Former military governor of Rivers State, General Zamani Lekwot (Rtd), has described Nigeria’s ex-military president, Ibrahim Babangida, as an awkward character.
The Southern Kaduna-born Zamani, who was jailed during the regime of Babangida following violent riots in Zangon Kataf, also decried the killing of General Mamman Vatsa by the government of the former military president.
Speaking in an interview with Daily Trust, Zamani, also condemned the leadership style exhibited by former Kaduna governor, Nasir El-Rufai, even as he described him as a bad leader who promoted division in the state.
On the the Zangon Kataf crisis, the former Nigeria’s ambassador to Senegal, said he was never involved in the violence.
He said : “The Zangon Kataf issue was just blackmail. Do you see a whole general going to the village to kill villagers? No, it doesn’t make sense. Even the tissue of lies they dished out were not convincing. How can a general go and start killing people? I am not mad.”
On his detention and trial over the crisis, the retired General said:” Look, the military tradition demands that when a soldier commits an offence and he has to be put in the guardroom, you must tell him what he has done wrong so that he can prepare his defence within 24 hours. Nobody asked me anything.
Babangida was president, instead of sending for me or sending somebody, he didn’t do it, he is the only one who can answer this question. I have never offended him, there was nothing between us.
During the Oputa Panel, even the Hausa people in Zangon Kataf, my lawyer asked them whether they had an issue with me, they said no. My own village is 14km away from Zangon Kataf town.
What caused the problem was a market relocation. A day was fixed for the market to be opened, people started a riot and some people were killed. I was just framed up by some people.”
Asked if he was detained because of the riot without knowing what it was all about? He said : “Exactly. I was just framed up, how did it happen? The late Col Madaki also came from Zangon Kataf, but he was Baju, I am Ityap. When I was posted to Maiduguri as Commander of 33 Brigade in 1973, he was already there. He was my brigade major, we worked together, we did things together. We used to sit down and talk; what can we do to help our people.
So, really, there was nothing connected with me about a market riot. I had no shop there, I don’t live in the town, they don’t know me. People who did it wanted to hide the truth either to blackmail me or to implicate me for reasons only they knew.
There are some shameless people, they take pleasure in using the name Lekwot. Okay, if Lekwot was a bad guy, I wouldn’t get to where I got to, that would have manifested itself.”
Speaking on his conviction over the incident, he said :
” There were two trials, the first one they framed up lies. I was never in Zangon Kataf town; the federal director of public prosecution came, looked at the issue, evidence was given, there was no case, so he took time off to go to Sudan to do some work. So, Justice Pius Okadigbo discharged us, but he didn’t acquit us.
As we stepped down the witness box, he directed the police to arrest us again. We were taken to the Kaduna prison and new charges were framed against us.
When the case started, our lawyer was the late Chief Ajayi (SAN). So, when the Babangida government saw that there was no case, Degree No 55 of 1973 was enacted, directing the tribunal to send all their proceedings to Abuja, barring us from appealing.
Then the hostility of Justice Okadigbo, who appeared to be a hired agent, because he violated legal proceedings in court. He was supposed to be a high court judge. So, Chief Ajayi took him on. In the end when Ajayi saw this degree, he knew that Babangida and his team had made up their mind to do us in, against the law, so our legal team withdrew.
I was the first accused, I begged Okadigbo to grant us two days to hire another team, he said no, that we should defend ourselves. It was later I learnt that when an accused is standing trial for his or her life, that accused is entitled to a defence of his choice; where he cannot afford it, then the Legal Aid Council (LAC) can be appealed to. Okadigbo didn’t do any of these.
Two days later, no, the following day, the Tribune Newspaper carried our headline, “Zangon Kataf trials: Judgement without defense”. So, we were condemned without fair hearing.”
Asked on why Babangida would do that, the retired general explodes :”Babangida is an awkward character. He killed Vatsa. Vatsa was accused of planning a coup, do you arrest a person you suspect of planning to steal or to commit a crime? You have to wait until he is caught in the act.
Why did he annul June 12? He is now lying that he was forced, forced by who? Who was the president? Is he saying junior officers forced him to annul the election?
He called Abiola his friend, why did he do it? I hope he will summon the courage to tell the world the truth. If he had something against me he should have said it and I would easily apologise; that is me. I like to live in peace with people.
But somebody who recommended him for promotion, somebody who had never quarreled with him, he went and did this in violation of the officer’s code of conduct; you don’t accuse an officer without confronting him with the fact.
My conscience was clear. I didn’t do any of such thing. Why should I kill villagers, what for? I didn’t know them, they had not offended me.
I was forced to ask the tribunal what sort of a country we were in. They went and said things I knew nothing about.
The crisis was caused by some fanatics in Zangon Kataf town. After the riot some people were killed. Instead of the government instituting a commission of enquiry, sorry they did under Justice Cudjoe, alright. I even went to the tribunal, not tribunal, commission of enquiry, to answer questions.
Some mischievous persons in Zangon Kataf accused me of importing weapons. In July earlier that year, we launched an appeal fund to codify our language and to translate the Holy Bible into our language. So, they said I used that money to buy weapons.
When Justice Cudjoe submitted her report, we were waiting for the result when a letter was written by an Islamic group in Zangon Kataf town addressed to Sultan Dasuki asking him to do something about the killings in the market riot otherwise the Nigerian jihad would start in Zangon Kataf.
They fixed a date and attacked a nearby village and that was what triggered the riot. Then the villagers responded, their neighbours also responded, this was how it started.
If they hadn’t attacked the village there would have been no reaction. From there one thing led to the other. I still have this letter they wrote, one day I will give you.”
On how he was pardoned by late former military head of state, General Sani Abacha, Zamani said :”Abacha was my friend. When I was the Military Governor of Rivers State he was the brigade commander. We played squash together, we played scrabble together, he was a member of the executive council. Each time I travelled he was the acting governor; there was no problem.
I am sure he knew the truth. We lived together for three years, his wife was very close to my wife. The character of a bad man, no matter how he hides, must show. The person who is innocent, a gentleman, you can brand him anything but it doesn’t change him. I am not violent by nature.”
The retired general called on leaders to ensure sincerity in addressing the problem of divisions in the North, adding that during the leadership of Ahmadu Bello, the North was united irrespective of the various ethnic and religious groups in the region.
“I will tell you, it was the late Sardauna who influenced us to join the army, not only us, we were juniors, people like the late Maimalari and TY Danjuma.
When I was brigade commander in Maiduguri, the attorney general was one Buba Ardo. He told me that it was the late Sardauna who enjoined him to join the judiciary.
Sardauna was a godly leader and he came to our school and appealed to us, “My children, in no distant future, the Europeans will return to their country, join the military; it is a very, very important profession.”
Sardauna did not consider tribe or religion, he saw us as his children; that explains the secret of the progress in the North. But when he was killed, people who worked with him, what happened? We have selfish people up here who shout “North” with their mouths, but what they have in mind and do are different.
I take your mind back to how Boko Haram started, it was during Yar’Adua’s time. They attacked a police station in Yobe, nothing happened; they invaded the prison yard in Bauchi, released their members, nothing happened.
It was after they started something in Maiduguri that the military pounced on them, arrested their leader and handed him over to the police, then he was killed. So, people who ought to do what they ought to do and don’t do it; this is the problem.”
Asked on the peace mission initiated by El-Rufai in Kaduna, Zamani described the former governor as a pretender.
” El-Rufai was pretending; he is a bad leader. In a video clip he confessed that he came to Kaduna to Islamise the state. All along, we have lived in peace.
If the governor is a Muslim, the vice will be a Christian. When he came he started with it and discarded it. Then if you look at his antecedents, he doesn’t believe in what the constitution is saying, he didn’t obey court orders, he decided to decimate some of our chiefdoms, including the closing of some districts.
The late Emir of Zazzau, Idris, went to him and said if shortage of money was the problem he (Idris) would pay the district heads. He refused. So, the emirate went to court and won the case, he ignored it.
Next, he was so arrogant he would not consult anybody. As a rule of thumb, each time a government was sworn in, Southern Kaduna elders, I am the chairman, paid a courtesy call, discussed and told the governor things he could not hear from the security.
But when El-Rufai came, we tried and he refused. SOKAPU is our cultural organisation, he said he had nothing to do with them. Then he embarked on this politics of exclusion; people from Southern Kaduna; he has nothing to do with them.
He ignored us, we too decided to ignore him, who is he?
When he was talking about Islam, there is no problem about religion in Southern Kaduna, even in my family we have Muslims, many houses have Muslims, Christians and traditional religion.
We do the Sallah together, Christmas together, there is no problem. So, this issue about religion comes from outside.
Before him were other governors. Namadi Sambo was here before he became vice president. Makarfi was here. Ramalan Yero was here, none of them manifested the type of problem El-Rufai manifested. He will tell lies, invent stories.