The Special Adviser to the former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida otherwise known as IBB, Prince KASSIM AFEGBUA addressed newsmen in Kaduna last week on the reasons why the former military rule wants to contest the 2011 presidential election after spending eight years in office.
Afegbua spoke on the death of Dele Giwa during IBBâ€™s regime, the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential election won by late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the tyranny of the minority elite among other issues. EXCERPTS:
What are theÂ forces compelling IBB to run for election in 2011?
He has a passion for the country and there is an understanding that the country needs a very strong leadership now.
But for Godâ€™s intervention in this country, we would have been singing a different tune now. The last six to seven months has been a challenging period in the affairs of this country and you need leaders who have a strong political will to take up the challenge and move the country forward. IBBâ€™s first intervention was in 1985 when the country was at cross roads.
His intervention was heralded with hosanna music across the country irrespective of the fact that it was a military government. At this point in time we are at another critical cross roads that needs a strong leadership, a father figure kind of personality, a rallying point that when he speaks it makes meaning to the ordinary people and that is why some of us decided to tell him that he is needed to engage governance and address a number of developmental issues.
How do you expect the media to trust IBB because he closed so many media houses during his regime and Dele Giwa was killed through a parcel bom also within the period?
Do not forget that he ran a military government and in those days coup plotting was fashionable so to say but we are a 21st century Nigeria. He is a different person, he is not going to run a military government, he is going to run a democratic government and he is going to go out to ask for votes from Nigerians.
I disagree that he closed more media houses. In a democracy, rules of the game are defined, not by one man but by the Constitution that governs the country and IBBâ€™s presidency in 2011will be much more attractive to Nigerians. IBB facilitated the establishment of many media houses and provided a conducive environment for them to operate. If you open one and close 10, it is an advantage.
The issue of Dele Giwa is what I do not like discussing because people may not understand me from where I am coming. Incidentally, Dele Giwa was from my part of the country in Edo state. If something happens when someone is in power, it is wrong to conclude that the man who presided over that government is the perpetrator. That is a position that Nigerians have taken and it is not too good for us.
Recent reports say that about 42 journalists have been killed world-wide between January and now and in Nigeria they are getting to about 10 in the last few months starting from Bayo Ohu and others. It would have been easy for me to say that Jonathan should be held responsible but for Godâ€™s sake, the police are investigating these murders the same way the government at that period set up panels to look into the murder of Dele Giwa.
The late Chief Gani Fawehimi even took up the case up to the Supreme Court and IBB was absolved as an individual. The records are there. People talk of assassinations. From 1999 to date, in a democracy, we have recorded the highest number of assassinations than any government in the history of this country. In fact, the chief law officer of the country was murdered in cold blood and up till now, people are not even raising questions about that.
I think that we should agree that there are security challenges in the country and that government has the responsibility to wake up and put in place certain measures that can provide adequate cover for her citizens. Once we agree on all these then the idea of blaming a particular individual of being a mastermind of a particular crime will be reduced and that way we can promote that national agenda of one Nigeria. Every government owes it a responsibility to provide adequate security for her citizens so that some of these crimes can be minimized.
How to convince IBB critics about his ambition vis- a- vis his eight-year rule in the past?
I tell you straight away that those criticisms do not represent the true position of views nationwide across the 36 states of the federation. Before Gen. Babangida decided to come out, we went round the whole country. There are people who do not travel across the states; they sit down in an enclave to rain abuses on some people because it is easier for them to do so.
But I think Nigeria has outgrown that. We are not going to be dissuaded by such positions. On religion, given our status as a secular state, it is dangerous for anybody to mix religion with politics because if you are a Bishop of a church, expectations are that you are proclaiming the words of God and God does not tell lies and God does not play politics and God has said in the Holy books that we should not judge over another.
Religion is different from politics but if you want to play politics then de-robe yourself as a cleric and join politics and become part of the process. If we begin now to play up the issue of Muslim-Christian, where will that one lead us in this country?
We should play down sentiments that we know can provoke crisis. IBB is not going to join issues with those Bishops but we pray that those Bishops will search their conscience and see whether they are saying the truthâ€¦..in this context we are not talking about who is a sinner and who is not but I want you to tell me one Nigerian who is a purist and you will have my respect for life.
We are saying that within the context of issues on hand, if it is on June 12, IBB has come out several times to accept responsibility for whatever happened, that it was a mistake and that Nigeriaans should please forgive him. But his voice has been lost in the crowd because they expected to hear sorry but sorry is not the language of leadership. Owning up responsibility for doing something is the hallmark of a statesman and good leadership.
He presided over a military government and there were security reports. You should go back to the speech he read while annulling results of that election. He said it was a painful decision but that it was in the interest of the country because it is better to take a bad decision than not to take a decision at all. As president he could not be everywhere but had feedbacks from the field.
IBB was also a victim of June 12 annulment because he was forced to step aside. He had reports that if he had remained they would have crushed him. So, he was also a victim of June 12.
How do you assure Nigerians that IBB will not also develop cold feet and chicken out as he did in 2007 when he suddenly withdrew from the presidential race and whether IBBÂ and his friend, Gen. Aliyu Gusau are not playing games with their ambition?
On the issue of Aliyu Gusua and IBB. As at today, Gen. Babangida is known to have declared his intention to contest the 2011 presidential election. I have not heard from Gen. Aliyu Gusua. When he declares his intention to run then we can address issues on their merits but today he is the National Security Adviser and it is a position you cannot mix with partisan politics.
He is a man we respect so much and he is doing his job as the NSA. On his health, IBB is hale and hearty. He should be commended for the role he played during the civil war. He is carrying shrapnel on his chest which has become part of his body.
This time he is not going to withdraw. The scenario in 2007 was different. The Yarâ€™Adua and Babangida families are very close and he should be commended for condescending to the level of withdrawing from the race. This time, IBB is already on the field, consulting and telling Nigerians that he is running.
There is no going back. So, are going to prosecute this project until election results are announced and a winner emerges and we hope that IBB will be declared President.