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Posted by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe on 2007/06/25 | Views: 634 |


In Abuja, you are on his trail: the newly crowned Nigeriaís Senate Presidentóthe No.3 most powerful man in Nigeria. And there he sat, holed up on the sixth floor of a five-star hotel that is now his temporary abode.

In Abuja, you are on his trail: the newly crowned Nigeriaís Senate Presidentóthe No.3 most powerful man in Nigeria. And there he sat, holed up on the sixth floor of a five-star hotel that is now his temporary abode.

He is dressed casually in a shirt on a pair of trousers. On this night, he is not in the mood to grant any interview to a paper he believes has declared a ďwarĒ on him. We try our best to cajole him:

ďSir, how can we declare war on you? How can we fight a war with a man whose life and training are all about how to fight and win a war? It is just like standing on the way of a moving train or a trailer. You will simply be crushed. And we donít want to be crushed.Ē

He is amused by the sagacity of this MKO Abiola-like proverb. And he replies us with a witty quote of his own, parodying the famous French military strategist, Napoleon Bonaparte: ďHow can I fight the press and hope to win? I am not that foolish. A battalion of soldiers cannot go to war with the press and win.Ē
It was against that background that we reached an accord to jaw-jaw instead of war-war. Having made peace, we fired our questions and he returned fire. Excerpts:

Currently, there is this impression that you are not in good terms with General Ibrahim Babangida. What is responsible for the disagreement?
I am not aware of any disagreement and he has never told me of any disagreement between me and him. He spoke to me yesterday. There was nothing in his voice to show disagreement. One of the very first persons who phoned me after my election was General Babangida. And since then weíve spoken two, three times. So, I donít believe that story. There is no reason to be against me. We have been friends. I was his minister. I was a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council when he was President and Commander-In-Chief. And when he was in the army, I served under him as a Signal Commander.
There is this notion that you were anti-June 12. Has your opinion about June 12 changed today or are you still against June 12?
I donít understand the problem people have with me and June 12, but I have said it 101 times that I was not a party to the annulment of June 12. When it happened, I did in fact condemn and said it was not the best for the country. And I had on several occasions said that I met with (General) Diya. What worries me is that nobody ever bothers to check whether what I said is true or false, except that they stick to the fact that I was party to the annulment of June 12. They paint all sorts of terrible pictures: How I held a gun over Babangidaís head and said if he didnít annul June 12, I was going to shoot him. The army does not operate that way. It is a figment in the imagination of so many people. Nothing near that happened. Yes, I was in Babangidaís administration and to that extent anybody who was in that administration must take his share of the blame but where does the buck stop? There is somebody who was in charge. If anything happens in the Senate now, I would take full responsibility for it. And I donít think Babangida himself has ever, one day, told anybody that I held a gun over his head. But that was the story people want to hear. Thatís the story people tell. My stand has always been very clear on the issue of June 12.
You said you met Diya. What for?
Diya himself knows that I was never a party to the annulment of June 12. And Diya, myself and Abiola met. Not once, not twice. Diya is alive today. If I was saying only Abiola, then somebody would say, well, we canít ask him again. But Diya is alive. Go and ask Diya.
What did you tell Abiola
I told him I was never a party to the annulment of June 12. And he himself admitted that. Thatís why I am saying Diya is alive. It is better for you also to make contacts with Diya.
So, why was June 12 annulled?

How would I know?
Obasanjo is saying that June 12 was annulled on account of Ďbad belle.í What does he mean?
What does Obasanjo mean by bad belle? What is the meaning of bad belle? There is a saying in my place that when a dreamer is alive, why are you going to somebody else to ask what the other person dreamed about? Babangida is alive. Why do you want somebody to be interpreting what he did? I have read Babangidaís interviews and he has not one day said he didnít take full responsibility for the annulment of June 12. He has always accepted responsibility for it.
How do you see Obasanjoís new posture as a supporter of June 12?
But he has never been against June 12. To the best of my knowledge, I have never heard him say something in support of the annulment.
It is obvious Obasanjo doesnít like Abiola
I donít know the relationship between Abiola and Obasanjo. I didnít ask Abiola and I didnít ask Obasanjo.

How will history remember Obasanjo?
I think Obasanjo is one patriot who sacrificed his life for this country. If you talk to him you would know how passionate he is about his love for this country. And I think his economic reforms are in the best interest of this country. Whether they worked or they have not worked, thatís a different matter. But nobody can fault him. Nobody can disagree that he loves this country. And I think he has spoken passionately about his desire to see the economic development of this country.
The whole world is talking about how he organized a sham of an election.
How did Bush get to power in the US? The whole world talked about it. People want to tell us how to run our own democracy in this country. There is no democracy that can be imported from another place and superimposed on any country. China would tell you itís a democratic country. India is a democracy. Pakistan would tell you it is a democracy. These characters are not accepting what US regards as democracy. I think we should fashion our own democracy to suit our culture and to suit our custom. And let it be our own form of democracy. The way that we see it, that best suits our environment.
YaríAdua as President. Is there any hope for Nigeria?
Have you ever spoken to YaríAdua one on one? He is a man of his words and who is solid enough to pilot the affairs of this country. And I think he is a very knowledgeable person. I think there is too much hue and cry about nothing really. Itís a storm in a tea cup. People want to hear the bad news, so they donít feel there is future and hope for this country. There is so much hope and future for Nigeria. And I think we are on the right path.
He looks feeble and weak as a leader.
Is he supposed to be a boxer? Or a wrestler? It is not the mark of statesmanship. It is not a boxer or a wrestler that would determine who manages the affairs of this country. And I think he has it completely under control.

Whatís your vision of the new Senate?
You know I have spent eight years in the Senate. I know the character and the quality of the people who were in the first Senate 1999 to 2003 and those in 2003 and 2007. And I have the CVs of those in 2007 now that would go up to 2011. And I think the quality of Nigerians in the Senate today is getting towards what the Senate should be. There are Nigerians who have reached the peak of their profession in various fields of endeavour and they are bringing a lot of wealth of experience into the Senate. Therefore, I expect that the debates in the Senate will be very robust, very detailed, and very frank. I believe that half of the senators would be prepared to serve in the Senate without taking salaries. I am sure that by the time that we resume, there would be some of them who get up on the floor to say, ďWe donít need any salary. We are just here to render service.Ē
How close to the executive or how distant will you be?
One of the things they hold against me is that I would be too close to the executive. The Senate is going to draw a very clear line on its independence. But there is also need for us to co-operate with the executive. The integrity of the Senate would be maintained, the legislature is a legislature, it is not an extension of the executive arm. But it is not when we fight and box that we show our independence. We cannot be operating on parallel lines. The lines have to meet somewhere else. And where the lines meet is where the common manís interest is. The lines from the legislature, from the executive and from the judiciary must all converge on the common man on the street who should derive the benefits of the acts that are enacted in the Senate, of the policy implementation that would come from the executive, and whatever happens on the judiciary. So our focus is the ordinary man. If at the end of four years the ordinary Nigerian does not reap the dividend of democracy, then we have not succeeded.
How do you react to the verdict of the Supreme Act concerning the return of Peter Obi and the sack of Andy Uba?
The Supreme Court is the final place. Once they say something itís final. There is nothing you can do. Anything you do afterwards is medicine after death.

Whatís your opinion of the merit of the judgement?
I am not a learned fellow, so I wouldnít understand the intricacies and what led to the judgement. But the fact of the matter is that we have to go by the rule of law. If thatís the decision, then there is nothing anybody can do.

Whatís the implication for the synchronous running of elections in this country?
Are we asking for a democracy where everything must be run like a clock or like the military? No. If Anambra doesnít run its own election on the same day as the rest of the states, so be it. The implications are far reaching. I was discussing with a friend this evening. And I said, well some Senators came in late. So if the matter had gone to the Supreme Court, maybe the Supreme Court would have asked them to run their four years from the day they came in. Which means that senatorial district would be running its own election at a different time. Ben Obi, Joy Emordi, Fred Oti, quite a few of them. But Ben Obi and Joy Emordi are typical examples of where the court ruled that those who actually had the certificate are not the right people ab initio. So, it means they should have run their own four years separate from the days that the rest of us run our election. But they didnít go to the Supreme Court, thank God, and the matter stopped at that. Maybe if they lost, then they would have gone further. But in their own case, they won at the Court of Appeal.
In future, donít you think if a tribunal rules against anybody whether a governor or a legislator, it simply means it would create some dislocations?
No. I truly donít believe in a situation where the entire country is grounded to a halt and we all run elections on the same day. I donít truly accept it. I think we must stagger our elections, particularly for the legislature. Supposing we run into a situation where no old Senator returns at all, it means 109 coming back would all be new. And they would need a longer learning curve. If we stagger and half of the country is running the election after two years, when those set come in, some old ones would come from them, the new ones would come, there would still be about 50 Senators that would be old hands. And the business would continue, it would be much smoother, it would be much easier for them to adjust. So, I personally advocate that we stagger the election, not to run everything in one day, for the legislature.

When did you start dreaming of being the Senate President?
God just asked me to go for the election and I went for it.
How did God talk the idea into you?
Well, I talked to my God very frankly from my heart. I told my God I am a sinner but forgive me my sins and then do your best through me.

What kind of sins did you confess to God?
They are so many. My sins are so many and I confess them so very often. But I confess them from my heart. And God forgives me easily. The greatest prayer in the world is the Lordís Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And thatís why I donít nurse grudges against anybody. Thatís why I am outspoken. The moment , I say something, I forget it. If I feel you have offended me, of course I burst out immediately. And that is the end of it.
So, how did you feel on being elected the new Senate President?
I just thanked God and I asked him to give me courage to continue to speak the truth, like King David of old. And to give me the wisdom that he gave to King Solomon.
How powerful is the position of the Senate President?
I am just an ordinary Nigerian like any other Nigerian. Nothing about me has changed. This position is for me to be first among equals, to be able to pilot the affairs of the Senate. It doesnít give me any extra power. My friends are still going to be my friends.
Will your enemies still be your enemies?
I donít need enemies. I donít want to have enemies. For me to sleep and get up the next morning and sleep again is enough problem for you not to go about looking for enemies or getting involved in intrigues.

Why did you join the army?
I joined the army by sheer accident. In those days, we used to do what they called common entrance for all the primary schools into Government Secondary Schools, the military schools and then the teacher training colleges. Those of us who were small in size were going for Government Secondary School. And I had taken the form of one of the Government Secondary Schools. You fill your form, and then on the day of the entrance examination, they bring it, and then you choose the school you want. And the invigilator who came around was a white chap, a second lieutenant, very smartly dressed in uniform. He came and looked at my form and asked: Would you like to go to a military school? And I said, why not? And he collected a chalk and he just chalked Government Secondary School, which was my first choice. And he made me to tick the military school. I passed the exam and went for the interview. And I didnít get the result for the interview for a very long time. Then, I did entrance exams to some other secondary schools. I passed and I was on my way to start school at St Michael Catholic School, Aliede, when they sent a telegram to say that if I didnít report to the Military School in Zaria within the next three days, they were going to give my slot to another person. The telegram got to the District Officerís office and they brought it to my fatherís place. I had left the house already. Then, the man followed me to the motor park and gave it to me and said the D.O. wanted to see me in his office. When I got there he was fuming, saying they had been looking for me. Most D.O.s then were retired military people. They issued me a warrant there and then and kept me in that office and took me to the railway station in the evening and put me in the train. And I found myself in Zaria. In the meantime, my parents thought I had gone to St. Michaelís at Aliede, because my mother certainly didnít want her only child to join the army. It was her last desire. So, the first few letters I wrote from Zaria, I actually addressed it as St Michaels, Aliede. Then, after six months, I came home on holidays in a military uniform and my mum nearly fainted. She just couldnít understand how I came about wearing a military uniform. But after that, they got used to the idea of being in a military school. So, I joined the army by sheer accident. My father didnít mind my joining the army. He thought it was a good place to have some degree of discipline. He was always a disciplinarian.
What leadership style and qualities does a military man bring into the Senate?
The best leadership institution is the military. Because for you, as an officer, to be able to tell your troops to get up on the battlefield when he knows that his standing up can result to his death, and he still does it, shows qualities of leadership not displayed anywhere else. Because unless you have that quality, nobody would get up and follow you on the battlefield. Your training in leadership, you canít get it anywhere else. And at every level, every training you go to in the military, from the day you are commissioned as a Second Lieutenant until the day you retire as a Field Marshal, the emphasis is on leadership. Always. You are dealing with human beings. You have to know the people you are dealing with like their own parents know them. And so every commander would know the troops under him exactly the way the parents are supposed to know.

What is leadership?
I think a good leader must show honesty of character, transparency. He must be firm and fair. He must be just. And above all, he must let the people know there is God always. Because a leadership that does not involve faith is not going to last.

Did you ever kill as a soldier?
I donít know. Maybe I canít remember.
You were once quoted when you were a minister of communication under Babangida as saying telephone is not meant for the poor. Have you changed your mind on that?
I never said so. But what I have always said is when you have a phone you must pay your bill. If you cannot pay your bill, then you canít get a phone. I said so when I was a minister of communication. I have always asked: who did I make the statement to? And nobody has been able to say he made that statement to me. Thatís one of those things that people want to hold against me, regardless of whatever I say. And I ask now, the GSM mobile phones that people are now carrying about is anybody getting it free? Is there a free airtime on it? Any free airtime is just a gimmick. Unless you go and buy the scratch card, you canít even get the free airtime. Because I said pay your bills now, that has been interpreted to mean it is not for the poor. I never said telephone is not for the poor. Once you can afford it, you get it.

How do you see the GSM revolution in Nigeria?
I think itís great. There is no going back on it. It is a wonderful thing. It is a good thing. Look at M-Tel that government is running. How many people are using M-Tel? Now that it has been taken over by Transcorp, maybe it would come back and join the big players, the new aggressive marketing players. Even though it has the best infrastructure in the country, people want an efficient system. And anything that is efficient is expensive. I mean you have to pay for it. It is an industry for the big boys. You must be a big player in the telecommunications industry, otherwise they would swallow you. You canít go there on a small scale and hope to survive. The big players would just swallow you.

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Comments (13)

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