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FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION: We were saints compared to what’s happening now – Babangida

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…insists handing over to MKO Abiola would have led to military coup, instability
…says restructuring subject to different interpretations, backs resource control

Former military ruler and later first military president of Nigeria, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, (rtd) will clock 80 years on August 17. The man, popular referred to as Maradona in his heyday, in this interview on Arise Television and monitored by DIPO AWOJOBI, spoke extensively on issues bothering on the political class, restructuring, economy, security, policies of his government and the kind of person he would want as the next president of the country in 2023 among other contemporary issues. Excerpts…

Do you think it is lack of understanding of Nigerians or lack of love for Nigerians that is missing in the country today, which is why we are where we are now?

From my experience Nigerians are very resilient people. They are fertile minded people, if you want to lead them, you must take a lot of things into consideration; they are very resilient and industrious. You have to put all these together to achieve a lot of things.

Is that where restructuring comes is as some people have even blamed you in terms of the present structure of the nation. You created 11 states during your time as head of state and some people believe that this further alienated the leaders from the people. Some people are saying that the time to restructure is now. If you say we need restructuring, what type of restructuring, is it regionalism or what?

Amazingly, if you check from my findings, restructuring means different things to different people in this country. We don’t have the correct interpretation; that is the first basic problem that we have. We haven’t defined what we mean by restructuring. But the people need get to the level of participating in governance. We once had Reverend Adasu, he was my very good friend and I had an argument with him, when he was the Governor of Benue State. Then one of the local government chairmen in the state was a member of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and he (governor) was a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and he said he was going to stop the allocation of the local government. The information got to me and I asked him why he did that. He said he did it because they were not in the same party. I told him that the man went round the local government and campaigned and told the people what he would do for them. I said on that basis they voted for him and so why would you not give him his money? And I said they are your people and you are there as the Governor. He told me that I ought to be a politician, but I said no. I argued with a lot of my friends and I believe in resource control, but if you mention resource control to some people they would want to cut off your head.

Let us explore the issue of local government, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the law for their autonomy and I think in your time you increased their allocation, don’t you think that the governors are taking a lot of responsibilities from the local governments?

This is where your restructuring comes in. At the state level, I want to see a situation where the constitution specifies the responsibilities of the governor and those of the local government chairmen such that when it comes to the responsibility of the local government, the Governor would not interfere with it unless it is something bigger like during some disasters, then the state can come in; the laws are there. Somebody was talking about the concurrent and exclusive lists, that is something along that line. I think you should give people more control over their resources.

What would you say about the abysmal state of the economy; I recall that your administration introduced Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and one of the objectives of this was to diversify the nation’s economy away from dependency on oil. It talked about inclusiveness, liberalising the economy, but Nigeria is still grappling with the economy, struggling to make the naira appreciate against the dollar. What do you think the country should do to take the economy away from panic mode?

That is it, our economy is in panic mode. I think it is consistency in policy; we ought to decide what to do and keep it going not to be dissuaded by people’s opinions. If you believe in the right thing, pursue it, and keep making it clear to the people, they would understand it someday.

What do you think of the fact that Nigeria still imports a huge percentage of her petroleum products, the four refineries in the country have continued to be moribund?

Nigerians are very industrious, and they are very resourceful. There is nothing they cannot do and they will do it well. I am confident that they can. The only problem is inconsistency in policies and what have you.

What do you think with the way this administration is handling the economy so far?

For the fact that it hasn’t collapsed, I think they are trying to keep it moving.

What are the things you think they have to put in place to move the economy forward?

I think you need to mobilise the people towards achieving common objectives. You need to let them know that they can do it, the resources are there and you are there to provide the environment and to support them.

What does the fact that a naira is exchanging for about N550 to a dollar mean to you?

It means a lot, but I think we can address it with production. Once people can produce a lot of things they can sell by exporting or selling them within the country, I think it will stabilise.

But how can that production come about with a high rate of unemployment and almost 70% of Nigerians are youth and many of them are unemployed?

There is too much control in the way the economy is being run. We should open it further. If we do that and tap the God-give talents of Nigerians, I think we will move on.

Let’s talk about security. What is your recommendation in this regard, is it that the Nigerian military is overwhelmed?

They are not overwhelmed, may be they are overstretched. The military, I believe, has the wherewithal to fight banditry and bring the system back to normal. But the problem is that they are doing too much and they are overstretched. They are working with obsolete equipment and one thing which we shouldn’t lose sight of is that the military must believe in what they are fighting for, and they must be provided with the wherewithal to do what they want to do for the country. Also, they must be well trained and well led.

Do you think leadership is what is missing at that level?

I think they should do more based on my experience.

At the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999, you were at the forefront of getting Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to take over the helms of affairs in the country, why was that necessary at that time? Also, would you say you are impressed by the democratic trajectory that Nigeria finds itself at the moment?

If you are talking about one Nigerian that is passionate about Nigeria, it is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, I will give that to him. He believes strongly in one Nigeria. So, we were convinced that the person that would take over power then must believe in the oneness of Nigeria and believe in its stability for the future development of the country. So that was the one reason we sold him to Nigeria.

Then he has the experience, he has seen it all. He took part in the war of keeping the country as one and he led the country for political engineering and development.

But some people would say that it was an attempt to assuage the people of a certain part of the country because of the immediate past event at that time and a way of keeping the Class ‘66 of which you belong to continue to have a grip on Nigeria…

We always believe that a person who should run the country must have these antecedents. If he didn’t believe in Nigeria, we wouldn’t look for him at all. This is what we are saying, if he is democratically elected or militarily imposed, he must have the core belief in the country. He must believe in the country and have experiences in leadership, public service and the rest of them.

Are you impressed with our democracy so far and what role do you still play in the PDP; The PDP ruled for 16 years and under this administration Nigeria seems to be moving towards one party state, what do you think about this?

I know that Nigerians would not allow that to happen. They would make so much noise such that whoever would attempt to do that would not do it. This is the good thing about the country. They would talk, they would demonstrate and engage you in all sorts of things so as not to do the wrong thing.

Are you still involved in politics, are you still in the PDP?



I am an elder statesman now.

But, we cannot talk about Nigeria’s politics without the fact that as Nigeria’s president, you came up with two political parties…

Yes, and I maintain that this is the best for the country?

Where we are now, that’s what it is, Nigeria has become a two- party state, but we are tilting towards one party state. What did you see that made you create two parties at that time?

Based on the experiences that we had, we set up a committee to ascertain what went wrong and it was very revealing. We found out that from the First to the third Republics, everybody in the country tends to gravitate towards two party system. There were a lot of political parties, but we all gravitated toward two parties. So we insisted that two parties system was the best thing for us then. It is even happening now, we have over 70 political parties, but nobody is talking about them, it is APC and PDP. During Obasanjo’s time, we came up with five political parties, but we gravitated towards two parties. So, Nigeria can do well with a two party system.

So, you are happy with the way it is happening now organically and 2023 is still few years away… So many people have been talking about the need to give chance to people from some part of the country. What are your thoughts on the thinking that power should shift to the South East in 2023?

We have to make a choice whether we want to practise democracy the way it is being practised or we define it according to our own whims and caprices. If we want to define it the way it is done all over the world, you allow the process to continue and through that you will come up with a candidate that would be able to rule the country. His qualifications and beliefs should be known to Nigerians before somebody throws his hat into the ring.

Are you saying this should be done regardless of where he is coming from, are you saying that Nigeria should forget about zoning, power shifts and all of that?

Whether we do it now or we don’t, we will have to do that soon. Nigerians would have to look for a leader that the people know, the kind of person he is and if he throws his hat into the ring, why not? I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader.

Who is that?

A person who travels all over the country and has friends everywhere that he can communicate with. He should be a person that is versed in economy, he should be a good politician who should be able to talk to Nigerians. I have seen one or two already, they are in their 60s.

And you think the person should be elected in 2023?

Yes, if we can get him.

What do you think of some secessionists, not only in the South East, but in the South West like Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho, who have been championing the cause of their people, what are your thoughts about that?

It’s always good to agitate, but because there is this belief that this country should be one they don’t get support because Nigerians don’t want anything that would disturb their peace of mind.

What do you make of the DSS that has been in the eye of the storm; you created the SSS, NDLEA, NAFDAC and so many of them…

Yes, for the purpose of the society.

And of course the intelligence agency that you set up, like NIA. What do you make of the DSS that has evolved from that, which seems to have a mind of its Nigeown, that does not obey court orders?

I think they are fairly well trained. But, on the fact that they disobey court orders, I don’t think that is the right thing for them to do. They should obey court orders. We ought to have strong institutions that follow the due process. I don’t share their flouting court orders.

Talking of strong institutions, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been created to fight corruption and they have not been able to fight it to a standstill. Then how you do you feel when you hear in some quarters that corruption actually thrived under your administration, is that a fair assessment?

But you cannot compare it with the fact on ground now. From what I read, from analysis, I think we are saints compared to what I read that is happening under a democratic dispensation. I sacked a Governor for misappropriating less than N313, 000. You see those who have stolen billions of naira are now on the streets parading themselves all over.

So, what is your assessment of this administration on the issue of fighting corruption because it is one their three areas of focus when they got to power?

That’s where politics comes in; somebody will now say the APC came on three planks, economy, fighting corruption and insecurity. It is for Nigerians to say if these areas been met.

As a Nigerian, what would you say?

I will rather wait to hear what the other party will say. If they convince me that they haven’t succeeded in these and they show me proof I will go with them.

What is your relationship like with President Muhammadu Buhari considering the fact that you were involved in a coup that got him out of office?

Our relationship is still very good. I am happy we relate well, but the seeming bad relationship we have was the creation of the media?

Let’s talk about the media, under your administration, there was this seeming no love lost relationship between your government and the media. As a matter fact, you abrogated Decrees 2 and 4 and today the media is contending with another Decrees 2 and 4 like the Press Council Bill that wanted to gag the media. What is it about the government that makes them fear the media?

I don’t fear the media, I liberalized you (the media) today you have private television, private newspapers and all that. I believe that they are an essential part of the society and they should play their roles for the society. I have no problem with the media.

But what do you make of the attempt to clamp down on the media by this administration?

The media and the public would not allow that to happen. I said Nigerians are wonderful people, you cannot intimidate them.

I recall that you got married in 1969 during the civil war and you went back to the war front barely five months after the marriage and why did you decide to Mariam Babangida?

The story was that in 1969 I was wounded somewhere in Uzuakoli in Abia State and was flown down to Lagos. Then, the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, got married around that time and I was very impressed. I was in the hospital then and I would have been dead. So I made up my mind that I would marry immediately I got well. God was so kind to me, I got well, so getting married was my priority.

…And you met Mariam I knew her before.

I was very frequent in their house and her brothers and cousins were one family with me, so when I asked for her hand in marriage there was no opposition. We got married two months later.

She came up with Better Life For Rural Dwellers and that was an entry point for women in governance, how did this come to be?

What worked for her was that she worked with some of the best brains in this country and they were really committed to uplifting the status of the women. Some of them were in the university, some were in public service and they were always working on “what do we do and how do we do it.” That was the secret behind the success.

Unfortunately we lost her in 2009, a regal woman and you did not remarry, why?

The women don’t like my face (laughter).

I’m sure that is not true… …

I think it is not easy, that is the way I am.

You had four children together. People have described you as a builder of men. So what attracts you to people, is it your loyalty or what?

The hilltop, your residence has become a Mecca of sort such that anyone who wants to rule the nation has to come and consult you or whatever they want to be. What is it that attracts people to you from all the world? I feel comfortable wherever I am either in Minna or Lagos. I make friends easily and I don’t disown people even those that I know very well. I stick with them, I think that is it.

How would you like to be remembered and what would you say is your legacy?

Also, do you have any regret even with what you did as president and what are those things you think you achieved as president? Having left office 28 years ago, I think that we were right with some of the things we did. A lot of things are happening that I feel that some things happen now that I felt that we were misunderstood then. You mentioned SAP, for instance, today, I told the people in 1986 that anyone who takes advantage of what we were about to do would succeed in life and those who don’t would regret. Those who took advantage of what we did are the powers behind our industries today, they are the economic gurus and they were provided with an environment to do what they wanted to do and how they wanted it and they were not imprisoned. We made our contributions to make the society better.

Nigerian still want to know what happened that you annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election that you even said you were a victim of the annulment. You talked about the cabal and it was as if a gun was pointed at your head to annul the election. What actually happened?

If we had allowed the election results to be declared there would have been a coup-de-tat. Thank God for the way we handled it or else it would have given room for more instability in the country.

Is it from the military or from the civilians?

Both; the military because they had the gun, but the society would have come with agitations.

Did you give yourself the names evil genius and Maradona?

I didn’t, the media did. That is the good thing about the Nigerian people. If you anticipate them then you will live well with them. There is a bit of contradictions in that, you are evil and you are a genius. Maradona refereed to ‘deft political moves.’

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