HOW I JOINED THE ARMY-IBB
On Wednesday, August 17, 2011, former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida clocked 70. Even though he was not in the mood for celebration, on the eve of the remarkable day in his life, he granted audience to journalists at his palatial mansion in Minna, Niger State where he dwelt on a number of topical national issues. Excerpts…
Your Excellency Sir, congratulations on your 70th birthday anniversary. But in retrospect, if you are to cast your mind to the journey from the childhood days till date, what would be your greatest joy and regrets?
Well, there is every reason to thank God for sparing my life up till this time because as human beings, we went through a lot of violent periods especially during the cause of my service to this wonderful and great country. Our services were full of actions and I think somehow, God has been so kind. He saw me through those troubles.
As a product of the Second World War, I mean those of us who were born during that period, because I was born during that crises and there were crises in the world and it affected Nigeria. Of course because the preponderance of the African Soldiers were from this country. The war broke out in 1939 and ended in 1945. My own generation was born in 1941 when the Second World War was still going on. So, we grew and found ourselves in the struggle for political independence by the nationalists and we were very conversant with what was happening in the country at that time. So, it was a very, very eventful period in my life and I thank God for sparing my life up till this time.
Again, I must also pay special tributes to my uncles, grand parents- because some of them are still alive, who saw me through the problems I went through between 1952 to 1954. And by 1954, I lost both parents, so these people came on board and they played their good roles in my life. Although they had their own children, but they placed me first. And as a result of this, I remain grateful to them all and of course to my friends and other relatives and those whom we met and learnt together in life. And I think they are the most supportive. We learnt so much about one another, we established friendship that is still lasting up till this time. So, these 70 years have been very, very eventful 70 years and I thank God for this.
Considering these eventful years, if you look at the background of your leadership positions up till this moment, what is that particular thing that you would like to fulfil again and do you nurse any regrets?
Well, I call my 70th birthday as very eventful years because during the course of my service to this country, I took a lot of decisions either in the military service or in the public service. I will rather choose not to use the word regret but I will rather say that may be, if I had the opportunity again, I would have done it differently.
And what were those things?
I was expecting that from you. Okay, I think one of the things I thought, given the opportunity, I will do differently is take the case of our country, my actions on the society when I was holding political appointment. I honestly look forward to the day we devolved a lot of powers to the states and to the Local Governments. I was able to do it. In retrospect, I thought we should have done it now just like that period in our national life, but politics took the better aspect of us and with the way it is now, we tried to give it a chance. I had a case and what informed me about this was that there were some civilian governors who had everything while I was the president. The governors were elected democratically, sworn into office and they were working in accordance with a provision of the Constitution which did not make any difference.
Leadership is about carrying people along and at the end of the day, the leader takes either all the credits or the blames. As a former military president in this country, one of such decisions you had taken during your stewardship as a leader has continued to generate heated debates in the country, which has even affected me as a journalist
Is it June 12?
Yes, Please who was really responsible, was it the then Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), the Judiciary or even the mass media?
Oh, you mean the media was also a culprit? That means that three of us were responsible.
Well I have said it before and I will continue to say it and I am repeating it now that I was the Military President, dictator, whatever you want to call me. Mind you, by the nature of my profession, which is the military training, they told us when we were in the profession in the early stages of our lives when we were Cadet Officers that as a leader of men, we must always accept responsibilities. In fact, you can delegate authority, but you don't delegate responsibilities.
So, this has become part of us and you said it quite rightly, that the bucks stop on my table. We must have gone through a process, debating it, saying the pros and cons of it, or we are at the majority views, the minority views. We were running the administration more or less on a very, very democratic way. But we agreed that the minority had to go along with the majority decision and we are happy that we are alive to say it. I weighed the consequences that we should either go with the majority decision or with the minority decision.
I think it was a leadership option that the decisions were taken, but if I should lie to you that the annulment of that election was not the leadership's decision, but rather the decision of either A, B, C or D, that was responsible for what we did, then we, as the people's leader, we should take the responsibility for the action we took at that period.
And I still maintain it that I take full responsibilities for what happened. Though I did not say I am happy about it but I live within the tenets of my conviction and training as a professional soldier. So, you the younger generation of Nigerians should be copying that leadership trait of not trying to pass the bucks to your subordinates.
But if you knew that that singular decision was capable of plunging the nation into turmoil and near precipice, would you have still taken the decision to annul the election adjudged to be most free and fair in the annals of the country?
We knew we had to take a decision, based on things that were available to us at that time and we did and it became our decision, but I was the boss. If I had wanted at that time to torpedo it, I would have done so. But it could have gone contrary to good governance.
What are you thinking about elections in Nigeria in 2015 and beyond bearing in mind that it was reported few days ago that you are still warming up for 2015 general elections?
There has never been a dying moment in Nigeria. But as far as I am concerned, forget it and if God spares our lives, by 2015, I would have been getting to about 74 or 75 years old. By then, I would be sitting in Minna and people would come and seek advice from me on the way forward.
So, for elective office, count me out. You raised a very important question and I think these are things that all of us should be thinking about all the time and that is the future of this great country. I had a lot of reservations and I kept on asking this same question and nobody has given me answer to the question that has been agitating my mind. For instance, if I take you back to 1959 in this country, if you go to Enugu, you would find a Mayor who hailed from Sokoto and there was no problem of state of origin for the Mayor and if you go to Onitsha, there were a lot of Nupes who were Counsellors in Onitsha and the rest of them.
And about 1963 and 1964, if you get to Benue, you would also find a Kanuri Man from Maiduguri who became a member of the House of Representatives, representing a Constituency in Benue. And in fact, that did not create any problem. I kept on asking that if we did it in 1959 and immediately after independence, why are we still drifting apart. And for this simple question, what one gets from it is a lot of arguments and reasons like the states creations, Local Government creations as responsible for the drifts, but it does not change your attitudes toward living together.
Now, the present generation should be more educated than the previous generations and if they thought that way and did it wisely, why can we not do it now? And that worries me up till now and I am still searching for an answer. The states' agitations started as far back as 1938 and by 1964, I was a young Officer in the Nigerian Army and I am not sure that some of you were born around that time. B
ut the agitation for the creation of states had been there since 1938 and of course, some people can argue that what the military did was trying to address those issues like the minority issues and the ways we want to live together as a nation. And I am not sure if any one of you had read the Aburi report for example and that said a lot about Nigeria. We quickly refered to it whenever we were in trouble but I am saying that there are certain things we should have considered in our development as settled issues.
Take for example the issue of indigeneship. We should allow everybody to live anywhere he likes in this country and we should have the same freedom and what an indigene enjoys, a non-indigene should also be allowed to enjoy the same. But we still have to make amends here and there. But I believe that a lot of things should change. My only hope is that most of you, the younger generation of Nigerians, you went to schools as students in a class and your education is much higher now and you don't even notice the difference in terms of tribes, religion or the geography of the place where you were born and so on and so forth. My hope for this country lies in the new generation because they have known themselves from schools.
The younger Nigerians went to the universities and other tertiary institutions where they are formulating their minds to be what they wanted to be in life and may be, in business because I have always said that the business community has a lot to do in cementing this relationship among the Nigerian people. And I still have hope, because the nation has only celebrated 50 years of political independence.
But by the time we clock 100 years and may my gentle soul rest in peace in the next 50 years. I am very convinced that we may have outgrown some of the problems we are facing today as a people from diverse background.
What do you say about a situation whereby governments at all levels budget huge amount of money on projects like roads, electricity, water among others and at the end, the money is mismanaged?
I would apply two solutions and to be very honest with you, the first one is to give more responsibilities to people at various levels of governance and that was why I was always shouting about devolution of powers. Though it is very difficult but all we need to do is to look at jobs or activities that could be done at the state level. I will give one example because when I was there, that system was there because I know somebody will say, why did I not do it at that time. And this was one of the things I could have done otherwise.
The Federal Government has no business in running either a secondary school or a primary school. So, where do we go, very easy, individuals run schools, Local Governments should run schools, while the state governments should set standards that the operators of such schools should meet. And where they cannot meet those standards, the government should think about sanctions. I believe that the involvement of the Federal Government should be at the policy level and that it should allow the states to run the business of Agriculture in the states and at the Local communities and so on and so forth.
When the people know that they are involved, it will cut down bureaucracy as well as cutting down corruption and the best way to cut down corruption was to attack it from the source otherwise it is not easy because the system we operate in Nigeria is very prone to corruption. So the leader should at a particular point in time see what he or she could do to either overhaul the system with the view to scrap it or give more responsibilities. So, those are things I think we can do and be developing on what we have now.
You must have been watching and listening to revelations that you are now in frantic search for a female companion to fill the vacuum created by the loss of the former First Lady, Chief Mrs. Mariam Babangida of blessed memories.
The answer is yes, I will get married.
The reason why I asked this question is that a couple of weeks back, there was a rumour that you went to Kaduna State to do a secret wedding.
No, I have not done that and in fact, there was always rumour and some people even went to the extent of mentioning names of my imaginary female companion. But I know what I want and I know when I will re- marry.
Can you please tell us how and when you joined the Nigerian Army?
I joined the Nigerian Army on the December 1, 1962, straight from being a bush man in Bida Secondary School. Immediately we finished our school certificate examinations, we went straight to the Nigerian Military Training College in Zaria, Kaduna. And the advantages some of us had was, that we had a man from Bida, who was the Minister in charge of the Army, late Galadima of Bida, Mallam Ibrahim Tanko was his name. So, he became terribly interested in making sure that the students from his own constituency were admitted into the Nigerian Army.
At that time also, there was a drive by the political leaders from the northern Nigeria that there had been under representation of the people from this part of the country in the Army. And that was why the likes of the Late Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Amhadu Bello and the rest of them were involved in urging us to join the Army. Also, there was a direct campaign also being raised by the Army. Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was a Captain when I was in school.
He came, smartly dressed and decent as well as having smart handling of weapons and so on. And we became interested because one of his teachers who was also my teacher then used to tell us that Yakubu was a good boy and that was the way he used to address Gen. Yakubu Gowon and that he was brilliant, and was noted for always doing his homework. The man was referring to some of us who were not doing our home works. The man was fond of saying that you see, because Yakubu was always doing his homework, and he goes ahead to say that because he does his homework, that we should all see him now.
The teacher goes ahead to tell us that if we did our home works that we would all be like Yakubu Gowon. That so to say, motivated quite a lot of us. But we did not have difficulties because we knew that Galadima wanted us to go for the military training at all costs and I think that there were about 15 of us whose hands went up and 11 or 10 of us were easily selected.
And I am proud that those 11 of us were really some of the finest military officers in this country and that was partially responsible for his doing well as an officer in the Nigerian Army.
Can you compare and contrast the Committee for Privatization and Commercialization and the Board of Public Enterprises?
When I was there, I set up the CPC under a distinguished Nigerian called Hamzat Zayad. He did the road map for the CPC and the groundwork he made was what led to the BPE. Hamzat was lucky and I was lucky and our channel of communication was just simple. He had no Minister, so he had direct access to me. He comes and I go through it, counselled him and I had never said no to anything he brought to us. And that was how it worked without any rancour and so on.
And I told him then that if anybody comes, knowing Nigerians very well and said that I am interested or I sent him, don't give him any assistance and that if he respected the person enough, he should tell the person that he would speak with the president. So, I gave him free hands to operate. The revelation was for Hamzat Zayeed to practically find out the truth from anybody that wanted to use my name to curry favour from the CPC.
Going by the recent revelations by Alhaji Nasir El- Rufai, a former Chairman of Public Bureau on Privatization (BPE) and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), what is your assessment of former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
No, I want you to know that he was my boss. Secondly, we were once in both professions especially at that level. We are in a league and we protect each other. Well, the issue of the $16billion came from the House of Representatives Committee on Power probe, that committee came out with that and that was a lot of money. May be, it was more than the money I made in eight years. If that was true, it was unhealthy that such an amount of money could be spent without any result. For the records, we wrote a book that was entitled: 'Governance in Nigeria, Obasanjo's eight years versus Babangida's eight years'.
The book is available and everything we said because it was a comparative analysis, everything we said and everything we wrote were facts and for the last two years, it was not contradicted. What that government was making in a year, they got more money in one year than I got in eight years. Till today, nobody has contradicted it. What that government was making in a year was more than I got in eight years. Till today, nobody contradicted it because the facts are there. But we were not so lucky, those of them who came out were elected but we can still contest just like David and Goliath in terms of money.
When is your book on experiences in governance be published and released for sale to the Nigerian public?
I think it would be soon and that will give you a lot of background information about the Babangida years. It would come out, but the fault was mine because I did not give it the time it deserved There is one of your senior colleagues who is putting up the book, his name is Dan Agbese, the prince of Agila. He had been on the book for almost 20 years and he was writing and kept on working, but he has not succeeded in catching me to sit down and exchange ideas or to provide more information.
I really liked his endurance. He is patient, had spent a lot of time and energy to get his facts correct and I had read the draft, but I kept on telling him that yes, we would sit down with him to give him all the information he required to complete the book. He is a friend and may be this could have been the most ideal time. But I think it will be soon. I think I agree with you a hundred per cent, that some things went wrong and we just have to sit and find those things that went wrong and fix it. But it is always difficult and I stand to be corrected to find any administration without its own problems.
On assumption of office, it would be ushered in with all the accolades but give the administration three months, it will have a running battle with the critics, with the media, with social crusaders and all that. And at this stage, I think the administration has got to do something and I think the moment we realize that time is not going to wait for us, the better. Because if a programme is good, is good and if it is bad, it is bad
What do you have to say about the amendment of the Constitution by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's administration's to give room for a single term of six years for both the president and governors?
I will give you a simple answer to it There is hardly anything new that this country did not talk about on all these issues of either Parliamentary or Presidential systems of government in Nigeria during the Abacha time, Obasanjo's time in 1978 before he handed over power. The Constitution review committee was set up which never saw the light of the day as well as the 1989 Constitution. I think we can begin to accept things that we always referred to as settled issues. We decided that we were not going to go through the parliamentary system of government, so we accepted presidential system and I think system of government in this country is a settled issue. And as we begin to practice it, correct it where we felt it was necessary, continue to do it gradually and so on.
So, if we do not keep on going back on the things that we had discussed before, only for somebody to raise it and the persons who were earlier involved in the process that brought us to the present situation begin to be talking about it again, I think quite honestly, I laugh over it. The issues of single time, multiple terms, I personally do not believe a single term of six years will solve our problems.
Now, I had a lot of arguments with my friends recently because I think if the president is bad, then he knows he is not coming back. It was a stupid way of argument. If he is bad, so why keeping him in that position when you can throw him out after his single term of four years? It is as simple as that. Or why do we not tell whoever that seeks our support that if he wants a second term, he has to do something good but if he fails to do that, he loses that term, so his self- esteem will also be put to test. If you do not vote him back to remain in office, it is because he did not do things right but if he did right, the tendency would be to give him a chance again to complete what he wanted to do.
I did not like to argue from the point of view of somebody else, because whoever becomes Nigeria's President must be the best that Nigerians can offer and he must be the best material who has a name or pride to protect. Like one of my colleagues said, the presidential material should not be anything goes and I am also opposed to that type of person. To my mind, the Nigerian President must be different, so the question I would pose to you is that he may be a bad one.
Yesterday I listened to another dimension and one commentator said he likes the single term of six years, but that the government must go an extra mile to let the country have two vice presidents, one from the state where the president comes from and then the other one should be from the state that would produce the president. Now, for a common sense, this man that says that number one vice- president must come from the same state with the president also went ahead to say that suppose the president dies, he said that the state does not lose, but if you ask me lose what. And these are supposed to be respected people.
If you are a Nigerian, you are a Nigerian, where you come from does not matter because you are working for the country, but not your own village. So who cares, is it within the law that somebody must not die.?
We have six zones, why can we not go back and read some of the past deliberations. So, we have to accept that these are settled issues for God's sake as a people so that we can move forward. I would want to see a constitutional amendment that is focused on the ordinary man and how to protect his rights, provide him with the basic things.