Chief Femi Fani-Kayode in this interview speaks to BAYO OLADEJI over the feud between General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida. Excerpts.
Sir, you issued a statement last Sunday taking a position on IBB/OBJ feud. But you later made a u-turn on OBJ. What went wrong?
Point of correction. I made a clarification and not a u-turn and there is a big difference between the two. As I said in the follow up statement that I issued after the first one, it became clear to me that many people had misconstrued my original comments and they perceived and interpreted them to be an attack on President Olusegun Obasanjo and an attempt to in some way demean, diminish and discredit him.
This was never my intention and neither did I ever use any of the words that were ascribed to me in any of the headlines that were used by the newspapers after that initial statement was released. I never said that Obasanjo was "an ingrate" and neither did I say that he was "ungrateful to people" --as was widely reported. I would never say such a thing about a man that I have come to see as a father to me and a man that gave me the opportunity to serve my country.
One thing about me is that I am a loyalist and I do not betray my leaders, friends, supporters or followers and neither do I play games. If I am with you, then it is unto death and if I am against you, it is unto death. That is me. And if for some reason I decide to part ways with someone, I will state my reasons for choosing to do so, put them on notice and move on. I don't do doublespeak, I do not fear any human being and I am not a coward. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I was brought up to believe that you should always speak your mind and that courage is the greatest of all the virtues and as a matter of fact, the latter is my family motto.
If I tell you that I love Obasanjo, that means that I do. If I then suddenly decide that I now despise and hate him, I would tell you this in very clear terms and I would give you my reasons for doing so. But thankfully, that is not the case and neither could it ever be. He is like a father to me and I rather say that I have very strong feelings for him and I really mean it. In that same initial statement, I said that Obasanjo's government, which I proudly served, was second to none and that his performance was first class. I also said that I disagreed with those that said his government was a failure and that I have a deep and abiding respect and affection for both him and General Ibrahim Babangida who I am also very close to. The fact that the two of them are going through a difficult time right now in terms of their relationship is a source of tremendous pain for me and I called for that rift to be settled in that press release and I am making that call again now.
Many of my family members, friends, associates, former cabinet colleagues and three of our traditional rulers in the South West expressed deep concern to me about the perception that I was being rude to President Obasanjo and of course, given that, I had to set the record straight. I may have gone on a historical excursion and I may not have been as sensitive as I could have been in my submissions and choice of words, but the idea that I wanted to be rude to or about former President Obasanjo just does not arise. I would never mean to do such a thing and if that is the perception that people have about that press release, then it is regrettable. I take full responsibility for it and I am now, once again, setting the record straight-no insult or disrespect to former President Obasanjo was intended.
What is the relationship between you and former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
The relationship between former President Obasanjo and I is one of deep affection, understanding and mutual respect. I have been closely associated with him for ten years now and I have come to love him as I loved my own father. But whether close or far, I love him all the same. He is a very complex man but at the same time deeply compassionate. And he was an excellent President and a first class leader. Like everyone else, he may have his shortcomings. He is not infallible. But as far as I am concerned, nothing has changed in our relationship. The man that I have spent the better part of the last ten years of my life defending and supporting and the man who I have risked all for and because of whom I and many others have suffered all manner of injustice, misrepresentation and persecution since 2007, is still my father and is still someone that I have tremendous respect for.
What is the implication of the OBJ / IBB feud?
The implication of that feud is simple and clear and it is as follows. The two most powerful and influential men in Nigeria today and the two most consistently relevant powerbrokers, kingmakers and leaders in our country since 1966 are now at loggerheads. They both have supporters and powerful friends in not just the ruling party but also in the wider political class, within the international community and within all the major institutions in our country whether it be the private sector, the civil service, the security agencies or the military. They are both also immensely wealthy and have used their power, wealth, connections and influence over the last 44 years to achieve some level of stability and direction for our country. Love them or hate them, no one can dispute the fact that God has used them both at critical times to bring progress and predictability to our affairs and they have done this by consistently remaining united, working closely together and understanding one another. There are a lot of things that both men have done together behind the scenes that have pulled Nigeria back from the brink and helped her enormously over the years and decades, but most Nigerians are not privy to those things because they are not in the public domain.
Only those in the circles of power and God that has used them both to do them know about those things. I would say that General TY Danjuma is the only other person that may fit into that category of consistently relevant powerbrokers that cannot be toyed with or ignored lightly in our affairs from 1966 till date. Now, a situation in which two of those powerbrokers are publically at each others throats cannot possibly augur well for the polity. This is especially so when one of them is a northern Muslim and the other is a southern Christian and when they both have substantial support in their constituencies. This feud is not good for the stability of our country, for the stability of our government, for the sustainance and consolidation of democracy, for the welfare of our people or for the cohesion, understanding and camaradie that is so badly needed amongst the major powerbrokers in the ruling class to keep Nigeria together as one nation into the distant future.
Let us make no mistake and let us take nothing for granted. The ethnic and religious tensions that exist in the land today are very pronounced and very real and we need people like Obasanjo and Babangida to help to douse those tensions and help to keep Nigeria together. They have spent most of their adult lives doing precisely that and they have been able to succeed only because they were united in their approach and their resolve. Simply put the implications of this feud not being resolved amicably and speedily are frightful, unpredictable, unpleasant and very dangerous indeed for the welfare, stability and cohesion of our country. That is why I am amongst those that believe that it must be resolved as quickly as possible.
You disagree with General Ibrahim Babangida that Obasanjo's government was a failure, could you justify your position on that?
respect, admiration and affection for General Ibrahim Babangida both due to his record in public office, his monuemental achievements for Nigeria over the years and also due to his qualities as a person and as a leader. I have also had the privilage of becoming close to him of late and this is something that I deeply cherish. The truth is that, he is a wonderful man and a man of immense compassion, yet like so many of other men of power, including Obasanjo, he is badly misunderstood and badly misrepresented by those who do not know him well. Yet, regardless of my admiration and affection for General Babangdia, I did say right from the start that I do not subscribe to the view that the Obasanjo government, which I proudly served, was a failure.
I say this because virtually every sector of our polity and especially the economy during the Obasanjo years between 1999 and 2007 flourished and they were periods of immense growth and progress. We have not seen such growth and progress before or since that time and whilst I respect the efforts of all the other governments and administrations that have come and gone since then, including the present one, I believe that in terms of concrete record achievements, none come close to Obasanjo's. President Babangida's administration also did very well in many respects and he certainly liberalised and opened up the economy between 1985 and 1993, but after he left power things went very awry indeed for the next five years. President Obasanjo's government came in in 1999 and continued where General Babangida's stopped, built on his efforts and eventually restored our lost glory by 2007.
Let me give you just a few examples of his achievements. When he left government in 2007, Obasanjo left close to a 100 billion dollars in our foreign reserves, he left 20 billion in the Excess Crude Account, he wiped out our massive foreign debt, he ensured that economic growth was at a minimum of at least six per cent annually, he boosted the generation of electricity in the power sector and ensured that we were generating 4000 megawatts per day even though we were only generating 1000 megawatts per day.
When he first came to power in 1999, he reformed the aviation sector and stopped the cycle of plane crashes, he turned Nigeria from being labelled as a pariah state into the darling of the international community and the most powerful and influential voice on the African continent, he diversified the economy, boosted agricultural and industrial production, increased our agricultural exports and GDP to unprecedented levels, reformed the telecommunications sector and introduced GSM, established functional, disciplined, impartial and professional anti-corruption agencies such as the EFCC and ICPC that were properly led by responsible and thorough professionals and which were not used as political tools or weapons of political persecution, he brought sanity to and cleaned up our capital city Abuja and the FCT, he consolidated the banks, made them functional and professional and ensured that interest rates came down, he established the environment for a flourishing Stock Exchange where those that invested were making money, he attracted more foreign and domestic investment into the country than any other administration before or since his time, he opened up the gas sector and ensured that we were not solely and wholly dependant on oil.
He ensured that no-one was locked up, detained or charged to court simply for speaking or writing against his government, he set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commitee to heal the wounds of the past, he was decisive in fighting terrorism, regional militancy, ethnic militias, islamic fundamentalism and establishing law and order, he brought the brightest and keenest young minds from all over the world into his government and cabinet, he brought hope, self-respect and a greater sense of dignity to Nigeria and Nigerians all over the world, he stood up to the western powers and world powers where necessary and he won us a place in the G20 meetings, he played a leading role in the affairs of the west African sub-region by bringing peace, stopping coups and settling bitter and acrimonious disputes and divisions in many countries in our sphere of influence and within our sub-region, he helped to establish the African Union and he gave it teeth and credibilty and so on and so forth.
I could go on and on. Yet sadly, since the time he left office in 2007, virtually everything has either gone down in all these areas or completely collapsed. Just check the facts and figures. Just look at our role in the world and our domestic performance and record today. We are now back firmly back in debt, the Excess Crude Account has been emptied, depleted, scrapped and declared illegal, our foreign reserves have mostly been spent and are therefore far lower than they should be, power generation is down, the economy is no longer booming and neither is it growing at the rate that it should, the Nigerian Stock Exchange is no longer booming and has virtually collapsed, foreign and domestic investment in the country is no longer as high as it was, Boko Haram is ravaging the land, bombs are going off in Abuja, militants are being paid and settled, regional, religious and ethnic tensions pervade the land and generally speaking most people are not too happy.
Now when I look at all these things that are happening today and that have been happening in our country for the last four years, and I compare it to what happened when we were in power, I simply cannot subscribe to the view that the Obasanjo administration did not succeed or that it was a failure. We may have made a few mistakes here and there and I have alluded to those mistakes elsewhere in the past, but by and large, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar was a great successs and I am very proud of the fact that I was part of that team. General Ibrahim Babangida's government had its own strengths, achievements and glorious moments too just as I am sure that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan will also have theirs once they have properly settled down and got down to some work.
The challenge of the day is for all of us to appreciate our past experiences, achievements and strengths, pool together our resources and tap all we can from one another, both young and old, in order to move Nigeria forward. Both President Obasanjo and General Babangida together with all the other past key leaders in our country have a role to play in this respect and in assisting our country to flourish and achieve her full potentials. My prayer is that they stand together in unity and that they do so.