•On 2015: How contest for presidency will play out
•Says he can still remarry
By Wole Mosadomi*
Former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, is 73 years old today. In this interview to mark the occasion, Babangida, fondly called IBB, speaks on some critical issues in the country, including the continuous detention of the Chibok girls by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, the power situation in the country, the 2015 general elections, among others.
Many Nigerians have said that the past leaders have not been saying much or advising the present administration especially on the challenges confronting the country, the impeachment processes, the Boko Haram issue and kidnapping. This is an opportunity for you to say a word and advise government. Secondly, one of the major problems confronting this nation now is poor power supply. I don’t know if you are part of the Nigerians feeling the pinch. As a former Military President, what is your suggestion to the Federal Government on how to get out of the challenges?
The first question about us the older generation, what are we doing? I can tell you we are doing a lot. If there is any set of Nigerians who understands the problems of this country, it is those of us who were opportune to be at the helm of affairs at various times in this country. We know what the problems are, we appreciate what the president is doing, and the best we can do and we are always doing is to be of help to him in terms of advice, meetings, interactions, and so on. I think this is one of the luckiest countries that have got seven living heads of state, people who headed government and have always interacted with the president and we also appreciate the problems the president is facing because we were once there. So the best we can do is to always sit with him and give him advice; and I am glad to say we are doing just that.
Nigerians are saying for how long are we going to be patient? Is the president making use of the advice given to him?
Well I have always said there will be Nigeria in 1,000 years’ time and, therefore, every administration, from Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to the present administration, will be faced with one challenge or the other. This one cannot be the end, the next administration will have its own challenges also. The important thing is that we the people should strive hard to overcome the problems and move forward. What is happening to us is not new in any developing country. I am following what government is doing about power. I must say it is not doing badly. However, it is a matter of patience; we have the machinery, the framework has been set up. When it takes off, the problem will be history.
It has been over 100 days since the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls. Despite the assurances by the international community, the girls have not been found. What is the way forward? When do you think we can get these girls back home to their parents?
Perhaps the way forward is what government is doing now. I know there are complications. It is no longer an issue that you could ask the military to move into Sambisa forest and rescue the girls. I think Nigerians want the girls rescued and brought back home alive not dead; that is a very daring thing to do. From my experience as a professional soldier, a lot of planning, a lot of cooperation, a lot of study has to be done to achieve this objective. 217 or whatever the number is, is a lot of population to lose just like that. So I think government is trying from what we got during our last briefing; I am quite satisfied that efforts are really being made to get the girls out. You see, the objective is to get them out of that place alive, the operative word is alive, you can order a full scale military operation and you could get them all killed which would defeat the objective.
We are all witnesses to the level of impunity in our body politic. Impeachment saga is all over the country; we also have the militarization of our democratic process. As someone who was there before, what would be your advice to Nigerians bearing in mind that we have all agreed that there is no option to democracy?
It is true there is no option to democracy. Again, this is still the way I see it; what we have is part of the learning process. You may call it impunity, you may give it any name you want, but I think the time would come, those of you who are very observant, I would like to see a situation when a chief executive of a state is being accused and he is given an opportunity to come forward to say the accusation is not true, he has his team of lawyers, the state Assembly would also have its lawyers and they would make it public and the public would get to know what is happening and, at the end of the day, they vote. But don’t forget, in our current situation, I said we are just learning, it is one particular party which has more than two thirds to remove a governor anytime they feel that there is a breach or gross misconduct, I believe if the governor is doing well, the public will support him.
So in essence you are saying for us to go a step further, immunity clause should be removed bearing in mind that most governors hide under the immunity clause, they cannot be queried, they cannot be sanctioned by their various Assemblies.
I pray that we would reach a time when the immunity clause should no longer be an issue. Every state chief executive has to protect his integrity, he has something in him that needs protection, he has his name, his reputation, his family. Those are the things he should protect and not immunity. Though it is there for one case or the other, if you accuse me, I will try to prove to you that you are wrong especially as I have children and great grandchildren. Time would come when the chief executive would rather defend himself, his person and integrity as opposed to using the immunity clause.
There was this issue that the western sub-region was supposed to have embraced, the Eco-Currency, but the idea has been shelved. I am asking this because you were once the chairman of ECOWAS, what is your take on this? Secondly, in the last Council of State meeting, I noticed that Niger State had four representatives. What does that tell us about the leadership producing mechanism of the state because you were there, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was there, the governor was there and the former Chief Justice was also there?
An elder statesman also asked the same question and we jokingly told him that there is special water in Minna, Niger State, if you do drink it, you will end up as a president, a Chief Judge or somebody. So everybody is rushing to find out where that water is, but I think it is just mere coincidence of history that we were there. Maybe in the next 20 to 50 years, you will find another state that would take over from Niger.
On the other question, you have had 16 independent countries in the western Africa sub region. We started it and it has been quite a long time and these are 16 independent countries with different languages, different economic policies. It takes time. It just doesn’t happen by mere conception of the idea. The European Union had the same problem; there are still other countries which are not members of EU; so we look at it that way. Wherever we stop, the younger generations would take off from there.
Recently, the president came out with a proposal for $1 billion loan to fight insurgency, but there have been criticisms from many quarters about the loan. What is your take on this?
To me, it is not an issue, there is a process and we haven’t gone through the process yet, so why do Nigerians kill themselves arguing about things that have not happened?
But to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If no noise is being made about this, the loan would be collected and this could affect the future of the upcoming generations?
So you make the noise, maybe the government would sit down and say ‘okay, the people don’t want it so we would not take it’ but would find another way of doing it. That is how government operates.
Under your government, a lot of noise was made at one period that made you reverse some policies. So if this is a democratic government, don’t you think it is incumbent on our leaders to once in a while listen to their followers?
I think they are. I would only talk about this when eventually this loan is taken. The National Assembly listens to you and this proposal would come to the National Assembly and because the National Assembly listens to the people and agrees with you, maybe, it would not get through.
We are gradually heading to 2015 and we have seen this tradition where each sitting party feels you can come in automatically and no one cares if the person is accepted or not by the followers. A lot of people always want to come back even when the people feel someone else can do better. What I am trying to say is that are we really getting things right with people looking for power at all costs?
I feel if you believe in what you are doing and you are doing well, you would aspire to finish what you have started. We got it right during our time and we can still get it right. I believe what is lacking is what I have always referred to as voters education. The level of understanding, the level of belief is still below what we expect. If you are elected the governor of your state today, you should be able to measure the temperature, whether people like you because you are doing well or they don’t like you because you are not fulfilling the promises you made. All you need is patience till the next election and you will get the person voted out. So we haven’t reached the stage where the ordinary voter would say ‘no, this guy hasn’t done well, let’s get him out’.
Taking you back to the militarization of politics, what do you think of the military of today and the military you left behind, and what do you think is the way forward?
The militarization of politics is the fault of the people, the reason is that somehow, there is this element in the people. They seem to accept that for things to work out well, you have compromised your police. So the next one that has not been compromised, but would soon be compromised, is the military. I don’t believe the military should be civil, I don’t believe they should participate in elections. Equip the police which is supposed to be closer to the people, train them and they would be able to handle this. We did it with the police. I used to be a returning officer in the 50s and 60s, there was no military presence in elections then. We used the police and it can still be done. So I think this is, again, one of the things developing countries face, but time would come when things would change. I am not sure the military likes to be involved in these civil duties.
You just said the police has been compromised, and there is the likelihood that the military may also be compromised and if the military is to be compromised, the people see leaders like you who have been in the military as still military men and, as far as the rules of engagement are concerned, you are still a military man. What does it mean to you that the institution you left behind is being subjected to a questionable affair? Would you advise that the military should be used in the elections of 2015?
Nostalgia, that’s all. It would be corrected, it can’t continue like this. You guys would shout your voice hoarse, the public would shout and the administration will listen. I tell you what we did then. There are places that you need logistical support by the military. We have boats in the creeks, the assets can be used to enhance the credibility of elections. So I can see a government that would say ‘okay, if you go to some villages in the creeks and we have boats that get in there, you can ask those assets to be used in ferrying ballot boxes, in carrying people who would be involved in elections’ That is practically okay but personally, I don’t believe they (military) should be seen on the streets.
What is your opinion on creation of states bearing in mind that state creation has become an economic issue? Do you think more states should be created?
I think the clamor for the creation of more states has something to do not with economics but with sentiments. Let me give you a practical example. During the National Conference, they said the South-east is one state less than the South-west. I think we should leave all those sentiments behind. The truth is that those at the helm of affairs are at least sensible enough to know that now everybody, every ethnic community has something it calls its own. It could be a state, it could be a local government. So I think we should just accept that and settle the issue and go ahead with our normal life and economic development in building unity blocs in the country and push on. I don’t believe creation of new states would solve any problem.
Nigerian leaders, especially those of northern extraction, have been accused of being the architects of the problems facing Nigeria. What is your take on it?
Architects of the problems of Nigeria? I thought that is natural, you were not there, you don’t know what is happening, you only read and make opinions. I can understand, I don’t feel bad that somebody gets up to say we are the architects of all these problems, but people with a little bit of common sense who are interested in Nigeria and the development of Nigeria should be able to compare the Nigeria of 1914 and the Nigeria of 2014 and you must accept that during those 100 years, we have gone through various transformation, various developments, various events, all in the hope of building a strong nation.
We even went to war in this country, so we are doing something. What is happening now is only the problem of a developing nation with not so informed populace, so the leaders would be bashed for a long time to come. I once told you a story of a president who won an election, and he had four advice given to him in an envelope. He was told that once you are in trouble, open the first envelope and when he got into trouble and he opened the first envelope, it read, ‘blame it on the previous administration’. So he went out and blamed the administration he took over from. He was told to go for the second envelope if he got into trouble again and when he opened the envelope after getting into trouble the second time, the envelope read, ‘blame it on the man who was there before’. The third one he opened said, ‘please do something’. So the blame game has to be there but we have to do something at the end of the day.
Is it not because we failed to lay solid structure for the future that we have these problems? Because it is on record that some of the institutions that were built during your administration are what have been developed over time. Is it not because the past leaders, especially those of northern extraction, failed to lay a solid structure? Today, Kaduna is dry, almost all the industries in there are dead because there were no structures laid by our past leaders.
No, when you talk of structures, all these processes…….. I will take you back to 1996 when we introduced the now dreaded Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). As military men, we were very honest, we told you that it was not going to be easy because there was a perception then that government had to do everything, government had to even sweep your home and we said those things were not going to be there anymore; you just had to use your brain, use your hands and we opened up an opportunity for you to develop. You didn’t have to rely on government, but it didn’t go well. We did admit that it wasn’t going to be easy but thank God, people are realizing it now.
It pleases me everyday to sit down here and find that you still talk about privatization, about commercialization, so it takes time, a lot of education needs to be done to make people realize this. We carried out propaganda when we wanted to increase the price of fuel; we told Nigerians that a litre of our oil was cheaper than a litre of water; so by the time we moved from 20k to 70k, people understood because they were buying a litre of water at N1 or more and we were asking you, ‘this scarce resource, just pay 70k’. So you need a lot of patience to educate the people and this is where the press comes in.
Talking about the issue of security in the country, from the answer you gave, you seem to be saying that we should rule out military option in the rescue of these Chibok girls.
No, no, no, when I said military option, I don’t believe we should get in there as if we are fighting a war; so you have to get the military ready, the police, the intelligence assets. Somebody has to rescue them and maybe if the military is best equipped for this, it would be okay but you will not tell them to go and flush them out.
Foreign assistance to rescue the girls, what do you think of that move? Is it alright? What impact do you think that will make? Secondly, do you support the idea that government should go into negotiation with Boko Haram?
Well, you go into negotiation with people you know, people you identify, people you see, so (in the Chibok girls case), who do you negotiate with? That is the problem. Who? Surely, I don’t believe government should call (Boko Haram leader) Shekau to sit on the table and talk. So who do you talk to? Nobody! If there are identified persons who, for one reason or the other everybody knows they are fighting, they should come out openly, say this is what they want. To be fair to the Federal Government, who do they talk to? Tomorrow, if they come out to say ‘this is the leadership, this is the structure, this is our grievances, this is what we want’, they can sit down and talk, but so far, it hasn’t happened.
What the foreign help is doing, they are not going to rescue the girls. It is the Nigerian military or the Nigerian authorities that would eventually do that job. But to do that job well, they need lesson, information, exact location where the girls are. Perhaps we don’t have the facilities to do this and this is why the Americans say they will help us by flying out there, ‘we would give you the information and you use that information to carry out your operations’. So what they are doing is assisting with some assets which we don’t have and which is normal because it happened in the past when the British went to Falklands .
That takes me back to the question that the former leaders have not done enough if at this stage of our life in Nigeria, we don’t have the information to track terrorists within our domain. Do you think Nigeria as a country is really developing?
I believe we are learning to be able to carry out this successfully. Presently, we lack certain things, so the next lesson would be we lack A, B, C, D in terms of training, in terms of equipment, therefore, we would not be caught pants down next time, we would make sure that these assets are available to us.
With the challenges in the North, especially the Boko Haram insurgency, militants activities in the South, as a past leader and a military man who participated in the civil war, do you see the current security challenges leading to war, another civil war? Secondly, during your time, before you became a leader, all former leaders called themselves Heads of State, but when you came, you chose to be called Military President. What made you to choose the title- Military President?
I did say that the insurgency is the problem of this country, not the problem of any particular group and we should see it as a Nigerian problem and there has to be a Nigerian solution to a Nigerian problem.
Number two, on the rantings by some Nigerians, I don’t see it as a threat, I don’t see it as a problem because those who are ranting only do it in posh hotels in Abuja. You don’t see them with people. I challenge anyone of them to go there and say ‘I am the leader and I am ready to take you to war’. Nobody is doing that. They will just sit down and shout and you guys make big headlines on some of the things they say and it stops there. I would be glad to see anyone of them either in the creeks or in the forest saying and telling the people to follow him and that ‘I am going to lead you’. As long as they don’t do that, then I think all is just ranting and they are given publicity for it and they enjoy it. I want to see them in uniform saying they are ready to lead their followers to the creeks. I think Nigerians should just ignore them.
We have had history of real leaders. I give credit to Adaka Boro.
For example, in 1964, I was a young officer, he had people, he led people and he was a very charismatic person. Now these guys are enjoying the whatever and they would sit down and say they would go to war. They should try it and let’s see what happens. I would also put on uniform because I have spare one (prolonged laughter).
On the second part of your question, there was a clamor for democracy when I was in office and I also knew that we were not going to jettison the presidential system of government in the country because it was a settled issue. Presidential and federalism were settled issues in the Nigeria political evolution, so I didn’t want to change that system. I was not democratically elected but I knew this country accepted that there would be a president, so I wanted to maintain the status quo during our time. So all of you know that ‘okay, he is a Military President and that means we are going to have a Civilian President’. It worked. We didn’t shift the goal post, it was a learning process. I wanted to prove that these were settled issues in Nigeria. President is a settled issue, not prime minister, not Head of State or whatever it was called in those days.
Still on security issue, whenever people ask about security, attention goes to the Chibok girls only, but to some extent, the issue has gone beyond the girls in the sense that a part of Nigeria has gone into the hands of Boko Haram.They have started hoisting their flags in villages in the North-East. They have also started blowing up bridges that link up these troubled areas with Nigeria giving an indication that soon they would take over that part of the country. As a military man, is government doing enough to ensure that Boko Haram does not take over one part of Nigeria?
Let’s get one thing correct. The insurgents know one thing, that they don’t have the strength, they don’t have the power to confront a regular army, that is why they are involved in bombings and suicides. The whole purpose is to strike fear in the minds of the public with the hope that if it continues, the people would begin to doubt the capability of government to protect them. That is the objective of the insurgents.
They can’t hold the ground and the fact that they resort to breaking up bridges, creating obstacles shows you that they are not capable of confronting the army. They just have to impede the army’s movement, they have to unleash terror on people and I believe if we had broken bridges, we had engineers who would build the bridges and the armed forces are still capable of doing it. So it is still part of the insurgents part of waging a war against regular armed forces. The military has the experience and I know it knows what to do and should win that war.
What about the threats of the insurgents on the social media. Some months ago, the social media was awash with threats from this group that they were going to attack prominent leaders of the North and we took it with levity. But some weeks ago, a former Head of State, General Buhari, was attacked. Also, your name was mentioned as one of the leaders they will attack. Is it not a source of concern for you people who have led this country and are still working to keep this country together.? There are also threats to capture states in the North-Central.
I heard it too. I think the whole objective as I earlier told you was to put the fear of Boko Haram into the people like the fear of Boko Haram is the beginning of wisdom. That is the only tactic they have to use, but I am saying it would not work; all we need is to support the military, the armed forces, the government in what they are doing. They don’t have the people’s support and this is why I challenge those who are shouting their voice hoarse to go back to the creeks or the forest. This insurgency would stop, it has to stop because Boko Haram cannot survive.
Given the backdrop of the Ebola virus that has killed so many people in west African sub region, some leaders in the South-West are advocating that land borders, sea borders, air space should be closed by the Federal Government not minding the fact that some Nigerians patronize some west African countries for their livelihood. During Obasanjo’s regime, when trans border crime took another dimension, the borders were closed but it was discovered that the closure of the borders between Badagry and Seme was affecting the economy of Benin Republic and the nation and thus reopened. Is the closing of the borders the solution to the Ebola virus?
I think what the governors were suggesting was an immediate action. I was hearing this morning about the aviation industry, they would monitor but they would not stop flights to these countries. I think it would not last a long time, it is a temporary measure and they also tell you what to do, the measures taken so far. I think it is good for the country.
At the National Conference recently, delegates couldn’t reach consensus on some sensitive national issues. Don’t you think that this portends danger for this country if the likes of past IGs, emirs, chief judges could not reach a consensus?
I think what you should do is to remind them that they were analogue during their time, now its an IT situation and, whether they like it or not, we can never come back to an analogue situation (laughter). It amazes me when someone would get up in the National Conference and say let us go back to the parliamentary system of government; it is stupid, it doesn’t make sense. We agreed as a nation that this is what we want, so that issue is settled. Let’s develop that thing that we said we wanted.
An average Nigerian wants a quick solution to the challenges we are facing. What is your advice to him. And on a lighter note, at 73, what makes you tick. Also, three years ago, you told us you were planning to remarry but you are yet to do that.
Have you changed your mind?
Yes, I said I was going to remarry. That is a statement of fact. I may still do so. There is still time for it. I think what we need, the followers since they have voted people to various positions at the local government level, at the state level and at the national level, I think they need to imbibe the value of patience. Things don’t happen overnight. You voted for a governor based on the promises he made to you, then you have to accept that you will live with him for the next four years. Whether you like it or not, he is there for four years. Now if you realize that you have made a mistake, then the next four years, change and if you believe very strongly, you can also mobilize other people to bring about change, do it.
Going by what you just said now, PDP has shown that it is not interested in having competitors and that is why we are having the problem of impeachment and there is a need for the past leaders to advise the incumbent to allow these things to flow for choices and for peace to reign, but when you look at the happenings in the country now, they should allow the four years to go and let the people make their changes. So there is a need for people as leaders to look at these things critically so that we have peace as these problems disrupt peace in the nation.
Well, I think the problem is you have political parties, I would hate to use that word but the system seems to be a corrupted version of politics or political activities. In the process, the political party provides the platform for you to express ideas, to seek office and to vote for people of like minds and then the party would come and tell you that they would be transparent, there would be a level playing ground, they would allow people to choose and that is what should happen. So far, it is not transparent at all and as long as there is always a hidden motive, you can never get it right. Educate the people and allow them to make their choice and whoever they choose, so be it, we will have to live with him for the next four years. If he is not good, vote him out; if he is good, retain him for another four years because he has a programme in place. But as long as the parties are going to interfere on who becomes the candidate, we would continue to face these problems.
What is your take on the possibility that the Chibok girls are being used as suicide bombers considering the fact that some young girls were used to detonate bombs, and should the girls not be released, is the country not sitting on a keg of gunpowder? Secondly, how do you feel about Nigeria considering the fact that you were among those who fought for this nation?
If God would ask me where do I want to come back to in the next world, I would tell Him I would come back here. Come back to Nigeria, come back to Minna. The question on the Chibok girls, I think if we should allow the government, the security agencies to handle it, we may have a headway, but if you politize it, in either religious politizing or social, then it becomes a difficult thing to do. We all agree that it is a Nigerian problem, so we should allow the Nigerian authorities to solve it. I see on the television, a lot of security experts, a lot of people who talk; I don’t blame them, they don’t have the experiences in handling the case, but government is in a better position to appreciate the level of commitment to get them back. They have the military, they have the police, they have the intelligence sources, they have the contacts and so on. All we need to do is to encourage them to work it out and I know it will.
From the experiences we had in the past, three years, we fought a war; at the end of the day, common sense prevailed and we won. I think we would do the same in this case. The continued stay of the Chibok girls with the insurgents is a continued source of concern to the people. I think every Nigerian, irrespective of who, should be concerned because they are Nigerians and they deserve the right to be protected, they deserve the right to life and we should put our heads together to help the girls. I don’t believe they are the people used for suicide bombing. I want to believe that those involved must have been indoctrinated for a long period, a year or two and so we just have to find out what happened, how do they come about these girls?