By Augustine Ehikioya
Dousing tension and fear in the country ahead of Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections, the former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Amb Tukur Yusufu Buratai (Rtd), has called on Nigerians not to panic but remain law abiding throughout the process.
Stressing that it is normal to have such high election fever prior to elections across the globe, he was confident that the security agencies have put strategies in place to protect lives and property during the elections.
In an exclusive interview with Security Watch Africa (SWA), he also urged them to come out enmass to exercise their electoral rights.
According to him, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party have performed well in security, anti-corruption and the economy.
Answering question on increasing apprehension among some Nigerians and foreigners, he said “First of all, I am an optimist and this has always helped me in most cause. As regards the questions you asked about the coming elections, I believe Nigeria is ready for the elections come Saturday 25th of February, 2023.
“This is another milestone we hope to cross or to achieve as a nation and also knowing my disposition in the political terrain, you know the All Progressives Congress (APC), for it to once again get the confidence of Nigerians for them to believe in the party that all hope is not lost.
“There is still hope in the party and President Muhammadu Buhari has tremendously laid a very good foundation, nobody can take that away in terms of security. In terms of even anti-corruption and the economy.
“I will talk on the security aspect, which people are still apprehensive, yes, to some extent, they have cause. But if you look at it from other perspectives, you cannot compare 2015 and this year 2023.
“And if Nigerians did not leave the country in droves to other countries during 2015, apart from the political tension coupled with the insecurity that prevailed, even Abuja was not safe, and when you talk of Maiduguri, it is out of the question. You know, then few places like Jos, Suleja, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi and so forth. So, you can’t compare 2015 to now.
“Now we have threats in some areas like the South East, part of North Central as well as the North West. The North East is generally stabilized and the threats have been drastically reduced. Once in a while, you see the terrorists coming out to give threats, what they are doing is not terrorism or insurgency per se, but armed robbery or just criminal act. So the threat, I will say it’s about 90 percent removed from the North East,” he stated.
He went on “You see some of the advisories to foreign nationals is understandable, they want to keep their citizens safe. And also when you are close to elections, especially in the last two months, you will experience what I call election fever. It is usually tensed.
“This is global. It happens globally. Go to South Africa towards elections period, you will feel the same thing. In US, you have the same experience. And this does not call for anybody to leave his country. He may have a case because of the political killings here and there. But it is not at a scale that will warrant someone to say he will leave his country until after the elections, it’s unnecessary.
“He must remain and participate in the electoral process. It is by doing that that his safety will be guaranteed, to elect the right leaders to come into positions of authority to make things better.
“And so far, I believe that the country is prepared, the political parties are ready. It’s only those who have not gathered enough momentum in terms of followership, in terms of spread across the country that will be the ones that are not prepared and will like to cause one problem or the other in order to scuttle the elections.
“But I believe the security agencies are ready. We are lucky we have competent Service Chiefs and Inspector General of Police. They’ve been quite steady and quite proactive in responding to certain threats and especially towards the elections.
“You know the Army is ready, the Armed Forces are on Operation SAFE CONDUCT. The Police, you have heard their deployment, they are mobilizing enough Policemen across the country. The INEC has released the various polling agents across the federation, and if you see even from the distribution, the number of agents per party that have been presented for deployment to various polling units, APC has over 176,000, PDP about 176,000 and all the rest are just trailing behind.
“As far as winning the elections, APC is far ahead. I believe that will be the pattern of the result at the end, by God’s grace.”
Urging Nigerians to be confident in the country, he said “You see, people have to have confidence in their country. They have to have confidence in their Armed Forces and the Police, so let them remain. Let them come out enmass to elect their presidential, elect the members of the National Assembly, the Governors and members of the States Houses of Assemblies.”
“You know my position, Asiwaju has mobilized well across the country and he has a very good followership and I believe, by God’s grace, come Saturday, latest Sunday morning, we will start celebrating as the results starts trickling in,” he said.
On the protests that followed scarcity of naira notes resulting from the Government’s Naira Redesign policy, he said that it was normal to have backlash following the introduction of such policy.
But he explained that the policy was well-intended to address certain issues in the Nigerian economy.
Specifically, he said, the policy was also aimed at addressing the issue of corruption, which was one of the cardinal policies of the administration.
Stressing that some highly placed individuals are sabotaging the policy, he expressed confidence that things will normalize as many people are now getting use to online transactions.
Noting that the APC Presidential Candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will understand that the policy was well-intended and not targeted at any individual or party, he said, there is still need for enlightenment in order to make people properly understand the policy.
“Cash or no cash, like I said before, Tinubu will win,” he stated confidently.
Speaking on Nigerians who may likely take to the streets when they are not happy with the outcome of the elections, he urged them to remember that the security agencies have already given enough warnings for everyone to stay away from violence.
He said that those who take the law into their hands will have themselves to blame.
“Politics is not just you coming out and assume that you will be given positions on a platter of gold, you must work for it.
“What is required is for us to build bridges and ensure that we reach out, we trust each other, we also make sure that we build confidence amongst ourselves. Ourselves, I’m referring to all the political parties. Because they are the ones that influence things. Now, they have large followers.
“It is time for all the political leaders to talk to their followers to remain calm irrespective of the elections’ outcome. And I also believe the security agencies are on ground to tackle any violence,” he said.
Pointing out that youths should be seriously warned since they always fall prey to politicians at this time to do havoc.
He added “They must watch themselves and eschew violence because, at the end, they will be the losers because their future is at stake.”
Expressing gladness with the large crowd that turned up for the APC rally in Borno State, he said “This is a clear sign of the victory of President Buhari over insecurity in the country.”
He recalled that there was great insecurity in the country when President Buhari came on board and the President promised that he was going to subdue Boko Haram.
“And he has achieved that. It is a clear evidence that President Buhari has brought security to the country,” he stated.
The Borno residents’ trooping out, he said, showed the love they have for President Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu and the Vice Presidential candidate, Shettima.
He also expressed optimism that the huge turn out for the rally will be translated into huge votes for APC on Saturday.
Asked what measures should be taken now to ensure that the terrorists he defeated using kinetic and non-kinetic approaches do not rear up their heads again, Amb. Buratai urged governments at all levels to play their parts in the rehabilitation process.
Efforts, he said, should be geared towards resettling those that have been involved in the fighting and those that have suffered loses or the victims of terrorism.
“Once that is done, peace will reign and the wounds insurgency created would be healed,” he added.
To address the issue well, he also canvassed for deliberate planning to ensure every sector of the society functions well.
He said “All government agencies must be responsive and functional to perform their statutory roles. If we really go back to the basis, things will really improve.”
Speaking on the alleged international conspiracy against peace in Nigeria and the Reuters recent report, he said “The report by Reuters is unfortunate and I’m happy prominent stakeholders have denied it.”
He also picked holes in the lawmakers in the US canvassing against Nigeria getting platforms based on Reuters fake report without coming to Nigeria to investigate it.
Noting that this report was not the first time, he said Amnesty International did similar things under the administration of former US President Barrack Obama.
He said the Nigerian government should respond appropriately by saying the report was out of context.