*‘My problem with the late head of state’s self-succession bid’
*On Boko Haram: Jonathan, military don’t understand the phenomenon
In this concluding part of the interview with the former legal adviser to the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, Prof. Awwal Yadudu, he says the late Chief MKO Abiola won the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election but defends his incarceration by Abacha on the grounds of his self-declaration as president. Yadudu also speaks on other issues in the polity.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter generated controversy. What is your take on the letter, President Jonathan’s reply and the one from Iyabo Obasanjo to her father?
I don’t know what propelled Obasanjo’s letter. Clearly he was addressing the fact of what the president was doing to the PDP, the fact that the president signed an undertaking to do one term, the fact that some money was not remitted to the Federation Account. But my worry is that a former president felt so worried to state such allegation that an incumbent president is part of a conspiracy to train snipers to be used as political agents. A former president has total understanding of the security of this country, he would not likely make such an allegation for nothing. So my understanding of it is therefore is that it is in Obasanjo’s character. He has not done this to Jonathan alone, he did it to Babangida, he did it to Shagari, he did it to the late Abacha also. He is someone you can call basket mouth. If he feels strongly about something, he says it. Even in the letter, he clearly stated that he had been compelled to choose the medium of public broadcast because the other attempts to reach out to Jonathan had been completely ignored or disrespected or spurned.
So Obasanjo’s letter levelled serious allegations that anybody in authority ought to address. And my understanding of Jonathan’s response is that he was neither addressing the facts nor attempting to dispel the allegations and therefore it is very worrisome. It portends great danger for the polity, for the Presidency and for the nation. We are not talking about a military regime, we are talking about a person elected under the law, the constitution being abused and all he does is to play the ostrich. God help us.
On Iyabo’s letter, I don’t know what to make of it. There is no way you can deny that what she said are personal issues. Though some people said some of the allegations Obasanjo is making against Jonathan were allegations made during his tenure. So it was either he was able to address those problems or it may be that the people were not courageous enough to come in the open and make the allegations as he has done now. There were open letters also like the kind Obasanjo has written that were written against him, may be he was a bit more clever as president that he knew how he could handle it. Remember the late Sunday Awoniyi’s letter was very scaring. He was addressing the same issues Obasanjo is now addressing. In Obasanjo’s case, he didn’t reply Awoniyi in an open letter but he probably took decisions which ameliorated some of the allegations that were made . May be I can link this issue now to the previous ones discussed.
If a president signed an undertaking that he was going to do one term and he now reneges and suddenly there are allegations, accusations clearly being hurled at him by his predecessor in office, then he ignores it, it further compounds the views and perception and analysis of his personality that the rest of the world is making. It is no longer a local issue.
Internationally, he is completely diminished. This letter and his response have not enhanced his standing but has further diminished his standing and his respectability. As a gentleman, as someone who will command respect, not only in Nigeria but when he meets with comity of others, you can not tell other heads of state with a straight face what kind of things you are doing here.
What does the emergence of the APC portend for the PDP?
Having a true and vibrant opposition to any ruling party, not necessarily the PDP, can only be helpful in shaping policies and also assisting government to have direction. This is regardless of electoral fortunes. If you have an opposition, the dictatorial tendency of the majority will be checked and you and I the common people will benefit from it in that we will have policies that are better shaped, we will have less intrusion from the dictatorial tendencies such that the issue of somebody going to the National Assembly to throw something at them and get away with it will not happen. In a way also, it has called the PDP to order that you will rule this country for 100 years is hollow. In terms of electoral fortunes, there is no doubt about it that if elections are conducted fairly and squarely, if votes count, it is not rocket science to imagine what would happen to the fortunes of the PDP. Already they have lost potentially the control of the National Assembly.
If you look at the profile of the states controlled by the APC, demographically, they are the most important electorally. You are talking of Lagos, and the whole of South-west, Kano in the North-west, Rivers , you have almost the whole of North-east, where does the PDP get its votes and that is why I said looking at the profile and composition of realignment of forces, it does not require rocket science to predict the electoral fortunes of the PDP. They are very very dim in future. Jonathan must be the most embarrassed president who failed to show his face at the National Assembly to present his budget. It is the most embarrassing statement to make. Even in Nigeria, that action didn’t ring any bell and the presidency too didn’t make any issue of it but, internationally, our partners, they understand what is happening. The fact that he was unable to appear before the National Assembly is indicative of his grave apprehension of the fact that he has no control of the assembly. Forget the issue that they have not reached a consensus on the bench mark, the fact is that he has no control of the assembly. Having said that, the APC too would have its own internal problems because it is bringing all sorts of people together, not necessarily based on ideology or manifestoes except that some people are aggrieved, they left and joined you. I think that can be a problem for the APC and it can also be a good challenge if they are able to address it, then we can truly have genuine democratic parties emerging that are based on a platform and that can now canvass for votes from the people. If the APC behaves like the PDP in terms of democratic culture, they will not go far. At the moment, on the face of it, officially they are what are.
With benefit of hindsight, what kind of person was Abacha beyond the demonic picture the public has made of him?
First of all, and this is the point I always underline, I served the government in a professional capacity as special adviser on legal matters. As a professional, what advice I gave or did not give were not matters known to the public and so therefore are not matters as I do tell people that I will now come to broadcast. This is something that those with whom I worked can vouch or not vouch. I was not politically active other than just being professional in what I was doing. So regarding my assessment of the late General Abacha. he was a leader who had come to the stage under very difficult circumstances and circumstances I unfortunately was unable to verify because there are many claims as to how he came about. There are those who claimed there was an understanding that he would hand over after some time. I cannot verify that claim because I came into office some four, five months after he assumed office. It is not within my province to begin to do that but, whatever it was, it was very difficult circumstances that he came to govern the nation. There was a man who had contested an election and, from all indications, won the election and someone had annulled the election for whatever reason and then you now found yourself, whether through your own scheming or by happenstance, you happen to find your self in power. It was a situation, domestically it had a lot of social conflicts and there were those who felt that, even if you won’t install the winner, you didn’t have to incarcerate him. Here was a head of state finding himself in an inconclusive election that was trying to be actualised outside constitutional means under which the election was conducted but, whether you like it or not, at the time General Abacha came into office, there was no way he could actualise legally the election that had been inconclusive. Chief MKO Abiola had not been declared the winner although there were result sheets that would lead inexcusably to him being declared as the winner.
Those who agitated for his reinstatement did not stop at that but also now generated to a situation where there was self-declaration and there could not be two sovereignties, two leadership, two authorities claiming the leadership of the country; so, therefore, the legal decision the head of state, the president took in dealing with the problems posed by NADECO to seek for the actualisation of the mandate of Chief Abiola were justifiable in law. It was difficult for me to understand what had come to be self-succession bid for the president at that time because there were very serious constitutional problems with that but because providence intervened we didn’t have to start dealing with that constitutional and legal problems. I will concede that the military regime is different civilian because of military law which you can call draconian, it was not Abacha administration that brought about those laws he operated. In terms of character, he was intensely nationalistic in that there were certain decisions he took that reinforced this view of mine about him. During his days, he was fighting more of external war than domestic. The way he dealt with external threat especially in terms of how the nation could be brought down to its knees was impressive like, when you sell oil which is dollar denominated, payments are made in U K or the U S but he clearly saw that it was gravely harmful because of what had happened to Iran. The economy of Iran suffered gravely when they allowed their situation to continue as before. I remember it was Abacha’s policy that a significant part of our account for oil receipt be shifted to France and in a way that provided a balance, not that France could not also harm us but also in a way it took some business to France and got some protection for the nation and that way nobody could freeze the Federal Government account in England at will. And the British Airways saga. Nigeria Airways was comatose but still operating skeletal services when the British authorities grounded Nigeria Airways, seized its plane in the UK on behalf of a private contractor and Abacha said ‘you take this action against our interest, we take action too by suspending British Airways flights to Nigeria and you know how we Nigerians patronise them.’ That action gravely affected their economy. I can tell you that the first thing the British High Commissioner who came to congratulate General Abdulsalami was to beg him to return those British Airways flights, he was not even agitating for Chief MKO Abiola. The Cameroonian problem, that is, the Bakassi issue, all former heads of state had been treating the issue with kid gloves. Sometimes Cameroonian soldiers would come and harass Nigerians in Bakassi, even invade territories that were not in dispute. I recall that it was his decision that the military had to flush them out of Nigeria territory and you could say that triggered the legal dispute which in the end gave the disputed land to Cameroun but his dealing with them was quite in contrast to the way General Gowon for example dealt with them.
Late MKO Abiola and Late Gen Sani Abacha
Tell us the memories you have of him
Abacha was very courageous and he was very good listerner. We have had this interview for an hour or so; if you had audience with him, he would listen to you for that one hour, take whatever you bring to the table and then take his decision unlike President Obasanjo who knows everything, the all-knowing. Abacha would listen. This is one thing that is memorable in my mind. In economic terms, the late Professor Aluko would vouch on this statement because I know the interacted very much with Abacha as the chair of the Economic Intelligence Committee.
Many people think the problems we are having as a nation is mainly because we have a weak Presidency. Do you share that opinion?
I don’t want to be unfair in assessing the personality of the president because I have not studied him up close. But from the sort of actions that the president takes on a number of issues, one can from a distance make assessment of the kind of personality he has. I think there is no doubt about it that he does not have a clear understanding of the magnitude of the office he occupies. He does not in my view have a clear understanding of the demands of the office he occupies. Two: it seems to me that suffering from this, the total misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the office he occupies, is coupled with the tendency to be reckless in what you say. He does not measure the words he says and then, because you are reckless, you say things that confirm the view one has of you. There are so many instances of his recklessness in what he says.
At the initial stage of the insurgency of Boko Haram, not once but many times, he said it would end in three months. What sort of police commissioner would make such such statement about a phenomenon that at that time they didn’t quite understand and even today they do not quite understand? The phenomenon you still don’t understand, the intelligence community does not understand and you make such statement. When you lack an understanding of the magnitude of this office and you are reckless in what you say, then there is propensity to take decisions that can be disruptive to the equilibrium because, if you don’t understand the magnitude of the office you occupy and you don’t weigh or choose the words you say, then you take actions that are precipitate and that can disrupt the equilibrium that maintains the society. And what that does is that it can lead to disorder that explodes in your face. Let me give you an example. We don’t know the fact but this was a precipitate ill-thought action to me. The first one I found very troubling was the way, for whatever reason, he dealt with politics at his own backyard. His problem with Sylva, the former governor of Bayelsa State. There is no way the Presidency can wash off its hands off what was happening at that time. There is no way the Presidency could wash off its hand on how this gentleman who is now governor of the state emerged. Even within his own locality, he has disrupted the equilibrium. He is not having the heat because he is in Abuja and he is the president and he thinks everything is okay at home.
It is not. And of course you can replicate many of such kind precipitate ill thought, totally unconsidered actions undertaken by somebody who does not understand fully the magnitude of the office he occupies. He jumps before he leaps.
The worrying thing about this assessment that I have is that it does not urgur well for the nation because what holds this nation is the skilfull way of handling competing interests and maintaining some form of equilibrium and it seems he does not have advisers who can tell him that these are some of the weak qualities that he has. No president who understands the magnitude of the office would allow the kind of press statements that are being issued in his name to go public. The problem with this kind of attitude, disrespectful, totally ill-thought way of responding also tells about the personality of the president.
If I were him, there is no way I would have allowed Obasanjo to resort to publishing that letter. All that would have silenced him would have been if he had said Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was a liability to the PDP, he would have been removed.
You think so?
At least Obasanjo believed so. I don’t know the workings of the PDP, he does. What was the big deal about Tukur? After all Jonathan sacked Ogbulafor. He sacked Bello Muhammed, Baraje. Sacking Tukur would have taken the discussion between him and Obasanjo to another level, there would have been no basis for Obasanjo to write that letter. So what I am saying is that the action you take and the advice you get could only go so far it meets with the kind of person you are. I don’t want to be uncharitable to the president. I am not too sure I will flaunt my Ph.D degree if I were him. The kind of assessment one has of him about not understanding his circumstance, being reckless with what he says, taking decisions that are ill-advised, are not the sort of decisions someone who prides himself of holding a P.hD would take. Even if he is a vice chancellor, not to talk of a governor or a president, these are not decisions I would expect from him. Of course he has PhD but it does not bear him well from a distant observer of what he does.