‘President-elect and the PTF contracts’
By Jide Ajani
President-elect, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), demonstrated he did not want the past to haunt him, according to veteran politician, Mr. Kenny Martins. In the run up to the just concluded elections, some actions of Buhari as head of state between 1983 and 1985 were cited as reason he cannot be a democrat. But to drive home the point that Buhari does not dwell on the past, Martins, in this interview, narrates the story of the president-elect’s reconciliation with the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua during the Abacha regime after they had both been estranged following Buhari’s claim that Yar’Adua played a role in ousting him as head of state in 1985.
Martins’ words: “He (Buhari) did not want the past to haunt him”. You will read this part of the interview next week. But the politician, who is an in-law to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, also speaks on how Buhari saved him from a plot to assassinate him during the Abacha era and how the president-elect ran the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
The presidential election has been won by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) of the All Peoples Congress, APC. At a point during the collation of results when you saw it coming, what were your first thoughts about Buhari the man and the Nigerian nation?
My first thoughts were very deep. First to thank God for making this day possible and in my heart I congratulated Nigerians because I believed that this would be the beginning of a new dawn based on the fact that a couple of things had happened before in this country. That Nigerians could voluntarily elect this man without coercion and that, for the first time, Nigerians elected a man by their own will and their will has been allowed to prevail is very unusual.
How do you mean?
Nigerians had always had leaders chosen for them and it stuck.
Before the elections, there were many issues viz: The type of people who were presenting Buhari; the character of some of those who were sponsoring Buhari; the way the alliance to bring about the APC was coupled; and, most critically, the type of dirty campaigns that we saw. These four points, from your view, how do you think the average Nigerian situated himself within all these to independently make a choice?
I’m a bit philosophical about certain things. There are certain inevitabilities in life that, no matter how serious the odds are stacked against those inevitabilities, they may thrive for a while but, after some time, they will become evident without questions.
I do not believe really that those who presented Buhari or those who sponsored Buhari, if you ask them, I do not think Buhari was really their candidate. But they were faced with a choice that they needed to win an election.
Nigerians were said to have been confronted with a choice between the deep blue sea and the devil?
Yes! Nigerians ended up with a situation whereby they believed that they were confronted with a choice between two devils – Buhari, seen as a totalitarian and dictator; and then Jonathan, after six years of inaction; that was what most people thought.
But what I saw was different.
Why did you see something different?
I’m writing a book that would be released soon: The Nigerian Project: My Testimony. And what we are discussing here now about Buhari, democracy and politics are chapters in the book. The man Buhari! This is a man that is perceived to be all of the things that they have said. And if you look at the campaigns, never in the history of Nigeria have campaigns been that dirty because the system was faced with a candidate that the system has fought against for a long time. And the system itself via cronies fought to shoot the candidate down.
I have believed that the best man to take us out of the mess we are in since he started contesting for the presidency was General Buhari.
Before people think this thing is a joke. Is it because he has won the election now or…….?
(Cuts in) What do you mean? This is a man I know very well. I must first thank God for the position he has put me, the privilege to know many things about Nigerian leaders. I’ve seen them breath, I’ve seen them laugh, I’ve seen them cry, I’ve seen them scheme and I’ve seen them victorious.
Which of them have you seen cry and why?
Is there any man born of woman who doesn’t cry when the situation calls for it? When my book comes out, you will read about these things and I’m saying this with all sense of responsibility.
Look, name them, Babangida, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and I can keep mentioning names, Buhari stands head and shoulders above them all. But because of the reason of the system fighting and shooting this man down, I have always had a quarrel with God, that how come he has not allowed good people to govern this nation and take us out of this mess? How come the best people are destroyed before they get to power? Nigeria is the only country I know that destroys its leaders. When you see them hailing somebody or something, look closely, there is more to it.
Okay, before we come back to Buhari that you claim to know so well, you also know Jonathan. Can you deconstruct the man Jonathan?
There is nothing about Jonathan that needs to be said that I have not said. In 2011, I voted for General Buhari while I remained a member of the PDP. This election I voted for Buhari. My closest friends, some of whom are here with us, used to laugh at me, saying I was wasting my vote.
You have to go back to the emergence of Jonathan, I spoke up. I said you cannot tell a man to give what he doesn’t have. I say this with all sense of responsibility. In 2010, I met somebody so big and high up there in this country and I said, ‘Sir, President Yar’Adua, in about a month’s time may not be able to govern this country any longer and that is if he doesn’t pass away and we must start preparing for any eventuality.’ Barely a month after, the then President was flown out of this country.
Now, let us be very blunt. I’ve heard what some governors came out to say about who did what or did not do what during those heady days. People just make claims that they cannot substantiate other than to grandstand – some of us have been involved in some destiny-changing moments in this country and we don’t make noise about them.
Just before that meeting in Transcorp Hilton, Yar’Adua was flown out and there appeared to be a vacuum in the system and people appeared already talking about a possible military takeover. Now I want to mention names here. From that meeting with the big man, I went to Akin Olujimi, SAN, and had discussions with him and, after about 10minutes, he came up with this idea of Doctrine of Necessity.
I want anyone who wants to controvert this to come out and speak. And he gave examples of where the doctrine had been used when it appeared the constitution had become paralyzed. He explained that to make it work, the headship of the Senate, House of Representatives and someone from the executive should make pronouncements on the issue and it would make up for the lacuna in the constitution.
I went back to the old man and, there and then, General Babangida was called and briefed, but we had a challenge of who in the executive that could make such a pronouncement and I proposed the Attorney General, Chief Aondoaka. I met Aondoaka and briefed him, took him to the big man, he consented and, within 48 hours of my meeting with that big man, the Senate played its part through the Senate President, David Mark, the House of Representatives, through General Babangida and the executive through Aondoaka, who – on CNN – pronounced the doctrine and Jonathan became the Acting President. The heroes of democracy are sometimes unsung and General Buhari is also one of them.
I suggested that Jonathan should just finish what was left of Yar’Adua’s term, continue as Vice President while allowing the North to finish the second term of their own eight years but I was overruled.
I based my suggestion on the fact that Jonathan was never really allowed to serve as a proper deputy governor under Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, before he became acting governor. He just barely served as governor when he became vice president and, even while in that office, the cabal did not allow him to serve well as vice president. And I asked if it would not be too much for this man to jump straight to become president, fearing that he would end up where we have ended up now.
You asked me about Jonathan and that is my impression of him – he was unprepared and he refused to engage capable hands to help him.
Between Obasanjo and Buhari, what is the connection? What is the bond?
Good. Let me reveal this to you. Sometime in 1995, just before Obasanjo was put away by Abacha, he sent me to General Buhari and he said I could buy oranges for him. I said I would buy a carton but Obasanjo said ‘no, don’t waste money, just buy six pieces and give him’. So, when I got to General Buhari, I gave him. He called for a knife, and after it had been washed, he cut and started sucking and I became confounded; so I had to ask this question, ‘General, what is it about Obasanjo that you people treat him like a demi-god? Look at how you feel so pleased with just six oranges as if your father sent them to you’.
He said, ‘Let me tell you why I respect the man. I was his Minister of Petroleum for three years and, during that time I was in charge of selling crude oil, I built three refineries – I can’t remember how many he said; but this man never asked me how and who was lifting crude. I just report to him regularly as was the practice at that time for the purposes of planning’.
He said ‘the only day he ever called me was one morning. I got to work very early and the C-in-C sent for me. And when I got to Dodan barracks he asked, what has Ghana done to you? I told him Ghana was owing us some money on oil-lifting contract and I canceled it. The man asked me if it was my contract or Nigeria’s contract. Obasanjo asked me ‘What is your problem.’
He then told me that he knew from Obasanjo’s Afrocentric policy of that time that he did not want Ghana to suffer fuel shortage and I restored the contract. We then staggered the payment and he said that was the only time Obasanjo looked into what he was doing then as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources.
Which profound moment would you want to talk about in the relationship between you and General Buhari that you claim to know so well?
Incidentally, both General Buhari and President Jonathan had saved my life before from a flying bullet. In the case of Buhari, that was why I decided not to speak until he won. At least for the first time, Nigerians have chosen a leader by themselves and not one imposed or forced down their throat.
Jonathan was not a bad man in his own case. He was just a man that was too good and, when you’re too good, you get hijacked by many forces, no mind of his own; if you give an advice, by the time someone else comes to give another advice, he takes and then gets confused in the process.
For Buhari, it was during Abacha’s government. Obasanjo had just been arrested and I was around him. Some friends approached me and revealed that I was to be assassinated. And I have this attitude about death because I’d had two close shaves with death and so I believe when my time is up my time is up. But they were forceful and they said what if the bullet doesn’t hit you and it hits us.
So, I went straight to Justice Maman Nasir in Malumfaci, just after Kano. I told him I’d heard that the government was after me. The justice said I should be at peace but that I should drive straight to Daura and meet with General Buhari and talk to him.
I told General Buhari that I was being targeted and he asked why. I told him they said I was an Obasanjo man, ‘the man has been arrested and I don’t know why they are after me’.
He said he would ‘try and see the head of state this weekend and by Sunday I would call you’. We had land lines that time. At about 1am, Saturday through Sunday, General Buhari called me from the Villa and said ‘I’ve seen the head of state and he has instructed the NSA, Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, to call you and he would be in Lagos on Monday. I have given him your number and nothing would happen to you’.
On Monday morning, Alhaji Gwarzo called me and I’d not met him before. He introduced himself and told me not to worry and that he would be in Lagos on Friday but I insisted on my paying him a visit, but he insisted that if I wanted to come, I should let the former head of state know that I chose to come to Abuja because he was instructed to come and see me.
So on Wednesday I was in the Villa, I went to Gwarzo’s office and introduced myself a Obasanjo’s in-law and that I heard they wanted to kill me.
He said ‘but our government is not a killer’. There and then he called the head of the SSS then, explaining to him my allegation and that one said he knew me. Gwrazo assured me that I should go and that nothing would happen to me and nothing happened to me.
But just two weeks later, my closest political associate, Alhaja Suliat Adedeji, was killed by government goons.
If I had known her name was also on their list, I would have mentioned her; that day still remains the saddest day of my life when I realized that I missed an opportunity to save her.
Let’s move forward a bit to the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF?
Would you believe that when the job was first offered Buhari, he rejected it. Many people brought tremendous pressure to bear on him but he was resolute in rejecting the job. My question to him at that time was simple. ‘Knowing you as a principled man, some of us have been taught by you to be nationalistic in thinking’ and that what he was being offered was the biggest budget outside any national budget at that time and that ‘you are turning it down because you are Mr. Clean. If you turn down the job, some people will suffer in the health sector, education sector and in the area of infrastructure’ and that he could manage it without being stained.
This man explained to me once and said, ‘Kenny, I would allow 30% profit for my PTF contracts’. I asked why? That appears too much but the man said he knew what he was doing. He said the 15% or 20% is fake because government officials still go ahead to pad the project cost and share 70% of the money and use only 30% for the job. He insisted and charged that no contractor or government official would share his remaining 70%; that it would be used for the job. There must be a bank guarantee, so between the bank and the contractor, there must be a performance bond; so when people come and talk of corruption in PTF, some of us laugh. Go and ask those involved. His approach made the thing work.
When you look at those who worked for his emergence and victory, you see strange elements who…?
(Cuts in) Look, there was a day we were talking and he said, ‘these boys want money from PTF’. I asked which boys and he said the military.
As largesse or what?
I hope the general won’t be angry about this but it is already part of my coming book. It was part of the money for defence, rehabilitation of the barracks and stuff like that. So he said the boys would not allow the contractors to enter the barracks and that they wanted to handle it because the military have their own contractors. It became a major issue for which Buhari and the military dragged one another to Abacha. But it was resolved that the percentage for defence and military should be given to them. So, to understand this man, even the pressure from the military did not make him succumb. So if he could not bow then, which pressure would make him bow now?
In fact, those around Abacha at that time told me that the one of the few persons Abacha stood up to receive was General Buhari.
Don’t you think some Nigerians would be of the view that you were unfair to this man, that had you come out earlier with these disclosures during the campaigns you would have assisted in deepening the understanding of Nigerians regarding Buhari?
(Cuts in) No. I do not believe in grandstanding. One of the best things I have learnt from some elders is that there are some national service you provide best by not going public. Once you go public sometimes, you do not achieve what you would have originally set out to do. I told some people very close to this government that they were going to be voted out democratically some two years ago.
Look, God bless Bukola Saraki. Before things got out of hand, Bukola and I, we were able to convince those rebel governors that they needed to meet with President Jonathan. They said they would not go.
In part two next week, read about the following:
*The 1985 coup, cause of the war between General Buhari and late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and how they were reconciled
*Why the five PDP governors finally left PDP for APC
*The solution Buhari once proffered for traffic congestion along Oshodi/Apapa Expressway
*How the President-elect chaired a pan-Yoruba meeting in Kaduna
*The untold story of the Police Housing Scheme scam