*It’s a sign Nigeria can conduct free and fair polls
* Says “masses are my godfathers”
* Younger generation of Nigerians can’t run the country
Former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida admitted yesterday the smooth conduct of the June 12, 1993 election which was annulled by his regime and said â€œthere has never been an election like that beforeâ€.
He said on the Hausa Service of the BBC that the election was a positive sign that â€œit is possible to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeriaâ€
General Babangida who has begun mobilisation of support for his presidential ambition in the 2011 election expressed confidence that he would get the presidential ticket of the PDP.
You want to contest for the 2011 presidency?
By the grace of God.
On what platform?
I am in PDP, by the grace of God.Â We have 51 other political parties so there are several platforms.
So you are contesting on the platform of the PDP since that is your party?
Yes, I am in PDP.
You can confirm that you are contesting on the platform of the PDP?
Yes.Â Our constitution also provides that a person can contest on the platform of a political party or as an independent candidate.
There are many people in the PDP that also want to contest for the presidency in 2011. For instance, the Nigerian constitution, allows the Acting President, Dr. GoodLuck Jonathan to contest for the presidency, are you sure the PDP will give you the ticket?
Before an election, there is a procedure within a party to produce a flag bearer. The party will follow such procedure to produce a candidate.
So you are hopeful that the party will give you its ticket?
What is encouraging you to contest for the presidency this time around?
My position as a Nigerian. Anything that God wants me to do to help this country, I will do it. If I am given the chance, I will know what to do and by the grace of God, I will do it. Nigeria is a country of 150 million people and any of these 150 million people can be president.
There is this belief that the politics of Nigerian is about god fatherism. Who are the big names that are supporting you to contest the election this time around?
The Nigerian masses. I worked for them and they saw what I did for them.
But if we reflect back, the election of June 12, 1993 was by the masses but you annulled it.
But what you should take into consideration is that there has never been an election like that before. That election convinced not only Nigerians, but even the international community that it is possible to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeria.
Why did you annul it?
I have said this over and over again that I was the head of government and I take responsibility for it. As a leader, it is not proper to say this person did thisâ€¦..
You wanted to contest for the Presidency in 2007, but at the end of the day you didnâ€™t submit your papers, how can you assure Nigerians that this time around, you will contest?
I gave my reasons for not contesting in 2007 and it was published in many newspapers in the country. Therefore, Nigerians know my reasons for not contesting at that time. But now, Alhamdudillahi, things have changed. Donâ€™t forget we are talking of helping the country. What we are talking about is something that happened some 16 years ago. We should be thinking of what we can do to make progress.
Nigeria is facing a lot of problems, if you become the president again, what are these new things you never did in the past that you will want to employ in tackling these problems?
God in His infinite mercy gave me the leadership of this country for eight yearsâ€¦. Remember the Nigerian people have not changed, and since they have not changed, we are in a position to tell them that we can do it again.
There are speculations that the United States of America (USA) wants you to contest for the presidency. What do you have to say about this?
How can that be possible since it is not Americans that will vote? It is Nigerians that will vote.
But America is an influential country in the world and it has its interests in Nigeria?
Nigeria is an influential country too. If somebody wants something in Africa and he hears the voice of Nigeria, it is like he has heard the voice of Africa.
But they said the American Assistant Secretary of State paid you a visit?
Yes, he came to greet me. He is somebody I have known. He came to condole me over the death of my wife. When we were in the hospital in America, he was coming to greet usâ€¦â€¦..
The issue of the dwindling Nigerian economy is blamed on your administration. You invited a former World Bank Economist in charge of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), who you used to ruin the nationâ€™s economy. Why did you do that?
Today we are talking of exactly 24 years, but SAP has not changed, they keep on modifying itâ€¦â€¦If the economy was ruined, by now, we would have been history. The Nigerian economy was not ruined.
But they say Nigerians are going through hardship as a result of your economic policies?
I want you to know that if you read all the books on the economy of Nigeria, you will find out that from 1960 to 1995, Nigeria made far reaching progress. I left office in 1993. You should be asking what have those who came after us done.
Your administration was accused of massive corruption. If you become the president again, how would you address the problem of endemic corruption in Nigeria?
If you compare what is happening now with what happened during my administration, you will commend me. I sacked a governor for embezzling N300, 000 during my regime, but now, what do you see? During our time we were not enmeshed in this kind of things we see today.
During your time, there was this N12 billion naira made from the sales of oil . What happened to the money?
The N12 billion was the money realized from the sale of oil in eight years. Let me repeat, it was money made from the sales of oil in eight years. It was money that we saved in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) within those eight years. There was an additional N1.2 billion. â€¦â€¦. So all they are saying about this money are lies. If you read the Okigbo report, you will see that the money was made in eight years.
But the Financial Times reporter who published the story was sent out of Nigeria because of the report. If it was not true, why was he sent away?
Frankly speaking, I can send the Okigbo report to you to read. I have been explaining this over and over. What I realized from oil in eight years is what somebody makes in one year.
You have been a major play in the leadership of this country for a long time. Donâ€™t you think it is time to allow the younger generation take over from you the older ones as it happened in America and other parts of the world?
Honestly, it is our wish that God will bring the younger people that will take over from us if they are available. I was the one who introduced the politics of new breed in this country.
Why didnâ€™t you step aside and give the younger generation a chance to lead since they are fresh and strong?
Because we have seen signs that they are not capable of leading this country and so we feel we should help them.
May be they are not given the proper education that is why?
I have spent 17 years since I left office. Haba! The younger generation are supposed to be in charge by now. But a country like Nigeria cannot be ruled by people without experience. People like Obama that you are talking about have the experience. He started from the state legislature to the House of Representatives and to the Senate. If our youths are like this, we will say they have the requisite experience. But we have not reached that level.
If you become the president what new things will you do which you did not do during your eight years in power. What are the mistakes you would want to correct?
The politicians are asking me what I forgot inÂ the Villa that I want to go and pick. When I left power, the naira was N22 to the Dollar. Petrol was selling at 70 kobo per litre. So there are things that I did that will make me come back.
These things were not like that when you came to power. You were the one that devalued the naira?
How? During my time, the naira did not exceed N22 to the dollar. Now it is N150 per dollar.
But how much was it before you came to power?
It was N4.5 to the dollar.
So you devalued the naira?
Some people destroyed the value of the nairaâ€¦
* Babangidaâ€™s mobilises
Meanwhile, following his declaration, a week ago, to contest next yearâ€™s presidential election General Ibrahim Babangida has begun mobilisation of support across the country for the actualization of his ambition.
Sunday Vanguard can now reveal that Gen. Babangidaâ€™s series of consultations with groups and individuals in the days proceeding the Benin declaration has since given way to mobilisation of both opinions and support to back him. As part of the mobilisation, he has been cris-crossing the country, selling his candidature and renewing old acquaintances.
On April 1, he was in Abeokuta to attend the 54th birthday of Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, and also visited former President Olusegun Obasanjo to â€œconsultâ€ with him on the presidential race. On his way back to Minna, later that day, he told reporters at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, that he was consulting widely on whether to contest or not.
Penultimate Saturday, he told reporters in Benin on his way to Asaba that speculations on his ambition were correct. In Asaba, he spoke on the type of leaders Nigerians want, saying â€œwe donâ€™t want people who we will doubt whether they are national leadersâ€. Continuing, he said, â€œit is not an accident of history that I have been engaged in the development process of the country.â€ Sources said, part of the mobilisation is also to make him more visible and heard by Nigerians which partly informed the interview he granted BBC during the week.
In that interview, he said he was in the race to offer leadership. According to him, Nigeria today requires a leader who will not start experimenting but one who understands the people and workings of government. On Friday, he was in Lagos to attend a book launch in honour of the retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice George Oguntade.
* May contend with Aliyu Gusau
But one formidable opponent, Gen. Babangida may have to contend with is the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Aliyu Gusau, who is widely believed to be also gunning for the presidency. Gen. Babangida withdrew from the 2007 presidential race partly because of the involvement of the NSA.
The duo are friends.
* Jonathanâ€™s position unclear
The position of the Acting President in all of these is unclear for now.Â He parried a question on his ambition when he was interviewed on CNN during the week.
Political sources in Abuja said he may be persuaded to run on a joint ticket with either Babangida or Gusau since the presidency is expected to remain in the north till 2015.
* Atiku may also join race
Meanwhile, Alhaji Atiku Abubakarâ€™s return to PDP may enjoy waiver to the NEC of the party on the strength of the fact that he was forced out of the party and his associates across the country were not. Jonathanâ€™s own major concern is to position PDP as the only party to beat at the polls next year and this can be effectively done by the presence of Atiku which is seen as a major consolidation for the party. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is no longer in ANPP and AC without Atiku no longer enjoys a national outlook, leaving the field open for the PDP.
The Ekwueme Committee report made it clear that members who were frustrated out of the party should be treated as though they never left the party in the first instance; this may create a soft landing for Atikuâ€™s participation in next yearâ€™s presidential election.