ABIOLA WANTED ME TO REMAIN IN POWER


Being an interview with the Source Magazine, September 23, 2000

There are two things you did recently, at least in the last 15 months that really surprised people: you attended the inauguration of President Obasanjo and you attended, last week, the dinner in honour of President Bill Clinton. What made you do these?

I think in the first place I had an invitation for the ceremony of the hand-over and I think it is what all of us had looked forward to especially the military and I thought it would be fair to be there. For the Clinton dinner, I had an invitation as well and having been in Obasanjo’s position, l know what it takes and I had to attend too.

What is your assessment of the Obasanjo government, especially the face-off between the executive and the legislature?

I think our democracy is just taking shape, it is not more than 15 months old or thereabouts. This is not unexpected. We expected it. Any follower of the Nigerian political scene will expect it. In this country in the last 40 years, the soldiers have dominated power, and the first thing was always to dismiss the National Assembly. So, the executive arm of government has been much more developed than the legislative arm of government, so they haven’t had time to grow, to learn and I think this is the unique opportunity for them to learn. I think they are about three generations behind the other two arms of government.

Is it not embarrassing that within the 16 months of democracy, we have had two Senate Presidents? Is this part of the learning process?

Well, I want to believe so. If you take a country like Italy for example, they must have had 40 to 50 changes of government, so I think two senate presidents…

Is the notion correct that you are rooting for the speaker of the House of Representatives?

Supporting him?

Yes, does he have your support?

I come from the geo-political area of the north called north-central, the speaker comes from the north-west. Our constituency, if I may say so, is different, so I can’t see why I will be rooting for him.

When Okadigbo was removed, it was alleged that he tried to get the Ohaneze Ndigbo to convince you to intervene. What exactly happened?

I think I should be able to correct that. I tried to read what was said and I think it was made out of context. Ben (Nwabueze) is very articulate and that is what the journalists wanted him to say but he did not say so and they wrote it for him. All I know is that I have friends, Chuba has been a friend for the last 20 years, as far back as 1983; I have a number of friends who are also in the senate, outside this community, we meet and talk about these things. So, it is not unusual for friends to talk to friends in trying to find how to solve a problem. It is not right to say Ohaneze Ndigbo came as a group. No, but most of my friends who talked to me are members of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, this is it.

How come your name came up in this?

Well, I have come to accept my fate that everything that goes wrong, everything that confounds anybody, I think anything that people cannot figure out, either as a result of laziness or something, the easiest way is to heap it on somebody called IBB. Heap it on him and there will be no problem. Even if you know the truth, just say it is IBB. I have come to live with this. I knew when (Evan) Enwerem was removed, somebody said, or some people said, or some people alleged that I gave N50 million for the removal. They should give me some credit for common sense. Somebody with that amount of money, you don’t need to waste it on a vote. And Enwerem is a friend of mine. I could not have been a party to Enwerem’s downfall, if I may use that phrase. For what? They have credited me with more powers than I really have.

Many people thought you were uncomfortable on May 29, 1999. Do you have any regret that you did not accomplish such a thing as the May hand-over?

No, quite frankly, no. I think what people did not seem to understand is that we came out of a transition programme. That transition programme, to a large extent, was going on very well because we had the political parties in place, the legislative arm of government in place, virtually everything was in place. We were honest in our hearts that things may not go the way we wanted and it did not go the way we wanted.

So, we had to go back to the drawing board. Don’t forget the idea of having a new election within a specified period of time was our own idea, that it prolonged to five years was your own idea, the public, the society, but we came out with a programme to have a presidential election in February of 1994, that is six months.

But then you encouraged us, the military, to truncate that short arrangement and it took you five years to do what we could have done in six months. There would have been an election in February of 1994, you could only do it in February 1999, five years interval. So, it is not really our fault. The time will come when we just have to do the right thing. Don’t forget everything was based on the mood of the public at that time. The politicians were actually involved in all these, another opportunity presented itself and they seized it. The citizens too, like people asking for more local governments and so on, and that the military needed more time to do all these and this is what you all wanted and it took five years.

Let me go back to the question I asked earlier, in all these things about the Senate, the House of Representatives, the executive, your name keeps coming up. Have you within this period reached out to any of these arms of government to make a suggestion or intervention of any sort?

Don’t forget that, fortunately, I have friends that cut across the entire strata of the Nigerian society. A lot of them are in the Senate, some are in the House of Representatives, some are in the executive. And because it is a democratic dispensation that we are in now, we talk about a number of issues, we talk about programmes. These I do as an ordinary citizen who has a stake in the affairs of this country.

In specific terms, what have been the objectives of the discussion and how have they worked out?

Some of us did and some are still working to ensure a harmonious relationship between the different arms of government. What I say may not be the ultimate solution, but the good thing is that one made a contribution.

So, you don’t think it is necessary to identify your contribution in this regard?

It will amount to blowing my own trumpet. I don’t want to do this.

What do you think went wrong? In 1990-1991, many Nigerians rated you very high, where did your administration eventually go wrong?

I think… the electoral process. The public was no longer accepting military government and this was what was happening throughout the world. So, the wind of democracy was blowing very strong, a lot of changes in other countries. It has an effect on us as a people, and therefore it helped the populace begin to agitate for democracy, for a change. In 1991 during the conference of the presidents and heads of state of the Organisation of African Unity here, we told all the countries including Nigeria that the days of military dictatorship are gone and that we must embrace democracy. People were now exceptionally informed to be involved in their own affairs, those of us who were dictators knew this. I think everything had to do with the clamour for democracy.

Some Nigerians think that your administration had no business allowing both Chief M.K.O Abiola and Alhaji Tofa to contest the 1993 presidential election since you had enough on them to have disqualified them?

Yes, because we thought of the people, we had a very high expectation. The people knew all this. People knew that those would-be contestants have one problem or the other whether they have cheated someone, whether he is a murderer or other things and they produced documents and this resulted into disqualification of some of those contestants. If you remember, we disqualified 23 aspirants. Everyone of them believed they had a chance. People actually hailed the cancellation as the best thing that happened. Some newspapers wrote editorials hailing it. I have copies. You will also recall that there was tension in the senate. If we had allowed that, two people would have emerged as the presidential candidates of the two parties. One would have been either Shinkafi or Ciroma. The other one was already Yar’Adua. We had to cancel this because of all problems faced then, and the 23 aspirants were disqualified. This time, when the option A4 threw up Moshood Abiola and Bashir Tofa, we were conscious of one thing: that we cannot cancel this election, because if we do, we will be adjudged not fair and the public will not take it kindly. So, we decided to overlook a number of things, thinking that the public will reason with us eventually. All we were determined was to hand over.

By your own admission (in Karl Maier’s Midnight in Nigeria), you were the single largest contributor to the electoral campaign of M.K.O. Abiola.?

I have never denied assistance to any of my friends. I did what a friend should do under the circumstance.

You are also quoted to have said that one of the reasons the election of Chief Abiola was annulled was because he took a lot of money from foreign interests for his campaign and that would have endangered the national interest. How do we reconcile this excuse with the fact of your being the largest contributor?

No, no, no. I don’t want to use that phrase, the single largest contributor. But I made a contribution. Whether it is the single largest contribution, that fact does not arise at all.

But Maier, in his book, quoted you verbatim.

He is a journalist, so I expect I should be misquoted.

Definitely, it was not solely your decision to cancel the June 12 election despite the fact the buck stopped on your table. Can you give us a clear picture of who in one way or the other influenced the cancellation of the election?

All I will say is that the majority of people who want the public to believe that they are the custodians of June 12 are downright dishonest

Now that Abiola is gone, a lot of people remember him for so many things. He was your friend. What do you remember him for or miss about Abiola?

Friendship. And it was a very, very genuine friendship that existed between the two of us; quite frankly, I miss that relationship.

There are allegations that the coup that brought you to power in 1985 was because the Buhari regime was planning to nationalise foreign interests in Nigeria, so the CIA used Abiola to facilitate your coup?

It’s the same Nigerians we know. They said it was an IMF sponsored coup, a World Bank-sponsored coup, a privatisation-sponsored coup, name it. People have very fertile minds, but I do know that the reasons we gave were the genuine reasons. We gave you back freedom.

Some people who compare your regime with that of Abacha say yours was actually worse than his. They say what Abacha did was to intimidate people and he only needed to be taken out of the scene. But that what you did was to corrupt the society so that even when you were taken out of the scene, the society had become very corrupt. The idea of ‘settlement,’ for instance, had even become a popular parlance.

Someone corrupts the system and therefore the one that corrupts the system is worse than the person who killed you? Let us look at it this way. Let me tell you, there is something that people don’t want to accept. There are three eras in the various political developments (in the country). First was 1960. The Tafawa Balewa era. They made modest and significant contributions to the development of the country. Then we had another era, Jack Gowon era, When he came, especially the unity of this country, a lot of unfortunate people that needed political emancipation in this country, their issue was addressed. He fought a war of unification. He created a chance to give everybody a sense of belonging and so on. The third one, which many people will not like to hear, was mine. We came in and during our time people’s emancipation was also addressed. We paid more attention to the economy. Everybody had a social responsibility to keep government from taking over everything. Things that Nigerians could do for themselves we allowed them to do it. We allowed government to remain small and provided the facility. So you see, we went through distinctive phases. Now, what we had done in the past eight years is what everybody is doing now. Privatisation, foreign investment… If we hadn’t started deregulating the economy, we wouldn’t be running a free economy.

You look at corruption from, maybe, the banks. What is it that brought about corruption? One of such factors, we found out, was control, for example on banking. We said no. Money must get through. We removed the bottleneck, commodity boards. We said anybody who wants let him go to the banks. We opened the gates. The farmers began to know that they were masters of their own. So, anyway, there is corruption. It rubs on all. I want you to know. I am not a lawyer, the one who gives, the one who receives, both are still guilty. Those who settle and those who are settled are guilty of the same offence.

So, which one are you guilty of?

None of the above.

The Structural Adjustment Programme which more or less was like the IMF condition renamed, deregulated the economy without the important support systems that would have enabled the ordinary people to cope with the situation. In fact, the idea of even toying with the value of our currency came about in your time. This has now led us to a very ridiculous situation of one dollar being valued at almost NI20.

Fortunately, it was not me who did it. I accept full responsibility on devaluation of the currency but I left it at one dollar to eight naira. We deregulated in 1986 when we introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme and left in 1993. We had a competent and efficient mechanism where we didn’t allow it to run out of control.

Why did you have to go ahead with a programme like SAP, which was very unpopular, as the anti-SAP riots clearly showed?

We expected it (the riot). When we were about to introduce it (SAP) in September 1986, Iwent round the country, especially to the armed forces, telling them that things will not be the same again, this is what is to be introduced and it is going to be tough. We told the public, we told the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. We told everybody who was going to be involved that it was not going to be easy. Those who were prepared to work hard survived and today they know where they are, those who were not prepared, well, went under. So, you had a choice. We do accept wholeheartedly that it was very tough and this is one of the problems. Of course, there are unintended consequences. What we tried to impress on you is that your destiny is in your hands, that you could go to Bureaux de Change, buy dollars or sterling, put it in your pocket, off to Taiwan and you are in business. I visited Nnewi, I went there for a trade fair and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Those are people who are using their God-given talent. I wanted to see the traders ranging between small scale to medium scale business. These are people telling me that one of the best things you have done for us is deregulating the market. Today, most of the automobile and machinery parts we see are made in Nnewi and this is what we wanted but I think again maybe we were ahead of our time.

Don’t’ you think that SAP and freewheeling deregulation served the interest of foreigners more than it served the interest of Nigerians, especially with respect to manufacturing?

Let us take it elementarily. What does this mean? Structural Adjustment Programme. If you look at the components of the programme, first, it says it will make you self-reliant. You are not serving any foreign interest if you are self-reliant. It says you must make the best use of what you produce in your country. You are not serving any foreign interest when you do this. Also, if you use corn to produce malt for alcohol, you are not doing that to impress any Bretton Wood institution. We also talked about fiscal discipline in our budgetary system. What we introduced was to serve the purpose of our local economy and not to boost any foreign interest.

By the time you devalued the currency and the naira went downward and the dollar came up, that made the man with the dollar stronger. The naira has become more or less worthless unless you have plenty of it to procure dollar for import and export business

Do not forget that we also created domiciliary accounts…. The fact is that Nigerians are always ready to view everything from the opposite side and not appreciating the main thrust of any noble objectives.

How do you feel when Nigerians keep calling you names as the architect of their problems?

Actually, they don’t really know the person they are talking about. However, I have come to accept this as my fate. The present generation may not be able to paint a proper picture of what we achieved in office, but the generation that will do that will come, perhaps after we’ve all gone. Now, people just judge by (the cancellation of the June 12 (presidential election).

But that singular action has put a question mark on whatever you achieved in office.

I wouldn’t say action but you know I take full responsibility for anything that happened. I know the bashing will continue. I hope that one day someone will seriously itemise the roles played by all those who were involved.

Like?

Like those who appreciated me. As far as I know; there are two people who are very consistent on June 12. I respect them for their consistency. In the whole of this country today; only two (persons) are genuine. And I will mention their names. One is a young boy by name Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar. That is one. The second is a man of my generation, an elder person called Chief Gani Fawehinmi. These are the genuine defenders of June 12 that I can vouch for and, believe it or not, these two are the only genuine ones out of the lot. These are the type of Nigerians that we need, who have conviction. You see, if we have more of them, we can change the Nigerian society.

A lot of people were surprised that President Clinton mentioned some people, including Chief Gani Fawehinmi, just like they were surprised that he never mentioned M.K.O. Abiola.

We discussed it with some of my friends and we tried to rationalise why he didn’t mention Abiola. Well, I don’t know. I believe Gani deserved the mention because he has sincerely been very consistent.

It is surprising that you are saying all these about Gani Fawehinmi despite all he has been saying about you.

You see, he is even consistent in abusing me. I have no problem about that. He is very consistent. I know him to be very genuine and firm. As far as abusing me is concerned, it is the order of the day. Blame it on IBB, that’s all, and you’ll have an easy way out.

Maier also talked about the distrust between you and Abacha, such that during the 1990 Orkar coup you initially refused to let him know where you were hiding, and that when Abacha got into office he was considering eliminating you, by 1998.

I know some people pressurised him to do something about me that I was a threat to him, but whether he really had that intention, I do not know. Some people tried to caution me, some of my friends even didn’t want to be seen around me. But to be very honest, I never had any sleepless night over what was going on.

What about General Buhari? From reports, there is a problem between the two of you.

I think most of these problems exaggerated by the media. We both have one thing in common. We have a common faith and religion, which I know he is a strict adherent. And in that religion, the concept of enmity does not exist. And if there are any differences, we’re matured enough to settle them.

How do you react to the alleged state-sponsored terrorism during the Abacha regime, considering that people still hold you responsible?

For?

For Abacha’s presidency?

Because it is the easiest alibi people get. But those who are sincere know that you asked Abacha to step in.

You mean Nigerians or journalists.

Nigerians.

Or politicians…?

Nigerians, supported by journalists, supported by politicians who are, how I describe it, politicians who are opportunists. Anyway, virtually every person including late Chief Abiola encouraged Abacha to take over. Here, you discover the naivety of Nigerians. You can’t have military rule and want popular justice. So, the people were damn naive believing Abacha would be there for three months, six months and then hand over (to Abiola). That is being naive. It (coup-making) is a risk and after taking that risk, you expected him to just hand over power to someone who did not contribute anything?

But he gave the impression he was a democrat.

Who?

Abacha.

The fact remains (that) he was a soldier. I’m a democrat, but the instinct in me is there, the military instinct in me you cannot remove it even now.

So, no soldier can actually be a true democrat. Can we take it like that?

No, no, no. Democracy is artificial. I’m a democrat now because people abuse me.

Yes.

And then even though they would not like me to reply, that I should keep quiet, but I know I can talk and I can say I’m not a thief, and that is democracy. But when it comes to survival, the military in me takes over and that is what a lot of these very bright, intelligent people didn’t understand.

How do you react to allegations of state-sponsored attacks during his time?

You don’t think, em, em, that before then such things could happen. It was after that some of those involved came out openly. So, it is right to say there was state terrorism. I would not like it, I wouldn’t do it, and I’ve not done it, because it is wrong.

Did you mention it to Abacha when you had discussions with him?

No, no, but, you know when he was around, this thing was not open. You cannot place your hand on it. It was after he was gone that the revelations started unfolding, and some of them are credible, because they are coming from people who really took part in them.

Have you been able to discuss with anybody what actually happened to Dele Giwa during your regime?

I think I have explained this to the best of my knowledge.

The army was indicted…

No, I mean, there were investigations, even though somebody said the investigations were not thorough or something like that, but that does not say there were no investigations and then the investigations were inconclusive and that is the best anybody can say.

When they accuse your administration of being responsible for that murder, just like some people have actually insinuated that your administration was responsible for the crash of the C-130 NAF Hercules at Ejigbo, how do you react to that in particular?

There is a tendency to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. I think this is the situation. In the absence of anything to hold against me, they concoct very negative things but these are things that even common sense thing for any reasonable human being do not make sense. They are not concerned about what happened. They are not concerned about the circumstances leading to the air crash; they are not concerned about anything. They even said I arranged this. The pilot is not a fool. You cannot call a pilot and send him to his death. I had even my own cousin on that flight, so it has no basis. But Nigerians, you know, but I take it that they just had to say something. Do not forget (that) in those days, to appear a brave person is to abuse IBB. So, there are a lot of Nigerians who wanted to be adjudged brave, so I provided them the easy passport.

In the Dele Giwa case, Tony Momoh as the minister of information promised a judicial probe, but it was never conducted. What happened?

I’m sure (that Momoh promised a judicial probe). I can’t remember if there was any. You know people were not necessarily investigators at that time. They were law enforcement officers who could charge anybody to court for the murder.

Going back to Abiola, is it true that he was one of the first civilians who asked you to transform into a civilian president? And when Thatcher came to Nigeria, did she actually also urge you to do that?

Actually, when she came, and she said that out she appreciated our efforts, what we had done in the area of (the economy, deregulation, privatisation). You see, here was somebody in Africa trying to do what she had not found easy to implement then in Britain. To the question of transforming, infact she also appreciated that Nigerians cherished democracy. At one time we also talked about that. As for Abiola, I don’t know where you got your information from but it is true he once mooted that idea. It is true.

What was your reaction?

Not interested. I told him that I was not ready for that. And I told him why.

Why?

To say the truth, I didn’t want to take advantage because I knew if I was there I would win. Don’t forget I’m an African, so I could, em,…

Manipulate?

Manipulate it? No, manipulate is even more civilised. I can rig it. So, I didn’t want to. If you remember, I banned myself. The law is still there. I banned myself from contesting in an election. The only person who banned himself is me. I gave everybody and the parties the freedom, but remained banned as at the time I left office.

People still wonder why you used the phrase ‘step-aside’. Why did you say you were stepping-aside?

Everything that went wrong in Nigeria was IBB. Any person who missed a flight was IBB. So, if IBB steps aside, Nigeria will come back to its glorious days. And I did say you remember again in 1993, about June or July, that if I am the problem of this country, there is no greater sacrifice than to give way and allow others to continue. And this was precisely what I did. In the army, if the others are marching left and I am going right, my commander asks me to step aside so the others can continue. I just stepped aside so that I don’t worry you. Basically, this is what I did.

Are you planning to come back?

To where?

Are you going to come back as a civilian president, the way Obasanjo has come back?

It has not even come into my mind. I’m not thinking about it.

Why did you back Obasanjo, with…?

No, no, no, some media houses told lies that I collected some senators and told them that I can raise the amount of money. That is actually a lie. It is not my nature. I don’t do that. But those who wrote it, I know why they did. Now, I backed him (Obasanjo) for the same reason I would back anybody. He believes in this country, so I cannot see this country disintegrating under him. Anyone who will keep it one will have my support. He knows what sacrifice was made to keep this country together, and then he (Obasanjo) has had experience in that office, so he is not a novice, he has the kind of character and the media may not be able to intimidate him. Let him be there. Really, there are a lot of things he alone can do.

You are not worried that this same strength of character could make him to move against you? I remember an Obasanjo interview where he described your regime as being deficient in honesty. It never bothered you that he described you in that sense?

No.

Having described your regime like that, you still don’t have the belief that he can and will probe your administration?

Actually, my administration is not afraid of probe. Calling for the probe of Babangida did not start today, did not start with what Obasanjo said, so it is not new. And, fortunately most of or virtually all of our actors are very much around, alive. It is something that we took upon ourselves that we know that one day we’ve got to be accountable for all these actions and, quite honestly, I don’t lose any sleep over it.

Were you ever close to Obasanjo while he was in jail?

Through some other intermediaries.

You are always saying your regime is open to probe, that you are not worried about probe. But most Nigerians believe that you are a very wealthy man, probably the wealthiest in Nigeria.

No, in Africa….. (laughter).

How do you reconcile the two? If you are a very honest man, then how do you explain your wealth?

I believe that you can be an honest, rich man but most Nigerians believe all rich men are dishonest. That is the situation. Actually, God has been kind. I didn’t get into office in penury. And I can say that I did live comfortably. People were surprised for example when they heard that as far back as 1976 I had my own property in Lagos,  that is nine years before I became the president. People didn’t know that 1 have been living in this house since 1982. And before I took over office, I told everybody who cared how I came about my wealth. Even, I had to declare everything I owned before I got sworn in as a member of the Supreme Military Council in 1984, and if you open it, you will find that the property in Lagos I own it and I explained how I came about it. I explained how I enjoyed a very good relationship with people who were always willing to help and I had a boss in the military who said: “you can try and… make sure you do it willingly, make sure you don’t go out of your way, either to steal or to defraud somebody else.” But you cannot take me to jail if I borrow money from the bank, you wouldn’t see me as a thief if I do. I know who I am, I know where I come from, and I know where I’m going. My instincts would not allow me to do that.

You were a career soldier. Obasanjo, for instance, reportedly explained that he took a bank loan to start his farm. In your own case, it is very difficult to believe that only with your salary and all that….

You don’t even look at it from that point of view. I was in the Supreme Military Council, for instance, and that gave me easy access, access to banks, finance houses, loans and whatever that I could put to use, and I did that. The property I have in Lagos, for example, a friend of mine owned it. I got it after about 12 years. And about the time I was the head of state, every other thing, I got was extra. So, you can see me as honest, rich or not rich.

As a member of the Supreme Military Council, didn’t you consider that as an abuse of office or position?

The fact that you declared it. Don’t forget that I told you that I got this before I got to the council.

Specifically, which bank did you have dealings with?

Actually, every military officer dealt with Union Bank. I opened an account with the Barclays Bank (in) February 1964 and uptill now I haven’t left them.

And what was the value for the loan that you took?

About N40, 000

In what year?

1975.

And what is the extent of your investments?

Hmmm, enough to survive and to meet up my obligation.

Obligations like?

Everyman has an obligation.

Let me go to the other question. For instance, some of them (the coup-plotters) have explained why they sponsored the coup, why they took part, what they planned for you, because they knew you were planning to succeed yourself from the beginning. What really happened? What is the truth?

There was an attempted coup by a bunch of immature officers who do not even understand what this country is all about. You can see from the speech that they had written, excising one part of the country; they believed in their own little minds that this is what the Nigerian people wanted to hear.

How do you feel with all these people (Ogboru, Nyiam) coming back and even claiming that you are after them?

They have to remain relevant and you people are encouraging them by even listening to them and they pour out a lot of trash. I don’t have time to be after anybody.

And you are not worried that they could be after you?

No.

But they could be after you?

No.

What gives you that confidence?

Faith.

Since Abiola’s death, have you been in contact with any member of his family?

The answer is yes.

And the family of Lieutenant Colonel U. K. Bello, your former ADC, what have you personally rendered to the family?

It would go contrary to my religion. You don’t talk about what you’ve done and so on.

Maier also claimed that he noticed the presence of an Israeli security agent in your house, and that takes my mind back to the time you were in power. Were you ever protected by Israeli security agents?

The answer is no. It is not correct. If you talk about training, yes, but to have a white man around me either when I was in office or out of office, nothing, and nothing like that. It was an imagination. I remember during the Orkar coup, some of you in the media then talked of Israeli security; there was nothing like that.

Why was Nigeria reluctant to close down the operations of the BCCI? According to the U.S. senate report, which we have…

From where? Ehen… what did it say?

We carried it verbatim? Okay, a lot of interesting things. It said, for instance, that Central Bank officials in Nigeria were being bribed and that a Nigerian diplomat, calling apparently on your behalf as the president, wanted the investigators to soft-pedal. Even when the activities of BCCI everywhere was raising an uproar. Nigeria still appeared inclined to support and cover the BCCI. The report noted that Dasuki, for instance, was actually paid for facilitating the criminal operations of the BCCI in Nigeria. But at the end of the day the Nigerian government still wanted BCCI to remain relevant in Nigeria. It even mentioned the fact that the level of corruption with which BCCI was operating in Nigeria was the highest anywhere in the world.

Well, there were a lot of insinuations as far as the operations of that bank is concerned in this country. If the officials of the Central Bank were on the pay roll of BCCI, as being alleged by the report, I also want you to know from today that the same Central Bank saved this country from what it would have lost when the bank collapsed, okay? The officials of the Central Bank were so patriotic that there is nobody today who would tell you that the Nigerian government was defrauded. They kept money in BCCI and lost this amount. Even in that report, which you are say citing, it is negligible and you know why that happened? Because our Central Bank officials got to know that bank was going under and they quickly acted; if they were paid, or if they were under their pay roll, they would not have deprived their masters of this amount of money. They did it for the best of the country, their motherland, and they should be given credit.

What about your alleged involvement, and Dasuki?

There was no such thing (the alleged presidential instruction). I tell you that if there had been alleged wrong-doing of the BCCI as far as this country is concerned, don’t forget that with the most powerful investigative country in the world, United States, we would have been having a field day. I think we should give them some credit. These are decent people. Dasuki is a decent man, I can assure you of that.

What role did you play in the coming to power of General Abdulsalami Abubakar? It was alleged that you played a role in influencing what happened. Is it just coincidental that the three of you were at the Nigerian Military Training College, Zaria?

Well, Abubakar and myself, I tell you, we were classmates from primary, secondary. He went to the Air Force before coming back to the army. Abacha and myself became classmates at the Military Training School.

On the day Abacha died, you were reportedly called to Aso Rock before any other person. Did Maryam Abacha reach out to you before anybody else?

We played whatever role we had to play. And, we were in Kano to console the family. You people (journalists) concocted something.

At what time were you informed?

Around, 7 o’clock… (in the morning)..

And at what time did you get to Aso Rock?

No, I did not go to Aso Rock

You didn’t get to Aso Rock?

Well, the media… (laughter)

What is your view on the Sharia, especially the reactions of non-Moslems?

I’m a Moslem. I’m bound by this law, by virtue of my religion, I cannot condemn Sharia. I have to accept these Divine doctrines. Sharia has always been there and I don’t see why anybody should fear, especially those that are not affected by it in any way. Why should you fight my war for me? I believe in it. It is my religion. It is guaranteed by the constitution.

But it affects the business of those who sell alcoholic drinks, for example.

We know there are people who cannot do without alcohol, so there are designated alcohol consumption areas even in the so-called Sharia states

Where do you see the country going with all the inter-ethnic tension?

I think our ability to resolve all these crises is what makes us distinct as a potentially great country. We cannot have a situation where we won’t have crisis, then something must be wrong.

What is your relationship with the APC (Arewa People’s Congress)?

Do I have any involvement? Most of the people there are my friends.

But specifically Godwin Daboh did mention that you are behind it?

Who? He said “we are.” Does that include me? He said me and him?

Yes, yes, he never denied you?

And I don’t deny Daboh either. He is my friend.

I’m not saying you are denying Daboh.

I’m not joining issues with Daboh, let me put it that way. On the pages of the newspaper? I don’t join issues with my friends.

Do you see the National Conference or the Sovereign National Conference as a possible way out of the tension in the country today?

No, it is a defeatist approach. Let me ask you one question. If the government decides today that let’s convene a Sovereign National Conference, how do you elect the people? The voices calling for Sovereign National Conference may not be elected, because they have to go and seek the mandate of the people. So, I learnt they are saying government will sit down and say okay this one is qualified, select him, when they have nobody’s mandate. So, I think everything that has to do with this country can be addressed through elected representatives. If Nigerians put a lot of pressure on those things they want to be changed, then they can change them. It is a defeatist way of allowing some very irrelevant people, politically, to seek relevance. If I support national conference, then I should seek the mandate of my people. I shall come back here (Minna) to convince the people that I’m the right candidate, give me your mandate. But I want to assure you that the advocates of the Sovereign National Conference would not want to seek the mandate of their people. They would rather wait until government selects them to go and talk on our behalf. Today we have democracy. The ordinary man wants to be involved, they want to know who it is that is speaking for them, they want to know, what he is going to say on our behalf. Again, this is what we have done to you guys in the country, we (the military) enlightened you more politically.

With Option A4… ?

Ya (laughter).

In reviewing the Obasanjo government so far, are there things you would have done differently?

We ran two different governments. He is running a democracy, while I ran a bullet government, I ran a dictatorship

I mean if you were running a government in a civilian dispensation?

No, except, it is neither here nor there, you have to accept that there are bound to be questions. And the way you handle them may be different.

The relationship between the executive and the legislature?

Yes that is right. You have one thousand and one ways, of handling issues depending on who you are.

That you would have handled it differently?

Yes, I think so

What is your vision of Nigeria considering the roles that you have played?

I still have a very strong conviction that this country will be great, no matter what anybody says. It is going to remain one country, diverse, culturally, religiously, ethnically, etc. Our generation and the generation ahead of us are still fumbling, but I’ve faith that the next generation, the generation below me, are going to run this country better. The generation below me, a lot of you went to university, went to school, worked together from almost all parts of this country. There is somebody you know somewhere. Our generation and the generation ahead of us, we were compartmentalised. So, they see Nigeria from that point of view. Quite frankly, I’ve to say this: if people come back in the next world, I will want to come back here (Nigeria) and in Minna too.

When are we going to read your book?

You know, every day I see an event in this country and I feel glad that, that book hasn’t come out.

Why?

Because I would have been tempted to write a second volume, maybe to address some of these nonsense you read in the magazines and books and so on. Some of them are fiction, imagination, somebody reads your mind and puts it in the paper that this is what they expected you to do or this is what you would do.