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Why we left Gen Sani Abacha behind in government in 1993 – IBB

By Wole Mosadomi, Minna
Former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida clocked 71yrs last Friday.  The celebration was low keyed as he chose to celebrate it with members of his immediate family with prayers in his hill top mansion, Minna, Niger State. However, on the eve of the birthday, the General who is still radiating as ever before, spoke with Journalists on some personal and national issues.

How do you feel as you celebrate your 71st birthday?

All I can tell you is that I am aging gracefully and it is also an opportunity to try at all costs to think about the best way  we could go  forward  so that we could channelize this virtue of ours towards achieving a greater country all things being equal.

Recently there were accusations and counter accusations in some quarters that the criminal activities of the Boko Haram sect could have been nipped in the bud if national and northern  leaders like you have not been overtly or covertly involved?

Well, I think it is a democratic society isn’t it? Those who said northern leaders are involved in the activities of the outlawed organization or that some of us are involved, they know what to do and they should do what they ought to do so as to help all of us.

Gen. Ibrahim Babangida

So I would ask them to do what needs to be done But I can understand because it is a Babangida and I have talked about that and I have said it not once not twice and even not thrice.

In fact again I said it, so forget it, somebody said it. Well I am quite comfortable that I said what needs to be said. I  said that  in a  recent  Press statement, so what else is it

How do you normally feel when you are accused of being involved in anything bad in the country?

Normally, I don’t consider it as a problem. To be very honest with you because in the last twenty three years or twenty two years , since I left office it is the same sing song either by the media or by the columnists and so on .

If somebody looks at me and say yes, during his time he likes corruption, now the question is, in the name of God, aren’t you capable of doing something for the last twenty two years  or you just fold your arms and wait until somebody does same thing? Look, there had been a lot of governments after I have left and governments are there for the welfare of the people. Or you mean you did not have people who are capable for correcting the wrong which somebody did or you just talk about it and you are satisfied.

When we talked, we offered solutions. When my Boss, OBJ {Chief Olusegun Obasanjo} and I talked we offered a solution, we offered a proposition. Is it not laziness for somebody to sit down and say when they were there what did they do. OKay, fine we were there but things were happening, we should not be deprived the right to make a contribution. We have Presidents who authorized Bombings of some countries.

They are not castigated because they organized this and that, but I do understand that this is Nigeria. May be in the 90’s, some of us should have come in the next fifty years. Some mindful people who would sit down and discern the situation. We look at things differently.

But I come to accept that for every subject you raised in this country you have as many as one hundred and sixty millions opinions. And if you are hypothetical people will still not leave you alone.

Supposing you are the President of this  country at the moment what would you have done differently from what President Goodluck Jonathan is doing now that is in control as regards the issues of internal insurgency by the Boko Haram sect?

I think you should understand that President Jonathan, Babangida, Shagari, Obasanjo, Buhari, or anybody that we ran a new or developing country.

What we are going through now, other countries went through that, but through perseverance, hard work and ability to dialogue, these countries had gone and past over their problems. So, I think I am sensible enough to know that because you are a developing country, as long as we are ready to learn from our mistakes, we will get there.

I am talking about developing countries, we make mistakes. We went through a civil war and I don’t believe we will likely go again into a civil war despite the drums that has been beaten. But I am not sure and neither am I sure that you the younger generations would like to go to war that we went through. So, we learn as the mistakes are being committed when we went to war and we are not likely going to war again.

Don’t you think the prevailing insecurity engendered by the Boko Haram sect in some parts of the country  is already pushing the country beyond the limit?

I have done what we ought to do because we support the President in his efforts to bring about lasting solution to the insecurity situation which we find ourselves because we don’t have any other country to run to. So, we must support any effort that will bring about lasting peace. So, we will continue to support him in that regard. Babangida’s Presidency expired about twenty two years ago.

Are you still considering going to Court with Chief Edwin Clark as stated in the Press statement released to the media by your Spokesman, Mr. Kazeem Afegbua, with regards to some perceived direct attacks on you by the first republic Minister on the recurring decimal of the Boko Haram bloodletting against some innocent citizens and the inabilities of yourself and other northern leaders to bring the sect under firm control?

Chief Edwin Clark is my friend and if you people like write it. He is my friend, I have known him for the last 30-35 years. There is a mutual respect between me and him. So, I wouldn’t get drawn into a face off with him because I do respect him and he would not deny me as his friend. So, that is settled.

If truly you are friends, why did the two of you decide to expose your differences to the world through the media?

If I would be honest with you, I think you heightened it and when I say you, I mean the media. You were supposed to look at what is sensible and write the sensible thing and throw away the nonsense.

Don’t you think that the insecurity situation in the country is capable of affecting negatively a smooth transition from civilian to civilian rule come year 2015?

Not at all, because when I was growing up I was involved in so many things in this country which bordered on what I will call stability of this country, from about 1963 and 1964, we were facing so many things like riots, Tiv riots, Isaac Adaka Boro insurgency and you name it including Operation Wet e. These are all because we are a developing country, so we went through what we had to go through but in a different dimension. I participated in virtually every operations from 1964, until I left office.

If we had to go through that and I believe it is a passing phase in the life of this great country. I once told some students in a Unity School that I did not have the pleasure or the Luxury of going to a School where virtually everybody is there.

But your generation, you virtually have a friend in virtually everywhere. So, one looks up that one day, you would come together for the sake of this country. From, my own observation and reading, what you guys write, I want to say that you have not done enough study, you have not done enough investigation to find out the causes of all these problems, not only Boko Haram but even communal clashes, boundaries between one tribe or the other could be in Akwa Ibom state, could be in some other places, including the problems between some Fulanis and some Gwaris and so on and so forth. Somebody should be able to tell us or to do a research of all these conflicts in parts of the country.

We want you to look back that during these years that God has been preserving your life even in difficult periods, about a particular incident that is still alive in your memory as unforgettable?

To be very honest with you, when in 1966 or about July of that year when we went through the first crisis, there was a feeling that the leadership at that time, that one part of the country that may be one part of the country does not want the other part of the country and so the best thing was and the best was to discontinue.

But you know the most important lesson which I learnt as a young Officer was the fact that the relationship we had established   with my colleagues when we were in the Military Academy or Nigerian Military Training College. But circumstances separated us, I was on this side of the war, while some of my colleagues were on the other side of the war. Honestly, what impressed me most was that when we met each other, we were not enemies; we still remembered our younger days when we were Cadets.

It was okay, political misunderstanding brought us into this war, but you did not have a feeling that somebody have had to kill nor injured his friend. Hardly do you find a country that goes through the civil war and still remain the same and this has been about  forty two years ago. The credit goes to Nigerians.

But as a leader you have to go through certain things in life, sometimes traumatic, sometimes good. But somebody should be sitting down and assessing you how do you   react to situations or how do you feel about that. But I think on the sum total, God has been most kind to me.

What we had gone through in life is the challenge of leadership and we should not allow it to break this country because during bright period once anybody comes to Nigeria all he need is to pick up one of the newspapers and one would swear that in the next one week there would be war in this country. But there was no war , that means that the challenges were there but we have passed it

Recently you and your former Boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo decided to go to the media to advice the incumbent President, what you ought to tell him in private, was it that you had been advising him as elder statesmen and your advice or warning on how to resolve the present security challenges bedeviling the country were not heeded?

The answer to that is no. We are in very good terms with President Goodluck Jonathan. We talked to him,  but it is the same Nigerians that we once led and knew very well including one of your colleagues here that said I had never talked about the Boko Haram and that I had never addressed the issue because such people had never heard me.

I had been accused of not talking and what we said is that the President should take an opportunity of the  Ramadan period in conjunction with every other leader both current and former leaders to do something about this country in the spirit of Ramadan we should live in peace in the spirit of the season of fasting and prayers .

And we thought it is only appropriate that what we are doing is appealing to people on behalf of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

People like you would say that formerly I was quarreling with OBJ and now we are talking together. But we knew who we are and there are certain things we shared in common. And if there is any man in the history of  this country today that do not want the country to be disunited, it is OBJ, I also shared the same view.

So, we have something that is bigger than all the tantrums in the newspapers and the rest of them. So, if we have a common thing which is for the common good of the country , why not .

We had been talking and we want to disabuse your minds that we did not sit idle and not doing anything about the insecurity situation in the country.

Your Son, Mohammed Babangida has declared his intention to vie for the number one seat in Niger state.

No, let me correct you, he hasn’t  because I read what he said. He said he is very grateful for the people of the state who considered him worthy of holding a new political office , period. He did not say he wants to be a Governor . I am very critical about this because it affects me and when big headlines stated what you have just said , I called his attention to it and his response was that I should go and read what he said . And he was quoted well.

In other words Sir, is your son, not nursing political ambition ?

Well, political ambition for Mohammed , no he says if people  consider him  worthy  that he could consider it an honour done to him, but it could be chairman, Local Government, it could be  councellor and it could even be a Party Secretary {prolonged laughter } If you hear  him very well, a political ambition is not in,  I am grateful  that you considered me worthy .

Whether he would do it is a different ball game . But if at the end of the day my Son says he is nursing a political ambition against the next general elections , I think I would avail myself the advice that a father should give to his Son. He is a grown up man, I would lay everything on the table for him and I would have an opinion .

Can you critically assess the nascent democracy in the country as to whether they are performing very well or not?

I hate to talk about this   , but I can always give you an example.  Well,   you   operate a democracy and I did not, I was a dictator,  I removed a Governor for N300, 000 but no one can remove them now for N3 billion .

Why did you leave General Sani Abacha behind when you were stepping aside as a Military President?

If you remember very well, we had an interim government, that government had a life .We drew up a Constitution for that government . That government came into force in November 1993. And it was supposed to expire in February of 1994.

We needed to make sure  that government was ably supported   by the Military so that they would be able to conduct an election in February of 1i994. And we can only do that, knowing the environment in which we operated, one we respect  authority.

We thought then, quite rightly too that Ernest Shonekan should be supported by a strong Military so that the threat of toppling him did not arise. And they provided the stability for 82 days . That was the whole idea . And the late Abacha  of course was the Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister of Defence .

And we felt if anything happened , the public can be rest assured that there was somebody still there with a lot of strength and experience who would still be able to pilot when it was necessary. But whatever happened subsequently, it was a different thing altogether . You know it as much as I do . It was not the fault of the Military.

What do you think can be done to continue to entrench   the territorial interest of the country in the light of the unfolding daunting challenges?

I think this boils down  to pile up a lot of arguments. I will use our administration, what we tried to do to conquer that that thing you just talked about.  I mean the territorial interests of some people it was able to boil down to one thing. At various levels of leadership and we said that the process of selecting a leader at local government level, states level, states’ houses of assembly , national assembly , presidents and so on.

I think if you look at that, we  tried to keep that system so that the ordinary man would check you if you want to become an elected leader because the society knows that there is something that makes you that famous face. May be the media would now have some things to say about potential presidents every time and they will bring it out if they are sure of their facts and he has to defend it . Where he could not, then he has to fall back himself .

I think we did not succeed  yet  at the time we were trying this idea. And the problem is always there because government is always seen  to be an industry that everybody who want to make it in life finds his ways there.

But for the ordinary Nigerian,if you know a town called Baga somewhere in Borno state. If you ever go to Baga, today you will find Nigerians from other parts of the country  living there in peace, going about their businesses and that has been going on even before independence.

But our generations , we are the ones who will say no, if you have a Muslim Governor, we must have a Christian as the Deputy Governor . If you have a bush man as the governor, you must have a man from the city as the deputy governor . And this is caused by all of us sitting down here , I mean the elites . The ordinary man doesn’t know it .

In 1959,when we got to politics  the late Tarka  brought Ibrahim Imaam from Borno state to a Constituency in Tiv land in the present day Benue state . He placed him there and  the Kanuri man was elected into the House of Representatives. If you go to Onitsha, a lot of  people  that come from there are Nupes from Niger state.

If you also go to Enugu state Umoru Altine was from Sokoto state. What did they called it in those days, chairman of the Enugu Council , he lives there, he works with them, he speaks the language and there was no problem as such. But we , all of us sitting down here have deviced a  trick that if we cannot make it, we then must find a reason for  getting it

And if if you know that you will be a Governor only for eight years, what is your problem about causing a confusion . If you want to be, bid your time, do what is right so that the people will see you as a responsible leader.

What is the best way to keep this fragile entity called Nigeria the most populous black nation in the world together for the overall god of her peoples ?

We need to be tolerant of one another , number two is may be we don’t seem to utilize our experiences to shape our future. We have to come to terms with our years of dancing like going back and coming forward . If we are able to get things right without any anterior motives I think I still believe in this country and its unity .

Are we ripe for creation of the   state Police because of the fears being entertained  in certain quarters ?

When you say ripe, what do you mean . These  fears manifested themselves in the 50s and part of the 60s when you had Yan Dokas or whatever you called it .

I think my take is that a fear that we  established in 1950s why is it still hunting us because we are lazy and we have not cared to ask ourselves why these fears  have persisted and this is what to do to eliminate those fears in our system.

I think this is the way I just  looked at it . In other words, left to me, the whole purpose of government is for the security of the citizens like the security  lives and property . And anything you will do to make sure these are guaranteed I t is in order in accordance with our constitution .

I don’t want to believe that because of  1959 elections , the police or the Yan Dokas were used to beat up or harassed the people who were opposed to the government of the day . We are not in that sort  of situation now . Yes it happened before , why should it happen now. People should try to move forward .

When we were in office we came out with the concept.  For example , the National Guards and that was the first thing that was criticized and we had to drop it . But people are coming back to talk about it .

It grieves me that because something happened in  1959, why should Nigerians thing can still  think it can happen in 2012. A lot of things like the constitutional amendments have been  put in place and I am not sure a governor would use the state police to intimidate the  people who are opposed to them because the people can go to court and seek redress .

However I think the fears being expressed is unfounded to be very honest with you . The Federal Police takes responsibilities of all the federal laws of the country .The  Police in the state, they have to operate within the law and I hope you know that .

So you are buttressing the federal efforts and some people seems to forget something  that if you have a state police in a local environment   like in Bida in  Niger state, the state police are likely to be very conversant with the local environment because they virtually know each other persons . So, the detection of crimes is not going to be a problem

Sometime ago there were presence of the Policemen specifically  about two weeks ago  and it did not take time to fish out the terrorists gang in Bida because the people knew where they were hiding. I have advocated for it in the past and I still believe it can be made to work.


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