Friday, June 12, 2020 4:51 pm
Today is 12 June. The subject that has resurfaced in the country, Covid -19 notwithstanding, is the annulled 12 June, 1993 presidential election (which gave birth to Democracy Day). Two major characters among many were the late Chief MKO Abiola and his presidential running mate, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe.
However, Kingibe jumped ship after the election was annulled and even went ahead to work with the Sani Abacha regime.
TheNEWS confronted him to speak on what happened between him and Abiola. The interview was published in our 2 May 1994 edition.
“Why I Dumped Abiola”
Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, for three hours, spoke with TheNEWS team, Dapo Olorunyami, Seye Kehinde and Bagauda Kaltho
Your decision to take up a job offer under the Abacha regime came to many as a surprise. Why did you abandon the mandate and agree to serve a military regime?
Let us really understand that the mandate of 12 June was the mandate of the people of Nigeria. It was one entrusted to Chief Abiola and myself. But primarily it was the mandate of the people of Nigeria. When the elections were annulled, it was the mandate of the people of Nigeria that was annulled and the affront was not really on Abiola or Kingibe, it was against the people of Nigeria as a whole but the primary responsibility for resisting that assault was with the people. That is number one.
I am perfectly aware of the social, economic and cultural setting in which our people live and the stage of development that we reached in terms of protecting their rights under the circumstances. Our people struggled valiantly to resist, but in vain. I think it is all easy now, nine months after the annulment, to speak out of context. When I decided to go into politics and to offer myself for elective office, it was out of a belief that I could somehow make a positive contribution to the lives of Nigerians. It was never my intention to make their lives worse than I found it and I think there is a limit to the dictum that it has to get worse before it gets better, there is a limit and that limit I think was reached by October.
Are you saying your acceptance to serve was a statement of discontentment
What I mean is that the people on whose behalf I was in politics and for whose betterment I campaigned were getting to the point where it wasn’t that the ailment was getting worse with a view to getting it better, but was getting worse and threatening to be terminal. I was in Lagos most of the time and I saw the general insecurity of citizens, suffering citizens, work stoppages, the stay- at- homes, the strikes. I saw the sacrifice that people were making and it got to a point where one could not give an adequate answer as to why they were making it and why they had to continue to make it because the political class, of which I was a part, failed to give the requisite leadership to make their sacrifice worthwhile. Aside from the people, the nation of which I looked forward to be the vice president was first being threatened with non existence, disintegration. That is the truth. And if the situation had continued, the very gains of 12 June were also being fast reversed and eroded.
The gains of 12 June were the final phase in our democratization efforts. The voting pattern, the peaceful nature of the campaign, the peaceful nature of balloting and the pattern of the results all indicated the final consummation of all the efforts we have been making since independence that is the building of a truly united people who have overcome the chasms of tribalism, religion, regionalism and of all the divisive factions, that have bedeviled the way they were going, not only will these gains be eroded, but it would have been impossible to even try to recreate a semblance of the high points that we as a people reached on 12 June.
Is that not a serious indictment of the way the 12 June mandate was managed by you, Chief Abiola and other leaders?
Of course, it is. But I am not being particularistic about responsibility. We are all responsible for it. I mean the party, we the two immediate symbols of that mandate. Well, we did all we could but either we didn’t do enough or what we could do was not good enough. The people did more than the politicians ever did, in terms of getting up to say no to something which assaults their conscience. Don’t forget that over a hundred people were killed in the process. Be that or it may, in the face of an overwhelming military force, may be it wasn’t enough. And the manipulative skills of the Babangida regime was able to sabotage the 12 June campaign through what was called inducement, settlements, cajolements through pandering to personal ambitions of people who saw their ambitions being put on a shell for a while. There came a point in Nigeria where truly, by November if I was asked to go back and repeat the election I wouldn’t. Certainly my confidence that would repeat the miracle of June 12 was not as strong.
As a democrat, is it not ironic that you had to abandon democratic structures and latched on to the military option when it came?
Let us be very clear about those democratic structures, they are part of the political class and the political elite that betrayed the mandate of the people. It does not matter whether it is at the level of local government, council men or state assembly or government or national assembly men. The fact of the matter is that they were products of the democratic process and each one of them had their mandate honoured and none of them would have been content and made very pious sounding but inane comments, that well this is the will of God so leave it. And they didn’t see in the assault on the mandate of Chief Abiola and I that their own mandate was assaulted.
They thought they could isolate between their own elections which have been allowed to be upheld and the ultimate elections which was annulled. They thought they could sacrifice one mandate in order to protect another. They did not see and they could not see that an assault on one is an assault on all. And so we had this comedy if not anybody with national and state assembly men trooping into Abuja to assure General Babangida that they were with him, that all was okay, that they agreed with what was done, of national assembly men of senators attempting to pass resolutions to justify why Nigerians should forget 12 June. Governors were meeting and holding press conferences saying unless those who are struggling to maintain the integrity, honour and dignity of Nigerians stop what they are doing, the country will be on fire, that they will set it on fire.
I wondered what kind of democratic structures we were talking about. And I am surprised, although politicians do play to the gallery and get very much wiser after the event. I am surprised that the impression is given now, that certain people I must say including Chief Abiola are now appearing as if they are the champions of the restoration of the democratic structure. We were all together and we all know our comments and our views of the charade going on. I think if they stood up as one and said no, whether we are national, republicans or social democrats the election is our election and the assault on it is an assault on our mandate and our own integrity. I don’t think we would be where we are today.
So how should Nigerians make sense of your decision to go along with the Abacha led military administration? Do you really think it made any sense?
I thought you could extrapolate from what I have said earlier.
No. you did not make your sense clear enough
My decision is based on one. I wanted to put an end to the uncertainties and the sufferings to which the ordinary people of the country were being subjected to then, because I was in politics on their behalf to make their lives better. Two I was in politics to maintain the integrity and corporate existence of this country. From the vantage position I was I got to know that it was being threatened. No part of Nigeria and let it be thoroughly understood, no part of Nigeria can be better off on its own without the other part. None. It used to be an assumption one makes about Nigeria, now it seems to be part of a struggle one has to be involved in to be sure that remained so.
Thirdly, contrary to what Nigerians have been made to believe, I did not accept to be in government. I did not want to be in government. The lie has been told and orchestrated that I lobbied for it. I did not lobby to be a minister under Abacha. I have worked as a civil servant and as a politician let any one who I ever lobbied even for a civil service job or for promotion or for posting, anyone that I lobbied for this position I am currently holding, come out and tell the world. It is not part of my culture. I am not being very arrogant. I have always been asked to rely on what I believe to be my qualities. Not that I am foolish enough to believe that quality alone sells but I also combine this with faith in God. No one can deny me what I am not destined to be and no one can deny me what I am destined to be. I didn’t accept to serve in this government to stop anybody from accepting or as those who scrambled and schemed for the ING job went about begging and sending their surrogates to participate in that unhappy government. I have a mission and a purpose as to why I am in this government.
What mission precisely?
That is to ensure that unlike before there are enough committed democrats around the military to guide and assist in explaining state policies and helping them in restoring democratic processes as soon as possible.
Don’t you see something opportunistic in that?
No. Government is a huge establishment and I am not there believing that I am going to get my way on every issue. But if I have 10 issues and in the context of Nigeria and in the context of governance, 2 of my issues sailed through, I think I have succeeded. Hopefully, through the combined efforts of all, civilian and military in government the other 8 desirable issues will also be achieved.
But how come that the circumstances surrounding your acceptance was shrouded in mystery?
There is no mystery about it. It is the people who rewrite history who try to shroud it in mystery.
But why did you not get Abiola’s permission before you took the job offer from Abacha?
(He laughs) It is funny you know. I was called by the Head of State, I think on the 18th, the day after the coup and I was asked to join the government. No portfolio was mentioned by him or by me. It was the concept of joining the government that was discussed and I made it clear to him that I am not an unfortunate individual, in the sense that I cannot make an individual decision and that I will appreciate it if he can raise the issue with Chief Abiola. I didn’t give him an answer either yes or no. And as Chief Abiola too has confirmed, the issue was raised with him by the Head of State and he did not raise any objection to it. He said: “I will tell Kingibe.”
Instead of calling me on the phone or physically to tell me, what happened was that he had a meeting in his house to discuss strategies of how to stop me from making the mistake of accepting to serve, and a delegation was appointed to come and meet me to tell me, why it is not in my interest if I am offered to serve, not to accept it because I will have thereby committed political suicide and I will be good for nothing in the future. That delegation consisted of Abel Ubeku, Sam Mbakwe and a couple of others whose names I cannot remember. But typically before the meeting rose, I was already aware of all that was discussed and I waited. Finally , one of them, I think Abel Ubeku came to meet me. Be that as it may, Abiola eventually called me and it was on my way, in the car to go and see him that first, a correspondent of the FRCN called me on my cellular and said congratulations, I said on what. He said: “We have just seen your name on the list of ministers and you have been made the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
I am experienced enough not to tell him that oh, I never knew. I just thanked him and I put the phone down. And before I reached Chief Abiola’s house, the BBC correspondent again phoned me and asked me, what did I think of my appointment. Again, I am experienced not to tell them that I knew nothing about it. I then reached Chief Abiola’s house with the background information I heard of his meeting and of the delegation that had been composed and of the fact that he still had not told me what he discussed with the Head of State and what his own views are to me. I went to listen to him and he was turning round and round, trying to indicate the ignominy of accepting to serve in this government, but I wanted him to come straight. I wondered why he could not go straight to the point.
Does that not say something of the kind of relationship that existed between the two of you?
Look, listen. At a point, when we were discussing I knew he was pretending because I knew his network of information through the media. He has media houses you know. In the same way that even foreign media houses had information. I know he must have heard the news. I presumed his own media house had the information and they must have told him. And I expected that by the time I entered he would straight away say we have heard of your appointment. And then we could discuss the implications rather than to be quiet about it, to be quiet about his discussions with the Head of State and skirt around those issues. The moment I realized what he was up to, I also decided to play along. At some point, mid way, somebody came in and mentioned it that this has taken place and it became obvious that we had both been wasting our time since the deed had already been done.
But why did you later beg for his support?
I never begged him. I have heard that he said I begged him or versions of his story like that. That I went to beg him to accept, that I accepted the job because I want to be able to feed my family, that I need money, that I need that job to feed my family, for Christ sake, that is an unfair thing to say . Look, I will be 50 very soon and it means that in my last 48 years, it means I have not been able to maintain them. It is ridiculous.
Are you saying your decision to take up the offer was done in good faith?
Look there are certain things people in responsible position don’t do. One of which is that, as far as I was concerned, when the offer was made, I reacted appropriately by suggesting that my principal is the best channel of communication to me on that issue. My principal, Abiola was communicated and he raised no objection, so as far as the Head of State was concerned, he was perfectly right to assume that it was cleared and that they were perfectly right to make the announcement they made on that assumption even if the details may be slightly different.
Nobody with any sense of patriotism and commitment to public service after such a process now goes on the air to say sorry I am not accepting it, especially as I believe in any case that there is need for all of us to make sacrifice.
If you acted in good faith why did you not mention it to Chief Abiola just because he still maintains up till today that you never discussed the issue of your joining the Abacha regime with him despite the fact that you were his running mate?
I think I have just told you the sequence of events. The fact is that he was the one who was to tell me what he was told because he was asked to do just that, but he never mentioned it to me, that an offer had been made to me through him.
Why was there so much distrust and mutual suspicion between you and Chief Abiola? Why was there so much deceptions?
Please let us move to something else. For God’s sake as we progress in this interview, I don’t want to be personal. I no longer want to get too personal especially as regards my relationship with Abiola and so on. I have the greatest respect for him. He is my friend. We have done everything together except to lie on the same bed. He has done everything wonderfully well for this country, he has done wonderfully for democracy. It is unfortunate that things led eventually to a point where he couldn’t take up his mandate and implement the laudable programmes in which he sincerely believes. These are historical circumstances. They have happened and I have no cause to believe that our friendship has ruptured in any way. We have differences of opinions about various national interests, I do sit down and talk to them. Please I don’t want to be personal and do not keep bringing up anything that may elicit some great sort of boxing match between me and Chief Abiola.
Is that not a bit strange? It is now an open secret that both of you did not enjoy a good relationship. Many Nigerians feel that part of the reasons the 12 June mandate was not effectively realized was because of the lack of cohesion between you and Abiola. Why did both of you not see eye to eye?
Well, I don’t know about lack of cohesion, but look, from the day I was nominated as his running mate, I had to consciously more or less kill an aspect of me. Look I ceased to be the Baba Kingibe people knew. I took my position one step behind Chief Abiola who was my principal. On whatever position I held, I will discuss with him vigorously about strategies, about my views and perception. But at the end of the day, I deferred to his views and strategies where we had differences, not that we had difference all that often, although there had been fundamental ones. That was also informed by the fact that it wasn’t out of the conventional wisdom that he took me on. There were people within his camp who were constantly warning him about me, about how ambitious I was for power, about how he had to watch out for I was the one who will be ruling the country if we come to power, that I am so crafty, that I am a schemer, that I am this and that. There was nothing uncomplimentary they did not say about me. I was conscious of all these. I heard everything. The moment they tell him, I hear it, but he never asked me, he never told me even though he believed it. I know who and who gave him what advice. So I had to be conscious, first to ensure him that I was not as they paint me to be, that I am a loyal person and that I know my place. So whatever discussion we had, we had it privately not publicly.
But why could both of you not agree most times? Why was there so much mistrust?
I don’t know. But one thing I know is that there is one fundamental conceptual difference between us which never got resolved even now and which I think had we resolved it might have assisted the process.
What was the difference?
I am a party man. I believe in the party. I believe in the structures that had been there on the ground, since the beginning of the process. Oh yes, it is good to believe like Abiola does that it is some grand design and not a platform that wins you election. I believe the reality is different. During the last election, even if we had changed the platform, given the degree of mobilization that took place on behalf of the SDP, even if we went to the country with Tofa’s platform and met with his own, I believe we would have defeated him. We are talking of a country of above 80% illiterate people, who have no idea of the concepts and so on that we are yapping as part of our manifesto. And those troops out there who mobilized the people, who ensured that we were not rigged out at the election, knowing very well that we were not meant to win, as you know the dice was headed against our winning. Yet we won, by this I mean those who ensured that we won that election. Apart from God almighty himself, he used those party machinery that was out there.
As we used them to win the election, we needed them to uphold the mandate. But Abiola was of a different view. His view was that after the election party involvement is over, that it was now a ‘direct case of the president to the people business.’ That was one of the things that affected us. Abiola lost the party somewhere along the line. I really think it was a great error. He was on his own. As the party drifted, the party machinery also drifted and they took the people with them.
Did it seem that Abiola had that attitude to orgtanised structures generally?
My intense relationship with him was within the context of politics. I wouldn’t know his attitude to other things. All I know is that he simply did not think the party was important.
How did you try to salvage the situation because in a recent interview, General Shehu Musa Yar adua who you had related to somehow politically in the past and here he was saying that at a very critical meeting in Abuja, which both of you attended and that he drew your attention to the fact that the communiqué the party was trying to draft had no reference to the 12 June. And he pointedly said you made no effort to ensure that this was rectified, rather you wanted him to do the talking, to do the persuasion. Perhaps because he was like some Godfather of the party, why did you lose your voice on this occasion?
No. No. I believe that if you were to ask him today he would probably be more accurate than before. First, he couldn’t say there was no reference to reckon with 12 June because the communiqué started off on the premise of the invincibility of 12 June. And went on to say that even a national government would be on the basis of 12 June. That proposal was drafted by Ezeife. The preamble and operative paragraph 1-4 of that communiqué was about maintaining the sanctity of 12 June. So, I could not have said that there is no reference to 12 June. What I told him was in a specific context of lacuna.
There was one word which we were supposed to have agreed to, was it interim government or national government based on 12 June. It was at that point I said there is a lacuna there. It was an observation that I made to him. The crux of the matter is that those of us that gathered there did not think we were taking a final position on behalf of the people.
I expected that that issue was going to be further reviewed in the committee and in any case, I was there in the absence of Chief Abiola. It was brought up in a manner that at least I did not think that that the party would be so mannerless as Chief Abiola would say as to shave his head in his absence. Whatever was decided I expected it be brought to him to discuss and I have taken my notes including the lacuna and I was going to brief him on my reaching Lagos and I had also noticed that as early as that time ABN was at work. Some of its most fierce activists were in that meeting, members of the House of Representative who tried to disrupt the meeting, they held up the meeting for half and hour.
The party leadership of Tony Anenih said they had a mandate from the party that there was no need for further consultations with anybody or any group and off they went to meeting with NRC. The ING plan was perfected and consummated without reference to the party by a collection of four people working with one serving general acting on behalf of the government. They had gone and perfected it. They were just looking for ways of giving it some semblance of legitimacy. So when they saw something that appeared like it they grabbed it and went off and never met again. So, I was hoping that the proper thing would be that Chief Abiola would be briefed and I would have also brief him and there we would have our observations and input and then tell them that this is our view.
From your advantage, it is one of a hindsight now, you were the man who really led the SDP all along the role of party elders, structures, when you look back now how would you contextusalise the rather overbearing personality like Gen. Yar Adua in the context of the SDP.
Let me put it this way that it will not necessarily be an aberration to pretend in activities like politics that it can be carried on without participation of those of whom it is a way of life. There was no way that politics could go on without the surreptitious or covert involvement of people who by law were not supposed to be involved. It was a mismatch. It was unrealistic in the first place. It would work only if the government that the made the policy of excluding those it wanted to exclude had the will and the capacity to enforce that law but they didn’t have the power to do such. So, you can’t blame really either the elders of the new breed who were trying to be law abiding and so some tried while giving the elders their due respect as elders of the society also didn’t want them to interfere overtly or even covertly.
When it became obvious that the Tony Anenih led executive were not willing to respect the party structure by going out to consult with other levels of the party, what were your own role in terms of trying to see that the party structure down the grassroots level was consulted and their mandate secured?
That is why we formed the real party Consultative Forum. You remember we held our meeting in Lagos, in Jos under President of the Senate Ayu. We tried to retain the party chairmen who were still faithful and who were determined to honour the principles and practice of the party. We tried to form them into an alternative forum for the SDP people to rally round of course. You also know how through sort of police tactics of arbitrary removal of state chairmen, of some queries about finances. Even my own tenure, the entire tenure as chairman which was audited twice and revised by the Auditor General of the Federation again subjected to auditing by the party and in the process they found faults with the way finances of the party was handled and they had been passing round some misinformation about how I embezzled party money and so on. They never had the guts to bring it out but I knew that one particular leader of the party was written by the chairman of the party to insinuate that kingibe he was supporting sort of had his has hands in the pie.
As chairman of the party, you said you ran the affairs of the party based on consultations..
That is true despite whatever anybody may say to you in Lagos or anywhere.
But a lot of people still feel that as chairman of the party you favoured factionization of the party based on your presidential ambition?
I think it is a bit late in the day for me to answer that kind of question for the 20th time. The truth of it is that it is natural that in the event that the government had no will or capacity to enforce its ban order on those politicians that they thought should not participate and in fact they were, the only way they could go about trying to enforce their will, is to be parallel leadership of the party. In fact they felt that they were the leadership of the party and we were just usurpers. They took things to a ridiculous extent like arranging for governors and other leaders to emerge on their terms and to the extent that they didn’t have their way, they had to find a scape goat. I have seen notes written to the Daily Times and other media and so on saying write these things about Kingibe and so on. It was the section of aggrieved people using the media.
But the belief people have is that in fact, somebody like General Shehu Yar Adua came up to stand against 12 June and when he supported the ING which later reflected his own nominees, it was a way if trying to pay you back in your own coin since you undermined his political ambition in the 1992 primaries. And that his outrage was not necessarily against Chief Abiola, but you. And that perhaps, that informs your own participation in the Abacha regime as a way of getting even with him. Are all these scenarios real?
It is my honest observation that we are having a futile interview. In the first place, we are retroactive, looking back on rather an unsatisfactory chapter in our political experiment. We want to bury that. We want to move on. We want to heal the wounds and now play the game according to the rules. Two, I never like being personal with interviews but many derogative things have been said about me to ruin my career. I have been told that I wrote a report to President Babangida to recommend the nullification of the presidential election results. This is a report nobody has so far seen. It is just that they say there is a report. Any political foe in possession of such a powerful document would have really brought it out and say this is it, here we are.
It wasn’t just a report, what you were said to have written is a confidential report
There is no such thing as confidential report in politics. So far they saw it, it was no longer confidential, that was why they said it existed. And if they saw it, I should have it. There is no such thing as confidential report in Nigeria, as you know.
There is no need in being personal. If indeed what you said is true, then it is a very, very vicious and acutely dangerous forum of revenge taking. But wait, did I have to write a letter to Babangida to stop Abiola? Wasn’t Abiola his creation as a candidate? So why throw away the baby with the bath water? I don’t think that life is like that. I have a relationship with General Yar Adua you know, a personal one. We are first and foremost friends before we became political associates and our friendship goes beyond myself and himself. I do not think the fragility of friendship is such as to really impede one to such an extent as for me to write a report for his disqualification or for him to work to nullify the election of 12 June so that Baba will not become a vice president. I don’t think it has become that bad.
So what is the basis of your disagreement with Yar Adua?
It is normal that disagreements should occur. Disagreements do occur in relationship of any kind. If I can have disagreement with my wife or with my son, why cant I have disagreement with my friend? Especially over politics or political issues.
Could the genesis of your disagreement with Chief Abiola be traced to the allegation that you gave Babangida a video recording of how Abiola distributed money during the Jos primaries and handed it over to Babangida, of course Abiola got angry when he was told?
I am tired of all these stories. This is the fabrication of the secretary of the party, Sule Lamido, who went to Sokoto and to Bauchi in an effort to sort of tarnish me personally and to erode the ground support that existed for me and for the ticket. As I have said, any political opponents or anybody who designates himself as an implacable foe for life, if he has such an information, evidence, he would have brought it out. I can tell you I have all sorts of dossiers. Even right now, all sorts of people are writing all sorts of things and circulating them all over the place amongst the gullible people in the barracks, in the streets and so on about this government, about individuals, this and that. This unfortunately has become part of the tools that people who have no other arguments use. My only point is that if such evidence exists, let them bring it out, then we can talk.
Don’t you think there is something wrong about your style of politics that has made it attract so much bile and antagonisms both when you were chairman and Abiola’s vice running mate?
Let me ask you, I have never been in politics before in my life, the first time I ever joined politics was then in the association days. Oh yes, haven’t I been successful as a politician?
Success is relative, is it true?
No as a politician, even in personal terms?
Well, you should be fulfilled. Aren’t you?
No, no, no success is an objective thing. In politics when we say somebody is successful, he has attained offices, attained objectives, appointments, whatever it is in politics, so what is wrong. There must be something right with my style.
But is there something wrong with it?
I am a human being. I cannot be always right. But I am a politician and I ran for office, never mind whoever claims to have put me there. I believe that God deems it so and I believe I have worked for it and people have helped me to get it. I sought the chairmanship of the party, I got it, I sought the presidential ticket and out of how many people through the Option A4 in both parties, I emerged the Vice President elect, in political terms whatever I did to get there I would not consider it wrong.
The Social Democratic canvass is in some kind of tatters, what are the lessons to gain from the experience of this third attempt at democracy. What are the vital lessons?
The basic lessons is for all Nigerians to make up their minds as to really what they want. And if they decide to do whatever they want to do, they should do so on the basis of mutual respect and with abundant disposition.
There has been so much debate on whether the Constitutional Conference will hold or not. Is it not quite ironic that someone like you, a social democrat, agreed to serve under a regime that is not keenly committed to a return to democracy?
A lot of people have preconceived ideas that unless you get your way then either the thing has failed or it must be wrecked. We are now approaching the Constitutional Conference. It will hold by the grace of God. And in that Constitutional Conference, there would be people from all parts of the country and all segments of the society. I do hope by now many of us have learnt from the failures of the second republic and our recent attempt.
So much has been said about the unseriousness of the political class which led to the collapse of our last democratic experiment. But why have members of the Nigerian political class been so opportunistic and narrow minded all these years?
Every failure of a democratic attempt is a failure of the political class be it first, second or even third republic. It is easy to say it is the military that ruined it but it was because the political class was notable to have created conditions and atmosphere under which the military could strike or when the military strikes at any time they are not able to resist it. But the irony of it all is that the political class which everybody is pillorying is all we want. The political class is the only class that can engage in politics. So we better preserve it. We just have to live with the political class which includes me.
The government has spent six months in office, why has it not been able to put together a political programme?
All these doubts you people express about this government is a doubt imposed by either impatient politicians or the gullible press or mischievous elements because the head of state was very clear when he said there would be a return to democratic rule in the shortest possible time. That this process will include convening a Constitutional Conference and towards this end, a Constitutional Conference Commission has been empanelled. And everybody knows that they have submitted their interim report and everybody knows that the Minister of Information who does not invent statements made a statement that the Constitutional Conference will hold latest 27th of June. I do not know how the critics know it would not hold. So you jump from the position it would not hold to now looking for alternative ways of bringing about whatever you want to bring about instead of saying you said it would hold, we would hold you on it, we could work towards it and we would hold it. I am inside. I am a member of the PRC, I am a Minister in this government. I come from a polticial background. I am a non partisan person for now but I am a politician all the same and therefore I have great regard for my reputation, there would be a Constitutional Conference. It will hold. Insha Allah.
Babangida was used to saying Insha Allah almost every time he made promises and he broke them at will. Why should Nigerians take you seriously when you say Insha Allah?
I know. But mine is different. I also would like to believe that I am a man of faith. I don’t say Insha Allah in vain. I will be the last person to be sitting where I am if I believe that there would be no Constitutional Conference.
But what explains the conflicting statements by government officials over the date?
People have to make up their minds while there is some virtue in government having made a decision to stick with it, it shouldn’t do so to a point that when objective circumstances and new information and your efforts to implement what you said you will do, throw up impediments of a kind that makes it imperative to review, no responsible government should hesitate to review its position. The day that I will be worried and the day that anybody should be worried is when government says there would be no Constitutional Conference.
But David Mark took on your regime on this issue and cast doubts in the seriousness of the Abacha regime to hand over soon?
David Mark you said? Are you talking about what was attributed to Newswatch to David Mark.
Are you doubting the Newswatch interview?
No. no. no. It is a statement of fact. Newswatch attributed an interview to David Mark
Can we say the same of the interview we are having with you now?
It is on tape. You can play it back to anybody. Yes. That is what I mean to that extent what you have in the tape are my views, not that you are ascribing them to me.
We just thought we should also raise the issues he talked about because government is going to launch a War Against Corruption. Are there major surprises that government is building into this campaign?
I thought the major surprise is that for once in the life of this country, a government that has been attacked all round the press by its opponents of all persuasions internal and external as being corrupt and incapable of waging war against corruption is now launching a programme, a crusade against corruption, that should be the major surprise and I hope it is a pleasant one.
There are those who feel government’s handling of the David Mark’s interview was not neat?
That is not true. Government issued a statement and addressed the issues.
But government did not respond adequately to all the issues raised
Unlike David Mark, government has responsibility to the nation to maintaining institutional integrity. So government cannot come out and engage everybody who is aggrieved and who makes wild allegations. I thought that anybody who reads that interview will see within it the source of that inspiration and the statements by their very contradictions. What surprises me is the way the press has left that interview to portray it as the defender of democracy and as a crusader for rectitude. For example take one issue, do you feel that government should probe the activities of ministries and public functionaries? I think the general public view is that one of the ways of fighting corruption is to do that.
Government has set up a number of panels to do just that. But Mark in an interview said probes are a waste of time. An he has praised for it. That is an example. I gathered from the interview that he wasn’t opposed to a military take over of the government, it is the detail of how to take over and what to do when you take over. That is super high point of sophistry. And the whole interview was riddled with that kind of sophistry. And intelligent and unprejudiced mind would have sat back and reflected. After all David Mark is not an anonymous soldier. He has been in public life for a long, long time. He had played a little administrative role in his first emergence into public life as chairman of the Abandoned Property Task Force in Rivers state.
From then on, anybody who cared to would have followed David Mark’s career. Common we know what he did, it is only in Nigeria that when yesterday goes, it goes with all to lessons and with all its history and truth and you somehow reinvest yesterday of your own imagination.
Why has Nigeria’s claim in Bakassi raised so much doubts?
Doubts in whose mind?
Why should any territory of Nigeria even be in contention?
Either with our neighbor or anybody?
Cameroon has an ambition to claim Bakassi
If it is a Nigerian territory why should they do that?
Well they have come up with all sorts of arguments about some treaties between Germans and British in 1913 almost the Maroua declaration, about this and that. All of which have no standing in law. The matter right now is in the International court of justice which will pronounce eventually on the integrity of either side’s claim.
I think Nigeria’s primary interest should be one, that Bakasssi we know is ours, government has said so. And so our duty is to defend that territory and to vigorously proclaim our sovereignty.
How do you explain Gowon’s role in all these?
There should be no doubts about that. Gowon ceded the place. Maroua Declarations was negotiated and signed between Ahidjo and Gowon. It was a proposal of a treaty which according to our laws will come into effect as soon as the treaty is ratified by the legislative arm of government. A head of state doesn’t bring to force a treaty. The Supreme Military Council was the legislative body according to the unsuspended portion of the Constitution. They didn’t ratify it, they refused. Murtala Muhammed upon coming to power immediately repudiated it. Obasanjo did the same thing. So that is a dead treaty. All these superficial arguments which Cameroun has been dangling do not help. What they don’t recognize is that International law has developed beyond colonial treaties. We know other aspects like the law of the sea which has come and dramatically altered the nature and understanding is boundaries.
Why have previous governments not been assertive over our claim on Bakassi?
Circumstances of the time matters, judgment of the leadership of the time of the government of the time. Every government takes responsibility for its actions. We cannot allow our territory to be annexed since we have no design or anybody elses’s territory, to be grabbed by others. If there is a dispute, let us discuss it in accordance with the provision of the UN and that of OAU which says disputes are to be resolved through dialogue, arbitration and adjudication.
How do you explain the late Justice Elias letter on Bakassi. That we have no claim to Bakassi?
The whole of that letter was written on the basis of an understanding of the 1913 agreement which was just a document on paper with no research ever done into his papers because the occasion never arose. Everybody was acting on good faith. Since then a lot of research has been done and I will like to believe that even if Justice Elias were alive today he couldn’t hold the same opinion in the light of recent events.
Have similar boundary problems being tackled by this government?
As far as I know we have no boundary dispute with Niger or Chad. But it is unfortunate that Cameroun from time to time decide to lay claim on fortunes of Nigeria like Bakassi. Only last week they now claim Drak in Borno state as being Cameroun. I don’t know what they will claim next, maybe the Mambila Plateau. I don’t know why Cameroun delights in looking for Liebelsraum, it is a German word meaning living space which is what propelled Hitler to go on taking on land here and there.
Are our borders fully demarcated?
No. that is part of the problems. What we should be doing is getting down to doing demarcation exercises.
The biggest issue now is the South African election. Is Nigeria not a bit nervous that South African independence will erode our traditional allies and leadership profile in Africa.
No, On the contrary, we are happy for the prospects of a democratic and prosperous non racial South Africa. Whereby the majority rule based on universal trust will strengthen Nigeria’s position. It will create another island of prosperity and capacity to contribute towards the general alleviation of poverty and backwardness that afflicts most of African countries.
Does it not worry you that South Africa is achieving what the giant of Africa could not achieve on 12 June?
It is not worrying. We achieved what they are achieving now in 1960, as it is not a question of South Africa beating Nigeria to it. Was our independence not achieved on the basis of democratic elections.
Currently, what steps is your ministry taking to respond effectively to the changes in that part of Africa?
We have only two aspects which are not quite normal in our relationship. We do not have formal diplomatic relations with South Africa, we only have interests office in South Africa and we have not lifted the oil embargo. All those two will go on the completion of the democratic election. We will have a diplomatic presence in South Africa and as already decided to the United Nations the oil embargo will go.
Do you think there would be major shift in the content of our relationship following this election?
Oh yes. There would be major shifts in our relationship with South Africa. There will be intense efforts and I hope fruitful ones at cooperation at all levels, government to government, institution to institution, people to people across racial bias.
Nigeria has not enjoyed a very healthy relationship with United States of America for sometime. First, there were sanctions slammed on us on account of its annulment of election and of course recently Nigeria was decertified over the drug issue. What is Nigerian government doing to clean up all these mess and overcome these hiccups?
I am glad you called a hiccups. As all other hiccups they will pass. This one indeed will also pass. It is normal in the relationship between two states, there is nothing abnormal about it. At the bottom of the hiccups is the perception by the American administration that it is about time Nigeria moves towards democracy. And of course one thing flows from the other. Let us not make any mistake about it, the decertification of Nigeria is an indictment of the government from January 1993 to December 1993. Really it was as a result of the failure of the Babangida regime to stem the high incidence of Nigeria’s involvement in the drug trade, made worse by the ING’s handling of the issue.
The whole report leading to the decertification of Nigeria or non certification of Nigeria is in terms of today’s reality unfounded and unjustified. We have made more efforts since 17 November to date that has ever been made in the country to combat drugs. They have so acknowledged that their embassy have had said so. The state department has said so and has advised Nigeria should not be banned.
Aside from its failure in battling drugs, how do you assess eight years of Babangida in a wholistic sense now. Whom did the eight years of Babangida take us to?
It took us to where we are today. If you are happy with where we are today then it is a reflection of the regime. If you are not it is also a reflection of the regime.
You had a shot at the presidency of this country, you were an inch becoming the president of this country, you also succeeded in nearly becoming the vice president if not for the annulment. Now that you are in government as a stop gap, what is next? Where do you go from here?
I don’t know because there is a sense of immediacy about that. In general terms I believe I have had the relevant experience and exposure just like several other experienced politicians who are entitled to be in government like me and serve the country. But I will not hesitate to make my contribution like I am doing now to better the lives of our fellow citizens in improving our country. But as you know this decision to offer ourselves for service or in answering to the call of your people is basically a function of the opportunity and circumstance available. I cannot tell you yes I will contest again when I leave here or no I would not. As of now, I am trying my best as I can to people with the foreign policy issues affecting this country. I do not do this with an eye to the future. I do this with deep concentration on today’s reality.
As a member of the Provisional Ruling Council and the council of ministers, you are perhaps in the best position to do a close up of General Abacha. Whats working with Abacha like?
You cannot appreciate General Sani Abacha unless you come close. I have enjoyed immensely working with him. He is a man of great competence, knowledge and experience.
Yes, he has to be for him to be where he is. I remember at the beginning some people gave us three months, a friend of mine even asked me to put it into my diary that by the end of March that General Abacha would be gone and that the country will collapse in two months. But today he is still there. He is in charge. He is in control of the country. There are testimonies to his skills, he has his own ideas which he holds firmly but he is flexible to surrender these ideas to superior arguments. He is a sincere person. He is a committed person Abacha is quite aware of his historical role and that point is sharpened by his military training. He is a hardworking person. What even worries me even on his own behalf is the enormous hours he puts into the day, he works all the time all night all day. Somehow he makes those of us who work with him to look so inadequate and feel guilty. If ever we felt tired. He doesn’t feel tired. I like him to Henry the 5th in Shakespeare. If you don’t know about Henry the 5th go and read about him