The Nation, March 19, 2011
by Femi Fani- Kayode.
A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, has accused ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo of committing four grave blunders while in office between 1999 and 2007.
He singled out the choice of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, in spite of protests, as the biggest mistake Obasanjo made.
Fani-Kayode gave a rare insight into the last days of Obasanjo’s presidency in an interview in the maiden edition of a new magazine,
The ex-minister also said in the magazine that President Goodluck Jonathan would have to do “a much better job if he comes back as the President.”
He said: “Ex-President Obasanjo probably made three mistakes while he was in office, possibly four. The
first one was the issue of ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, which could have been managed better. And I think people on both sides of the divide were fuelling it for their own purposes. Atiku made a lot of mistakes, certain things that were not acceptable.
“Where you have a situation you have terrible crisis within a government itself; between the President and the Vice-President and everybody took sides. That could not have been good for the government, and it wasn’t good for the government.
“I played quite a few roles initially and I found that regrettable, but it had to come to that. And since then, I had met with Atiku long ago, and we had put all that behind us. That was regrettable.
“The second one was the challenge we had with former President Ibrahim Babangida from time to time. Gen. Babangida has always been a stabilising factor for Obasanjo’s government from day one. He brought Obasanjo into power in 1999 and, for me, I am a deep believer in spiritual principles.
“Someone that brought you into power, brought you out of jail and for you to allow Babangida’s son to be arrested and detained for doing nothing wrong, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), was something I think was a grave error.
“I think that, together with other squabbles we had with Gen. Babangida, was one of the mistakes.
“Babangida was a positive force and he could have been treated with far more respect, and he will stabilise the government of the day and the country at large.
“The number three mistake, which I think was the second greatest mistake, was the attempt to have a third term in office. That is all people remember today. They don’t remember the positive things. There were many positive things but they don’t. I could list them, but people just remember third term.
“And third term is something that is perfectly within his right to attempt to change the constitution. But it was rejected by the people and it failed. I think it was a mistake to have even tried to do so.
“The biggest mistake was the choice of his successor. Late President Umaru Yar’Adua was a disaster from the beginning and was a disaster right up to the end. He was somebody that was not accepted and not the right person to run the country. He was a bad choice.
“And we warned him. The same caucus that I mentioned to you, including Batagarawa (I forgot to mention his name earlier, the former Minister of Defence), we sat down and we warned Obasanjo about it, but he wouldn’t listen and he still brought Yar’Adua on board.
“Yar’Adua was literally imposed on the party. Yar’Adua was imposed on the country, and the rest is history.
“But I think these were four major errors that ex-President Obasanjo made.
“Having said that, I can list the achievements of Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007, which will take one a whole day. They were monumental and so many of them. And he did a great job as the President.
“So, we must be mindful of the fact that history demands that we are objective in analysis and to point out the pros and cons.”
Asked if these four mistakes were raised with Obasanjo, the ex-Minister added: “Absolutely. On a number of occasions, we had discussions, both as a group and individually.
“I remember very clearly particularly on the issue of Yar’Adua. That was a critical issue. We told him pointedly that this was a mistake and we gave our reasons. Many felt that Yar’Adua’s wife would control him and run the country, not Yar’Adua himself.
“Many felt that Yar’Adua was physically and mentally unfit, and he said so. Some said that they had known him for 25 years. I think it was Batagarawa that said that. And that the man would end up attempting to jail every person for no reason. Others said that he was tyrannical. All kinds of things.
“I didn’t really know him very well but I felt that clearly, this is not the kind of man to run Nigeria. And we told him, but he (Obasanjo) refused to listen.”
Pressed to clarify why Obasanjo settled for Yar’Adua, Fani-Kayode, said: “He did not give us any reason. It is inexplicable up till today. There was no reason apart from that; one, he is from the North and two, he felt that he was an honest man; that he wasn’t corrupt. For me, I felt that being from the North was not enough.
“There are so many people he could have selected. Why Umaru Yar’Adua? That is the question I think you really need to put to him.”
Asked if Obasanjo complained to his loyalists when Yar’Adua was derailing, Fani-Kayode said: “On a number of occasions, Obasanjo expressed concern that Yar’Adua was like a hunting dog, who was no longer listening to the whistle.
“The young man lost it. The minute he got to power, he changed. He became something else. And our group was very vocal and strong, and he feared immensely. I heard his Mallam told him that those are hotheads you have to watch out for and as far as we were concerned, we were ready for them. However the same Obasanjo told us to keep quiet.
‘The first thing he (Yar’Adua) did was to implicate us in a coup attempt. In January 2008, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, forwarded a report to the Presidency, saying our group was planning a coup and we have met in London .
“And, of course, it was a lie. The State Security Service (SSS) investigated and discovered it was a lie. Then they said they would do Judicial Commission of Enquiry in all our ministries.”
Fani-Kayode explained that Obasanjo initially denied the Third Term agenda until it was clear that he wanted it.
He added: “I want to look back to the record. I, together with Nasir el-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Akin Osuntokun, Frank Nweke Jr. and a few others like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, were in a group within the government of the day. That was our caucus.
“Not one of us spoke in favour of the Third Term Agenda. Check the records. What a lot of people don’t know is that within the government, there was serious division over the issue.
“We felt that we had done our best for the government. Obasanjo had two terms; he should go and appoint a successor. A good person to continue with his policies. That was our view. Obasanjo was not happy with that. He was not happy with us for taking that position.
“It was hidden from us until the last minute when it was obvious that something was going on. At that point, we didn’t even want to be part of it.
“People that were involved with Third Term are people like late Mohammed Waziri, Andy Uba, Ex-Governor Saminu Turaki; the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, ex-Governor James Ibori and characters like that. Our group was known as the intellectual group within that government. We were not part of it.
“Certainly on the issue of Third Term, we were very silent about that and he noted that. Clearly, he (Obasanjo) wasn’t happy about that. Of course, we raised issue with him personally. On a number of occasions, he denied it for quite some time, saying it was Dr. Andy Uba, ex-Deputy President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu and others, ‘go and talk to them,’ until it was manifest and clear.
“There were characters that were pushing these things and those of us that are intellectual, smart and educated enough could see that history would not allow this to happen; that it was bound to fail.
“And we saw it was bad, having achieved so much; he would allow himself to be pushed into such a thing by people that barely understood the implications of what they were trying to do.
“So, when people attack people like me…if only they knew the truth.”
The ex-Minister also said that there is no sign that the administration of President
Goodluck Jonathan is working.
He said: “What is your definition of working? I think if you go and talk to an objective person and analyse the situation, you will find out that you have a lot of work to do.
“The facts and figures are there. One thing we did when we were in power, at least one, I would argue with facts and figures, I wouldn’t come and tell you lies. If you can prove to me that my facts and figures are not correct, fine. I would bow to superior argument. But don’t tell me lies.
“The fact of the matter is, since 2007, we are now in debt again as a nation. That is not good. The fact of the matter is that Excess Crude Account is next to nothing today. In 2001, we had $20 billion, which is the fact. The fact of the matter is that our foreign reserve has depleted. I could go on and on.
“The fact of the matter is that Stock Exchange has crashed; banks are not as strong as they were when Obasanjo was in power and they are not lending as much as they were. Nigerian Middle Class is beginning to shrink again, and, in fact, it has been decimated in the last three to four years. Those are the facts.
“These things, nobody can run away from and I urge the President to do a much better job if he comes back as the President. I pray he does. I am a PDP man. Regardless of all this, I have refused to leave the PDP and we are supporting the PDP.”