Former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, speaks in this interview monitored on Channels TV on the state of the nation and developments ahead of the 2019 general elections.
What do you make of the controversy around hate speech?
Why should you not regulate somebody who tells you lets go to war. Obviously, he doesn’t know what he was talking about and he may not have the historical background of the country and he didn’t realise what this country went through. So, it’s like he or she is drawing us back. We should give such a person less prominence. Sometimes, I used to wonder whether the sign of courage is to abuse somebody in public office. It looks like if you are able to do that then you are a courageous man. You don’t give them that opportunity.
Are you happy with the system of party politics that we are currently playing in this country?
Not as we wanted it. You now have 191 political associations and 68 political parties, may God help you. We knew it and that was why we advocated for a two-party system. The whole thing about democracy is to give you a choice and in a two-party system, you have a choice. So, the choice of democracy has been accommodated in a two-party system. We also added then that a time will come like in 20 to 25 years, when others like the Far-Right is coming up in Europe now. It took a long time before the Far Right, Immigration and others are becoming a central issue in European politics. We wanted to see such a thing happen in this country, but we are too much in a hurry.
But essentially, we have two major political parties. If you are not in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), you are in All Progressives Congress (APC). Most of the major political players are either in both…
The media talked about the Third Force. We don’t know if there will be fourth one and the fifth one.
But they said that the PDP and APC are no options?
Okay, fine, that makes sense. If these two are not options, then somebody should be sitting down to think about what to do. Surely not to add more 90 political parties, but a constructive outfit and that is doable because we have a free press, social media, mainstream media and others. You can expose your ideas all over the place and people can say there is a sense in what these guys are talking about, let us give them the third option. I haven’t seen arguments why these two (PDP and APC) are not options, I may have my own opinion, but I think the arguments have not been well articulated.
You have remained in the PDP even when several of your colleagues have moved to different directions over the last almost two decades. Does that say something about you?
I have conviction and I try to keep to that. I think you all know it, we were involved in establishing the PDP and I never like the idea of building something and destroying it later. If you believe that what you are trying to do is just correct, you don’t just abandon ship like that. You can just see to how you can improve it and what to do to change it. For example, they talked about rebranding, refocus, the three Rs; that is how you build an institution, not building it today and breaking down if it fails.
You couldn’t have been pleased with what happened in the run-up to the last election in which your party lost?
I did expect they should because they knew it. You can always tell the general mood of the country. There was frustration and despondency. Maybe, the other party was much more focused on educating the ordinary voter and they are saying ‘look, get us, we have the right people for you’ and if they succeeded in doing that, then that changes the whole equation.
Are you happy that the PDP is now on the resurgence and coming back?
It is like a nation; it has to be able to fall and get up. This is what a political party has to do. If you studied most of these countries, you will find out that there are parties which are disastrous in their country, but they built it up gradually by righting their wrongs. I am happy that those of them in the party are realizing that yes, we made a mistake and we can also do well.
People have talked about the issue of succession. They are arguing that people like you as elder statesmen are to teach the new breeds. Is that happening?
I kept on thinking about the same line you are thinking. As at today, I came up with one conclusion and it may be rubbished as time goes by having come from IBB. They can say he is not serious having annulled an election.
But people take you and your words seriously…
I like criticism and I enjoy it. Now, what I want to see is a young man that has what I will call ‘four-in-one.’ I want to see a young man who has the vision of a man called Obafemi Awolowo; I want to see a young man who has the charisma of a man called the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello; I want to see a young man who has the eloquence and education and prowess of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and I want to see a young man who has convictions like General (Olusegun) Obasanjo, If we have these four in one, I think we will able to do it.
General Obasanjo was your boss and at some point, you were his boss. Now, both of you are elder statesmen. People are wondering what your relationship looks like…
Very, very good, if that will answer your question. The relationship is very good, I respect him, and he has convictions.
What about President Muhammadu Buhari?
He is my colleague; he is a very good friend of mine. I have said it during his campaign that he is a man with conviction.
People have started to pay homage to Minna ahead of the next elections. Are you going to take a position on the elections?
How do you mean? I will vote on the day of the election.
Would you indicate where you think things should go?
If I do that, then it ceases to be a democracy because it is secret and should be known to me alone.
But people come to you?
We talk about general situations and ideas. If you come to me tomorrow and say that you want to be the governor of your state, I will pray for you. Those of us at our age; God listens to our prayers very much.
So, that will partly explain why people are coming to Minna?
Because I am older, and I may have some advice also, I can advise somebody else not to do it, but those are much younger people.
Will you write an autobiography, so that people can learn from your experience?
I don’t know. People may not read it because it is coming from a dictator. A lot will say dictator and that he is the one who cancelled June 12 and that will kill everything that I have to talk about. I hope that one day, God will spare my life, so that I can discuss it because I still believe people don’t get what we were trying to put across. Nobody has ever sat down to say the two personalities are friends, what went wrong. I have never seen anybody write about this to try to give people a different version altogether.
I knew his feelings and he knew my own. We even talked about Nigeria and we even talked about it during the crisis itself. I hate to say that despite all, two of us understood ourselves very well, the level of friendship is so strong that we valued our relationship very much. If you try to educate people, it sounds boring. We try to rationalise why we did what we did, but nobody is prepared to listen to us. So, it is a matter of time. One day, the younger generation will say they have heard one side and want to hear the other side of the story.