Sunday, February 17, 2008
'We Are Now In Aremu Of Ota's Third Term Through Yar'Adua, His Puppet'
Interview By Akpo Esajere, Group Political Editor
CONGRATULATIONS, sir, on your turning 70 years. That is the biblical three score and 10. How does it feel getting there?
Well, I feel fine and I thank God for that. And I want to use this occasion to thank all the Nigerians and foreigners that turned up in very large numbers at the three events that marked my birthday. I am deeply humbled and most grateful for that event turning out to be a national one. I think I ought to use this medium also to thank the media, in particular The Guardian, for giving a posthumous coverage to an event that took place when you were not in print. For that, I am very grateful.
The conventional wisdom is that any single day after 70 is a bonus and I accept that completely. So, I look forward to full retirement, namely, going to the next life whenever it comes. I have had a very full, very fulfilled life, professionally, family-wise and in business; I am a very fulfilled man. And for that, I am very grateful.
Your birthday lecture at the NIIA was a massive event. Many prominent Nigerians including the President attended or sent representatives. Most able Generals produced by this country, who are still alive, were there except your good friend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Why?
He was not invited.
I didn't invite him and I don't know what I would have done if he came un-invited. I would probably have called the police to throw him out. Obasanjo is the most toxic leader that Nigeria has produced so far. A country that took him out from jail and made him a president; he abused Nigeria, he deceived Nigeria and he deserves a second term in prison and we will make sure he ends up there.
Do you have proof for what you are alleging, and you are speaking as a Christian...
I can prove it. Where is the so-called Abacha loot? The PTDF (Petrol Technology Development Fund) - Obasanjo was helping himself from it but he was reckless to accuse Atiku (Abubakar, Vice President under Obasanjo) of doing so. In the end, he entangled himself and became the accused. The records are there and if independent auditors audit the PTDF accounts, they would find that, that so-called exoneration that took place in the Senate is false. The NNPC and the oil industry - the amount of money the country lost as a result of Obasanjo's excesses and also the importation of petroleum products; the failure and the inability of government to maintain and repair our refineries, which gave rise to continuous importation of finished products. The amount of losses, which Nigeria incurred and sustained in the eight years of Obasanjo government - all of them, most probably, deliberately created.
If we took an audit of the NNPC, we would find that Obasanjo qualifies for a second term in Yola or Maiduguri prison because the mosquitoes are bigger. The man is shameless. He has moved from Abuja to Ota as a result of his tenure, but he had installed himself as a puppeteer from where he still wields power.
When Third Term (campaign for elongation of Obasanjo's tenure) died, Nigerians jubilated. People danced in the streets and everybody was happy, throughout the six zones of Nigeria, including, in fact, I should bring especially his own Southwest. Everybody was happy. We thought we had killed third term. But what is the result today? Right now, we are in Third Term with Obasanjo in Ota. (Alhaji Umar) Yar'Adua, a harmless but spineless president in Abuja is counselled by the Aremu of Ota. So, the jubilation that marked the failure of Third Term has now been misplaced.
The man that he installed - and he made a good choice - is a puppet. Obasanjo got a puppet that he wanted to his tune. Last week, the papers reported Yar'Adua calling Aremu of Ota his leader. We should all hold our heads in shame.
Obasanjo served as president for eight years. He, in his wisdom, decided that it is now the turn of the North. But what is on the ground now is that the man who did so much harm to the economy, to democracy, who, during his time, was an absolute ruler of the country in a democracy, is still in charge. He kept to himself absolute power to run the country. Obasanjo subordinated the political party to himself throughout his tenure when he was the executive. Now that he has moved to Ota, he is subordinating the executive, the puppet that he installed in Abuja to the party with him as the chairman of the Board of Trustees, which office he has manipulated to make himself a life president.
So, we have a gerontocratic chairman of Board of Trustees in the pixy of Robert Mugabes of this world. That is the class that Obasanjo belongs to: people who refuse to leave office, who have so soiled the seat on which they sat while holding political office that they are afraid to leave the seat. The tragedy of the Nigerian situation is that the political elite tolerates Obasanjo.
You were in 1999 quoted as saying you would go on exile if Obasanjo were not elected president. What has happened; does it mean you didn't know him?
Obasanjo and I come from a very long way. Not many people know about this. I judge people by their antecedents. It is a weakness but it is also my strong point. If I see a man introducing himself, I'd say, "who are you; what have you done in life?" I listen to you and keep my eyes wide open and watch you and I'll judge you by how you perform, but also what you have done in the past.
The first time that Obasanjo, as an individual, drew my attention to himself and impressed me tremendously was during the Civil War. You know by about October/November 1969, towards the end of the Civil War, the 3rd Marine Commando, which before then was commanded by the "Black Scorpion" (Benjamin) Adekunle, had almost died. The only force facing the Biafran Army was our division - the first division of the Nigerian Army.
Obasanjo was posted around that time to take over command of 3rd Marine Commando. We all thought the command was almost dead - they had troops but the command had not been effective. Our 1st Division had borne the brunt of the war because we fought all the way from the North up to the South of Umuahia in the Igbo territory. It is like World War II. The Russian (Eastern) front was the most deadly front. The Northern front from where the 1st Division came through was the hottest. Shua had been the commander.
Just before Obasanjo came to replace Adekunle, Shua also moved out of the 1st Division and was replaced by Bisalla. I will not use rank because they were not Generals at that time. One day, about a week or so to Christmas time (1969), Obasanjo turned up in the headquarters of the 1st Division (Enugu) very early in the morning. I was settled in my office; the GOC (Bisalla) had not come yet.
He (Obasanjo) appeared from nowhere very early in the morning and came into my office. He said, well, actually he wanted to talk something with my GOC but that he wanted to talk with me first. He had a map with him. He told me that his troops had been prodding the defences of the Biafran forces; that we were facing them and they had covered two gaps and that he planned to exploit those gaps and link up with us, so that he could divide what was left of the Biafran territory into pieces.
He showed me where those gaps were. He said he had come to ask for a coordinated action. He would start and we should make a move also from our front so that we could divide the enemy forces and very quickly finish them. I asked one or two questions. I was very pleased. I told him that this might be first time ever since the Civil War started when the Divisions coordinate their activities and that I was sure it would work. He was very pleased and said, well, he hoped I would help to persuade my GOC. I said I would do my best.
Not long after, my GOC, Bisalla, came and Obasanjo moved to his office. I don't know what took lace. But soon after Obasanjo came out. He didn't succeed. Bisalla told him that we had our own plan; we had our date and we would stick to our date. I told him that I was sorry, I wasn't able to persuade my GOC but that the plan was good, that it would work. Obasanjo left and we sat waiting for our D-Day - 15th January 1970 - to move southwards.
Christmas period and Obasanjo did what he said - they linked up with our troops. It was when they approached that they told our troops that they were the people. This was at the Umuahia front, and somewhere at Owerri. So, we sat on our backs where Obasanjo walked through the field, and took all the glory, thanks to my GOC who, because of professional rivalry, wouldn't allow us to join in finishing the war. That is how it came about that Obasanjo, who came in at the tail end of the war, took all the glory. You see, in life, you need a lot of luck, and Obasanjo has been a very lucky man - professionally. So, I knew him as a good soldier.
How I Imposed Obasanjo On The Supreme Military Council
'Buhari Was Too Stiff, Too Inflexible To Be Chief Of Staff'
WHEN was the second time that Obasanjo drew your attention to himself?
The second time that I watched Obasanjo at close quarters was when Gowon was overthrown and the boys who did the coup handed over power to Murtala Mohammed, Obasanjo and I. The boys who handed power to us told us that they wanted power to be exercised jointly. They named Murtala Head of State, Obasanjo as the Chief of Staff (Supreme Headquarters) and me as Chief of Army Staff.
At first, Murtala rejected it. He said it was not possible for three people to exercise power jointly and that they did not trust him, otherwise, they would have just named him as Head of State, Obasanjo as Chief of Staff and me as Chief of Army Staff and we would run our various places. They (coup makers) said no, that they didn't want another Gowon, who, towards the end of his rule, wasn't listening to anybody and that they wanted power to be shared by three people. In fact, one of the three boys said, "we don't want an Idi Amin."
So, Murtala, at first, said he was not going to accept. Their spokesman said, "if you don't accept, we'll name Obasanjo as Head of State, but in the announcement, we'll say we first offered it to you and you turned it down!" Murtala said, "ah, that is blackmail!" He said, "no, it is no blackmail; it's the truth!"
That was when Murtala accepted. In fairness to him, in the six months that he ruled before he was killed by Dimka, Murtala took me on board of almost all the decisions - far-reaching decisions that government was taking, even though I was in faraway Marina. I say faraway because the Ministry of Defence was on Marina and they were in Dodan Barracks. In those days, moving between Marina and Dodan Barracks was one hour's journey. In fact, that is what accounted for Murtala's death - traffic was so bad. In spite of that, Murtala made sure that every single time an important decision was to be taken, he would ask me to stop over in Dodan Barracks, we'd discuss the issue before I'd leave for Marina.
In those six months, Obasanjo, as Chief of Staff, was a first class Chief of Staff to the Head of State. As I said, we met very frequently, usually in the evening after close of work, and at every meeting, Obasanjo would have a pad in hand with a pen. As we were talking, he would take down the minutes of the conclusions of the meetings and, unfailingly, the following morning when I got to the Ministry of Defence and sat at my desk, I would find on top of my in-tray the minutes of the previous day's meeting already written out, noting who's to do what on each item. He impressed me a lot as a Chief of Staff. I thought Murtala was very lucky to have a staff officer who was that efficient. That was Obasanjo.
Then, Murtala was killed. I think it is public knowledge that Obasanjo fled on the day Murtala Muhammed was killed. He remained in hiding until the coup was aborted and he reached out, first, to M.D Yusuf who then called him and he came out of hiding, and joined us in Dodan Barracks. We discussed the funeral of Muhammed and made arrangement as to who would accompany his remains to Kano, so on and so forth.
At the end of the meeting, Obasanjo asked M.D Yusuf and I to stay with him in the chambers (Dodan Barracks). After everybody had left Obasanjo told M.D Yusuf and I that what had happened had destroyed his faith in the loyalty of the Nigerian Army. That he had decided that after the funeral, he would retire, leave the Army and go home. But before that he would name me as the successor to Murtala. I told him that, that amounted to desertion and that he could not run away. He was number 2, number 1 had been killed in battle, he as number 2 would take over.
He said no, no, no; that he didn't think he should stay; that he wanted to go. We argued that. In the end, Yusuf said, "look, let's all sleep over this matter; tomorrow we will decide." I said, "look, there's no question of sleeping over it; the point now is we should be looking for who is going to take Obasanjo's seat as number 2 because there is no way we are going to allow him to chicken out and leave at this time; we must all stay and face the future together." So, we left and I went home. By this time, we had called all the members of the Supreme Military Council to Lagos.
The following day, he (Obasanjo) started to talk in the same vein and I cut in. I said that Obasanjo could not leave; he had to say and be the Head of State and we should be looking for the number 2 man. I had over night considered the consequences of what had happened and came to the conclusion that if we were not careful; we would end up with a religious conflict on our hands. Already, that evening - the evening that it became public knowledge that Murtala had been killed - Dimka had made a broadcast in which he said, "good tidings" among other things. He had imposed a curfew - from dawn to dusk (laugh) and said all sorts of things using the expression, "good tiding."
Abubakar Gumi in the North said that the coup that killed Murtala was a Christian coup because of the utterances of the coup leader, who said, "good tidings" because it is an expression of Christians. Already, there was tension in the North. The governor of Kaduna State, an airforce officer, Usman, had to contain him: that it had nothing to do with Christians, that it was a purely military affair.
I knew that if we were not careful, as time went on, we should be consumed by religious strife in the country. I decided that the new Chief of Staff must come from the North preferably, a Hausa/Fulani man. From my knowledge, I had two candidates - (Muhammadu) Buhari, who was really my number one candidate for that post and the late Shehu Yar'Adua. Shehu was not in the country; he was abroad as Minister of Transport. You would remember we had inherited a cement armada in the Lagos and Port Harcourt (ports) and his (Shehu's) first assignment was to decongest the Lagos port and get rid of all the vessels that were clogging Nigerian waters, and attracting huge demurrages from our government. He (Shehu) was abroad attending to that problem when Dimka struck.
So, they were the two candidates. Buhari, at that time, and even today, is one of the most upright Army officers that the Nigerian Army has produced - very clean, a very strict officer. Unfortunately for him, he served under me for a short time in Port Harcourt and I observed that he was a very inflexible person. I reasoned that Buhari any day could be a first class Chief of Army Staff. Why waste him in a political post? Why shorten his career because if he became Chief of Staff, he would have to leave at the end of the tenure. Why waste him there?
Besides, I observed that he was too rigid, he was too inflexible to hold a political post. If you are in politics, you must be flexible; you must compromise from time to time. In politics, they call it pragmatism. But in the military, if you are pragmatic, it is regarded as a weakness. I said no, not Buhari. Shehu, I didn't know him well except that I knew that, of all the officers of his rank, he was the most politicised. So, sending a politicised Army Officer to a political post, I thought, was a good thing. That was how I named Shehu the next Chief of Staff.
When we came to the Supreme Military Council and Obasanjo started singing the same tune that he had sung to me and M.D Yusuf the previous night, I said no, that was not the issue; he was the most senior person and he had to stay there. He had to stay in office. He made some feeble resistance but I think he had slept over our discussion and concluded that if we insisted, he would stay.
There were a few voices of dissent. The first came from the Chief of Air Staff, Isa Doko, who said that the problem we were facing was an Army problem and that the Army boys had confidence in me. That we had just crushed an attempted coup, and we should not put somebody there that the Army didn't have confidence in. A few other officers supported him but I overruled them. And so, I imposed Obasanjo on my colleagues in the Supreme Military Council.
Why did you overrule?
The Army functions on hierarchy. The moment you start disturbing the hierarchy, you run into all sorts of troubles. They all knew it. They couldn't fault the basis of my decision. That is Obasanjo.
'Why Ekwueme Is Not Worthy Of Nigeria's Presidency'
LE'TS go back to the question of when you made the statement about going on exile if Ekwueme became president...
Obasanjo had just defeated (Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu) Ekwueme at the Jos convention (of the PDP). He had become the PDP presidential candidate. The two front-runners in the PDP were Obasanjo and Ekwueme.
As I told you, I judge people by their antecedents. I had an experience of Ekwueme. After I retired from the Army in 1979, I was named as one of the members of the Governing Board of NIPSS (National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies) in Kuru. Chief (Simeon) Adebo was our chairman. I was very grateful for the opportunity given me to serve under that old man. I learnt a lot from him.
When we went to Kuru, as the governing board, we found that almost all the houses - the round huts that were built to accommodate the participants - leaked like a sieve. The thatched roofs looked nice but leaked badly. As you know, almost every roof in Nigeria leaks because we can't get our roofing right. And so, the students were unhappy. They complained to us. The Director-General was very concerned and he told us that we had to do something about those buildings.
We had to decide what to do: whether to repair the roofs or to build new ones. If we were building new ones, should they be round again or square? We debated all that. Eventually, we got a consultant who worked out a plan for us. We did the design, got quantity surveyors to value what we designed and showed the total sum required to reconstruct. We had to look for money.
Chief Adebo asked me to accompany him to Dodan Barracks, to see the Vice President. Even today, the Vice President of Nigeria is the officer who supervises the activities of NIPSS. We went, and who was the Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, an architect. So, Chief Adebo and I carried our plans into Ekwueme's office and settled down in his conference room and he came and joined us.
Chief Adebo, a meticulous old man, had arranged his argument properly and he made a presentation to the Vice President. He gave reasons we must award the contract now because very soon the rainy season would come and we didn't want the students in the same conditions as in the previous year. Building by building, he explained to the Vice President the cost - what we needed.
Ekwueme had a look - the plan and so on - and asked specifically, "what is the cost of each building?" He was told. He said, "we, here, have our own housing scheme and the cost of each unit is X and I will not support any demand from you for funds to build houses that will cost twice of any one of us."
Adebo again, very patiently, went through the argument of how this had been done by very professional people and costed professionally and so on and so forth and this was what they said it would cost us. Anyway, we were dismissed - that our estimates were too high.
Chief Adebo stood up to pack his papers. I said, "are we leaving?" He said, "yes." "You said our building will cost too much, is it boys quarters we are building? The reason I am asking you is that I have just awarded the contract for the boys quarters for my house in Kaduna and it cost more than the money we are asking you for us to build accommodation for students." Ekwueme had no time and he stood up, meaning we were wasting time.
We packed our things and left. Now, what was the result? The buildings that Ekwueme described to us ended up being called Shagari Houses. We in the Army got some of them. If you go into any of those buildings, once you put a bed in any of the rooms, the room (space) is finished (taken up). You can't even go in there and find space to sit. An architect! An architect, Vice President of Nigeria designed those houses; I believe supervised or approved those houses? Of course, those houses throughout Nigeria were un-occupyable.
When it turned out that this man (Ekwueme) was a front-runner, and was threatening to be the next Nigerian president, I said no, I would leave Nigeria if Ekwueme became the president. Because, even in his own profession - his own professional knowledge and applying it to his job as Vice President - he didn't do it effectively. How was he going to govern the country? I had that in mind when I made that statement. Thank God it was not Ekwueme.
'Yar'Adua Must Break Away From The Ota Stranglehold'
WHAT have you found out now regarding Obasanjo?
Looking back now, I underrated the degree of management that we, the military, exercised over Obasanjo to make him a successful Head of State, in the three and half years that he ruled after Murtala. This management and control, which are the responsibility of the National Assembly, were not effected, especially during Obasanjo's second term. It was in the second term that Obasanjo derailed. The irony of it is that this man, Obasanjo - Aremu Obasanjo - has split personalities: there is Olusegun Obasanjo of old and Aremu Obasanjo of Ota.
I am talking about Aremu now. Aremu went wild in his second term. The irony of it is that the man introduced EFCC in Nigeria... Corruption had always existed in Nigeria even in the colonial days when I was going to school. In the six years that I spent in the secondary school, every other year when auditors came to audit the account of the Tiv Native Authority - and Tiv NA was one of the largest in the North - unfailingly, those two years, after the audit, they would arrest the treasurer. They would arrest the treasurer because he had been chopping (stealing). In some years, the moment the auditor arrived, the man would flee; he would just run and disappear because of the damage he had done.
Also, in the colonial years, if the British (colonial masters) wanted to destroy any traditional ruler, all they needed to do was to send auditors because the traditional rulers were the tax collectors in the North. They just looked at their books. So, we've always had corruption but it was covert. It was opaque until Obasanjo. Obasanjo has introduced transparency; he (also) introduced transparent corruption. You don't have to search to see his corruption. Take the case of his library. A ruling president, while in office, decided that he was going to raise money from the general public including government parastatals to build his personal library.
How did he go about it?
It was by coercion. He coerced all the governors. He told them how much they were going to donate. So, the library was financed straight from the treasuries, the various state governments; from business houses, again, through coercion and threats - they were told how much to bring. Is there any corruption higher than this? This was done when we had a National Assembly with an oversight function on the executive.
You said we should probe Obasanjo the same way you said at that time that the Third Term should fail. Who are the 'we'?
No, Third Term hasn't failed; we are still in Third Term. Obasanjo is still in charge, sitting in Ota and manipulating a puppet, a spineless puppet in Abuja. The people I pity are the so-called North. Obasanjo served his term for eight years for the Southwest. Obasanjo now is serving Third Term. He is ruling a third term from Ota via Umaru (Yar'Adua in Abuja). And what is the North doing about it? Aremu of Ota is the de-facto ruler of this country, manipulating the government through Umaru.
How are you going to deal with him?
We will expose the dirty details, which I have in my possession. We will make them public, to compel even Umaru to do something. Umaru Yar'Adua is a decent human being but he... is spineless...
In other words, in the military days, you didn't quite know Obasanjo...
No, my Yoruba friends told me they knew him; we didn't know him. I thought I knew him. But I ascribe it to the prison. I think he met the devil in prison. Believe me, I think Obasanjo met the devil in prison. He kept saying, "God told him this, He told him that."
The problem about the people who claim to be listening to God is that Lucifer, the devil, was very close to God. Most of the time, he (Lucifer) speaks to people and people think that they are listening to God... He said if he wanted Third Term, he would have asked God and God would have given it to him. God, does not belong to anyone of us. And He is tired of us Nigerians that He would allow a... man like Obasanjo to manipulate the country.
As I said, Umaru started well by making all the right noises - rule of law, due process, electoral reform, bla, bla, bla and he appears to be on the right track. But if you are on the right track and you are moving but don't move fast, you will be over-run.
In his own case - you Lagos people here - I was in a party soon after Obasanjo left office; I started to converse with my driver and he said, "ah, we are happy!" I said, "why are you happy?" He said, "Baba Iyabo don go, but now, we have Baba go-slow." I said, "Baba go-slow?" He said, "yes." I am sure if I found that driver tomorrow and say, "how now?" he would say, "now, we have Baba stand-still." If you stand still in a road, you'll be run over.
Right now, we are standing still and the handlers of Yar'Adua tell us that it is because of the court case; that after the court case, he'll start performing. I doubt it. Even if Umaru has no case, for as long as Aremu of Ota is allowed to control the party and to manipulate things, so long will the standstill continue. We need to dis-couple Aremu from Umaru. We have to return PDP to its original constitution where we don't have a gerontocratic and expired former Head of State to sit at the centre of the affairs of the country. And we don't have time.
Don't you think that those saying that Yar'Adua is slow because of petitions against him at the tribunal have a point?
Illegitimacy is still hanging over him and he cannot afford to antagonise anybody until his mandate is established.
I have had two discussions with the president. A very decent man, he listens a lot. He asks questions, he interjects and tells you, "I'll do this." Like me, he doesn't talk much. But Umaru has been president now for eight months and to answer that question, I have to look back and point to things that he has achieved that will give one hope and for that logic to be sustained.
I cannot point to anything tangible. There are so many things he could still do. The issue of power supply is very urgent. As days go by, our generating capacity declines tribunal or no tribunal. He should be seen to be addressing that issue urgently.
Secondly, nobody knows him; absolutely, nobody knows Umaru in Nigeria. He hasn't shown his face to anybody. He didn't do so during the electioneering campaign. It was Aremu of Ota who was doing all the campaign and doing all the dancing for him. Now, he is very likely to lose his office by the way the tribunals are going and he should be preparing the ground for the next election if he is going to be a candidate, by showing himself vividly.
Umaru - nobody knows him, nobody knows what his voice sounds like. Has he made any public statement or broadcast to Nigeria since then? Aremu or no Aremu, Umaru should be doing all that. I don't think that the fear of losing the office is what is keeping him away from the people, who, quote and un-quote, elected him into office. It doesn't give me any confidence that he would do any differently if the tribunal says he actually won the election. I don't think so.
And then, the roads! The roads are all broken up and nothing is being done - tribunal or no tribunal. The money is there. There is no use announcing to us that we have $40 billion stashed away in foreign banks as reserve when we have no roads to move around on.