President Muhammadu Buhari has said he nearly abandoned his plum office in the early days of his administration as a result of the parlous state of the economy that was bequeathed to him by the Jonathan-led administration.
He said the situation was so bad that he considered abdicating not just the office, which he got after three previous failed attempt, but thought of fleeing the country. “When I came, what I found out is terrible. It is absolutely terribly,” he declared.
President Buhari made the revelation in Abidjan, Cote d’ Ivoire, last week during an interactive session with Nigerian community, ahead of his participation at the just concluded fifth African Union-European Union (AU-EU) Summit.
He regretted that during the oil boom era no meaningful infrastructure was built hence his administration is struggling to keep its campaign promises with the fall of oil price to as low as $28 per barrel from an average of $100 between 1999 and 2014.
But he maintained that in the last two years, the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration has not only succeeded in pulling the country out of economic brink but also stabilised the polity and restored peace.
“We are lucky in Nigeria that we have been able to survive 2016. Honestly, I told some people close to me that I was thinking of which country to run to if things got out of hand.
“Between 1999 and 2014, I have said it several times in Nigeria, Nigeria had never got so much revenue like it did at that time. But then, when we came, the price of oil went down to $28 per barrel from an average of $100 per barrel at the production rate of 2.1 million barrel per day.
So, multiply 2.1 million by $100, that is what Nigeria was getting from 1999 to 2014. But when we came, the price came down to $28. I went to Central Bank (of Nigeria) to look for money and they said there was no money, only debts.
“And the infrastructure – roads, rail, power- that you have been talking about, nothing was absolutely done. So, really, God hears the prayers of His servants and the last three raining seasons were good. We were very lucky I would have absconded.
“I mean how could we have faced Nigerians and tell them this is what you have been earning from 2.1 million barrels per day from 1999-2014 multiplied by $100.
In fact, it even went up to $143; and then came down to about $70-$80. But when we came, it fell to $28, then to $37 and then oscillating between $30 and $50. So it was amazing but God came with His help.”
Buhari scored his administration high in the anti-corruption fight. However, he noted that in the fight against corruption, one can never satisfy Nigerians.
Buhari’s administration has been accused of being selective and political in its anti-corruption war with some Nigerians suggesting that for it to succeed, there is need for some fundamental reforms in the system and the way the anti-graft agencies are being run. The reform, they argued, would make the agencies more effective and efficient.
The president recalled how ruthless he was as a military head of state in 1983-84 when he locked those suspected to have stolen public funds in prison until they proved they were innocent. But he said the democratic dispensation did not allow him such liberty.
He said compared to his first coming in the 80s, now everyone is seen to be innocent until proven guilty and yet Nigerians are accusing his government of being slow in the fight against corruption.
But he told Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire: “I’m assuring you that the good news you hear from home is the same that you hear from all over the world that we are not doing too badly in trying to secure the country, in trying to improve the economy, to get jobs for people and in trying to deal with corruption.
“I have said it that this is my second time like Gen. Obasanjo. When I came as a young man and in uniform, I arrested former ministers and governors and put them in Kirikiri. All of you know Kirikiri.
I told them that they are guilty until they can prove themselves innocent and it didn’t bother me because I was a youth and in uniform. So, I didn’t care about anybody.
“But now that I am back, everybody is innocent until I can prove them guilty. And at the same time, the same Nigerians are saying we are too slow. So what can you do really? You can only try but I am telling you that you can never satisfy our people back home.
“You know, when I was young and ruthless as a soldier I did what I did, somebody came, locked me up and gave them back their money and their houses.
I went back into politics and after trying three times and ending up in Supreme Court, the fourth time God agreed and here I am.
“But when I came, what I found out is terrible. It is absolutely terribly but I’ll keep on doing my best because I volunteered to come, I have come, I have met what was on the ground and I hope I will make an impression.”