OUR NATIONAL CHALLENGES DEMAND EXPERIENCE
Interview with Channels Television, September 23, 2000
A very good morning to you General. Thanks for allowing Channels Television to come to your house and have this chat with you.
Thank you very much. It’s a great honour and privilege and I’m glad to be with you.
11 years away from Aso Rock Villa, how do you describe the State of the Nation after you left office?
I have always said and I keep on talking about it. Nigeria is a developing country and in the process of development, I think that any nation, not necessarily Nigeria goes through the ups and downs. I would say that 11 years after I left office, I’m glad to notice that there is still peace and stability in the country. More so, we have continued to remain, speak and talk as Nigerians. Any other thing is dependent upon the peace, stability and unity of the country. When I look back, 1think that this has been maintained and to me it is a great achievement for government and the people of Nigeria.
Are you satisfied with this administration’s handling of the economy and political situation in the country?
To be very fair and honest, I think they are doing very well. First of all, the handling of the political situation in a country like Nigeria with diverse population, different religious groups and people with different interests, is never easy. But in spite of these, government keeps on moving. To be frank with you, government is doing very well.
Do you think that the performance of General Obasanjo is something to write home about?
Historically, if you look at how we came about it, I did say that in 1998 and sometimes in 1999 because I knew the stage, I said that this country needs somebody who had the qualities and characteristics of somebody like President Olusegun Obasanjo. I am glad to say that those qualities that are inherent in him, he has brought them to bear in the management of the country and I think this is remarkable. l did say then that we needed somebody who has the experience and has been there before.
Secondly, he is one of the strongest believers in the unity of this country. He believes in one Nigeria and he does not accept anybody who would talk about disunity in the country. I think within the last five years, he has exhibited these qualities very well and this has helped. So I think that President Obasanjo remains the driving force in the management of this country and I give him credit for it.
It’s five years into civilian administration, how have we fared?
I think that what we all must understand and I have always repeated this at every opportunity. If you look at the way we are structured, like you rightly said local governments, states and the federal government etc. In a community like this, there is a lot of competing demands and everybody has his own perception of what he wants to see being done. Of course there are bound to be lapses and things that could be done better but if you look at them at all levels, you could see a deliberate effort being made to make life better for the ordinary citizen. In the life of a nation, five years is just like five hours or five days and I am optimistic that we will eventually get there.
Do you agree with the President’s reasons for declaring a State of Emergency in Plateau state?
I believe I do. If you look at the situation then, every effort was made and he articulated very well the reasons behind the declaration, one of the first sentences he talked about the need to take a decision. He did not take pleasure in doing it. He needed to take a decision and quite frankly I expected him to take a decision and he is one of the few people I know that is capable of taking decisions. Quite frankly I support what he did because he swore to protect and defend the constitution. Governance, the security of lives and property in this country rests entirely on his shoulders and any measure being put in place for the purposes of maintaining law, order, peace and stability of lives and property of the citizen of this country, I think we should support it.
Under a civilian administration, isn’t it a set-back?
If you recall back about 1962, we had a similar situation where Abubakar Tafawa Balewa declared a State of Emergency in Western Nigeria. It was an unusual situation and it required an unusual solution. I think he is in order.
Is General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida going into politics?
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida believes in politics. He believes that the best way to realise the vision of this country or the vision of any other organisation in the world is to get actively involved in the happenings around you. So in the context of what I’m trying to understand, I would say that I believe in politics and I will actively participate in politics the way I see it or the way the situation demands.
Are you contesting for the Presidency in 2007?
By getting into politics of course, it involves a lot of activities. You articulate your vision for this country and you want to see how it is going to be improved. You talk about the welfare of the people, you want the security of the people and for the people to now decide that ABCD have a clear understanding of what we want and if the system throws me up, and the system includes political parties, people who belong to the political parties and people who are not in politics, but they have understanding of what they want the country to be.
It’s all over the place: Babangida for 2007.
Fair enough. That is their legitimate feeling. That is their wish they are expressing. But then Niger state is part of Nigeria.
Actually, it’s not only in Niger state but also in other states…
I remain grateful for the people considering me worthy of doing things they would want, but time has not come yet when they would say let’s get you to be there. I am satisfied that people could see in me something I can offer and I am prepared to do it.
Are you a card carrying member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
Card carrying member of PDP? The answer is yes.
Some people would say after 8 years at the highest saddle, why would you want to go back?
This is where the mistake is being made. After 8 years, I didn’t say I wanted to go back. I keep on repeating it. If the system throws me back and it is not new and Nigeria is not the first country that people who were once in power, some situations developed and they get into politics and then come back. I think this is normal in the polity
What would you want to do if you become the President?
I believe that there are a lot of things as a result of practice when I was in office and as a result of observation of what is happening now that I’m out of office that we need to take a second look at and see what we can do about them because they keep on reoccurring.
Religious conflict for example, ethnic conflict for example, etc.
There is still noise about true federalism, revenue allocation, and people still crave for Sovereign National Conference, etc. There are a lot of things that people want addressed. But of course there are still other things, which I refer to as settled issues. One of such settled issues for example anybody who becomes a president or leader of this country has no problem whatsoever in accepting the fact that no matter what happens, this country wants to remain one. So you don’t need to bother about how we are going to keep Nigeria one. Because this a settled issue. We also agreed that governments in Nigeria should be democratic. This is also a settled issue. We also agreed that military intervention as we experienced before would not be tolerated anymore. The military has accepted their subordinate role. These are settled issues. The units that form the parts of the constitution, that is the states for example, are component parts of the country. So there are a lot of issues that are settled and other ones to be looked at. So any government that comes would have to look at those issues yet to be settled and find best ways of settling them.
Is the General aware of the formidable opposition you will meet with Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is also eyeing that seat in 2007?
This is the good thing about this country. The Vice President, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t said he was contesting an election in 2007. I also didn’t say that I’m going to contest an election in 2007, but because we have a very vibrant society, and have people with fertile minds and people who are very imaginative, and we live in a democracy where people are free to analyse individuals and say things about individuals. Sometimes I wonder if I am the real person that people are talking about. So we have not reached that stage.
A lot of people have been clamouring for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference. Do you agree with this?
This is also another problem, which I find most exciting when you talk about politics in the country. There have been ardent believers in the Sovereign National Conference. What I have said and I keep saying it, if the emergence of Sovereign National Conference will help this country develop, strengthen its unity, economic development, law and order etc. to me I see it as an environment to be created where people could still talk about certain unresolved issues about this country. For as long as the Sovereign National Conference recognises and accepts that Nigeria is one country, I don’t think that there is any problem going to talk because it is all about talking and maybe after talking, it makes recommendations and some of the recommendations can be implemented or corrected. It would help the National Assembly to formulate laws, rules and regulations based on some of these recommendations that will come up.
Speculations are rife that the political system is fashioned in such a way that General Babangida has been lined up to succeed in the next political dispensation. How do you react to this?
I have always responded to this kind of question by asking you for instance to take a look into the future and imagine Nigeria in the next 40 years. There wouldn’t be Obasanjo, Babangida and others. It will be your generation. Definitely, another generation of Nigerians will come up but Nigeria will still be there for over one thousand years and beyond. But it becomes part of the history of this country that before independence this is where we were. When we gained independence, this is where we are, and after independence this is what we were. It is part of the development of the country. It is no longer fashionable to talk about the military in government. So things are changing. And even things would change further.
After General Obasanjo was released from prison by General Abubakar, you went to Ota. What was that visit meant to do?
You have answered the question because he was released from prison and, people of goodwill (not only Babangida) went to Ota to congratulate him and thank God for his mercies. He was commander-in-chief when I had the privilege of serving under him as a junior officer. I knew him as far back as 1965. And since I knew him, he has played one role or the other in the shaping of my career in the military, some of them he didn’t even know because it affected me. I know and therefore it’s natural I should go and see him and congratulate him for God sparing his life and we are now back together.
A lot of speculations are rife today that you actually invited him into politics?
Immediately after the visit when I came out of the house I did say then and I’m grateful to God that I have been proved right that the situation in the country will need somebody like him to come back to serve the country. I did say that and quite frankly this is out of conviction.
Now let’s go back to June 12, 1993. Why did you annul what was regarded as the fairest and freest election Nigeria has ever held?
Well I don’t know what it was regarded as but all I know is that for once, the press gave me credit. Credit in the sense that my administration conducted one of the best and freest elections that has ever been conducted in the country. That is a credit. But of course people say………But I didn’t destroy that freest election it still remains but then, the election was annulled. Quite understandably, Nigerians were not happy and were not ready to listen to any arguments and so on. But we took the decision to annul it. What people don’t seem to understand is that once you find yourself in a position of leadership, you have no option but to accept full responsibility. You can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility. And because it was my administration at the time, I accepted full responsibility for annulling that election. Everybody believed it was wrong to annul the election and I believe it was wrong because it was wrong. But I also know that at the time we did it, we did it in the interest of the country. There are a lot of facts that were available to us which were not available to the public. We tried to weigh the public interest, the security, the security interest and national interest and putting all these together one had to take a decision. It may be a nice decision or a bad decision but a decision must be taken.
Were you under pressure?
Any leader is always under pressure.
Did you succumb to the pressure?
I wouldn’t say I succumbed to pressure because succumbing to pressure is not part of my profession. I am a trained soldier who goes to war and in the process may get hit or killed and you also lead people into either get killed or survive as a leader. So coming under pressure is not an issue. What is always paramount in any military man’s mind is the security of the country.
Was there a threat to your life?
I wouldn’t say my life was under threat but let me put it this way; the peace and stability of the nation were being threatened.
Ever since, have you been able to mend fences with Chief M.K.O Abiola’s family?
The answer is yes.
Why did you fail to appear before the Oputa tribunal?
Oputa panel was not a court. If you say why didn’t I accept the invitation to go to Oputa panel that’s better. To be very honest with you and in my own judgement (and I am happy that I have been proved right) because there is already a Supreme Court judgement on it, which supports my position. I do carry the judgment around in my pocket and anybody that asks me about it I’ll show him. Unfortunately, Oputa is one person I respect. I know him. I think the whole thing went into a hysteria. What you are trying to get for the benefit of this country, you lose it in the process of mass hysteria. My position was not unprecedented even in this country. So I said I would rather go through the normal court process.
Chief Gani Fawehemi went there and accused you of being responsible for the death of late Dele Giwa. Why didn’t you defend yourself?
Chief Gani Fawehemi is one of the most experienced lawyers in this country. He knows exactly what to do. If there is an accusation, it doesn’t get settled in a panel. He knows. So he should have done what his profession taught him to do.
General Mamman Vatsa’s death. He was your friend. Why did you do what you did in spite of appeals from international quarters and from Nigerians?
That was one of the toughest decisions that I had to take when I was military president. It was a very tough decision for the simple reason that here I am presiding over a death sentence of a man I had lived with for most of my life. I first met him in 1959. He came from Abuja, and joined us in Bida. And here I am sitting down as president presiding over his death sentence. It was tough. But somebody had to do it.
General Abacha was called the maximum military dictator. What would you say about his rule?
No matter what you say about his rule, I think he succeeded in not breaking this country. One thing that always scared me as a senior military officer and as president was the thought of breaking this country or something drastically going bad in the country such that one day history or people will put it on my laps that it was during Babangida’s rule that the country broke up because of my belief in this country. And whether anybody likes it or not, Abacha succeeded in keeping the country one.
When you look back at the days you were military president, do you have any regrets?
I remain grateful to God and the people. I am happy now to find out that some of the things we did then are very much relevant today.