We Need National Dialogue
Interview with City People, April, 2004
Let us start by asking you how life is in retirement?
It is exciting, in the sense that I have been mostly outside this environment, I was in Public Service for a period of over 31 years and most of it getting posted to one place or the other before eventually settling down. Surely, it is something one looked forward, to come back home safely and settle down and be in another way of life. And the interesting thing is that, one is made to look like a new corner in this kind of environment. But what helped me, is that I have always dreamt and believed that I would have to come back to where I was born and so immediately after retirement, I got myself back here. It has to take time also to settle down and to try to reconnect with your roots. The reconnection is what is most important. And maybe it took some time, a year or two, and then gradually, you now rediscover yourself and your roots. And the people have been very kind and most cooperative. So, the transition, from active life to retirement has not been very traumatic as far as I am concerned. On the whole, I can say it has been a worthwhile experience.
A lot of people out there wonder how General Babangida keeps himself preoccupied, especially for someone who has lived an active life. So, what does 1BB do on a daily basis to keep busy?
You are right. After having had an active life, I find that I have more time now than I ever had. If I was working for 8, 12 to 14 active hours in the past, what I do now is just for about 3 to 4 hours. Surprisingly, I see more people now than I used to do when I was in office, may be because of the environment in which I find myself. What I do is to try as much as possible to keep current, keep fit and to address certain things, to try to reflect, to look back, and then interact with people from all diverse places. I also try to help resolve problems within my environment amongst my people.
Do you have a routine you follow in your daily living?
Yes, I have a routine. I normally get out of bed surprisingly at about 5 o’clock in the morning. Then, I do all the necessary things like prayers and all that and then go back to bed for about an hour or two. Except if I am traveling, but if l am staying in, I sleep for about an hour or two after prayers, then get dressed, attend one function or the other and come back and sit down and continue to receive people.
But from the heavy flow of the people who come to see you on a daily basis, how do you get time to rest? For instance, close to twenty people have come in to see you since we got here at 11.00 am. Would you really say you are in retirement or active service?
(Laughs) Yes, a lot of my friends say so. But some of my friends who know me say I cannot really “survive” without finding people around me. It dates back to my days in school since I was a small student. I had always wanted to be in the midst of people. I think this might have accounted for it so to speak. I can’t do without having people around me. I enjoy it. I even encourage them to come. People are bound to come. Some would need some advice or the other or to talk to you about things they think you are probably in a position to advise or in a position to help.
A lot of people wonder what is in IBB that makes people flock to him. Can you attempt to define that thing 1BB has that attracts people to him?
(Laughs) 1 don’t know really, I don’t. I think it comes naturally. It is natural.
Since you went into retirement in Minna, have you set up some businesses?
Yes. In retirement, you have to do some things to survive. In my case, I really came to retire here in Minna. But before then, we had established some businesses here. I have always told people this, but they find it difficult to believe. We started making bread before I became the President. This thing started in 1981. We are also involved in providing services like schools a Primary school, Secondary School. Then, I have children who are growing up, they have finished their university education and they are now on their own. I also offer a lot of help and services free of charge to for them. Sometimes, I do help my wife with ideas about running the school. And like every other person who grew up around the country, we do., have property around the country, mostly in places like Minna, Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Kano and that has contributed in no small measure in raising some income with which to survive.
What does the General do to keep fit? At 63 we saw you bouncing up and down like a young man a while ago?
I have a Gym in the house and I try as much as possible to make good use of it.
How about reading and writing?
Yes, reading, I do quite a lot it. But the timing has changed now. In the past, I could sit down to read for about three to four hours, but now, may be about an hour or one and a half. And it’s mostly about political writings, biographies and something to do with governments in various countries of the world.
You’ll agree with us that 1BB remains an enigma in Nigeria. He means so many things to so many people. Some see him as sly, cunning and a fox. Others see him as a Maradona who can’t be predicted. Others say he is a kind-hearted and generous man. Which description best suits 1BB. What makes you tick?
(Laughs) I don’t know. I am not sure I can answer that. But I have one of my boys who even puts it in a different way. He said, those who like me, like me. Those who hate me, hate me with a passion. So, there is no middle cause. It is either you like him or you hate him. I try to stay in the middle.
Politically, you’ve been in the news ever since you left power. In 2003, it was either IBB was coming out to contest or not. Now, as we approach 2007, it has been a recurring decimal again and the rumour is rife that IBB is coming out. Are you coming out in 2007?
It is a good question. Quite frankly, a lot of people also ask me that question. But let me put it in perspective. When Politics started in 1998 through 1999, I did mention that I was not going to contest any election. But people would want to believe that I was going to do it. But I kept to my words. I said this in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 including 2003.
Let me further confess to you that a long time ago, I had made up my mind that I was not going to get involved in the immediate post military politics, because I considered myself part of the Military at that time. I thought we should allow for this gestation period to pass without me getting involved because it will be too early to get involved. I continued up to 2003. I also made a statement to the effect that all of us, including you and me, all of us, have a role to play in the development of this country in one way or the other. So, we cannot afford to be aloof. We should all make a contribution. So, if by making contributions, I have to be in politics, I will participate in politics in 2007. But I don’t believe it is fair to think once you go into politics, you want to contest.
You can go into politics, not necessarily looking towards an elective office. You can be in politics to make a contribution and if that contribution is valued, people can come and ask you to come and become the chairman of Minna Local Government for example or somebody can come and say, look, we want to establish a movement and want you to be the Grand Patron or Chairman. It is the same thing with a political party. Now, by my philosophy, I wouldn’t like to be seen as somebody stepping into politics for the sole purpose of contesting as the President, but as somebody stepping into politics for the sole purpose of making contributions. If in the process of politicking, the politics throws you up, that is a different thing entirely.
Let us rephrase the question. Is IBB running for the Presidency in 2007, because all over the country, there are different groups already working for the IBB 2007 project. Are you running or not?
Again, the springing up of groups is a normal thing in a democratic environment. People have. got their own views or have a right to express their own views. Just as you have those who are saying IBB for 2007, there are also those who are saying to hell with IBB in 2007, we would not allow him again. That is what democracy is all about. As to whether I am running or not, I have already told you, I will be part of 2007 politics, let’s leave it at that.
IBB is one of the most criticised personalities in Nigerian politics. He has been vilified, abused and heaped on him are all the problems of Nigeria. Just as you have those who praise you and follow you, you also have people who criticise you.
Absolutely, there are a lot of them.
So, what do you make of all these criticisms over the years? How does IBB take these criticisms?
I take them in my stride. Many of these criticisms come out of lack of experience on the part of those who make them. Let me confess to you, as regards all the criticisms I get, I try as much as possible to have a very open mind because you need them. A leader needs to be criticised. So, I do need them. Where I find that there is an element of constructive criticism, honestly, I do take it seriously and try to adjust. That has, in a way, helped me to readjust my ways. But I can assure you that about 90% of the criticisms are borne out of imagination. The facts and knowledge are not there. They are borne out of concoction, put together by people who have their own personal agenda. So, for those ones, I really don’t bother.
Can you give us examples?
Yes, I can. For example, somebody said I “stole,” or that I “took away”
$12.4 billion dollars. Maybe to an illiterate, it will be easy to say yes, he did it. But for an educated person, that does not add up. First of all, the country cannot make that amount of money in that period not to talk of somebody stealing it. Secondly, for an educated person, somebody with this kind of money should be able to shake the banking institution in the world. With $12.4 billion dollars sitting in your account, you have the power to shake the Stock Market and make it strong or crash and so on and no one has come to say he has the money in this bank or this country, so you are not helping the ordinary man on the street to know the type of person you are talking about. So, those who make this kind of ridiculous claim, ignore them as one of those things.
What was that?
Think back to 1989. If you remember in 1989, there was this story that I owned a whole street in France, you know. I wish it were true, because I wouldn’t be living here. I would also not be here with you. I would be in France. But the truth is that it is just not true. Surprisingly, some people have kept repeating it over and over again. From coming out in a little pamphlet, some young writers have even documented it as tracts in a booklet. Can you believe it? I thought by now, people should have become painstaking, carry out researches before they open their mouths to talk. If you want to criticise IBB or ridicule him, can’t you for Christ sake at least carry out some research about him?
Let’s take a look at The 1BB Years, by that, I mean the years you were in power as President. How do you see those years? Are all the criticisms of those years justified?
One thing I am happy about is that I have a complete record of all that went on in those years. I knew that mischief makers would try to manipulate history, so I made a detailed documentation of our activities in those years, especially as it concerns money, funds spent. When we were in office, I told all my Ministers and aides, that whatever you were doing, make sure that you record it keep track of it, because one day, somebody is going to ask questions and you’ll look around and you won’t have any other thing to defend yourself other than the documents you have kept. This advice came as a result of knowledge of people and power in Nigeria. May his soul rest in peace. I once called the man who was the CBN Governor under me, Alhaji Abdulkadir. I asked him to do a documentation of all the transactions that transpired while we were in office. I told him I know it is going to be a lot of work, but please do it. I am happy he did it. Though he is dead today, I have the complete documentation of all that transpired in those years. Each time I take a look at those documents, I am happy because you never know when it can be useful. With it, you can always look back. So, if somebody says oh, IBB stole this, I can say go and bring your evidence and documents of all that happened. It makes you feel satisfied. You are also doing it for posterity. So, we try to keep records and we try to document either through video recording or audio. We did all of these so as to keep everybody on notice and to be able take people on when they criticise us, so as to say they are wrong, this is the correct position. Then, the society will be better off.
Let us take you back to the June 12 era and the problems that came with it. That period must have been very agonising for you. What were the forces that made you leave office when you did?
You mean why did I step aside? (Laughter).
Yes, why did you use the term step aside? Was it with a view to coming back like some people have suggested?
Basically, it was a military thing. I took all the blame. There is no point opening old wounds. The buck stops on my table. So, I took responsibility for all that happened. In those days, everything centered on one person. Everybody didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt. Everybody heaped the blame on IBB. So, I said look, I will step aside and allow the process to continue. And I did. That was the price I had to pay.
So, those days must have been very agonizing for you?
Oh yes. You are very right. It was a very, very agonizing period of my life because things were just happening rapidly with the media, television, both nationally and internationally, you know. There was a lot of pressure being brought to bear on me, pressure from my constituency (the military), pressure from the citizens of the country, pressure from other pressure groups. When I was growing up, we had an instructor who used to tell us that try as much as possible to keep your head while others are losing their own. So, part of one’s training as a military officer is not to lose our heads when under pressure, so that helped me.
Let’s share with you part of the pains you went through in those days. Did you feel pained that you had to leave power in an abrupt manner?
Yes, I felt pained, but not because I had to leave power abruptly. I felt pained because people who should understand, refused to understand. A lot of people who should have taken a principled stand, refused to. Take one of the issues the media kept harping on then. That was the issue of unending transition and that N40 billion was expended or wasted on the Transition Programme. Now, when we introduced the Transition Programme, from day one, I kept maintaining that it will be tough. We may make mistakes and if we do, we will correct it along the line.
Truly, whenever we made mistakes, I never hesitated in coming out to tell the world that it was going to be a learning process. Whenever we took the wrong steps, we would come back. All these were things we had before. So, I thought people would understand that we had seen all the problems coming and we had expected that we will run into problems and we had been warned before, that elsewhere the consequences of some of the actions that we were going to take are usually grave . If I tried to correct some of the consequences, there was noise. Maybe instead of 1990, we said 1992 and we tried to give reasons. It wasn’t as if I wanted to perpetuate myself in power. So, the people who should have been able to say wait a minute, they said this before, they warned us before, so this is what we are expecting. What happened is that, those who should know better suddenly blocked their sense of reason. When we had our University reforms, there were a lot of far-reaching recommendation that the people made. But the problem with them is to own up to make clear their recommendations But because they don’t want to do it, because then the media will go after them, their colleagues will go after them, so they leave you with the burden of trying to defend yourselves.
You must have gone through a-lot of that?
Yes, take the case of your colleague who was my friend, a man called Dele Giwa. He was my very good friend. 1 have copies of letters we exchanged and then suddenly in their right frame of mind, somebody will wake up one morning and says, that I killed Dele Giwa. I don’t know how a President could carry a weapon to kill a citizen who is even the President’s friend. And oh, everybody rose up to say he killed him, ooh we won’t listen to him, he must have had a hand in it. Life is so bloody precious. I don’t know how a President can sit down, I mean the President of a big country like Nigeria, just decide to kill an individual like that. But what happened? People who should have normally said, no wait a minute, let’s think rationally, he can’t do that kept quiet. The sad thing was that people who should know were afraid to speak up, so I was maligned again by people who took a contrary position. This was what was painful to me because people who should have spoken up to help the society kept mum.
On the Gulf War issue, people ought to have done simple calculations. You fought a war called the Gulf War for not more than 3 months. The price of oil had never gone beyond $15 at that time, so even if you get to $27, you are talking of 17, the extra is more than 3 months, by then, your own quota is what? Less than $2 million dollars per day. Put that excess, put it into arithmetic, you can’t get $12.4 billion dollars. That aside. Anybody who read the Okigbo Report, (I did), will know the truth. I read the report. I knew what he said. But it was turned upside. It was manipulated.
While Okigbo was talking of $12.2 billion over a period of 6 years or 8 years, somebody began to talk of $12.2 billion in a period of 3 months. And there are people who should be able to read and understand. What is going on? But they tried to manipulate it and dish it out to the ordinary, unsuspecting, innocent citizens. It was wrong information. That was very painful to me. 1 wish people were able to say yes, these are the facts and give it the professional touch. So, when I hear people talking about the Okigbo Report, 1 often laugh at their ignorance. Even if 1BB stole money, let us imagine IBB stole money, the facts should have been right.
Sir, another big one. Why did IBB annul June 12 elections?
Again, this is going to be a long explanation. I still maintain my stand that we ought to as a government take full responsibility for the annulment of the elections. I believe a leader should always own up to a mistake. He can beat his chest to say I am a leader, look I take full responsibility, so it happened.
The annulment had an ethnic coloration to it. The Yoruba felt you annulled the elections because Abiola was a Yoruba man and they hold this against you till today. Do you share this view?
I honestly don’t share this view. But I also understand if they have that view. If you recall at that time, the SDP had concluded its primaries and Shehu Yar’Adua emerged and in the other camp, NRC, Adamu Ciroma or Umaru Shinkafi, one of them was going to emerge. The same Nigerians complained about the two being Northerners, one from the Caliphate, the other a Fulani or so. The same Nigerians complained about this. It led to a lot of breaches. That one was cancelled. Then came the second one that involved Moshood Abiola, (may his soul rest in peace) and Bashir Tofa. And who was at the centre of this? Me. Abiola was my friend. So, also was Tofa. So, the same Nigerians complained that see, he brought his friends, he wants to manipulate the system. He wants either of them to take over from him. What I have found out is that head or tail, you really can’t win anyway. But this is Nigeria and Nigerians.
As we move towards 2007, everybody is talking about what to expect. What are IBB’s plans for 2007?
He will be involved in the politics of 2007. He will be very actively, involved in politics for the development of this country, we need to accept that we have a responsibility, our generation, your generation, to see what contribution we can make. I am of the view that 2007 is a long way, and for now, let’s give the present administration the time to settle down and not distract them. Let’s allow the system to work now. Let’s leave 2007 to come.
But there are Nigerians who are also angry that IBB is coming back. They say what does this old man want again at the age of 63? Others say that one Baba is going to replace another Baba. Why can’t you stay back and rest? What does IBB want?
All I am saying is that I want to make a contribution by getting involved in politics, but not necessarily for an elective office. If you make a contribution in the election process for example, that is a good contribution. For example, I would want the level of politics to go higher than what it is now. I would challenge anybody to convince me that, so far, or going by the recent past, that we have conviction politics.
As you can see, there are hardly any issues. The only organization that is tackling issues these days is government. That task has been left to government. It is sad. But I would want to see a situation where political parties, other interest groups, have their own ideas about how things should be done differently, all to achieve the same purpose and objectives. I want to see a change in people. I want them to talk about issues and you only talk about issues at the level of politics. We must care about Nigeria. We must talk about Nigeria objectively. Our parties must lead us in ideas for development. There are several issues like State Police, should we allow it? Or should we leave it at the level of National Police? A lot of ideas would come when you rigorously debate it. Believe it or not, I am looking critically at these issues and very soon, I will have a position. This is because right now, people are talking about it. Let me give you another example. I have never believed in the talk about true Federalism. But now, I do. Because there is a lot of talk about it especially coming from some enlightened people.
So, where does IBB stand now?
My stand is, we should be able to talk amongst ourselves to agree on how we intend to live our lives as a people.
Do you agree with the call for a National Conference?
You may call it National Conference, you may call it anything as long as it is going to improve the way that Nigerians would operate together, and the way that we can move this country forward together.
Do you believe in this whole talk of generational change? Because if the likes of !BB step into the political terrain, won’t this move get the younger players angry. Can’t you groom another person instead of you coming back again?
The difference is that you have an IBB who believes very passionately in generational change. You have an IBB who introduced the concept of “Newbreed” and this is because I respect the younger people who are adequately equipped to take in all the intellectual demands of any office. Then, the experience. I agree we need to encourage the younger players to push forward. These days, things are changing globally. We are in the age of the Internet. So, I agree with generational change. But we need the two generations to work together. Honestly, I am in support of the newbreed. I would like your generation to be bold and very imaginative. I know my generation have doubts about the younger generation in terms of trust. They’ll say ah, look at this small boy, what has he done? We should encourage the young people. I will be the happiest person on earth to see somebody or a student I taught in school involved in politics to rise and become a member of the House of Representatives, Governor or even the President.
How true is it that Gen. Buba Marwa is your surrogate? The general feeling in town is that Marwa is fronting for you to help neutralize Atiku in Adamawa?
(Laughs) When you are in a country where people have very fertile minds, what else do you expect? With fertile imaginations, what do you expect? I know Marwa. I taught him. He was my student. I was his teacher at the Academy. My relationship with Marwa is multi-faceted. It is a relationship between a teacher and a student. It is also a relationship between a superior officer and a junior officer. I taught him as a Cadet. He served under me as a Junior Officer. He served under me when he was growing up as a Governor, Defence Attaché, etc. He is brilliant. People like him we recommended because they were bright when they were in the Nigerian Defence Academy. So, our relationship is very deep. It goes beyond the surface. But I think Nigerians would naturally- take the easier approach because of the close relationship I enjoy with Marwa. I think it will even be unfair to Marwa to say that he is a surrogate to somebody. Don’t forget he is over 40. By now, he should have made up his mind on what type of person he wants to be. He should have made up his mind on what role he wants to play in Nigeria.
There is this general belief that there is a pact between IBB and President Obasanjo that would make him handover to you when he leaves office in 2007. Is this true?
It is very funny. There is no pact between me and President Obasanjo. How can there be a pact between IBB and President Obasanjo in a multi-party democracy? Even if there is, don’t you think it is meaningless, because you can’t control the way politics would go. Another political party can come and wash you away. So, of what use is that? There is nothing like a pact between political parties. And each party will come and sell their products to the public. They will sell their manifesto, and agenda to the public. And if the public is attracted to it, they will vote you into office.
When I say pact, I mean he prefers to handover to you after 2007?
Again, that is the fertile imagination of the Nigerian politician. That view again is not true. There is no pact whatsoever.
There are a lot of “IBB Boys” out there who have already started work for your 2007 ambition…
(cuts in) Wait a minute. Somebody corrected me the other day. He said I was called an “IBB Boy,” but I am older than 50, so how can I be a boy? (general laughter)
Okay, let’s call them IBB men. What we are saying is that they are getting ready for your entry into politics in 2007, just as Vice President Atiku is also jostling for the Presidency too. What is your relationship with Atiku?
It is good. And I mean it. I am not being cynical. Atiku is a friend of mine and we enjoy a very good relationship. Let me tell you the way I think. I am one person who believes that Atiku and Babangida should not quarrel over something they do not have control over. I don’t have the control, neither does Atiku have control over who should be the next President of Nigeria. So, why should we fight? Over what? We also do not have the power or control to determine who would not become the President of this country. This is because this resides with the people, and the Supreme Being, so we can’t really control this. So, why waste your time.
Let’s talk more about you and President Obasanjo. The general feeling all over the country is that in 1999, you installed Obasanjo as President?
This is not true. The Nigerian people voted Obasanjo in as President, not IBB. 28 million people voted massively for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, so, the Nigerian people installed him democratically.
How about your own role in the installation, in making sure he came out to offer himself for service? How about that trip you made to Otta after his release?
No. No. No. Don’t get it wrong. I went to greet him after his release from prison. We are close. The General was my boss and he made a lot of contributions in my military development.
How do you mean?
In the first place, he was my Commander-in-Chief. Secondly, when I was a junior officer, he tried to make us good officers and I have always been grateful to him. He has always defended me when I get into trouble, because sometimes, I am troublesome. Quite honestly, he has had a lost of impact on my career and development. I went there to congratulate him for coming out of prison, to sympathise with him, to commiserate with him, to sit down and talk things over.
So, how come his decision to run was linked to that your visit to him?
I think it is because some people interpreted what I said during the visit. Quite frankly, I genuinely believed in what I said. I said this country, the way it is, needs someone like Obasanjo to lead it.
Why did you say that?
I gave a reason for it. Of all those on the scene then, he had the experience, he had the general support that cuts across the country and the most important thing, he is a very, very ardent believer in the concept of one Nigeria. You can’t take that away from him. He believes in it very strongly, he would say it anywhere. Obasanjo is also the only one I found out that cannot be intimidated easily by the media. Because the media can intimidate you out of office. But he is not the type that can be easily intimidated by the Media. So, I said, we need a man like that so, Nigerians should rally round him and support him, which they did.
Would you say Ibrahim Babangida is a man that has been grossly misunderstood?
Yeah, in a way, but then, most of the people who talk about me and write about me don’t know me. They only see me from a distance. Sometimes, I begin to wonder if the IBB that they talk about is the same as me? I think if you look at it from that perspective, I can say I have been misunderstood. Most people don’t know the real IBB.
Let’s do a content analysis of IBB. So, who is IBB?
(Laughs). A native of this town, (Minna) where you are sitting with me. An ordinary human being just like any other human being. I joined the Military, did the service and by the grace of God at one time, became the President, the Military President of this country and he did the job to the best of his knowledge and ability.
If IBB is such a simple man, how come they attribute to him such a mysterious and awesome personality?
That is the question I often ask myself. I wonder myself. I read about myself in the newspapers at times and laugh. Sometimes, they don’t make me to feel I am a human being.
During Aisha Babangida’s wedding, this your house in Minna became a Mecca of sorts with every one travelling down from all over the country to attend. You stood at the gate welcoming a lot of Generals, Kings and Queens, Governors, Ministers, Senators and everyone deferring to you more or less. How did you do it? How come you wield so much influence, so much power? What do you use in controlling all these people?
Control? Me control? (Laughs) Quite frankly, I don’t know. All I can say is that, I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with virtually anybody who I have come across in my life. I have no problem whatsoever. Look, let me tell you a few things about IBB. I don’t quarrel even though to people, I am a military dictator that is ruthless. I don’t quarrel with human beings because there is no cause for it. So, over the last few years, I have made friends across the country by virtue of my progression, moving from one location to another. I also don’t disown friends. People I have known over a period of time, I still keep them as friends. I remain with them. As I make new friends, I still retain the old friends. I stick with my friends.
Despite all you’ve said, a lot of people still say he is a Maradona, he is sly, he is a fox, all in a bid to describe the IBB they know. How did that part of you evolve?
That I think is because I have a satisfactory knowledge of the psychology of Nigerians. Knowing that gives you the ability to think ahead as to what a Nigerian should be able to do. I have that gift. In 1977, we were visiting the contingents of those people who came for the Black Festival of Arts in Lagos. Obasanjo was the Head of State then. So, I was going around with him greeting them: “How are you? Hope no problem?” These were contingents from various countries. He was asking them questions: any problem? Then, they’ll say no problems. He kept on moving. The moment he got to a contingent and asked: “oh, how are you? Any problem?” They said yes, “there is problem”. I said to him, “Sir, this must be the Nigerian contingent.” And behold, it was so. It is good to understand the Nigerian psyche. Once you know that, you can predict what they’ll do.
Can you analyse the average Nigerian for us?
We are vibrant. We are very imaginative, so they can attribute a lot of things to me.
How about your Machiavellian attributes? Is it true you’ve read the book, “The Prince” cover to cover and imbibed it? And that this is what you used in ruling Nigeria?
Yeah. I have read it. But they should also know that the period then and the period now is different in terms of the level of politics. But it is true you can learn from it. You could apply it, you could adapt it to suit your environment.
What is your analysis of the Nigerian politician?
The problem I have always seen is that we are still going through a learning process. 1 don’t know whether we are willing to go the whole hog.
How come after about ten years in retirement, IBB has not been able to write a book and put down some of his ideas and experiences?
It is because I don’t want to run into trouble, But it is going to come out in my book. We are working on it.
Is it an autobiography?
Yeah. I delayed it because I really want people who read it to understand the dynamics, of power, and the way our mind works in the country, to understand the people I interacted with. I think the man that really understood Nigeria very well is late Obafemi Awolowo.
What makes you say that?
If you read one of his books, The Making of the Constitution, you will see that he really understood the psychology of the First Republic especially the various peoples of this country.
So, what should Nigerians expect from your forthcoming book?
(Laughs) Apart from the normal hullabaloo about my growing up years, where I was born and all that, I will try as much as possible to look at Nigeria from the point of view of a man who once ruled this country and attempt to share my thoughts with people, especially the upcoming generation, to share with them some of the problems that a leader has to face in running the country. I want to see it as a help. I want to see it as something that would help people to better understand the dynamics of running the Nigerian nation, interacting with people and so on.
Would you be specific and so on?
Yes. I will pick some specific events for example. During the 8 years, I had gone through about 13 crises and I want to give anybody who picks the book the benefit of reading about what I went through, the feeling. How people interpret some of the things I have gone through. Even though we were military men then, we also went through a lot of pressure, a lot of subterranean influences, how they influence you to take one decision or the other and the consequences of the decisions you have taken either rightly or wrongly.
How true is it that of all those who’ve ruled Nigeria before, you are one person who actually prepared for the job? It was like the case of a kingmaker who became a king?
No. I didn’t make myself a King. My colleagues decided that I should be there, not me. Again, I have been fortunate all through my career. I have been close to the corridors of power for years, either as a junior officer, Lieutenant-Colonel, up to a Brigadier, Major-General and a full General.
There are people like Govenor Orji Kalu of Abia State who feel that come 2007, retired Generals should not be elected into public office. That even for the post of the President, a retired General like you should be disqualified. How do you take such views?
People are entitled to their own opinion. All I have to say is that as long as these Generals are Nigerians, 1 don’t know why you want to stop them from participating in a democratic process.
Looking back, what will you call your regrets?
To be very fair and to be very honest, God has been most kind to me. I knew what my mother’s expectations about me were. I knew what my father’s expectations about me were. And God in his wisdom made it in such a way that they will not be able to see me achieve what I have achieved. May be I would have wished that one of them was alive.
What did your father want you to be?
I knew what my father thought I was going to be. Don’t forget at that time, his perception of Nigeria was limited to his own environment. So, when he said to me for example, that he knew I would become very popular, so popular that everybody within this locality will get to know me, little did he know that what he was saying was probably going to be much bigger than what he thought. Now, I know better. At that time, he just looked at his son, a young boy going into elementary school and he said very soon, he prays that one day, everybody will know him in this environment. I gave it a bigger interpretation, if he were to be alive, he would have said, this thing has gone beyond what I thought. He told me that as far back as 1954.
How will you react to the view of some people that all the problems of Nigeria originated from 1BB?
Oh yes, that I caused everything. Quite honestly, such views amuse me. I sit down and laugh over it. Can you really put all the problems of a nation on the head of one lousy person? But 1 have always believed that history has a way of judging people and putting people in perspective and those people who were perceived wrongly or whose motives were wrongly interpreted. 1 always sit down and people around me complain about what other people say about me and I say no, leave them to say whatever they want to say. My view is that we should allow time; time will take care of everything. I always wait for time. I think there may be some people right now who have changed their minds that oh he is not the devil they thought I was, that after all, I am just a human being like them.
In those days, IBB was known to be a very powerful person who could withstand all sorts of pressure. But they were shocked when you chose to step aside just like that. Was it because the pressure was too much? Couldn’t IBB have withstood that pressure?
No, no, no. What many Nigerians didn’t know was that at the time I stepped aside in 1993, I was under tremendous pressure to remain in office. I knew that the military at that time were prepared to support me. I also had some other people who accused me of leaving it because I knew it was going to fail, that is why I decided to leave. So, you can’t win. It is a no-win situation.
Some people felt that during the Abacha years, IBB kept quiet throughout in terms of trying to get him to see reason?
No. I also explained that as a former Head of State and we’ve kept to that tradition, even till now, that you don’t criticise a sitting Head of State on the pages of newspapers. Because we were once in that seat, we know how it feels. It will also not be decent to start attacking the incumbent publicly. That if you feel strongly about anything, the best way is to seek audience with the person who is there and try to talk things over. He will then explain and you’ll offer advice, so he can share the benefit of your experience. That helps. But to go public is not good. It is unethical.
Is that why you don’t criticise President Obasanjo?
Yes.. Why should I criticise him publicly when he has given me access to him? I can call him any time. I can see him anytime. Why then go to the market place?
How do you assess his administration?
I think part of what we have to look at in assessing him is the time and circumstances that brought him into power. He took-over our country that was almost fragile. Obasanjo was faced with the problem of putting the country together again, trying to move it forward. It is not an easy thing to do. But I have always felt that I have been vindicated. The truth is that, if it had been another person that had ruled Nigeria in the past four years Obasanjo has ruled Nigeria, we may not have had the country intact as it is today. Because of one man, his leadership has brought some benefits to bear on the entire country. We have been able to remain the way we are. This is one of the greatest achievements of Obasanjo and we must give him credit for that, because he has been able to guide this country as one. And that is the most important thing to me. We can make all the mistakes in the world as long as we are one, we will get it right someday.
Talking about mistakes, what mistakes will IBB say he made while he was in power?
Mistakes? Okay, I don’t know whether it was a mistake or not. But I overestimated, or over-judged the Nigerian mentality as far as changes or reforms are concerned. The resilience of Nigerians, I overrated it. You see when we were going to introduce some of the economic measures, everybody knew I was honest enough to say some people will fall by the way side. That is, people who cannot stand the heat and pressure. I believed that Nigerians could withstand the pressure but I was wrong. Their resilience was not as strong as I thought. I regret that. I regret overrating the resilience of Nigerians. Because we did not fight to be independent, we are just trying to build a nation. Like I said, I am now a new convert to the concept of true Federalism and the holding of a National Conference or a meeting of ethnic nationalities. I think one thing I like and I continue to pray for is, we should wait to see ourselves as one country.
We can fight ourselves, we can abuse ourselves, but as long as we continue to see ourselves as one country, then, we have a hope these are issues that we need to talk about. Let me give you another example.
How do you relax?
What time is it? It is about 4.30pm. If I leave you now, I am going to watch a programme on TV I have this stupid colonial mentality. There is a programme between 4.30 to 5.30 on Animal World. It is a way you think. But the truth is that, I sit down and watch it. Once it is over at 6.00 o’clock, I take a break of about 45 minutes to stroll. Then, I come back, I pray, I don’t eat dinner. At about 9.00pm, my local champions, those I call local champions, my friends who we were in school together in the last 50 something years, they come in to spend some time together. We talk about Nigeria, We talk about ourselves, by 12 midnight, they should find their way out back home and then, I don’t go to bed until I listen to CNN, SkyNews and BBC.
For the umpteenth time, come 2007, will IBB run for Presidency?
I am going to be involved in the politics of 2007. Whatever that means, I leave it to you to interpret. I can contest as Local Government Chairman, I can also be an ordinary card-carying member.