MY ROLE IN OBASANJO’S ELECTION
Interview with Newswatch Magazine, July 10, 2000
Thank you very much for receiving us for this interview. Let us start by asking you what life has been like since retirement. You have been retired for about seven years now, how has it been?
It is like a transition from active life to a retirement life. A lot of things you have to start learning again. But being a soldier and adaptability being one of the characteristics of a soldier, I had no difficulty in adapting. I think it is more of a family life in the sense that you have more time with the family, more time with friends, and more time with relatives, free to move around the way you want and to think, participate freely in activities. It is fine.
Now talking about thinking, there has been some speculation that you are working on your memoirs. Have you finished?
No. I haven’t finished and the only reason is, the events of this country are so dynamic, so many things are involved. And sometimes I thank God that I didn’t finish because I should be able to now reflect further on what I have seen in the last seven years, after I had left office. I will be able to reflect on the governments of Chief Shonekan, the Abacha interregnum and so on and so forth. Then I would be able to close on everything about the end of the century.
What about your Presidential library project? You were saying something about the library some time ago.
Yes, I am still pursuing it. I visited Lafiagi two days ago. There is a lot of junks there. Now we are trying to get assistance from archivists, librarians and so on. So this is what is happening. I am just about to start right now. The infrastructure is there already.
Oh, I don’t particularly think you miss anything in office…
I tell you, I honestly don’t miss anything.
Because you just have to keep your head all the time while others are losing theirs. There are things that under normal circumstances you look at them and overlook them. But in office, it is a different ball game altogether. You have to look at the needs of the society, pressure groups, and individuals, name it. The pressures are not there anymore.
But for somebody who has been active, you think this will not be boring for you?
You know, you can divert that energy into something else, and this is what we are trying to do. I feel too young to retire but too old to start looking for a job.
Do you have a handful of things that occupy your time to keep you as active as you would like to be?
No. I don’t. One of the things that I have discovered about retirement is that you have more time to yourselves, than when you were in office. So I have a lot of time compared with the time I had a job I was doing.
The problem is, how do you put the time to some use?
Yeah, you have time to reflect on so many things, interact with people both within and outside the country. Then, do some things to earn a living.
What are you doing to earn a living? Government contractor or…
No, no, no.
Can you let us into some of your activities outside the country because as a past head of state, and president of Nigeria, one would expect you to play some active role in the resolution of conflicts in Africa and so on a…
Maybe we didn’t report enough of it that is why. Otherwise, last year especially, I did a lot of shuttle diplomacy on behalf of the president. About November last year, 1 was in Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Eritrea. I visited all these places trying to find solutions to the various crises.
How come we never get to know about these things, because every time you go out it is like you are sneaking out of the country?
Yeah, because every time I go out you (the press) impute that I am running away and I will not come back.
The more reason why you should let people know what you are going for and…
No. It is better to go and then come back, you know. But if you go they wouldn’t know when you are back and they expect that you are on exile.
Do you have anything to run away from?
No. I tell you a story: I was looking for a visa immediately we left office. And then there was this law that those of us who ran undemocratic governments would not be given visa to certain countries. So I sought one of the diplomats, their opinion, I said look, I don’t need a visa to go to your country. I will either be here or somewhere in Africa, so keep your visa. He didn’t find it funny you know. He was most embarrassed but I said this is just the case, I can’t be in any other place, outside this country.
Are there still some countries you can’t go to?
No, no, no. Now we are practicing democracy. I think I can now go anywhere
Is the OAU or the UN involving you in any of their activities?
Well I visited these bizarre countries as you call them, I was in Ethiopia and at the secretariat, we talked and sat under the auspices of OAU and then I tried to educate them on what we have found out immediately.
Mr. President what has been the level of your involvement in politics?
The democratic politics, local politics since you left office.
I will always like to be aware of things going on around me, to that extent, yes. I have been interested.
Are you a member of any political party?
Em, member of any political party, no. But sympathy, yeah, I have sympathy for one of the parties.
Which of them?
The PDP and the one I do like is the AD.
Are you operating a little to the left or a little to the right?
I think it is because one has tried to cut across. And normally I do not like convincing any of my friends to go this way or that way. Wherever they have decided to stay, let them stick to it and that’s all. Before now, I had thought the AD had a good future but it didn’t do much to expand its areas of influence. It tended to keep itself within itself. So when I expressed interest I thought I would be able to get them to spread out. But now I think I have sympathy for the PDP
So what role have you been playing in PDP as sympathiser?
I just play the role of a supporter.
That is like anybody’s role. I though at your level as a sympathiser, you play active roles.
No, no, no, just give advice, in the state here for instance Niger State, because I support the party. I try to keep myself within my own sphere of influence. So I could help them in Niger, for example
But it was speculated that you actually wanted to be chairman of PDP.
No. The one I said I was going to was to be chairman of AD and they denounced me. I tried but they closed their doors.
But when Chief Solomon Lar was being eased out in the PDP, the speculation was very strong in the press that you were the main contender.
No, I thought the press should have been fair to me by giving me more intelligence than the speculation. I mean, let’s face it, having been in that office, I still want to see myself as somebody who cuts across the strata of the Nigerian society and therefore would not like to be seen to be partisan only on one side. So, to think that I could aspire to be a party chairman is unnecessary. I thought having been a president, I wouldn’t look back to become a party chairman.
That is a contradiction isn’t it, because you just spoke about AD.
No, only I wanted a challenge. Like I said, it was limited and I wanted to take up the challenge and make it a national party. It is just the challenge I wanted.
So if they had accepted you, you would have accepted to become the chairman of AD?
I knew they would not. If they gave me the opportunity to become the party chairman, I would, but I knew they would not. It was a calculated statement but I knew they would turn me down.
Talking about cutting across political parties, is it fair to say that when the presidential election was on, you were actually supporting two friends of yours?
Who? Well, I supported one person.
Like Olu Falae, I thought he was your friend.
Yes, but he is from a different party, don’t forget. It just happened that the events of 1993 repeated…. themselves. You had Bashorun Abiola in SDP, you had Bashir Tofa in NRC. They happened to be my friends. But like I have always said, in the absence of Obasanjo, I will prefer Falae.
So the speculation that you funded both camps is not right?
How do you mean funding?
Well, contributed or donated to their campaigns.
I think, because I have a conviction, I can always make efforts to contribute to fight for a cause. But it is not as outrageous as the media state it: N500 million, N 1.2 billion and so on and so forth.
Can you name the figure?
No. I can’t
Much of Obasanjo’s emergence as president was put directly at your doorstep, that you went personally to convince him to run for the presidency on the ticket of PDP.
You see a lot of people who came out were thinking about how this country can be led. And a few of us believed that if you put all the political actors, we know virtually everyone who wanted to be president, we interacted with them, we know what they can do, we know their capabilities, we know their commitments and so on. So, we said for a country like this, we needed a man who has the experience, we needed somebody (I have always said this I still maintain it) somebody with nerves because the country is such that it vibrates. If you don’t have somebody who keeps his cool, somebody who has nerves and somebody who could take decision and say get the hell out of here things will not move. And if you look across, he stands out as the most qualified person to hold this post for the sake of this country that was why we put our support there.
Who are these other members of this group you are talking about?
No, any of us interested in the welfare and wellbeing of this country. We sit down, discuss: how can we do this, how can we go about this. There were a lot of people who spoke to us to convince us why ABCD.. what I have found is that there are a lot of people out there who are not heard but who are really concerned about the future of this country and how the country should work. If they identify anybody, who tried to reach out to people, they say why don’t you convince him, why don’t you talk with him? At the federal level, at the state level and at the local government level.
Did you approach Obasanjo at the time as emissary of this group of persons with the same views?
Emissary… eh, in one of your interviews, I think that answers that. You had an interview with Atiku and he told you what happened. That is what it is.
Yeah, but one thing that ran through that interview that was very clear was the determination of the people here for power to shift. That was the main thing and eh…
No, the concept of power shift started just before we left office, when we had the NRC and the SDP When we had that stalemate, myself and few others started addressing how best we could (solve) all this and we mooted this power shift variable. And what we were trying to
do at that time was to make sure that the SDP and NRC at that time produced two southern candidates. And we assigned ourselves that responsibility. Aikhomu was very close to NRC and I could relate with SDP at that time. So we started it. And when we left office, I still believed that power shift should take place. It was just a matter of keeping the concept alive and then…
Why exactly do you think it was a good thing that power should shift? If you were in a democratic set up and you asked people to vote…
No, this is true. But you see, this is out of sincere commitment to the nation because everybody if you will remember in September of 1992 or thereabouts. SDP, NRC; SDP was sure going for Shehu Yar’Adua as its presidential candidate and NRC would have been hijacked by Adamu Ciroma or Umaru Shinkafi. You knew that there was a lot of outcry about domination from the far north. I think people wanted to make it really an issue in this country. It was so divisive and we decided we shouldn’t allow this to degenerate to the loss of this concept or idea of power shift.
It was definitely trying but the more you look at it, the more it looked induced by the bourgeoisie the stalemate that led to the planning of the fall of the candidates at the end of the 1992 primaries.
You induced it
Do you mean the press?
You did it. First you complained. Right, about…
Do you mean, the politicians complained and the press reported it?
The press saw it, the politicians complained and the press reported. And we saw these as a real problem: corruption, violation of all the electoral laws and regulations, ethnicity, religion, all were brought in to bear in the whole process of the 23 presidential candidates. They said we tried to capitalise on your frustrations to remain. There were frustrations at that time. We believe you induced it but then because we were concerned we wanted a way out of it and that is why this idea of power shift come about.
Why wasn’t it possible to see the grumbling of the politicians as the grumbling of losers because rigging is relative to your capacity to fund rigging or so… rigging is rigging.
Historically it is. If you take 1983, there was election. And probably there could have been a military coup in 1982 and not end of 1983 as the case was. Then we said okay, let’s allow the elections to hold, otherwise the entire Nigerian populace will accuse the military of subverting the wishes of the people. Then there was election in 1983. You know what happened. The rest is history. Everybody complained about the 1983 elections. Therefore there was a fertile ground for a military intervention. At that time the view generally was that maybe the military could do better than the elite. So when the military eventually struck, they didn’t have much problem. It is always some elements of frustration, be it economic or political or both that give room for (coups)
Why was there going to be a coup in 1982?
Because the whole thing crumbled by about the beginning of 1982.
The economy or the polity?
Both the economy and the polity, because you were shouting loud.
Could that be the press?
If you look at it that is the nature of democracy everybody was allowed to have a say and the way some of them said it must have been very loud and misinterpreted by the military as eh…
Your generation represents people who have belief in ideals. You are sincere.
You were talking about generations and whether these people were sincere.
You see these things you are able to say so and understand that this is democracy. That was 1982. I would expect that 18 years after we would have advanced better. It is still the same in the year 2000, the same views. All you need to do is pick up any of the newspapers and read and you find the same views. But there is one thing which I am happy about, the near unanimity by the members of the society that they do not want to have any more military intervention, which is good. It keeps the military permanently out, but then you probably unwittingly may not help democracy.
I think the feeling is that the military cast a very long shadow over… democracy.
I never shared that view for some reason. From 1986 January to 29th May, 1999 any military government we had, was not the one running the regular bureaucracy, running the judiciary and so on. I thought it was just a decision making process. Today we have ministers, who were ministers under the military regime.
Does it disturb you that anything that shakes the system is attributed to you?
I don’t know, but, psychologically I have to say that there were circumstances that brought about June 12. But June 12, unfortunately has not been taken on an intellectual level. All discussions on June 12 are just discussions for the sake of it. For example, people are convinced, then there wouldn’t be all these… Today, except one or two that I know, every other person who stood for June 12 has abandoned it… It is not unusual to attribute this to one man, to the evil man, to the man who ruled over the system. Seven years after we are still talking about the same thing. A woman miscarries, it is Babangida who did it. I think it is about time we started reasoning. It amuses me, to be very honest. Sometimes if I don’t find somebody talking about me, 1 feel I am suffering….
Can we go back to this period that you made mention of, perhaps you can help discuss it more intellectually, the June 12 issue. Can you give some intellectual insight into it so that we can benefit from it? Should it have happened, the annulment of June 12?
No, it shouldn’t have happened. But it happened. And there must be reasons, some arguments that might be quite different from my version of it.
You are the main actor.
I would want to see Nigerians focus on what is ahead of us and then consign this to history. But I think it has reached a stage we can now declassify this, whatever information we have on it. But I tell you why I am hesitant talking about June 12 now. Before the June 12 incident, there were MKO Abiola, Babangida, Abacha, Aikhomu and then the senior military officers at that time. Unfortunately we have reached a stage where if I have to talk about June 12 in earnest I won’t be helping the society because some of the principal actors, Moshood Abiola for example, may his soul rest in peace, is dead, Sani Abacha is equally dead. There is no way you can talk about June 12 without mentioning these people. And I don’t want to be unfair to any of them, because they are no more around to corroborate or disagree. So I don’t want to be seen as giving an account that is one sided.
But you talked about actors, we don’t know yet, until you say so, how Abiola could have been an actor in the annulment of June 12.
No, no, no. A participant in the process that led to the annulment.
But you said a moment ago that how democracy would work would depend on how Nigerians are able to withstand any shock that comes into the system. If you talk about June 12, it may cause some shock but it may also be something that we can withstand.
It has already caused the shock and you withstood it. The shock was in 1993, and for seven years, so you can talk about it now. What I am saying is that I always want to be fair. I want to think about it, maybe discuss it in such a way that I am fair to whoever was involved. And if I do it now, I know it won’t be fair. I know I should reach other people. I read it, I can’t remember it now, it was serialised in The Vanguard (on how the thing happened). I found that very interesting. And people, for example, who mediated are still alive. I made a comment on it. Even somebody called me and said I was there too, why didn’t you say I was there? To be honest I forget… I am very sensitive about the issue.
Mr. President, at whatever stage you want to talk about it, you have to talk about it against the background that these other people are not around anymore.
By the time I do (in my memoirs) it everybody who might have picked up a copy and read it somehow will understand our stand.
So why would anybody doubt your fairness now?
If you have a madman, and suddenly you find that the madman is sitting down quiet, he is not harassing anybody and then you say good the madness is gone, he does not slap anybody. And he looks you in the face and says thank you for reminding me and slaps you.
If what you are saying is something you want to go by, how will that affect your memoir as president?
I have no problem. Quite frankly I have no problem because I am going to get it documented. If it is documented, okay, anybody can now say what I said was wrong and that helps the intellectual development about June 1 2: here is one version, there is another version therefore I am either inclined to this side or to that side.
You made mention of the fact that there was concerted effort on your part, to ensure that power shifted. The annulment of June 12 was a contradiction of this because the man who won this election was from the south. The belief was that you annulled it so that power would remain in the north.
How? What about the Interim National Government?
The interim government that was put in place was a kind of contraption and…
Again, the society, I am glad you raised it. When we put that “contraption” in place, every Nigerian knew that contraption had an enabling law it had a tenure. That contraption was to expire in February of 1994. In February 1994 there would have been a presidential election to usher in democracy. It took five years to do exactly what would have taken that contraption six months to do. There would have been an election, there would have been another election. But everybody was not prepared to listen, was not prepared to accept. When Abacha came in, may his soul rest in peace, his first announcement talked about the dissolution of the National Assembly, dissolution of the political parties. It was an option I had from other segments of the society at the time. Sack all the governors, sack members of the National Assembly, create new political parties and that will give us a breathing space. But if I did that it means I did not believe in what I was doing, so I believed the governors and members of the National Assembly were democratically elected. What we are saying, hold this election and then install the president subsequently, whoever emerged… But when the military intervened, the same society advised the military to do away with all this. So, I don’t blame subsequent military administration that came afterwards. Our impatience, selfishness, interests brought about the misfortune
You should also think back that at that particular time there was this impression, in the light of your explanation now, that you were tinkering with the system itself to perpetuate yourself in power.
In 1987 when we inaugurated the Political Bureau and subsequently when virtually I told everybody that we wanted a transition that would be a learning process, Wherever there was a hiccup, we would stop there, look again and move. Before election, I made it clear to the public- that was in 1987, I repeated it in 1990 but nobody wants to remember this. This is just an accusation.
If you had listened to the group that asked you to stay on after 1993, do you think you would have survived a coup?
I think so. I think I would have survived it. I am not being arrogant about this. One of the best things … about the military, except maybe one or two at the top, is that they are not as anxious over what is happening in the society. They also evaluate what they read or what they hear.
Abacha was left behind to succeed you.
Abacha was holding a political office, not military, don’t forget. He was minister. Others were service chiefs military, armed forces personnel: Chief of Army Staff and so on. These are those who (were to go along with me in retirement), that is one. Second, we were not sure about what the younger officers were up to, so there was the need to back Shonekan’s government with some degree of good military cover. So that his (Abacha) presence would be a deterrent: to ensure they don’t get adventurous. So that Shonekan would have military backing to do whatever he wanted to do. That was the whole idea and we felt Abacha could provide that backing. He had been GOC, brigade commander, chief of army staff, minister of defence. So he was not an unknown person. And we still respect seniority in the armed forces.
Was there any time that some military officers impressed on you that Abacha must be retired with the rest of the service chiefs?
So why did you insist he should remain?
Because when we are planning a coup all those of us who participated in the planning and execution of the coup d’etat, I have always believed it was not right to do away with them for the simple reason that if that coup flopped, himself, myself and all others would have been shot. And they knew it. They knew the consequences of failure, all the same, I think it would have been unfair.
Was that compensation? In fact, he held all the positions that needed to be held.
No, not compensation. He maintained the same seniority with me by the time he became the Minister of Defence. There was no jump. We didn’t promote him over and above any of his contemporaries, except me. But don’t forget, before I finished, both of us wore the same rank for the first time.
We thought that was an abnormal situation
No, it was not.
It was like bending over backwards to please or placate somebody…
Somebody at least should have asked me about this so that I explain. Actually, if you look at his car, the official car he rode you saw four stars. If you looked at mine, you saw the coat of arms.
Yes, because you were the president
Not simply because you are a four star general
Yeah, president, commander-in-chief…
Are you saying that there was no tacit agreement between the two of you that somewhere along the line he would taste the plum office?
Some gentlemanly agreement.
We did not suck each other’s blood, of course! There was no signing of MoU, or Memorandum of Understanding with him. But what we did, we did it purely in the interest of the stability of that interim government.
So there you were, you kept a man or shall we say, excuse the expression, you kept a dog to watch over the bone and many months later, the dog grabbed the bone.
Thanks to the support and assistance, which we had from each and every one of you in the society!
No sir, not us
No, you are a member of the society. You can’t deny it, you are a member of the Nigerian society.
You are saying society forced him on us?
Sure! By clamouring let there be coup, let there be military intervention: do this, do that.
But it was alleged he made them believe that after the coup he would install the candidate of the group behind the coup. So why didn’t he do it?
I was not there anymore.
Why didn’t he do it? Maybe because he was part of the group that annulled the…
No. Because some civilian collaborators advised him not to do so.
Not to validate (the June 12 election?)
Did he intend to do that?
No, no, no. The military could have tied his hands, but they exploited a loophole. Don’t forget, people were fed up with the political parties, people were fed up with the government at that time, people were fed up…, so they changed the game. And there were people who believed in the scrapping of the political parties and so on. So they saw the military as a stepping stone towards realising their political ambition. I think it was power play in its nakedness.
Were you surprised when he took over?
When who took over?
When Abacha took over?
He was the most senior man.
Okay, were you expecting it?
Expecting the coup?
The word is no.
But a coup is normally hatched by the senior people. So why?
Nigeria is different. You can find it hatched by seniors, you can find it hatched by juniors. The seniors don’t carry rifles. But one way or the other the juniors will always seek their understanding, their non-interference, their guidance, maybe even their assistance.
Can we move back? In view of what happened, from Abacha coming in with his self-succession plan and so on, would you say you regret some of the actions you took when you were leaving office?
No. I don’t regret it but I feel bad that the society failed to realise that they have a duty to protect whatever values they hold dear as far as this country is concerned. At any rate, there are people I like and do respect, those who stood against the regime, who are not military officers but civilians who are able to speak out. They didn’t mince words and if their views had been heard, he wouldn’t have done so much harm.
We are talking about power shift and you had the opportunity to effect the power shift, and I am sure if you did you would have gone down in history probably as the greatest president this country ever had. Do you regret that you missed your place in history by not effecting the power shift?
You see, history is a combination of events that happened over a period of time. So my hope is that when you guys come to judge me, you will not judge the administration only on June 12. So I still maintain hope that somehow, somewhere along the line, this country will resolve to bring in…. a time will come in the next 50 years when people will look at these things and give it a different interpretation altogether.
I keep wondering, your total conclusion over….
No, history will be right. You are saying we were wrong. I am saying there is a very valid argument for doing what we did, right.
At the time
At the time. And therefore people may not see the argument now, but in 50 years’ time, somebody can pick up the books, discuss it perhaps and say, okay let’s look at it again, and will come out with a verdict.
When Abacha came in, it became apparent that he didn’t want to go. Was there a way that you reached him or was there any kind of relationship?
We communicated. If I was accessible to him, if I would communicate directly with him, it would therefore be unfair if I talk about my communication with him because I was in a privileged position to discuss with him, giving my views on happenings and so on. That was the position I maintained.
But his self-succession plan, there was this grand plan to make him succeed himself?
I think one thing, maybe you guys must try to unearth, you still haven’t seen one man in this country Abacha told he wanted to succeed himself.
But he never said he was going.
Going away from office despite all the rallies and the two million man march. Officials were there campaigning for him to stay, and I thought that if I were in his shoes, I would sack these guys and say I am going…. The parties were there also nominating him as their sole presidential candidate and he didn’t reject any of the nominations.
Why shouldn’t he accept the wishes of the people? The whole people, two million civilians converged in Abuja, all political parties these are all civilians. They said look, you are the man. So who was he to say no
Mr. President, sitting where you are today, when you look back, do you see any sign of sincerity in all that? Is that what you call the wishes of the people?
That comes back to what I was telling you that the society is either too sycophantic or they are promoting their own interests. And this is exactly what happened. And they found in him a willing tool, so they used it.
The stories about his level of corruption. You were his colleague in office, at what point did he start to amass so much wealth, and were you surprised at the revelations?
The revelations surprised me. Here I am, I am surprised that is all.
Surprised, is that all?
Surprised because I didn’t know.
There were insinuations that he was in charge of money going to ECOMOG through the Ministry of Defence or the money going to the services and that these services were not serviced. Surely something was wrong even then…And with the construction of barracks and you even had to intervene and do it through the Ministry of Works and you still didn’t see anything wrong with the man?
These things you talk about, these things the press people are saying…. If I should talk about it honestly and sincerely, you can advance some evidence as to how these happened
Now, you are disappointed that some of the things happened. You were misled?
No, no, no. These things, they are revelations after I had left office. You must make the difference.
Mr. President, let’s come to the present administration. Tell us the role you played. As civilians let’s ask an unfair question because Obasanjo is your commander-in-chief. But tell us after one year in office, well, he came into office with a whole lot of promises he was going to deliver and it did appear that those of you who championed his taking over as a civilian president had dreams of making a Mandela out of the West African coast. Tell us, what do you think about the administration?
If there is anything I can say about this administration, it is to say that the fact that one year after he came into office, we are still surviving as one united country is the greatest achievement of Obasanjo. That we are one country today and still seeing ourselves as Nigerians. He has not disappointed me because I have some parameters with which to judge a leader. And as I say often, a country like Nigeria needs a strong leader, a man who could be a rallying point in the event anything happens, and a man who has conviction, and he has convictions. Whenever you hear him talking, you know that he believes in the oneness of this nation.
Shouldn’t he go beyond the oneness of the country and look at the multifarious problems?
This country has not been (at rest). There has been chaos
But under Abdulsalami Abubakar for example, this country was one country and some of the things we have today….
No, it is a different situation. When Abubakar came, he took over when Abacha had gone. The mood of the country that time was democracy or nothing and you could not afford to do any other thing. That was what he did, under eight or nine months, or so.
No. 1 am not comparing him with Obasanjo. What I am saying is that I thought we had some relative stability after Abacha’s death, so keeping Nigeria one cannot be Obasanjo’s main achievement.
It is not Abubakar who brought that relative stability. It was Abacha’s death that brought that relative stability. It gives us, oh, well, let’s see, there is hope after all. And then somebody took over. Of course, he knew that the mood of the country that time was: get rid of all these, let the military (offer) transition and he went ahead to do it. So that stabilises the society… But don’t forget immediately after the elections and so on and parties, tremors began again. Sovereign national conference, conference of nationalities, name it. All I am saying and I am still saying it with strong conviction, if it hadn’t been an Obasanjo sitting down there, whoever was sitting down there if not him, he would have been intimidated to the point of throwing in the towel. Intimidation from the media or the society or from critics. Intimidation, Conference of nationalities would have overwhelmed him. The Niger Delta crisis would have, you know, name it.
What about Sharia?
It would have overwhelmed him to a certain extent. I don’t think he loses his sleep, because he is strong, and that is what we need for this time, for this period.
Can we look at his current crisis with NLC. And still assessing him in the same situation, he had a running battle with the workers and he eventually capitulated?
No. That is the dividend of democracy. They couldn’t have done it under the military.
Military regimes were even more consultative. They consulted workers.
They would not have gone wild under a military regime. We would have clamped down on the labour union and the whole place would have been occupied by mobile police. That’s it! But he allowed the wishes of the people as enshrined in the constitution.
There is a problem with his style from what we can read in the newspapers.
Oh, you are reading in the newspapers?
Yes. He has problems with the National Assembly, he has problems with his party, he has problems with virtually all the segments of society and one accusation is that he is running it like a military dictatorship.
Look, this is just a new democracy after about 15 years, eight of Babangida, six or seven years of Abacha. One year of Abdulsalami Abubakar. Again here is a new experiment coming on, it takes time to stabilise. And the feud between the executive and legislative arm of government is not peculiar to this country. It happens all over the world…. But the ability to settle, accommodate each other’s views, I think this is the beauty of it all. Now everything seems to be came. He had problems but eventually it has been settled. So I think as time goes on we will become used to it. This system has a solid base to sit on. I think it is okay.
One of the reasons why people believe he is dictatorial: you look at certain actions that were taken by the government, for instance, the assault on Odi where they leveled the place.
Did you go to Odi?
I am coming, well, I mean photographs are there.
They went to take photograph of a small section of a place and then show the world this is what is happening.
Your excellency, besides that, you talk about some of the comments he made about declaring a state of emergency if some state governors didn’t do this or do that. And then this thing about not consulting before he takes action. You want to make a national day you went ahead and did it yourself, you talk of minimum wage, you have not even prepared a bill yet you announced new wages. Are you saying you like his style?
All I know is that a leader must have conviction, right? And he has conviction. And don’t forget, he had a very good working experience in this country before. In the process, he is bound to have some successes…. here and there. Of course any leader will not like to be pushed around. I wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.
Look at it another way. Look at the cabinet, the people sworn in, you said here moments ago that you believe in this new breed thing. The average age in government is about 60. These are people who were there before the Internet age, before computers. And what you see is that there is a perception that we are not moving but stuck, because we have been recycling the same people. Are you satisfied with this type of situation?
We are so fortunate that this man, has the experience to at least get the system going. In fairness to him, he did not inherit a system so his priority is to establish a-system. And he can only do this with people who are experienced, who knew what the system was and would try to bring back the system in place. Fortunately I didn’t destroy it. But if the system was destroyed and he has to restore it, he can only do that with people who have hands on experience. A lot of them have been in the system before. They will restore the system and then change it to Internet stage next time around.
Some of us are surprised at the kind of restiveness that greeted the dawn of democracy, the formation of OPC, the counter APC, EGBESU, MASSOB. What do you think is responsible for all this?
The good thing is, all these, even the MASSOB, believe in one Nigeria, even though I don’t know how they operate. So they are there to bring to the fore what they think have been ignored by government. I became interested in reading all their mission statements. They talk about their geopolitical areas, pollution, no schools, no roads, so that is all it is. So, I think it is important government looks at these sources of agitation.
Somebody alleged or said that APC was started by you. Did you establish APC?
But your friend said so.
He said what?
That you started the APC
No, he didn’t say I started it.
You funded it?
He said he started it
Including you. He didn’t deny it but you are trying to….
I am not denying. Everybody who is in APC is either my friend or somebody I know. I have friends also in OPC. It is natural to… you see we are intellectually lazy. We don’t want to pursue things to find out. People feel a sense of achievement, when it is Babangida, it is Okay, he must be the one. Investigations or whatever when somebody pushes his views across; it must be Babangida. Waku was here, Okadigbo, Nzeribe was here and then it is from here he took them to the senate and so on.
If you take a look at the decision of the government to convert to retirement the dismissal of the Biafran soldiers, was it a response to the cries in the East?
I think there are a lot of things that need to be conceptualised, maybe this completes the whole reconciliation effort. I believe it is fair. I support that idea.
Let us talk about some of the hiccups. How do you see what people call the fire of Sharia in this country, the kind of divisions that it brought about. How can we walk our way through it?
You may not have the knowledge of the tendency to misunderstand it. I knew as far back as 1948, 1949, when we were growing up, we used to have what you call mixed court at that time. You have the Sunni and the Izzala, also and they sat down and educated us on something that touched on the religion. So when they eventually came and after 1948 they began to show some need for reform. In 1963 the Emirs and Dogari…. Sharia in the north, (then the Emirs reformed it. 1964, then ’66, ’67…) So I think it is the interpretation people give to some of these problems. We have cases where we know who have been convicted of stealing a goat languishing in the prison somewhere up north for 15, 16 years… I think if there is a good knowledge of these things people would have understood.
Take the case of adultery. Only animals make love in the open. I need four witnesses, right. I do it. Just before I do it, I lock my door. If there is a bright light, I switch off the light. So the question of me being caught and stoned to death does not just arise. If you take the case of stealing that people are talking about, there is a sort of bad impression in the society. If somebody steals here where we are now, that law will not cut his hand, it is a public place. But if somebody steals a goat or somebody steals something from their relatives and so on, they cut their hands. So I have come to the conclusion that if there is a conscientious effort to educate the people, these problems would not have been there at all.
But if people continue to see it as an effort to Islamise the society, that is why there is bound to be resistance from the public who are not followers of Islam or those who do not have religion at all, and will want to remain where they are. Even what they are saying now it happens all over. If you come to Minna, before now you identified areas where you sell alcohol by putting a red flag, so anybody who see it knows they sell drinks there. So this is just reviving what has been there.
I was trying to ask a follow up question on this Sharia thing. If it has been there all these years and we didn’t have too many problems, what some people see is this tendency to, for instance in Kano, the governor wanted certain areas left alone from certain things that apply in other areas, but the people tell him that no, it has to apply everywhere, it must apply in the barracks, everybody must fall under it. That is what the Grand Khadi or somebody was saying. This feeling that while it is said that it will only apply to Moslems, in the situation where the man is saying it must apply everywhere, there is legitimate fear in people who come from a totally different religion because it is going to apply to them. Why has it suddenly become so big now?
I don’t believe that you can force it on non-Muslims. In Zamfara where it started, for example, and even here in Niger State it is not being forced on non-Moslems, we are very civilised…
But they jailed a woman selling burukutu.
If she sold it where it should be sold, nobody would have jailed her.
But they placed many obstacles. If you want to sell liquor in Niger State, government is asking people to obtain an expensive licence. You might as well say, look I don’t want them to sell liquor in the state, pack your bag and go back to where you come from.
No, no, no. This place is close to a school (and we have been watching over this), because of the traffic. We don’t want accidents, that’s all. We have a police barrack. Yesterday my wife was worried about traffic that she didn’t want this thing to extend to the school even when the school is fenced and walled all over. So I said I will find out where they sell this stuff, so I asked somebody to follow me there… He said there is a police barrack that they are allowed to sell alcohol. So anybody who wants to drink goes there. Some go to the military barracks. So the military and the police are making money out of it because they get a room and when you go there, they charge whatever they like. I think it is easy the way they handle it.
You see, it is a divine injunction. God said, if I commit adultery, this is the way I will be going. So He put up some obstacles because we know He doesn’t want his servant to be disgraced or killed, so He put up certain stages before you even get convicted. Then He alone knows when you did it, how you did it. When He comes to ask you if you say no, your eyes, your legs and everybody will witness so you cannot…. It is a way of telling you that somebody is watching.
Is it that the penal code as it is has not addressed the social problems that we have?
The penal code addresses some of these problems but in most cases they are still there. The Kaduna problem I do not think it has anything to do with Sharia. Sharia couldn’t be part of the problem because it was not the main issue. The issue was more political and social than any other thing. I believe very strongly it is not Sharia.
Why do you believe this, what is the evidence that says that…?
That says what?
That the problem is not religious.
But it wasn’t religion.
A lot of people believe it has to be that, because you had people marching about when actually the battle broke out.
Let me tell you one thing in Kaduna, they have a much more fundamental problem to address than Sharia. In 1989, I was looking for a deputy governor for Kaduna state. I decided to pick a woman and I also made sure, that woman was a Christian, okay. I got a delegation protesting against the choice of that lady. I sat back and said I wanted to give southern Kaduna a chance and this woman is from Kaduna south. As far as I was concerned, she met the requirements. She is a Christian, she is from Kaduna south. More than that, they told me she has Fulani blood.
People from southern Kaduna said this?
Yes, she has Fulani blood in her. So the issue then was not religion, it was not part of geography. Then the most interesting one: I wanted to choose a man from southern Kaduna. I wanted a Christian…. He was one of the brightest boys around. I was contemplating making him a governor. I had a representation by military officers from the same part of Kaduna. “We hear you want to make so, so a governor. We don’t like him.” I said tell me, why don’t you like him, you can see that he is bright, he has a very, very good record from cadet up to the time this boy became a colonel, he is well read, yes, exposed, yes. They said, “with all due respect, we don’t want him, he belongs to the establishment”. I said tell me. What establishment? They said this boy, he speaks Hausa language, this boy schooled in northern Kaduna (in Zaria) so he speaks Hausa very well. His friends are members of the establishment, most of his friends are Hausa/Fulani.
This is why I keep saying the issue is much more complex than religion. This is one of their own but they don’t like him, because of his connections, with even his friends, that most of his friends were Hausa and Fulanis. So, he will not represent their interest. But he is their own son. Father, mother, everything 100 percent, his wife, his children, himself, everything Christian. So the problem there, I think is much more complex than the issue of religion. Once again, before this problem started, there is the Grand Kadi of Kaduna State. Sharia Court of Appeal, Kaduna State, all these things were in existence. So, it is much more fundamental, honestly. Was it Sharia that brought Kafanchan and Zango Kataf? What is going on there, they want Kingdom: they don’t want to be subjugated to the rule of Hausa-Fulani. Some of us are saying give them what they want, and the problem is solved.
Let me take you back to your administration now. We started with you administration, we have to end with your administration. We have had seven years to look back. Can you tell us, in retrospect things you did that you could have done differently?
Honestly, if anything, maybe I will say that our administration was ahead of its time. Looking back, in retrospect, what we tried to do, at that time, maybe the society was not ready for it and therefore, it could not stomach. That created tension within the society. But we knew that at the end of the day, we had to do certain things that would be different from the things we did at that time. But then I had to understand the environment as such that you need time before you do certain things. In this case the much (dreaded) Structural Adjustment Programme, for example… You don’t wake up in the morning and then talk about freeing the economy. So when we started talking about privatisation, subsidy, deregulation, people at that time tried to resist it. So I feel, in retrospect some of the things we tried to introduce maybe, we would have done more of educating the people to get to see it. We didn’t look at that, that it will not be easy to change a system just as we tried in 1986 or rather even now. It even had to continue when Abacha was there…. And this is one of the difficulty democracy entails. When it comes to implementing some of these reforms, whether you call it deregulation, liberalization, privatization, it is still the same thing. So what I would have done differently would have been to give more time to enlightening the people on some of the policies that we were trying to put in place.
You had some established programmes like DFRRI for instance, and People’s Bank. But towards the end of your tenure you appeared to have yourself sabotaged some of these establishments.
Like which one?
DFFRI, for instance, was more or less disbanded and taken to ministry of agriculture, People’s Bank, of course it was still there, but it was no longer operating at the level you set out it was going to operate, helping the low income earners and the rest of them.
Well, you know that we were sensitive to criticism. DFRRI, People have tended to compare. I was very proud of the fact that everything we said we would do was done. It confers the status on us that all these things that were shunter aside were populist. So sometimes, some ask why? Let’s look at it this way, and this happens because they have heard so much about what DFRRI is doing, what ministry of agriculture is doing, therefore it is derailed. Till today I haven’t been told if the media is satisfied they sit down and write Babangida’s transition gulped N40 billion. Till today, nobody has told me how N40 billion was spent, how they came about that figure. Nobody has bothered to find out what is it we did in our first year in office. So you know given the situation at that time, one would need to try to think whether, if you insist, you were doing the right thing then you got to answer one of these things. Very unfair but this is the society, once you are susceptible, you can’t ignore what people say about you.
I find that interesting because I have already seen you in terms of someone who is always sure of his moods. I have had the occasion to speak with some political friends of yours and in the military and they said part of your problem was that you listened too much and you that sometimes you took a decision and then you went back on it.
No. I think it is very necessary as far as I am concerned. As long as you can remain focused, you can listen to one thousand and one piece of advice. It either helps you to sharpen what you already wanted to do or to jettison it. In most cases, you know, from my experience, those who were advising me, immediately they walk in, I can tell you what they are going to talk about. And I will always be proved right…. Let’s talk about doing anything. He will only tell you what he wants you to do, the moment you say okay, what you said is true, how do you do it. I want you to do it that is the problem. He will look lost completely. Ask him to think about it, and he wouldn’t come back. He is satisfied with what he has told you.
In the early years of your administration, Mr. President, you had, a kitchen cabinet of very brilliant officers. When you moved your office to Abuja in 1991, that type of contact was totally lost and we began to feel that, the intellectualism that informed your earlier years in power was gradually lost.
When we moved to Abuja, don’t forget, the preponderance of the armed forces were still outside, so the frequency of meeting or interaction was not going to be the same, because it was not going to be easy to be flying Lagos-Abuja. That limited our interaction and then some of our senior officers were not in the country at that time. I allowed them to say whatever they liked at the Armed Forces Consultative meetings. They could abuse the president at the meeting but if they did that outside the meeting that would be a different thing. They were allowed to speak their minds. One of the things I always remember was when one of the captains said I should house senior officers in the barracks. I said why? And he said because if they are there, we will get water and light….!
I wanted to talk about another popular figure because the Okigbo panel actually indicated your government
Yes, he actually published the report.
There were instances where money was supposed to be sent to some places and they said no money was given to them. And I remember one particular instance, which was ABU. And, in fact, the vice-chancellor said that if we would find where the money was he was willing to give Newswatch (a gift). That thing keeps recurring. Money was misappropriated. Of course talking about that, people misunderstand it to be Gulf war, but what was said was that about N500 million or so of it came during that Gulf war period. Could you address this?
It is still a problem and I tell you why it is still a problem. I saw a publication, Mr. Phillip Asiodu was trying to rationalise. .. And I told a friend that I gave him one week, somebody will want to accuse him… In less than seven days there was an editorial and one interesting thing in that editorial it says….
Which publication is that?
I will tell you… It says when everybody in this country believes that this is on, why shouldn’t Phillip now say it is not so. Bias. Right, in an editorial. If it is a features writer, there is no problem about that, which is an opinion. But I thought the editorial should represent the collective feelings of a paper, the people, the country and so on. But that happened. I read it, I underlined it, Pius talked about N 12.4 billion into that account in six years. Pius talked about projects they considered not generative. Now, before Pius committee was set up he was never the adviser on project implementation. Somebody had to do it and we did it and now he visited it and said it was not necessary. At that time we said it was necessary: pumped money into Abuja, it was necessary to complete Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. It was necessary to do anything. So they are not generative, you just keep money in the bank. So already the explanations have been made and nobody wants to listen. Pius’ report went to June of 1994, even when I was out office. From August 1993 to June 1994, I wasn’t in office. Pius also reported about the increase in fuel dedication. Again this happened after I had left office. Maybe you followed, it was your magazine that did it, the 1985 to 1993 disbursement. From your publication, I knew you stole the document from the Central Bank, or somewhere.
Everybody blames the kind of problem we have on SAP. And part of the problems also, you tended to have, at a stage, listened to the anti-SAP call and you tried to accommodate them. And you more or less damaged the plank of SAP. In retrospect, would you think this was what happened?
I think for every policy there are unintended consequences. So I agree with what you say. I did mention that we were honest, once we introduced it in September 1986, we did say that it was going to be tough, the problems would be enormous. Those who are prepared to work hard will survive; those that were not ready to work hard will sink. We said this in 1986. As far as the public is concerned, we did the best we could to tell them that there were going to be problems, that if you are committed to the development of this country, this is the price you are going to pay. May be, we didn’t realise that there is a limit to the Nigerian’s endurance. We tended to overlook it.
Deregulation of petroleum products. From your own perspective, is it because the gap is too wide or you could do it gradually and achieve the same kind of result?
When we witnessed the fuel scarcity people were buying one litre for N 100 or thereabouts. It shows you one thing, that if it were available a Nigerian would buy it at any price just to meet his needs and so on. So, there is always the need. But what I think ought to have been done was more information, or, I wouldn’t call it propaganda, because we cannot continue to go on with this price. If you do, there would be problems and of course some families don’t have the resources to buy petroleum products. I think we have the tendency to understand but it takes time unless you will have to continue to hammer in it.
Have you been in touch with John Fashanu. John Fashanu has been saying he has evidence of your wealth.
(cuts in) You want to be fair to him, he didn’t
He never mentioned his name?
It is the Nigerian newspapers. And I asked him yesterday in Tell. What is his name?
Yes, in Washington
He is in Washington now, right?
He is reporting from Washington. Nigerian citizen or something, they ought to have conference on this Fashanu’s references. They invited some people, Fashanu included, to come and talk about this his latest scam of the century. And I thought it was a good idea and sent out invitation to people. One of the characters in there, they were talking about Robert Linton. He came with his team… unfortunately Fashanu didn’t show up. All the same, he tried to tell them what we did and explain everything. Fashanu who said he was prepared to talk about his latest scam did not come. Now if you read Fashanu’s story, he denied it himself. And I have a write up by the editor of Africa Confidential. I have a letter which he wrote to one of us, and he also talked about it.
There is one unresolved issue that has always recurred. Any time, especially when it comes to around October, your administration is always accused of having a hand, and 1 think some people actually went to the Oputa panel to complain about who killed Dele Giwa.
(cuts in) And I hope you know the response of Oputa, how they viewed this.
My question is how do you respond to it? Do you feel sad that nobody has actually solved that thing?
I feel sad because we lost a friend in that circumstance. And any human being with some human compassion will sympathise with anybody, like…. Especially, given the circumstances in which he died. Then it comes to pointing of fingers, a lot of theories and hypotheses have been made. And I will rather accuse you the media of not doing more what you believe should have been done. What should have been done? X killed him that’s all. You are not helping us for one, to know how he died, who killed him. You are not helping us but you feel satisfied to sit down and talk about it that somebody killed him, period. You haven’t done more. I wish you did.
You feel the press should take on the role of the police?
No, the press and individuals should help the police but I am not sure that you are helping them. You are not helping them to do their jobs. You are in a much better position to help
Was the investigation by the police at any point aborted during your time?
No. It was open up to the time I left office
Did the police submit any report to you?
What did the report say?
The report was not conclusive
Is that all?
And that they will continue with the search.
From Obasanjo’s resolve a whole lot of people say they will not feel satisfied until Obasanjo probes your administration on charges of corruption. Have you any problems with that?
No. Why should I? There is a basic common sense which people don’t seem to realise. And I am not being unfair. But if you take the administration, lets say Abacha, he died in 1998 (June). By September 1999 things began to fall apart. You see lack of transparency. You feel it, you could touch it, you could reach it, ask for it, you could get information…. When he came in he was advised to investigate my administration…. All these things are there. The white papers also are there. I did mention in 1989 that we should be prepared to account for our stewardship at any time. I repeated it in 1991 and 1 did say it when I was leaving. I am not bragging but I knew we did the best for the administration of this country.
We were conscious of who we were at that time, I was conscious of who I was, so were also my ministers, and I don’t think there is any of us who will like his name to be dragged in the mud. I did mention openly, publicly that we inherited this amount of debt but I am promising the country that by the time I leave office, if I cannot reduce it, I will not increase it either. I didn’t leave $500 million in the account. I left much more than that, not what people are saying. I left much more than I inherited. These are basic things but again because of the circumstances, that is why I say it will take time to think. I sit down and look at these things. Some people talk about, Gulf War, three months, the way they see it $4.5 billion. Outrageous. People talk about my national contracts that I siphoned money through these contracts. And then the international community ready to come to investigate. But up till now, nobody has come. Honestly, I should give thanks to God that we did the best at the time we did them. We were, honestly, very transparent. Eh, we knew what happened during Abacha. Honestly, I feel there is no point talking about it. Unfortunately they want to blame President Obasanjo for no reason.