Prince Kazeem Afegbua, spokesman for former head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB), stirred the hornet’s nest recently after he signed a statement, purportedly on behalf of his principal, that was critical of President Muhammadu Buhari, and for which the police declared him wanted.
In this interview, he regrets that the controversy generated by the statement took the shine out of the message, insisting, however, that it is in the best interest of Buhari not to run for second term.
How has it been since after your invitation by the police?
Well there was no problem in the first place, except that that police and the DSS wanted to make a mountain out of a mole hill. As a law abiding Nigerian, I needed to show appearance when I was declared wanted and, of course, I also took the necessary legal steps to redeem my image and my person. They discovered, at the end of the day, that it was pointless inviting me and the brouhaha created by the statement took the shine out of the message. We spoke about state police, we spoke about insecurity in the country, we spoke about the need for new generation leadership, we spoke about leadership dynamism, we spoke about quite a number of issues that the former military president was concerned about, but rather than allow Nigerians to digest the message and deal with it, my harassment took the shine out of it. This is our country, we have nowhere to go. We are all stakeholders in the democratic process, and I remain resolute in being part and parcel of it; I do not have any apology for that because, through that, you can enthrone credible leadership. My case is still in court and my lawyer is waiting for it to be assigned to a judge so that I will know the next action to take.
You raised the alarm over what you described as threat to your life. Are you still being threatened?
I was getting funny telephone calls. There was a particular text message which somebody used to rain abuse on me and said ‘get out of hiding or we smoke you out’. And having been a victim before, of government high handedness (in 2006), when I was attacked in my home, I still have scars all over my body, I needed to raise the alarm for Nigerians to know that my life was in the hands of government and that, if anything happened to me, they should know where to go to. I cannot be deterred by text messages from people trying to intimidate me. My mind is made up on what I desire for myself in 2019. I have made it clear that I won´t be supporting President Buhari if he chooses to seek re-election. If the party chooses another person, I will support him; if not, I will withhold my vote.
Why are you taking this hard line posture, what is your quarrel with this administration?
I see injustice here and there. Of course, I am aware that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is trying to reconcile the different issues and factors that created cleavages within the party. I wish him good luck but I want to give you a scenario. In the six states of the South-South, Edo State scored the highest vote for the APC. We got 44 per cent of the vote and that is after the PDP manipulated some figures and invalidated almost a hundred thousand of those votes. Apart from Edo, no other state in the South-South gave the party up to 10 per cent votes. They could not meet up with the 25 per cent for presidential election.
So if you are favouring any state in the South-South, Edo should be number one. But what did we get?; we got Minister of State for Health and the Minister was a member of CPC, and someone who was not part and parcel of the rigorous campaign that Comrade Oshiomhole led us through in that election. We went round the entire 18 local government areas of the state; we did not see this Minister. After winning the election and the ministerial list came out, we saw Minister of State, Dr Ehanire, on the list. Of course he is a known name but he was not part of the political process in Edo.
And the other states that scored 10 per cent or even five per cent got senior Minister. Amaechi could not deliver 10 per cent in Rivers State even when he was an incumbent governor. But today he is Minister of Transport. Cross Rivers State the same, yet they have Minister of Niger Delta. Akwa Ibom the same thing, they have Minister of National Planning. Bayelsa had five per cent vote but they have Minister of State Agriculture. Delta has Minister of State Petroleum; that is someone who was never a member of the APC. So Edo, we are just hanging. But in politics, even if you don’t have this kind of representation by way of appointment, there should be a deliberate government policy that will touch the lives of the people of the state. Our roads are in bad shape.
I have asked the question, what are we going to campaign with? If, for instance, President Buhari decides to run what are we going to be telling our people? The last time we told them for affordable electricity and kerosene, vote for Buhari. Now kerosene is not affordable for the common man, electricity is out of the reach of even the rich; so what are we going to be telling the people this time? Our people will ask the question that the last time we supported him, what did they give to us? The President has not visited Edo in the last three years to say ‘thank you’. So we have cause to agonize, cause to lament, that we have not been cared for in a proper way that justice demands. So when people see me talk, I am like helpless defending this government. I have been a strong defender of this government in my face book wall, my write ups.
You have been with IBB for years and we have not heard this kind of controversial situation before. What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong other than the fact that some Nigerians like to form an opinion over a book without reading the book. When that statement was issued, the headlines in the social media were misleading. There were headlines that did not capture the message of that statement. ‘IBB has given red card to Buhari’, ‘IBB says Buhari should not contest’, no. As far as we are concerned, President Buhari has not told anybody that he is going for second term. So on the basis of that, we cannot begin to guess whether he is going to contest or not, no. We issued a statement saying that Nigerians should cooperate with the current President for him to end his tenure in 2019, that is, when the present mandate will terminate.
Now, we say that in the interest of moving forward, IBB was the author of new breed politics, he said new hands, new generation leadership should be encouraged to come and take over the leadership of this country through democratic process. And that there is insecurity everywhere and that, even as we were offering the advice, Buhari had a right to vote and be voted for. There was actually no room for the kind of tempers that it generated but for the fact that people will not apply little patient to go through statements, they will just read headlines and form an opinion. That is why all manner of statements were now coming out purported from IBB to say it was a rebuttal. But thank God I enjoyed his confidence and I am very proud of that.
I will not do anything that will undermine him, undermine his stature or put him in bad light. I have defended IBB more than any other Nigerian in the last fifteen years and I am proud to say that if I am clear cut when I am with someone, I believe in what you represent, I will go all out for you. It was good he spoke with Thisday Newspapers affirming that he actually authorized the statement and that put a lot of things to rest.
Supposing between now and 2019 President Buhari changes his policies to address some of the issues you raised, will you support him?
If President Buhari is my father, I will graciously advise him. I will say, ‘Daddy, it is time to go home and manage the rest of your life. It is time to leave the stage where people will be abusing you’. I will not bring out my dad to be so vilified if I were to be his son. So it is not about changing policies, it is about the fact that this is the age of retirement, this is the age of having more time for yourself and family than committing to public service. When General Babangida clocked 70, I was one of those who prevailed on him to quit partisan politics. I told him, ‘Sir, now you are 70, I do not want any journalist to push you here and there’. We prepared a statement for him; at a public event in Abuja, he announced his retirement from partisan politics.
That is the hallmark of a statesman. Now anybody that wants to run for election both in APC and PDP go to him in Minna for advice. So some of us who are saying that President Buhari should not seek re-election are more of his friends than those who are urging him on. Now the President has told us that his doctors told him to eat more and sleep more. But this country needs a President who will be awake when the country is sleeping. Or who will be awake when the country is awake. India is awake at night, 24 hours because they want to catch up with lost time. We cannot afford the luxury of having a President who will sleep when we have insecurity everywhere, herdsmen here and there. We need a President that has the capacity to go round and preach peace to all the ethnic groups.
Nigeria is more sharply divided now more than ever before and that is where some of us expressed huge worry and huge danger. We now look at ourselves as strangers occupying the same geographical mass. It should not be, we should be partners in progress and we should be able to own our country. We are all Nigerians, we need a President that can speak on these issues, understand the intricate logic of the Nigerian federation, the dynamism of the processes and, at the end, take a decision that will be far reaching and that will be seen to be just and fair to all the ethnic configurations of the country. It is not an accident of history that President Obasanjo said this government is nepotistic. There are clear signs; we have seen actions and inactions. We need a President that will speak the language of peace, we don’t want people to be cocooned in the Villa and we are just working with body language; that does not help us as a country.