Atiku Is Greedy
Gbenga Obasanjo, son of President Olusegun Obasanjo, speaks on the feud between his father and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, corruption in Nigeria, the third term debate, the media, his family life and other issues in an encounter with Omoyele Sowore who, until recently, was an investigative reporter with Elendureports.com an internet-based publication.
Q: We have been reporting corruption and we will like to ask a few questions about your father's anti-corruption crusade...
A: Yes, I read you guys very well. You did a good job until recently. You have become
more emotional and you do hatchet jobs for some people.
Q: Is it because our reports now target your father and the sacred cows in his government?
A: No, not at all. I read your reports. Six months ago, you did a thorough job. You did your research very well and made your findings public in a way that nobody can contest them.
Q: Where did we go wrong?
A: Look at your current story about my father. You are making claims that he stole N50 million to build his Otta farm. That's not correct. It is public information that it was through a loan and he has repaid the loan. He's made the information public for all to see.
Q: But we called your father's farm office and no one could produce the documents to show that it was a loan. Despite being president, your father is still the chairman of the company. Is that not wrong?
A: Maybe you didn't talk to the right persons. I know it is public information. I know the constitution allows people in government to engage in farming.
Q: What section of the constitution?
A: You should go and find out. But I don't even think Baba still manages the farm. The place is managed by a younger Obasanjo who is one of my brothers. I would think he is the person you should contact. He will give you the details you need.
Q: Where can we find this information since you claim it is public information?
A: I don't know. It is your job, go and find the documents from the headquarters.
Q: There are reports that the JDZ oil deals in Sao Tome and Principe has your father –in-law as a front for your father. Isn't Emeka Offor/ EHRC also some kind of front for your father in those deals?
A: You see, that's where you are wrong again. You just mentioned my father-in-law, who is the Chairman of PGS in Nigeria. He got that deal under Abubakar Abdusalami or something. I don't really know, but hear this: I can't even stay in the same room with my father-in-law. I am divorcing my wife, you know. I would have loved to show you the divorce papers, but I don't want you to know my house. As for Emeka Offor, he is not that close to my father. He was even the person behind Atiku, as he pushed him to run against Baba in the 2003 elections. It was after they failed that he came and begged for forgiveness from him. So, you also got that wrong.
Q: How did PGS get a JDZ concession from Abubakar when the Joint Development Zone was not in existence under Abubakar Abdusalami's regime?
A: No, I think there was some kind of arrangement in place between the two countries. You should be able to find out as well. And also, your report on the Sarakis, particularly Bukola's mansion in London. That was really unfair too! Let me tell you, Bukola is one of the most intelligent governors in Nigeria. He is a smart guy. He bought the house in London before he became governor. As a medical professional, I look at issues from the point of view of the morphology of causative factors in order to properly diagnose an ailment. You look at family history, environment and symptoms e.t.c before you come to proper diagnosis of any ailment.
Q: We included that in our report...
A: I don't see how that report meshed with your investigative stories. That was a hatchet job. You guys just went after him for no reason.
Q: What does his intelligence have to do with the distress in his father's bank-Societe Generale Bank- where depositors' fund disappeared?
A: He has always had small houses in London and he sold them and bought a bigger house on loan.
Q: How much did he realise from his small houses to raise money for a 4.5 million pound-house and how is he paying his mortgage when governors are forbidden from owning foreign accounts?
A: You should have separated the issues. Separate the bank issue from his personal home in London. I don't know how he is paying his mortgage. You can ask him that. You know he is a doctor?
Q: But the bank is not a hospital. These guys cleaned out the bank to run for election, and they are still roaming free in Nigeria...
A: He is a state governor and he can't be arrested like that.
Q: Does his father also have immunity? I heard he is one of the sacred cows in Nigeria, even the EFCC says it can't arrest him except he leaves Ilorin, Kwara State...
A: Well, that's for EFCC to answer, not me! And for your information, he is not that close to Baba. Although if Baba goes to his town, he will pay him respect, but they are not close.
Q: Still on the Sarakis. What don't you get about our report?
A: I think you should focus on the bank problems. I agree with you that something went wrong with the way the bank was managed. And particularly, I think a lot of the bank's money went into the 2003 elections. That should be your focus. The bank was mismanaged the way other bankers mismanaged several banks in Nigeria.
Q: What do you do for a living apart...?
A: I am a doctor; I am a public health doctor. I have a concern and I am actively practising. I have a PhD from John Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA.
Q: Do you advise your father on public health issues?
A: Yes, I share my views with him, especially on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nigeria.
Q: What is his response?
A: I don't have to tell you
Q: I heard your father has a high libido. How does he turn around to discourage people from engaging in unhealthy sexual practices?
A: Well, I can tell you that he is an active man. But that is not the issue. The problem with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria is that there are too many interests in fighting the disease and I am afraid not much is being achieved.
Q: Don't you think the HIV /AIDS work in Nigeria is one huge “cause chasing after cash?”
A: I agree with you on that. Personally, I think the focus on treatment for infected persons is not the solution. I believe more in preventive care. I think every minister or public official making public statements should have to include HIV/AIDS in their speeches. We need to make people aware of the danger inherent in higher infection rates. The whole work force will go down at once if we are not careful. I would like to see a response very much like what Uganda did to the epidemic in their country.
Q: The World Health Organization (WHO) says malaria kills more people than HIV/AIDS. Why is there not the same level of zeal in dealing with malaria in Nigeria and where does the huge statistics about HIV/AIDS infections come from?
A: I also have problems with the statistics.
A: Because the same people who collect the samples do the counting and final analyses. I think that is wrong because they have vested interest! There is a financial motive involved. The way they perform their stats is simple: they collect blood samples of pregnant women, because ultimately anyone who is pregnant must have had sex, no one is collecting samples from prostitutes and students-who are very much like prostitutes these days. So, we are really short of adequate sample size to have credible statistics that represent or cover the active population of young people ravaged by AIDS. So, 10 per cent is grossly under-representing the rate of infection in Nigeria. I seriously have problems with that.
Q: Has your father's administration not failed in the provision of basic health care?
A: That is your opinion. A lot of work is being done to reactivate these sectors. We are not there yet. But if you look at the modernisation of public teaching hospitals like the UCH in Ibadan, you could tell that things are getting done. The level I would like to see is the secondary level of public data gathering for health care delivery, such that someone's medical information can easily be transferred from one level to the other and accessible to a doctor when further treatment is necessary.
Q: What was your relationship with the late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo?
A: She was my father's wife; she was the man's wife. That's it!
Q: How would you react to the allegation that you bring businessmen, who are your partners, to buy up Nigerian companies at ridiculously low rates?
A: That's not true!
Q: What about Virgin Nigeria, Ajaokuta Steel Company and others?
A: I have never met those people. I must say, though, that I am proud to associate with the success of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex. They have started producing steel and prices of steel has come down in Nigeria. For Virgin Nigeria, I have never met Richard Branson. But I am proud of the Virgin Nigeria deal. The only person I have known was the Vice President of the South African Airlines, when he came to Nigeria to negotiate the South African Airlines deal that collapsed. Even then, I didn't try to influence the negotiations. He was my friend. I knew him and I could not shun him.
Q: Do businessmen seek your intervention?
A: Of course, they do
Q: Do you just turn them down?
A: What is wrong with you, Sowore? I have been talking to you for the past two hours, don't I sound like I am intelligent enough to know what to do?
Q: The time is not enough to assess your intelligence and I may not be intelligent enough to tell if you are intelligent...
A: That's why I think you guys have become really emotional with your stories. You just write what you like. It's the same with the Nigerian press. Because I don't give them money, they write all kinds of things about me; they hate me! But I won't give bribes. One day, I was at Abeokuta with the Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel. These press guys came in and started asking hard questions. The moment they were served food, they left their scrap papers and rushed the food. Of course, the next day, their reports were very shiny. That's the way it goes here. The press boys are a hungry bunch, but I have refused to bribe them. I don't have money to bribe them; I am just a struggling man. Look at the whole story about Stella Obasanjo being the only one standing with my father in jail. That was all press work. As a doctor, I was the first person allowed to see my father before she started visiting, but the Nigerian press have their favourites. And they can be mean. Recently, one magazine even wrote that since Stella has died, Baba too would soon follow. Haba!
Q: Why does your father want a third term?
A: I am not aware of this third term thing you are talking about. My father is a man of integrity; he doesn't have any intention to remain in office beyond 2007. He is already building a retirement home and a library in Abeokuta. He is an old man. He may look young to the outside world, but he is an old man. I personally think he is older than 70 years. He just said he is about 70 years because nobody recorded his age when he was born. And his military service, perhaps, made him look fit as a person, but he is not a young person. I have been with him when he looked at obituaries in the newspaper and said: 'That person who died was the son of my classmate.” He is not as young as people think. In 1979, when it was fashionable to stay in power and he was just about 42 years of age, he didn't stay in power. Why would he stay in power now. What for? Let me tell you, it is the Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, and the Nigerian press that are campaigning for the third term. They are using it as blackmail. Atiku thinks the presidency is his birthright and as such, it should be delivered to him pronto! Otherwise, who among my father's close friends is campaigning openly for his third term in office?
Q: But Nigerians don't believe this. Given your father's denial of a presidential ambition in 1998, this would be hard to believe. Again, Nigerians are already comparing your father's style to Abacha's.
A: I hate it when people compare me and Baba with the Abacha family. What is the basis? That's so insulting. It is the worst insult anyone can heap on us. I even read one journalist comparing me with Mohammed Abacha! That is so unacceptable. I reject that. All I can tell you is that Baba has no third term agenda. Quote me anywhere, Baba has no plans to stay beyond 2007. He is old and tired and wants to go into retirement.
Q: But top players in the private sector are urging him on. Can't he shut them up?
A: That's true. The only reason why they are asking Baba to stay is because they are afraid of Atiku. They know he will come and take over everything they have built with his unquenchable greed. Look, quite a lot of people are putting pressure on Baba to stay. Even the Americans are passing messages through me. Forget about all those scripted public statements. They want him to stay. The amount efforts and resources required to change the constitution is just not worth it. Come 2007, Baba will leave the scene. He is not responding to these campaigns and counter –campaigns because he is busy doing so many things. You can see that planes are falling off the skies left and right. Baba has no time to get involved in these claims.
Q: Are you not afraid of reprisals when Baba leaves office?
No. We are not afraid at all. God will continue to protect the righteous.
Q: Who do you think your father will pick as successor?
A: I think all the candidates will have to come out and work hard to sell their programmes to Nigerians. Baba will support the best candidate.
Q: Who will that be?
A: I don't know
Q: I asked because he allegedly worked against the best candidate in 1979…
A: Baba actually respected and preferred Chief Awolowo in 1979. He was his choice in terms of policy and clarity, but he thinks Awo was too tribalistic. That was the problem.
Q: Was it not due to your father's hatred for Awo?
A: I know that Shagari won the election because that was what Nigerians wanted.
Q: What caused the friction between your father and Atiku?
I don't really know. But I don't want anyone to think Baba that will impose a candidate on Nigeria. No, he won't. Like I said earlier, if he had wanted to impose anyone on Nigeria, it would certainly have been Chief Awolowo in 1979. But he didn't do that. On Atiku, I think people get it wrong thinking that Baba is working against him. Atiku just thinks that the presidency is his birthright. Look at AP and the privatisation process. They just sold the entire country to themselves. Look at the Pentascope deal; they stole over one billion dollars from Nigeria without fixing a single telephone line! This was done between El-Rufai and VP Atiku. Go to the Corporate Affairs Commission and see those who own Pentascope. You will see the fraud perpetrated against Nigeria. But the press will never report these things; they like to paint him nice even when the facts about these misdeeds are public knowledge.
Q: But El-Rufai is one of your father's favourites?
A: That doesn't make him clean. Look at what he did with Jimi Lawal through the BPE. They paid him back all the money he looted from Alpha Merchant Bank. With interest! He was rehabilitated by El-Rufai and made a consultant, selling land in Abuja. He is El-Rufai's shadow man in Abuja. He collects bribes for land sales in Abuja on behalf of El-Rufai. We know that all these things are still going on. So, forget these people. It is all a sham.
Q: Are you going to run for office someday?
A: Not at all. I am not interested in politics.
Q: We reported that your little brother bought a house in New York and paid cash for it. Why didn't your dad do something about that? Isn't that corruption?
A: You were right on that report. You did your research very well. In fact, you bailed me out. Prior to that report, some newspapers, Daily Trust in particular, had alleged that I was the one who bought the house. But your thorough research made them to apologise to me later. The house was bought for him by his mom. It is between Muyiwa and his mom.
Q: Let's look at the corruption trial of Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha...
A: I think he is really dumb and stupid. He should have known that there is no way he could get away with stealing so much money from his state. He was daft and careless. But let me tell you that those people caught are the careless ones. There is so much corruption in Nigeria, and there are a lot of intelligent and smart corrupt people. And then of course, the stupid ones. Those are the ones who get caught. There are places in the world especially in the commonwealth of the former soviet republic where you can get a passport with a white name and a black face and no one will ever ask questions from you!
That's why I thought the reporters who wrote that I have 22 bank accounts in the US are the most senseless people. One of them even went to my school at John Hopkins to check my academic background and found out that I had straight 'A's and still thinks I will be opening accounts all over the US. Why would I be daft to do that?
Q: Don't you have accounts in the US and is corruption not influenced by greed rather than intelligence?
A: I have two accounts in the US and one of them is in the red. In the second, I have maybe a few hundred dollars. I am not stupid, I should know better! As per my brother, I don't know why he did such thing, but I think his mom pushed him and I don't know who told you that he is intelligent! As per the state governors, I think a few of them know how to handle the press very well and some are intelligent too. Folks like Ibori, Gbenga Daniel, Bukola Saraki, Nnamani and a few.
Q: What's your father's relationship with Andrew Young and Carl Masters?
A: I don't really know what they are doing in Nigeria. I just don't know what they do for Baba. I know they are around a lot. I know Andrew Young was doing some HIV/AIDS work and I share some of his interesting views, but nothing more than that, really.
Q: Let's look at the celebrated Debt Relief. Is it wise for the government to give away $12 billion as payment for a debt Nigeria never owed?
A: I think my father belongs to a generation that doesn't believe in debts. He is of the old school and they hate debts of any type.
Q: But the idea was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's, an alleged agent of the Paris Club...
A: Oh, I see! Any great or good ideas in this regime are never attributed to Baba.
Q: But the debt relief does not seem to make much economic sense...
A: Just know that Baba doesn't believe in owing anybody. I guess that was the main driving force behind the debt deal.
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