Years of secret scheming have matured as Ibrahim Babangida, the infamous dictator, is coming out openly about his political ambition. He gathered Nigerian journalists to break the news that he was ready to fight his military boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who seems to have betrayed him by deciding to cling to power after using Babangida's vast wealth to rise to the presidency. Read the Interview...

The issue of the moment is the on-going census. Have you been counted? But even beyond that, why is it very difficult for us as a country to have an acceptable and  credible census? I ask this against the backdrop that you conducted one as Head of State.

First of all, I don’t believe that the 1991 census was as controversial as the one in 1963. It wasn’t as controversial as in 1953. Coming back to your question, I think  it is so because we’ve tended to politicize census in terms of our ethnic and religious make-up. We’ve not yet succeeded in educating the people that this is a normal  thing. Some advanced countries don’t even sit down and organise census per se because what you have are always updated through the registration of birth, death  and the rest of them. Until we’re able to get it into our psyche that the whole purpose is for development planning, if we don’t succeed in that, so long shall we  continue to have problems because people want to know how many Christians are there, people want to know how many Muslims are there and how many of other  religions are there and everybody wants to know the number given to him. I want to think we should de-emphasize a couple of things. I am happy, for example, that  in this particular one, there is a lot of de-emphasis on tribe and religion. This, I think, is okay. It’s the right step. It will take time, I believe, before people get to  understand that this is the purpose.

The second aspect is that maybe there are a lot of hitches here and there in the process, which at the end of the day, frustrate people. I was talking to a friend in  Lagos and he said he had been in his house since yesterday (Tuesday) and there was nobody around (to count him). So, in the process of planning, we allow some  hitches and that way, frustration sets in. It won’t be surprising that somebody gets up in the morning, waits and is not counted, and other people are not counted.

In 1993 when you were leaving office, you said you were stepping aside. Were you trying to be your own prophet? And if yes, when will Nigerians expect you to  step back?

I was trying to be my professional self in the military. It is a military terminology which we use when we’re marching in college. If everybody shoots the right leg and  you keep on shooting the left leg, you would be told to step aside so that you get yourself back into the corner. So, figuratively, I used that phrase because a lot of  people believed then that my intention was to perpetuate myself in office and not to get out. To me, that was the best way to prove to people that my intention was  not to remain in office.

Now, talking about perpetuation in office, it’s curious that we’re back to the same path again. And if one looks back at history, one begins to wonder if this tenure  elongation is an African virus. Today, the talk in our land is about a plot by President Olusegun Obasanjo and some governors to stay beyond 2007 by re-writing the  1999 Constitution to include a third term...

Well, I had to look at the recommendations of the constitutional review. Initially, you (press) told us that there were going to be 117 amendments to the 1999  constitution. My immediate reaction then was, forgive my language, bloody hell.

We’ll be so bright to do that, because I do know that in 230 years, the US could only make 26 amendments to their constitution. But here is the bright Nigeria with  117 in six years. That’s “remarkable.” So when the constitution review committee came up with 15 or 18 recommendations, (most of these I see in your reports in the  newspapers and they are very authentic), my reaction again is that from 117 to 18 or 15, maybe we’re getting sensible. And then when you look at the 15, 16, 17  recommendations, you will find that everyone of the recommendations is capable of polarizing our society.

Everyone of that recommendation is capable of bringing back issues that we had settled in our polity. I will give you examples. If you take derivation, for instance, it’s  been on and it’s going to be on for a long time. During the conference, you had a walk-out by people who felt they were not going to take certain percentage, that it  should be 50%. But common sense prevailed and an amicable figure was arrived at. Now, this issue has already reared its head again.

Recommendation (of the constitution review committee) is 18%. Fine, this is fair but it is capable of heating up the political system in the country. Again, if you can  take the immunity clause, you can even say the society is overwhelmingly in support of it but there are those who don’t support it. It could also take a lot of time  talking of the pros and cons. One of the things I admired was the robustness of the discourse. Quite frankly, I must admit I’ve read quite a number of submissions and  a lot of newspaper columnists, editorials and so on, and you don’t see any bias in some of the things you have been writing. They’ve been very objective, it is very  informative and you trace back the history of some of these things. So, one should sit down and say well, how can these things be done unless we make a conscious  effort to look at issues that we don’t want to talk about, issues that we can take in.

I will give you another example. To me, it’s a waste of time to start talking about whether we should not be a Federal Republic of Nigeria or whether we should be  something else. It is also silly not to consider the part of the country that is, perhaps, not at the same level of development with other parts of the country and see how  we can bring everybody up to certain developmental level. So, some of these settled issues are issues we shouldn’t even bother to talk about . There are issues in the  constitution, for example, that no state would adopt a religion for the state. You don’t even need to talk about it because it is already settled.

But most of the recommendations that we see, that we talk about, are things that were said before. It’s a continuation of what we’d seen before, and that makes me a  bit worried about, what are we doing, why should we continue to keep on harping on certain areas? We should let them go. And how do you do that? Through  conventions, through court interpretations. The Supreme Court, for example, could make an interpretation, say for elections, for instance. And you can get from there  and relate it to what the constitution says and then try to determine what the original thought of the framers of that constitution was all about , and then push ahead and  subject it to people.

Today, till certain years, you can divide that country into two once you introduce something that has to do with pro-life and pro-choice. That country will be divided  into two because everybody has an opinion, everybody has some beliefs that I suppose so far, we’ve not been able to play conviction politics in this country. As long  as we’ve not started developing this culture of politics based on conviction, we will continue to have these problems. This is generally what I think about the whole  thing.

Talking about beliefs and conviction, Nigerians would want to know where you stand specifically on this issue of third term.

I said so before. That was about November last year when I was coming back from Ijebu-Ode, I think. They asked me about this and my response then was simple:  that I had read through the process of constitutional amendment and the rest of them. It’s not worth tinkering with what is available now, we allow it to develop. So, I  said it’s difficult and I still believe and hope that it’s wrong in toying with the idea of amending the constitution but it is a difficult thing to do. I think quite frankly that if  you want to do it well, it should take you about three years to settle maybe a case or any issue that touches on the life of this country. It’s not something you can do in  three months, six months. No. Somebody initiates it and it keeps on going on and on and on until such a time when there is a general consensus in the country among  the people this time because you try to sensitize them towards addressing such a problem. There has not been maximum participation by people outside.

So, where do you stand: for third term, against third term or are you yet undecided?

Those are media terminologies: for, against or undecided. You use that to assess people who make laws for you. I am an ordinary citizen. Not too ordinary. No no, seriously, I’m an ordinary citizen and I’m happy that you determine those (lawmakers) who are for and against. This is what it should be. And I look forward  to seeing a day where the Senate or the House of Representatives decides to talk about this. It is good for history that they should allow everybody to possibly come  out and talk so that we can note you now that you are ‘‘for’ or ‘against’ so that when you come to contest as a governor or as a president, we take you on and you  can’t deny because we go back to your voting record and we find out that, yes, you’re pro-choice. Then, those who are pro-life won’t vote for you because they  know that you’re pro-choice. I hope this time around, our legislative bodies will allow everybody to speak.

I want to see my Senator trying to convince me on why should I adopt this answer. Yes vote, no vote, it’s not going to help us. I should be able to come out and say:  I am Senator Ibrahim Babangida representing Niger East District and will talk extensively on why I’m supporting a particular amendment of the constitution. This is  what we should try to encourage.

Without sounding alarmist, the ship of the nation is adrift. Nigerians look up to people like you, whether in government or out of it because what you say carries some  measure of weight. In 1998, some people, the G-18 hounded Gen. Abacha who then wanted to transmute into a civilian president. Today, our President and some  leaders want to do a similar thing, but answers like the ones you gave, don’t give people confidence. Are you for or against third term?

I will still come back to what I told you before and I repeated them. You (media) quoted me several times about this. I consider myself fairly privileged because of the  position I occupied in this country. Now, that position bestowed on me certain behaviourial grundnorm on what I should do. There are various things you can do and  get away with, but I can’t. So, we devise a means of talking about it through channels and I told you last year that I’d been given the opportunity to voice my feelings  not only on third term, but on almost everything that has to do with the constitution. What I still insist is that it is uncivilized, uncultured for me to come out in public  and tell you that I had a chat with the President yesterday and this was what I told him.

But you said you stepped aside in 1993 to prove to those who believed you wanted to perpetuate yourself in office that it was really not so...

That was Babangida taking a decision. Right? I took a decision. There were military men then who assured me they could hold the fort, that I could go ahead but I  said no. It’s our country. I looked at the consequences of doing that. But I didn’t go out to say A B C D advised me to stay or not to go, neither did they come out to  say ‘we told the President, we’re here behind him to make sure nothing happened’’. That was my decision. How did I make that decision? I weighed the  consequences, I weighed the public response, I read virtually everything, nothing escaped me about my government. I read it and I met not with high level of staff but  my principal staff officers.

You were a principal actor among those who encouraged and worked for President Obasanjo to contest the 1999 election. Do you not feel betrayed now that he  (Mr. President) is about to sacrifice your own ambition on the altar of third term?

If we would be fair to ourselves, I felt and still do that Obasanjo was the man who as a result of his experience, training, patriotism, competence and knowledge, fitted  in well. Nobody can dispute that. I tell you, till today no matter what happens, he doesn’t want to see this country broken. He will fight to see that this is what each  one of us stands for.

I was shot at because I wanted our country to be one, some people died on both sides, so people who knew what it is to keep this country one could be an asset.  Generally, the President was such a person. He had experience because he was in it before, he also knows how to handle you guys (press) very well (general  laughter). He wouldn’t be intimidated out of office by the media I could have added that to one of his good qualities.

Are you, therefore, saying that you are in agreement with what he (Obasanjo) is doing now?

As a person, yes. In terms of government policies and the rest of them, that’s a completely different thing. But as a Nigerian like I said, I’m not sure he will listen to  anybody who says, for instance, let Niger Delta cut off. He will say ‘no, I’m not going to accept this. I swore to protect and uphold the constitution and I am going to  do that’. He will not be carried away.

In terms of policies and implementation, it would no be hundred percent, of course. There are areas of implementation which you wouldn’t agree with.

There’s no way we won’t take you back to third term because virtually everybody who ought to have spoken had done except you.

(Cuts in) I have also spoken. That’s true.

Are you decidedly silent against the backdrop of what one authoritatively heard that the President asked for your support for project?

No, if he did, and I can tell you he didn’t say support third term, but if there is a burning issue, and like we said earlier, there are about 18, maybe, the right phrase to  use is not support third term but support the constitutional amendment.

Which includes third term?

Yeah, which includes elongation of the tenure of the President and others, it includes an independent candidature, it includes direct funding to local governments, it  includes removal of immunity. And that’s what I told you earlier. Any one of them can take one year, two years. You guys will be talking about it until you go crazy. Is  it important to do so? Like the case of Niger Delta, for example, if they can get 25% or 50% derivation, to hell with third term. As far as they are concerned, what  they want is 50, 25%, nothing less. There are others who would say, no, we should give them 15% because our states are going to lose certain amount of money. So,  you should look at it collectively. If it’s one item, for example, that was recommended for amendment, that’s a different thing because you can call anybody and  people will dialogue. But you have 18, and each one of them is capable of derailing the system, it could even cause more problems for the country.

Now, supposing we recommend 18% derivation, and the South-South Peoples Assembly issues out a communiquéé that says: ‘Nigerians should not insult the  intelligence of people of the South-South by recommending 18 %, nothing short of 25% is acceptable.’’ This is a hard, rigid statement. What else could you do  except to dialogue? You can’t bulldoze your way through on that. Otherwise, the whole thing would scatter, especially now when the whole thing is very fragile out  there. I believe I would have something to say on the whole 17 (amendments).

What then happens to your ambition if the third term thing scales through? Or put another way, what stops you from saying when you will declare? Is the fear that  having been there, you understand the power dynamics, the amount of power wielded by the man in charge?

Having been born and bred in this country, I have a working knowledge of the Nigerian mind- what he thinks, how he thinks and what he is likely going to do. I’m  fortunate and there’s no doubt about that. I want to mention again (that) I am in politics. My mission in politics is not necessarily to go and become the President. My  mission in politics is to serve this country so that I will be able to influence events and decisions on anything that touches on the people of this country.

In the process of doing that, you may end up a local government chairman, a senator, a governor, a president or whatever, depending on the way people see and  perceive you. That’s number one. Number two, if you look at the debate going on, people are looking at only one political party. We have 33 parties. But you don’t  have other parties or politicians who articulate any kind of position on the issues. Most of the articulation is done by the media, not by politicians. These politicians  should give the people leadership, whip up the feeling about how this country would be run come the year 2007. But I’m sorry, if you look at the whole of the 33  political parties, it’s only one and everybody thinks if you don’t join the PDP, then Nigeria is coming to an end. Nobody is trying to stand on his own, but again, that is  the Nigerian for you.

He is not resilient. The politician has not worked so hard to mobilise the ordinary people to understand what is going on in the country so that he can have the proper  knowledge. What brought a lot of changes before was that the ordinary people were getting interested in who ran their governments, who became their governor and  even who became their local government chairman. Of course, in other lands, we know that people’s power plays a decisive role. But here, we still talk of election  rigging in the country, we talk about how you’re going to manipulate the system and the winner-takes-all syndrome. If I lose, fine, but I must maintain my beliefs and  keep on preaching about them. But the Nigerian the moment the elections are over, he abandons his party and goes to the ruling party for the next four years. We  have to have a change in the way we play politics. If you take a place like Kano, I saw it (where) everybody swore that he or she was going to protect his or her  vote. And they did. Every minute somebody moved, you’re moving with him. If we can have ten more of the activities of the citizenry of Kano, they can pose a threat  to the would-be manipulators, would-be riggers who would be wary of the consequences of their actions. It is still only in this country that you get ballot boxes stuffed  before the actual voting and somehow they get to be counted. So, I’ve been trying to wake up the consciousness of the people to understand that the weapon you  have is to make sure that the vote you have means something and he should protect it at all costs against manipulation, against rigging and so on. If we achieve that in  politics, then we would have achieved something for the progress of the country.

By the time we leave here, what would you want us to tell the people about your position on the third term? Secondly, you registered as a member of the Peoples  Democratic Party. Was your membership re-validated? If not, where do you want to pursue your ambition?

I hope you know that as at now, we don’t have an electoral law, we don’t have a timetable, the basis for the exercise. It’s not there yet. Or do you have an idea? So,  if somebody begins to say now (that) I want to do this or that, what instrument will you be using? If you read one or two guidelines, quite frankly, the judgment of the  Court of Appeal seems to suggest that the security, the well-being of the country has taken priority because there were some judgments where the security of the  nation prevailed over every other thing. And this was because we operated a defective electoral law. This was two years to the polls. Now, you are going to have  elections maybe this year and up till now, it has not been done yet. Where are we going then? I think apart from pressures, you need to have conscience to have the  law passed by the National Assembly and subsequently accepted by the President. Now, I won’t be surprised that maybe two weeks to the election, the law could  get passed. This should take a long term planning and I don’’t understand it myself, quite frankly. Therefore, in this situation, whatever you planned, something could  come up that nullifies everything and then you have to start all over again.

Does that then mean that everything must come to a standstill?

No no no, but you have to understand that there is one aspect that will negate all the plans. The plans must continue, there’s no doubt about it but you have to get this  thing at the back of your mind all the time.

Is that why your presidential ambition can’t get off the ground?

The electoral law gives you a timetable on when to start campaigning, when to stop campaigning and so on. You can’t declare in a vacuum. The law tells you when to  start campaign, when to do a couple of things. The political party has a programme, when to start the process that will lead to the national convention which is where  you elect the flag bearer of the party.

We know it as a matter of fact that some of your political associates were key founders of the ACD (Advanced Congress of Democrats). Do you, in all honesty, not  believe that your seeming indecision or delay may cause you some collateral damage down the road?

Okay, let me ask you: how many have declared (for the presidency)?

We only know of what happened to someone who tried to declare....

So, he hasn’t declared, he only tried?

This is very serious……

I know, I’m serious too.

You see, this level of silence by people like you who ought to speak out but are keeping quiet lends credence to the fact that the third term bid is real and progressing  and that people like you, have been “captured?”
No, I can assure you it’s not capturing. I know who I am, I know my background, I know what I stand for and you can’t change me, not now. So, capturing in the  media sense, is not there.

But we know that the third term is a reality.....

It’s wrong even to conclude that it is a reality. I mean, just yesterday (Tuesday), one paper came out with the figure; 40 for, 40 against, then the rest undecided or  thereabout. Now, as far as I’m concerned, if those who fight against elongation are 40 in the Senate, then the game is lost. You need two-thirds of 109 and if 40 say  no, then it becomes no. I’m very worried by what you (media) are dishing out and I think they are objective and factual from my interactions, trying to confirm some  of these things. I think we unnecessarily get scared over some of these things. Okay, let’s assume that the third term thing is real as you said (and this is strictly an  assumption), why can’t you also think that there can be a candidate belonging to another party who can defeat the candidate of the ruling party? Why?

Because of the rigging that you talked about earlier.....

No, no, you get afraid over nothing.

Of course, we know that no incumbent has ever lost an election in Nigeria at the federal level....

It has never happened but it could happen. This time, the Nigerian will be wiser. I gave you an example of Kano. I am sure that other Kanos will spring up. Okay,  let’s demonstrate it in practical terms: If my kid brother, Orji Kalu contests in an election, he said it before and he’s saying it even now that he will protect every single  ballot in the country. And how do you do this? By trying to mobilize the people to say now look, this time around, we’re not going to allow the manipulation of our  votes. We just had the experience of Ngige versus Obi in Anambra State. What came out of that should enlighten people that look, our mandate was stolen but this  time around, we’re going to protect it to make sure that every singe ballot counts.

If you come out today to make a pronouncement that you’re running, there are people who are going to queue behind you……

(Cuts in) But we’re not queuing up because this is not Option A4 (general laughter).

We can’t say people have not declared. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has come out to say he’s contesting; the governor of Zamfara (Yerima) also said he’s contesting  and you even have their adverts running in the newspapers……

You mean you haven’t been reading DailyTrust (where his adverts run too)? What I was pressing on was that I want to be a product of due process. Don’t forget  that in any electoral contest, there are two things. There is the party nomination which is restricted to say PDP which, quote and unquote, has maybe three million  followership. They have to elect you as the flag bearer. What is also important is to get this party’s nomination and go for the general election where over seventy  million people are going to vote. So, it’s the party that sets the process that anybody who wants this thing, this is the way to go. You don’t jump the gun. By the time  they give you the timetable, you may end up having two, three, four of you. The convention takes its final decision and then you go and sell yourself to the general  public. It’s the seventy million people out there that you need, not strictly and solely the 4,500 that are sure to come to the convention, important as they are. Of  course, you need the 4,500 voters at the convention to be able to step into the bigger world.

If your friend, President Olusegun Obasanjo is contesting the next elections in 2007, will you go into the ring against him?

Anytime the whistle is blown, I will do what I have to do, depending on the mood of the people. I wouldn’t let them down.

Why is it difficult to say yes, I’ll run or no, I won’t?

It’s not difficult, but it’s dangerous because I’m a political animal. Okay, why don’t I tell you this? If I get the nomination of my party, I’ll run.

And that takes us back to the question you didn’t answer as to whether you revalidated your PDP card.

I am a current card-carrying member of PDP.

There’s the plan by a coalition of other parties to present a common presidential candidate to challenge the incumbent President in case he decides to finally run. Will  you not be joining them if they extend their hands……

(Cuts in) If I do that, that would be anti-party activity. I want my party to win. You see, I blame you for the silly things happening now ( pardon my use of  language)…… I also use such words, so we cancel out each other. It’s 1-1.

Yes, if you didn’t cancel the June 12, 1991 elections, we wouldn’t have had Chief Ernest Shonekan, then Abacha. Don’t you feel the guilt that you didn’t hand over  power? Put another way, you gave us Shonekan and that gave rise to the coming of Abacha, and then what we now have.

When I left (in 1993) I gave the Interim (National) Government to the country. What I knew I did and not many people knew was that we had a constitution for the  Interim Government. I left in August and that constitution allowed that Interim Government to be in place for six months. There ought to have been an election in  February of 1994. Thank God, this constitution was not a military show. I consulted and consulted with the best brains around and we gave it six months. His  (Shonekan’s) primary assignment would have been to use that period to plan for the election. By February 1994, there ought to have been a general election which  could be more acceptable to the generality of Nigerians because the culprit was no more around and it would not be manipulated or tampered with.

I expected Nigerians to back him. But the politicians had their interests somewhere. If you were living in this country then, you would remember the pronouncement  that it (ING) was illegal. There was a pronouncement by Eminent Citizens that it should be kicked out. Well, nobody looked at the other side. Politicians encouraged  the military and not long after, Chief Shonekan was out. One would have expected that somebody should have raised an alarm that we were supposed to have an  election in three months time. Why, in the name of God, is this thing coming up? But people hailed it (military intervention). What they wanted then, I provided it, get  rid of this Minna-born general or whatever you call it. But I did my job. What Nigerians ought to have done, they didn’t do it. We were smarter, and when I say we, I  mean those of us in uniform (thank God I was out of uniform then). Maybe, to give you the incentive for your support, those who were vehemently opposed were  brought into government as ministers. We got them to stabilize us and when we were firmly on our feet, we threw them out. That was it until some patriotic Nigerians  in G-18 moved against the regime. I think there’s something in us that we have to ask ourselves, how do we change this orientation?

Perhaps, it is the knowledge of this that makes you to support the President……

No, my support for the President is strongly rooted in my personal conviction that he believes in our nation. So far, forget about policies and whatever, he has not  made any one of us to believe that he wants the dismemberment of Nigeria. Today, I can assure you that if anybody comes to him to preach on why we should break  up, he won’t listen to you. We have a platform which we can call our own as Nigerians, without the fear that it would be dismembered. We have that assurance.

But I would have thought that we had even more than that in 1993. There was better cohesion...

Then give me credit (general laughter) because I was still there in 1993. I believe that we’re getting to accept that we’re a nation. And then the problem happened. I  cancelled an election, I didn’t annul an election and I took full responsibility for the cancellation. In the course of the performance of my duty as the military President,  unelected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it’s my duty to act no matter what it entailed and like I said, I take full responsibility. A lot of things happened.  You had a presumed winner (Chief MKO Abiola) of that election who died. He was my friend, very close friend. I have a feeling for him. I did a job that affected my  close friend. But then, because of the position I occupied, you had to weigh the personal relationship with the overall interest of the nation. In my case, it’s not a  difficult job to do because I presided over the sentencing of coup planners to death. Among those who died were some of my own personal boys. Some of them  were my students. I brought them up. But a decision had to be taken and I had no option but to take it. The burden of being a leader is that at any given time, you’re  expected to take certain decisions, no matter how painful. The rest would be left to history.


No, you take your decision as a leader and leave the rest to posterity to judge you.

You said that after ten years, you’d tell Nigerians the true story of what happened. So, what’s delaying it?
Let me be very frank with all of you, there are certain issues that touch on me. If I decide to run for an election, I’m going to talk to you about all the controversial  issues. Maybe, I’ll talk about the money that I stole, N12.8 billion. I’ll supply every information.

How is your autobiography going and when do we expect it since it will answer a lot of these questions?
It’s becoming richer and richer everyday because of the happening of events now around me and in the country. When I declare that I’m going to run, I’ll speak on  these issues and make them public. Even if I don’t run, I’m conscious of history. I’ll not allow my children, my grandchildren, my relations, my well-wishers and  friends to be left in limbo.

What gives you the confidence that you need all the time to finish the book since the Ultimate Creator may decide to call you or anybody at anytime?

Fortunately, I have gone far and whatever remains, somebody can finish up.

While going through a particular book I stumbled on, one found out it has to do with your political plan. In page 204 of that book, you said: ‘‘I am ready for 2007.’’  Today, I ask: are you ready for 2007?
Yes, I am. But did you read that entire book?

No, I glanced through.

So that you don’t get caught!

This is not about third term really. So, what is the way out of the crisis and hostage-taking in the Niger-Delta?
I said it last year that the problem of Niger-Delta is real. Let nobody deceive you about that. There is a real problem there and you need a realistic approach to tackle  it. We started it with a ministerial committee comprising technocrats, permanent secretaries, advisers and so on. By then, it was one per cent. And we imagined that it  was not enough. Fortunately, I toured very extensively these areas and my sympathy was with them. I got stuck in certain places and the vehicle wouldn’t move. So, I  knew what the problem was. As a result of that, we increased (derivation percentage) to three. Because the thing was still not enough, we came up with the concept  of OMPADEC at that time. Now, it’s NDDC. The problems still persist. So, we need to have a second look to see if we cannot have a separate and different  approach. What I have is a Marshal plan for these areas. We know what the problems are. We’d tried OMPADEC before, we’ve now tried NDDC. I think that  with the Marshal approach, maybe it will help to get the people involved in their affairs. There is a general mistrust, understandably again, by the people who live there  (that) no matter the amount of money you put in there, they would always believe that the money will be misappropriated, will be misapplied. Records are there.  That’s why I was calling for another approach, whether it is not possible that we could take the development of those areas to a certain level for supervision by the  people. I have a feeling that if we take a different approach, we could just be getting there in the resolution of the many crises and the emancipation of the Niger-Delta  people.

What do you make of the recurring inter-religious conflicts often leading to avoidable deaths in Nigeria?
Unfortunately too, this is an on-going thing. Even in the civilized world, they would tell you that it is enshrined in the constitution that there is freedom of _expression  but I think that people don’t look at the sensitivity of some of these things. Religion is the only thing that as human beings when you trample on, then you have  problems. We just have no option than to learn to tolerate and trust each other because we’re one.
Your government played a key role in sending ECOMOG troops to Liberia. Now, Charles Taylor is here with us and he’s wanted by a war tribunal in Sierra Leone.

What should we do?

I suppose what the (Nigerian) government is trying to do is probably the right thing. The government is not handing Charles Taylor to Sierra Leone or the war  commission, the government is thinking of handing him over on the request of Liberians themselves. And (if that happens) there is nothing the government can do.
You have a university or a licence for it, President Obasanjo has one; Atiku has one. It is such that the private universities may be the place to go, but for the  privileged few who could afford the high fees. If you happen to come back to power, what do you intend to do to lift public schools from its sorry state?

There are a lot of public universities numbering over 42 or thereabouts in the country, then you have about 30 state-owned universities and you have about 15 private  ones. We’re not lacking. What we need to emphasize is standard. Yes, I agree that the government must be concerned about standards and there have to be the  yardsticks so that anybody who falls below these acceptable standards can have their licences withdrawn.

Now that you have what appears to be genuine reconciliation with your predecessor in office, Gen. Buhari…… (Cuts in) No, we never quarrelled.

Really? Sure. The problem is that you people continued to insist we were quarreling. He said it, that you  continue to insist we’re quarreling; I said, that you have  continued to insist we’re quarreling. We decided that since this is your feeling, we’ll live with it. But don’t forget, this man has been my friend for the past 45, 46  years. We have consciously been friends for the past 42 years or thereabout.

How will it be when these two friends go into the ring to contest for the presidency in 2007?

It will be based on ideology.

But you come from the same background

Military? But everyone of us has a different way of looking at things. I am probably a capitalist; he may not be a capitalist.

Finally, how is life in retirement?

I think I have more time now for my family which they never had when I was in government. That’s the beauty of it. The second one is that I’m out of the limelight.

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