In an interview, President Muhammadu Buhari fielded questions from Aljazeera’s Mehdi Hasan on Boko Haram, alleged abuses by the Nigerian military and his leadership of Nigeria.
Is it fair to say that your country is in a state of crises?
Yes. Certainly, we have been going through crises, which we rightly articulated during our campaigns and we identified insecurity, problem of the economy, unemployment and corruption. But since we were sworn-in, I believe positive actions have been taken and the results are very clear. We have been able to re-organise the military; they have retrained and are in the process of re-equipping and they are certainly gaining ground against Boko Haram.
Is your target of stamping out Boko Haram by December achievable?
You are entitled to your opinion. When I gave the service chiefs the target, I know what was physically on ground. And maybe you will like to recall that we have gotten the Lake Chad Commission on the ground, comprising of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin. Nigeria is the main battleground and we have agreed to dedicate a number of troops in certain places so that, by the coming of dry season, there will be a spontaneous move against Boko Haram in their areas of operation in the sub-region.
Boko Haram bombing
On the ground, physically, things are getting better. I have just mentioned that after the re-organisation, we put new service chiefs, retrained the troops at the war front, re-equipped them and sent them back. If you observe clearly, the area of operations is limited to two states, mainly Borno and Yobe. Boko Haram has been reduced to using IEDs(Improvised Explosives Devices) only.
There have been a thousand plus people dead since you were elected. The situation seems not better than it was before you assumed office.
Yes, we are being honest about it. Whenever there is an attack and there are casualties, we mention it, we don’t hide anything. But in terms of occupying ground, we are gaining ground and Boko Haram is now virtually confined to Sambisa forest. They are highly disorganised. As soon as the rainy season comes, which is the end of the year, Boko Haram will virtually be out of their strongholds and that will be the end of it.
What we cannot guarantee is the question of using IEDs by Boko Haram may continue beyond the target that we gave, but attacks by Boko Haram on townships, military installations, will certainly stop.
Repercussion of not meeting the December deadline
Something certainly is that I will not resign; I will be determined to stay and fight it out
We have ideas about where the girls are. Our main problem is and what we promised to the constituency is that we want to rescue them alive. There is the Boko Haram leadership that wants us to discuss but we have to prove they are bonafide. They have to prove to us that the girls are alive, they are well, and then we can promise we can negotiate. We will negotiate if we certify that the girls are alive…
What would you offer Boko Haram in your negotiation?
Well, it depends on the negotiation with the leadership of Boko Haram.
What are you doing as a President and a former general to stop human rights abuses, war crimes and other alleged inhuman approaches of the Nigerian military?
We promise to investigate and punish all those who are responsible…
Are you going to prosecute the nine individuals Amnesty International accused of war crimes?
I haven’t received the (Amnesty) report personally, but the organization of the military is part of the compliance with the observations raised by Amnesty International; if I get the report, I will read it. Although you sound confident that I have received it, none of my certified spokespersons have given me the report…
But allegations of war crime against the Nigeria military are not new and your spokesman acknowledged he has read the report?
I want us to go beyond talking; all you are telling me’s that the United States security talked about it; Amnesty has written, but I am telling you that I haven’t got the authentic documents you are referring to. When I get the documents, I will read them and I assure you that those you are guilty would be identified and punished according to Nigeria law.
Boko Haram claims it supports Sharia law, and you have been quoted as saying, ‘God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of Sharia law in the country’. Is that still your view?
Nigerians, by their Constitution, have the right to pursue any religion they want to, but there is a fundamental issue here, no religion preaches violence. You cannot kill people in churches , mosques, motor parks and shout Allau Akbar. It is either they (Boko Haram) don’t believe God is great or they don’t know what they are talking about. Nigerians understand that Boko Haram is anything but Islamic…
We all know Boko Haram members are not godly as they claim, but do you support cutting of arms, stoning and other strict punishments as part of the Nigerian law?
No! Nigeria law does not permit that…
And you do not want to change the law to allow stoning or any of these brutal punishments to be brought in?
I cannot change it. I have not been voted by majority of Nigerians to change the Nigerian Constitution.
You ran for the election on the slogan of ‘’change” and you are a 72-year-old ex-military dictator. How are you sure about the change that Nigerians want and can you guarantee that you won’t become a dictator again?
I cannot be a dictator under this system. Like I told you, the system we are following now, the people I want to be in my cabinet, I have to send them to the Senate and it is up to the Senate to find them suitable or unsuitable to be in the Nigerian cabinet…
You were accused of human right abuses in you first coming as head of state. Do you regret those actions of yours now that you are a democrat?
If there is any injustice that can be proved against me back then, I will gladly apologise, but trying to stop corruption and indiscipline is not injustice. In fact, my coming back now under a new system is because of my performance the last time. You accused me of…but the people have seen discipline, accountability, order; they want it back and that is why majority of Nigerians voted me now under a different system.