I'M A VICTIM OF JUNE 12 â€“IBB
For eight years, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, ruled Nigeria as a military president. Now a presidential aspirant, the gap-toothed General, in this interview at his Minna, Niger State, home, described himself as 'a victim of June 12.' He argued that 17 years after leaving office, subsequent governments have violated the constitution and looted the treasury, but they have not been tried, investigated or even mentioned, lamenting that 'this generation has not been fair to me.' Excerpts:
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?
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. He 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. 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. I could have easily taken the flagship of any of them. 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. PDP is not the first party to adopt this concept zoning. It started a longntime, during the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) era. For example, (Shehu) Shagari came from the North, and (Alex) Ekwueme from the South-East. The plan then was to make Ekwueme the president after Shagari. During our time, we had the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (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. 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.
In 2008 or thereabouts, you granted an interview where you said 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?
Sales of magazines and newspapers increase anytime they have a story on IBB. 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. 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 kept 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.
If you wanted that, you have to give people who will contest time to prepare for the elections. We thought six months would just be okay. But people kept harping on the 'worst thing that happened was this contraption called ING.' Meanwhile, nobody read the constitution or what that contraption meant. 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. By that time, a new government would have been elected. That was the plan.
You have not answered why you kept Abacha.
Okay, it is simple. I wanted stability for whatever we put in place. I knew that this could be vulnerable, that government could be toppled by the military. Putting Abacha there was to stabilize Shonekan's government. With Abacha around, younger officers of the ranks 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 stupid of him to have called to say, 'I am planning to take over.' I would also be a stupid 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. 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: 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 stood 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.
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. 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, Lagos). Then suddenly, he remembered he had a brother who was away in England. We moved to his place.
How many soldiers accompanied you? 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?
No. 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.
•Continued on Page 37
This interview was conducted before the Ciroma-led committee picked Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the consensus candidate for the North