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Why Jonathan Conceded Defeat To Buhari- Dangiwa Umar

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A former military officer, Dangiwa Umar has always been in the news. He has never failed to air his views on critical matters in the country and he was one of the key issues in the annulled June 12, 1993 Presidential Elections.
In this interview he granted ‘The Interview Magazine,’ recently Dangiwa speaks on several issues including why former president Goodluck Jonathan took some of the actions he took as president and why he had to concede defeat to President Muhammadu Buhari even as an incumbent leader with much power.

Before the May 29 handover last year, you predicted that many of those hanging around former President Goodluck Jonathan would desert him. It turned out exactly like that. Why does it happen this way?

You don’t need to be clairvoyant to know this. Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who generously praised Jonathan as a true democrat, suddenly turned into his most virulent critic. We now know that the former President is indebted to Chief Tony Anenih to the tune of hundreds of millions of naira. Of course, most of Jonathan’s friends were ardent admirers and loyalists of some of his predecessors. Tony Anenih was SDP chairman and therefore a keen supporter of MKO Abiola. He found his way to Abacha’s court, while both Abiola and Obasanjo were in Abacha’s prison. He emerged as the closest confidant of President Obasanjo, heading his illegal and disgraceful third term project. The same crowd unabashedly trooped to the ‘man of the moment’, President Muhammadu Buhari and volunteered to advise him on how to deal with former President Jonathan.

In 2014 the Department of State Services (DSS) was said to have sent a report to former President Jonathan that some top Northerners, including Professor Ango Abdullahi, met with you in your house in Kaduna and planned to arm 2000 Northern youths against the government. What became of the report?

Well no evidence was found to warrant any further action by the office of the President and so it was discarded or overtaken by more serious national security challenges. But I was incensed by that wicked attempt to besmirch my image by the DG, DSS. It was simply a case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. What made it more shocking was the timing, coming a few days after the first Nyanya bombing. The attention of the DSS ought to have been fully focused on trying to identify the perpetrators and collecting actionable intelligence to secure the nation from these sorts of attacks. Instead, the DSS was pre-occupied with fabricating mischief and creating more enemies for the President. Any wonder then that the DSS has been found the most wanting in the war against the Boko Haram insurgency?

You accused the DG DSS at the time, Mr.lta Ekpeyong, of being “a small tyrant” and fabricating the report against you. But why would he do that?

Well I honestly don’t want to go into details because the President pleaded with me to forgive since he did not believe the report and actually instructed the DG to call and apologise, which he did. I forgave him, but Prof Ango Abdullahi, who I had not seen in over 10 years at the time of the report, called to inform me of his intention to sue the DSS and I agreed he should. One of those identified at the meeting was a retired AIG from Daura who, unknown to the DSS, had died in the early 90s – about 20 years ago. Why would they do this? Well, I can only imagine that the DG was not happy with my constant criticism of their highhandedness and general human rights abuses. I accused the DSS of framing Dr. Mohammed Yunus, a Kogi State University lecturer, as being a kingpin of Boko Haram. There was enough evidence to show that the poor fellow was a strong critic of the sect. He devoted a chapter in his doctoral thesis to condemning the sect and what he termed their anti-Islamic activities. He was also known to be a critic of the discriminatory recruitment policy of the DSS. For this, he was arrested and paraded on TV with some Boko Haram suspects, who were tortured and forced to falsely incriminate him. He was discharged and acquitted by an Abuja magistrate court after spending over two years in Kuje Prison. I also publicly condemned the DSS for providing a false report on some fee-paying squatters in an abandoned building allegedly owned by a senior public servant, at Apo, Abuja. They were also falsely accused of belonging to the Boko Haram sect. The military stormed the building based on the DSS report, killed eight of them and injured many more. It was later discovered that all the squatters were labourers and none had any connection with Boko Haram. I am sure you are curious to know how I got to see a report addressed to Mr. President and other heads of security agencies. It was one of the heads of the agencies that were victims of the DSS campaign of calumny that alerted me. Appreciating the sensitive nature of the report, I immediately reached out to a senior aide of the President. The President then called for the report. He was shocked by its contents. I was summoned to a meeting with the President at which he apologised for the DGs indiscretion. He tried to reassure me that he did not believe the report and he told the DG so. I advised him to remain focused on the most serious security challenge, the war against Boko Haram insurgency. We reviewed the worsening security situation, particularly the activities of the sect, which were spreading from the northeast to other northern states, including the FCT, Abuja. I asked him if he’d read General Buhari’s condemnation of the sect. He expressed admiration and gratitude for the General’s moral courage and wished that other national figures, particularly from the North, would do the same. I honestly expected the President to dismiss the DG DSS, but instead, I received a shocker. Just as I was about to leave, the President said, “‘You know, when I asked the DG to verify his facts, he insisted that he stands by his report.” This indicated that the President was not fully convinced of my innocence. As if to confirm my suspicion, the DGs term was extended a few weeks after. His Kaduna Director, whom he identified as the source, denied being the author and did not even know of the existence of the report. But as they say, all that is now history. But let me reiterate that no such meeting ever took place. I supported Jonathan in his most trying time as Acting President, when he was fighting several battles for acceptance and legitimacy. I did so pro bono. I felt betrayed and discouraged, but did not abandon him.

You were reported to have played a prominent role in getting former president Jonathan to fortify security around General Buhari (then the leader of the All Progressives Congress) before his convoy was attacked in Kaduna. What exactly was your role?

As I mentioned earlier, in the course of our discussion about the activities of the Boko Haram, I drew the attention of President Jonathan to the recent statement by Gen. Buhari condemning the Boko Haram insurgents for their un-Islamic terrorist activities. My aim was to dispel the ridiculous theory that some Northern elders were supporting the insurgents with the aim to destabilise Jonathan’s administration. I advised him to reinforce security around the General as the Boko Haram was most likely going to target him as they often had their detractors, including Sheikh Jaafar Adam, Sheikh Albani and General Muhammadu Shuwa among others. He agreed and summoned one of his senior aides, who was said to be a “Buhari man.” He instructed him to reach out to the General and plead with him to accept extra security from the Federal Government in view of the likely threat from Boko Haram. I also asked an associate of the General to try to convince him not to reject the extra security offer from the Federal Government as it was his entitlement. As it turned out, my prediction was confirmed. Barely a fortnight later, the General narrowly escaped assassination when his convoy was attacked at Kawo, Kaduna. Mercifully, he escaped unharmed. But within hours of the incident, some of the General’s supporters or political opportunists publicly accused the Federal Government of being responsible, obviously oblivious of the danger this portended for the peace and stability of the nation. I immediately condemned their unreasonable claim in an effort to douse the tension.

Do you think that intervention helped to save the General’s life?

To the extent that security around him was beefed up by the Federal Government, even if, as it was later revealed, the car in which he was riding was not provided by the government, he was saved from being assassinated. To God be the glory. I cannot take credit for this. If anybody deserves credit, it is former president Jonathan and of course General Buhari’s security detail and Buhari himself for not panicking during the vicious attack.

After Jonathan conceded defeat, you described him as “a statesman”. Do you seriously think this was an act of statesmanship more than one of personal survival?

My interpretation of personal survival in this kind of situation is to tenaciously cling to power irrespective of the harm this may cause the nation and of course the incumbent. Our African experience has been for incumbents to choose this injurious option. President Jonathan could have easily placed his personal interest above national consideration. He patriotically and commendably decided to congratulate General Buhari even before the final results were announced. This act alone has crowned him as a statesman. He will forever be a beacon of hope for the growth of democracy in Africa. He should be respected and used as a role model for his personal sacrifice.

Given the circumstances at the time, did Jonathan have a choice?

He could have easily placed personal interest above our national interest. The circumstances you may be referring to are that Jonathan had become aware of his unpopularity and that his defeat was imminent. Gen. Buhari was such a popular candidate, whose defeat could have only been achieved through massive rigging, which would have caused the country to implode. But under similar circumstances, Third World leaders dig in and fight to the last man. Many examples abound; Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Cote d’ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Nkurunziza of Burundi, to name a few. The more threatened such incumbents feel the more desperate they become to survive. Jonathan resolved, even if he was desperately campaigning to win re-election, that, “my political interest is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.” He proved this by his decision to concede. It is an act of statesmanship. Do you honestly believe that a peaceful transfer would have happened if Gen. Buhari had defeated President Obasanjo in the 2003 election or his candidate, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007?

You appear to have a soft spot for former president Jonathan. Many think he was weak and ineffective. Do you agree?

I need to make it clear that the Jonathan I initially struck close acquaintance with, even as a vice-president, was a very simple and kind-hearted person. He was, no doubt, forced on to the stage not well prepared for national leadership. From the outset, he found himself having to fight for survival on many fronts. He also inherited a most virulent insurgency by the Boko Haram. If he appeared weak and ineffective, you have to view that from this background. In fact his strange tendency to defend some of his most callous officials must have been informed by his desire to attract and retain loyalists who provided him with the much-needed support in a hostile political environment. Most of those loyalists took advantage of his seeming weakness to inflict damage on his reputation and that of his government.

I concede that in terms of strength of character, Jonathan is not an Obasanjo or even a President Buhari, but could he have done more in the war against corruption? Absolutely. In fact, some of us tried to get him to move against some of his most important erring ministers, but that did not happen. Did he have the political strength or strength of character to call President Obasanjo to account over the power sector probe that discovered a monumental waste of public funds or even commence the prosecution of 33 former governors indicted by Nuhu Ribadu of the EFCC? I doubt very much. That he didn’t do these and some of the other high profile cases contributed to public perception that he was weak and clueless.

Could his administration have done more in the war against Boko Haram? Definitely. But again, in our assessment of that administration’s performance, we need to take into account the nature of the threat of the enemy. People often talk about the stellar record of the Nigerian military in international peace keeping operations and compare it with its seeming weakness in the war against Boko Haram. This is very unfair. The Boko Haram insurgency cannot be compared to those peacekeeping operations. It is more challenging and complicated. It is more difficult to fight an enemy such as Boko Haram that does not present targets you can attack. An enemy that has no regard for any principles or laws of warfare; it is difficult to engage an enemy that can easily blend with the very people you are out to defend. The military inherited by former president Jonathan was more familiar with conventional warfare and it took a while for it to adapt and become proficient in fighting asymmetrical warfare (war without a front). However, there is no question that given more funding, more and better equipment and greater motivation, the military could have achieved much more as was witnessed from January to April 2015.

It is our wish that this administration defeats the Boko Haram insurgency, but if victory means the total annihilation of the threat including suicide attacks on soft targets, then victory is a long way away. I salute the courage and performance of our troops and the zeal being demonstrated by our leaders, but we must be patient in our high expectations. There is no quick fix in counter-insurgency operations. The Americans and other world powers are learning this lesson the hard way in their war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in the Middle East. While relying on our military to combat the insurgents, we should also try to understand the creed of the insurgents to be able to understand their motivation. We must try to cut off their sources of recruitment by addressing the socio-economic problems of their catchment area. We should also seek support from the international community to cut off the sect’s strategic logistics and financial supply sources.

You advised President Buhari to be wary of giving a bailout to the insolvent states. You don’t think he should give them any bailout at all?

Yes I did, for the simple reason that most of these states became insolvent not only because of the lack of any serious effort to raise Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), but also because their chief executives embarked on what the President would characterise as squander-mania; irresponsible expenditure on personal administration, maintenance of bloated manpower and execution of projects of dubious socio-economic benefit. Unless they change their ways, they will never be weaned from the Federal Government’s feeding bottle.

About 27 states were badly affected and can still barely pay salaries. What could have been done to stop the states from descending to this level?

Restructure the federation. Get the states to re-order their priorities. Do you know that the new Kebbi Airport, which cost above N20bn, is about 120km away from Sokoto International Airport? Why should this project be a priority instead of agriculture and educational development? Who are the passengers; the governor, members of his family and cabinet?

Some people have criticised the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which they blame for our subsequent economic woes. What’s your response to that?

I was one of the staunchest opponents of the Structural Adjustment Programme. I was wrong and its proponents were quite correct. Those who criticised the SAP, which was started in 1986, tend to be swayed by their unrealistic holding on to the past, when everything about our economy was glorious. For example, the Naira exchanged for US$2 and was almost at par with the British pound. Because of this very unrealistic exchange rate, imports were quite cheap. A 50kg bag of rice cost about N20, an average car cost less than N3,000. The economy was highly regulated, all aimed at keeping such imports cheap. The problem was that this discouraged local production, reduced export and therefore effective diversification of the economy. We used oil revenue to sustain this unrealistic economic ‘prosperity.’ It was this negative trend that SAP was created to adjust. Its core doctrine was total deregulation of the economy. Some of its elements were privatisation of public enterprises, withdrawal of wasteful subsidies and deregulation of forex aimed at efficient allocation and conservation.

For you to appreciate the achievements of SAP, you have to understand that between 1960 and 1986, federal parastatals cost government over N500bn and as at the point of SAP, they were all dependent on the Federal Government for subvention.

To be able to maintain the high and unrealistic value of the Naira, government had to engage in external borrowing. There is no doubt that SAP caused the general populace a lot of pain, but its benefits far overweigh its ills. Can you imagine what our economy would look like if we decide to abandon SAP and return to a regulated economy or a command economy with most private enterprises like banks, communications, airlines, power coming under government ownership? They would collapse. Corruption by public officers would increase. General Obasanjo was one of the staunchest critics of SAP. We all expected his administration to jettison the programme, but not only did he advance its implementation, he also took it to a ridiculous extent by selling Federal Government houses. To be fair to the proponents of SAP they warned, ‘Things could get worse before they get better.”

In a recent interview, we challenged Gen Ibrahim Babangida, quoting what you once said, that the reason for not handing over to Abiola was personal. IBB said you were too young (in the service) to call him out on the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections. Do you accept that?

I honestly cannot remember making that statement. But all I can say is this. As young as I was in relation to the generals, I occupied a vantage point as the commandant of armoured corps centre and so was able to observe and understand the political manoeuvres that led to the annulment of an election that even the government adjudged as the freest and fairest in our electoral history.

Gen Babangida said the military prepared three options, including one that would have returned the country to fresh elections within about nine months, but the press and civil society kept pushing the country to the brink. Is that correct?

You are beginning to sound like Jerry Springer. What are you trying to do? You want to push me to contradict a General. No, I won’t swallow the bait. I can only say that the annulment was a monumental error for which IBB has taken full responsibility as the head of the administration, even if I still believe it was a collective responsibility. I am sure that one day the true story will be told, either by him or by some of the major actors.

How do you recall the events leading up to and immediately following the annulment of the June 12 election?

I don’t want to sound like a broken record by continuing to discuss June 12. It was not out of any desire to emerge a hero that I advertised my opposition to the annulment. There are no heroes but victims and villains. I believe I am one of the victims … You may recall that a popular magazine mischievously reported that I was head of a committee that advised government to suspend the conduct of the June 12 presidential election barely a week to the event. I honestly believed that doing so would throw the nation into a violent crisis. With hindsight I may have overestimated public reaction particularly from the South West. I was however, willing to risk everything to clarify my stand. I could not afford to be associated with any action that was capable of leading to the total disintegration of a country I swore to defend. I joined movements within the armed forces aimed at reversing the annulment including one led by the late Gen Sani Abacha. Unfortunately, I was led in the wrong direction and we all lost a great opportunity.

Did you ever meet Abiola before and after the election was annulled?

I met MKO Abiola once and it was at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos during the Challenge Cup final between his Abiola Babes Football Club and our Kaduna Ranchers Bees. You may be surprised to know that up until the time of my retirement, Abiola was convinced that I was one of the officers behind the annulment and had sworn to topple the administration if it insisted on restoring his mandate. I could have been the first to have been jailed by President Abiola before he would have discovered the truth.

What was your reaction when you heard about his death?

Of course, I felt pity for his traumatised and destabilised family. But you know.

Were you surprised that the interim government collapsed and Abacha took over?

No. I was not surprised. My only surprise was that IBB trusted Abacha and his supporting cast or co-conspirators to “provide a protective court” to the interim government. This was akin to handing over your goat to hyenas for safekeeping and upkeep. Let us close this chapter.

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