is making it difficult as a court case can take 10 years to resolve. But I assure that despite the problem we are having with the system, whenever we have intelligence about anyone, we would hold him accountable and ease him out. We don’t give it to much publicity. We don’t tolerate corruption,” he said.
On zoning the presidency, Buhari said nobody has the power to decide for the All Progressives Congress (APC). He said only members of APC has the power to decide the party’s fate while reiterating that the acting leadership of the party is working to reposition the party.
“The hope of this administration is to see APC last beyond it. Therefore we should allow the party to decide. You cannot sit here in Lagos, for instance and decide on the fate of APC on zoning. The restructuring of the party has begun from the bottom to the top with the membership card registration. Every member of the party must be involved. We will soon conduct our convention. No single member of the party will be allowed to go against the wish of the party. The political party has to know how many mewmbers it has state by state. This the right step to go about. This administration under APC has achieved a lot. Go look at what was on ground before we came in and now. My succession plan depends on the party. The party will sit and make decision by the constituency they want and so on. So, those who want to be president should better join APC,” he said.
The president also reacted to criticisms of nepotism and appointing more northerners in strategic positions. He faced backlash after the recent appointment of the Chief of Army Staff, Yahaya Faruk, who was picked over many of his seniors who had spent more years in service and were forced into early retirement as a result.
He denied the allegations, saying that his appointments are based on merit, not ethnic balancing or federal character and that he cannot jettison seniority and merit for balance and federal character. “People who have been there for 18 years or even for 10 years, they trained in Zaria or in Abeokuta, they come through the ranks. And because they served under all the circumstances, the crises and everything and they gradually rise to that status and you think you just pick somebody just to balance up? These positions have to be earned,” he said.
When asked about his administration’s plans to make Nigeria more attractive for foreign investments, the President said that youths would have to behave well if they want better jobs. He also alleged that the EndSARS protests were attempts by Nigerian youths to remove him from office and attributed the loss of foreign investment to the protests.
“This question was answered when there were the EndSARS protests. You remember the young people who wanted to match here and remove me. I have ordered the members of the executive council to go to each state to speak to the governors, the traditional leaders, the business people to tell the youths that if they want jobs, they would have to behave themselves and make sure Nigeria is secured. This is so that people can come in to invest because people know Nigeria is secured. We are a rich country, and God had endowed us,” he said.