Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd), has affirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari has the capacity to recover Nigeria’s stolen funds.
Gen Babangida, who spoke in an interview with correspondents yesterday in Minna, Niger State, to mark his 74th birthday, also gave reasons why the war on insurgency was very difficult and narrated how former head of state, the late General Sani Abacha, saved him during the failed Gideon Orkar-led coup d’état.
On the efforts by President Buhari to recover stolen money, the former military ruler said: “My boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo created a similar strategy and, to be fair to him and his government, he made a lot of recoveries when he was in office; so we should support this present federal government in what is trying to do, to achieve the same objective”.
Asked further whether he thought the president’s strategy in this direction would yield the desired results, he stated that Buhari needs commitment to succeed.
“If he is resolute, I believe he will achieve some degree of stolen funds,” Babangida said. “You talk about oil theft, I am sure President Buhari is resolute to stamp out all those and to bring to book all those who have tampered especially in stealing our oil.”
He also gave reasons why the federal government could not negotiate with Boko Haram just as he cleared the air on his ancestral background.
On the new wave of attacks by Boko Haram since President Buhari assumed office, the former military leader said that the war against insurgents was exceptionally difficult because it was not a conventional war where military could test their full strength.
“I think there is a general misunderstanding of the whole concept of insurgency; you can call it anything – instability, guerilla war, terrorism. We are not fighting a regular army where you can confront them with sheer use of force and weapons to overwhelm the enemy; no, we have gotten a small trained army whose tactics is to inflict maximum casualty on its so-called enemy, inflict casualty on him when and where he least expects it.
“The army is not fighting a conventional war; that makes it exceptionally difficult. They (Boko Haram militants) blow our bridges; they go as far as blowing up barracks and so on; this is an unconventional war. I think the soldiers are trained for it and they know this is the sort of thing they do. I think the public should be educated about this unconventional war.”
Asked whether he subscribed to the idea of the government negotiating with the Boko Haram, he said: “Unfortunately the president got it right. He said he will talk to people who are credible, who have been identified as some of the leaders of the insurgency but, so far, apart from one or two names, we do not hear any other name. I don’t think the government will like to talk to a vacuum, to talk to people who are not worth talking to, as far as these issues are concerned. So the government is right in being careful to identify and talk if there is anything to talk about.”
Babangida praised the efforts of President Buhari’s government so far in fighting the group, and stated that, beyond weapons, it was the mind behind the weapons that wins war, adding that troops training should be emphasized also. He also commended effort of the United States in training Nigeria military over time.
Also speaking on the bloody Orkar coup of 1990, the former Nigeria leader stated that the late General Sani Abacha and some loyal officers actually saved his life.
“That I can remember very well. I had some loyal officers who were supposed to be my protectors and my body guards. Initially, they told me to leave but I told them no, that I was not leaving to anywhere but they remained stubborn, and later I took my family outside Dodan Barracks and joined my guards.
“So we went out of Dodan Barracks and we went to a safe house where we got in contact with loyal troops. May God bless (the late) Sani Abacha. Sani Abacha was the chief of army staff; I got in touch with him and we sat down and talked about what we were going to do. I and Abacha rallied round the loyal troops and then I left my state house and joined Abacha in his house, that was what happened.”
He also denied the rumour that he has ancestral link to Ogbomosho in the South West.
“I had to answer the question way back in November 1962 because of my name, Badamasi. I answered the question during my final year in secondary school when I had to answer that question. Now, 52 years later, I am glad I am answering the same question.
“The truth is that I hail from here, Niger State. My parents were from between Wushishi and this town (Minna). My grandparents travelled to settle down here, though I think that, that says it all. There is nothing wrong in being from any part of the country, but the truth is that I hail from Niger State. My grandparents and great grandparents moved from somewhere to settle down in Niger State.
“There are some who still call you the settlers in Niger State, that we are not indigenous to the state because our grandparents came from somewhere to settle here but I have lived all my 74 years in Niger State and I think I am more than qualified to be called a native of Niger State.”
Babangida further remarked that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) failure in the last election was a hallmark of democracy, adding that the people were resolute to vote PDP out and they did it peacefully.
The former military president, however, advised the party to reassess itself and ascertain what went wrong in order to prepare well for future elections.
“I hope, they (PDP) learn from their mistakes; what they did wrong – what they did right and what they can do now to re-launch their party.”