THE IBB INTERVIEW!
General Ibrahim Babangida Says:
● Obj underrated Yar’Adua
● I am the most probed Nigerian
● Why he dropped out of Presidential race
●Obj knew of Coup against Shagari
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Retired, acting in concert with other ambitious officers in the Nigerian Army seized the reigns of political leadership in the largest black nation on earth on August 27, 1985. For eight years he held on with rugged, sometimes brutal force to the leadership of the nation which struggled with repeated leadership failures and often complacent citizenry. Many Nigerians felt that the country’s freedom was earned on a platter of gold. In order to earn true freedom, Nigerians had to fight a civil war in which many atrocities were committed. But real freedom continued to elude the people of Nigeria. The nation continued to wonder from one form of dictatorship to the other. The eight years of Babangida’s rule was a wild-goose chase to leave a lasting legacy. Nigerians did everything they were told to do to make his personal ambition become true, however there seems to be something predestined about him while he had the opportunity to become the Moses of his suffering people, he wasted it all. In this rare interview anchored by one of the best hand in modern Journalism, HENRY UGBOLUE, of People’s Monthly Magazine, a partnering media organization of Pointblanknews.com, tries to hold the one time strong man of Nigeria accountable for his tenure as an unelected leader of the nation that is still seeking healing from the hemorrhage of confused decisions taken (and sometimes not taken). His failed attempt to use the ballot box to recapture Nigeria’s Presidency was also revisited. As usual General Babangida who once described himself as the evil genius did not disappoint us.
You have just celebrated your 66 th birthday; how does it feel really to be 66? I mean, do you now feel like an old man?
First of all, I remain grateful to God for sparing my life to see 66 years on earth. I fee I’m old but a lot of people say it is in the mind but I feel 66 is quite an advanced age in one’s life. So I feel I am getting older; I am ageing.
Were there targets you set for your self; that you must accomplish before attaining your currentage?
Well I think… if I take it back to when I was growing up, I had some dreams of what I wanted to be but most importantly, when I joined the military, I set some targets for my self. For example, when I got commissioned I became a Second Lieutenant with a Platoon Commander or a Troop Commander; so my first target then was to be the commanding officer of the unit which I found myself and it was called the Squadron at that time. So as a Second Lieutenant, I wanted to be a Squadron Leader, we called those commanding Squadrons those days Leaders. So I wanted to be a Leader and God in his own wisdom ensured that I held that position and within that organization or command as we called it, I moved again to become Corps Commander. At that level, you start thinking of becoming the head of the army. So after being a Corp Commander, God was also kind and I became the Chief of Army Staff and from there I became the President and after being the President to retirement. I think God has been wonderful as far as I am concerned.
So, largely the targets you set for your self have been met?
Alright, but some us are aware of a particular target of yours that have not been met…
And that is?
Well, but for certain developments that arose you would have returned to office as Nigeria’s President before your 66th birthday. Returning to the Presidency, this time as a democratically elected leader of Nigeria appeared to be one target you were all too poised to meet but shockingly you aborted the process mid way by stepping down for the man who currently occupies the exalted office, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua just before the primary of your party, the PDP. Why did you opt out of the race suddenly?
Well, I think those targets that I have achieved or met influenced me tremendously in taking the decision I took. I was there before like you rightly pointed out. I was there from 1985 to 1993. I represented this country. But then, I know that my ascension to the exalted office was through another means; we shot ourselves into power through the barrel of the gun but all the same, I ran the country. So, when I set out to aspire to occupy the office again, this time as a democratically elected leader, I was determined also not to go below certain behaviors. I would not like a situation at my age and having been the President before, maybe to now see me competing against somebody I considered a brother, somebody I considered a friend. These were dilemmas borne out of principle and I try as much as possible to live by those morals. So, that was what happened.
There are indeed suggestions that you jumped out of the race before being pushed; that already the ‘system’ had determined the direction the baton will go. Could it be true that you merely read correctly the hand-writing on the wall especially within the PDP, your party?
Well, I think… don’t forget that there were what… fifty political parties at the time we were doing the primaries and I could have jumped into another party which is viable. I could have contested on another platform I liked. But then, I would also not like to be seen as an opportunist, somebody who belongs to a party and because of this or that he is moving out. There are so many people who change party over trivial things and I thought it was not the right thing to do. So I stuck with the party, went along with the party where they wanted and I felt satisfied.
You stepped down for the current President. Looking back now, do you feel justified that you took the right decision?
Yes, I believe I did. I believe I have taken the right decision and I am also happy that he has not disappointed me so far. He is a very meticulous person, he studies before he acts, he is not the type of President who takes decisions on impulse. He studies the situation and he acts without necessarily making any noise about it. So I think I feel justified and satisfied that he is doing very well.
Sir, I want to take you slightly back. Many Nigerians would want to know if the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo applied any form of intimidation, either directly or subtly, to get you to opt out of the presidential race?
No, no there was no intimidation because we discussed it. I discussed it with him and I did mention to him my moral dilemma and like the elder statesmen that we were, we looked at the pros and the cons; we looked at the options that were available and open to us but don’t forget that the final decision is entirely mine, so I decided to take a decision I deemed appropriate.
We know the role you played in bringing President Obasanjo to power in 1999. He was there for eight years. Looking back, do you feel justified that you played a pivotal role in his emergence or any regrets?
Well over eight years ago when we worked for an Obasanjo presidency, I advanced about four or five arguments why I felt ex-President Obasanjo was the right candidate. I looked at the prevailing situation in the country then; that for a country like Nigeria what we needed was stability and by virtue of his experience as a former Head of State he should know what to do to provide that stability and I think to be fair, to a great extent we had semblance of stability. Secondly, I said he is a very strong believer in the unity of this country and that he displayed as President. He really believes that Nigeria should be one country and he is prepared to fight to make sure that this country remains one. Thirdly, I also believe that whoever gets there must be somebody once you hear his name people will say we have heard that name before. So his name, his activities cut across the whole spectrum of the country so everybody knows him. People knew him: he was this or that before. People would be ready to say give him a chance he was there before. And fourthly, which is most important, he does not get intimidated by the media because the media can intimidate you out of office. He is not the type to be intimidated. Those were the arguments that I just put forward.
Eight years after, did Obasanjo meet your high expectations?
Eight years after, he still maintains those attributes that I saw in him
And talking of real governance now, expectations were equally high. Would you say ex-President Obasanjo met those expectations?
He is a human being and governance or government is a continuous process. There are a lot of things may be, that they did that I would have done differently.
For example, the Obasanjo government made a huge show of its reform programmes but one easily recalls that your government also talked extensively about reforms. You had your Economic Team just like the Obasanjo regime had an Economic Team. And talking about continuity in government are you surprised that several years after you left office, we are still sloganeering about reforms, Economic Team and so on?
I am happy that what I talked about or what my administration talked about twenty years ago, provided the bases or the platform on which all subsequent reforms in this country are being carried out. Because like you rightly said, I agree, the rest is slogan; nothing has changed. We were the first to deregulate the economy; we were the first to try to give initiative to the private sector to make our economy private sector-driven. We showed the way in privatization and so on. We provided the platform for the modernization of Nigeria and I feel quite rightly that may be history will give us credit that every other thing people are talking about concerning reforms, we started during my administration and I am happy about that. You may give it different name and so on, but we started it.
So to what level did Obasanjo take some of these things you began. Are you satisfied with the level he took them to, I mean the reforms?
We provided the platform and he tried to build on this platform. They did not create anything new, maybe apart from the slogan but every other thing you can trace it to our administration.
Would you say, Sir, that perhaps one of, if not the most disappointing period for you during the Obasanjo era was when the EFCC arrested your first son, Muhammed?
No, I think… what I would probably say is that I ran an administration for eight years and during that eight years what accrued to the Federal Government, what accrued to us as an administration was about N565Billion, that is less than what was accruing to the Obasanjo government in a year. What they were getting in one year, we got less in eight years. And I know what we achieved with that little amount of money in eight years; if I had that kind of money maybe we could have gone places. That, I am absolutely confident about and that is number one. Number two, the world is made to believe that… and you in the media got that contraption, that my administration institutionalized corruption. Now, we know better who institutionalized corruption. So I am grateful to God and maybe history will eventually vindicate us.
Yes, I was actually talking about your son’s arrest by the EFCC
He is growing up. My children… they all bear one… no, I would not call it difficulty… the name Babangida is subject to various interpretations. Those who hate me with a passion will make innocent people, like children who do not know anything to suffer because of that name. The poor boy (his son Muhammed) reported himself. They told him he was wanted and he reported himself; he was not arrested, he was not coerced and he told them everything he knew which is a sign of growing up. So far, he has not been charged to court for any crime that he committed or something... But this happens in a society where people perceive that “this man must be a thief” and if you are not careful they will try to make the world believe so only to find out that it is not so. For the poor boy, I think the incident helped him to grow up; it helped him to develop to understand the kind of society in which we live. I think it is an experience as far as I am concerned and as far as the poor boy is concerned. It is one experience in his life.
Indeed, people have been asking this question: Did you discuss this apparent onslaught on your person by the EFCC with the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo?
Quite frankly, I didn’t have to because I knew myself, I knew who I am and I know what I represent. It is either there is something or there is none and where there is none, there is nothing you can do about it. I wanted people to say all these things and I believe that a lot of it, every part of it was falsehood. And so, let them try it, let them find out, let them inform the public that this is what we have found out; it will be good for them to say we suspected this or this and we have found out. For me, it is good, they suspected me and they did not find anything. This is not new as far as I am concerned. Perhaps I am now the most investigated Nigerian alive. I knew very well that for eight years (of Obasanjo’s Government), I was under investigation. And before Obasanjo, I was also under investigation. I have become a veteran. I am the most investigated person in Nigeria.
Okay, let me return once more to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. You obviously support his government?
Yes, I do
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar who was the Presidential candidate of the AC and General Muhammadu Buhari who flew the flag of the ANNP in the Presidential election are at the election petition tribunal. They are both out to set aside the declaration of Yar’Adua as the winner of the Presidential election. Since you support Yar’Adua and you are known to be close to the two litigants, would you consider speaking to them to discontinue with their respective petitions at the tribunal?
Yes, you are right; I have good rapport with both General Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. We communicate. There is a level of understanding between me and the two distinguished citizens of this great country. Don’t forget that both of them, including myself, at a stage, are politicians; they contested election and they felt that the elections were not conducted the way they should. Everyone one of them has the right to believe that he would have been the winner of the election. Maybe going to court is not really something unusual and if they insist, I don’t think it is right to say do it or don’t do it. But you see, I know that these two men respect President Yar’Adua himself. So it is not Yar’Adua that they are fighting, it is the system. Just like Atiku Abubakar went to court on virtually everything. I saw this as a very healthy development, very healthy constitutional development in this country because God knows how many Supreme Court decisions, Court of Appeal decisions… all actions initiated by Atiku and they are going to go down in our records for the next 50 years or 100 years the several decisions and rulings of these courts in the numerous cases of Atiku versus the Federal Government would continue to be cited. It is a very healthy development and that is how it should be.
But you don’t have any fears that the election petition tribunal may set aside Yar’Adua’s victory at the polls?
No, I don’t have fears because we have a good judiciary and that judiciary will not be guided by impulse. Obasanjo admitted the flaws in the election and even to be very fair to President Yar’Adua, he also admitted as much. But everything that we are all doing is trying to build the country.
What is your assessment of President Yar’Adua’s concept of Government of National Unity wherein he has now co-opted members of opposition parties into his government?
I think it is not anything new; it is only in Nigeria that we give it such hype. You can bring anybody from anywhere in the country into government. At least, that is what the constitution says. You can bring in any Nigerian you deemed qualified to help you run an administration. So, for me, the concept of unity here is not bringing political parties but making sure that those things that make up or bind Nigeria together are represented in your cabinet. If the constitution says that each state must produce at least one minister, the whole idea is for national unity. So, you don’t have to be ANPP, NDP or AC. First you are a Nigerian, second maybe you come from a different part of Nigeria and those of you that were appointed, you come together for the greater good of Nigeria, this, to me is government of national unity. Not necessarily the political party you belong to. I think the person is the issue and where he comes from.
Since the swearing-in of President Yar’Adua, we have been witnessing a whole lot of reversals of policies and programmes of the Obasanjo government. And the media is awash with harsh criticisms of ex-President Obasanjo. You have been through this post-office trauma. What is your take on this situation, I mean are you feeling like: it serves Obasanjo right, let him suffer what I have been suffering?
No, I have always believed that even… look, let me tell you a little story. When I became the President, there were about 23 of us who were the coup plotters at that time and immediately that coup was successful, I sat the 23 of us together and said: congratulations, we made it but remember one thing, just like we took up guns and toppled a government we also have to watch because somebody would one day want to topple us and this is because I understood the nature of the Nigerian person. Of course now, that is an old story. It turned out that there were attempts to topple us. I knew and I told my ministers as far back as 1989 that everyone of them must be prepared to defend his tenure as a minister from what ever period because Nigerians believe in saying that anybody who finds himself in a position is a rogue, is a thief. In the process of doing your job, you must have offended somebody some where some how, so be prepared to defend your action at all times. I told them this in 1989 and I can bet you that even today if you can call on any of these officers who served under me as Ministers or even Governors, they can always step forward and defend themselves. So the same thing applies to me. I live in this country and you hear all kinds of stories - $2.8million missing in Uganda, there was $12.4billion so-called oil wind-fall… I don’t lose a sleep over these things because I believe and hope that there are still some sensitive Nigerians who will say wait a minute, let us hear his own version of the story and once they hear my own version, they will say no, maybe we have not been fair. This is his argument, this was what happened and I will support them with facts and figures. And if you say the figures are not true, then produce the true once. If you do that, that will help the society immensely to develop but not just spurious allegations just like that. So, I think I prepared my mind to expect these things, but this is the true position. It is just like what I told you, in eight years, I knew the amount of money that accrued to my administration. It is not up to what accrued to the previous (Obasanjo’s) government in one year.
Still talking about policy reversals; are you surprised that President Yar’Adua is reversing several policies and programmes of the Obasanjo government?
Like which ones
The sale of the refineries, privatization of unity schools for example…
Oh… I think… He has come as the President and he has the responsibility to right all the wrongs that were done. It is perfectly legitimate. It is in order. Second, wherever there are a lot of cries by the members of the society, it is the duty of the President to look into what ever is causing this. So, to me it is not a surprise; every government has done that. Remember when Obasanjo took over, there was the Christopher Kolade Panel that looked at what General Abdulsalam Abubakar did in one year and that led to a reversal on the National Honours which were given by General Abubakar, there were reversals on oil blocks that were allocated three months before the regime left office. So, some of these things should be expected, it is only natural because there were cries and any government would want to meet the expectations and aspirations of the people. So, some would be reversed, some would be moderated and some would be out-rightly dispensed with. I think what the administration of President Yar’Adua is doing now is perfectly in order.
So you did not, like many Nigerians, nurse the fear that President Yar’Adua would be operating under the overwhelming influence of ex-President Obasanjo, given the crucial role the former President played in bringing him (Yar’Adua) to office?
No, I never nursed that fear because I knew Yar’Adua reasonably well. He is his own man, a very intelligent man who has a good grasp and understanding of what governance is all about. If you look at all the records, he has been most prudent even in his administration in his state. He is only transferring it to the national level and that is where the experience he garnered in the state would help him shape up event at the federal level.
The presidential election you conducted on June 12, 1993 till date remains the freest and fairest in the nation’s history even in spite of the fact that you went ahead to annul the same election. Now that we are talking of electoral reforms it is important we ask you why, in your view, our elections are bad or should I say acrimonious?
Well, elections have always been… we looked at the history of all the elections before we designed the famous Option A4; we knew what happened in the 50s, in the 60s and in the 70s and we tried to find a solution to some of these. It is not difficult to find out what happened in the 2003 or the 2007 elections with a view to stopping the recurrence of some of these things. So, I see the position of the electoral reform body as something that is geared towards correcting the errors that we have committed so as to make the country achieve the basic electoral requirement that the world over accept as credible and I have no doubt whatsoever that he took the right decision and he should be supported. I also looked at the characters who are there now (in the electoral reform committee), they are not like Obasanjo’s electoral reform conference, these new body has people with proven integrity, with vast experience in various fields: law, politics, Science, Civil Society, ordinary observers… they are all represented in that body. Honestly, I am very confident that, even without pre-judging them, if we implement the recommendations of this Electoral Reform Committee, we might well be on the way to tackling electoral problems in the country. Secondly, there are too many political parties in the country and they don’t have a guideline within which they should operate. I don’t mind if there are 100 political parties in the country today but you must give them certain conditions. For example, a political party that is unable to produce 10 Councilors in a state in an election, they should cease to be political parties. By the time you put guidelines like that in place, you find that some political parties would only be known in a few local government areas. And this is okay, fine and good. But you don’t see them at the national level so the pressure that is always brought to bear on the electoral body during election is drastically reduced. The pressure actually stems from the proliferation of political parties. It is my view that limited political parties is the first step we must take in our bid to sanitize the electoral system. Maybe two or three political parties would do. Or a maximum of five.
Yes, we know you love the two party system?
Yes, it gives you a choice. You are either here or there and it gets you to come closer in a diverse country like ours. We have actually proved it that party politics is best under a two party system; once you want political accommodation, you must belong to one political party or the other. Even then, you find that out of 31 states we had each of the parties won 16 and 14 states respectively. That made the two parties strong and stable and in the National Assembly, the same thing – there was good balance and debates where robust, they were healthy and the commitment to the nation was reinforced. You are right; I am a strong believer in few political parties if you want to really move forward. I am glad that we had two, it worked; we had option A4 and it was adjudged the freest but of course we annulled it, like you said.