. . Amazing nation’s over 2 decades political undercurrents, power play
Although he has been an active political player for more than two decades, Chief Kenny Martins is best known as the chairman of the Police Equipment Trust Fund (PETF).
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he re-lives the undercurrents of politics, intrigues at critical periods of the nation’s life and march to democracy, spanning over two decades. He spoke in Lagos. Excerpts
What is your turn off so far based on your involvement in the political strides of the nation?
My greatest turn off which most times shakes my faith in man is that most times the idealists with whom you have shed blood, you have paced the 774 local governments of this country, all the 6,000 plus wards, because I also pride myself as a kingmaker without being immodest, when you finally engineer their emergence to power, they turn out to be the greatest disappointment. Every reason, every factor, every strong issue that culminated to their emergence to power to effect positive change are jettisoned as soon as they get there.
How many people have actually disappointed you and who are they?
Oh, I wouldn’t like to mention names. I have quite a number of political office holders that I made, and I am talking about from the top most position to the lowest one. You wonder some times, for Nigeria and for the larger part of Africa, why are we so created? What are the slants in our physical, mental, emotional and psychological makeup that put us so far below (sorry to say it) the quality of other nationals? Few days ago, I saw the Kotoka Airport in Ghana being opened, state-of-the-art, electronic, individual clearance of passport without encountering any immigration officer, everything computerized. Few months ago, a first-class modern hospital was opened in the same country, I think in one of the university colleges, with every equipment comparable to the top hospitals in Europe, then you don’t wonder why every Minister of Health in Nigeria has cried, derided, lamented the fact that in excess of $1 or $2 billion is spent every year on medical tourism by Nigerians abroad. Presidents have run into medical crises and they ferry them out in presidential planes. They have suffered strokes at home and landed in foreign hospitals as ‘ vegetables’ and have been flown back as ‘vegetables’ and have been managed and presented as such, and still there is no single standard reference hospital in Nigeria today. That is to say the efforts of some of us in the last 50 years by putting $1million on the table to build a $100 million hospital in every state and zone to checkmate these crises is in vain. You weep for the country. I am, therefore, indicting every president that has come since the advent of our democracy because sometimes, I cry and wonder about what we did wrong. I got involved in politics at the time of military involvement in politics and at the time, I observed that the entire infrastructure in this country was built by the military. We have not been able to maintain them and we call ourselves democrats. The other time they were fighting and someone was calling for military intervention, people were just making comparisons: Lagos- Ibadan road, Lagos-Benin road, all were built by the military; electricity power was left by the late Abacha and Abdulsalami at 4,000 megawatts. Today, it has not gone up much. The other day, we learnt that the electricity grid collapsed five times in one month and in the last six months it has collapsed dozens of times. How do you explain this? When Obasanjo took over power, I remember I was living in the vicinity of Aso Villa; you were so sure of power because you lived there. Today, at the Villa, it is no longer like that. They make big budgets for diesel to power their generators every year. Is something wrong with us? It is the same story everywhere in the country even in the so-called showcase states like Lagos.
Would you like to have the military back in power to rescue the situation?
No, no, no. I am not talking about the military coming back. The reality today is that the military is out of it; I am just saying that democracy, civilian regime, has failed us. It has nothing to do with military. It is only in Nigeria that every successive government is worse than the one it succeeded.
The Federal Government has been blaming past leaders for the rot in the country; do you subscribe to that?
For three years? How far will the blame game take us? You have a year to go and all you can do is to roll out looters list. They are my good friends, but that does not stop me from saying it as it should be said. We need as a nation to do a lot of soul searching. Something is definitely wrong. It is not about the parties or the presidents, past and present. The Nigerian Project is just not working. If we are still on zero megawatts so to speak, 20 years into our democracy, then something is wrong. It didn’t take China two decades to build their nation to the point it is now.
What do you then suggest should be done to actually get out of this morass?
The greatest problem we have is that those who have it in them to deliver do not have the resources and the wherewithal to get there. The cost of elections is outrageous. Try and run for a mere councillorship seat and tell me your experience. All your savings will be drained at the outset. And if you get there, the cost of getting there and the constant demands by people will distract you and you won’t have time to perform. Government is now the only source of business; the private sector that should drive the economy is in comatose. Try to do business with government in Nigeria; you will burn your fingers.
What about this ‘Not-too-young-to-run’ initiative which is clamouring for the youths to take over things and make positive changes? What is your view on that?
The youths are not indicting anybody. I think Jonathan is about one of the youngest presidents we ever had under the present dispensation. He has a PhD degree to add. What happened? Two hundred million Nigerians were ready to roast him in four years and went for a change for a very old Buhari. So, what has age or generation got to do with it. It is good enough for them to yearn for the young ones to take over, but how prepared are they to take up the challenge? So many things are easily laid out for them. They are the ICT generation. Why don’t they direct the same talent and efforts in ICT towards seeking power? Some of them though are making moves. I have seen the man from Sahara Reporters, Sowore, taking some bold steps. I have seen the others too. A good number of them are showing interest in running for positions. You may be surprised that the same youths will deride and scorn them. On the other hand, they may not even have an idea of what they are doing. Gowon, Babangida, most of them, took over at very young ages. So, what is the big deal if a youth takes over now? The big issue is that we failed as a nation, and groping in the dark. For some of us who have been involved, who have offered our services, we have gone through much travails. We have suffered frustrations, detentions in military gulags, we have seen so much. I think we have paid our dues.
What do you think about the advice of former American President, Barack Obama who pointedly said our problem is weak institutions and not leadership. Was he correct?
I appreciate the candour and philosophy behind that statement. The reality of the situation is that institutions are defined by the personnel. We have the best edicts, rules and laws. It is the men who are the executors, the operators. They ultimately determine the success or failures of the institutions. The Nigerian problem is the operators. It is not the institution that says they should not perform or do the right thing. Take, for instance, I don’t know what Jonathan was doing on Lagos-Ibadan road, but at least there is appreciable progress now. The rule here is that most government projects are abandoned by the succeeding government for less than altruistic reasons. The truth is that democratic governance has failed the nation. And when you get to the states, the same thing operates. Every governor comes to power and wants to start from the scratch. It is this starting from the scratch syndrome that is our problem. Yesterday, even as a coup plotter, you start from where the previous government left. Government should be a continuum. Look at the Second Niger Bridge, democratic governments can’t do it. It has been in the pipeline for a long time to the extent that it is the same bridge that we used during the war, the same old bridge that is being used today.
Talking about institutions, a senator recently was accused of masterminding the snatching of the Mace in broad day light; if the institution were to be strong, don’t you think he would have been reined in a long time ago?
I know that the man disagreed with the larger House. He has a right for dissent. The Senate on the other hand has a right to take action and even overrule the president on issues before it. This is the doctrine of separation of powers. It is the rogue elements that lead thugs to counter democratic tenets through self-help in the enforcement of their perceived rights. One should work within the ambits of the laws and rules of the House to which you have subscribed to as a senator. And this has nothing to do with the intervention of the president.
What are your fears about 2019?
I don’t have any fears about 2019.
You believe everything will play out smoothly?
You see, Jonathan may have failed in too many areas as a president, but he has a legacy today as a man who instituted, enshrined rules, electoral procedure that was so good that not even Jonathan himself and his cabal could override it. And while the cabal was hoping that something could happen to undermine the outcome of the election, Jonathan was clear minded enough to pick up his phone to call the winner to congratulate him, therefore, saving the nation, the process, the institution from collapse. Jonathan, with that singular stroke will remain forever a democratic hero. If he has not tarred the roads, he has created the institution where true leaders will emerge at every level. People will vote. They now know the power of their PVC. They now know that their votes count. You don’t hear of ballot boxes snatching anymore, because every ballot box is computerized and tied to the voters’ cards. Anything to the contrary, the system will reject it. Other countries are starting to say that for once Nigeria got something right and are willing to copy. It is just like the Lagos State Mass Transit System, I learnt the other day that even the New York City is asking the Lagos State government, how did you do it? So, in some areas we have the capacity to excel and surpass expectations.
The president has declared his intention to run for a second term in office. Do you think he deserves to run based on his performance and other ancillary issues that have popped up so far?
For matter of prestige, for matter of rights, for matter of political reality and dynamics, there is no sitting president, governor or even members of the House who would not want to go for a second term. It is your business to try. It is our business to accept or reject you. Simple. There are no emotions or sentiments involved. Evaluation is in the mind of the voter. Nigeria is big. The other day the National Population Commission said Nigeria is about 198 million people, and the seventh most populous nation globally. We are positively restless and determined. When the president has declared to run in a nation made up of 198 million people, and you have just about five million registered voters. What does that tell you? This number is critical in the decision making process. A mere five million people may take the destiny of 198 million people in their hands.
But the political parties can galvanize more people towards the electoral process?
They can galvanize, but didn’t Jonathan galvanize and even released a huge amount of money two weeks before the election? Did it help him? Nigerians have learnt that you can bring your money and it will be taken, but it is me, my conscience and my God that will be alone in the polling booth and I will vote according to my conscience. So, it does not matter who declares, it is who they want that they will always choose.
So, in other words you are endorsing Buhari?
No, I am not endorsing him. People will decide to endorse who they want. My endorsement doesn’t matter. Even the president’s declaration doesn’t count. It does not matter what an individual wants. It is the collective desire of 198 million people that matters.
With the situation in the country now, with so much confusion, controversies and bloodletting, don’t you think the military may be eyeing the political podium again?
Our political culture is growing. Look at what happened in Osun state the other time when Senator Isiaka Adeleke died. His brother, the dancing senator (laughter) switched over to the PDP and beat the candidate of the ruling APC. It is who the people want that will triumph and not the party. That is instructive enough. There was no way they could rig it. In Bayelsa State, I remember the election between the sitting PDP Governor Seriake Dickson and Timipre Sylva of the APC. The military and police were mobilized to the state. I think, Solomon Arase was the IGP then. He was making frantic calls to the Villa, begging to please allow the process to run, and the president gave directives to that effect. And the true winner won. It was clear from the acclamation that he truly won. We are going to have another test case in Ekiti and Osun states soon and then we take a serious view on this question you have asked again. This is the legacy Jonathan left behind. In three or four years’ time, Nigeria would have perfected the system and that will be the cure to all this illnesses that are plaguing us politically, democratically, economically, socially and even religiously.
I heard somewhere that you were responsible for the eventual picking of the late Musa Ya’Adua as Obasanjo’s successor. The story had it that you prevailed on General Babangida not to interfere in the preference of Yar’Adua as his successor in office. How true is this?
It is 100 per cent true. It is part of my forthcoming book on the Nigerian project.
What did you see in Yar’Adua to stick out your neck for him?
I didn’t even know him. In the context I worked, I didn’t even know who will emerge. Here was Babangida who evidently was a major factor. He was the sole factor in engineering the emergence of Obasanjo in 1999, who also had his eyes on the presidency even in the pre-emergence of Obasanjo. He was very discerning to understand that it was realistic to allow the president to emerge from the South after an unrelieved run of northern military leaders. Obasanjo was picked as a candidate of unity. His candidature was premised on a platform of unity. If Obasnjo’s government didn’t do anything, at least, it stabilized the country and strengthened the beliefs of the various peoples in the country. It was also a master-stroke from Obasanjo to pick the late Bola Ige from Afenifere as minister. The Afenifere people did not understand it then, but I hope they do understand it now. It was designed to keep the country on an even keel. It was a major gymnastic exercise. I can see that the unity we have built since 1999 is falling into pieces.
Who is responsible?
The government of the day is responsible. The bulk must stop on somebody’s table. We voted for you, we gave you power to look after our affairs after God. So, we are holding you responsible in whatever happens. That is the way the law of nature works. So, back to the question. There was Babangida by the side plotting to come back and show his capacity to rule and effect positive changes and the perception of people on June 12 over which he had no control. June 12 was beyond Babangida. I told Abiola this on the second day after the annulment.
But he was the sitting military leader?
Forget about that. No president rules alone. There are always forces by the side that pull strings. A president must subscribe to forces in, around and between them. That is the reality even till today. June 12 came. There were issues here and there which are now part of our history. The following night we were in the same plane with Kayode Fayemi. I do not know how lucky they were to survive Abacha. Babangida took responsibility for the annulment because he was the president, but the dynamics was that it was tantamount to a military coup. He was practically weeping tears and blood. He was like a pawn on the chessboard. I was by the side of Obasanjo at a particular time during the crisis, then his Erickson phone rang (You remember the Erickson phone of those days with 090). He was screaming that “Ibrahim can’t do this.” Election was suspended already. There were Generals like Adebayo and Akinrinade around him and they were all saying, “He can’t do this. He must give this thing to the winner.” It was the greatest period of suspense in the life of this nation. Babangida was helpless.
But Obasanjo went to Harare shortly after and said Abiola was not the messiah?
(Cuts in) who told you that? Forget that one. I am not playing the advocate for Obasanjo. What he simply meant by that statement was that Abiola must not be crucified like the messiah. Don’t nail him to the cross. He will not be able to rise again. Has Abiola risen again? The man was talking metaphorically. As a realist he wanted to see how the quagmire could be resolved and that was why another round of election was agreed to hold immediately to remedy the annulment. Let me put it on record today. Abiola agreed that Alhaji Lateef Jakande should be the candidate that will run that second election. Babangida showed everybody why it was not him that annulled the election. To salvage it, he said, “I have served, I have finished my service; this thing is beyond me; I am going, I don’t want any bloodshed in this country; I don’t want government to be paralyzed. Let’s have an early election now; give me your candidate. I am sincere.” Obasanjo was part of the parley; Abiola was there, and so many others. Most of them are still alive and can testify to this. Abiola even came up with an alternative to Jakande in Adebayo Adedeji who was the helmsman at the ECA (Economic Community of Africa). Abiola eventually chose Jakande to run. The real culprits of June 12 who also allowed Abiola to die, one day we shall name them. Abiola went home and changed his mind again after pressures from these people. Babangida was fazed. There was not enough time for the dilly-dallying. He said he was going and there must not be a vacuum. That was how the idea of ING (Interim National Government) was formulated. He was almost like a quasi-president then and was not 100 per cent in charge. There is no president without his own cabal. You are the one who will decide whether they are positive or negative contributors. Again, we aborted the Ernest Shonekan experiment. It was supposed to last for six months and then we have another election. So, in essence, June 12 was a coup by the military against itself. Abiola was just a hapless victim. Let me just leave it at this and let anyone who wants to contradict me come up. On the issue of Yar’Adua, here was Obasanjo getting round to go. The issue of third term was dead. Babangida was geared to run and people were supporting the idea of him succeeding Obasanjo. It was a factor that was constantly canvassed even in the drafting of Obasanjo to run in 1998. My advice to Babangida then was that sir, something around here will not allow you to be Obasanjo’s successor. Two of you are the biggest factors today in the nation. And I will address this hereafter. I said, if you take on each other, you will destroy yourselves and destroy the nation by extension. I pleaded that please sir; your ambition cannot be bigger than the wellbeing, sovereignty and survival of the country. I said, I do not know who Obasanjo will adopt, but whoever he adopts, please support him. Whoever he adopts will not run the country to the end. Something will happen. And when that happens, Nigerians will come and ask you to please come and run.
How did you get to have that insight?
I am a prophet. I don’t use to tell people that. That was how I told Obasanjo in 1992 that he will be the next civilian president; he said I was a mad man. The process was long and turbulent. He went to jail, but he got there. Nobody knew it would be Yar’Adua. There were consultations here and there and they came up with two names – Ahmed Makarfi, and Musa Yar’Adua. Both of them had health issues. Makarfi’s health issue was a bit worse than that of Yar’Adua. But today, Makarfi is still alive.
Are you saying Makarfi’s health issue was worse than Yar’Adua’s?
That was what the security report said. Obasanjo then picked Yar’Adua. Babangida would have emerged the president, but for the intervention I made. This is for another day. There is no doubt, however, that he swung his support around Yar’Adua in two exchanges of letters between two of them. I think the letters; very personal and went into the history of the relationship between the two families dating back to their father and brothers.
Between Jonathan and Buhari, who is your own ideal leader?
(Laughs) Is it on my relationship with them or their performance in office? On what basis are you asking me?
I predicate it on what this country needs in this epoch to progress in all spheres?
Unfortunately, for Jonathan, Buhari would not have been in the equation today, if he had not failed in those critical areas of governance and decision-making. He allowed the substance of his government to be taken from him. Decisions were being taken for him. He allowed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to run the budget. The pulse of the nation was gauged by the economy. The Central Bank governor then, Mallam Sanusi Lamido seized the momentum and wrote that letter which ultimately turned out to be the game changer. He warned Jonathan to act on this red flag and they said they didn’t see the letter. Later, it was found out that the letter was in the Villa. So, he disappointed the nation. Otherwise, he would have had his second term. Obasanjo canvassed for one term for him as a factor of stability. You remember when Yar’Adua died, the country was at the crossroads and eventually the Doctrine of Necessity was invented, for which we have to thank Akin Olujunmi, SAN. We need to thank him. Seven days to when Gen. Dambazau who was the Chief of Army Staff was to take over the reins of governance and consultations were underway even with the state department and other critical bodies, that doctrine nullified and froze everything. There was no government anymore. Budgets were taken elsewhere and signed. It was the urge to stave off the ugly development that forced some of us to negotiate with Olujunmi who came up with the Doctrine of Necessity. That was the only option left. The judiciary was paralyzed. No letter transferring power could be found. It was only the National Assembly that was the saving grace. Some people emerged as democratic heroes. Olujunmi, David Mark who had absolute control of the National Assembly. The doctrine espoused the notion that when there is a vacuum in power, and the judiciary is helpless, then there is need for the lower and upper houses of the National Assembly to make a pronouncement and a member of the executive will sanction it.
But the constitution also empowers the vice president to assume presidential powers in the death or permanent infirmity of the president?
No. They were in court. All these things you’re saying were not possible because the constitutional provisions were not fulfilled before the president died. We were stuck. In this episode we have to thank the likes of Obasanjo who called up people like Babangida to offer support. Obasanjo called David Mark and told him to do this within 24 hours. There were those who went to fetch Andrew Aandoaka, the head of the cabal then, to prevail on him to stop the near intractable situation to save the country. We commend people like Dambazau who did not take over despite having all the instruments of coercion and suppression at his disposal, the readiness of Aandoaka to abandon his cabal position of going to court to stalemate things because there was no letter transferring power to Jonathan. It was cheering that he had to bend over backwards to acknowledge the Doctrine of Necessity in an interview with CNN shortly after, and that made it easy for Jonathan to take over. In every nation, there is always a system that runs things. That is why America took Obama. Somebody like Senator Kennedy who had a major brain surgery at the time had to come out to steamroll him to the presidency against all odds. Those who play patriotic roles at critical junctures in the life of the nation are often maligned and unpopular at the time, but history will come in the nick of time to judge them fairly and position them well. The voice of the people is the voice of God. It happened during the time of Jonathan when he refused to listen to the voice of reason and the people galvanized behind Buhari for change. It will always happen.
Away from politics to personalia, your twin sister, Taiwo recently alleged you planned to kill her over her opposition to the marriage of her son. Is that true?
I won’t talk about that. I can’t withstand women and their sentiments. They are entitled to that. Families have always taken care of domestic issues like this and I know this won’t be an exception. The couple involved and their future are paramount. Let’s move on please.
You have been involved in politics for a long time but you have not run for any elective position. Why?
I will never run for any election. Someone I prefer to call godfather, Justice Mamman Nasir, former president of the Federal Court Of Appeal told me in 1986 at the Judicial quarters in Ikoyi that “Kenny, you and Nigeria will be inseparable. Nigeria will look for you, you will look for Nigeria. Stop talking about money, money, money”. I said, sir, leave that matter. I was young, in my early 30’s and didn’t understand where he was going. I just wanted to make money, enjoy my fast cars and life and that’s all. I criticized the politicians saying that it was joblessness that was worrying them. He laughed. And why was I saying that? I was privy to what happened to MKO Abiola with the government at the time. Till today, he is the only one I call a mentor and a godfather. He pacified Abiola in an uncommon way when he brought a grudge against the government and even encouraged him to continue his sponsorship of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Abiola was peeved that the government celebrated Wole Soyinka when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature and even sent a delegation to the award ceremony in Switzerland, but did not extend the same gesture to Sheikh Gumi when he won an award perceptibly of the same status from Saudi Arabia. He is a deep well of bottomless wisdom and sagacity. He told me one thing that I have always held firmly in my psyche; philosophy and psychology – money and power – are never the same. The man with money is supposed to take care of the man with power. He said the man with power stays in power; he helps the man with money to make his money. The man in power uses his power to facilitate the man making money and the moneyman takes care of the man in power. I believe that a kingmaker does not struggle to be a king. Abiola’s problem was that he was kingmaker and in his attempt to be a king he was cut down.
Who did he make king?
(Laughs.) The Sun and their unusual questions! He made kings. He made kings.
He made kings? Who are they?
(Sustained laughter) He made many governments to come to power. I won’t mention them. Back to the question; I will never run for election, even councillorship. Under Abacha, I ran the biggest party then, NCPN (National Center Party of Nigeria) and we won 666 of the 774 local government elections. And because we were robbed of those local governments, which were given to UNCP (United Nigeria Congress Party) which was the government party, that was what led to the misalignment and dislodgement of Abacha’s political process and government. It could not be hidden; it could not be managed. I remember Chief Anenih who was holding Edo and they robbed him of it. He was phoning me and crying and I told him, sir, if Tom Ikimi did that to you because he is in UNCP, wait, their own time to cry will soon come. We won all the local governments in Kano, which is Abacha’s home state. We won Alhaji Gwarzo’s home local government. We won all the centres in the South-west. We won Atiku’s home state of Adamawa. He was compelled by Abacha to go into UNCP. We won everywhere. I have seen a lot in politics and so I do not aspire for any position. If Abacha had allowed the process to run unfettered, MD Yusuf would have been the president. He was the only man standing. He engineered the four parties to the unity we had named GDM. He was the democratic hero under Abacha.
What about the famous saying of five fingers of a leprous hand?
Forget about that. It was not true. The four parties minus UNCP supported MD Yusuf. They were united in the fact that Abacha will not succeed himself. At the convention in Maiduguri that year, where Alhaji Gambo was the chairman, the GDM was neutralized. Major Hamza Al Mustapha was the boss of GDM, yet, we (the four parties) were able to put MD Yusuf through in GDM. He was the only Nigerian courageous enough to say he wanted to be president. We were not in GDM, but we went there as delegates for MD Yusuf. We mobilized heavily, chartered planes and stormed the convention. The security shut down the light in the stadium and by the time they restored it we were even more determined to give Abacha a bloody nose. They stole the votes and that was the last straw that gave the full impetus for the international community to terminate Abacha’s government. When Abacha finally died, let’s forget about how he died, the third day, I had the privilege of being with Babangida, a titan and hero of democracy in Nigeria. I suggested to him to press for the cancellation of the five political parties; that the transition was warped and designed for Abacha. We had 90 days for the presidential elections to hold. The National Assembly elections had been held and lawmakers were already on seat. Only the presidential elections remained which was supposed to be an Abacha affair before he died .I said, please sir, tell Abdulsalam not to continue with the transition like that. Babangida said,’ Kenny, don’t say that one’. This was in his house in Minna. Scrap the five parties and I gave my reasons. He said if you see Abdulsalam, can you say that? I said I will say so sir. The G4 with the consent of IBB agreed to persuade Abdulasam to call the five parties to a conference where decision on what to do next will be taken. At that meeting, the five of us will decide on the next line of action to take because the three months transition being touted was too short. God bless Chief Barnabas Gemade. Those are our democratic heroes. It was in his house that the G4 were doing their meetings before the three days session, after the burial of Abacha. The military chiefs were there, the INEC chairman, Dagogo Jack, was there and for three days it was the most heated meeting of this country. To be or not to be, of the transition. The debate was hot. God bless Paul Unongo. It was at that meeting that we provoked the UNCP Chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Alonge, who later became the Ambassador to Morocco. On the third day, we accused them of stealing our electoral victory and demanded that they return it. UNCP said they cannot return it and instead we should cancel the transition. Immediately, there was relief. Come and see commotion, pen and papers flying about, every one writing. It was at that instance that the Head of State called for adjournment. In three hours, the Federal Government announced the cancellation of the five parties and the formation of parties. I suggested three days to Babangida for the cancellation of the five parties and exactly on that day it was done. That was how we came to be enjoying the democracy we have today. It is in my book that I am writing: “The Nigerian Project: My Testimony.” Let anyone controvert it so that I can give them time, date and space.