FORMER military president General Ibrahim Babangida has, for the first time, commented on the tenure of his late friend, General Sani Abacha, describing the revelation of the extent of Abacha's looting of the nation's treasury as a surprise to him.
"The revelations surprised me. I am surprised, because I didn't know," Babangida told a group of Newswatch editors in an interview published in the current edition of the newsmagazine.
He also explained that Abacha's death brought "relative stability," adding that "It gives us, oh well, let's see, there is hope after all."
The former Head of State also blamed the society for allowing Abacha to grow into the dictator he became.
"I feel bad that society failed to realise that they have a duty to protect whatever values they hold dear to their hearts as far as this country is concerned. At any rate, there are people I like and do respect those who stood against the regime, who are not military officers but civilians who are able to speak out. They didn't mince words and if their views had been heard, he wouldn't have (done enough harm)," he said in response to a question.
Babangida also addressed other issues, such as why his regime left behind General Abacha in the Interim Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan, the call on President Olusegun Obasanjo to probe him for stealing public funds, the Dele Giwa murder, why he had remained silent on June 12 and his role in the election of Obasanjo.
On the call on Obasanjo to probe him, the man who ruled Nigeria from August 27, 1985 to August 27, 1993, said he was not afraid of being probed.
He explained that the Obasanjo administration was not the first to be instigated into probing him, adding that some people prompted Abacha to investigate him but the evidence of what his administration did were obvious to bear him out.
"If you take the administration, let's say Abacha, he died in 1998 (June). By September 1999, things began to fall apart. You see lack of transparency. You feel it, you could touch it, you could reach it, ask for it, you could get information… I want to say, when he came in at the time… that he was cautioned to investigate my administration in all these things are there.
"The white papers also are there. I did mention in 1989 that we should be prepared to account for our stewardship at any time. I repeated it in 1991 and I did say it when I was leaving. I am not bragging but I knew we did the best for the administration of this country… I don't think there is any of us who will like his name to be dragged in the mud."
Babangida added that left more than the $500 million people reported his administration left in the account of the federation. He also challenged any one who has evidence incriminating him to expose him.
"People talk about my national contracts, that I siphoned money through these contracts. And then, the international communities are ready to come to investigate. But up till now nobody has come. We were, honestly, very transparent. We knew what happened during Abacha. Honestly, I feel there is no point talking about it," he said.
Babangida chided John Fashanu, the Nigerian-London based footballer who accused the American, Bob Mytton, of helping Babangida to siphon public funds, for missing the opportunity provided by a conference organised by Nigerians in the United States to prove his case.
He pointed out that like the Fashanu case, most of the allegations of stealing against his administration were fairy tales. He gave an example of the N40 billion the administration allegedly spent in prosecuting the transition programme.
"Till today, nobody told me how N40 billion was spent, how they came about that figure," he said, adding that the Pius Okigbo panel which probe the Gulf Oil windfall only introduced extraneous factors into its job.
He commended the Okigbo panel for berating his administration over investment made on non-generative projects even as he said the projects were embarked upon because the administration was convinced they were necessary.
"Pius' report went to June of 1994, even when I was out of office. From August 1993 to June 1994, I wasn't in office. Pius also reported about the increase in fuel dedication from 65 to something else. Again this happened after I had left office."
On why his administration left General Abacha to continue in the ING government, Babangida said the decision was made because Abacha was holding political office and that the administration needed to guard against any adventure being planned by junior officers.
"There was the need to back Shonekan's government with some degree of good military cover, so that his presence would be a deterrent; to ensure they don't get adventurous; so that Shonekan would have military backing to do whatever he wanted to do," he said.
On the Dele Giwa murder, he said he felt sad that the late Newswatch editor-in-chief who was "a friend" died in that circumstance but accused the media of not doing more about it.
"You the media are not helping us for one to know how he died, who killed him. You are not helping them," Babangida said, adding that the police report on the case was not conclusive.
On his role in the election of Obasanjo as President, Babangida said he was part of a group which felt Obasanjo fitted the bill of the president the country needed at this point, so he served as an "emissary" in convincing the former Head of State to take the gauntlet.