President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed regrets that he did not become the president at a younger age, as there is a limit to what he can do at the age of 72.
He made the assertion on Monday, while addressing members of the Nigerian community in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he also vowed that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) would “kill” corruption in the country.
The president, who recalled his times as state governor, petroleum minister and military head of state, also explained that he repeatedly contested the presidency because of his belief in the practicability of conducting free and fair election in the country.
He expressed confidence in the unity of the country, saying that though there are some “crazy” people who talk about the disintegration of the country, Nigeria would never break up.
“How I wish I became head of state when I was a governor, just a few years as a young man. Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do.
“What brought me there, I think, mainly is because I love this country. I was in the warfront for 30 months during the civil war. I lost a lot of people loyal to me, I lost relatives. A lot of Nigerians did too.
“We lost about two million Nigerians just to keep Nigeria one. So, nobody should come now and tell us rubbish. We are going to remain one country. God has given us another opportunity to reorganise this country. Those who work hard, the society will pay them back,” he said.
Noting that he recalled the history of his foray into politics in order to encourage Nigerians to pursue their dreams, Buhari appealed to Nigerians in South Africa to represent the country well and obey the laws.
He said he had been told that there were 83 Nigerians in South African jails, disclosing that he would discuss the matter with President Jacob Zuma during his planned visit to Nigeria in the near future.
Buhari also revealed that he would inquire from the South African president the whereabouts of the $9.7 million the former President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration had transferred to South Africa for the botched arms purchase.
“I refused to speak from this draft speech because I wanted to speak to you from the bottom of my heart. Please, keep Nigeria’s pride close to your heart, make sure you behave yourselves. If you find yourselves here, obey their law. Where you don’t obey their law, you will have to bear the consequences.
“I’m told there are 81 Nigerians in prison, I don’t know what they have done but I spoke to the president of South Africa this afternoon. He wants to come to Nigeria. There are issues he wants to talk about, I will certainly talk to him.
“I hope our ambassador will send a comprehensive report about the court cases, about those who lost properties during the disturbances. Also I will attempt to ask him (Zuma) about our $9.7 million which was not correctly transferred,” he added.
While noting the government’s efforts in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, Buhari reiterated that his administration would end corruption and kidnappings in the country.
The president regretted that a lot of people no longer travelled to their villages in the south because of the fear of being kidnapped, while assuring that the APC government would address the insecurity situation and manage the country well.
“Being Nigerians, I can assure you that the three cardinal points of securing Nigeria, efficiently managing it by trying to build the economy again, generate employment and then deal with corruption, God willing, we are going to do them and we will succeed,” he reiterated.
Speaking earlier, the Consul-General of Nigeria in South Africa, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, told the president that a total of 143 Nigerians were killed in South Africa between 2011 and 2014, while another 81 were languishing in Johannesburg prisons.
“Out of this 81 Nigerians, 21 have been convicted,” the Consul-General said, adding that shops and other property worth millions of Rands belonging to Nigerians were destroyed during the recent xenophobic attacks.