Professor Tam David-West served as Minister of Petroleum and Energy when the new President-elect, Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd), was the Military Head of State from 1984 to 1985. In this interview with YINKA FABOWALE and OLUSEYE OJO in Ibadan, the professor of virology talks extensively on the person of Buhari that millions of Nigerians do not know. Excerpts:
Will it be right to describe Gen Buhari’s win in the just concluded presidential election as a personal victory to you?
It cannot be a personal victory to me; that will be too much. It’s victory to Nigerians, victory to those people in Nigeria, who have over the years have supported this cause. It is not for me. I was only one person telling people what he is. I have worked with him and I know him. I worked very closely with him.
As an oil minister, I was closer to him than most ministers because we have hotlines; few ministers had hotlines with him. Whenever I talk about Buhari, I am talking about somebody I know. I am not talking about stereotype, am talking about somebody I know firsthand.
He has good qualities. He is a unique man. The former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, described him as an extraordinary Nigerian.
Why do I love him? First, he is very honest. He is not corrupt at all. He’s disciplined and he’s focused. I worked with Buhari and I worked with Babangida (Gen Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, retd). If you give a 20- page memo to Buhari by 9:00 this morning, by 10 he has finished reading it and he will ask you to come. When you get there, you will see that he has read it and made notes. If you give the same memo to Babangida, he would not read it for one week.
Buhari loves Nigeria, not only because he was a soldier and signed his life for Nigeria, I know from all the people around, he’s the only person that I can vouch for. They used to insult me that Jonathan (President Goodluck Jonathan) is Ijaw and I am an Ijaw man too, why am I supporting a Fulani man? I am not going to support you because you are Ijaw, I am going to support you to lead Nigeria and do well for the country
I have written two books on Buhari: one is who really is Gen Buhari and the other one is 16 sins of Buhari, which are qualities of Buhari. In the book, I wrote on the lies they are telling about him. In fact, Femi Adesina (Managing Director of The Sun newspapers) was the master of ceremony when I launched the book at NIIA(Nigerian Institute of International Affairs) in Lagos.
I have a third book on him, which I have not finished – General Buhari: A Rare Gem. I don’t have Buhari’s phone number. I don’t phone him. Why do I do that? It’s because I don’t want to be tempted to be phoning him to discuss. If I want to talk to Buhari, I know how.
Buhari can turn this country around. I have strong faith in this. If my father is contesting an election against Gen Buhari as president, I will vote for Buhari, not my father. I will tell my father: I know you are a good man. But you have no business with politics. You cannot do it. you are a banker, go and manage money. I cannot vote for you because Buhari will do better than you. Buhari is a fantastic man.
For example, they are talking of economy while the greatest problem in Nigeria is corruption. If you can take care of corruption, everything will fall in place. Gen Buhari refused to devalue the naira in spite of the fact that when he came to power, Nigeria was broke. Shagari (Alhaji Shehu Shagari, former president of Nigeria), was negotiating for N2billion IMF loan before he was overthrown.
Buhari told me he would not take IMF loan. I asked him why and he said: If you take loan of N2billion now, we will not be able to finish paying it before we leave. So, the debt will be there for our children. He’s as careful as that.
You must have read that Buhari cancelled Lagos metro line. It is a lie. I have published the story before. I don’t write anything without a research. I phoned him on it and he said: No, when we came to power on January 1, 1984, Nigeria did not know how much foreign debt they are owing. They don’t know the figure. Shagari did not know.
He said Lagos State came with a project, which would gulp over N100billion or so, guaranteed by the Federal Government. It’s a big loan for the project in those days. He said Federal Government could not guarantee the loan of N100billion when we did not know how much we are owing. So, Lagos State government thought of it, looked at it and jettisoned it by itself. He told me: Look professor, how can I cancel a project that I am not part of? I cannot cancel it.
Buhari cited another example. He said when he was in PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund), the first N1.2 billion they made was spent on Lagos waterworks. Many people just write, they don’t investigate. This is why I don’t have respect for so many people called intellectuals. When Buhari was Head of State, $1.5 was N1:00; today, it is over N190 to $1 dollar. Then, it was N2 to £1; today it is over N240 to £1.
As regards the economy, they are talking that the oil price has fallen. Oil is still being sold for $57 per barrel. When Buhari came to power, oil price was $30 per barrel. During that time too, it went down to about $15. But he managed the economy.
When OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to get the market share, oil price fell to about $15 per barrel, yet we survived. We survived because of good leadership and good focus. Now, they are saying the oil price is coming down, what will Buhari do?
I am absolutely certain that Buhari will turn the economy round. Why? It is because some of the blueprints he had to turn the economy round, he had not implemented before he was overthrown. I know that some of the blueprints are still on his table. So, one of the blueprints we used was very ingenious. The London Financial Times of May 1984 said it was extra-ordinary. We made IMF irrelevant. It is very simple. The economy can move.
I trust and love Buhari. He said something when he was launching his book in Port Harcourt and I am very humbled by it. He said: Service to our country brought Tam and I together and the ideals we share in common make us friends. He said: Tam is somebody you can trust and that he can go to the forest with him, without being afraid.
I like him. Everything I have said about Gen Buhari cannot be controverted. He can change this country round. He loves the common man. In 1984, I took a memo to the council on oil price, but Buhari said even if we increase the oil price by 10 kobo or five kobo, kerosene price must never be increased. Senator Chris Anyanwu is still alive, she can bear me witness.
What is happening today? They have trillions of naira as kerosene subsidy, which is a lie.
During Buhari’s time, we never imported one litre of petrol; we were even exporting petrol. Why is it so? It’s because you don’t need a middleman. There is no petrol subsidy. Buhari and I had said it independently, even Gani Fawehinmi. If you are talking about subsidy, why do you need a middleman? The Nigerian middlemen go and import a refined product from abroad. Of course, they inflate the price by giving us all sorts of figures.
The petrol price in Nigeria should not be more than N40 per litre. They were abusing me. I challenged Okonjo Iweala (Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy) to a debate, she never came. A professor of petroleum of Nigeria in Texas wrote to one of the people and I still have a copy in my house, that petrol price in Nigeria should not be more than about N35 per litre.
Why is it so? It’s because he’s a focused man. He’s not making money from it. Buhari has not got oil bloc. He has no oil contract. As I am talking to you now, it is not because I am righteous, I have never had oil listing contract, oil bloc and shares in oil companies. When oil companies were advertising for shares, which I could buy like any other Nigerian; neither Buhari, nor myself bought shares in those companies.
Even, if they gave us 1,000 shares, they gave to us because he was Head of State and I was Minister of Petroleum. He is as careful as that. Buhari served this country well and he can turn it round. I am happy and I thank Almighty God, He has brought him back. What has happened is a great victory for Nigeria and we must give all glory to God.
We saw different images of Gen Buhari portrayed by the opposition during the electioneering such as being a dictator, religious bigot and ethnic jingoist. But you have always been a defender of his persona. Now, Nigerians have given their verdict on what they think of the opposition campaign. But there are fears that military mentality and temperament may come to the fore.
Do you know that Buhari’s executive council was more democratic than Shagari’s parliament? When he was Military Head of State, he never liked the word president. While Babangida preferred Military President, Buhari preferred Head of State. Buhari’s executive council, which is like the parliament now, was more democratic than Shagari’s government. I have evidence. There is nothing I tell you that I cannot support with paper evidence.
Shagari, when he was president, even complained that to get some of his bills passed, he had to pay his party men. I know a lawmaker, who complained to me that before he got to House to vote, they used to meet in a senator’s house in Victoria Island, Lagos, where they used to give them some money before they would go and vote for the party.
If a minister came to present a memo to the council, after the presentation, Buhari would ask every minister to make general comments about what they feel about the memo. Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon, of course, were there; they would not react as ministers. After the general comments, he would say we should vote.
In fact, I wrote an article entitled: Democracy in a Military Government. They could not believe it. Even at OPEC meetings, I had to explain to the Europeans that it was a military but we are running a democratic system. At the policy making level, Buhari would say: Gentlemen, you have finished speaking, how many ministers support the memo. If you are in support raise your hands. He will count it and put it down. How many ministers don’t support the memo? They raised their hands to. He would say: Gentlemen, 10 ministers support the memo, eight ministers did not support the memo. The memo is lost.
If we are operating a democratic system of decision making, it is not new to him now. For instance, I had a memo for some increase in petroleum tax, Buhari supported me and Idiagbon supported me. Buhari was so sure that after the memo, we would win. Buhari told the Attorney General that at the end of the memo, this part of NNPC law has to be changed. The Attorney General walked up to me in council and said: Honourable minister, look at this place, is it the place they are going to change after your memo if you win? I said yes. But I was so sure. But when I presented and voted, we lost. Buhari lost, Idiagbon lost and I lost. Buhari just said: Gentlemen, we have lost; take the next memo.
So, his coming now is not new. Democracy is not just about voting. It is a culture. Democracy is what you believe is right to be done. So, democracy is not new to Buhari.
There are fears that with the enormous power of the executive president under the presidential system of government, he may abuse his powers and bastardise our democracy like former President Olusegun Obasanjo purportedly did in the removal of Senate President, party leaders, EFCC selective persecution of opponents with impunity and so on. What is your take?
Professor Ben Nwabueze wrote a book after Obasanjo: How Obasanjo Destroyed Democracy in Nigeria. Why didn’t he write when Obasanjo was the president? I have a copy of the book in my house. Professor Nwabueze, a great man, but he published it after Obasanjo had left office.
Also, Odimegwu-Ojukwu said Obasanjo is a democratically elected president but he has military instinct; but not Buhari. Democarcy is not something you just jump into, you must believe in it. It must be part of our culture. Democratic ethos is part of Buhari’s life. He demonstrated it when he was Military Head of State that every member must be voted for democratically to the extent that he himself lost a memo when we voted.
In democracy, we have separation of powers – the executive, legislature and judiciary. We also have checks and balances. Buhari, for instance, is somebody that will not say like my friend, Obasanjo did sometime, he cannot cow down the legislature. Buhari will not influence the judiciary. In Buhari, Nigeria will have real democracy and separation of powers. The Buhari that I know will never interfere with the National Assembly. I know he will never interfere with the judiciary. It is his culture. So, there is nothing to fear.
To say that Buhari is a religious bigot is absolutely rubbish. If you read my book: 16 Sins of Buhari, you will discover that he is more religiously accommodating than anybody. People also called him an fundamentalist, sometime some people write without even thinking.
It was also speculated that he would Islamise Nigeria
No President can Islamise Nigeria. No Muslim Head of State can Islamise Nigeria. No Christian Head of State can Christianise Nigeria. The constitution is very clear. Even during military government when constitution was suspended, no Head of State can do that. Do you know when he was Military Head of State, when there was no constitution, he could have done that. But he doesn’t believe in it.
Why do I say that? To change any part of the constitution, you need two-third majority of the states of the federation. To change a letter of the constitution, two-third of the federation must agree and the Houses of Assembly must agree. When he was Military Head of State, he could get that as a military man, he did not even attempt it. How can he attempt it now that it has to go to parliament? He cannot Islamise Nigeria.
To say that Buhari is a religious fundamentalist is a credit. My family has been Christian for 106 years. I am an Anglican fundamentalist. When you say somebody is a fundamentalist, it means that he believes in his religion. I am a Christian fundamentalist. I believe in the Bible. If you are a Muslim fundamentalist, you believe in Quran. So, what is wrong about that? I don’t go to church on Sunday and go to Babalawo at night.
Three of Buhari’s domestic staff are Christians. His confidential secretary is a Christian, his second security officer is a Christian, his second head driver is a Christian. They have been with him for years
Apart from being in his government, you have also, over the time, being his close friend; who is the Buhari that Nigerians do not know?
Buhari is more detribalised, more religious tolerant than anyone I have met. In 1984, I stopped OPEC meeting from taking place. We met in Geneva on December 22, 1984 for a tow-day meeting. We thought the meeting would finish latest December 24. But the leaders said the matter for discussion would not allow the meeting to end on December 24.
So, they said we should continue on December 25, which was Christmas Day. I told them: I am sorry, I cannot stay here as Christian to have OPEC meeting on Christmas Day. I have to go. Over 80 per cent members of OPEC are Muslims. We argued. My friend, Saudi Arabia Oil Minister, Zaki Yamani, had been minister for 24 years. We talked. He said the OPEC has changed. He still insisted that we should have the meeting on December 25.
Yamani said sometime in the 70s, the OPEC meeting in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) went up to December 25, and King Faisal had dinner for both Christian and Muslim ministers. I said that’s very good. If a Christian leaves his home to go to Saudi Arabia for Christian dinner, then something is wrong with him. I said: Gentlemen, I am the leader of the Nigerian delegation, I am pulling out my delegation back to Nigeria tomorrow, December 23 and I pulled out Nigerian delegation, there was crisis in OPEC. I told them: Gentlemen, can you people have OPEC meeting on Eid-el-Maulud, date of birth of Prophet Mohammed? I object to it, you can go on.
Do you know some Christians had told Buhari to sack me for causing international crisis? I have written a book on this, nobody can challenge me. I don’t say anything without record. When I arrived, I went to Dodan Barracks to report to Buhari, he said he saw everything on television and heard it on radio. Do you know what he did? He never sacked me. He congratulated me on what I did. He said we must respect each other’s religion. That same day, himself and Idiagbon sent me Christmas presents.
Many of Buhari’s campaign sponsors, including the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, are perceived to be corrupt. Would their relationship and influence on his government not affect the administration’s credibility?
They used to say, show me your friend and I will tell you what you are. There is nobody that is corrupt that can influence Buhari. He has made it clear that there would be no discrimination in the fight against corruption. If you are corrupt, you cannot work with Buhari. If you are corrupt, shed that corruption before you come because he will disgrace you. His zero-tolerance for corruption is one of his cardinal strengths. He cannot change it.
The 2014 National Conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan came out with over 600 resolutions, most of which are perceived to be against the North. Gen Buhari is from the North and his party, APC did not believe in the conference. Do you think Buhari will implement the resolutions?
They are talking about National Conference and Petroleum Industry Bill. There are a lot of things that came up at that National Conference that were nonsense. As one of the people that drafted the 1979 Constitution, Wayas and Onagoruwa, said it is the best constitution. But it is not constitution, it is Nigerians. With the state of Nigerian system, people are lying. But that system was just aided by the military. Murtala Mohammed gave them a blanket cheque. I must correct this image, there are lies against Murtala Mohammed, including some people that drafted the constitution.
Murtala Mohammed, I have the speech inaugurating 49 of us, gave us free hands to operate. He asked us to suggest anything we like on how to move this nation forward. Why do you choose presidential system? Many Nigerians wrote to us and over 80 per cent of Nigerians wanted presidential system because they are displeased with the parliamentary system.
So, presidential system was chosen by Nigerians, not by the military, not by 49 of us. The memos we received from Nigerian public, within and outside the country preferred presidential system. So, we chose presidential system because of them, not because somebody told us to choose presidential system.
That we are not operating presidential system well is because Nigerians are corrupt. Why should a Nigerian senator earn more than the United States President, Barack Obama? The Americans have operated presidential system for over 200 years and they are still operating. America is one of the strongest economies in the world.
In Nigeria, we are wealthy, but we have a very poor economy. So, why should a senator in Nigeria earn more than Obama? In fact, somebody once wrote that a senator in Nigeria can employ four Obamas. So, don’t blame the constitution. It is us.
On the allegation that he is from the North and he will not implement the National Conference resolutions, if I as an Ijaw man is the president and they bring the report of the conference before me, I will sit on it. I know the drama they did there. A lot of things there are very divisive.
In fact, one of them said his tribe had 90 per cent of what they wanted as a people. Did you go there to work for Nigeria or your tribe? There were a lot of things at that National Conference that did not go through at all. If Jonathan implements the resolutions, it is a disservice to Nigeria. I will urge him never to implement them. There must be a plebiscite. A lot of things that were said there were not in the interest of Nigeria. Many people went to fight for their ethnic groups.
So, that confab document should not be taken hook, line, and sinker. We must look at it very closely as Nigerians. Jonathan should not implement it because he is PDP. No. If Buhari doesn’t implement it, it is not because he is from the North. If they say most of the things they are saying there are against the North, is that how to pull Nigeria together? Did they go there to do one for the North and one for the South? We went there to discuss something that will unite Nigeria and move together as a people.
The confab document, as it is, should not be implemented because it is not in the interest of Nigeria. They must have another group to look at it and whatever comes out of that group must be sent to Nigerians for plebiscite.
The same thing happened to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), don’t implement it. I am happy he has not implemented it. I have written 40 pages of comments on the PIB, which I will publish later. The PIB, which everybody was clamouring for, if he implements it the way it is, the petroleum industry will die.
There are a lot of things that will make foreign investors to run away from this county. Without the foreign investors, Nigeria cannot manage the oil industry alone. Shell, for instance, produces 50 per cent of our oil. Shell operates here and all over the world. If Shell closes its operation in Nigeria, Shell will not suffer, it is Nigeria that will suffer. Oil makes over 80 per cent of Nigerian budget.
Nigerians cannot run the oil company without foreign participation because it is capital intensive. They provide the funds and the expertise. If we have well-trained Nigerians, what of the funds?
When Rilwan Lukman was there as the oil minister, what did he do? We have a Petroleum Institute in Effurun in Delta State, which is about to be upgraded to a university. Lukman established another petroleum institute in Kaduna. When they asked him why, he said it was established to train middle-class manpower.
So, the PIB is not as good as people think. I will advise Buhari not to implement it. He should set up another body. He should select and delegate 40 of us from different backgrounds, from different parts of the country and believe in Nigeria. Let them look at the document and produce a working document. Even at that, don’t sign it; send it as a plebiscite for Nigerians to vote for.
Given the perceived high level of corruption in the hierarchy of the Nigerian military, how feasible is the President-elect’s promise to bring a swift end to insurgency in the North East?
Buhari has been there before. Buhari stopped Maitatsine insurgency (of 1980). He was then a General Officer Commanding (GOC). Why has Jonathan not been able to do it? There is a budget for the military. They voted huge amount of money to buy equipment, it was there; they never did anything. Buhari doesn’t need big project to fight corruption. Immediately Buhari is sworn in, corrupt people will shake. They will correct themselves and run away.
I was listening to the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen; he said in one road contract alone, he was to find out that it was overestimated by N11billion. He said he was kind enough to cancel it, and they never complained.
The same thing happened during Buhari’s time. A particular big man in Nigeria, whose name I will not mention, wrote to Buhari that in one contract he had, he was going to remove N10 million. Then, one of the ministers said, after Buhari presented the letter to us, said: This is a very good thing. The government should write to the contractor to congratulate him. I said no.
What I am saying now, I have witness; Patrick Koshoni, former Chief of Naval Staff, is still alive. He is a very brilliant and articulate man. Some other ministers too are still alive. Kalu Idika Kalu is still alive. I said don’t congratulate him. If he on his own can give us N10 million, there will be other N10 million somewhere. He cannot do the contract free. He was afraid that he would be caught. So, on his own, he purged himself of corruption.
Many corrupt people will run away from Nigeria without Buhari catching them. What I know is that the money they have taken from this country, he will bring it back.
On Boko Haram, Buhari is a General of repute and he fought Maitatsine insurgency, which was worse thanBoko Haram. Boko Haram was started by politicians, like Niger Delta militants. They used them and dumped them. Maitatsine riot was not started by politicians. It was an upsurge of either religious or fanaticism. But Buhari was able to stop them.
During Shagari’s administration, Saad invaded some parts of Nigeria. Buhari was GOC and he drove them out. Even, when Shagari told him to stop, he said in one interview, that he refused to collect the Commander-in-Chief’s letter until he gave Cameroon breathing nose. He can do it. The military will be stronger and the military likes him because he knows where the shoes pinch.
What is your take on the agitations of the people that Buhari should probe the Jonathan administration and his aides as a result of alleged reports of monumental corruption under his administration? But Buhari said he would not go after the past administration? What is your take on this?
Buhari said Jonathan has nothing to fear, yes I agree. But Jonathan has nothing to fear, provided he has acted well. If he has not acted well, he has everything to fear. If there is any dirt in his cupboard, he has everything to fear because Buhari will clean the cupboard.
What do you think Buhari should do about people, who peddled vicious lies and campaign of hate against him, during electioneering, because a lot of people apparently believed them?
Two things; anything that has to do with libel, I will tell him not to forgive but go to court. He has already said he would take Femi Fani-Kayode to court. I am one of the witnesses. How can you so support somebody so much that you will be so wicked and so violent? Ayo Fayose (Ekiti State governor) said Buhari would die. But he was one of the first people to congratulate him; that is cheap now. He doesn’t impress me and he doesn’t impress Buhari.
What should he do? People that have been very wicked to him, called him name, take action against them. But don’t punish anybody because he or she abused you. If somebody says you are corrupt, make him to prove the corruption.