Mustafa, in an interview with newsmen in Abuja, also revealed how he became a minister through a special recommendation from the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida and how he told the former Head of State that good people should be encouraged to go into politics.
According to him, during the late Gen. Abacha’s regime, five political parties – UNCP, DPN, CNC, GDM, and NCPN, were created by the government and thrown out to the citizens to choose which to belong to.
He said 3 vibrant citizens – himself, Alh. Abubakar Magaji, and Dr Shem Zagbayi Nuhu, who was later a Deputy Governor in 1999, met and agreed that there was a need to develop a new political culture in Niger State.
According to him, the Nupe-speaking zone had never had a governor then, stating that it was either the Hausa-speaking zone or the Gwari-speaking areas, so there was the need to give the Nupes a chance.
He said going into one of the weakest parties was the only way to test their popularity and strength that could equally challenge the UNCP.
He said, “We formed a group called the Niger Political Forum, which formed a committee chaired by Alh. Ibrahim Issa Ladan to give us a report that will guide us on a way forward. They did so, we presented the report to a larger group who recommended that we join the weakest party of the five, or the NCPN, which we did.
“We started going round to brief our seniors, the first was Gen. Babangida, who, I remember, looked at me and said ‘Mustafa, even you’ I said ‘Sir, if the right people don’t go into politics, the wrong people will continue to have their way’ and that is essentially what we are seeing happening today.”
He narrated further that President Olusegun Obasanjo won in 1999 and he sent a letter to each Governor to send three names to look at, so as to make one his minister.
Mustafa said: “our Governor then said since we initially had an agreement that I will be the ministerial nominee, there was no need to send three names. But some people, who may have had ulterior motives, claimed that President Obasanjo may object, but Gen. Babangida called the late Kure and advised him, ‘Go and ask Mustafa to give you two other names of his choice to make the list of three,’ so I gave two names, the three were invited to Abuja for a ministerial retreat. There, Obasanjo just wanted to know the people and listen to their views or opinions on the type of system to guide his governance, so after going through all the screening etc. we were sworn in as ministers on June 30th, 1999.”
Speaking on how he jumped on the tasks before him, Mustafa said he carefully drafted a plan and shared it with the Permanent Secretary on how to move the nation forward through the Ministry of Commerce.
According to him, “Eventually, when I realized that the in-situ capacity to develop the Draft Action Plan did not exist, I sat down myself, sketched what I wanted us to achieve over our first three years in office, and shared with the Permanent Secretary and Departmental Directors for input, including the Chief Executives of Agencies under us. At that time, we had CAC, NEPC, the Consumer Protection Council, NEPZA, Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, Tafawa Balewa Square Complex, and Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority. Some of these agencies were inaugurated after my assumption of office as they only existed in law and not operational.”
He disclosed further how he later presented his Action Plan to the cabinet, narrating that the president was out of town on the day he did, and that it was the Vice President that chaired the cabinet meeting.
Quoting the then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, the former minister affirmed: “he said ‘Mr Minister, you actually don’t need approval for something that was assigned to you as your responsibility, so go and implement and then report implementation.’ I thanked the cabinet for the “No Objection” and we immediately swung into action.’’
He said one of the products of that Action Plan today is the CAC, stating that when he assumed office, it was completely analogue or pre-analogue, but the innovations he brought in changed the story.
Speaking on the corruption fight under the administration, the former minister said, “Remember when President Obasanjo first came in 1999, he came hyper-sensitive on any corruption issues. Before becoming president, I was later made to understand that he had an application to register a company with CAC which had been in process for a long time. So, when he became president, he set his first trap at the CAC to use as an example. He gave his boy, following the registration process, some amount to use and push the process fast and it worked. Within a week or two, the Registration Certificate was out. Surely, a dormant ‘Volcano’ was activated.”
Mustafa further disclosed how an order from Obasanjo led to the sack of the entire management staff of CAC.
He quoted the former president as saying, ‘Mustafa, go and fire the entire management of the CAC and when you do so, come back and let me know what you have done’.
He said, “We thereafter organized an open and transparent process of recruitment of new management that saw the appointment of Mal. Ahmed Al-Mustafa as the new Registrar-General of the CAC. With him, we were able to push forward the transformation plan of the CAC of the analogue years to a fully digital, customer-friendly Corporate Registry based on an IT-Architecture I personally designed. The CAC that was drawing from the public appropriation as of 1999 is today a contributor to the Federation Account.
“We similarly subjected the Free Zones Authority to a holistic x-ray that transformed it into what it is today, an entity that is also self-financing. The Consumer Protection Council which existed on paper, turned around into an effective vanguard of the public and is today known as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority that also existed in law was put into operation and today equally self-financing. The Nigeria Exports Promotion Council which was equally inactive was given life through a Presidential order, secured by me, that allocated 0.5 per cent out of the 7 per cent surcharge collected on all imports into the country to assist it fund its Exports Development programs.
“By 2002, at the completion of the life of the 3-year Action Plan, I earlier presented to the cabinet, I prepared a report accounting for the implementation of the Action Plan and filed it with the cabinet secretariat. Luckily for me, the day the memo was listed for presentation was actually exactly three years on the dot from the first day I presented in 2000. I solicited the absolute attention of my cabinet members for the importance of the report and presented my action plan implementation account. By the time I finished, many members of the cabinet raised their hands to speak. I recall Gen. T Y Danjuma spoke first and said ‘Mr. President, I thought when we left government in 1979, I had seen my last best, but I did not know that I was yet to see that last best. Mr President, I think you should commend Mustafa’, ‘’ he said.
Obasanjo offer of NIPC job
Narrating how he found himself at the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, NIPC, he said, “In November 2003, at about the time CHOGM Meeting was to take place in Abuja, I was in Lagos on my way to Mozambique to attend the World Economic Forum Southern Africa Meeting, when I got a call from President Obasanjo asking; ‘Mustafa, have you reported?’ I asked Mr President; ‘Report where Sir?’, and then I think he realized he’d not even spoken to me about an appointment, he said ‘ok where are you’ and I told him he said, “see me when you return”.
Revealing one major thing the former president did for him and others, he said: “I must state that one thing he did for me and others which I will never forget is that if he trusts you, likes and appreciates you, he doesn’t abandon you. He will always look for you without any prompting or solicitation.
“When I returned, I went to him and he said ‘Mustafa I want to send you to NIPC’, I didn’t say anything, he repeated it three times with no response from me, so he got up and said ‘When you make up your mind, come back to me’.
“So, as I left him, I immediately proceeded to Gen. TY Danjuma to share with him what transpired and explained to him my worry – from a ministerial responsibility to a subordinate to a minister of the same ministry I was superintending, and secondly people would think I was desperately looking for something to do when in reality I wasn’t.
“Gen. Danjuma immediately said, “Mustafa, go and do it,” I don’t think the president meant to lower or reduce your worth, I’m sure he wants to raise the status of that office, help him solve a problem, and he sees you as the only provider of the solution.’’
He revealed how he also met Mal. Adamu Ciroma to seek his advice.
He said, “I left him and went to Mal. Adamu Ciroma, explained the same and he said; ‘Minister, if the president says you should go and head the people who sweep the streets, go and do it, it’s an honour for him to even recognize you’. I left him and went to see Mal. Sani Zangon Daura on the same issue, he too said Go and do it, I went to Alhaji Sule Lamido, and he said ‘Why are you wasting time, go and do it’. I went to Malam Lawal Batagarawa, and he too said go and do it, ‘look at me, I dropped from a minister to an SA’.
“So, after about two weeks, I went back to President Obasanjo and said, “I am now ready,” he said ‘okay, the first thing I want you to do is go and fire all the directors in that office. And anybody who stands in your way, clear him, I will stand by you.
“My challenge on such a Presidential instruction was that of having to balance between discharging such instruction and evaluating the consequences on him as a president, given the fact that most of those directors came from one zone of the country, the North-East.
“I, however, went ahead and organized 3-month long review meetings with the directors of all documents produced by consultants on the NIPC in the past but were not used or implemented. As the reviews went on, decisions on recommendations in those documents were taken by consensus, meaning all directors were part of the agreement,” he narrated.
“By 2002, at the completion of the life of the 3-year Action Plan, I presented to the cabinet a report accounting for the implementation of the Action Plan and filed it with the cabinet secretariat. Luckily for me, the day the memo was listed for the presentation was actually exactly three years on the dot from the first day I presented in 2000, I solicited the absolute attention of my cabinet members for the importance of the report and presented my action plan implementation account. By the time I finished many members of the cabinet raised their hands to speak, I recall, Gen. T Y Danjuma spoke first and said ‘Mr. President, I thought when we left government in 1979 I had seen my last best, but I did not know that I was yet to see that last best. Mr President, I think you should commend Mustafa’.
“Mal. Adamu Ciroma (late) also spoke, Chief Tony Anenih (late) spoke, Dr Kema Chikwe who was sitting next to me, I could see her shedding tears as a result of two reasons, according to her, on one, she said, she was not in the cabinet the day I presented the Action Plan to prompt her, and two, that a colleague had done something impressive that’s giving the cabinet a good image. Mrs Modupe Adelaja equally added her voice just as Mal. Sani Zangon-Daura, Wakilin Adamawa, and many others did. By the end of it all the Cabinet Approved that the entire Report be publicized as part of the overall achievements of the Obasanjo Government.
“So, in effect, I have perfected the art of giving life to dead public institutions through first planning and moving the entity to a level higher than where it was to a platform that guarantees sustainability and prosperity. That was exactly what I did to the commerce ministry and by the time I left the ministry became one of interest to all ministerial appointees and today the 3rd most important Ministry,” he added.
Resigning to contest an election
On his resignation to contest an election under PRP, he said Obasanjo was reluctant in allowing him to leave.
According to him, “Actually, President Obasanjo was reluctant in allowing me to go and contest but had to for certain other reasons.
“So I left and went to contest under PRP though initially it was under PDP but the governor then exploited a weakness in the regulation by the party under the number of delegates to his advantage by conscripting about 290 Special Advisers overnight as special delegates to the congress.
“In the regulation they listed all the delegates on the statutory side and those who were elected, and then special advisers without being specific on the number, so one cheeky Attorney-General saw this and they exploited this, overnight they recruited 290 special advisers who became automatic delegates. When I noticed this, I wrote in protest to the PDP national Headquarters and when no action was taken I moved over to the PRP.
“In those days, PRP was the only option, APP was not ideologically favourable to our aspirations and had its own candidate. By the end of the elections, and according to what was declared, they said we got 280,000 votes, the governor got 508,000, but, interestingly, I had more votes than Sen. Bukola Saraki who got 180,000 votes to win governor in Kwara. I appreciated that our efforts were worthwhile and we still enjoy respect for the people of the State many years after the unfortunate process.
“After the elections, supporters insisted we should go to court, but I got insider information from other sources that advised otherwise that we should close that chapter, so we left it there and moved on. Immediately after that Frieslandcampina WAMCO, the makers of Peak Milk, invited me to join their Board and I did in September 2003 for a brief period.”
On the challenges he faced at NIPC, he said after the sack of the directors, “We faced a lot of petition writing on those terminated, and towards the end of his term I went and recommended to President Obasanjo that if we introduce tenured appointment on our Directors of two four-year term the rest would leave the NIPC before his exit in 2007 and that would completely discharge his first instruction of sending away all the Directors when I first came to the Commission. This is what, I suspect, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye later adopted in the public service and made it universal.
“Upon approval of that tenured recommendation, I instructed the Finance Director to pay into the accounts of those we were to terminate, all their entitlements up to the terminal date ahead of the date. He did so, and we paid them and we gave them two weeks to see who will report an irregular flow of money into their account, none did, and by regulation, after two weeks, if you keep such money you have accepted. So we gave them termination letters. Then petitions started again after the exit of President Obasanjo believing that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would reverse that decision. That never happened.
“When Amb. Babagana Kingibe came as the SGF thought they could use sentiment to secure sympathy; again he could not help them. They resorted to all sorts of mischievous writings on my person, in the office all in an attempt to bring an end to my tenure in the course of which we were invited a countless number of times to the EFCC, and ICPC until they got tired. I was however never tired as I knew we stood on truth. That one too did not help their case.”
On the turnaround of the NIPC from an invisible agency of government to a very prominent one, he said, “When I arrived at NIPC in 2003, I deliberately invited the NTA and said just help me, stand in front of the gate of the NIPC and randomly stop people passing by and ask them ‘what do you know about NIPC?’ And right there, someone will ask ‘Do you mean NNPC?’ or ‘Where is it?’ And, ignorantly, it’s right there in front of them so I knew we had a visibility challenge which I must have had to address.
“To attempt to address the issue of visibility, I pleaded with the President to exclude my agency from those to be given nominated Board members, instead I would recommend for his consideration names that will attract attention to the Commission which he willingly obliged. So I gave him the names of Alh. Aliko Dangote, Mr Jim Ovia, Mr Festus Odimegwu, Chief Femi Otedola, the big players of the Nigerian economy, whom I knew anytime they came around the Commission the press would gladly want to be around. The President on his own brought Chief Felix Ohiweirei to be the Board Chairman.
“And I remember he was then sitting beside his late wife Stella, he patted her lap and said ‘Ohh this woman go kill me if I don’t put a woman on this Board o’, later on, Mrs Salome Jankada was brought in, and other institutional representatives.
“Our major problem when we started was to scale up the Foreign Direct Investment or FDI capital coming into Nigeria. And President Obasanjo had told me, at the onset, that ‘look Mustafa even if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, or at any time you have a serious investor and you think I must see him, bring him I will meet him’.
“So we had this unlimited opening and access, and we had the trust of a leader who does nothing other than work, work and work. And we were streaming visitors in investment delegations to his office and he never showed any sign or indication that we were a burden to him or his time. I truly appreciated knowing him and working for him and serving him and his Government. He had such a capacity that no Barometer can measure. He has no equal at such a time.
“So President Obasanjo personally contributed to enhancing the visibility of NIPC and in an effort to further assist industry operators in difficulty which he was so passionate about, he later on instructed we form a Committee on Problems of Investors whose duty was to address the individual industry operators problems, and subsequently institutionalized at a One-Stop-Shop facility within the NIPC for investors, and everybody wanting a wait-and-get solution was coming.
“I must state that I inherited a NIPC with a debt of N200M in 2003 and when leaving I left it rich with over N2.86B. I left a sustainable means of revenue for the Commission that made it today financially self-reliant and anybody who claims that he either returns money to the treasury annually without telling the people of this country how that money was generated and the source is only trying to earn undeserved credit. The NIPC of today was my architecture and it shall continue to survive on that model until the policy support instrument that we created that enables it to generate income disappears. Here again, is a clear showcase of my capacity to revive a dead agency and give it life as I did at the Commerce ministry.”
On the true nature of Obasanjo, he said: “So many negative things have been said about President Obasanjo, as someone who worked closely with him, how true are all the allegations?
“Surely it takes one to work closely with him to understand him well. But those who say negative things about him are surely ignorant or mischievous or both. Indeed every one of our past leaders had similar insinuations so this would not be the first nor shall this be the last. One of his biggest attributes is that he is absolutely independent and not under the control or regulation of any individual or block in this country or abroad. This quality had helped him tremendously in his ability to make decisions relying solely on guidance and advice from his trusted lieutenants as his regulators and moderators.
“If, for example, you take committee recommendations to the President he would look at it item by item, tick, this one approved, this one, no, no, no, not approved. If however you explain to him very clearly and give him a valid reason he’ll say ok and tick, and when he finishes he endorses “above approved as ticked”. His trust has nothing to fear. He emboldens the confidence of those he trusted and stands by them.
“Another impressive quality and capacity of President Obasanjo is that if you drop a memo in his office before 12 o’clock by six in the evening you will get a response from him, if you drop it after 12 noon by 9 o’clock in the morning of the next day you get a response. If he travels, he goes with some of his files to work on the flight and by the time he returns all pending issues get addressed.
“He can call you at 03:00 a.m. to ask you for clarification on a subject he’s reviewing and thereafter ask you to see him the same morning at 07:00 a.m. You can’t beat him on that.
“There is no document you will send to him that he will not read thoroughly, you come to the cabinet meetings with bulky documents he will be the one driving the review of such volumes; for example ‘on page 9 I don’t like this language or change this…’ he takes you from page one to the end, so it was a challenge for you as a minister not to read your entire cabinet meeting document as you can be embarrassed if you don’t. He indeed embarrassed some of our colleagues for not being organized.
“He created an Economic Management Team or EMT, in which I was a member. We were meeting every Wednesday from 8.30 am to 10 am and decisions will be taken to the FEC ; we start meeting immediately by 10 o’clock and after, the cabinet secretariat will summarize decisions of the EMT and it will be adopted for implementation and circulated to the various agencies for action. Each such Agency would be required to account for the implementation of the relevant decision by the following week’s EMT meeting. That’s how the government was moving and taking stock on a weekly basis.
“Things were really being pushed hard to move, besides that, there was also a Saturday Forum, introduced by President Obasanjo where different sectors would be invited to interact and brainstorm on challenges or needs of their industries and decisions taken, so everybody was actually up and active from the public to the private sector.
“President Obasanjo was such a leader that when people speak negatively about him I just smile, look, there was a time he told me that ‘Do you know my younger sister is a Muslim?’ I said, ‘Is that so Mr President, he said yes, and I promised to give him a copy of the Holy Qur’an to deliver to her. When I ultimately did deliver a copy of the Holy Qur’an to give her and he did, he told me ‘she was so happy when I gave her’.
“This is the same person who fasts with us during the month of Ramadan, and invites people to breakfast with him each evening in the Presidential Villa in batches, the only difference is that he adds 10 days and makes his 40 in total after we would have broken ours.”
Explaining how and why Nigeria eventually joined the Islamic Development Bank, IDB, Mustafa said: “When it was ultimately concluded I was not in the cabinet but at the beginning of it I recall that the then Minister of Finance Mal. Adamu Ciroma (RahimahulLah) presented a Memo to Cabinet requesting approval from the cabinet for Nigeria’s membership and payment of the dues to join the Islamic Development Bank. Unfortunately that day some non-muslim members of the Federal Executive Council, who misunderstood “Islamic Development” to mean the Bank was being brought in to “Develop Islam”, objected to it.
“President Obasanjo, at the council meeting, told the minister ‘Mal. Adamu withdrew your memo’, so the minister did as he was instructed.
“We took it that, that was the end of the issue. Little did we know that the President had a different plan entirely. I remember being one of the few that followed him to his office a few days later to invite his attention to how sensitive the subject was and the need to handle it with care.
“He assured me not to worry. On one of our trips to China, I raised the issue with him again and said ‘Sir, what transpired earlier had gone out and particularly the Muslim community were not happy’ I advised the issue be revisited, and I quote him, said to me; ‘ Mustafa, I will take Nigeria into the IDB and whoever does not want Nigeria in IDB can leave Nigeria’. I knew that the case was finally settled. I thanked him for his commitment to fairness.
“In his second term, there were changes in the cabinet and most of those who opposed were not in the cabinet anymore, and the current WTO Director-General, Her Excellency Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was then the Minister of Finance.
“President Obasanjo instructed the Minister of Finance to look at the issue again and raise a memo and she did and defended it very well, the cabinet approved and that was how Nigeria seamlessly got into the IDB. I could remember clearly when she was asked by the media after the cabinet meeting on the same subject she explained that it was a normal financial institution just like any other. She even assured us that the ultimate beneficiaries of IDB in Nigeria may end up being those who we all least expect. That’s exactly what is happening today.
“These are part of the attributes of President Obasanjo, he is courageous, bold, strong, and he can be explosive, but if you can manage him well, get him to calm down and understand you, he’ll get along with you. And if he trusts you he doesn’t disappoint you, he defends you, protects you and stands by you.
“But if you give him an iota or an inch or room to suspect you’re doing hanky-panky, you and he will part ways.
“Many people have been trying very hard to paint President Obasanjo in a different form but unless you work with him you’ll never appreciate him, he is indeed one of the best leaders that Nigeria ever had.”
Life after NIPC
Narrating what happened after he left NIPC, he said: “I left NIPC in February 2014, the position of the Governor in my State, Niger State had rolled back to our zone as such I made an effort to attempt it again, unfortunately, the Governor, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu, had his own candidate that he hoped to fix as his stooge, as a result, he must do everything possible to disable all other contestants. Dr Aliyu was my junior in the same Arabic Teachers College, Sokoto by one year, and it was in their own family house, Gidan Sarkin Hausawa in Minna that all of us from Kontagora would normally sleep in the Zaure part of the house each time we had anything to do in Minna, the then Provincial capital.
Truly I remained in the process to confirm if Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu would sit me publicly and embarrass me. He did and we retaliated in the general elections by making sure that neither he nor his candidates made it to any position as well. AlhamdulilLah each one of us has been taught a lesson from those who became governors free to those who worked hard to make it to the same office but were forcefully prevented, each one has now known the value of an office.
“I went through the primaries, they said I got 57 votes, I said ok, we said we’ll make sure we team up with the opposing party to defeat you, and that was exactly what happened.
“When I left government the same FrieslandCampina WAMCO, the makers of Peak Milk, invited me again to come back and join their Board in 2016, and while I was there Mr Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank, by virtue of our established relationship over time as my Board Member at the NIPC and before then while as Minister, invited me to serve on the Board of Zenith Bank on which I currently am. I remain appreciative of the honour and privilege.”
Speaking about his life regrets, he said, there were no serious regrets considering that whatever happened to him had been taken as part of his life experience.
He said, “Not really, because everything that happens to one, I take as an experience and part of destiny for one, and so I don’t get unhappy with anybody and neither do I regard anyone as either the obstacle or the problem. Indeed I have many more friends and few people who antagonize me or any of my efforts, within the confines of my knowledge.
However, one would not say that in life he or she never reflected and expressed some form of regrets as a result of an action of omission or commission by some other individual, group or even government. In my own case, the latter is most worrying for me to the extent of expressing some level of regret.
Please take a look at the following data that we inherited in 1999 which was a transferred liability from 1998 when the then Military Head of State died, and profile over the current political dispensation that is now about 23 years.
These are what we inherited as at 1999; GDP growth rate of about 3%, agriculture contribution to the GDP of about 3%, population growth rate of nearly 3%, the first 3 above clearly reveal as we produced we consumed as such the economy was stagnant, power available to the whole country about 1,380 MW, foreign reserve of only about USD$3.8-Billion barely enough to cover 3-Months imports bills of the country, debt burden of USD$33-Billion, with an average annual interest payment of over USD$1.5-Billion with the principal still growing, less than 15% Manufacturing capacity utilization, 86 Commercial Banks with total assets value less than that of 2-Banks currently, mining sector monopoly, very low wage regime that was an incentive to corruption, no such products as; Consumer Credit Scheme, Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Sustainable Pension Scheme (PENCOM), Federal Mortgage Bank monopoly, no Primary Mortgage Institutions, no monetized benefits that we later universally introduced that were giving employees enough to pay rents, either save the balances or use same to pay school fees, not enough legal and regulatory environment to support doing business, and wide scale corruption as a result, things were in a hay-where situation.
“Our arrival ushered in a rescue plan and program that saw the wiping out completely of the debt burden through very prudent and disciplined financial (fiscal and monetary) management, a process of which gave birth to MDGs that subsequently benefited many rural communities, the introduction of all the measures and incentives earlier on stated as well as the creation of several regulatory institutions that supported the creation of good doing business environment and public confidence. GDP rose to 12% by 2012 and stabilized at 8.5% until the revaluation of the entire economy, Agriculture contribution moved up to 7%, manufacturing capacity utilization moved up to 75%-85%, etc.
“Salaries were scaled up 20 times and suddenly the morale of public officers got a boost and corruption associated with routine official transactions disappeared nearly completely as the pay package of public and private sector officials was more than enough to maintain and even save or invest in Mortgages or consumer-related schemes. A lot more thermal power plants were built to address the power generation capacity of the country, people were actually happy and you could read that in their faces.”
Speaking on current hardship, he said the gains of the past leadership under Obasanjo had been completely wiped out under the current dispensation.
“However, today, even though we know that COVID-19, which appeared only in 2019, added to existing hardships, it pains one to see that a lot of these gains have been rolled back or wiped out completely. Indeed I can speak in a lot more detail on our economic transformation programs at another session when the time permits,” he lamented.
Obasanjo’s 3rd term agenda
On the alleged 3rd Term Project of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, he said he was part of those who drew the exit plan for the former president, stating that after they met the president amid speculations that he was going for a third term, he listened to them and plan for his exit commenced almost immediately.
He said: “In, or about the end of 2006 or early 2007 there were speculations here and there that started featuring on both social, print and other electronic media that the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, may be considering finding ways and means of extending his tenure and the scale was growing exponentially to a potential reputation-damaging level to the integrity of the President and the office.
“I equally recall that at that time, I and the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and currently serving Governor of Kaduna, Mal. Nasir Ahmed el-Rufa’i decided to meet the President on how we could mitigate the potential damage to his office and reputation the circulation was intending to do. We went to him, as usual, we neither needed nor required any appointment as he was available 24/7 and while occupied doing some work on his table, he looked up at us after salutations and said “Yes!”.
Mal. Nasir said, “Mr President, who are your friends in the North that we can arrange, mobilize for you to meet with to speak to on this ‘3rd term’ noise fast moving around, so as to bring it to a close, hearing from you”?. He looked at both of us and pointed his finger at me and Nasir. Mal. Nasir responded back by saying that “Mr President, we are serious”! and he immediately responded by saying “So am I!”. He then dropped his pen on his table and said; You (meaning Mustafa Bello), You (meaning Nasir A. el-Rufai), Adamu (meaning Adamu Maina Waziri), Lawal (meaning Lawal Batagarawa) and Modibbo (meaning Dr Aliyu Umar Modibbo), go and meet on this and come back to me at a time we will agree within the week.
We immediately, upon leaving the office of the President, placed calls to all the other three for a meeting in the house of the FCT Minister Mal. Nasir Ahmed el-Rufa’i the same day in the evening as the subject was an urgent one seeking an “Emergency” response as time was fast-moving. At that meeting and without any effort or attempt to convince anyone of us of the viability or otherwise of the speculated “3rd term” tenure extension project, there was consensus that if at all the speculations may be an existing or contemplated plan, it would not befit Mr President as it would definitely dent his integrity and diminish his value and completely erode the trust based on which Nigerians voted him into office in 1999.
Indeed the decision then was that vacating the office at the appropriate time was more honourable to him than whatever other benefits the extension would bring to the country. As such we agreed to recommend to Mr. President to abandon such a plan, if at all it existed or being promoted by some other groups to him for these reasons. We appointed Mal. Adamu Maina Waziri to be our leader and the one to speak at that first meeting Mr President would invite us later in the week.
“Surely by the 4th day, we secured an appointment to see him at the house by 8:30 p.m. or thereabout and presented our discussions position which he agreed with absolutely and directed that we design an exit plan for him so as to help him use as a guide and monitor implementation.
We left, did as he instructed and requested a 2nd meeting which we got on another evening at which we presented the Plan and he thanked us and took away a copy of the plan to study and then arrange a 3rd meeting to discuss the plan. By the 3rd meeting, Mr. President came with an enhanced version of that plan to his own convenience and at which late Chief Tony Anenih was invited as leader of the Party, the then-Senate President, Sen. Ken Nnamani was invited and the Speaker of the House of Representatives was also invited both of whom were not able to attend as the heat on the subject was brewing. The President directed the leader of the Party to share the program with these two arms of Government.
“After this meeting, another 4th meeting was convened at which I was not in attendance but I was later made to understand that it was indeed the final. After that some of us among the five decided that we must do everything possible to save the name and honour of Mr. President and our efforts brought it to an end as we saw it. That is the true story and nothing more, nothing less.”
The last things I will state are that I am indeed most appreciative of the opportunity given to me and my family of 7, a wife, three girls and two boys, by the people of Nigeria to serve under an energetic leader and President, mentored, guided and protected by an extremely humble Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Abdullahi Mohammed, in the midst of Distinguished personalities like VP Alh. Atiku Abubakar, who described me as “one of the cabinet’s 5 best’” Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, Maj. Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the NSA, Mal. Adamu Ciroma, Mal. Sani Zangon-Daura, Chief Tony Anenih, Alh. Hassan Adamu, Wakilin Adamawa, Alh. Sule Lamido, Alh. Lawal Batagarawa, Mal. Adamu Maina Waziri, Dr Aliyu Umar Modibbo, Dr Kema Chikwe, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Prof. A B C Nwosu, Chief Ufot Ekaette, the SGF, other cabinet colleagues, as well as later serving President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Ebele Johnathan.
I am not sure many have been as lucky to be in this type of cluster as myself. It was indeed a very rare privilege and opportunity that President Ibrahim Babangida supported my ministerial nomination and I am confident I did not disappoint him or the President and his government I served or indeed the people of Nigeria. I am indeed most grateful!