Date Published: 10/01/09
Hurrah! At 49, Nigerian President Supports Revolt By Hakeem Babalola
In this exclusive interview, Umaru Yar’Adua calls for revolt. But describes James Ibori’s criminal past in England as youthful exuberance saying, “I am unaware of those charges against James”, challenging anyone, especially Nigerians in the Diaspora to cast the first stone.
The president enters the large office. He is flanked by the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Michael Aondoakaa; Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe; Media Assistant, Segun Adeniyi; and the Inspector General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo.
Yar'Adua: Sorry for keeping you late. You know we are still in Eid-Ul -Fitr mood.
Me (standing up): It is okay, sir. I am used to that.
Yar'Adua (as he sits down): Are you a Muslim? Did you celebrate too?
Me: I don't really give a damn, sir.
Yar'Adua: You must be one of those free thinkers then. With due respect you guys are the ones destroying our kontiti......The Boko Haram of...
Me (cut in): I notice that Mr. Vice President is not with you here, sir
Yar'Adua: Good observation. He is not here because he has no business being here. What can he do if he is here? He doesn't hold any visible office other than deputise. He doesn't even know much about Niger Delta, so Jonathan has no reason being here. Ojo will definitely answer any question on Niger Delta and amnesty or whatever issue bordering your mind. Are you intimidated by my enviable ministers?
Me: Not really but I was not expecting them. I had thought it was a one on one interview. Nevertheless, I can handle the situation.
Yar'Adua: So let's get into business because I am going to Saudi tomorrow morning.
Me: Thank you sir. I'd like to start by asking you the main reason why you decided to go to Saudi Arabia to commission a university there instead of attending the 64th UN General Assembly in New York?
Yar'Adua: Good question. It is a good question because I have been trying to use a platform to address Nigerians on this particular issue. You see, Saudi Arabia is much more important to Nigeria than the so-called useless UN Assembly. It is a strategic kontiri for our economic, religious and security development. We need Saudi Arabia more than any other kontiri. Saudi has one of the best hospitals in the world. And their doctors are true patriots. They stay in their kontiri and fight it together unlike our own doctors, engineers who prefer to run away at the slightest hardship. It is true that Saudi citizens enjoy free medical services, but then theirs is a rich environment. No tribalism, no Christian-Muslim dichotomy, no ethnicity, no military interference.
Me: Did you say Nigeria needs Saudi Arabia that much?
Yar'Adua: Yes. Because Saudi Arabia as a Muslim country understands our problem and king Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud loves Nigeria very much. He is assisting us to build a great nation. We are learning from him on how best to use the revenues from our oil. Saudi Arabia has been there for us, providing logistics and security intelligences for us. UN on the other hand is a club that do not recognise us. It is the association of the so-called advanced countries. It is the club of five nations trying hard to deceive the world. They don't like us we know but they need us to hide their hypocrisy. They just use the rest to achieve their superpower ambition. And I am beginning to understand one thing about these advanced nations: they don't respect beggars. One needs to act tough otherwise they continue to take you for granted. Look at the way they are courting Iran and North Korea. In view of this, it would be sheer stupidity and ungrateful if I went to New York instead of Saudi Arabia. Imagine I shook hands with the king. That for me is more honourable than with Obama and his fellow big five. May the king live long.
Me: But isn't it a cruel irony for you to have attended the opening of a university somewhere else, while yours is in a state of collapse? In fact, ASUU is still on strike as we speak.
Yar'Adua: Let them strike till thy kingdom come. My going to Saudi is a statement. I wanted to prove to Nigerians that I like education. I am also a product of university education. Yes, it was a demonstration to so my love for education. My friend, Nigeria educational system collapsed long time ago. It was our political and intellectual elites who destroyed our education and not me. I am using this occasion to tell Nigerians that there's little this administration can do to turn things around. The government simply cannot pay the huge amount demanding by that useless ASUU. Anyone yearning for a proper education should go to our private institutions where there is no strike, or find their way to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). You will marvel seeing the well-equipped modern campus. We simply cannot have such kind of university in Nigeria. And it is not my fault. It is not my fault. It is the fault of those who bend on destroying education in order for them to continue ruling forever. Journalists and writers should help us identify these people.
Me: But at least you can declare emergency on education....
Yar'Adua: Emergency...how many emergency do you expect me to declare? Remember that I declared emergency on energy. What is the result? Look, even Ige lost the battle to make things work in the energy sector. It is not about emergency. Honestly speaking, there are many things that cannot be controlled in this country. But of course, you won't know until you are in the position to know. My gut is that there are certain people - powerful people - who benefit from chaos in this kontiri of ours. And they will do anything to make sure that nothing works in this kontiri. I didn't know that things have gone wrong to this extent. It's a pity. Nigerians need to come together and enforce radical change. Read my lips.
Me: Radical change? I am surprised to hear you speaking like a revolutionary.....
Yar'Adua: I have always been a revolutionary. But you know the capitalists put me there.
Yar'adua: In power. And you know, I am not ungrateful and I am not a traitor. I must do their bidden simply because I am a man of my words.
Me: Why are you speaking like this?
Yar'Adua: Hum, because conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it.
Me: But you promised Nigerians so many things and you have not fulfilled any of your promises.
Yar'Adua: That is my point. There's no way I can fulfil them as long as these people are there. I mean the vulture, the faceless mafia, the destroyer.
Me: Why can't you simply resign?
Yar'Adua: Resign? Hum, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. If I resign, who is going to take over? Atiku, Buhari? Jonathan? Now you can see that we have compound problem in this nation.
Me: Some people are saying that you don't have a blue print
Yar'Adua: What is a blue print?
Me: That you really don't have any idea of your own; that you don't have any concrete plan to govern; that you are slow and clueless.
Yar'Adua: Those who have the so-called blue print, what have they achieved? Look, the problem confronting this kontiri is much more than that. As a journalist, you should know better. I just told you that certain people do not want progress or development. And they are powerful. What else do you want me to say as the president! Do you want me to tell the masses to revolt? And where is the masses self? They are hungry and so timid to fight. See, that is the plan of those powerful people I was talking about. The strategy is to kill the masses' spirit. To make them so poor that the only thing they think of is food - how to put food on their worn-out table. Unless there is masses revolt, things will not change.
Me: I get your point, sir. Why are you still keeping Iwu despite his antics known to Nigerians?
Yar'Adua: Iwu...what a gentle, diligent and unbiased umpire. He is our man for 2011. There is something Nigerians should know. The opposition that are crying foul, if they were to be in power, they would do the same thing or even worse. That is the nature of our elections. That is the nature of our environment. And I am not in the position to change things - at least not now. Perhaps in 2011; and that is why you all must come behind me in order to effect a radical change. I am ready.
Me: What about the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa?
Yar’Adua: The law…we call him the law because he is our lifeline when it comes to illegal and unfair persecution. I think he is doing a great job. He is protecting the Nigerian citizens’ rights in far away England. No more unlawful prosecution of Nigerian citizens. He is so energetic, jetting from here to London on a daily basis.
Me: Nigerians are wondering why you are so comfortable among criminals.......
Yar'Adua (cuts in): Who are the criminals?
Me: People like the former governor of Delta State....
Yar'Adua (cuts in): It is propaganda. It is jealousy. It is PHD syndrome. All my associates like James, Michael, Ojo are men of merit and merriment. They are good at what they do. They are the backbone of our great party – and our kontiri in general.
Me: But you recently accused Aondoakaa of scandalizing your government....
Yar'Adua (cuts in): Oh, that one? The private talk I had with Michael? You these people sha! My friend, it is just a family affair.
Me: So what happened?
Yar'Adua (adjusts his agbada): Is this an exclusive interview?
Me (cough): Yes, sir.
Yar'Adua: Okay, I learnt that Michael is blocking the process of investigation and prosecution of some governors and high officials accused of stealing and looting public funds. Meanwhile Michael has denied the allegation. He accused my Media Adviser, Segun, and my Economic Adviser, Yakubu, of feeding me with false information against him. He categorically mentions Segun for using his relationship with the media to write false stories against him.
Me: Are you going to remove him?
Yar'Adua (blows his nose): He would be prosecuted and if found guilty, he may be removed and even go to jail. That was my initial reaction but everything has been settled. Michael is a good man. He is a learned man of repute. We still need him for 2011.
Me: Back to James Ibori, sir....
Yar'Adua (cuts in): Honestly speaking, I don't like talking about James that much....
Me: Nigerians are saying that long before he became governor, he had been convicted twice in Britain. He and his then girlfriend (now wife) were found guilty of theft. Shortly after that he was convicted again for a stolen credit card. And there are many more criminal charges against him.
Yar'Adua: I am not aware of all these criminal charges. But in anyway, it is youthful exuberance. Even Obama engaged in such exuberance and you know what, he is now the president of the United States of America. Each one of us has some skeleton in our cupboard at one point in time, and I guess it doesn't really define what or who we are. Do you want to throw the first stone?
Me: What of the fight between Maurice Iwu and Ojo Maduekwe?
Yar'Adua: Fight? There's no fight between these two great Nigerians. They have disagreement only. After all, the tongue and the mouth do fight. Such disagreement shows that our party is truly democratic. We disagree to agree through debate. Even if we fight we won't kill each other.
Me: I am referring to the comment made publicly in far away America by Chief Ojo Maduekwe that Professor Maurice Iwu won't be re-appointed as INEC chairman. How true is this?
Yar'Adua: That na diplomatic talk, my friend. Surely Ojo is a key figure in my administration but not my boss. He was just expressing his opinion. (He shifts his eyes to Maduekwe, who nodded in agreement). And every human being is entitled to his or her opinion. Am I right? But I can assure Nigerians that the government is taking steps to reform the electoral process so that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated. We must get started.
Me: The Niger Delta issue, sir. What is the genuine way to solve the problem?
Yar'Adua: Amnesty...Amnesty...Amnesty. This government is trying to give peace a chance. That is why we declared amnesty. Let us be honest to ourselves for a moment. Tell me how many governments can tolerate what we have tolerated? Just because we wanted to give peace a chance, we decided to negotiate with kidnappers, armed robbers, rouges and what have you. Yet, they are demanding impossibility. They are asking for what the government cannot afford. But let me make it clear: this government will deal decisively with anyone or group who failed to lay down their arms. The 4th of October remains the deadline. Our decision to discuss with the militants is not an act of cowardice but simply to give peace a chance. However, if the so-called militants decide to take our soft gesture as a sign of cowardice, then we have no choice than to deal with them accordingly. The Federal government would be resolute in dealing with any attempt to threaten the very existence of the Federal Republic.
Me: Sabella Abidde has accused your government of duplicity and political inertia.......
Yar'Adua (cuts in): What is political ine...?
Me: Inertia...It is when no one wants to do anything to change a situation.
Yar'Adua: Who is Sabella? Is she not one of those kidnappers calling themselves militants?
Segun Adeniyi (whispers): No, Sabella Abidde is a writer and social commentator based in America. He is not a she, sir. And he has been named as mediator alongside Prof. Kongi and Vice Admiral Akhighe (retired).
Yar'Adua: Really? Okay Segun, get Sabella's particulars...immediately please. By the way, is he a radical or moderate or in-between?
Segun Adeniyi: He is more or less like me, sir.
Yar'adua: So no cause for alarm. Get him to our side (turns to me) sorry for that.
Me: It's okay, sir...I am still on the accusation against you: duplicity and inertia
Yar'Adua: I think you overheard what Segun has just said. Sabella did not mean what he wrote. After all, Segun said that the guy "is more or less like me". So I know what that means.
Me: Prof. Soyinka?
Yar'Adua: Chei, that one I fear small. But you know what, the Prof. is known for his noise making. I doubt if people take him serious anymore though he still commands some respect. Anyway, Michael and Ojo would tackle him well-well if at all the dialogue takes place. You know my cabinet is full of intellectuals like our dear professor.
Me: MEND has accused the government of “not showing willingness to dialogue, preferring instead to make wild unrealistic threats, purchase more military hardware, and dole out bribes to traitors to our noble cause as has been obvious in its so-called disarmament process". Can I have your comment, sir?
Yar'Adua: Whatever October 4 is the deadline. Do yo know that MEND war of attrition with Federal forces has cost Nigeria over 25 per cent in oil revenue loss? See, that is why the government wants to dialogue. And we mean it. Of course, the ball is now in their court but it won't remain there forever. MEND or whatever they call themselves cannot dictate to the nation. MEND is not recognised by the Federal Government as the spokesperson for the militants, that is if they exist at all physically. MEND cannot choose for the Nigerian nation. If MEND decides to test the will of government and choose to threaten the very existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the government is prepared to express the sovereignty of Nigeria in all its ramifications.
Me: 1960 to 2009, when will things get better?
Yar'Adua: Soonest...Nigerian should make sure they vote for me in 2011.
Me: Now to security. Assassination, kidnapping and armed robbery are so rampant in our society. The most recent being the assassination of Guardian editor, Bayo Ohu, in his house....
Yar'Adua (turns to the IG): My Inspector General of Police will answer that question.
Ogbonna Onovo (adjusts his cap): Assassination? Point of correction please! There has never been assassination in this country. Maybe armed robbery and kidnapping. Mr. Ohu's case is that of armed robbery and I sincerely sympathise with the family of the young man. His colleagues have described him as a gentle giant. May his soul rest in peace! My advice to journalist is to be very careful, and they should try not to display their brown envelope anyhow. But I am sure it was armed robbery and not assassination. My men are doing their best and they won’t relent on their efforts until the killer or killers are apprehended.
Me (puzzled): What of other assassinations in the country? Like the late Bola Ige, former Attorney General and Justice Minister, Pa Alfred Rewane, Funsho Williams, Alfred Dikibo, Marshal Harry, Kudirat Abiola, etc? What about the assassination of Dele Giwa killed by a parcel bomb in 1986?
Ogbonna Onovo: Well, I was not the IG then and so I don't know anything about those cases. But I am sure it was not assassination...it was armed robbery.
Me (frown and then shift my eyes to Yar'Adua): What can you say about Ribadu? Compare him with Farida Waziri, your EFCC chairwoman.
Yar'Adua (smiles): The young mallam served baba to his best of ability. The two corruption tsars are more or less the same. Ribadu served baba and Waziri is serving me.
Me: But Ribadu prosecuted the then IG, Tafa Balogun...
Yar'Adua (cuts in): Well, Waziri will also prosecute any IG that steal more than necessary.
Me: What do you think about the Nigerian Internet pundit?
Yar'Adua: Hu, those guys are mean - very mean. They are okay but they never see something good in whatever we do. I think they are bunch of angry and sad young Nigerians. Personally, I admire their courage. There is nothing wrong in what they are doing as long as the purpose is not malicious but in an effort to make things work. What I detest is blackmail and em, hypocrisy. For instance, writing to extort money from those being accused of corruption. And we have evidence that some of them do engage in this conspicuous affair.
Me: Nigerians in the Diaspora are suffering due to lack of E-passport at our foreign embassies and consulates: in Japan, Hungary and other places. What is the Federal government doing to alleviate this problem?
Ojo Maduekwe (provides answer before Yar’Adua opens his mouth): The government does not have enough money to procure equipment for this exercise. Nigerians living in places where there is no equipment to produce E-passport should make their way to any neighbouring Nigerian Mission. For example, those in Hungary, Serbia , Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia should go to Austria. Or they may come to Nigeria to do it. Let them visit their motherland periodically. Americans built America, The Chinese built China.
Me: What is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doing to protect Nigerians in prisons around the world?
Ojo Maduekwe: There is no Nigerian in any prison. You should please check your facts and, or do your research before embarking on this kind of exclusive interview or whatever you call it. Besides, Nigeria has written those stubborn embassies in Nigeria to stop harassing its citizens.
Me: There are 327 in Chinese prison for example. It was the intervention of the UN that prevented some Nigerians from being executed in Libya….
Ojo Maduekwe: Okay we would find solution immediately. We won’t allow any Nigerian to suffer abroad. (Makes some notes).
Me (turning attention to Yar’Adua) Do you believe in GOWON, sir?
Yar’Adua: I believe in Allah and not human being.
Me: Oh, I mean Go On With One Nigeria…
Yar’Adua: If you mean One Nigeria, yes I believe in One Nigeria. If we put our resources together, I think our population should be a great strength for our development. It still comes to the fact that a few people are taking us for ransom. China and India are two examples of how a populous society can be an advantage to quick development. Again, you guys should help us in this regard instead of shouting down this administration.
Me (adjust my position): Sir, there's one question I must ask you.....
Yar'Adua: Go ahead.
Me (cough): Are you in charge, sir?
Yar'Adua (smiles): Do you want honest answer? Yes and No. Look, no Nigerian president has ever been in charge. Or let me say completely in charge...
Me (cut in): But your predecessor was completely in charge
Yar'adua (big smile): All na shakara...shakara oyoje....
Me (laughter): Oloje, sir
Yar'Adua: Okay. Like I said earlier, there are faceless people - few people but very-very powerful people - controlling our affairs. Even I don't know these people. They are influencing our decisions; plans, implementation and what have you. We need to identify and expose these people. In fact, this is a task before you guys. Nigerian journalists should go one step further to tell us the names of these people. Otherwise, Nigeria will remain the same until eternity. A stitch in times...
Me: Thank you Mr. President
Yar'Adua: My pleasure. You can see Segun for your brown envelope.
Me (the president's ministers give a look as if to break my neck): I am a citizen journalist, sir. I am one of those Internet pundits. We don't believe in brown envelope. We believe in performance, sir. Not everything is about brown envelope, sir. Once again thanks for the interview.
Segun Adeniyi (whispers): To be honest, can you ask the former president, OBJ, such questions during his autocratic regime? See, that is my work. Freedom of expression, thought, movement, association etc. Hope you guys would now fully understand why I decided to accept this job. It is for our collective good.
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