*I told him farmers-herders’ clash was cultural, not ethnic or religious
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
For the first time since he met the United States President Donald Trump in Washington in April 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed Monday that Trump unequivocally accused him of killing Christians in Nigeria.
However, he said he defended himself, telling Trump that the conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria was caused by cultural matters and not dictated by ethnic or religious factors.
Buhari, who said he was put on the spot by Trump when he was alone with him, alleging that he (Buhari) was slaughtering Christians in Nigeria, added that the question startled him but he put his emotion under control.
The president, who made the disclosure when he deviated from his closing speech at the end of a two-day ministerial retreat in the Presidential Villa, said he was the only African leader from less developed countries that was invited by Trump at the time.
He asked his cabinet members how they would feel if they were the ones put on the spot and confronted with such a grave allegation, disclosing that he further told Trump that the conflicts were caused by successive leaders of the country who tampered with established grazing routes.
According to him, only Nigerian leaders in the First Republic kept grazing routes while subsequent ones encroached on them, adding that the crisis was older than him and much more than Trump whom he said he was still older than.
“I believe I was about the only African among the less developed countries the President of United States invited, and when I was in his office, only myself and himself. Only God is my witness. He looked at me in the face. He said ‘why are you killing Christians?’
“I wonder if you were the person how you will react. I hope what I was feeling inside did not betray my emotion. So, I told him that the problem between the cattle rearers and stagnant farmers I know is older than me, not to talk of him (Trump). I think I am a couple of years older than him.
“With climate change and population growth and the culture of the cattle rearers, if you have 50 cows and they eat grass, any route to your water point, they will follow it, it doesn’t matter whose farm it was.
“The first republic set of leadership was the most responsible leadership we ever had. I asked the minister of agriculture to get a gazette of the early 60s which delineated the cattle routes where they used meagre resources then to put earth dams, wind mills even sanitary department.
“So, any cattle rearer that allowed his cattle to go to somebody’s farm is arrested, taken before the court, the farmer is called to submit his bill and if he can’t pay, the cattle are sold, but subsequent leaders, VVIPs (very very important persons) they encroached on the cattle routes, they took over the cattle rearing areas.
“So, I tried and explained to him this has got nothing to do with ethnicity or religion. It is a cultural thing which the respective leadership was failing the nation,” he said.
Buhari also spoke about his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the promises it made to Nigerians when it was campaigning for election, pleading with the elite to be fair in their assessment of his government.
He asked them to reflect on the state of infrastructure and the price of crude oil per barrel in the international market before he came to power and what it was when he took over government activities.
He told members of his government to implore their friends to reflect on what his administration had achieved, saying he is doing his best with the two chances that God has given him to be in power.
He said: “The next problem I want to tell you is how we found ourselves, when I say us I mean members of the APC, when we promised three things, security, economy and fighting corruption. We repeated the same thing last year.
“But I want the Nigeria elite, please encourage us and judge us fairly when we came. Between 1999 and 2014, I will like you to please check the average (crude oil) production was 2.1m barrels per day, the average cost was $100 per barrel.
“When we came it collapsed to $37 to $38 per barrel and the militants were unleashed on the administration, the production went down.
“I want you to please reflect what was the condition of the infrastructure then in spite of the earnings, the roads, there was no power and up till now there is no power. Where did the money go?
“So, please encourage your friends, the elite to reflect on what this administration has done, what APC has done and what we have achieved. Well I am doing my best, God has given me two chances.”