President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday the people of Niger Republic would defend him if anyone moved against him after leaving office.
He also said he deliberately shut the nation’s land borders to force Nigerians to patronise goods made in the country.
The President’s declaration, however, drew the ire of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere and Middle Belt Forum, MBF, which described his stance as non-committal to Nigeria and that Nigerians would not miss him when he exits office.
But Buhari, who spoke extempore at the commissioning of the new corporate headquarters of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, in Abuja, said he was speaking his mind, reiterating his earlier decision to be far away from Abuja at the end of his administration.
He said: “That is why when I became the President, my first visit was to Niger, Chad and Cameroon because, based on personal and national issues, the neighbourhood is very important.
“If you don’t secure the confidence and cooperation of your neighbours, you are in trouble, your children and grandchildren will be in trouble.
“So it is very good that I established a relationship with my neighbours. I said these few things about my personal belief because I have only six more days to go. And I try to plan to be as far away from Abuja as possible.
‘’Thank goodness, I come from an area which is far away from Abuja. I said if anybody forces me, I have a good relationship with my neighbours, Niger people will defend me.”
The President said he closed the country’s land borders to encourage Nigerians to produce food for their consumption, adding that though the move was initially criticised, Nigerians eventually appreciated it.
Only God can guard our borders
While noting that the nation’s vast borders, he said only God could secure the nation from the activities of criminals.
He said: “Please note that from Lake Chad to Benin is more than 1,600Km. Only God can effectively guard that border. So you need a person who will have the energy and the competence to effectively supervise it.
“I deliberately closed the borders because knowing Nigerians, they order rice and give some Niger address and then they bring the rice here. “We have our potential. We thank God Nigeria is so blessed with people, we have land, and we have weather. How many nations are so lucky like Nigeria in the world?
“Very few nations are as lucky as we are. We thank God for that. So closing that 1,600 km border from Lake Chad to Benin, Nigerians insist they have to help their neighbour and other people, they should eat foreign rice.
‘’I said you eat what you grow or grow what you eat or you die.I think I am trying to make my point. Later Nigerians will appreciate it because it provides more jobs. People go back to agriculture.
‘’We have the land and they will produce what we eat. And for people who think that our neighbours are going to lose, let’s continue to be with our neighbours. Those who are producing excess rice, let them eat their rice or go and sell it elsewhere.”
Buhari said he appointed Hameed Ali as Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, because of his experience and competence, adding that the late Sani Abacha, a former military head of state, gave Ali “problematic” tasks to accomplish.
He said: “As for Hameed Ali, I asked him to be in charge of Customs. No matter what people say about the late Sani Abacha, may his soul rest in peace.
“I knew him very well when somehow he became president of this country, head of state, the biggest problematic area was around Kaduna. He picked Colonel Hameed Ali and dumped the problems on him. My decision for Hameed Ali to come to Customs was a deliberate one. [I brought] Colonel Hameed Ali to ensure that I have peace of mind.
“The 100 per cent increase in the remuneration for officers and men of the service decisively made them less susceptible to corruption.”
The President also said he appointed only ladies as ministers of finance because of the cultural belief, as people would feel too big to go to them for favours.
According to him, “I made sure I gave the ministry of finance to ladies because of the cultural behaviours of Nigerians.
“Once ladies are in charge, people feel too big to go to them, so I am sure things will not be the same in the ministry of finance where people go and start lobbying for contracts to be paid. So they will feel too big to go to a lady. Therefore, I make sure a lady is in charge. That gave me a lot of peace.”
How I lost two children to sickle cell
The president went very personal when he disclosed that he had to move to Kaduna after his incarceration for the health and education of his children.
“We moved to Kaduna for the education and health of my family — these children had sickle cell anaemia.
“I lost my first two children, a girl and Musa, my first son. I lost them. We did not know about it technically although we were vulnerable to it in Africa generally. So I had to move to Kaduna for the education and healthcare of my children.”
In his address, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, retd, revealed that the contract for the building which was originally awarded at N2.8 billion in 2005 went through several variations.
According to him, the building was remodelled and expanded to comply with the regulations of the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, which raised the contract sum to N9.6 billion in 2012 and later N19.6 billion in 2022.
He expressed satisfaction that the organisation was able to build a befitting headquarters which would host highly sophisticated equipment for a digitalized Customs service.
“We must mention the game-changing intervention of Mr President to rid the NCS of corruption and put it on a path of integrity,” Ali said.
Nigerians won’t miss Buhari —Afenifere
Reacting to Buhari’s statement yesterday, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, described Buhari’s remarks as a sad commentary on his administration, noting that Nigerians would not miss him when he exits office.
Afenfere’s General Secretary, Chief Sola Ebiseni, said: “As I said in a recent interview, the only thing Nigerians are expecting from Buhari is his exit, so all these dry comic banter are of no moment.
‘’It is a sad commentary on his administration that he could bring the giant of Africa and the awesome Commander-in-Chief of West Africa, through ECOMOG, on its knees before the boys even for personal refuge. “As he steps out, it is unfortunate that the President is unperturbed that his feet are still being soiled by the blood of citizens in Kaduna, Plateau and everywhere in the hands of terrorists.
‘’All things promised – enhanced security, economy and anti-corruption, became far worse than hitherto. Let him go wherever pleases him, Nigerians will certainly not miss him.”
It shows his non-committal to Nigeria —MBF
Also reacting. the National President of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr Bitrus Pogu, said: “I recall that he had some time ago said if Nigerians disturb him after leaving office he would relocate to Niger Republic.
“This latest statement means that he meant what he said before, that he would relocate if disturbed. It simply shows that he is not committed to the Nigerian state and his commitment lies elsewhere. And it is unfortunate that Nigerians elected such a president who presided over them for eight years. So we have to think wisely next time in selecting who would lead us. That person’s commitment has to be weighty.
“Today we have somebody who is also alleged to have dual citizenship. He is said to have the citizenship of Nigeria and Guinea or whatever it is. In that case, where will his loyalty be? Will he be 100 per cent loyal to Nigeria?
“So it is up to Nigerians to judge their leaders based on who they are and who they might be, based on their behaviour. “It is unfortunate that President Buhari, rather than jettisoning what he said before, has, indeed, re-emphasised that he would be defended by people outside Nigeria, it is unfortunate.”
Buhari statement validates earlier speculations of ties with Niger— PANDEF
In its reaction, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said the President’s statement only validated earlier speculations of his ties with the people of Niger Republic.
The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, said: “PANDEF does not believe that such a statement was made by President Muhammadu Buhari. Maybe someone else made the statement on his behalf.
“But if it is true that the outgoing President of Nigeria made such statement, then it validates the speculations and insinuations that have been because of his attitude and disposition to some of the neighbouring countries, especially, Niger Republic, where the government of Nigeria was trying to construct a railway from Nigeria to Niger.
“In fact, some persons were also trying to site a refinery in the Niger Republic. It validates the rumoured ties the outgoing president has with that country.’’
Buhari’s remarks unpresidential— NEF
Also reacting last night, the Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF, described as ‘unpresidential’, the remarks by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Forum also said the statement was not only a bad attempt at being sarcastic to wave away the national discontent to his serial misrule, but a vindication of its earlier warnings about his leadership. NEF’s Director of Youth and Mobilisation, Alhaji Nastura Sharif, said: “This remark by Buhari is apart from being ‘unpresidential’, also a vindication of what we have all along been pointing out.
“Long before the elections that brought him to power, we have on several occasions alerted that Buhari did not have the necessary skill, the competence and capacity to lead the country.
“We have in specific terms alerted that he never even had the political will to be Nigerian president except for his obsession with power and deep-seated vendetta against classes of people and individuals who he perceived as enemies.
“That’s now history, at least everyone is by now aware that Buhari has never had the interest of the nation at heart beyond showmanship.”