INTERVIEW: My disagreement with Tony Anenih, and why I have no regard for Reuben Abati — Obasanjo
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?
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