President Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday, December 30, hosted his first presidential media chat since taking over on May 29, 2015.
The media chat, which was live on Channels Televison and other broadcast stations, saw the President fielding questions on a range of burning national issues from a panel of journalists.
Issues of security, the fight against corruption and the state of the economy dominated the conversation as the media panel, led by Channels TV’s Kayode Akintemi asked the President questions on efforts to defeat the Boko Haram sect, the rescue of the adopted Chibok schoolgirls, and the recent clash between soldiers and the Shiite Islamic sect.
He condemned the continued use of teenage girls as suicide bombers and hinted that a ban on the use of hijab might be considered if the outfit continues to aid the suicide bombers as higher value has to be placed on the lives of Nigerians.
President Muhammadu Buhari says that there is no reliable intelligence on the whereabouts and condition of the missing Chibok girls.
“There has been no firm intelligence where those girls are physical are and what condition they are in.
“What we believe from our intelligence, they kept on shifting them around so that they are not taken by surprise and get them (the Chibok girls) freed,” the President said when asked if the military and other security agencies have any information that confirmed if the girls were alive and in good condition.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces also disclosed that he was working with neighbouring countries including Niger Republic and Chad amongst others to ensure the release of the abducted girls.
He restated the Federal Government’s preparedness to negotiate the release of the girls, lamenting that they were yet to get a reliable leadership of the dreaded militant group.
“We are still keeping our option open that if a credible leadership of Boko Haram can be established and they tell us where those girls are, we are prepared to negotiate with them without any condition.”
The President also used the platform to defend areas of the 2016 budget that have been generating criticism in the media, explaining the rationale behind allocations to each sector of the economy.
He believes he is on the right track by making infrastructure the priority. He reiterated his administration’s determination to make steady power available to Nigeria as soon as possible.
According to President Buhari, “We need steady power, railway, roads so that local industry can develop” as this is the best way to develop the economy.
On his determination to fight corruption, President Buhari insisted that he remained committed to the mission to see that looters of Nigeria’s wealth end up in the courts.
There had been some condemnation of the anti-corruption campaign with some Nigerians alleging that the President is biased but the President insisted that prosecution can only be based on evidences as he believes in facts.
President Buhari also made a robust defence of the integrity of all 36 ministers in his cabinet challenging anyone with a contrary view to present evidence against such a minister.
In response to insinuation that members of his cabinet might also be corrupt, he said, “I don’t think I picked anybody (as Minister) that I know will embarrass my government.
“If you have got any evidence about any of my Ministers I accept responsibility and you have the right as a Nigerian to take them to court.”
He promised that by the end of first quarter of 2016, his administration “will be kept busy informing Nigerians what progress has been made” in the fight against corruption.
The Central Bank of Nigeria’s recent ban on the use of Naira debit cards overseas also came to the fore as the panelists informed the President of Nigerians’ complaints of the hardship this has caused and the negative effects it is having on students, citizens seeking medical services and small business owners who engage in international trade.
President Buhari admitted that this new policy would indeed have some negative effects as he was also aware of some of the issues. He said that he expects the CBN to come up with some measures to reduce the hardship on Nigerians, especially those schooling or getting medical attention abroad.
The chat closed with President Buhari challenging the Nigerian media to engage in more investigative journalism as this would help the drive to change Nigeria for better.
The Presidential Media Chat has remained a major platform through which every past Nigerian president, beginning with the return of democracy in 1999, has kept Nigerians abreast of government’s activities.