Sunday, 31 May 2015

Buhari not as stern as he looks – Ojukwu

Juventus Ojukwu, a close associate of President Muhammadu Buhari and two-time House of Representatives member in the Second Republic, tells BAYO AKINLOYEthat despite Buhari’s stern mien, he’s approachable

What do you know about President Muhammadu Buhari?
A lot has been said about him as being strict; he is also a fair-minded gentleman. He’s upright, straightforward and a man one can bank on – people can count on his word. He is a firm and strong-minded person. Buhari and I joined the Nigerian Army as Officer Cadet in April 1962 after our secondary education at different schools. I attended Kings College in Lagos State while he had his secondary school in Katsina State. Buhari was a fine soldier; disciplined, trustworthy and humane. He is a man of few words.
For how long have you known him personally?
I have known Buhari since 1962 and I have been in contact with him since then.
Do you think the Buhari you know hasn’t changed as a person?
He has remained constant in his principles and integrity. Biologically, he has changed as is expected of all humans. There is a way age catches up with all of us one way or the other. We tend to lose our youthful agility. But as a person, he has not changed in terms of the high principles he holds dear. His attitude towards life has remained the same over the years. He has always been forthright and honest in all the positions he’s held in this country. I saw that in him while he was in the military. I saw that in him when he was in charge of the petroleum ministry. He has been able to maintain his overall personality without a chink in his armour. Buhari is a good man; a man of integrity. One cannot say the same of any Nigerian leader. He has always stood for the same principles over the years. It’s rare to find a man who has kept a straight path all his life. This is not praise-singing; it is what I have personally observed about him as a person.
With a military background and a tough face, not many think he’s someone approachable. What do you think?
Without fear of contradiction, I can tell you that he’s not just approachable, he’s accessible. You can ask anyone who knows him well. Being in his presence, you feel at ease. He deals with people kindly and without any intimidation. He doesn’t put people off. It is true that he has a stern face. But he’s not harsh. He is neither rude nor arrogant. He is a god-fearing person. He stands on good principles, which he expects from everyone around him. I really appreciate his kind of person — he’s truthful and straightforward.
What are some fond memories of President Buhari that you will like to share?
I have a lot of fond memories of Buhari and these are very personal. I don’t want to say something that is likely to embarrass him in any way.
But given the misperception of his personality, sharing some of these personal experiences should do him more good than any likely harm.
I hope this will not embarrass him. When the House Army Sub-Committee on Defence visited the barracks, one of the young officers there saw me and recognised me as having been a course mate of Buhari. He complained that Buhari was harsh; that he didn’t take it lightly if his men who were Muslims didn’t go to the mosque on Fridays or (if they were Christians) go to the church on Sundays. I was the chairman of the committee. Afterward, when I had a private chance to talk with Buhari, I asked him why he was insistent that those under his watch must either go to the church or to the mosque. He looked at me and frowned — I don’t know if he would like this. He asked me, ‘How many religions are allowed in the Army?’ ‘Two,’ I replied him. He asked another question: ‘Is being a Christian or a Muslim optional?’ and I said, ‘No.’ As far as he is concerned, if one is a Muslim he must always go to the mosque and if someone is a Christian he must always go to the church. He told me that he could not work with godless people. He’s a man who has the fear of God.
There is also this experience. This one happened when he was in charge of the petroleum ministry. I had seen a young man who bore a semblance of Buhari and shared the same surname with him. I also saw that the man was struggling to eke out a living for himself. On a visit to Buhari, I narrated what I saw to him and asked him if the man was in anyway related to him and he answered in the affirmative. I was wondering and said to him that if he was in charge of the petroleum ministry, how could one of his own be struggling to get a job? He simply said his position was not for personal or family enrichment. To him, everyone has to work hard on his own to achieve what he dreams of.
What was his favourite meal?
I can’t really say; maybe tuwo shinkafa.
Was there a particular sport he enjoyed?
When we were in the Nigerian Military Training College, we all engaged in various sporting activities. For instance, I enjoyed long-distance race. I think he loved athletics while in the military. And he was a fast runner – he was often among the first to finish during the races. He enjoyed long-distance races. He might look frail to people but Buhari was and still remains a strong and resolute individual.
Any idea on how Buhari relaxes, maybe by watching movies or reading books?
As Army officers, we had our way of relaxing but I am not going to share that with you. As military officers, we were not allowed to discuss women, politics and religion – those were forbidden as topics of discussion. Sometimes, we played squash. But you can be sure we engaged in one form of activity or the other to relax. While in the military, engaging in sporting activities was not optional.
During the Nigerian Civil War, did you two fight on the same side as friends?
No, we did not. He fought on the side of the Federal Government troops while I fought on the side of the Biafran Army.
At that time, was there any parting shot before going into the war – any kind of discussion?
In that situation, one would not discuss anything with anyone considered as an adversary. When the war broke out, Buhari and I did not discuss anything. There was no parting shot. There was a war at hand and that was the primary preoccupation of every soldier on either side of the battle.
What would have happened if the two of you had met face to face during the war?
There’s one thing I know: God has a way of intervening in such matters. Interestingly though, our paths did not cross during the fighting. During the war, there was a soldier who was captured fighting on the side of the government. We did not kill any of our prisoners of war. When this soldier was captured, he was wondering if he would be killed. It happened that we knew each other. Apprehensive, he asked if we were going to kill him. I reassured him that he would not be killed. And he was not killed at the end of the day.
What else do you think is there to know about Buhari that the Nigerian public should know?
I will only want to re-emphasise the fact that in the just concluded democratic dispensation, where leadership had become synonymous with corruption, we have elected someone who is capable and resolute to fight against corruption. He does not only have the political will; he is an individual I will describe as being incorruptible. Buhari is a person who abhors corruption more in deed than in words. He is someone Nigerians can confidently entrust leadership to. He is going to practise democracy without hypocrisy.
Source: punchng