President Muhammadu Buhari met with party leaders of the APC on Thursday night, January 18, at his official residence in Abuja, the where he spoke at length about his early battles court battles, political representation and inter-ethnic tolerance.
In attendance at the private event were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Chief Bisi Akande.
Other notable guest included APC National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, former Abia State Governor Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, SGF Mr. Boss Mustapha, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, Abubakar Kawu Baraje, Senator Adamu Abdullahi, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, APC Deputy National Chairman South West and former Governor of Ekiti State Engr. Segun Oni and the National Secretary of the Party, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni.
Notably absent at the dinner was National leader for the South West continent Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, amid speculations on his political ambitions for 2019.
In an extensive speech, the President decried ethnic and religious conflict, noting that during his court battles in 2003 when he contested an earlier presidential election, his legal team was led by an Igbo man.
“You know that the tribunal for presidential election started at Court of Appeal,” he said.
“The President was my classmate. I missed only four of the court’s sittings.
“For that first phase, 2003, we were in court for 30 months. My legal team leader was Chief Ahamba (SAN), an Igbo man. He asked the panel of judges to direct INEC to produce the voters register to prove to you that the election was done underground.
“When they came to write the judgment, they completely omitted that. Another Igbo man, a Roman Catholic, in the panel of judges wrote a minority report.
“I went to the Supreme Court. Who was the Chief Justice? An Hausa Fulani, a Muslim from Zaria. After 27 months, Ahamba presented our case for two hours and 45 minutes. The Chief Justice got up and said they were going on break and when they return the following day, they would deliver judgment.
“They went away for three months. That was what made it 30 months.
“And when they came back, they discussed my case within 45 minutes.
“ In 2007, who was the Chief Justice? A Muslim from Niger State.
“The third one, who was the Chief Justice? My neighbour from Jigawa State. The same religion and the same tribe.”
Buhari was pleased about the adoption of Permanent Voters Card in the electoral process, an effective technology which, in his words, “made it possible for us to be here.”
“Voters education is important,” he continued. “Let people be educated that it is their right to choose leaders of their choice.”
About political representation in his cabinet, the President said:
”There is something that hit me very hard and I am happy I hit it back at somebody.
“Seven states of the North are only represented in my cabinet by junior ministers, ministers of state.
“In Southeast, I got 198,000 votes but I have four substantive ministers and seven junior ministers from there.
“You are closer to the people than myself now that I have been locked up here, don’t allow anybody to talk of ethnicity. It is not true.
“The PVCs worked well in 2015. That was why when the former President rang me, I went temporarily into a coma. I will never forget the time. It was a quarter after 5pm and he said he called to congratulate me and that he had conceded defeat. He asked if I heard him, and I said yes and I thanked him for his statesmanship.
“The truth is after being a deputy governor, a governor, Vice-president and President for six years, and he took that decision is great. He could have caused some problems. He had stayed long enough to cause problems.”
“As I am sitting here, I am very much aware of the problems in this country and I will always reflect on the historical antecedents before I arrived at decisions.
“I keep telling people that while I was in uniform, quite reckless and young, I got all the ministers and governors, and put them in Kirikiri. I said they were guilty until they could prove their innocence. I was also detained too.
“I decided to drop the uniform and come back. Eventually, I am here. So really, I have gone through it over and over again. This is why I am not in a hurry virtually to do anything. I will sit and reflect and continue with my clear conscience.”
“ If I don’t ring you or call you, it is not because I ever forgot how you supported me at one stage or the other over the years from 2003 till now.”
National leader Oyegun gave the following remarks following the President’s comments:
“I hope it is understood in the proper perspective.
“It indicates quite clearly that you have listened to what people are saying. It has been such a terrible misrepresentation. You have seized this opportunity to say that you are not what people are saying.
“There are so many misconceptions. Look at the example you have given that those who stood by you through the periods of problems and struggles are not people of the same religious persuasion.
“You have said it that you are not an ethnic jingoist. I know this because I have known you for a very long time.
“For some of us, when these things are said, we find it painful but I hope there will be proper rendition of what you said today and it will start clearing the air.
“The only thing I will add is that you have had a most challenging 2017 in every respect, including your son’s predicament.”
“For almost three years, you have laboured to reconstruct the broken foundation of this nation. You have laboured to put a new infrastructure without which development is impossible.
“They were just dipping hands in the treasury, the banks were just changing papers and collecting commissions and we all said we were developing and prospering. But it was not a development that touched the ordinary man of this country.
“For the first time, that is about to begin. It has taken three years of foundation laying and thank God the harvesting, I believe, is going to begin this year.
“It is my hope that it will come early enough for people to see that if one has to call anybody the architect of a modern Nigeria, you will bear that distinction.
“Like I said when we were launching the book of your achievements, what you started, you cannot complete. That is a matter of fact. But what you started is basic, fundamental that Nigerians must learn a new way of doing business based on their sweat from which profit will come based on their resources.
“When we are used to doing things wrongly, change becomes very difficult and we are passing through that stage now.
“It is not a struggle we can complete in four years or even eight years. But you have started something new and that change is not for nothing. It is even deeper than most of us understand. We must carry it on until it becomes second nature to us.
“We are firmly, totally and completely behind you and when you make up your mind soon as I hope you will, you will find an army behind you. Those who wish you well are already working and it is my hope that you will agree eventually that continuity is important and critical. Otherwise, all what you have struggled for will come to nothing.”