President Muhammadu Buhari admitted on Thursday night that he was reckless as a young officer, particularly during his stint as a military Head of State from 1983 to 1985.
His military regime was accused of gross human rights abuse after several politicians were jailed for corruption in 1984.
The administration also enacted the obnoxious Decree 2 which gave the state security and the chief of staff the power to detain, without charges, individuals deemed to be a security risk to the state for up to three months.
The regime was also accused of cracking down on public dissent by intimidating, harassing and jailing individuals who “broke the law.”
The President spoke when he hosted All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders to a dinner at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He also recounted his experiences in the Nigerian electoral processes and his victory in the 2015 presidential election.
He said: “I keep telling people that while I was in uniform, quite reckless and young, I got all the ministers and governors, and put them in Kirikiri. I said they were guilty until they could prove their innocence. I was also detained too.
“I decided to drop the uniform and come back. Eventually, I am here. So really, I have gone through it over and over again. This is why I am not in a hurry virtually to do anything. I will sit and reflect and continue with my clear conscience.
“The PVCs worked well in 2015. That was why when the former President rang me, I went temporarily into a coma. I will never forget the time. It was quartet after 5:00 p.m. and he said he called to congratulate me and that he has conceded defeat. He asked if I heard him and I said yes and I thanked him for his statesmanship.
“The truth is after being a deputy governor, a governor, Vice-president and President for six years, and he took that great decision. He could have caused some problems. He had stayed long enough to cause problems.
“I am the only politician that ended up three times in the Supreme Court and still virtually refused to give up.
“There is one thing that disabused my mind in a dispassionate way about ethnicity and religion across the country. You know that tribunal for presidential election started at High Court of Appeal. The President was my classmate. I missed only four of the court sittings.
“For that first phase in 2003, we were in court for 30 months. My legal leader was Chief Ahamba (SAN), an Igbo man. He asked the panel of judges to direct INEC to produce the voters register to prove to you that the election was done underground.
“When they came to write the judgment, they completely omitted that. Another Igbo man, a Roman Catholic, in the panel of judges wrote a minority report.
“I went to the Supreme Court. Who was the Chief Justice? An Hausa Fulani, a Muslim from Zaria. After 27 months, Ahamba presented our case for two hours and 45 minutes. The Chief Justice got up and said they were going on break and when they return the following day, they will deliver the judgment. They went away for three months. That was what made it 30 months.
“And when they came back, they discussed my case within 45 minutes. In 2007, who was the Chief Justice? A Muslim from Niger State.
“The third one, who was the Chief Justice? My neighbour from Jigawa State. The same religion and the same tribe.
“Finally, the determination of our people and technology: the Permanent Voters Cards made it possible for us to be here.
“Voters’ education is important. Let people be educated that it is their right to choose leaders of their choice.
“There is something that hit me very hard and I am happy I hit it back at somebody. Seven states of the North are only represented in my cabinet by junior ministers, ministers of state. In South East, I got 198,000 votes but I have four substantive ministers and seven junior ministers from there.
“You are closer to the people than myself, now that I have been locked up here, don’t allow anybody to talk of ethnicity. It is not true.
“I felt I should invite you and eat together and to tell you that as I am sitting here, I am very much aware of the problems in this country and that I will always reflect on the historical antecedents before I arrived here.
“I thank you for honouring my invitation and I am telling you that if I don’t ring you or call you, it is not because I ever forgot how you supported me at one stage or the other over the years from 2003 till now.”
The APC National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, said: “I was very touched by what you said. I hope it is understood in the proper perspective.
“It indicates quite clearly that you have listened to what people are saying. It has been such a terrible misrepresentation. You have seized this opportunity to say that you are not what people are saying.
“There are so much misconceptions. Look at the example you have given that those who stood by you through the periods of problems and struggles are not people of the same religious persuasion.
“You have said it that you are not an ethnic jingoist. I know this because I have known you for a very long time.
“For some of us, when these things are said, we find it painful but I hope there will be proper rendition of what you said today and it will start clearing the air.”