Consensus Candidate will defeat Jonathan
No Pact With Abacha, Gusau on Nigeria’s Presidency
Abiola Never Funded Any Coup
How I escaped Orkah’s Bullet
I am Not a Drug Peddler
For eight years General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, ruled Nigeria as a self styled military president. The gap toothed retired General who once described himself as an evil genius organized one of the freest and fairest Presidential elections in 1993, but curiously annulled it by military fiat. The action blighted most of his achievements as President. Babangida, 69, who can be very articulate, humorous and sometimes spontaneous, philosophical and evasive, wants to be President again. The gap toothed General, in this interview with Editor-In-Chief, Jackson Ude, and Executive Editor, Chuks Akunna, at his Minna home, describes himself as “a victim of June 12”. The widowed General who says he has not ruled out the issue of marriage, describes Late MKO Abiola as good friend who never sponsored any military coup. According to him, should Abiola return back to life, he will embrace him and still consider him a great friend. IBB as he is popularly called, says after leaving office about seventeen years ago, subsequent governments have violated the constitution and looted the treasury but they have not been tried, investigated or even mentioned, insisting that “this generation has not been fair to me.”
He denies the existence of anyone called Gloria Okon and maintains that he has never done drug or peddled drug. General Babangida also reveals the role his late wife played in saving his life during the Orkah coup. Read on:
You have thrown your hat in the ring to contest the 2011 presidential election. In 2007, you did the same thing, only to chicken out in the last minute. How are we sure history would not repeat itself?
Let us use the correct word. I didn’t chicken out of the race in 2007. I gave reasons why I withdrew from the race. The first was (General) Aliyu Gusau, who has been my friend in the last 46 years, who was my subordinate as the Commander-in-Chief; with whom we worked very, very closely. We have mutual respect for ourselves and our families. Then, Umaru (Musa Yar’Adua) came into the scene. I have close links with the Yar’Aduas, more with his father, his elder brother, and his other seniors in the family. It troubled me that at my age I should go and compete with this young man. I wrote (then President) Obasanjo the dilemma I had at the time. And don’t forget that at that time, I had at least two options. The first was to quit PDP for another party…
There are so many of them-you had about 50 at the time, and I could have easily taken the flagship of any of them. That, I am sure of. But then, it was also as bad as contesting against them. So I decided to stay put in PDP. I then wrote Obasanjo, and the letter was made public. Obasanjo’s reply was also made public. He praised me for having the nerves to follow my conviction. Then 2011 came, and we found ourselves talking about the doctrine of necessity. Fortunately or unfortunately, Umaru Yar’Adua died. I wish Umaru was still alive. You would not have seen me talking about contesting against him, because that would run against my belief. I would have wished to see him complete his tenure of eight years. But unfortunately, he died. Again, I belong to a party that adopted the concept of zoning. Not because they wanted the South to be president or North to be. This was a strategy by our political party, designed by it; united by it, so as to convince ordinary Nigerians that PDP is a party where everybody has a stake in the governance of this country. Don’t forget that PDP is not the first party to adopt this concept zoning. It started a long time, during the NPN era, for example. Shagari came from the North, and Ekwueme from the South-east. And the plan then was to make Ekwueme the president after Shagari. During our time, we had SDP and NRC. We agreed that the president should come from a particular part of the country and his vice from another. We even went to the ridiculous extent of saying that the president and his vice should not belong to the same religion. Having said that, 2011 presented a different scenario, and I resolved to offer myself for this job. Not because I am looking for a job. Not because I am looking for relevance. I have a passion and that passion is Nigeria. And until somebody will come and tell me that between 1999 and 2007, everything in this country was right. I am waiting for that person. That was why I threw my hat in the ring.
Now, in 2008 or thereabouts, you granted an interview. In that interview you said that, at 70, you don’t see yourself canvassing for votes. At what point did you change your mind, because out there is this notoriety about you saying something when you mean the exact opposite?
You see the sales of magazines and newspapers increase anytime they have a story on IBB. Don’t forget I am not 70 yet…
But you are almost 70 (cuts in)
And I will not be 70 in April (2011). Do the arithmetic. What I said was, ‘If I turn 70, I will not be running around canvassing for votes.
You are almost 70, so what difference does that make?
I am not 70 yet.
The first issue you raised was about Aliyu Gusau. He is running, and you are competing against him. Does this not negate your earlier position on not running against one’s subordinate?
He (Gusau) explained it himself. He clarified that there was nothing unusual about Ed Miliband and his brother in the struggle for the British Labour Party. The good thing about Aliyu and me is that we have established a relationship that cannot be destroyed.
Talking about relationships, there is this story making the rounds about the trio of you, Abacha and Aliyu reaching an accord on your taking turns to be Head of State, and that of the lot it would appear as if it is only Aliyu’s time that is left to come?
That is not true. I read it. I take interest in reading everything about Nigeria. Sometimes I just laugh at their wild imaginations. Remember, we are talking of military regimes. You cannot just sit down and say, hey, you shall become this and you, that. For heaven’s sake, you are staging a coup, and could so easily be killed. So what are we talking about? It doesn’t make sense.
Okay, let us talk about what ought to make sense. You were Commander-in-chief. Abacha was your Defence Chief. You had the powers to retire him, yet elected to foist him on Chief Ernest Shonekan, which was later to be the albatross of the ING.
I was leaving…
No. Stepping aside.
Yes. I was stepping aside. I put up what you guys in the media called a “contraption.” And none of you cared to read the Constitution of that contraption. It had a life span of six months. When I was leaving, I said, ‘let there be elections.’ At the time, too, the media keep insisting that Nigerians were election-weary, that elections could not be held. We, therefore, had two options: conduct an election through the collegiate system, which top lawyers and media gurus advised against, that the people can only accept general elections. And if you wanted that, you have to give people who will contest time to prepare for the elections. So we thought, six months will just be okay. But people keep harping on the ‘worst thing that happened was this contraption called ING.’ Meanwhile, nobody read the constitution or what that contraption meant. And fortunately, that contraption was not put up by men in khaki. It was by the best brains and many of them are alive today.
A constitution should flow from the people- elected people…
That was why I said it had a life span of six months and not more. And by that time a new government would have been elected. That was the plan.
You have not answered the question why you kept Abacha.
Okay, it is simple. I have said this before. I wanted stability for whatever we put in place. I knew that this could be vulnerable, that that government could be toppled by the military. Putting Abacha there was to stabilize Shonekan’s government. With Abacha around, younger officers of the rank of Major and Captain would think twice before attempting to topple that contraption. I wanted stability so that elections could be held. But, but you encouraged Abacha through what you wrote and what you said.
Did you envisage a situation where Abacha would topple that contraption and declare himself Commander-in-chief?
What I envisaged was that younger officers could take over. And this would have been more dangerous for this country.
And possibly more dangerous for you?
Yes. I would have been a victim. That is very true. But like everything Nigerian, Abacha was encouraged. People kept goading him on.
In all honesty, did Abacha hint you he was going to sack Shonekan?
In all honesty, and I mean it, he never did. That would have been a silly thing to do, and I don’t think Abacha was that silly. It would have been silly of him to have called to say, ‘I am planning to take over.’ I would also be a silly man to discuss that with him because such information could make you culpable in the event the coup failed. He knew that, and I know that.
Let us go back to you last attempt to contest the presidency (cuts in…)
I didn’t attempt.
But you showed interest before withdrawing…(laughter) you said you withdrew partly because you saw Yar’Adua as a younger man, and therefore you couldn’t bring yourself to run against him.
Let us suppose I gave reasons…
Good. Looking at the array of aspirants, it is evident that you are the oldest. Where does this leave you?
I, Atiku and Gusau are over 60, right? So we are all in the same age bracket.
You adduced age as one of the factors that hindered you from running against Yar’Adua.
Not only that. There was a personal relationship, which cannot be said of the rest. Let us put it that way. His (Umaru’s) father, I treated as a father. His elder brother was a boss, a friend. Like among the Abiriba, there is this age you reach that you considered an elder. You may not necessarily agree with this, but this is me.
The history of Nigeria cannot be written without sufficient mention of your eight-year rule. Now, at what point of your regime did people, I mean, Nigerians begin to have this unpleasant impression of you. Some call you the Evil Genius, some dubbed you Maradona.
When you are too much for people, and they cannot do anything to you, it is often easy for them to resort to name-calling. I remain the most investigated Head of State. If you try and try, and there is nothing, then the resort to name-calling. I know of somebody who approached a particular government. He said, “Yes, I will assist you, but under the condition that you probe IBB.” That was the condition.
When you say being too much, how exactly do you mean? (Laughter)
I know who I am. There has been this tendency to throw everything bad at me. Even kill me (laughter).
Talking about being killed, one would suppose you have had at least three close shaves with death-one during the civil war; the Dimka-led coup in 1976, and perhaps, lastly, the Gideon Orkar-led attempt to topple your regime. Of the three, the meeting with Dimka stands out as one in which you deliberately put yourself in harm’s way. What were you thinking when you visited Dimka in Radio House?
I was going to see a friend. We had been friends for several years. Following what appeared to be a siege of Radio House, he said, “Okay, come and talk with me.”
Was this talk over the telephone or what?
No. Person to person. He didn’t want the presence of my soldiers.
Tell us what happened when you got to the gate of Radio House. I mean, you were not part of the coupists, so how did you approach Dimka.
I was in an armoured car. When I got to the gate, they opened for me.
Did they know you were the person in the armoured car?
I got out, and he could see me from above where he was in the building. Since my vehicle had gone, a civilian vehicle took me back after we had spoken.
Of the Dimka and Orkar coups, which did you consider to have posed the most threat to your life?
Both were, but in the Orkar’s own, I was home. It was Ramadan. It was my wife that first noticed unusual movements around Dodan Barracks. My boys evacuated my family and later brought me out. Of course, there was pressure on me to abandon post, to go somewhere to hide. I wasn’t ready to do that because it was unprofessional. So I agreed to move members of my family outside the building and then I was moved somewhere.
Where were you moved in those trying moments, or don’t you want to share it?
Of course, I want to share it. But first of all, how did I get out? (Laughter)
Okay, how did you get out?
When my family was evacuated, the soldiers, about 35 of them…
Were they drawn from the Brigade of Guards?
From the Brigade of Guards and the Reconnaissance Unit, the unit I commanded. The young boys quickly looked round, surveyed the whole place and discovered we could leave through the main gate. They had succeeded in positioning those they considered loyal troops among the troops. Among them was this Second Lieutenant, who was a willing collaborator.
Who was this willing collaborator officer?
I wouldn’t want to mention his name so that they don’t come and harass him. But he is from my state (Niger).
Is it possible Orkar didn’t know this officer was from Niger State?
He was just one young officer, a Second Lieutenant, you know. It is possible they underrated him. He quickly became part of the loyal troops. We ran around. I surveyed things. I had this officer who rallied my bodyguards…
Who was this officer?
He was a Captain. We moved around. After about two-three hours, he suggested we go to a hotel. We then drove to as far as the National Arts Theatre (in Iganmu). Then suddenly, he remembered he had a brother who was away in England. We moved to his place.
How many soldiers accompanied you, and where was this house that provided cover for you at that crucial moment?
Not more than five. The house was somewhere in Surulere.
What kind of vehicle were you in?
A Range Rover.
What colour, and was it marked?
Black. No markings. We had another security vehicle behind.
Was this vehicle armoured?
We got to this place and quickly established communication with Abacha, Raji Rasaki, one governor. And about 7 or 8 O’clock…
What mode of communication did you use?
We used military communication systems. Funny enough, we also used land lines, but mostly our communication system.
Didn’t it occur to you that the coup plotters could have easily tapped into your communication, at least the land lines?
No, they were not very bright. They didn’t have the time to think about all those things. They were too much in a hurry, somewhat naïve. So, we suddenly regrouped.
Did the coupists eventually get to the State House?
Of course. They attacked it with 30 millimeter machine guns. Fortunately, I wasn’t around. I eventually left the house in Surulere for the Flag Staff House, the official residence of the Chief of Defence Staff. We now got all the loyal officers. There we planned on how to get them (the coupists).
This experience, if one were to play it out in Nollywood…(cuts in)
I want to go to Hollywood (laughter)
What lessons would you say you learned from that close shave with death?
There could have been a lot of lessons if it was some other person. For me, my younger days as an officer were replete with a lot of political turbulence in the country. We had the problems in the West, the Niger Delta, parts of the North, and particularly, the civil war. In all these, the experience was similar, even though in different forms. The Orkar coup, to me, was a continuation of this instability.
Okay, let us talk about another person that attempted to topple your regime, Mamman Vatsa. He was your childhood friend, yet that didn’t stop you from killing him?
Oh, that’s a wrong word to use. He was found guilty of plotting against the State, and the punishment was death.
But, as a childhood friend, you could easily have used your position as the Commander-in-chief to save him?
I wished I could. The law was there from the time of Dimka.
How did you feel the day Vatsa, your childhood friend, was executed?
I saw it on television. I did not even go out, because it could have been anybody, including me. The feeling was heightened by the fact that we had been childhood friends and for most of our young adult life. We shared a lot of interests. Somebody you considered a friend. It was even after his death that people began to insinuate there was some rivalry between us.
What attempts did mutual family friends make to stop the execution?
A lot. There was a lot of pressure. People like Professor Wole Soyinka, JP Clark came to see me. A lot of people came to intercede.
Was that the reason they were hurriedly executed, to ward off further pressures?
No. if at all it was hurriedly done, maybe it was for the sake of security. They had a tribunal, and the tribunal went through the whole process. The Armed Forces Ruling Council sat on the report. We even tampered with the law to allow for appeal.
How do you relate with the family, do you still have any contact with them?
Yes. I know the son. I relate with the son.
What of with the wife?
She is dead.
One could safely run away with the impression that the many books you are reputed to have read may be responsible for some of the political experiments you conducted on Nigeria. Take, for example, the title Military President. What were you thinking?
(Laughter) As a country, we adopted the presidential system of government. The question was, why don’t you carry on, but you must make people understand that it was under a military regime, hence the title “Military President.” (More laughter)
How about the idea of having democratically elected governors under you, a military president?
When we drew up what you guys in the media called “unending transition,” the idea was to take a step, observe it, and correct whatever mistakes that were inherent. But nobody cared about that. That was why we tinkered with the process. We resolved that our transition would be done step by step, and wherever there was a major hiccup, we would address it and proceed.
What do you know about Dele Giwa?
He was my friend. We communicated. I have notes that I sent him, and the ones he sent me.
Are you willing to make those notes public?
Did you also know Gloria Okon?
I guess this is still part of the programme to assassinate my person. There was a report carried out by the police on the matter, and it is there for all to see.
While we wait to lay hands on the said police report, the question remains, did you also know Gloria Okon?
It was all the same story about a fictitious Gloria Okon, and that I was a drug peddler…
Are you a drug baron?
(Laughter) What do you expect me to tell you? I don’t even look like one (laughter), because if I was or am, I wouldn’t be looking this good at my age.
Do you smoke?
I don’t. When I was your age, I drank. I stopped drinking in 1976. I gave it up.
Did it have anything to do with the Dimka encounter?
No. I travelled to Mecca and promised myself that after that, forget it. And I did give it up. A lot of people wouldn’t believe that it could come that easy, but it did.
Where is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida from?
I am from Minna. We have roots in Sokoto…
Means you were originally Fulani?
No, I am Gwari or what you call Gbagi (laughter).
You also knew the Late Chief MKO Abiola. How true is the report that he funded some of the coups in Nigeria?
That is the creation of the typical Nigerian media. Very fertile minds! He was my friend. He is my friend. And I still consider members of his family my friends, despite all the efforts by the media to strain our relationship. I have no regrets whatsoever being a friend of Abiola.
Speaking hypothetically, if Abiola were to come back to life, what would you (cuts in)
He would embrace me.
Why do you imagine so?
Because he knows the roles I played, and I don’t think he would disown me, the same way I don’t think I would disown him.
Tell us all you know about what happened to June 12.
Okay, let us put it this way: you agree the election was free, you will agree. It was fair. You will agree that everything was done except that it was cancelled…
Talking about cancellation, were you under any pressure to cancel it?
No. He went through the whole process. Abiola and (Bashir) Tofa happen to be my friends.
At the time it was reported that Abiola had cause to ask you on more than a couple of occasions if you would hand over to him if he won the election, in view of some persons in your regime who didn’t seem to like him.
Well, talking about those who didn’t like Abiola, there were many of them, not necessarily in my government. Following the cancellation, those people suddenly became the torchbearers of June 12. They became champions of the struggle to reclaim Abiola’s mandate. I laugh when I see them. I don’t know if you read Shehu Yar’Adua’s book. You will find this there.
Why did you cancel the June 12, 1993 election?
Everything we were doing was based on happenings on the ground. At the time, there were at least three conflicting court orders by courts of concurrent jurisdiction. The orders had established a very fertile ground for instability. I had to enter into discussions with Abiola. I met him at the Abuja airport, and again, at the instance of a very revered traditional ruler.
After the election?
What was Abiola’s response?
I remember vividly he was happy…
What exactly did you tell him that made him happy?
To be honest, I was very frank with him. I told him what the situation on ground was…
Did that include that the country was verging on disintegration, and if you did, how did he take it?
I did. But it was like everybody had told him that he must reclaim his mandate. To be fair, he reasoned. But the moment he left, everything changed.
What options did you offer him, like appointments, contracts? What exactly?
I suggested he prepare for another election.
How did he take it?
He didn’t buy it.
Of course, he seemed to reason that a bird in hand is worth more than ten in the bush, eh?
How about the second meeting, where did it hold and who were present.
Oh, the second meeting was in Abuja. He was a family friend. He came with his late wife, Kudirat. His wife and mine went away, saying, ‘you are friends, whatever your differences, please sort them out.’
What was this second meeting about?
It was how to get around the problem. I told him that, look, I think we have got a stage where we have a re-run election or we go on with the transitional government.
What did he say?
What he said? I remember. He said, ‘I know you. If there is a mountain in front of you, you can go through it. I said ‘No. I cannot go through a mountain, but I can go around it.’ It is one of the memorable quotes of Abiola in my memoirs.
What was on your mind the moment he said that?
Honestly, if I could help the situation, I wouldn’t have hesitated to. But I knew the problems I could bring on my head.
Like those who didn’t like the idea of allowing the elections continue…
But you were the Commander-in-chief?
That is why I accept responsibility. I am the boss. Everything stops at my table.
Is it right to say you buckled because you were afraid for your personal safety?
No. I passed through worse things during the civil war. The thing is, I was trained. If my subordinate commits an offence, I take responsibility. But, when the whole thing dies down, I call the subordinate and caution him.
Can we then say Abiola’s case was akin to Vatsa’s where you couldn’t lift a finger of assistance?
When you were stepping aside…(cuts in)
I was a victim of June 12, because I had to leave (laughter)
When you were stepping aside, did you envisage that Abiola was set to bring problems on himself?
Over 80 percent of the problems that befell Abiola were caused by the agitators.
Who were these agitators, and were they from Abiola’s South-west region?
They were all from Nigeria (laughter). And some of them were of very good standing in the society that it would have amounted to rudeness if one didn’t listen to them.
Were you in a dilemma? In one breath, you talked about being helpless; yet this is you talking about listening to agitators. What are we to believe?
There was no dilemma.
Isn’t it ironical that you seek to use the same process to become president of Nigeria?
Elections. Here we have what many consider the freest and fairest election…(cuts in)
But I gave the reasons for doing so…
Okay, but doesn’t this scenario pose a huge dilemma for you? You now wish to become president through the same process you truncated?
I ran a military government. And even for those who have run constitutional administrations after me, there have been several constitutional breaches; impeachable offences. You in the media, in the National Assembly know them yet choose to close your eyes to them. Only IBB’s offences are unpardonable. Those who are breaching the constitution with impunity today don’t even get mentioned in the media let alone sanctioned. Only IBB must be punished. You see, I will be silly not to expect that. When I was growing up, I had this grandfather who said, ‘everyday, someday, somebody will betray you.’ If you wake up and nobody betrays you, please consider that a bonus. The best thing to do is to ask you, ‘what do I do if I get betrayed?’
What if, as you expect, you are betrayed tomorrow?
Who by? I expect I will be betrayed. It is going on now.
You mean you are already being betrayed?
Well, I wouldn’t say betrayed. Maligned is the word.
Even in PDP?
They are scared.
They are scared of you?
You figure that out.
Yourself, Bukola Saraki, Aliyu Gusau and Atiku Abubakar are in what appears to be a strange alliance to produce a common candidate. Are you not scared this arrangement could work against you?
The four of us signed the agreement to back any of us that emerges. We signed.
What if your preferred candidate loses out to Goodluck Jonathan, what is the Plan B?
I don’t know of any Plan B. All I know is that in simple arithmetic, if we come out with a common candidate there will not be any dissipation of energy and resources, and that there will be consolidation of votes. So, the chances of winning the primary election are brighter.
When you look at the history books of Nigeria, writers don’t paint you as a good leader…
Fortunately in 1000 years there will be Nigeria, and there will be writers who will devote more time to writing about Nigeria, and they will stumble on some things somebody did in 1986. They will scream, ‘Wait a minute! How come nobody saw all this?’ Abraham Lincoln had the same problem. So many derogatory things were said about him. But later, people began to see the truth. So, I recognize that. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I came ahead of my time.
One of the sore points of your regime is the widely-held belief that it was very corrupt.
Let me help you put it in proper perspective; that I institutionalized corruption. And my reaction always is, ‘oh! My goodness.’ Here I am, a man who ran a government, dictatorial or whatever, for eight years, and put up never-before-seen infrastructure. And now we have governments making more money in a one year than we did in our entire eight years. Still we are talking about security; we are talking about power. Now, talking about power, we once heard it from the National Assembly that a government spent $15 billion. During my time there were no power cuts. If we wanted to cut power, they gave notice and such never exceeded 24 hours. We now hear of the level of theft. People now steal billions…
Maybe they learned from you…
Okay, they have graduated to billions, yet none of you have the nerves to call them corrupt. All the institutions we have lack the courage to call them corrupt. In very few instances where they found one, nobody had the courage to pursue it to its logical conclusion. Where is the fairness? Who institutionalized corruption? Is it me, with N8 billion in a year or somebody with N1.34 trillion in a year? C’mon, let’s be fair, because fair is fair. But because nobody wants to see the face of Babangida, we lump them with me. They look for companies they imagine have connections with me. We talk of Halliburton and the names of people are there and they are not doing anything about it. It is me who left office 17 years ago that must come under their scrutiny. I accept that as my fate.
Bringing you back to the issue at hand. You were once Head of State. Again, you seek to be president. A recurring problem has been that of the oil bearing communities of the Niger Delta. How do you hope to address this problem?
I spoke about it and opinions were sharply divided over my position. There were those who felt I spoke too fast, and those who don’t believe I am right at all. As a junior officer, I knew the problems of the Niger Delta. When I came, it was one percent derivation. And because of my experience there, when I came I raised it to three percent. And when I discovered that three wasn’t enough, I set up OMPADEC, all to address the problems of the Niger Delta. I advocated a Marshall plan. The plan was that you cannot bring development to the region without bringing the people to a certain level playing ground in development. We have what we call Port Harcourt today. In 1945, it was a different place altogether. First of all you need to give them space to build refineries, roads, schools. Take Victoria Island, for instance. Tafawa Balewa established it in 1963 or thereabouts. That is what I mean by government creating space for people to develop themselves. Secondly, we have to strive to have true federalism. The US, for example, if you discovered oil, it belonged to the state. The state in turn pays tax to the federal government. People will then begin to develop such things as agriculture and other resources. I saw a documentary on Aljazeera on the Niger Delta. Some woman said, since I was born I have been seeing oil on my land, but I don’t have a cup. That was it. The problems of these agitations are caused by neglect and exclusion. When I talked about State police, they abused Babangida. But we are gradually tilting towards my concept. Now, we are going to use militants to protect the coastline. What do you call that?
What kind of political battle are we to expect if you win the PDP nomination and Buhari emerges the CPC candidate?
There will be an election and a winner will emerge. That is what will happen. I respect Buhari. He was my boss. He was an honourable man and I can say it anywhere.
[b]Can you give an appraisal of the few months of the Jonathan presidency?
I will refer you to, I think it’s The Sun. not that I agree with what they said, but knowing Nigeria and our mentality, if I spoke on the matter, I would create another furore and his media team would turn their heat on me.
Are you satisfied with the way Jonathan has handled governance?
I am satisfied that we are still together as a country.
Recently, there were bomb blasts at the venue of our independence anniversary celebrations and accusing fingers were pointed in your way. Why did you bomb Nigerians?
That is Nigeria for you. We lack imagination. For a man like me who carried a bullet in my chest, and who knows the pain, I think it was an insult. But then, it is okay. Because we are intellectually lazy. There is always a solution. We can’t do anything. For 17 years I was out of government, there was no government. It is only what IBB did 17 years that still reverberates. Okay, if I didn’t do it 17 years ago, did you do it eight years ago? The answer is no. I don’t know if I told you the story of the three envelops? The president consulted some man on how best to rule. The man said, anytime there is any problem, go and open the envelope, you will find a solution. In no time a problem reared its head and the man went for the envelopes. The first envelop said, ‘Blame the last government.’ Then another problem came, he went for the second envelope. It read, ‘Blame me, the former president.’ Babangida institutionalized corruption, Babangida killed Dele Giwa and so on and so forth. On the third occasion, he went for the third envelope. It read, for God’s sake, do something. Stop blaming everybody. You mean we are so unintelligent that we couldn’t pinpoint what went wrong. We knew this was wrong. We knew how to correct it. Yet for 18 years, we are still battling with the problems. None of my ministers was found stealing money. Government used their services. I don’t believe this generation will give me credit for anything. I have my mind made up that it won’t happen during my lifetime. I think my great grand children would one day say, we had a great grandfather who did this and that for Nigeria.
What problems do you have with the youth that prompted you to say they were incapable of leadership?
Again, I was quoted out of context. In 1989, I introduced the concept new breed politicians. I know what I went through in the hands of the media, that I was doing the wrong thing even when I knew I was doing the right thing. Till date, it is still my concept that holds sway. You check the governors, members of the National and State Assemblies. There are some of them that are in their mid 30s, early 40s. Thankfully, this is one of the things we institutionalized, not only corruption (laughter). With all these, I couldn’t therefore have gone out to say the youth are not capable of leadership. But look at the typical lazy Nigerian. He’d shout, ‘ah, Obama was 46 years, and can run a country as the United States. What these people forget is that the United States is not Nigeria. They have a functional system. Obama or no Obama, the United States will continue to function well. The system is perfected. You can therefore find a president there who can play God because every other person has perfected his or her role to the society, so the president need not lose sleep over most things. But again, the same Obama they talk about was in the Congress-House of Reps, Senate, served in several committees. He has tailored his profession along that line. But even at that, somebody made sure he spoke at, for God’s sake, a convention. That was how he hit the limelight. Here, nobody does anything. What we need here, and that was what I emphasized, was for our youths to tailor their aspirations along particular lines. That is all.
Earlier in the year, you lost your better half for many decades. May her soul rest in peace. In your first outing as president, she was very visible, initiating a lot of programmes to help women and children. Should you emerge president, would you take another wife?
The constitution allows me to marry (laughter). Whatever happens, at the end of the day, I may have to remarry because of the kind of society we live in. Some would even say things like, ‘ah, so bad was he that he couldn’t even get himself a wife.’ I wouldn’t give them that luxury.
As military president, you appointed an Igbo man, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe your deputy. He, however, left your government under controversial circumstances. You replaced him, not with another Igbo man, but with Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, an Ishan, from Edo. Today, you talk of serving only one term and supporting an Igbo man to be president in 2015. How do you reconcile both positions?
We will come to that. The important thing is that we fought a war. You and I were in this country where somebody said that, in any country where a civil war was fought, the defeated persons should remain defeated for at least 100 years.
Who said so?
I am sure you know, so I wouldn’t say it here. He seemed to forget that Nigeria perhaps is the only country in the world that fought a civil war and made substantial recovery. When that war ended, a very decent man came up with a very commendable programme of three “Rs” –reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. And I think as a country we have done very well.