General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd),
Aisha Wakaso in Minna
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), has joined the ranks of eminent Nigerians condemning the calls for President Goodluck Jonathan to resign over his inability to tackle the security challenges confronting the country.
Speaking at his hilltop residence in Minna, Niger State, Thursday, on the eve of his 71st birthday, Babangida advised Nigerians to give Jonathan the opportunity to focus on the challenges facing the country.
He blamed the media for giving prominence to the call for the president’s resignation and the breakup of Nigeria, saying the call was laughable. “I dey laugh,” he said.
The former president used the opportunity to correct the impression that he was not on good terms with Jonathan.
He said he was on good terms with both the president and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, adding that on some occasions, he had given advice to the president which he (Jonathan) had accepted on how to tackle the issues of insecurity in the country but did not have to make public.
“We are on good terms with Goodluck; people accuse us of not talking but we have been saying a lot of things and we have also taken the opportunity of the Ramadan period to preach peace and unity like any other Nigerians.
“We also appealed to the people to believe in the government, that there is nothing wrong with it,” he stated.
He pointed out that the accusation that he has not spoken out against the Boko Haram insurgency was false. “We have been talking and we want to disabuse the minds of those who say we are not saying anything,” he said.
According to Babangida, whatever differences he might have had with Obasanjo had not affected their relationship, adding that they are both strong believers in the unity of Nigeria.
The former military ruler said they must always meet to continue to chart the way forward for the country. “Obasanjo is a strong believer in the unity of Nigeria and I am too.
“We have something bigger than all these tantrums in your papers, which is Nigeria, so we have no other option than to talk always and look for lasting solutions on how to keep this country together.”
Following the recent attacks on him and his response to Chief Edwin Clark’s allegation about his (Babangida’s) indifference to the reign of terror by the Islamic sect, Babangida said the Ijaw leader has been his friend for over 35 years, stressing that he won’t be drawn into issues with him as he holds nothing against him.
“He was my friend and is still my friend, I have known him for the past 35 years. There is mutual respect between us, so I will not be drawn into issues with him. He cannot deny me of being his friend. I think the issue is that you the media heightened it.”
The former military ruler, who used the opportunity to speak on a lot of national issues, declared his support for the establishment of state police, saying, the fear of people who are opposed to it is unfounded.
He added that Nigeria has gone past the 1950s when state police units were used to intimidate people, stressing that the evil done by people with the state police in the past cannot be repeated.
He noted that people are more enlightened and there are laws in place curtailing such activities.
“Left to me, the whole essence of governance is to provide adequate security for the people, and in whatever way this is achieved, is acceptable. I don’t believe the fear of what happened in the 1950s and 1960s should continue to haunt us. We should try to move on and forget about the past.
“The state police was used to beat and harass people in the past, we are not in that situation now. People should try to move forward as a lot of constitutional amendments have been put in place and we have the courts where people can seek redress if they are unjustly treated or harassed.
“When we were there, we established the National Guard that was so crucified and was later dropped. Why should we think that what happened in the 1950s where the regional police were used to intimidate the opposition will continue to happen under the present dispensation?
“I don’t think governors now can use state police to intimidate anybody. Honestly, the fear is unfounded,” he said.
When asked if the Boko Haram insurgency was political or religious, he said the insurgency was one of the security challenges any developing country must pass through, adding that it is a passing phase.
“The nation has not really taken time to research the sect to know if it and other communal clashes in the country are political or religious.
“But the fact is that you press people have not done enough studying, enough investigation to find the real cause of Boko Haram and other violent communal clashes around the country.”
Answering questions on if he would change his mind and contest the presidency in 2015, Babangida stated categorically that he had retired from active politics and does not intend to vie for any political position.
He added that at his age, he cannot be running around the country seeking for votes. “At this age, running around to seek votes is out of the question. In 2015, you would not see IBB asking for your votes, I will not put myself forward as a candidate for any elective position.”
The former head of state accused the media of encouraging political affluence and warned that they should stop giving prominence to some people whose statements threaten the unity of the country.
He noted that by now, the media should know those whose statements hold water and those that do not.
“This nation cannot disintegrate despite fears from many quarters that the nation will disintegrate, the civil war and the crisis during the June 12, 1993 period showed that the nation would breakup. But since there was no disintegration during those periods, there is nothing that can make the country breakup.
“During the June 12 crisis, anyone that came during that period was convinced that the country would breakup in the next two to three weeks but it was our ability of not allowing it to break the country that was impressive.
“People said there will be war but eventually there was no war. Since Nigeria did not disintegrate then, I don’t think anything can disintegrate the country,” the former military president stated.
He expressed regret that the nation does not utilise its experience to shape its future, stressing that unless Nigerians come to terms with utilising its experience, the nation will not be stable.
“There is intolerance in the country and we don’t seem to utilise our past and unless we come to terms with that, we will still be dancing back and forth.”
Babangida, however, stressed that he still has hope and belief in the country, adding that Nigeria can still get it right, “If we are able to get things right without ulterior motives, I believe Nigeria will be on the right path. I still have hope in Nigeria, I still believe in this nation and I believe we can make it,” he noted.