Dr. Damages: Mr. President, thank you for making time for this exit interview.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: It’s my pleasure. I know how essential exit interviews are for employers. So, I want to do this for Nigerians who have been my employer for the last eight years. Despite vehement protests by my advisers, like Femi Adesina and Festus Keyamo, I overruled them and decided to come to your program to do this. That does not mean that I had changed my opinion about how obnoxious you are or how irrelevant your program has become since the Jonathan years when you really helped us to highlight the atrocities they committed. I am doing this just to add one more achievement to my long list of legacies. This one, nobody will claim that Goodluck Jonathan or any of our past presidents did it before me. I’m the first to agree to an exit interview. And I decided to do it with someone nobody will claim is a friend of my government.
Dr. Damages: We appreciate that, my president. And as people in many parts of the world say to people like you who have served their country in various capacities, we appreciate your service.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Thank you.
Dr. Damages: How do you feel as you round off your presidency?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: I feel great. I feel grateful to the Nigerian people for the opportunity. The last eight years enriched my life tremendously.
Dr. Damages: Do you think history will be good to you?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Who cares what history thinks? What matters is that I did my best for my people.
Dr. Damages: Fair enough. Will it matter to you if history concludes that your best was not good enough?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Well, I won’t be there to hear history’s verdict. I must have returned to my maker. Is that not so?
Dr. Damages: You never can tell, sir. The judgment of history can be swift in some cases. For example, Gen. Yakubu Gowon is still alive, and I am sure that over the years, he must have had reasons to ponder the judgment history delivered on his stewardship as Head of State. I’m sure he must have had some regrets, looking at how Nigeria turned out to be years after, especially if you think about the recent killings in Mangu district, in Plateau State, where he comes from.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: If you are asking if I have regrets, I do. But it is not the usual thing you people in the media think.
Dr. Damages: What do ‘we people’ in the media think?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: As I said before, I regret the people hurt by some decisions I made. But I do not regret making those decisions. Do you know why?
Dr. Damages: Why?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Because I made the decisions in the interest of Nigeria. It was the ultimate driving force behind all my decisions.
Dr. Damages: You mean, as far as you know… You may have unconscious bias, sir. Your advisers may not be as pious as you.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: It is not “as far as I know…” It was my ultimate driving force. Nothing else. The Fulanis say, if the cattle die, the Fulbe will die. Good or bad, patriotism drove me to make any decision.
Dr. Damages: Sir, let me go to the most obvious question. Do you honestly think that you left Nigeria better than you met it?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: What do you think?
Dr. Damages: Sir, with all due respect, my job here is to ask the questions, and yours is to answer.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: I see. I guess you cannot borrow a man’s mouth and eat onions for him.
Dr. Damages: Yes, sir.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: So, you are not a Nigerian anymore because you are quote-unquote a journalist? Then, why am I wasting time answering your questions? Why don’t I go on CNN or BBC for this exit interview? If I had gone to Al Jazeera or French 24, you would be one of those complaining that I preferred talking to foreign media than our local media.
Dr. Damages: Sir, it is not about whether I am a Nigerian. This is about you, not me. You are the one exiting your job. I am still working for the Nigerian people.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Yi hakuri! I’m leaving the presidency but not foreclosing any involvement in Nigerian affairs. Don’t be surprised to see me go on diplomatic missions for the incoming president, the same way President Goodluck Jonathan went on missions for me.
Dr. Damages: So, you won’t run away to Niger Republic to hide, after all?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Termites can’t harm iron other than going on it up and down. I was just sending a signal to irritating people like you not to look for my trouble after May 29. If you do, I have the assurance that my people in Niger Republic will come and defend me. But as a former president, I am always ready to serve when called upon.
Dr. Damages: A few days ago, the BBC reviewed your eight years in office as president, and the headline was that you left a legacy of kidnapping and debt. That is the BBC, a news organization that is conservative and kind to your government.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Gafara dai! Forget the BBC and their pontification from far away Britain. What do you think?
Dr. Damages: Sir, again, it is not about me… it is…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Ok, what do Nigerians think about my tenure? That is what matters.
Dr. Damages: Going by what we have read on the pages of Nigerian newspapers of recent, that does not appear to be different, sir. One headline said that over 63,000 Nigerians were killed under your watch due to insecurity. And these were some of the Nigerians who voted for you in 2015 because they believed that, as a former general, you would handle the insecurity situation better than President Jonathan. Under your watch, over 130 million Nigerians fell into poverty. These were people that you promised to make their lives a lot better than Jonathan did. Under your watch, Nigeria’s debt went from $60 billion to almost $150 billion. I can go on and on.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Turanci! Did I achieve any good things in eight years? Oh, I forgot. You are the one asking the questions.
Dr. Damages: Yes, sir
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Did the newspapers mention any good things that I achieved?
Dr. Damages: Yes, sir. They did, deep inside the articles, towards the end.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Next time, you should start reading from the end.
Dr. Damages: But sir, these concerns of people are the big item issues – security of lives and properties, economy, education, and health. A Nigerian commenting on an article reviewing your tenure as president wrote: “What does a second Niger Bridge do for someone dead? Someone whose farm has been ransacked by cows and his grandmother raped by armed militant herdsmen? What does the railway to Niger Republic do for someone that bandits abducted his daughter at a high school in Kaduna? What does 38 brand new aircraft for the Air Force, including ten super Mushshak, five MI-35 helicopters, 12 A-29 Tucano, 3 JF-17 Thunder, do for a family who lived in their homes when Buhari came into office but now live in an IDP camp in Benue State?” He went on and on.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Did that angry person mention that we recruited 20,000 new police officers? Did he say the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) arrested over 24,000 drug traffickers? Did he note that we completed and commissioned the 156 kilometers Lagos-Ibadan rail line and purchased 64 coaches and 21 locomotives for the 186-kilometer Abuja-Kaduna rail? Did he say that we added 4,000nw of power to the grid? Did he mention that I signed the Petroleum Industry Act? Did he note that we are completing the 337km East-West Road that previous governments abandoned? Did he say that even though we didn’t remove the fraudulent oil subsidy, we opened Dangote refinery yesterday that will ultimately make it easy for the next government to remove oil subsidy. I can go on and on. As you said, it depends on who wrote the article and the part you read first or last. Our elders were right after all that keeping one’s excrement in one’s stomach doesn’t keep one from hunger.
Dr. Damages: OK, let us put articles aside. Ordinary people on the streets are not very kind in what they say about your performance. I can open some random YouTube channels and play videos of people speaking on the streets of Nigeria.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Spare me. Na gaji.
Dr. Damages: Even in your region of Northern Nigeria. Some of the leaders in the North are rating you so poorly. Some use the word ‘woefully’ to describe your performance. Mahdi Shehu said you failed with distinction, calling your eight years in office a disaster. This is coming from your most loyal constituency. They even said they handed you over to Allah for judgment.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Na gode! For their information, Allah has been good to me. My health is a lot better than it was eight years ago.
Dr. Damages: And that is another thing they said. They said that you used your eight years in office to take care of your health and the financial health of your family and your friends, while ordinary people in the North were left worse off.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: My friend, the heart is not a knee. It does not bend. I fed more northern school children than anybody else in the history of Nigeria. Through my social investment programs, I delivered more money to poor people in the North than anybody has ever done in the history of Nigeria. What else do they want me to do? We spent trillions of Naira through the Vice President’s office and later through the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs.
Dr. Damages: But did it change anything?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: You do not have to see the change today. My people say that wells must be dug today to quench the thirst of tomorrow. They also say that patience can cook a stone. But I don’t expect someone like you to understand something like that. Just imagine what would have become of the North without these interventions. Imagine that. Imagine how many Boko Haram copycats would have been terrorizing northern Nigeria. Do you know how many kids we kept in school because of our school feeding program? Do you?
Dr. Damages: No, sir.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Of course not. You all in the media just want to criticize. You don’t want to do investigative journalism. You go and find out.
Dr. Damages: But sir, there is no transparency and accountability in these programs, tradermoni, school feeding, and your government agencies do not abide by the Freedom of Information Act. They do not honor requests to release information to the media. They do not obey even when courts say they should. How do we begin to investigate? Do you want us to snatch the information by force? Do you want us to grab it by pointing guns at the heads of government officials? We are not spies, sir. We are journalists.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Nigerian journalists and their excuses. Honestly, I get offended when people level the charge that we didn’t do enough to lift the North. We did. You just cannot take the horse to the river and force it to drink water. I personally believe that education is the only way to lift the North. And I invested in seeing that our children went to school.
To begin with, paying school fees has never been our problem in the North. We practically beg parents to send their children to school. They said, feed them, and they will come. And I did that. And I gave N5000 a month to their poor parents, spending over $400 million. For those doing petty trading, I gave N10,000.00 from tradermoni. I did my darn best. I expect them to escape poverty a few generations from now. The same way my forefathers did. The same way Atiku’s family did. But it is not my fault if they prefer not to take advantage of my offer and wait for God to rescue them. I hope they can see that we, the elite in the North, are not waiting for God. We were just like them a few generations ago. Some of us were once in the bushes following cows. But today, we are in safe places, running things in a modern way.
Dr. Damages: I think I get where you are going with this, sir. For example, you fixing your teeth in London should be an inspiration to those in villages…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: As I was saying… I provided them with a safe beginning to get to where el-Rufai’s children are. If they failed to make use of that opportunity, it is not Buhari who failed. It is on them. As I said, my children, grandchildren, and future generations will never return to living as my ancestors did. It should be the same for them. That is the message that I wanted to pass to the poor. In years to come, the North will appreciate the deliberate policies that I put in place. I always choose wisdom instead of good shield because I believe that no shield can protect us better than wisdom.
Dr. Damages: Is that your life’s philosophy?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Pulaaku, the Fulani pathways, is built on Munal and Gacce. I learned those in school. They are values like patience, self-control, discipline and prudence. These tested and trusted Fulani pathways are also built on modesty, respect for others. Do you want more?
Dr. Damages: Yes, sir.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: There are what we call Haqqille and Tinnaade. Haqqille stands for wisdom, forethought, personal responsibility, and hospitality. Tinnaade stands for courage and hard work. We need to return to those values. When I say we, I don’t mean Fulanis alone. I mean, all Nigerians.
Dr. Damages: As part of an exit interview, we, your employer, would like to know why you are leaving your position as president. Nigerians know the reason you are leaving. Term limits prevented you from staying on as president. Would you have stayed for another term if there were no term limits?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: If I have another four years, for instance, the benefits of the work we did would become more obvious than to a lot of people who are non-believers. Over the years, I have known Nigerians to be people who won’t believe if you tell them that a wall is wet. They must touch it to believe. So, four more years would have allowed them to touch the wall. I know it doesn’t matter how often we say we spend N2.5 billion daily to feed school children. They will never believe it until their children are also fed. Until then, you young people will call it audio-feeding program.
Dr. Damages: How did you find your responsibility as president? Tough, easy, fulfilling…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: I didn’t do it alone. I want to use this opportunity to thank the extraordinary men and women who made my presidency what it is. They did the heavy lifting. They are the presidency you read about in those press releases. I am talking about people like Tunde. Mine is to take the credit. And the blame, I must add, because I have been blamed for everything that went wrong in Nigeria in the last eight years. Some men get married and blame me for their wives not knowing the way to the kitchen. Some men blame me when they spend many years in the oza room, and their wives still cannot conceive. Forget about the women. When they cook their soup, and it turns out not sweet, it is Buhari’s fault. As for the young people who are too impatient and lazy, if the American embassy denies them a visa, it is Buhari’s fault. Those in Malaysia selling drugs and doing romance scams, when they are caught, they blame Buhari. I am used to all that. Over the years, I have come to accept it. It is the nature of the job.
Dr. Damages: Do you think the Nigerian president has too much power?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Are you making fun of me now?
Dr. Damages: What do you mean, sir? How could I do such a thing?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: A shepherd of frogs recognizes the limping ones. I know what your next question will be.
Dr. Damages: Sir…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: If I say I had too much power, you will ask why my wife left me for weeks to live in Dubai. I know you journalists. You are all full of mischief.
Dr. Damages: No, sir. I don’t…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: And if I say I did not have enough power, you would ask where I got the power to pick up Nnamdi Kanu from Kenya and bring him to Nigeria to meet his favorite Jubril from Sudan. I know your type.
Dr. Damages: Talking about Nnamdi Kanu, do you plan to release him as a parting gift? You know that if you do it, Igbo people will name the 2nd Niger Bridge after you.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Na them build the bridge?
Dr. Damages: No! It is the federal government.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: So, how do you name what you did not build? Do you go to other people’s naming ceremonies and name the child for the papa and mama?
Dr. Damages: Well… but you know what I mean. They will show appreciation, and some of your most ardent critics may even accept your apologies and forgive you.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Who forgiveness ‘elp?
Dr. Damages: But will you release Nnamdi Kanu?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: How did the honorable judge put it, my hands are tied.
Dr. Damages: Who tied your hands, sir?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: You won’t understand.
Dr. Damages: Sir, it is not about me. It is about the Nigerian people.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: The Nigerian people?
Dr. Damages: Yes, sir. The Nigerian people will understand anything if you explain it to them.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Something behind the throne is bigger than the king.
Dr. Damages: In a representative democracy, nothing is bigger than the people. After all, it is the government of the people by the people and for the people.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Obviously, you have not been close to power your whole life.
Dr. Damages: Sir, but…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Have you ever asked Ibrahim Babangida why he annulled the June 12 presidential election?
Dr. Damages: No, sir. But he explained in several interviews that…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: I have the clemency power to release Nnamdi Kanu today. But you will need to get me a house to live in Enugu before I do so because Kaduna will not accept me afterward. Neither will Daura or even Niger Republic. I don’t want to commit suicide. And even if I want to, not for a man who gave me so much grief.
Dr. Damages: Sir, if it comes to where you can live, I am sure Obi Cubana or another young billionaire in the East will hand over a big mansion to you in Enugu or Umuahia. They will even give you a chieftaincy title.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Gentleman, I think we are done here.
Dr. Damages: Sir, one last question.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: What is it about this time? Peter Obi?
Dr. Damages: No, sir. Do you think that the Nigerian people supported you as president?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: I wasn’t counting on it. And it was good I didn’t. Good leaders must not depend on such fleeting validations as praise, support, or love as their source of encouragement. I watched the Sai Baba chant that followed me into the office gradually fade. I was ok with it. The Sai Baba that will matter ultimately is the one history will say in years to come.
Dr. Damages: What were the best and worst aspects of your job as president?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Isn’t this where you should have started this interview?
Dr. Damages: Sir, I was trying to…
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: The worst aspect of this job is talking to journalists like you. You people don’t know how ridiculous you look and sound when you think you are probing people like us who are clearing the bushes for our herds and tilling the soil to plant the seeds that tomorrow’s Nigerians will eat.
Dr. Damages: Sir, we are only doing our constitutional job, just like you.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: The best part of this job is that people like you can call us names in your newspapers and videos and your wife’s kitchen, but whenever you come face-to-face with us, you put your tail behind your back and call us sir. I love that part.
Dr. Damages: Sir, how has your job as president changed you?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: I am sure those of you who thought I would die in office can answer that question for yourselves. Any other questions?
Dr. Damages: Do you feel valued and recognized?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Not since after the election. I can see that the attention of the Nigerian people has shifted. People don’t bother me so much these days. If you remove those who want me to sign some last-minute appointment letters and approvals for fund disbursements, things are pretty quiet here.
Dr. Damages: How does that make you feel?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Are you also constitutionally mandated to psychoanalyze me?
Dr. Damages: No, sir.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Good.
Dr. Damages: What suggestions do you have for Nigeria? How can we improve?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Now, that should be a subject for a book. Not an interview.
Dr. Damages: Do you plan to write a book?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Will you read if I write one?
Dr. Damages: Of course. I love memoirs.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: If Gowon, Ph.D., head of state at the most critical point in Nigeria’s history, did not write a book, why are you expecting me to write?
Dr. Damages: Will you nudge your children to aspire to leadership positions in Nigeria? Like, have your son aspire to be president of Nigeria?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: So, you have not finished abusing one Buhari, and you are already itching to abuse another Buhari. Ina jin yunwa.
Dr. Damages: I noticed that you had yet to mention the name of your successor in this interview. Did you share any of these concerns of yours with him as he prepares to take over?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: How do you cut the hair of someone not around? Gentleman, I have to go.
Dr. Damages: Before we go, can we just take one question from millions of viewers watching us on social media?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Did you say millions of viewers?
Dr. Damages: Yes, sir.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: OK, let me not laugh. Camels do not laugh at each other’s humps.
Dr. Damages: Rahman Adebayo writes: Sir, how do you sleep at night knowing that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the most intelligent Vice President of that Nigeria ever had, an intellectual who served you for eight good years, a man who outperformed you in the 100 or so days he was acting president, is leaving Aso Rock with nothing?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: How did he know that Prof. Osinbajo is leaving Aso Rock with nothing? Did he look into his bank account?
Dr. Damages: I think what the viewer is saying is that he did not get to succeed you because you did not openly come out to support him.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Let them not worry. I have struck a deal with Asiwaju. He will make Prof Osinbajo the next United Nations Secretary General.
Dr. Damages: Now that is breaking news.
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: To that social media question, let me add that leaving Aso Rock with your integrity intact is more valuable that silver and gold.
Dr. Damages: OK, sir. You have been very generous with your time. I appreciate that so much. But is there any question you were expecting that I didn’t ask?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Yes.
Dr. Damages: Which question, sir?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: The last one.
Dr. Damages: Which last one, sir?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: The question about the question. Have a nice day, gentleman.
Dr. Damages: Thank you, Mr. President. Can I wake up now?
Pres. Muhammadu Buhari: Toh!
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include "This American Life Sef" and "Children of a Retired God," among others.