Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, took some time off his busy schedule to speak to a PREMIUM TIMES team at his Abeokuta home about some of the issues he wrote about in his book, “My Watch”.
The retired army general – in between joking with his interviewers, and threatening to walk out of the room – spoke at length about the reasons behind some of the key decisions he took while in office, his relationship with some key political figures, and the Halliburton bribery scandal.
Below is excerpt of the first part of the interview.
PT: Thank you sir for granting us this opportunity to talk about your book. Some people say it is selling like hot cake, I don’t know if it is true but that’s what people say. How has it been? What has been the financial reward from there?
Obasanjo: The book was not written for financial reward. If it was written for financial reward, now that…what do you call him… Kashamu had done the stupid things he did, I would have sued him for damages and I would have got damages. But that’s not what the book was written for. The book was written for my experience, my understanding, my knowledge, and what you may call wisdom as a result of all these, to put it for others to be able to learn or acquire knowledge. That’s one. Two, it was also written to set the record right. One of the things that people don’t know, people that I call arm chair presidents is that they don’t know what goes in before decisions are made or what the man making decisions, what leads him to making decisions.
Take for instance the decision on privatising all refineries. I explained that what I met were refineries that were not working, refineries that were given to an amateur for repairs, for maintenance, what they call turn around maintenance to the company of Emeka Offor – Chrome Group. Where has Emeka Offor maintained refineries before? Where has he? That’s what we met. So the refineries were not working. I called Shell. I said ‘come and help us, just run the refinery.’ Shell was frank with me.
It said that ‘we make our money from upstream, downstream is more of a service. Two, your refineries are small. Port Harcourt is 60,000 barrels a day. Refineries now go 300,000 barrels a day. Three, your refineries have not been maintained well. Four, we don’t want to go into the corruption that is entailed in all these’. I said ‘ok, come and help me run it’. They refused. Now when I then saw people who agreed to take 51 percent equity in two of the refineries; they did not promise to pay, they paid 750 million, I was dancing and I said ‘look, this is God sent.’ My successor came (and) they cancelled it and paid them the money back. Those refineries today – you won’t get them because they’ve become scrap.
PT: They recently said that they are working again…
Obasanjo: Who made them work? (laughs)
PT: You mentioned Emeka Offor. There were lots of stories about the refineries you met, how you handled it. But you never recovered anything from Emeka Offor.
Obasanjo: What can you recover? A man who was paid upfront. He had people. He got some police…people were there. And like they have said to you now, look, if it works for a week, that’s all you get. And Emeka Offor, after I left he became friends with every government that has come. Now he’s not only into refinery and oil and all that, he’s now also in energy.
PT: Something came out of your book. You said that before you were elected, that the feeling and perception was that only a northerner could be elected in Nigeria. How did you feel breaking that myth, because you called it a myth in your book?
Obasanjo: It’s a myth. It’s a myth that….well, before my election we have had, since independence, three or four elections. We had election in 1959 that was conducted by the British, NPC won. We were still in the days of parliamentary. We had election in 1964 that was conducted by ourselves. It was a coalition of NPC and NCNC but the head of the government was Tafawa Balewa. We had election again in 1979, Shagari won. We had again in 1983, again Shagari won. And then we had the June 12…
PT: (Cuts in) I was thinking that (1993) was when the myth was broken.
Obasanjo: Election which result has not been declared, you cannot talk of… It doesn’t matter what you may see but until the election result is formally declared, it could be anything.
PT: So you think that period was a very momentous period in Nigeria’s history?
Obasanjo: I think it was good for Nigeria. It was one of the great strides that Nigeria made. Just as I believe that Jonathan winning election in 2011 was also a great stride for us or 2015, now that the incumbent was defeated by the opposition. These are landmarks, or if you like, reference points in our advancement in democracy.
PT: In the Volume 2 of your book, you wrote extensively about the role God used you to play in enthroning Yar’Adua and Jonathan. You also admitted later – extensive analysis – how both leaders performed poorly. There are those who believe that you owe Nigerians an apology for leading them to enthrone non-performing leaders.
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) You are absolutely wrong Now you voted for them. I didn’t just take them and put them there. And they went through a process. Don’t you know that? Do you know or don’t you know that they went through a process? Do you know or don’t you know? Answer (slaps interviewer’s thigh vigorously).
PT: I know.
Obasanjo: Okay. They went through a process. And that is the process that the constitution and the electoral system allow.
PT: In other words, are you saying that all of us are guilty?
Obasanjo: Of course. If you want to put that, everybody who voted for them is guilty.
PT: But you know people believed you. People believed you. When you speak….
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) When I speak, I am not an oracle. And I’m not infallible. But on this particular one I have said to all of you, you can get a job for a man you cannot do it for him. Even your own son if you put him in a job…. There is a good saying that if you want to know how anybody will perform, put him in position of power or put money into his hand.
PT: So maybe the thing to say is that you didn’t do enough due diligence…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) No. You are wrong. There’s no due diligence that you can do to allow a man…. You cannot know the quality of a gift from the wrapping. You don’t know that, you will never go anywhere (slaps interviewer’s thigh). That is absolute wrong.
PT: That point has to be made…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) But I’ve always made it. I keep on making it. In my book, I said look, Gowon sent me to the war front and because of my performance there, my popularity started to rise…
PT: (Cuts in) Because he knew you had the capacity, he checked you very well…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) No no no. Adekunle was there before me. So he didn’t know Adekunle had the capacity? Answer me. In that same Division, Adekunle was there. And if Adekunle had remained there, there’s the possibility that Nigeria could have lost the war. So will you blame him for that?
PT: We won’t. But you know a lot of people believe that between 1999 and 2007 when you left was a time that a lot changed in Nigeria for the better. And people just keep saying that you destroyed everything that you put in place with the successors you enthroned.
Obasanjo: But take Ngozi (Okonjo-Iweala), who worked for me. And who worked competently for me. Because I know Ngozi’s weaknesses, but I know her strong points. Her strong point is technical competence. But Ngozi needs to be led and to be supervised. Now will you comment on Ngozi who worked for me as the same Ngozi who worked for Jonathan? Will you? But it’s the same person.
PT: At what point do you think she derailed if I may use that word?
PT: Is it at the point that you changed her – because you removed her as finance minister. Was it at that point that she began to derail?
Obasanjo: She derailed because….when Jonathan even said he wanted her, I said ‘I hope you can manage her.’ And Ngozi herself sent me a text (and) I told her times have changed.
PT: But why did you change her? She was managing the economy very well for you. Why did you now remove her suddenly?
Obasanjo: I wrote it in that my book.
PT: It didn’t come out clearly enough?
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo at an Ake Arts and Books Festival in Abeokuta on Friday… Photo: Courtesy Victor Ehikhamenor OBASANJO’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: JONATHAN HAS WRITTEN ME, WANTS TO COME TO ABEOKUTA xOlusegun ObasanjoObasanjo:It must have come out. Maybe you haven’t read the book very well. I said I’ve touched reform. I’ve touched almost everywhere except Ministry of Education and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So one day, I was in my office and the Head of Service, Yayale (Ahmed), came in. He said ‘look, you are looking not happy, what is the matter?’ I said I am worried about two ministries and the ministers who can do the work I wanted to be done there in these two ministries are already doing good work where they are. And he said ‘talk let me see.’ I said education and foreign affairs. And he said ‘who are the ministers that you think can do the job.’ I said Oby (Ezekwesili), Ngozi, and El-Rufai. He said ‘what is Oby doing for you now?’ I said Oby is doing Solid Minerals. He said ‘Sir, in all sincerity, I know you don’t like to rank ministries, but will you say Ministry of Solid Minerals is as important as Ministry of Education.’ I said yes I don’t rank ministries, they are all important. He said, ‘Can’t you take any of these three to do education and then get somebody else to do solid minerals?’ So I took Oby there. Now in the Ministry of Finance we had got debt relief, so I could afford to take Ngozi to Foreign Affairs. That’s all. And then she had Nenadi (Usman) who was the minister of state. She’s not a buffoon. And then, which is also part of her weakness, she came to me and said, look, since it’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she will like to take International Finance along with it. I said talk to your sister with whom you are working and I don’t see anything wrong with that provided you work out a relationship. But she didn’t accord Nenadi the recognition and the consideration that was necessary. I then said the ministry of International finance should go back to Finance and that happened. She said she couldn’t act. She put in a letter of resignation. And she had done that before, and before she could come and get people to come and beg, I announced acceptance (of her resignation).
PT: She once resigned before and she took it back?
PT: Which means you were always having disagreements…
Obasanjo: No no no. I know her character.
PT: So why did she resign the first time?
Obasanjo: She just felt if she cannot have her way, with me…. If I am the one in charge, then it has to be what I see as what is the best interest of the nation.
PT: So even when she resigned, if you didn’t announce the acceptance she would have come back. So all efforts to make her come back didn’t work?
Obasanjo: No no no. Because I had announced.
PT: In 1999, IBB supported you to become president…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) I said that.
PT: Yes, you said that. And many even said he helped fund your campaign at the time.
PT: You didn’t say that. You said he supported you. But in your book, you spoke of how in 2011, you chose to support Jonathan…..because you called a South West PDP meeting where Jonathan was endorsed, even when IBB had also indicated interest in running. Why did you prefer to act that way?
Obasanjo: I wrote in my book that this is the opportunity we have for a minority. And I’ve said that. I’ve explained that. I’ve said that times without number. And we have scaled that hurdle. Nobody in Nigeria today can say ‘oh, because I’m a minority I cannot get there.’
PT: So was he not angry with you that ‘look, I backed you in 1999?’
Obasanjo: That’s not…What nonsense is that? Because you backed me I must back you? It doesn’t matter who you are? And I don’t have consideration for Nigeria? It’s consideration that you backed me? No, if that is the way you think then you are short-sighted and myopic and stupid. And put that one. No Nigerian should think that way. You backed me? And if you don’t back me others will back me. So everybody who backed me that time, I must now come and say, look, when you want anything, any office…. I don’t act like that.
PT: It means that you were able to break the jinx of the problem of minority.
Obasanjo: It is necessary that we deal with that.
PT: You said something very shocking in your book – that the presidency instructed EFCC to remove a vital document in Gbenga Daniel’s file in their custody as a way of getting the former governor off their hook.
Obasanjo: No. The president knows about it but it was his chief of staff who gave the instruction.
PT: With the consent of the then president?
Obasanjo: The president knows about it.
PT: Now listen to what you wrote in page 81 of your book. “To fight corruption, the leader needs absolute transparency, no skeleton in the cupboard, clean hands, a clear mind, fear of God, and absolute honesty and integrity, submission to scrupulous investigation. Search and enquiries are also good for a leader who wants to lead by example.” Great message for any leader all over the world! This is prescriptive. Now what do you say to those who keep linking you with corruption during your own tenure, especially the unresolved Halliburton scam for which some of your aides were arrested?
Obasanjo: Look, anybody can make any allegation. Go and read the EFCC report on me. I’m the only leader who has left office who has had, I said they should carry out clinical… did you see that in the book? And if you haven’t seen that in the book then you haven’t read the book. So what else do you want? (Ndudi) Elumelu carried out a report. Did you see the report of the House and the action of the House? What more do you want? So it doesn’t matter the allegation you make, that’s entirely up to you. Halliburton, Bodunde (one of his aides) has been taken to court twice and the court has dismissed the case. What more do you want? The latest was the one Jonathan did. Just before he left, he took Bodunde back to court. He was discharged and the case dismissed the first time. The second time Jonathan took him to court and he was discharged again. So what do you want?
PT: You may not know about it, you may not have a hand in it, but it does appear, especially from reports from US investigators that some officials of your administration perhaps took bribe from Halliburton.
Obasanjo: No no no! I don’t deny that. But not me! I don’t deny their reports about Halliburton but not me. I don’t even know what Halliburton was doing here. So what’s your problem? And EFCC looked into it. You read the report of EFCC bordering on Halliburton.
PT: The only gap is that people are wondering why you didn’t take steps to bring those officials of your regime to book.
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) There’s no gap. You can make any allegation. Now EFCC – you can count number of people who are taken to court. I don’t take anybody to court, Mojeed. And don’t annoy me. Now you have the system that takes them to court. I don’t take anybody to court. Because if I have to be the one to say ‘take this one to court,’ that will be witch- hunting. That’s not my job. My job is – set up the system and if anybody in that system is not performing then look for somebody to perform. So it doesn’t matter what allegation. If you read that report of EFCC, one man was hired, and he went out with all sorts of spurious allegations and EFCC took it one by one. Even Ribadu told me that when he gave that report, because he didn’t give the report to me…I said, look, carry out a critical investigation. I thought that was good. Then when he wrote his report, he gave it to Yar’Adua. And he said Yar’Adua asked him, ‘You can’t find anything at all?’ He brought Metropolitan Police here and he said whenever they are doing investigation in the past, when they get somewhere they will say ‘oh, yes, some people are interested.’ But this is the first time they had free hand to carry out investigation. So what more do you want? And what I put there is what I believe in. Has anybody working under me said to you that ‘oh, he asked me to take bribe?
PT: You may not know about it, you may not have a hand in it, but it does appear, especially from reports from US investigators that some officials of your administration perhaps took bribe from Halliburton.
Obasanjo: No no no. I don’t deny that. But not me. I don’t deny their reports about Halliburton but not me. I don’t even know what Halliburton was doing here. So what’s your problem? And EFCC looked into it, you read the report of EFCC bordering on Halliburton.
PT: The only gap is that people are wondering why you didn’t take steps to bring those officials of your regime to book.
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) There’s no gap. You can make any allegation. Now EFCC you can count number of people who are taken to court. I don’t take anybody to court, Mojeed. And don’t annoy me. Now you have the system that takes them to court. I don’t take anybody to court. Because if I have to be the one to say ‘take this one to court,’ that will be witch hunting. That’s not my job. My job is, set up the system and if anybody in that system is not performing, then look for somebody to perform. So it doesn’t matter what allegation, if you read that report of EFCC, one man was hired, and he went out with all sorts of spurious allegations and EFCC took it one by one.Even Ribadu told me that when he gave that report, because he didn’t give the report to me…I said, look, carry out a critical investigation. I thought that was good. Then when he wrote his report, he gave it to Yar’Adua. And he said Yar’Adua asked him, ‘You can’t find anything at all?’ He brought Metropolitan Police here and he said whenever they are doing investigation in the past, when they get somewhere they will say ‘oh, yes, some people are interested.’ But this is the first time they had free hand to carry out investigation. So what more do you want? And what I put there is what I believe in. Has anybody working under me said to you that ‘oh, he asked me to take bribe’
PT: I don’t know if you saw the reports of the investigation that said Halliburton passed a lot of money to your party, the PDP, during that time….
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) Well, I don’t know about that.
PT: …Including using even bullion van to deliver money to the party through Gaius Obaseki.
Obasanjo: I won’t know about that. I don’t deal with the money in the party. I don’t deal with that.
PT: Sir, let’s talk about your relationship with Tony Anenih, who is known as one of your closest political allies. In fact, he was said to be fixing a lot of things for you. We don’t know what he was fixing and they kept calling him Mr. Fix-it.
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) Fix for whom?
PT: Well, we don’t know. They call him Mr. Fix-it, and you know you seemed to have underlined the perception that he was fixing things for you when you asked him to step down from his post as Minister of Works to go anchor your campaign for second term. It was as if he was the only one who could fix that election for you.
Obasanjo: No no no. I took (Ahmadu) Ali as Chairman (of the PDP). Who is more important as far as the party is concerned?
PT: And most of the money you gave him to build roads, people say he didn’t build the roads. And you didn’t get him to render account.
Obasanjo: No, no. If he didn’t build roads and there is evidence that he didn’t build roads, I will deal with him. You see, you people you just start your imagination to run riot. You make up your mind. I don’t say Tony Anenih is the best human being on earth. I will also not say he’s the worst. He’s probably in between, like most of us. But I will not chastise anybody or condemn anybody unless I have evidence. People make allegation. Anybody can call you and say ‘hey, Mojeed, you are a rogue’. But for what reason should I join him to call you a rogue if he doesn’t show me evidence.
PT: But how did you two fall apart? To the extent, you narrated in your book, he teamed up with Yar’Adua and Ibori to plot your downfall.
Obasanjo: I wouldn’t have put it that way. Because my memory is not that short, I wouldn’t have put it that way.
PT: When Yar’Adua wanted to move against you. That’s what the book says.
Obasanjo: No. Show me where the book said that.
PT: (Reaches for the book) I’m going to read the full paragraph: “There was also an attack on me from the party front. The amendment to the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s Constitution which put a former president who is is a product of PDP as the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees was spearheaded by then Governor James Ibori, Makarfi, and Chief Tony Anenih. Whatever their reason for that constitutional amendment, I was the one available to occupy the post. But when Umaru and members of his cabal, along with their associates, set about pulling down Obasanjo, they pursued it to the Board of Trustees. Chief Tony Anenih and James Ibori were fellow travellers.”
That’s the point I was trying to make.
Obasanjo: Yes. That’s true. They actually spearheaded the…
PT: So how did it get to that?
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) Well, you should ask them.
PT: That’s what I’m asking you.
Obasanjo: I don’t know. What I saw is what I’ve told you. But why they did it, I don’t know.
PT: Because you were pretty close. You gave him one of the biggest cabinet positions.
Obasanjo: Come off it. You are behaving like a child and a broken bottle. You have friends today. You may not be friends tomorrow. I believe there are things that probably Tony Anenih wanted which he didn’t get. What it is, I don’t know.
PT: I remember that meeting in 2007 when Tony Anenih and you were to meet at Transcorp Hotel in Abuja, shortly before you took over as Board of Trustees chairman, after you stepped down as President. I was there when Tony Anenih, stormed out. Is it in protest against you becoming Board of Trustees chairman and him stepping down or something?
Obasanjo: Not at all. Because the Constitution of the party is clear. I didn’t make the Constitution.
PT: So why has it been difficult to make up with him since then?
Obasanjo: Well, he comes here…. You see… Look, I will walk out on you. You see, these are not issues. You are making issues out of nothing. I go on principle, I don’t go on persons. And I will walk out on you. Look, Tony Anenih, whatever he has done he has done that. That’s not an issue to me. It’s not a personal issue…
PT: (Cuts in) It’s just the way…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) No no no. Yes. You can see the way I put it. It’s not a personal issue. Tony Anenih has come here. And if he comes here tomorrow…. Jonathan has sent message to me and if he comes here tomorrow I will receive him. It’s not anything personal. In the interest of Nigeria, and that’s all. So what is making up? Making up to do what? Because he will give me a wife or I will give him a wife? Making up for what? It’s not a personal issue. So you are not getting it right and that’s part of the problem of Nigeria. Look, I stood for what I believe is in the best interest of Nigeria. So whether you agree with me on that or not is your own issue. What is personal? What is making up about?
PT: You wrote a full chapter about the media in your book…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) Yes. That’s part of you now.
PT: You wrote extensively about bad journalism, although you also agreed that there are a few good journalists…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) And I mentioned some of them. I don’t know whether you will fall into that group. (Laughter).
PT: But you said the media found you too cold, too unappetising, and not enamoured with dramatic and sensational news. You were very critical. And, you said sometimes they printed interviews they never had with you.
Obasanjo: That was true. And I sent it to the (Nigerian Press Council).
PT: Do you want to give us examples of those interviews?
Obasanjo: That’s what I’m telling you now. I even reported it to the Nigerian Press Council. Now what is your problem with that? But that’s true.
PT: This is a critical assessment, which is good. We all need to read it and learn.
Obasanjo: You ask Taye (his aide), Taye can fish it out. I wrote… The man wrote interview… Look, you see what I hate about the media? Look, you don’t want any criticism about you. You are not perfect. No.
PT: As far as I’m concerned, the criticisms you offered are my own criticisms of the media.
Obasanjo: Ok. So what is your problem? Now if a media… and I have a case against one. You can ask Tunji Abayomi. A paper wrote (a libel against me) since 1983. I criticise the judiciary as well. And that case has been there since 1983. Since that time I have gone to prison and back. I’ve been president and out. Tunji Abayomi is the one who’s handling it, since 1983. When I mentioned it to (Muhammadu) Uwais, Uwais said he would look into it. Look, we are not going to make progress unless we admit and accept what we are doing wrong, either individually or collectively.
PT: I think your criticism of the media is something we should print and distribute to all…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) You saw what I wrote about…no, not Tola Adeniyi. I think I wrote about Tola Adeniyi in my book. But in this one, it’s Segun Adeniyi. And he told somebody that what I wrote is true. Or Reuben Abati, the one who said “ehhnn, he too wants to build a house”. Can anybody say that to me and you then think I will have regard for him? Or for the profession he claims he belongs?
And you know it. You know it. That you can write anything in any paper and if the price is right, it will be published. Do you know that?
(CONTEXT: Mr. Obasanjo had, without mentioning name, written on Page 107, Volume 2 of his book: “A close young colleague of mine within the civil society had a friend in the media who rose to become media adviser to a Nigerian President. In the early days of this media man, who, by virtue of his friendship with my colleague became close to me as well, he was, or so I assumed by his utterances, a paragon of uprightness and integrity. When I received definite information of his falling prey to a governor who allocated to him a plot of land and who regularly fuelled him with cash, I asked his friend to find out the reason for the sudden change in his disposition. I was told his reply was, ‘I want to build a house and live well.’ What a pity! All his integrity, morality and ethics were sacrificed. It got me thinking not only about media practitioners and the media, but also about humanity in general.”)
And let me give you an example. When I left government in 1979, I lived in my house in Ibadan, in Bodija, while attending a course. But a paper wrote that I dislodged a family from their apartment, leaving them stranded. It was front page, with a photograph of the purportedly stranded family. My cousin, who was catering for me was shocked by the falsehood. That was when my cousin said “Nigeria media, never again.”
PT: These issues you raised are part of the reforms we seek.
Obasanjo: The point is you should accept these things. I won’t say the military is perfect. And today somebody told me “oh, what Badeh said.” I said what did Badeh say? So he sent it to me. I said Badeh is looking for excuses. Badeh must be looking for excuses. Anybody who is a trained officer knows that the military is trained to fight a war, not insurgency. You may have a course of training on insurgency or counter-insurgency and all of that. But when you have to deal with insurgency, that’s a different ball game altogether. You have to be trained for it, you have to be equipped for it. And then to say you don’t have… Look, the people you are dealing are among the people, that’s why they are insurgents. That’s why it’s not a set war. Because in a set war, you know where the enemy is, you know how to approach it. This one, it might even be someone on a motorcycle who has a gun in his pocket. That’s a different thing. And they say there’s no motivation. How can there be motivation? When the upper echelon of the military was riddled with corruption. The political leadership, riddled with corruption. The soldiers are no fool.
PT: Reading about internal conflict in the book, I think that’s in the Volume 2, you listed cases that were brought to your attention and efforts made by the federal government to resolve them. From the Ife-Modakeke crisis to the Sharia riot in Kaduna to Osama bin Laden protest in Kano, Miss World protest, Jos crisis, to Borno riots. But strikingly there is no mention, even in the index, of the budding activities of Boko Haram…
Obasanjo: Because there was no Boko Haram then. Oh! Come off it. You are mad!. There was no Boko Haram then. No!
PT: Just let me finish.
Obasanjo: Ok. Finish. There was no Boko Haram then. There was no Boko Haram when I was in office.
PT: (Cuts in) The reason I’m asking you this is because there are suggestions that the sect started building up even before you left office.
Obasanjo: No. What happened was this, they were part of… You know (Ahmad) Yerima went and started this thing. That was when they also became their own thing. I went to them. You heard the other day, they said they would have killed me but when I was there they were doing their Sharia and I was doing my own thing.
PT: They said they had no problem with you?
Obasanjo: They had no problem with me. And they said that after I left, they started killing their people and hunting them.
PT: You wrote a letter to Mr. Jonathan advising him to form a committee of former Heads of State, to be coordinated by General Gowon. If that were done at that time, do you think we’ll still be where we are today?
Obasanjo: They were turning Boko Haram to a religious issue, it is not a religious issue. He was seeing it as a northern plan, it wasn’t. It was a menace waiting to happen, and he didn’t see it that way, which was unfortunate…
PT: You even pointed out that if Gowon were allowed to head the group, it would assuage the feelings of Christians who believed that Boko Haram was a religious issue…
Obasanjo: I did everything I could to help him. Look, mine is to give what I believe is genuine advice from the position that I see things and I understand. Now any leader can then decide what to do. You see, the thing is that no leader can say he is short of advice in Nigeria. Unless he doesn’t want to listen. But then, when you get the advice, you do whatever you like with it.
PT: Do you think that can still be done?
Obasanjo: You know, there is always time for a thing. The time that I went to Maiduguri, and it was after that time. Actually, my advice to Jonathan, if he had acted then, I don’t believe that Boko Haram would have gone against him. Jonathan had a problem. He believed that Boko Haram was a device of the north to prevent him from having a second term. That’s all. That is what… any other thing, forget it. How is it that Jonathan was told by 8 o’clock in the morning after the night that Chibok girls were abducted, and there was no reaction. As I said in my book, I called one Philip Madu to come and brief me on what happened. And if there had been reaction within 72 hours, they would have got, if not all, most of those girls. At what stage did Jonathan and the Governor of Borno speak about Chibok?
Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, playing Ayo with friend OBASANJO’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: JONATHAN HAS WRITTEN ME, WANTS TO COME TO ABEOKUTA x1 IMG 20150731 163210
Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, playing Ayo with friend
Let me tell you something that happened during my time. I heard on a Friday, I think we were to have an election on the Saturday. I can’t remember which election, and in Kano, one man was leading his sect in the mosque, 5:30 a.m., he was shot dead. IGP (Inspector General of Police) told me. I phoned the governor immediately, and said ‘what are you doing? Have you heard this?’ He said ‘yes, when the day breaks.’ I said ‘when day breaks? You? Out now.’
Now, on a Friday, a Muslim cleric leading his own flock being shot? It’s incendiary for anything in Kano. And you know, they would have gone into Sabon Gari. That is the way reactions to incidents should take place. And because of that reaction, we didn’t have any incident.
There wasn’t Boko Haram as Boko Haram. It was after I left that Muhammadu Yusuf actually called… and that’s how they got the name Boko Haram. He called some of his followers. Because he had following. Some of them graduates. And then he said, ‘Look, bring your certificates. When did you leave university?’ He himself he’s not an illiterate. He had college education. ‘When did you finish university? ‘Three years ago.’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Your education is useless, tear your certificate.’ Some of them did, some didn’t. That’s how the name Boko Haram came, they don’t call themselves Boko Haram.
PT: Is that not gullibility on the part of those he invited to tear their certificates?
Obasanjo: Gullibility? Is it true that you left university for years? Is it true that you don’t have a job? Is it true that you went to university so that you could have education, and have a job? And if that is what took you to university and four years after you have left university you haven’t got a job, what is gullibility?
PT: Sir, it came out in your book that your leaked December 2013 letter was not your first letter to Jonathan. You wrote like three or four. You published the letters here…
Obasanjo: (Cuts in) They are more.
PT: How many letters did you write to President Jonathan?
Obasanjo: I don’t know. I don’t count.
PT: You published a few. So is that the way you write to Nigerian leaders before and after you?
Obasanjo: If I think there is something I should point out to them, yes I do. I do.
PT: Maybe your letters can even form a book at a point.
Obasanjo: That’s entirely up to you. (Laughter). But did you read the letter I wrote to Margaret Thatcher?
PT: No, I haven’t read that.
PT: Months back, you said bye bye to politics. Are you still maintaining that stance?
Obasanjo: Partisan politics. Now if politics is welfare of the people, in a way, then you cannot say politics no way until you die. But partisan politics? No.
PT: So no more partisan politics for you?
Obasanjo: Oh yes. I won’t belong to any political party. I won’t.
PT: Even if they decide to woo you?
Obasanjo: What nonsense? Any fool that comes here… behaves like a fool, I will walk him out.
PT: As one of the fathers of our nation, what do you think of the direction our country is heading now?
Obasanjo: Well, we are better than where we were. We are not where we should be, but we are better than where we were.
PT: Thank you so much, Baba.
Obasanjo: Thank you