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Ibb to obj:You canít provoke me

Posted by By MIKE AWOYINFA, DIMGBA IGWE, LOUIS ODION & SHOLA OSHUNKEYE on 2006/10/02 | Views: 332 |

Ibb to obj:You canít provoke me


Our enthusiasm soared to high heavens, last Wednesday, as we cruised in the Bellview airplane to Abuja, en route Minna, the Niger State capital, for the crucial appointment with the former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Our adrenalin spiked as we reviewed our strategy on the flight and anticipated a groundbreaking interview.

Our enthusiasm soared to high heavens, last Wednesday, as we cruised in the Bellview airplane to Abuja, en route Minna, the Niger State capital, for the crucial appointment with the former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Our adrenalin spiked as we reviewed our strategy on the flight and anticipated a groundbreaking interview.

You canít blame us. After all, it is not everyday you secure an interview with a former Head of State, even a controversial one as the Minna-born General. There is, indeed, a lot to excite any editor about the possibility of a Babangida interview at a time like this when he is assailed in virtually all fronts by his political traducers, even the presidency.

However, we got the first shocker at our hotel suites in Minna when the General sent words that the appointment, originally scheduled for 6p.m., would now hold at 10 a.m. the following day. He had thrown ice cubes on our enthusiasm. We all retired to bed early.


But there was no monkey business the following morning as the General was already waiting for us on the dot of time in his exquisite office on the ground floor of his hilltop mansion.
ďHow many of you are fasting?Ē he asked in the spirit of Ramadan, flashing his characteristic toothpaste smile, resplendent in his immaculate babaringa.

Before we could respond, fired another salvo. Pointing at our tape recorders and camera, he asked: ďAre we doing an interview?Ē
We exchanged quick glances as we chorused ďyesĒ. And the interview started in earnest. We sat on the edge of our chairs for most of the one-and-a-half hours the session lasted as Babangida took each question in his stride, either answering pointedly or maneuvering around it.
Although he bluntly refused to answer questions on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Nuhu Ribadu, his youthful chairman, saying it was not in his character to join issues with subordinates, he, however, counseled his traducers, especially the presidency, not to bring his children into the unrelenting war against him, his ambition and his past.

He somewhat advised President Olusegun Obasanjo to rein in his foot soldiers and accord him the dignity and honour appropriate for a former Head of State and a fellow General. To do otherwise would be breaching the code of honour the Ďcultí of Generals and ex-Heads of States bestows on its members, he added for effect.

And for the first time since the run-off to 2007 began, he made a definitive declaration of his presidential ambition, saying: ďÖI will contest, insha Allah.Ē


Excerpts of the interview:


A lot has been written and said about you. How do these things get at you?
Get at me? They donít get at me in terms of getting provoked. A journalist came here recently and asked all kinds of questions. At the end, he ended up asking me: do you ever get annoyed? I said Ďnoí. He tried to provoke me. No way. Itís just the nature.
Is that also why you have not allowed yourself to be provoked by the presidency?
They wouldnít provoke me.

But they appear to be doing things to provoke you?
If it is to provoke me, they are wasting their time.
Some people are interpreting it to mean that you are afraid of saying too much because they might come after you one way or the other.
To be fair to the president, I donít think he will allow that. Not only to me but also to those of us who were in that office before. There should be some respect and decorum and I think he stands by that. Itís like during my time, if he abused us on the television, or in the papers, I did have pressures from members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council who would want us to react one way or the other. They would say we must show him this government is in power, we will not allow it. And I would say ĎNo, we belong to a Ďcultí. Either you are a four star (General) or a former Head of State; we belong to that Ďcultí. So, we must not do anything that will demystify or destroy that Ďcultí.
The impression people get is that the president is breaching the code of that cult in the way he talks about you, in the way he says blatant things about you, and even arresting your son.

No, my son wasnít arrested. My son was invited and he went on his own. For him (his son), itís part of growth. We didnít have any fear whatsoever. He did do anything wrong. So, they might as well investigate him or do anything they want to do. They asked him questions and he answered those questions to the best of his ability. In any case, he wasnít just watching. There was a time he started trying to make money. I had been out of office for nine years. So, anybody who is fair-minded cannot blame me. When I was in office, he was in the university. He wasnít doing anything other than reading.

And I believe because he is a Nigerian, he has to find a way of living, a way to sustain himself. So, he chose to go into business, and legitimately too. And he is entitled to choosing his line of business. I try as much as possible not to get involved because I do tell them that the name, Babangida, might be a problem to them. So, they must use their hands, use their God-given talents to achieve whatever they want to achieve.

You are not to get him involved in what?

No, I try to keep him away from seeking for government jobs, not to be involved in the cutthroat competition that is going on in the business community. So, I said he should do something that he can sit on and if you or anyone asks him: what are you doing? And he tells you confidently, ĎIím doing this,í and he does it through the process. For example, he runs a security outfit. People come in, he trains them, gives them uniform and he goes to people to solicit for clientele. So, at least, he is involved. He is not using his head to say Ďokay, let me talk to or plead with Minister A or Minister Bí. No, no, no. The principle is first: start doing something for yourself. Let people know you are doing something.

What is his core business?

He has about three important areas. The first one is a security outfit he set up. When he was leaving school, he discovered that he could do a few things with his colleagues who were also leaving. So, he established a small training institution here in Minna and brought those we worked with but who were now unemployed because of their knowledge and expertise. He brought them to come together to put their knowledge and ideas on how to continue providing security services like guards in houses, guards in banks, hotels, in so many other places. People who have the knowledge train them and he runs out to go and seek for clients.
He also runs a cyber cafe here. Again, he has some of his classmates with whom he went to university together, and who were looking for something to do. So, they put their heads together, got into the business. And most of the time, I provided the little money they needed. So, at least, they are doing something productive, as far as Iím concerned,

Why would your name be a burden to your children rather than an asset?
Given the Nigerian factor, given the Nigerian situation, I think it would be a burden. I told him, in life, he is going to meet two types of Nigerians: those who hate me, and they hate me with passion. And those who like me also like me with passion. Maybe, those who hate are more vocal and the moment somebody sees him, itís Ďah, Babangida!í They (his children) know that and somehow, God gives them the strength. And they donít feel, and they have no cause to feel ashamed to be a Babangida. But they do understand that their father has been in public life for a long time.

Iím happy they read a lot about me in the newspapers. Some are negative, some are positive. But, it doesnít bother them. And I remain grateful for that. The only thing I keep on praying is that those who fight me should be brave enough to face me. They shouldnít be cowardly. They should not transfer the fight to kids. They should engage me. They should fight me. They should leave the kids alone. It is probably going to be difficult (to believe), but throughout my military career, I never joined issues with people below me. Anybody below me, I donít join issues with him.
Still on Nuhu Ribadu. Heís been quite unrelenting in attacking you. Often times, he says you popularised or glamourised corruption.

No, I said I donít join issues and I will not join issues with him.
Okay, you are aspiring now to come back next year. If that happens, how are going to retain EFCC?
I think in running this country, there is much, more important thing to think about and do really than worrying about various government institutions. They have been established, they have been established. There are more important things to think of, quite frankly. Itís like you asking me if I become the president, whether I would retain the civil defence organization. Those are institutions of government. You donít devote a lot of time thinking about little things that are part of government.

Why I asked is because it is becoming a campaign issue now. Some presidential aspirants are already saying that if they get there, they would retain EFCC and also retain Ribadu because, according to them, for the first time, we are seeing a seemingly concerted effort to attack corruption.
As far as the campaign is concerned, I know the issues that touch this country and the people of this country. And I would use those issues that form the core of our daily existence.
And EFCC is not one of them?

The whole essence of government is for the welfare and security and the people. So, my preoccupation would be the welfare and the security of the people. So, you donít necessarily single out little things. I think I should be above that now.
Last week, you said you didnít annul June 12, that you cancelled it. What do you mean by that?
Cancellation tells you that somebody would be held responsible. And thatís me. I was never afraid of accepting responsibility.

When are you finally going to explain why it became necessary for you to Ďcancelí it?

In fact, Iím just reading a book about June 12.
By Omoruyi?
No, no. It was written by another Nigerian who actually got involved in things that led to the cancellation of June 12.
So, we should change the word to Ďcancellationí?
No, no, no. I read somebody (a column) today who was abusing me. He said Iím an idiot because I play around with words. That he checked the dictionary and they (annulment and cancellation) mean more or less the same thing. ĎMore or less the sameí. He said that was foolish academics. Foolish academics. I agree. But of course, I keep on learning until I die. The important thing about education is to develop your mind and enrich your brain. So, I will keep on learning and I will keep on associating with these professors and the rest of them so that I can pick something from them.
It was also reported that you fear that PDP may deny you its platform. That if that happens, you probably would seek accommodation somewhere. The statement was credited to Kassim Afegbua.
Kassim is an NDP young man and he would and his boss would like to see me in their fold. Three, four days ago, UNPP came here and gave me a resolution and said they wanted me to be theirÖ(candidate). The good thing is that we have 45 political parties in this country. Therefore, God is kind, Nigerians are kind. Forty-five parties. So, instead of wasting my time to be a particular partyís candidate, I have a platform.

The PDP, your present party, has been plunged into avoidable crises. Whatís you view on the way it is being run?
From my knowledge, in all developing countries and in not-so-developed countries, there are always crises in party management and the ability to resolve the problems is what stands out a good party. Now, there is crisis in the PDP. No doubt about that. But I know the men and women at the helm are capable of resolving this problem. And I think thatís what you need in any organization. You should have crisis, but you should also be able to resolve it.
What is your take on the sparks between Obasanjo and Atiku? We have been hearing and reading stories of the president buying cars for concubines and all that. What do you make of all these? You were once there.

I think the Ďquarrelí is not the best for our fledging democracy. But then we should also expect that itís not unusual to find a president and a vice president coming in to tussle. Itís also not unusual to find a minister who wants to take over from the president whom they are serving together in the same cabinet. So, we should be able to accept that this is normal. But what is important is that we should be able to resolve our differences amicably in the interest of the party, in the interest of the system, in the overall interest of the nation.

As a statesman, you have access to the two of them. What efforts have you made to help resolve the imbroglio because itís becoming a huge embarrassment?
Yes, I have access to them. Yes, itís true I talk to them. Yes, itís also true what I tell them I don't discuss publicly.
In other words, your efforts to reconcile them have failed.
No, they havenít failed.

But they are still engaging.

No, no, no. Understand it this way and I told you long, long time ago that when I talk with the president or with the vice president or with any other person for that matter, I donít normally share it. I have done my job by talking. I have done my job by getting to know the other side. Iím concerned enough to talk to both of them.

In 1999, you helped Obasanjo, your former boss and friend to gain power. Now, you want to come back in 2007, are you banking on his support?
Iím banking on Godís support and the support of over 60 million registered Nigerian voters.
What we are saying is this: you helped him in 1999Ö
(Cuts inÖ) No, I didnít help him. I supported him.
But he has vowed not to support you.
Honestly, I never knew that.
But you have read about it?
I donít believe everything that people write.

Why?

Because, for example, you people (some papers, not THE SUN)) wrote that I arranged a loan in Paribal in Paris, and I knew itís not true because I have no connections whatsoever with them. So, you can understand.
Talking realistically now, there is a concerted determination by the presidency to ensure that you and Atiku do not run. And everything is being done to make sure that it is actualized, including the possibility that you are going to be indicted by the EFCC. Are you still running?
(PausesÖ) Okay, let me use the phrase with which the media used in castigating me. I will contest, insha Allah. The media castigated me for using that phrase but I can understand because the man who castigated me doesnít know what it means.
Despite the presidency, despite the position of the federal government on this issue, you are running?
To be honest, I donít know the position of the federal government on this issue. These are all speculations coming from the media, other people that are interested, other people who hate this character (thumbing his chest). But left to me, I donít know whether there is anything like that.

How would history remember Obasanjo as a president?

It is left for history to remember him (any way it wishes). He is part of history. All of us are part of history.
Now that you have said definitively that you are going to run, how do you deal with people out there who are wondering why you want to come back willy-nilly? They said youíve been there before for eight years. What is it that you forgot that you now want to come back to do? They specifically ask: what did you forget in Aso Rock that you want to come and take?
I think I forgot a lot of things. I left the exchange rate of the naira, for example, at not what it is today. When I left, I left a litre of petrol at 70 kobo and not N75 that it is today. When I left, the fertilizer that the ordinary farmer uses was less than N100. It is now N2000. When I left, there was some security of life and property. So, I feel we should still be able to work on those things that touch on the lives of the ordinary people.

But how far do you think you can go, granting the fact that some people consider the issue of June 12, Mamman Vatsa and a whole lot of things an albatross on your neck? How far do you think you can go?
It depends on what you call an albatross because, deliberately, some people just donít want to look at some of these issues. If you take the phrase that I stole N12.4 billion, and if you use a little common sense and use elementary arithmetic, you will find that there is no way this country could earn this amount of money in one year at that time because the price of crude oil never went beyond $24 per barrel during my time.
As I have always told my friends, I even managed poverty during my time. I managed it at $10 per barrel. Some times, it went down to $9. And I wasnít making 2.3million barrels per day. So, itís common sense. Itís simple arithmetic. Even at maximum production output, I couldnít have pushed it to 2.3 because everything was batched. So, how can you steal what you didnít earn?
So, itís a matter of perception, itís a matter of explaining.

And as long as you can support what you are saying with documents, with facts to convince the ordinary people, there is no problem. Some havenít even done their homework. Some already have their mind-set. So, if you keep on shouting for the rest of your life, they just will not believe. They will tell you, Babangida has nine million pounds, 6 billion Dutch Marks. They donít even know that it is not Dutch Mark now. They donít even know itís Euro. Now, a whole country cannot have this amount of money. If I have this amount of money, then, I can be able to dictate to the New York Exchange. But because you donít like a man, you ascribe all evils to him. But then, the beautiful thing is that I also owe it a duty to explain some of these things to see if I can appeal to the conscience of people to do understand that some of these things are untrue.

Why have you not said something definitive about June 12 up till now? You always dance around it.
Because I donít want to ethnicise it. I donít want it to be an ethnic thing. People wanted to see it as a deprivation of the Yorubas, that we deprived themÖ And quite frankly, I donít want it to look like one part of the country has been cheated. No. There was a general election. And this election was national. And there was a decision, and such decision didnít favour a candidate. Itís not that it didnít favour southwest. Thatís why I donít like the idea of mentioning names. People have a lot of perceptions about this. But I will refrain from putting the blame on anybody. Rather, I will accept responsibility.

I think the issue is beyond putting the blame on anybody or personalizing it. The issue is you coming out, as part of the healing process, and part of entrenching the truth, to say these are the reasons why we annulled or cancelled the June 12 election.
We gave it on the 23rd of June 1993.

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Comments (2)

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Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

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Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown