President Muhammadu Buhari fielded questions from representatives of four local media organizations at his first televised media chat in Nigeria since his inauguration on May 29, 2015. Journalists from Premium Times, Channels TV, Media World International, and The Daily Trust asked President Buhari questions for about two hours on topics ranging from the ongoing fight against Boko Haram, his anti-corruption policy, devaluation of the Naira, the minimum wage, to Nigeria’s overall fiscal condition.
Mr. Buhari used the highly anticipated platform to offer a rare glimpse into his thoughts on pressing issues in Nigeria, including the Nigerian army’s recent massacre of members of the Shiite sect in Zaria, the role of the Department of State Services (DSS) in re-arresting both Nnamdi Kanu and Sambo Dasuki, and the need for anti-corruption agencies to present credible documents and evidence to courts in prosecuting alleged corruption by public officials.
On the clash between soldiers and Shiites that left many Shiites dead, President Buhari reiterated his previous statements that he would wait for the completion of investigations by the military and Kaduna State government before making any public comment on the massacre. Many Nigerians and human rights groups have criticized Mr. Buhari for not making any pronouncement since the Zaria massacre happened three weeks ago. President Buhari defended his stance, stating, “There is no way I can ask the police to investigate the army. That would be a misnomer. It really would have to be the other way around.” He added, “A judicial inquiry may be the most acceptable thing for society.”
Despite his qualifying remarks, the president admitted that he saw video clips of youth pushing on the chests of military officers. Even so, he stated, “You can’t justify casualties on that scale. You can’t justify it, but to be fair to both sides, we have to wait for an inquiry.”
Asked whether his war on corruption was lopsided or selective, targeting certain individuals because of their relationship with previous administrations, President Buhari rejected the impression. According to him, it was necessary for “fool proof” documents to be presented to courts. He stressed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) should conduct thorough investigations that could produce convictions for individuals responsible for theft and abuse of power. “They (EFCC and ICPC) must submit fool proof documents that will earn the respect of the prosecution,” President Buhari stressed.
The Nigerian government’s legal proceedings against former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki and the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu have dominated media headlines for several months. Within the last week, both Mr. Dasuki and Mr. Kanu were re-arrested by DSS agents with fresh charges after the suspects had met the conditions for their bail, triggering accusations that the Buhari administration was contemptuous of the courts and the rule of law.
Addressing these impressions, Mr. Buhari stated, “If you know the atrocities committed by the people granted bail then you’d understand.”
On economic issues, President Buhari told the interview panelists that he would need to be convinced that Nigeria should devalue the Naira, assuring also that “the Federal Government will not touch the minimum wage.” He added, “[former Lagos State Governor Babatunde] Fashola was not made a Super Minister for no reason.”
On the suitability of his ministers, President Buhari defended his appointments. “I accept responsibility for the 36 ministers I have. I did not pick any person who has been in court for corruption,” he asserted.
The media chat concluded with Mr. Buhari responding to a few questions from Twitter. Most of the questions focused on the challenges facing Nigeria’s youth. One Twitter user asked about President Buhari’s plans for tertiary education. The president acknowledged that the current condition of tertiary education in Nigeria was “poor”. He added: “I don’t like the idea of University students sitting on windows and listening to lectures. We need to build more classrooms and make life more tolerable for teachers. I believe that in the last 16 years the country earned enough money [to fix these issues] but unfortunately it has not been used judiciously.”