Sir, on a lighter note, many Nigerians have been saying that you are not from Niger State, that you are from Ogbomosho and that your second name ‘Badamosi’ was coined from the Yoruba name Gbadamosi. This is an opportunity for you to clear the air on your background. Secondly, the US few weeks ago made a pronouncement saying that what the Nigeria military need at present to fight the Boko Haram is not equipment but training. Is this an indictment or advice? As a former military president, and a professional, what is your take about this? What do we actually need?
I must tell you and say I appreciate you. I appreciate your concern. I appreciate the goodwill I enjoy from everyone of you. I have always considered you as part of my family, so for that I am very grateful. I want it to go on record that I appreciate every one of you and your efforts you are making. Once more, thank you very much. On your question, I had to answer the question way back in November 1965 because of my name, Badamosi. I answered the question during my final year in secondary school when I had to answer that question. Now 52 years later, I am glad I am answering the same question. The truth is that I hail from here, Niger state; my parents were from between Wushishi and this town (Minna). My grandparents traveled to settle down here, though I think that says it all. But there is nothing wrong in being from any part of the country. The truth is that I hail from Niger state. My grandparents and great grandparents moved from somewhere to settle down in Niger state. There are some who still called us settlers in Niger state, we are not indigenes of the state because our grandparents came from somewhere to settle here. But I have live all my 74 years in Niger state and I think I am more than qualified to be called an indigene of Niger state. You raised the question of the military training. I think I must admit that a lot of us were trained in America and quite sizable officers of the Nigeria Army were trained in America, so it is not anything new to talk about training because they knew they had trained people. I was trained in America, I was in a place called Portsmouth in Kentucky where I did my senior officers course, so you can see that a lot of us were trained in America. They are right but there is an old saying that says, not the sophisticated weapons we have but the mind behind the weapon. I appreciate what they are trying to do. They have had lots of experience since after the civil war, they have been involved in stability operations and support of countries which have gone into agreement. So, I expect that they should talk about training.
Are you satisfied with the renewed fight against insurgents so far by the federal government?
I think the renewed effort and fight the federal government is doing is commendable.
Before the end of President Jonathan’s administration, the insurgents seem to have been captured, we were almost saying Eureka but suddenly, they staged what can be called a comeback and become fiercer in their attack. Sir, what do you think Jonathan did that President Buhari is not doing or is doing wrong that we now have a fierce comeback? Secondly, your political godson is being dragged into being FIFA President, what word of encouragement do you have for him?
I will vote for him, if he makes a very good outing. Talking about his interest in sports especially football; Enyimba, if you can still recall, he eventually brought them out, he is very interested in soccer and if he is that recognized outside this country, I don’t think there is anything wrong in trying his best to be recognized in the world. That is why I said if I had a vote, I will vote for him. The other question you asked; I think there is a general misunderstanding of the whole concept of insurgency. You can call it anything, instability, terrorism, we are not fighting a regular army where you can confront them with sheer use of force and weapons to overwhelm the enemy. No, we have gotten a small training; the army whose tactics was to inflict maximum casualty on his so-called enemy, inflict casualty on him when and where he least expects it. The army is not fighting a conventional war that makes it exceptionally difficult, they blow out bridges, they go as far as blowing up barracks, this is an unconventional war. I think the soldiers are trained for it and they know this is the sort of thing they do. I think the public should be educated about this unconventional war.
Sir, cast your mind 25 years ago when your friend, Colonel Dimka planned to terminate your life. Today, you are celebrating your 74th birthday. How do you feel despite all attempts to eliminate your life?
I will continue to be grateful to God and it strengthens my believe that no matter what happens, if God doesn’t will it, nothing will happen to me. So it is a matter of believing that no matter what happens, either good or bad, nothing happens without the approval of Allah. I am grateful to God for sparing my life up to this time despite what we went through. Those who participated in combat will say the same. God has kept me and I remain grateful to Him and grateful to you all for your support.
Sir, we cannot have elders in the society and the younger ones will go astray. Today in Nigeria, we are amazed by problems that this administration inherit from the past administration, for example in Niger state, we are grounded both at the national and state level. Sir, as an elder statesman, dont you think it is time we have a forum of elder statesmen that can come out and call a spade a spade?
I think one of the most unique things in Nigeria is that this is the one African country that Is specially blessed. There are about seven of us (former leaders) alive today and everyone of us have had his experience in one way or the other but the other good thing is that there is a forum where we all meet the current leadership, chat with him, talk about the situation in the country, discuss and offer solutions to any problem confronting us. All of us are always free; we are very accessible to government, so we can either put across either in writing or talking.
Sir, is it that your advice is not being heeded for us to find ourselves in this precarious situation?
Which precarious situation? Do you travel with escorts? I think this is the challenge that every government faces and every government will face. It is for the people and government to come together, people must support the government to come up with solutions to address the problem that every government faces.
In your opinion what are the key areas the present government should focus so that the country will move on?
I must commend the present leadership for identifying even before and after the election some of the problems facing this country. Number one, it has to do with security and the president talked about it extensively -the security of lives and property, the security of the state, the security of this environment called Nigeria has been identified. And the second one has to do with the way we live, the way we walk and the way we behave, corruption. The third one has to do with the economic development of the country. We should support the President towards achieving these objectives, establishing security and wiping out corruption.
Talking of corruption, the President is set to recover some stolen monies. What is your take on this move?
During the tenure of my boss, President Obasanjo, he had a similar strategy and to be fair to him, he made a lot of recoveries. So we should support this present federal government in trying to do the same to achieve the same objective. If that objective is pursued vigorously, I believe it will achieve some degree of stolen funds. You talk about oil theft, I am sure President Buhari is resolute to stamp out all those and to bring to book all those who have tampered in stealing our oil.
The federal government has expressed determination to negotiate with the Boko Haram sect. What is your take about this?
The President has got it right. He said he will talk to people who are credible, who have been identified as some of the leaders of the insurgency but so far, apart from one or two names, we do not hear any other name. I don’t think the government will like to talk to a vacuum, to talk to people who are not worth talking to as far as these issues are concerned. So the government is right to being careful to identify and talk.
How do you feel as a leader of a former leading party that you are now in the opposition? Do you think the PDP can come out of the waters in 2019?
I think one of the good things we are experiencing in this country is that for 16 years there has been democracy and democratic practices in the country. A lot of things must have gone wrong somewhere and the right judges are the people and the people have spoken. I think it is natural they needed a change after 16 years and they did what is right, they did not go wild, they did not fight anybody, they used their ballot papers to change the government. I think this is the beauty of what happened, I look forward to such practices in the next 50 years of democratic practice in this country. Don’t forget politics is what is happening now. They (PDP) will try and I hope they learn from their mistakes, what they did wrong, what they did right and what they can do now to re-launch their party.
One of the major challenges your administration faced was the Gideon Okar coup where people thought death has finally gotten you. How did you escape the Okar’s coup?
I can remember very well, I had some loyal officers who are supposed to be my protectors and my body guard. Initially they told me to leave but I told them no, I am not leaving anywhere but they remained stubborn and later I took my family outside Dodan barracks and joined my guards. So we went out of Dodan barracks and we went to a safe house where we got in contact with loyal troops. May God bless Sani Abacha. Sani Abacha was the Chief of Army Staff, he got in touch with me, I got in touch with him and we sat down and talked on what we were going to do. Me and Abacha rallied round the loyal troops and then I left my state house and joined Abacha in his house. That is what happened.
Part of your legacy, the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas yielded dividends for the country recently. How do you feel that it was your regime that formulated this operation?
feel good that at least someone somewhere recognized that we did something towards the development of the country. I feel good. Credit goes to all those that worked during our time, people like Professor David Tam West, Rilwan Lukman, Jibril Aminu, all credit goes to them and to me for taking the decision.
How will you rate the role of the media in the just concluded elections?
I think the media has been fair that is my rating. Very unusual but you are fair. You didn’t show or play partisanship, you saw and said it the way it is. I have seen the media during a lot of other elections but this particular one you were very, very fair. And I hope that will be the trend.
What is your assessment about the performance of the present administration so far?
So far, I am confident that they are doing well, they have identified the problems and they look resolute in confronting these problems head-on and there are a lot of people in the society who are offering a lot of sound advice on what to do.
Sir, it is been said that you were the first person in the world to address UN in a uniform. Is it true?
I was not the first person. I think Obasanjo was the first one because he was the President before me and he addressed the United Nations. I went in plain civilian dress in 1991 or 92 but General Obasanjo was well dressed up in what you call Service Dress, his pictures are there, so I was not the first.
Sir, are you missing your friend MKO Abiola?
Let me see, last week, I dug out a lot of letters he wrote to me and I read it. So that shows that I still miss him.
What is your favourite food?
I eat everything legal that is not against my religion. I don’t eat pork. I eat cereals, carbohydrates. Give me anything I will eat it.
-Ex-Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, luxuriating in the euphoria of his 74th birthday, entertained journalists in Niger State to a chat at his Minna home where he answered questions on varied issues. Iliya Garba was there and captured his thoughts.