Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday responded to the recent criticisms of his administration by a former military dictator, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, dismissing Babangida’s assessment as the “ranting of a foolish man”.
By Ademola Oni and Olusola Fabiyi
The former President, in an interview with selected reporters at his Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State, said that his achievements as a two-term civilian head of state towered above the legacies of Babangida’s eight-year rule.
He said, “Normally when I read these things I don’t believe them. Yesterday (Wednesday), when somebody phoned me and said this was what he (Babangida) said, I said, ‘Don’t believe it.’ They got me the newspapers and I read them. It’s a bit unlike Babangida. But if Babangida has decided, on becoming a septuagenarian, that he will be a fool, I think one should probably do what the Bible says in Proverbs Chapter 26, verse 4. It says don’t answer a fool because you may also become like him.
“When you go to the same Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 5, it says answer a fool so that he will not think he’s a wise man. So, I am now torn between which of the two verses I should follow in this respect.”
Babangida, however, reacted to Obasanjo’s remarks on Thursday, calling Obasanjo “a greater fool.” “We do not want to believe that he (Obasanjo) truly said that, but if it is true that he did say that, Nigerians know who the greatest (sic) fool is,” Babangida said in a statement by his spokesperson, Prince Kassim Afegbua.
“In terms of decency, finesse, class, distinction and general conduct, IBB could be described in the superlatives but for Obasanjo, God bless Nigeria.
“For a man who cannot possibly tell his true age, one may excuse his present outburst as the effusions of a witless comedian trying effortlessly to impress his select audience.
Obasanjo, himself a military dictator between 1976 and 1979, was elected president between 1999 and 2007. Babangida seized power in a military coup in 1985 and ruled till 1993 when he “stepped aside” in the aftermath of the crisis that greeted the annulment of the 1993 presidential election.
The spat between the two former heads of state began on Wednesday when Babangida, in an interview to mark his 70 birthday, berated the ex-president for lacking in vision and said his eight years in government had been a failure.
But Obasanjo argued that the premise on which IBB based his assessment exposed the former military dictator’s “ignorance”.
He said, “Unfortunately, some of the things he said were not well thought-out. For instance, he talked about our energy sector. When I was the military head of state, I built Jebba Dam; built Shiroro Dam; and I prepared the foundation of Egbin Power Plant, which President (Shehu) Shagari completed and inaugurated. That time, the money we were making was not up to the money Babangida was making annually for his eight years. Yet, we built two dams, because it was important.
“You know that power is the driving force for development and for any developing country. But since the building of Egbin power plant, until I came back in 1999, there was no generating plant for almost 20 years and Babangida spent eight years out of that. Now, he has the audacity to talk about anybody. I think that is unfortunate.
“Then, as elected president, I built Papalanto, Omotosho and others. I started five Independent Power Stations which were stopped for two-and-a-half years. As a country, Nigeria should be adding nothing less than 1,500 megawatts annually. South Africa with a population of 50 million generates 50,000 mega watts.
“As at 1999, we met 1,500 mega watts before we took it up to 4,000 mega watts. What we started they are now allowing it to go on. I believe if they continue with the programme that we left, in another two years, we will get to 10,000.”
Obasanjo added that the ex-dictator deserved pity as a result of the “inherent contradictions” in his comments.
He said, “I also read where he said in his time, he gave the dividends of democracy and at the same time he regretted. When I read that, I said Babangida should be pitied and shown sympathy rather than anger or condemnation because the old saying says a fool at 40 is a fool forever and I would say a regret at 70 is a regret too late. Well, a regret at 70 is a regret to the grave.”
Former Director-General, Bureau of Public Enterprises, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, had claimed that Obasanjo blocked the sale of Nigeria Airways while testifying before the Senate Committee probing the sale of public enterprises from 1999 to date.
Obasanjo admitted that he blocked the sale of Nigeria Airways under the privatisation programme but explained that he did so because the organisation was not viable for sale.
Obasanjo said, “I blocked the sale of Nigeria Airways; not that I attempted to block the sale of Nigeria Airways. When I was the military head of state, Nigeria Airways had 32 aircraft. By the time I came back as elected president of Nigeria in 1999, Nigeria Airways had only one aircraft. One of the 32 was wide bodied; they had all gone. The report on which we worked is here and the amount of money we would have had to pay if Nigeria Airways was sold. What we would have got out of it was less than 10 per cent of the debt we had to pay. That will be the debt Nigeria taxpayers would have had to pay. I won’t run my own affairs that way, so I opted for liquidation.
“So, it was bankrupted, it was liquidated. In which case, whatever you gain from liquidation, which is also a form of sale, (it) means the burden will be shared by all the creditors and everybody. So, I did not allow normal privatisation or sale because it would have put a very heavy burden on Nigeria. In fact my administration should be commended for that,” he added.
However, Babangida, in the statement, alluded to the widely held belief that he was one of the powerbrokers who engineered Obasanjo’s ascension to power after his prison term.
The statement reads, “When he was released from prison and granted state pardon, bathed in cerebral ornaments and clothed in royal beads and later crowned as President of Nigeria, IBB was not a fool then.
“Now that he is at the extreme of his thoughts and engagements, he can decide to dress IBB in borrowed robes. But the histories of both of them, when put to public scrutiny comparatively, IBB is far glowing and instructively stands poles apart from Obasanjo.
“On the issue of performance, Obasanjo cannot contemplate a comparison of his largely acquisitive regime that plundered our hard-earned state resources, with that of the IBB government with a verifiable record of achievements.
“Despite the fact that he carried out a clinical investigation of IBB’s regime, what did he establish against him? Nothing! We wish to refer Obasanjo to the National Assembly to give his own side of the story to the several revelations that have become the themes of his orchestra when he held sway as President of Nigeria. Perhaps, he would be able to tell the world how he managed Nigeria’s resources during his regime.