- Category: Opinions/Interviews
- Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012 08:50
- Written by Jide Orintunsin/The Nation
- Hits: 981
He was involved in all but one military coup in the country.He was in the thick of action at the battle front during the civil war with a bullet lodged in his body resulting in the famous radilocupathy.
Then he rose to become Chief of Army Staff and later Nigeria’s first military President until he “stepped aside” to use his own words in 1993. General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida turned 71 yesterday, and, as part of the activities to mark the low keyed birthday celebration, he hosted journalists at his residence in Minna. He fielded questions on national issues, including the June 12, state police, the Boko Haram insurgency and other national challenges. Jide Orintunsin was there. Excerpts:
How do you feel at 71?
I thank God I am ageing gracefully. Well, this is another opportunity to appeal to all of us to strive to live in peace with one another.That is the only way our country can move forward. The only way for us to channel our God- given opportunities is to live harmoniously with one another. This is the only way to be a great country, not only the present generation but also the generations to come. Nigeria has a lot of potential; a lot of good people; but without peace, we cannot move anywhere.
How do you feel celebrating your birthday on the last day of the Ramadan and a Friday?
Fortunately, God has been so kind. My birthday falls in the period when people are fasting. So, that settles it (laugh). So, I would be allowed to rest at home. My religion says whatever God has done for you, all you need do is thank Him so that He would do more in your life.
One of the problems bedevelling Nigeria today is the issue of Boko Haram, and you and other Northern leaders are being personally accused of complicity in the activities of the group.How would you exonerate yourself from this accusation and what is the way forward?
Nigeria is a democratic society, isn’t it? Those who say Northern governors are involved, including myself, know what to do. They should do what they ought to do so to help all Nigerians. So, I will ask them to do what needs to be done.
Part of the accusation is that you have not been making comments on the Boko Haram issue.
I can understand because it is a Babangida. I have talked about it, not once, not twice. So, I am quite comfortable. I said what needed to be said. In my press statements , I said what needed to be said as a statesman. I pleaded with Boko Haram, so what else do I have to say?
How do you feel when you are rightly or wrongly accused of something bad?
Well, normally, I do not consider it as anything bad, to be honest with you. In the last 22 or 23 years, since I left office, it has been the same sing-song by the media, columnists and so on. Somebody would say during his time, he institutionalized corruption. The question is: in the name of God, aren’t we capable of doing something different in those years? There have been many governments since I left office. And if government exists for the welfare of the people, are you saying nobody is capable of correcting the purported wrong that Babangida did? When I and my former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, volunteered to make useful suggestions, some people said what did we do when we were there at the helms? Okay,we were there. But things were happening. So, we should not be deprived of the right to make our contribution.
We have presidents in some other climes that authorized bombings.They were not castigated because of that. But, here we are in Nigeria. I strongly believe that in the near future, there would be people who would sit down and discern the situation differently. But I have come to accept that for any subject raised in this country, there are over 160 million different opinions.
If you were the present president of Nigeria, what would you have done differently in handling the Boko Haram issue?
We should understand that President Jonathan, Babangida,Obasanjo, Shagari, Buhari and every body do know that we are running or we ran a developing country. And what we are going through now, other countries have gone through worse situations. But,through perseverance, hard work and ability to dialogue, such countries were able to surmount their problems. I think I am sensible enough to know we are a developing country, and, as far as we are ready to learn from our mistakes, we would get there.
What are those mistakes?
I mean as a developing country, we went into a civil war. I don’t believe we would likely go into another civil war, despite the drums of war everywhere. I am not sure that even you,the younger
generation, would like to go through what we went through.
So what would you have done differently as president of the country because the menace of Boko Haram is still very much with us?
I have done what I am supposed to do. First of all, we support the President in his efforts to bring about peace and peaceful co-existence. We don’t have any other country except Nigeria. So, we must support all his efforts to bring about peace in the country. We would continue to support him to achieve that.
We are talking about the Babangida presidency.What would you have done that President Jonathan has not done on this problem?
The Babangida presidency expired about 22 years ago.
You were recently quoted in some of your press statements that some of the problems
bedevelling the country were caused by the incompetence of the present leadership.
I am not sure you got me right.
You also threatened to take Chief Edwin Clark to court…
Chief Clark is my friend. I have known him for 30 or 35 years. There is mutual respect between us.
So, I would not wrong him in any way. I do respect him, and he would not deny me as his friend. That is settled.
If you were friends as claimed, why did you make the issue a media affair?Why did you not settle it privately, amicably?
You heightened it. When I say ‘you’ I mean the media. The hype was very unnecessary.
There are many problems in the country today, from Boko Haram to the Niger Delta insurgency, bad economy and apprehension ahead of the 2015 elections. Can Nigeria survive all these?
You know what? When I was growing up, I was involved in so many things in this country which bordered on what I will call stability of the country .From about 1963 and 1964, we were faced by so many things: riots, Tiv riots, Isaac Adaka Boro insurgency, you name it, Operation weti e in the Southwest and the civil war. These are all because we are a developing country.We went through all these and we are still going through challenges in a different manner. As a young man, I participated in every operation from 1963 till I left office. I believe as a developing country, all these are passing phases.I told a group of unity school students that I didn’t have the pleasure or luxury of attending schools which everybody attended. This invariably affords you the opportunity of having friends virtually everywhere. So, one has the hope that one day we’ll come together for the sake of this country.
From the activities of Boko Haram so far, would you describe it as religious or political?
F rom my observation of Boko Haram, I want to say you guys (media) have not done enough study of the sect.To find out the causes of all these, even communal violence everywhere; boundary disputes , whether in Akwa Ibom, Fulani upheavals with Gwari, everywhere, these things are happening in the country. Somebody should be able to tell us how to move forward from all these.
Boko Haram recently called for the resignation of PresidentJjonathan. What is your take on this?
(Laughter) That is my view, laugh.
You once said that the civil war is not a laughable matter. In your estimation, which of the experiences you had would you consider most traumatic?
Let me be very honest with you. When in 1966 we went through the first crisis, there was a feeling that the leadership at that time felt one part did not want the other as part of the country. This led to the issue of secession. But the most important lesson that I learnt at that time as a young officer was
the relationship we established with my colleagues at the military academy. But circumstances separated us. Some of my colleagues were at one side , while I was at another side. Honestly, what impressed me most, when we met each other, we were not enemies. We still remembered our
younger days. We understood the political misunderstanding that brought us to be at loggerheads. I had a classmate at the other side. I knew he was at the other side and he knew I was at this side. When the war ended in January 1970, he came over.We embraced each other. We even teased each other that ‘so, you were fighting me and so on’. So, the ability to go back to the Nigerian society and heal the wounds is the most remarkable. Hardly do you find a country that fought a civil war and forgot the experience in less than 30 years. I think the credit goes to Nigerians.
Could you tell us about your personal experiences in the last 71 years?
I listed 13 things in life , and I was looking for a psychologist to sit with and chat with him so that I could pour out my experiences and feelings and then he would be able to make sense out of my experiences and feelings. So, if anybody among you could help me out, I would be grateful. As a leader, you have to go through many experiences: some traumatic, some good. But somebody should sit down with you to know how do you react to certain circumstances of life. But I think the sum total is that God has been so kind.
So,June 12 (1993 presidential election) was not a challenge?
It was a challenge of leadership. It was a real challenge. At that time, what you needed to do was to pick any newspaper, and you would have a feeling that in the next couple of days Nigeria would break up. But we were able to come out of that.
Recently, you and your former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, brought the state of the nation to the public glare. Was this because President Jonathan is no longer accessible for private advice or what?
The answer to your postulation is ‘no’. We didn’t do anything to hurt him. We are in good terms with President Jonathan. We talk to him. But some of your colleagues believe that I have never talked about Boko Haram because you didn’t hear me. I have been accused of not talking. We decided to take the opportunity of the Ramadan period like any other leader. What we are doing is to appeal to all Nigerians on behalf of the government of the country. There was nothing bad in that. We maintain a very good relationship with Mr. President. Babangida at 70 was quarrelling with his former boss, but now we are talking together. But we know who we are. If there is one man who believes in the unity of this country today, it is OBJ. I also share the same view. So, we have something that is bigger than all these tantrums of the newspapers and the rest of them. So, if we have something that is for the common good of the country, why not? So, we have been talking. We don’t sit idle as some people believe.
Your son, Mohammed,publicly declared his intention to vie for the governorship seat in Niger State in 2015…
(Cuts in..)He didn’t declare. I read what he said. He said, ‘I thank you for considering me worthy of holding a political office in the state’. He didn’t say he wanted to be governor. I am very critical about this as it affects me. If he said that , it might not necessarily be governor. It could be local government chairman; it could be councillor; it could be any political office. The ambition is not there yet. But if he signifies intention, I would offer him the advice that a responsible father should give his son. He is a grown- up . I will lay everything on the table for him.
The economies of most countries of the world seem to be in trouble, yet in Nigeria, our spending often overshoots the target . As a former leader ,what is your advice to check this?
Between 1985 and 1993, I managed poverty. I operated when a barrel of crude oil was as low as 12 dollars. But that was my luck. I don’t blame anybody for that because I came in at that time when there was oil crisis, oil glut and the rest of them. But I was able to manage that. God helped Nigeria again, oil went as high as 100 dollars. So, while I managed poverty, others managed affluence. On the unbridled display of affluence by the political elite, I want to blame the media for promoting such and invariably heightening tension. For example, if somebody is threatening that the country will go to war, why should you publish such a thing? Why give it coverage? You should have said ‘this man is crazy, forget him’. By now, you should know the serious people you give publicity when they talk. Let me give some examples: I listened to the late Gani Fawehinmi anytime he talked. Even when he was abusing me, I still read him because you would pick up something good because he was talking on a turf he knew very well. He was a lawyer, and whatever he said, he backed it up with facts and figures. Also, the late Professor Ayodele Awojobi. As an engineer, he took the pain to actually find out what was wrong with Nigeria. So, when he talked, you would like to listen to him because there would always be something to learn. I was an avid reader of the late Dr. Tai Solarin.When I was in secondary school,he ran his column, Thinking with You. I grew up to know that even the whites teaching us at that time loved to read Solarin because there was a lot of sense in what he said. But,there are some Nigerians you have known for the last 20 years repeating the same theme that makes no sense.The moment they know they are being ignored, may be we’ll have some fresh air.
How would you describe the flamboyant lifestyle of Nigerian politicians?
I would say you guys encourage them. This morning I was reading some of the papers, accusing oil marketers of threatening to go on strike. I don’t always like to talk about this, but to give examples. You are operating a democracy, but I was a dictator. As a military president, I removed a governor because of #300,000. But you cannot remove them now for #3 billion.
You were good at coining words. Coinages like ‘ stepping aside,’ ‘the evil
genius’. How did you come about those words?
‘Stepping aside’ is a military term. When I was a cadet, there were some of us who could not comprehend easily when we were asked to match. When the order was left, right, left, right,some people shot right, when the instructor asked them to shoot left . So, you would be regarded as spoiling the column, and you would be directed to step aside. So, step aside while the rest of the column move forward. So, I stepped aside for the country to move forward.On ‘ the evil genius’, I was asked a question by Tell magazine. They said people call you all sorts of names, ranging from Maradona, a deft dribbler, and all those. They asked which of the names I preferred and I said the one ‘evil genius’. They asked why? And I said because of its contradiction.
Back to your exit from office in 1993.Why did you leave the late General Abacha behind when you were stepping aside?
I think I once had the opportunity to explain this. When I was leaving, there was an interim government in place. That government had a life span. We drew up a constitution for that government. It came into force in November. And it was supposed to expire in February 1994. We wanted to make sure that the government was ably supported by the military so that they would be able to conduct election in February of 1994. And we could only do that knowing the environment where we operated. We respect seniority, we respect authority. So, we thought, and rightly too, that Ernest Shonekan should be supported by a strong military so that the threat of toppling him would not arise and to provide stability and the right support for 82 days. That was the idea. The late General Abacha was the Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence, and if anything happened, the public would be rest assured that there was a senior officer, with a lot of sense and respect, who would be able to pilot the affairs of the country. That was the reason. But what happened subsequently was a different kettle of fish.
How would you react to the labelling of Nigerian leaders as a selfish lot?
Let me use the example of our administration. I want to believe everything boils down to one thing at various levels of leadership. We set up a process of selecting a leader at local government level,state level, state assembly, national assembly, president and so on. The idea was that the ordinary man would check you, if you wanted to go astray .Due to your track record,the society should have the opportunity to say this is a potential president. He must be able to defend his wealth. Where he couldn’t, he must fall by the way side. I think we have not succeeded in doing this , and everybody walks into government believed to be the haven to getting rich quick.
Fundamentally, where lies the survival of Nigeria?
There is a town called Baga in Borno state. If you have ever visited Baga, you ’ll find Nigerians from all parts of the country, living there in peace, going about their businesses. And that has been going on before independence. The Yoruba who are well known for commerce go there and also live there. They have been completely assimilated by the environment. But our generation today will say if you have a Muslim governor, the deputy must be Christian; if you have a bushman as governor, the deputy must come from the city and so on. These are things that cause disaffection and they are caused by the so-called elite. In the First Republic, the late Joseph Tarka brought the late Kashim Imam from Borno to be elected as representative of the Tiv people. Umoru Altini was from Sokoto and he was the chairman of Enugu council. He lived
there, he worked with them. He spoke the language and no problem. The thing started when we started with the mantle of leadership. When you don’t make it,you must find a reason for the loss.As a governor, you spend only eight years.What is the reason for the unhealthy competition. If you must make it, bid your time and prepare for the appropriate time.
May we know whether truly you have called it quits with politics because, the other day, your brother, General Buhari, said he was no longer interested, only to change his mind later on?
I have said it. May be, I have to repeat it. At this age running around the country to seek for votes, for me, is out of the question. I assure you. You will not see candidate Babangida in 2015, may God spare our lives, running around the country canvassing for votes. So, God willing, I will no longer run for the presidential election.
The way things are going, what are your fears ahead of 2015?
Intolerance. That is number one. Number two, may be at various levels, we don’t seem to use experiences to shape our future. Unless we do that we will only be dancing on a spot. If we are able to have this without any ulterior motives, I still have strong hope in this country. I strongly believe we would make it.
The Olympics have just ended and we came back without a medal.What would you say is the problem facing sports in the country?
Sports administration needs to be thoroughly looked at and be thoroughly overhauled. The problem is we believe in last-minute preparation.This, we should avoid and start planning for 2016 immediately, not in January 2015. We have the people, we have the capability and we have the human talent.All we need do is commence early planning and training , and things will be ok because we did it before.
The clamour for state police has taken the centre of national discourse.What is your view on state police?Are we ripe for it?
A:The fear against state police manifested in the 1950s and part of the 1960s when we had ‘’yan dokas’’ or what have you. My take is that the fear established in 1950 still hunts us. Is it because we are lazy and we do not know why the fear persists and this is what to do to eliminate the fear in our system? This is just the way I look at it.In other words, left to me, the whole purpose of government is to provide security for the people. Anything you do to make sure that these are guaranteed is in order. The fact that ‘’yan dokas’’ were used to harass and intimidate political opponents in the 1950s should not prevent us from having it. We are no longer in the same situation. Yes, it happened before, why should it happen now? I keep asking this question so that people should try to move forward.When we were in government, we came up with the project of the National Guard. It was roundly criticized, but people are coming back to talk about it. What intrigued me is the fact that because something happened in the 50s and 60s, why should Nigerians feel it can happen again in 2012? A lot of people have said until the constitution is amended, but for me, I don’t believe a governor would use state police to say go and beat my opponent and all that. If such is done, remember, people can go to court. To me, the fear is unfounded.
Is anything wrong with the present Nigeria police?
What do you have now? Less than half a million policemen in the country. Remember, the Nigeria police have to take charge of federal responsibilities , while the state police are also backed by enabling law to be able to operate. So, the state police would be buttressing federal efforts,
Let me use Niger State as an example.The Nupe live in a local environment. They know virtually everybody living in the environment. So, detection of crime in their environment is going to be easy.
There will be no problem identifying criminals among them with the state police who also come from the same environment. Sometime ago, very recently, there was a heavy presence of policemen in Bida. It didn’t take long before terrorists there were fished out. This was because the people knew who they were and where they lived. I have advocated it in the past and I still believe it can work.
Your late wife worked for the emancipation of the African woman.What role would you advocate for the African woman in the scheme of things now?
To be honest ,with what I have seen so far, I think there is hope. We need to empower them and put away this male chauvinism. There are more potential for women. They are more honest. You may find one woman out of every 100 male criminals. Also look at the present trials of oil subsidy people, I have seen just one woman out of very many men. (Jide Orintunsin/The Nation)