From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Recently, there were accusations against some serving and past government officials, including the security chiefs, of mismanaging $1 billion meant to procure equipment and other logistics for the fight against insecurity.

Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, has repeatedly distanced himself from the alleged embezzlement and insisted that not even a dollar came to the account of the military.

In an interview with BBC Hausa on Saturday, Buratai said the allegations had come up in the past and relevant government officials provided adequate explanations on how the money was spent.

He also tried to douse fear and anxiety regarding the coming 2023 general election.

There are fears and concerns that the coming elections won’t hold due to rising insecurity. Are you concerned?

There is no need to be concerned. These are usual fears and concerns that come with general elections even when they not necessary. In 2015, there were heightened insecurity and tension in the country, especially in the North East due to Boko Haram activities, but elections were successfully conducted there and other parts of the country. For me, these fears and concerns are unnecessary. Obviously, some people are trying to heat up to polity for whatever reason, but that won’t work. I am very sure that the army and other security agencies are equal to the task.

But there are increasing assaults on INEC offices and staff, especially in the South East. Won’t it discourage people from coming out to vote?

Two things are involved. First, the security agencies and government should provide adequate guarantee of the safety and security of the people when they come out to vote. Besides, government has been up and doing, and had repeatedly assured the people of adequate security and protection during the polls. So, it’s unnecessary to panic about the election.

So you are confident that the elections will hold?

Yes, it they hold and very successful too. Forget all the noise coming from people who don’t love this country. Nigerians should not be afraid. Rather, they should come out en masse and express their freedom and fully participate in the process that would culminate in the emergence of new political leaders in Nigeria. Nigerians should not allow these sets of unpatriotic people to scare them away from the polling units and end up disenfranchising them.

You spent six years as Chief of Army Staff. How will you assess your tenure and performance?

I thank God for the opportunity to serve this great nation at that level. It was a thing of joy and fulfillment for me to have been found worthy to serve Nigeria at that level in the army. If I look back, when I joined the military, I never knew I would get to the peak of the service, thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari, whom God used in 2015 to make it possible. Unfortunately, he came to power when some parts of the country were being consumed by insurgency. Then, all North East states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, were under attack by Boko Haram insurgents. Other states like Kano, Plateau, Kogi and even Abuja were seriously affected. But we went to work with the support and strong backing of the President and we made tremendous achievements. Lots of local government areas in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno states were under the control of Boko Haram insurgents, but we were able to reclaim the territories.

Despite these achievements, Nigerians, at a time, called for replacement of the service chiefs…

What I can say on this is that we had the support and backing of the President in all our work. More than twice, the President assured us of his support. He repeatedly told us that he appointed us and only he had the power to terminate our appointment. So, I wasn’t bothered. One thing to understand is that the military profession is not like politics. Most of the cry and lamentations then had politics attached to it. We did great service to this country and people were happy with what we achieved within the period we served.

So, you were not bothered about public demand for the change of service chiefs?

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I wasn’t. They were all politics. Some people were looking for a cheap way and opportunity to make themselves unnecessarily relevant. Truly, I wasn’t bothered with that call and pressure on the President to change the service chiefs, even though he later changed us, but that was not out of the pressure from Nigerians.

People were surprised that you took up an ambassadorial job after your tenure as Chief of Army Staff…

Why would people be surprised? The President wanted me to serve in that capacity. Who am I to say no? The President, perhaps, realized that myself and my colleagues did a great job in the fight against insurgency, hence he wanted us to continue to serve in another capacity. During the inauguration, he told us that he wanted us to continue to assist him in the fight against insurgency, and that’s why we were appointed as ambassadors and posted to neighbouring countries, notably, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Ghana. He wanted us to be his eyes and ears in the countries and also assist in the fight against insurgency.

But there were rumours that you people lobbied for the appointment in order to escape investigations regarding $1 billion meant for arms procurement…

Nothing close to that. There is no truth to that statement. We served our terms diligently without fear or favour. As far as I know, we did justice to all persons, irrespective of tribe and religion. I can tell you that not even a dollar entered the account of the military, that is, Navy, Air Force or Army. This is just an accusation that has no bases and justification. Government has come out to explain how the money was spent. If you remember, during the 2019 elections, the same allegations came up and necessary explanations were also provided by concerned persons.

A few months ago, there were reports that huge amounts of money in different foreign currencies were found in your house, in addition to expensive cars and other valuables. What truly happened?

These are some of the challenges I am facing and it’s expected. There are lots of unverified accusations coming from different people. What you are making reference to is a media report that ICPC officials came to my house for a search and made some discoveries, including cash in foreign currencies. That report is not true. Besides, the commission has come out to debunk the report. It also confirmed that its officials never visited my house nor uncovered foreign currencies or valuables linked to me.

Did you take steps to clear your name of the accusations?

Yes, I did. I have dragged some media platforms to court over the report. In fact, I have an ongoing litigation with Sahara Reporters, People’s Gazette, and few days ago, someone in Kano was also dragged to court over false information about me, which he decided to spread through the social media.

You are a member of the APC presidential campaign council, right?

Yes. I was appointed Deputy Director, Security and Intelligence, of the APC presidential campaign council. The appointment, obviously, is a sign of trust and confidence in our ability to contribute to the growth and development of Nigeria, despite being a retired army officer. It’s a sign that I am still relevant to the country.

But why did you choose to work with the candidate of APC from the South, instead of Atiku Abubakar of PDP from the North? 

You have to check the history of the political party involved. It’s not long that we came out of the mess of the other political party. Everybody knows the challenges we encountered with the party and, even now, it’s still there. Besides, the APC presidential candidate has a deputy who is from my state, Borno. In all, we are seeking a way forward. If APC wins the presidential election, his Vice President will be someone we all know, the former governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima

You sound as if they promised you a political appointment…

I didn’t have such discussions with anyone. I am only working to ensure the success of the polls and victory of the APC candidate, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.