In an interview granted Tell by General Olusegun Obasanjo 12 years ago, the retired General, who is now Nigeria's President, spoke on the flaws that characterised the 1993 presidential election with particular reference to the adoption of Option A4 and various booby traps set by General Ibrahim Babangida to ensure that the transition to civil rule did not succeed, to ensure his continuation as the military President.

By Daily Independent
September 28, 2005

He also spoke on the economy at the time, saying that Babangida was pursuing international financial institutions' policies, which were nothing but a dangerous policy to compound Nigerians' debilitating poverty.

Given the seriousness of the problem of the economy, whether IBB goes in August or not, what do you think is going to happen, what do we need to do urgently to arrest the decline?

First of all, this administration has no answer to the problem. It does not even command the confidence internally and externally that will help us. I know for a fact that in the international community, financial and political, they are saying that when you finish with your political transition programme, we would do business with you. So whichever way it comes, you need an administration that will succeed Babangida's administration which would be able to then take the broken reeds, put the pieces together and move forward. When last year, the maneuvering was going on, I came to the conclusion that the baby that will be born out of the political exercise will be a slightly deformed baby. I said it to a few compatriots and a few Nigerian friends that what we should do is just come together and try and nurture that slightly deformed baby into normal adult. Well, little did I know that it would be stillbirth. The baby was still born last year. It could have been on a wheelchair but of course, living on a wheelchair does not mean you are incapable of meaningful existence or being useful. With some assistance and support we can still have such a child brought to reasonable performance and action. We need a new administration. I believe that the present process is being bastardised and to that extent it will be starved of full legitimacy. It will come out with doubtful quality and quantity of mandate such that what we would have will require intensive care. When we live as somebody who is a debtor, I believe that our international creditors will be ready and willing to look at us and say, yes, we can give you reprieve, we can give you relief. We need that relief. At home we just have to encourage production, we are not producing anything now. The currency too must be stable. Why should you want to store your value in naira or engage in production when you know it pays you better to take your money and go to the bank and get 40 percent upfront? What would you produce that will give you a return of 40 percent in Nigeria today? We must deal with the proliferation of things that encourage inflation. These require a tough mind and tough actions.

People now say openly that IBB might not go after all by August. If it does happen, what would be your stand?

As I said, I won't be surprised at anything. We have heard what Keith Atkins and Arthur Nzeribe are doing, we have heard what other people are doing. I would expect that where honour and integrity are called for, he won't allow anybody to do this type of thing on his behalf. So, when people come out and say, well, the election in June will be stalemated and I shrug my shoulder because all the ingredients for it are there. Or they say President Babangida hasn't got his man whom he will put there. I shrug my shoulder and say well, I wish him the best of luck. One hopes he will get this man soon. But I know one thing that when Babangida does leave, he will be doing so not because he wants to, he will be doing so because the cost of not leaving will be much more than the cost of leaving. When that happens, I think we'll have Nigerians and the international community who are friends of Nigeria to back those Nigerians who have stood up against what they believe is not right. People in all walks of life and the international community have now come to see and understand the plight of Nigeria and what this administration stands for.

We understand that France and Germany, among members of the EEC, are not averse to the idea of Babangida remaining in office, that only Washington DC and London have made it very clear that he ought to keep his promise of handling over and that they're not prepared to look favourably at any economic or debt relief for Nigeria until there's an elected government.

I wouldn't know what other nation's policies are about Nigeria but I do hope that other nations will formulate their policies in the best interest of Nigerians and of course in their own enlightened self-interest. And I will say the best interest of Nigeria is that we should establish genuine democracy in this country. We should continue to nurture it and water it. You see, these people you're talking about know us. For instance, in 1979, we took over the BP holding in Shell-BP which was acquired for NNPC as part of the process of influencing the British Government to move more positively in Zimbabwe. The shares that we took over then, I was told, was recently sold for over two billion dollars, ostensibly to develop the LNG. I have also reliably learnt that the money is exhausted without spending it on LNG. I also understand that the immediate predecessor of this administration put some money in an Escrow account also for development of LNG, and that, also, that money is gone. You see, where do we go with this type of recklessness? Then we have a situation in our hand in Liberia. Whatever may be our intentions, I think that people in the international community will believe that well if the house of your neighbour is burning, you must attempt to help him put out the fire, but how do you do it and to what extent is the question people are asking about the situation in Liberia. It's a situation that is also costing us a hell of a lot in resource, in materials, in human, and in reputation within the sub-region. From different guesses, I would estimate that about 500 Nigerian soldiers have died in there. May be about 2000 would have been wounded, not counting about 1,200 Nigerians formerly living in Liberia that must have been killed. And not minding the ones that were really made destitute and have had to leave the place without taking any of their property. One will have to pray and hope that in addition to the material and human losses, that the UN involvement will limit our losses and that we will not be left bruised, weakened and diminished as a sub-regional power.

Given the well-known disposition of your regime when you were in power, and today as an international figure, you can be depended upon in gauging the pressure on international level. For over two years now, the President has mounted intense pressure to visit the United States without success. Is it normal for a nation like Nigeria to be dying to shake hands in Washington DC?

Well, you probably know more than I do. I don't know whether the President wants to visit America or not. But today it doesn't matter whether you like it or not, the only super power in the world is the United States of America. Even if only to feel fine, to get their nod of approval is a good thing, if only to feel fine. So, shaking hands with the American President by any Third World President is good enough. Not even the Third World president alone. Look at what happened in Britain. Prime Minister Major openly supported Bush and as soon as Clinton became the President, he made himself available in the White House. Hilary was not too pleased and all that but that's the nature of the game. Maybe it's a natural desire but I think Americans are not fools because apart from the fact that they get reports from their own embassy here, they get reports from other sources. And they make up their minds on what is happening. If America is now saying that it wants to promote democracy all over the world, then there's a limit to how much you can be seen to be encouraging undemocratic process or undemocratic act, that is the position.

Many other countries in Africa have had very successful transition. Two good examples are Republic of Benin and Republic of Mali. These are smaller countries with far less resources than we have and yet they were able to effect the transition without too much problem. Why is it so? What do you think is responsible?

You would have had a successful transition if the manager of the transition is honest with it. We've had a successful transition in this country before. When you are manipulating and you are playing games as President Babangida is playing now or like it's happening in other countries for whatever reasons, then you have this type of situation. In Republic of Benin that you mentioned, I spoke to President Kerekou a couple of times and he told me when he was to hold his national conference. And in fairness to him, he allowed the national conference to take its course. And then when the election was going to take place, I advised him against even contesting. He then sent a message to me that well, if Albert Soglo, who was supposed to be head of a caretaker government, was not supposed to contest, but because Soglo was contesting he was going to contest. He contested. They had, like you rightly said, a smooth transition. Soglo won. Kerekou accepted his defeat; he didn't tamper with the thing; he didn't manipulate. He could have dug in and say, I will make use of the soldiers like is happening with his neighbours but he didn't do that. Mali was a different kettle of fish. There was a violent overthrow, and of course, whoever does not allow peaceful change makes violent change probable, even possible. That is the thing. And after the violent overthrow, they had smooth transition. The smoothness of transition depends on who is at the head.

General Babangida once described the transition of your government in 1979 as hurriedly done and, in his own words, that was what led to the collapse of the Second Republic, and that the lessons learnt from that transition had informed the deliberately slow process of transition in his own time. And that unlike your own transition, his own transition has an in-built learning process, so, as the transition goes along, it is continuously assessed, hence the manipulations and changes.

I don't agree with you. Babangida has his fears. There are only two things that can make a man give his word and go back on it. Fear or greed. I hope Babangida has only one. My letter to President Babangida in November last year was a letter of appeal to hold all the things that I thought should motivate a person and to touch him. I believe that now, we've passed the stage of appeal to the stage where Babangida needs to be challenged. It's not individual challenge. It's a challenge by Nigerians. A challenge by the international community. So, when I talk of the cost of staying being higher than the cost of not staying, it is that challenge that I believe will make the difference.

But like you said, he has proved to be insensitive. You think the challenge will make any difference?

Oh yes!


Nobody is a nobody when you're dealing with a situation like we are in now. Nobody can sustain the situation we are in indefinitely. The naira sliding on weekly basis, the Central Bank not able to do anything about it, the cost of everything rising. No production. Don't forget that some people from the oil-producing states have been agitating. Of course they will agree that this oil belongs to all Nigerians if the proceeds from the oil are being used prudently. But, if they are not being used prudently, they will want to lay claim to it. Whichever way they do that, the oil companies will be on their side unlike what happened during the civil war. Now, these are some of the dangers that are confronting us. You see, President Babangida is a national phenomenon. There are some people in the North who can even lick Babangida's bottom just as there are people in the South because of what they get out of him. But, there are people who really, really see this as the destruction of all that Nigeria stood for. When some people from the South say that it's the North that is benefiting, I feel that we are unnecessarily diverting our attention from the issue and the issue is that Babangida is a national phenomenon. Not even a military phenomenon. I won't even call him a Middle-Belt phenomenon; he's a national phenomenon. We should accept that and find our way out of it. Since independence in this country, people describe their leaders as they like and call them all sorts of things, including myths. But, there's no leader that has been credited with so great a capacity for mischief, for evil as Babangida. I want to illustrate this question of leadership and the head. It's not cosmetic change like we are doing here. The economy is bad, you're overwhelmed by it. You don't know what you're doing and then you bring in a Transitional Council and you say they are working on a blueprint. What blueprint, when you haven't even tackled the basic issue? Now I want to illustrate what's happening with our own neighbour here, Republic of Benin. I think about three or four years ago, I had to appeal to President Babangida to help Republic of Benin and he was kind enough to give them assistance to tie them over, to pay salaries of public servants and teachers who had been in arrears of salary for about three months. What has happened? If you go to Republic of Benin today, you can see a vibrant economy. The only thing that has happened is that you have got a new leadership who evokes confidence, internal confidence, external confidence, and therefore they're taking right measures, which are putting the economy back on rail and today President Soglo is going around saying the right thing and doing the right thing and the problem is being pushed aside and President Kerekou is there, living his normal life and seeing his country coming back into economic vibrance and active life. One legacy that this administration will be leaving us is not only making every Nigerian 500 percent poor but moving Nigeria from among one of the leading 50 nations of the world economically to one of the 25 poorest nations of the world. Now these are legacies that we are not going to get out of overnight. So, whatever administration succeeds Babangida will have the good sense to know that we require all hands on deck. That's why I talk about the issue of a national conference. I don't believe there should be a national conference in a situation of chaos. But once we have a situation of reasonable order, we have to talk about these issues that concern all of us, so that we can all move forward. Otherwise that administration will be as interim as probably it has been designed or bastardised to be by the midwife of the transition. In the political programme, we have been told that there'll be no moneybags and, of course, the simple-minded Nigerians believe that. But what we have seen last year and this year is that when we were told there'll be no moneybags, government was actually preparing for money barrels and the government will lead in giving the money not in thousands but in millions. Most of the participants in last year's primaries got money from government or people in government and I have been made to understand that the situation this year is not different.

Since the conventions were reported to be more or less like bazaars, the situation that obtained is not different from what happened last year, do you foresee a situation where the government may take a similar action that it took last year banning the candidates?

I won't be surprised if it happens because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Last year, the government or people in government paid the piper and when they dictated the tune, the piper kept quiet. This year too, having paid the piper, they could dictate the tune and I wonder whether the pipers will be able to say anything. Now, this is part of the unfortunate situation we have found ourselves in this country, with an administration that is not dealing honestly with Nigerians.

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