A recap of President Buhari’s first media chat

Yesterday, on Wednesday the 30th of December, President Muhammadu Buhari had his maiden media chat at the presidential villa, Aso Rock, Abuja. Fielding questions from journalists on a number of significant issues, the president could not have picked a more strategic time to answer the questions in the mind of Nigerians, keeping them abreast of government activities just before the New Year.

Moderated by a team of four journalists, Kayode Akintemi of Channels TV, Dan Ali of Daily Trust, Ibanga Isine of Premium Times, and Ngozi Anyaegbunam, the conversation stemmed around issues of corruption, terrorism, and the economy – oil and currency.

On the fight against corruption

President Buhari expressed satisfaction on the progress made in the fight against corruption, “We are doing quite well,” he said. And though there are documents to prove crude oil theft and diversion of public funds into personal accounts, the president urged Nigerians to be patient, and other countries, cooperative in the fight against corruption. “Nigerians will be informed of the progress of the anti-corruption war by the end of the first quarter of 2016.”

He maintained that none of his cabinet members are corrupt, but not without adding that if any is found guilty of corruption, that person would face the law, as no one is above it. “I don’t think I have picked anybody that I know will embarrass my government … But if you have evidence on any of my ministers, it is your right as a Nigerian citizen to take them up … I swore by the holy Qur’an that I will defend the constitution.”

He also explained why the federal government was reluctant to grant bail to former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, and Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, for charges of fraud and treasonable felony. “Technically, if you see the kinds of atrocities these people are believed to have committed against the country, if they are given the opportunity, they will jump bail,” the president explained.

Nnamdi Kanu was said to have smuggled media equipment into the country to spread hate messages, this he did without the use of his international passports.

On the return of the Chibok girls, the defeat of Boko Haram, and general security

Buhari said the government has to ensure that all 209 kidnapped girls can be located, and that contact has to be made with the right leadership of Boko Haram before any form of negotiation for their release. But he wasn’t so optimistic regarding that, “speaking to a number of sources, we discovered that they have dispersed them all over the place … We are more than willing to negotiate to free the girls without compromising our national security,” he explained. As to whether or not the girls are alive, the president could not confirm, “there is no such intelligence report of where those girls are physically, and in what condition they are in …”

The President commended the military in their fight against terrorism saying that the deadline given them had been largely met as the capacity for conventional attacks by Boko Haram have been weakened. And as a way to further tackle insecurity and terrorism, Buhari revealed that there might be a ban on the adornment of hijabs in Nigeria.

President Buhari with a team of four journalists during the media chat Credit - sturvs.com
President Buhari with a team of four journalists during the media chat
Credit – sturvs.com

President Buhari also expressed plans to resettle internally displaced persons in the country, 70 percent of whom are women and children, mostly in Borno state. According to him, the federal government and some philanthropic Nigerians like Aliko Dangote, and Lieutenant General TY Danjuma have raised about N25 billion for the rehabilitation of IDPs. Currently, the country hosts about two million IDP’s in several camps across the country.

Addressing the recent clash between the military and the Shiites, President Buhari explained that though there are internal and external pressure to deal with the matter, his hands are tied until official reports are turned in by the Kaduna state government and the military. “We have a system of investigation … And I, as the head of the federal government have to wait for official reports before I can come out and make a statement … So I am allowing the Army and the Kaduna state government to submit their reports of inquiry.”

On the removal of fuel subsidy and currency devaluation

“Our priority is to get our local refineries working, to reduce cost,” Buhari said in reply to a question on the removal of subsidy. The idea is that if the cost of petrol is really low, there will be no need for subsidy removal. He hopes that this plan would be effective by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

On possible devaluation of the naira, President Buhari expressed non-compliance. “I do not support devaluation … I need to be convinced. If you devalue the naira, against what – dollar, sterling, yen, French Franc?” he asked while foreclosing the government’s shift of priority to small and medium scale enterprises, and the establishment of infrastructures. “Our priority is for welders, barbers, building our roads and railways, not rice and expensive textile wears,” the president added.

On proposed N47.5 billion car budget for members of the national assembly

“I think I will use veto power to stop the national assembly from using N47 billion to buy cars,” President Buhari said, faulting the National Assembly on the proposed purchase of cars for lawmakers. He further disclosed how he turned down a huge bill for the purchase of vehicles for the presidency, adding that if he did not allow that, he will not allow the purchase of cars for members of the national assembly.

Buhari explained that the country is not dependent on debt to fund the 2016 budget, but only negotiating with creditors to build capital projects. He also admitted that though he is cognizant of the fact that the recent policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) – the ban on the use of Naira debit cards overseas – would have negative effects on Nigerians, he expects the CBN to establish measures to curb these effects.

At the end of the presidential chat, Muhammadu Buhari challenged and encouraged the Nigerian media to engage in more investigative journalism, “so the people will know the truth,” he concluded.

Watch video of the media chat below:

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