It didn’t ever occur to me that I would have the good fortune to be invited to the Minna Mansion to speak with the General himself. If you realize that the General generates daily political discourse more than the subject of AIDS in Nigeria today, you would realize why I consider myself truly fortunate to hear from the horse in ‘person’. Apart from being one of the most talked about in contemptorary Nigerian discourse, the General avers that he has never been known to bring himself from that high horse of his, to be interviewed by those he perceives as his subordinates. He was a former military president who some love to hate mostly on account of the June 12 palaver and on the insinuation that he is the great godfather of corruption in Nigeria. And if he thinks I am one of his subordinates then, why invite me to be his guest in Minna and talk about his future political aspiration? Why not some big editor of some big newspaper? I cannot tell why, but I took the first flight from tickets he provided, from Lagos to Abuja on that Monday morning. On arrival at the airport, a couple of guys who identified themselves as his employees drove me in a very comfortable jeep straight to the Hill. Throughout the three-hour drive to the Hill, I kept wondering why I accepted to do this, to conduct this unstructured interview. And if I was to rely on what I had been told about the General concerning his keeping his appointments, I would say that they were dead on target – It did not take me too long to meet him. At close range, his toothy smile was very charming despite the aura of power that pervaded him and which he exuded. If I had not seen that kind of opulence elsewhere of which his mansion is, surely, I would have been intimidated beyond measure. But a strong curiosity to find out the stuff of which he is made of and why he has chosen to make nonsense of his maradonic reputation at the polls took a stronger hold of me.
Therefore, I suggest that we postpone the gist about that mansion of his for another day. The interview session was a stormy one and the General was his vintage self, as you would see hence. Enjoy.
Bob: Good afternoon, sir!
IBB: Ah Bobby, good afternoon. How was your flight and journey down here?
Bob: I was scared to death mostly because of the spate of air crashes that have killed a lot of prominent Nigerians, and by the fact that I would be meeting you in person. You should know how it should be for the rest of us to meet one known as the evil genius himself.
IBB: Haba! There really in no need to be afraid of me. I’m not a Frankenstein, certainly not the kind of freak that the Nigerian media has made of me. But I agree with you that it really is very frightening, the spate of air mishaps that has taken place in the life of this administration.
Bob: Pardon me sir, but there was equally a spate of air mishaps during your own administration. We still remember that Ejigbo thing and how nearly everyone was sure that you had a hand in that fatal crash.
IBB: Bob, I really didn’t think you would have the guts to come right here to throw accusations at me in my own house like this. And if you were not here at my invitation, I would sue your paper for any and every penny it’s got. However, since you ask, let me make it very clear here that I don’t have any good reason to take the lives of fellow soldiers if it is not a war situation. What happened then was really unfortunate, regrettable and avoidable.
Bob: We have heard a lot concerning your annulment of the June 12 election…
IBB: (cuts in) What did you hear?
Bob: …that there was already a ‘gentleman’s arrangee’ on ground between you and your pals in the army; that Abacha threatened to kill you if you handed over power to MKO your friend and not to him; that you were not interested in leaving in the first place…Should I go on sir?
IBB (glared at me but sighed and said): I have already taken full responsibility for all that happened in that unfortunate incident and whatsoever anybody chooses to say now is inconsequential as far as I’m concerned. But I must say this: I did what I did in the best interest of this country. I believed then as I still do now, that that election was flawed and annul it I did. If I find myself in power once more and that kind of opportunity presents itself, you can be sure that I’ll have to do what is right.
Bob: Even when that thing that you think is right is against the wishes of about a hundred million Nigerians? OK, but tell me something, sir: why did you miss that golden opportunity to appear before the Oputa Panel and tell the world what really happened?
IBB: I felt really slighted, Bobby. I agree with you that I blew my one great opportunity to present my case and wash my dirty babanriga in public via the platform presented by the Panel. But the way it was presented, the so-called protagonists wanted to treat me like some common criminal and I resent that and I take exception. How could they place me, a former military president to be grilled in the dock the way Falana cross-examined Major Hamza Al-Mustafa and Sergeant Rogers? While in office as president, I didn’t do half of what Abacha did; I didn’t achieve the sort of notoriety associated with people like Mobutu, and the animal in Iraq. Why then did they want to humiliate me because of a normal ordinary decision I took as president and which I already took responsibility? What else did they want of me?
Bob: Oh no, sir that’s not all why you should have gone to that panel. One, Nigerians hold you responsible for the culture of corruption pervading the country today…
IBB: (cuts in) Let them say whatever they like. The average Nigerian is corrupt through and through and people are merely looking for a scapegoat to blame their atrocities on…
Bob: …and that you stole a lot of money while you were president, otherwise how come you are this so rich?
IBB: What money did I steal?
Bob: The Gulf War windfall? The $12.5billion which people say you didn’t account for…
IBB: (cuts in again) How many times will I have to say this? That whomsoever has proof that I stole any money should come forth and present evidence instead of casting aspersions on my name. Listen: I was military president. I ruled as a dictator and what you must understand then was that I was accountable to myself and not to any House of Representatives or Senate. When you rule as a dictator, the wealth of a nation is considered spoils of war. Bob, what do you do with spoils of war?
Bob: But times have changed now and people are asking questions…
IBB: The proper place they should go is to court…or to hell for all I care.
Bob: The one question I’ve been dying to ask is this: why come back? Why not sit back and enjoy the ‘spoils of war’ and make Nigeria your playground as a godfather? You seem as if you’re just plain bored with your life in retirement.
IBB: That’s a lot of questions as one question (he laughed). But seriously, why shouldn’t I come back? What is wrong with me coming back? Obasanjo came back and nobody asked too many questions on why he came back. Why is my own case different? Is he more Nigerian than I am? Did he achieve more than I did? Let me tell you this that I left then because it was obvious that Nigerians needed a change and in the true disposition of a military president who was a real democrat, I merely stepped aside to make way for Nigerians to make up their minds about me and all that I achieved. Now tell me Bob: what has been the difference in the lives of Nigerians since I left about sixteen years ago and now? None; absolutely none, apart from the fact that there is freedom of expression mostly via GSM. The average Nigerian life is still worth only ten naira an
d you know as well as I do that ten naira in today’s economy is almost worthless. Nigerians still are the most underdeveloped human beings anywhere on the face of the earth if you consider how well endowed we are. You would agree with me that my eight years as dictator were much more auspicious than the eight years we have all experienced in a democracy christened ‘nascent’.
Bob: Now, considering the avalanche of opposition to your return to power, how do you intend to clinch power in the coming elections?
IBB: What you refer to as an ‘avalanche of opposition’ is actually a vociferous minority made up of pockets of people in the civil society groups who still hold a grudge over that June 12 stalemate. When I’m ready for them, it is either that they will get mopped up or would readily keep quiet when they hear the roar of this lion. But let’s attend to your question, Bob: how do I intend to clinch power once again without the instrumentality of the gun? In this country today, I’m the only one man who has a comprehensive network of people, former military people as well as civilians who traverse the length and breadth of this country from North to South and from East to West. There are people on ground in the thirty-six states of this country that I made millionaires and billionaires then who are ready to sacrifice their children to their shrines just to see me get back to power. I cut across the religious divide: my former subordinates are Christian as well as Moslems. Like the way a commander-in-chief would deploy his troops under GOCs, I have decided to activate my political war machine and fight this battle to the very end. And you know how we are in the military: we are trained, equipped and paid to fight. Look around you and tell me how many Senators who were former military people have indicated their interest in re-contesting their seats. None. And that is because they are all with me in this fight to wrench power back to where it truly belongs. Apart from that too, I have the wherewithal as my backup with which to prosecute this election and if you like tell me that I stole the money. That’s your opinion. You are entitled to it, but it still does not count as far as I’m concerned. What counts is that I’m a Nigerian and I’ve every right to contest to be president as much as you, Bob and others have that right too. Granted that I made a couple of mistakes when I was there at first, but tell me that human being that has never made mistakes ever in his life.
Bob: Do you believe in poetic justice?
IBB: How do you mean?
Bob: Judging from the way the election chairman is carrying on with the registration process there are bound to be flaws, you agree with me?
IBB: Now I get what you are trying to say.
Bob: And that is…
IBB: …that I may win the elections and Obasanjo may annul it as being flawed the way I annulled June 12?
Bob: That’s my point.
IBB: But that will never happen. You forget once again that the man who you think will scuttle my presidential ambitions is in my primary constituency. He fully understands the consequences of such an action against one of his kind.
Bob: You will kill him like you did Maman Vatsa if he does?
IBB: Haba Bob! Why would you think of me always in terms of killing people?
Bob: But you said so yourself, sir that the military mentality is one that is programmed to kill.
IBB: Yes, but mostly in war situations.
Bob: With all due respect sir, an election anywhere in the world employs all of the verbal and non-verbal paraphernalia and arsenal in a war chest. And if you consider the crude form and how our crude politicians practice it here, you cannot blame me if I rush to that conclusion. But thank you General for having me.
IBB: That’s OK.
What you just read only happened in my brain – there was no actual interview with the evil genius himself. The reason I have done this ‘interview’ is to show to us all that IBB is a tough bird (if we have not realized it), hell bent on becoming president – and may just as well become one next year. To those who insist via making all of that noise from the comfort of their armchairs both in print, radio and television that IBB cannot become president, we allow you enter his brain and know the mental capacity of the man they are dealing with. At the end of the day however, we will find out that we just sat there in the armchair, boasting that IBB either cannot, should not, or will not bounce back to power while the chap worked night and day on his maradonic virtues to become president.
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