Those who put together the questions for Ibrahim Babangida in this interview,should really be commended.The questions were tough,hard hitting and very appropriate,not to talk of brave.
Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in this interview, clarifies his position on his statement suggesting that he is in support of the re-election bid of President Goodluck Jonathan. Aired last Wednesday on Channels TV, the interview was an episode in the current affairs programme, STWK (Straight Talk With Kadaria), anchored by Kadaria Ahmed.
Babangida also speaks on the murder of Dele Giwa in 1986, the Interim National Government, ING, Sani Abacha’s coup and the loss of his long time companion and wife, Maryam. Excerpts:
- Do you support President Jonathan’s attempt at re-election?
to be a man who believes in the unity of this country and I did allude to that and I said I found him to be someone who has a very strong belief about the unity of this country.
Those of us who fought the civil war – I still carry a bullet so I have a permanent reminder in me –
anything that relates to Nigeria’s unity, we get impassioned about it.
So what I said is that the President believes in the unity of this country and any other person who believes in the unity of this country should support the President to keep this country one.
- So, as far as the 2015 elections are concerned, President Jonathan has your blessing
The only difference is (and I did mention it) that I have not been able to read what they have offered to this country and I am going to do that and whoever offers what I’m looking for, I am going to vote for.
- What exactly did you mean when you said that if what you read in the papers these days is anything to go by, then your administration was saintly?
- Not because you did any spending or because your level of spending was less or because you didn’t touch public money?
You can’t, for example, keep more than ‘X’ amount of money in your vault or in your safe. We followed strictly the financial regulations and now it boggles my mind how somebody could put N300m under his bed.
I once removed a governor for N300,000, because he overspent what we had given him as limit on security.
- But that didn’t mean that your government was squeaky clean because there was the Okigbo report about the over $12b oil windfall that was allegedly squandered by your administration.
But, if you had done your home work well, you would know that the war lasted three months and there was no way you could make $1.4b in three months at the rate of $12 or $10 per barrel, producing about 800,00 per day.
The government did not indict anybody, neither did the report indict anybody. He was an acknowledged economist and what he said is that ‘X’ amount of money would have accrued into the reserves. The government had an option to either go and put the money in the bank and say it was saving it or you meet some of the demands of the situation at that time.
- Considering that you ruled Nigeria for some eight years, do you take any responsibility for the state of Nigeria today?
- Would the June 12 issue be something that when you look back you regret?
- What was the rationale behind the annulment?
- What were the conditions that raised those concerns?
- But in the end that was what happened because …
- Was it a plan?
- The reason for that question was based on what you said about the coup issue because when you left, you did not retire General Abacha, a man who had been a central player in many successful coups and you left him in charge of the army more or less. That is why I asked if it was a plan for him to take over?
- So it never occurred to you that he (Abacha) wanted the number one job for himself?
- So when he executed this coup, what did you think?
- So, why didn’t you retire Abacha knowing that there was a fertile ground and you had a coup maker…
- Given the fact that Nigerians wanted a government they elected and not the contraption you put together, why did you find it difficult to understand why Nigerians would not line up behind it?
- Now you are calling it contraption by the way?
I governed for eight years, using decree. That contraption was given a constitution and that constitution was supported by a law. It was legitimately done as is done all over the world.
- You were away when the Abacha coup happened. But when you came back, did he get in touch?
- Did you give him any advice on how to run government or how soon he should hand over to civilians?
- Are you surprised at how his government became one that was very repressive and he became known, perhaps, as one of the worst dictators Nigeria had ever known?
No, because he had worked with us, worked with other people, had a good knowledge of how the system worked, how to keep security in the country. These were things that he knew and you could not deny him those things.
- In 1986, you decided that Nigeria’s status as an observer at the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC, should change to become a full member knowing that Nigeria has an almost equal population of Christians and Muslims.
- But the view of the ordinary Nigerian is that to be in OIC meant you were an Islamic country. And Nigeria is not an Islamic country. So why take us in there?
- In the years since then, as far as you know, what has been the specific benefit that we’ve got?
- We are in a situation in the country today where we have insurgents with a warped version of Islam which they claim they want to foist on the nation in some states. Do you think these sorts of decisions are the sort of things that plant seeds on the minds of some people claiming to want to promote one religion above another?
- Given the fact that we are a nation of different ethnicities, wouldn’t it have been better to pursue policies that would not divide us along religious lines – and this is even outside the Boko Haram insurgency?
- The question I’m driving at is that if, perhaps, we don’t pursue public policies that further strengthen the division that already exists, could we perhaps have had a better chance of making it as a nation and not one divided along ethnic and religious lines
- So any regrets about taking Nigeria into the OIC?
- You don’t see that as a policy capable of further dividing us as a nation even though, by your own admission, Christians complained?
We had a civil war. Nobody would like to have a war again. The good thing is that from 1970 till today, I have never come across people who believe in the division of this country.
- So, in your view, no regrets because we are learning from your mistakes?
- What should we do about Boko Haram?
- In practical terms, how do we begin to build unity so that Nigerians can see the problem as a Nigerian problem?
- From a military point of view, are you surprised at the performance of our military against Boko Haram?
- The question really is that by all accounts, the army you served in was a formidable army; so what did you people do that time that appears different from what is going on now?
- Could it not be that some of us can say Nigeria had been good to us, so we had no option than to be committed. But you have the young ones today, say, of 30, who would be asking, ‘what the hell’ because they have had to fend for themselves one way or the other? They don’t see what the country has done for them. Shouldn’t government start by providing for the people and making them responsive to the needs of patriotism?
- You’ve repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the murder of journalist Dele Giwa, but because you were the military head of state at that time and because your former press secretary, Debo Bashorun, alleged that you knew about it, many Nigerians are a bit skeptical about what you have said. Do you understand why they have been skeptical?
- What about the role played by Major Bashorun, did that come as a surprise to you?
- Was he upset with you and, therefore, would want to make you look bad?
- At the time of Giwa’s death, did you order any investigations at all into the circumstances of the killing?
- Aren’t you curious as to who killed Dele Giwa?
- Is there any chance that some rogue elements in your government, without your knowledge, could have decided to teach Dele Giwa a lesson because he was critical of your administration?
- Do you have any regrets at all about your time in office?
- As a young soldier, did you ever envisage that your life would take the path it has taken?
- But fate dealt you a different hand, how do you feel about that?
- You lost your long time companion and wife, Maryam, in December 2009. What has life been like without her?
- How much time do you spend with the children and grand children to try and fill the vacuum that she’s left?
- Many had thought that by now you would have re-married?