President Muhammadu Buhari has said he did not return to power as Nigeria’s leader a different man from who he was in 1983 when he was military head of states.
He explained that although he came back as president a better leader, he returned under a different system after three decades and met a presidential palace which is different from the Dodan Barracks he operated from back then.
The president, who stated this in an interview he granted Francois Picard of France24 during his first official visit to France, added rather jocularly that he still needed a map and a compass to comprehend the broad configurations of Aso Rock, the presidential villa.
Asked whether the seat of power in Nigeria was the same as he left it three decades ago, Buhari said, “No, it’s not the same place. I think the last time I was there, I think I was in a barracks. This time I’m in a palace. I still need a map and a compass to find my way; it is big and must be very expensive to maintain. But it is there; it cannot be removed.”
On whether he was a different man in a different setting, the Nigerian president simply said: “I don’t think, basically, I am a different man, but I came back under a different system.”
Asked whether he came back a better leader, Buhari said, “Yes, a better one reluctantly because this is what works. I said it so often. I was convinced as far back as 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. As I keep on saying, an empire in the 20th century collapsed without a shot being fired, literally.
“People went home and now there are 18 republics. That’s why I believe firmly that multi-party democracy system is the best form of governance, but with a big caveat that elections must be free, fair and credible; otherwise, it is the same old problem.”
President Buhari also ruled out any plan to further devalue the naira in dealing with the surging price of oil.
He said: “The naira has been devalued; it used to be around N160 but now it is hovering around N200 and above, and I don’t think it is healthy for us to get the naira devalued further.
“That’s why we are getting the central bank to make some modifications in terms of making foreign exchange available to essential services, industries, spare parts, essential raw materials and so on – but things like toothpicks and rice, Nigeria can produce enough of those. We don’t need to give our hard currency for that. But those who insist on having toothpick from Europe or from China instead of having Nigerian toothpick, they can go and source the foreign exchange and buy it.”
On the insurgency in the North East, the president said enough progress had been made in containing Boko Haram, and noted that government’s main concern now was how to rescue the schoolgirls abducted from Chibok, Borno State.
“We are very much occupied with that decision (Chibok girls). At this stage, it has to be kept confidential because we are not sure of the genuine leadership of the Boko Haram we can negotiate with to get the girls released.
“It is becoming quite difficult because we have to first identify that those who claim to be leaders of Boko Haram are actually leaders and influential, and they know where the girls are, and they know what conditions they are in.
“So, just for any Boko Haram member to come and contact the government and say that he is a leader and that he can get the girls released, we are being very careful about it.”