Lawal Idris has been an ally of President Muhammadu Buhari for over 40 years. He is the one who reportedly got Buhari to join politics. In this interview at his residence in Kaduna, the 69-year-old political observer and retired businessman said, despite his good intention for Nigeria, Buhari has been hijacked, but that there is still hope. Excerpts:
The story is that you are very close to President Muhammadu Buhari, how will you describe this closeness?
Personally, I have been very close to Buhari since 1972. But I do not know if he is close to me now. Buhari’s presidency started with me alone in year 2000, in my apartment in Arlington, Virginia, United States of America and the reason was simple; of all the people I know (and I know many people), there is no Nigerian that has been tried on so many jobs and was never found wanting like Muhammadu Buhari.
From second lieutenant, MTO in Congo during the war, DST (Director of Supply and Transport) of the Nigerian Army, Chairman NNPC equivalent to minister of petroleum which Obasanjo held for eight years – Buhari did very well. He was holding that office and was also holding the office of Military Secretary and as businessmen, we used to call them “chief clerk of the Nigerian Army.” There was no office as big as that in the military and it was only a trustworthy person that was given that office.
No doubt Buhari is a trustworthy person, not just to me, not just to the North but the whole world. But I do not know now whether he is still my friend; that is for him to decide. I still trust him and as at today, nobody can say that Buhari is corrupt: people around him may be.
You said his foray into politics started in your apartment, how did that happen?
Obasanjo came and didn’t fight corruption. I had an Irish friend who is late now. He said, “It seems your President Olusegun Obasanjo does not know the meaning of corruption so he cannot fight it because everyone knows that what he owns today (then), he didn’t have them before and can anyone ask him to explain how he got it? Was it through inheritance or bank loans? Nigerians are kidding themselves.”
So Nigeria’s problem is elitist; my understanding is that Buhari is not corrupt and he is the only person that can fight corruption. I thought he would go all out for it but then…
How did you approach him on the matter?
I did not go direct to him because I knew him so well. What I did was that I spoke to my American friends, they all loved the idea; (John) Paden inclusive (the authorised biographer of President Buhari). There was also a retired colonel Faye Shultz in the US Army; there was Miss Milian, an Ethiopian lady married to an Ethiopian general killed by Mengistu Haile Mariam (leader of Ethiopia from 1977 to 1991). There was also Ahmed Abubakar, a very nice young man who went round and talked to people in the US; he was working in the Nigerian Embassy then.
When I got back to Nigeria, I had a list of people I wanted to talk to. The first person I called for that project was Engineer Usman Abubakar, now the Chairman of Nigerian Railway Corporation. When he came, I told him this is my project. At first, he didn’t buy the idea, but after a lengthy discussion, he was able to buy into it.
So I left for Abuja where I got some friends (some names would not be mentioned because they were working in government and so on); some businessmen as well. I went to Lagos and Port Harcourt and called many people and said this is what I am working on; this is my project. And interestingly, many of my friends said they were with me 100 percent. They said “we are with Buhari 100 percent but there is a problem and the problem is Mamman Daura. Is there any way you can do away with Mamman Daura?” I said no; there was no way I could do away with my relation or friend because people advice me to unless the person is bad. They said they were just telling me and that they were with me and with Buhari. They said Mamman Daura and Mahmud Tukur were the problem and asked if there was a way I could do away with them. But I said no.
When was that?
This happened 17 years ago. I said no I cannot do that but I would find a way to discuss with Mamman (Daura) and Mahmud (Tukur). And God loves me 100 per cent, even if he takes me today, I am very grateful to him. I knew that this project would work when only God knows and I was ready to die for it. My mother and my wife bought the idea of the project; that was the most important thing.
I then did some thinking on whether to write letters to Mamman and Mahmud or go personally and tell them about my project? I didn’t know what to do. Luckily for me, however, Usman Abubakar, Mamman and Mahmud Tukur shared the same office. So I was just sitting one day when Dr Mahmud Tukur came in and said that he wanted to see me and we sat and discussed. He asked why I wanted to bring General (Buhari) into politics. There was nothing he didn’t say to dissuade me but I told him I had made up my mind. That was a rare luck, as I had high regard for Mahmud Tukur but not for Mamman.
It is because I know him very well. When I spoke to Mahmud Tukur, I told him people said he shouldn’t be in the project; he and Mamman. He stood up and I said no sir, please sit down. Mamman is related to Buhari and you are Mamman’s friend.
All the problems of Buhari were caused by Mamman – he is the godfather of Buhari’s problems. I know it, he too knows it but whether Buhari knows or not, I cannot say. Though he is a very sneaky fellow and Buhari may never know; I pray God would let him know and afterwards the choice is his. The next day Mamman came to my house; he had never been to my house before then.
Your house where?
In Kaduna; I don’t have a house in Abuja. He never visited me on his own except with Buhari. Whenever Buhari was coming to visit, either to see me, my mother or step mother to greet them, they would come together. But this time he came alone and I welcomed him. We had a discussion; he said Mahmud told him of my project and I told him it was true. He said why don’t you go and tell uncle (Buhari) and that is why I named him (Mamman Daura) Dan Uncle (uncle’s son) even though he is senior to Buhari. I said I could not tell him because if I told him and he said no, then I would cut my relationship with him because I knew he would be the best for this country then. People wanted him because they know he would not be there to make money out of it, but because he wants all Nigerians to be happy, that is Muhammadu Buhari.
So I told Mamman that when we started, we did not bring any politician into the project; we started with people that had jobs, very independent people that can look up to anybody and tell them their story, not what they wanted to hear, because they were economically strong. They were ready, like I was to be killed or to be the poorest on this project because only Allah knows the best. I said we didn’t want anything from the project; all we needed was good governance, no more, no less.
When we came out and Mamman entered his vehicle, he came out again and said “Alhaji Lawal, even the prayers you are doing and so on, you expect something from God?” I said yes, but on this issue, I do not expect anything. And the other people did not expect anything because I knew it would be very difficult with Mamman around Buhari to get anything. Among those who worked for Buhari, I have not seen anybody that got anything. No one at all unless those chosen by Mamman.
Firstly, Mamman is a sadist and has no respect for anybody, not even Buhari. I worked with Abacha for Buhari to take the PTF (defunct Petroleum Trust Fund) and wanted nothing and got nothing. Abacha told me he wanted to work with Buhari and I said you should talk to him. Abacha said he never worked with Buhari as a military officer. He said I should speak with him (Buhari) as my friend and I said fine. Abacha didn’t know the job he wanted to give Buhari at that time; he only wanted to work with Buhari.
I drove to Buhari’s house in Kaduna from Abuja without even going to my own house. I told him, sir, I am coming from Abacha and this is my discussion with him. I said first, how do you rate Abacha’s government? Typical of Buhari, he said, “Well it is a thieving government, Abacha steals and the family steals, they are just for themselves.” I said no, sir, this is not the way to go about it. I said people say Nigeria lacks good leaders and that includes you. He said “me?” And I said yes, including you. We can say you were there but Nigeria was failing, unless you people as leaders join hands together and work for the betterment of this country and stop the blame game. He said “what should I do? Should I go to Abacha?” I said no, you are a former head of state he has to invite you.
So, he brought out a piece of paper and wrote his phone number and said I should give it to Abacha. From there, I went to Malam Yahaya Gusau’s house and when he saw me, he said “Alhaji Lawal, I was looking for you; they said you are close to Abacha,” and I said no sir. Abacha is not my friend but his younger brother Abdulkadir is my friend. He said, “I heard you are close to Abacha, tell him to hold Nigeria’s monies; he should not be squandering the monies.”
The next day I went to Abacha and said sir, I went to Malam Yahaya Gusau and he is extending his greetings to you. He interrupted me saying “Dattijo” (gentleman). And I said I also visited Buhari and this is his number, so you can call him. Abacha said he really wanted Buhari to come into his government so that it could be stabilised. I said fine, you can talk to him and I can also talk to him, but it is better you talk to him yourself.
After sometime, I went to Buhari again. There was going to be the PTF but he said he was not going to work for Abacha. I told him, you are not working for Abacha. If I were you, I will not work for him but for Nigeria and you can demand to be given free hand. And he got free hand. So, up till today, there are people blaming Buhari for many things, but I have never heard anyone accusing Buhari of corruption.
Nobody has said Buhari is corrupt. The problem started after the election victory in 2015 when it appeared that he was no longer in control…
Very well; the problem is that the godfather never sleeps, which is Mamman Daura.
Why Mamman Daura?
Number one, when Buhari was sworn-in, he swore by the Qur’an that he would be fair and we believed him. He said he belonged to no one but I knew he belong to Mamman Daura, Abba Kyari and Mamman are failed bankers and failed industrialists. As at 29 November, 2016, Abba was still a Director of Exxon Mobil; Abba is Buhari’s Chief of Staff, he is a member of the Board of Directors of NNPC what a super brainy, workaholic?
And Abba is Mamman’s poodle; whatever Abba is doing, it is Mamman that controls it. I know it and they know that I know it and they know me very well.
President Buhari has ministers; he has other staff, so why blame these two people only?
I am even blaming only one; that is why I am calling Abba Kyari a poodle of Mamman. How did he (Buhari) get some of the ministers? Many were through Mamman Daura. How did he get some of the staff around him, it was through Mamman Daura.
How sure are you sir?
I am more than sure, Buhari knows I know and Mamman knows I know. I am an insider, not an outsider. I started this project because of the faith I had in Buhari. And I will tell you something; Mamman never wanted Buhari’s presidency.
How do you mean?
I will only use one example and I wish Mamman Daura was alive…to deny it.
(Cut) You mean Mamman Daura?
Buhari has an elder brother, Mamman Daura, very few people ever heard of him and he was the best Mamman Daura I knew. I knew that one in 1970, he and President Buhari had the same father and the same mother. This other Mamman Daura is just a joke. I said this Mamman never wanted Buhari’s presidency because a week after Buhari was sworn-in, on Friday, we met at a mosque here in Kaduna. I walked to Mamman to greet him; there was this confidence that had taken a better part of him like he is now Mr President. Mamman told me that he and Mahmud didn’t like Buhari’s presidency. And I said ‘ranka ya dade’, you don’t like it’ and he said “yes”. I was surprised and he saw the surprise on my face. He just changed the topic and said “you know uncle (Buhari) does not like politicians and politicians don’t like him”. I said sir, but election has been won. Whether politicians like it or not, whether Buhari likes it or not, he has to work with politicians and politicians have to work with him for the betterment of our country. For me, God has given me what I wanted.
When Mamman told me that, I offered suggestions on even the way to get finances for the party. I said the way they were going was not the way they should. Now there is no APC in a way and Buhari is ill. Luckily Buhari has a very good vice president.
Why do you think things are slow despite the fact that Buhari has given all powers to the acting president?
It is simple. I told many of my friends from the beginning, including many of Buhari’s associates but they did not believe me. I told Buhari even before the election was won that ‘evil people have possessed you’. When we started this project, I took Buhari to the Brookings Institute Washington D.C. After that I took him to Qatar and other places; he had so much faith in me and I had same in him. I have known this man since 1972.
At what point did you stop communicating with him?
I did not stop communicating with him. I communicated with him even before he travelled out; I do not want to communicate with him through anyone that Mamman has put there; it would never get to him. I don’t have any problem; they are the ones that have problems.
Late Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, said that those in need of nothing are their own masters. I do not need anything from anybody except from Allah.
Are you disappointed?
I am disappointed but I am still hopeful. I have a problem really and as my late father used to tell me ‘there would always be change in one’s life, unless he is dead, so hopefully Buhari can change and do away with Dan Uncle.
What do you think the president should do now?
As long as Buhari cannot get Mamman away from his side, his problem will continue. And the most important one, if I were Muhammadu Buhari, in whatever way I can communicate is to tell Nigerians to please forgive me’. It is a very hard thing to do.
What do you think Buhari should apologize for?
It is not apology; this is what I have been telling people long ago. We made Buhari a super human, including myself. I kept asking God to make Buhari president; I never asked God to lead the presidency for him and God seems to have said ‘this is your Buhari now, if that is what you want, you got it.’
And what is the way out?
The way out is for Buhari to talk to the people. There is nothing wrong for me to say I have wronged you forgive me.
Most Nigerians believe no one can fight corruption except Buhari. The people who are corrupt believe that Buhari is their problem. But we are a country where the right becomes the wrong and the wrong becomes the right; meaning the corrupt believe they are right. Buhari as a person is fighting corruption because he believes he is not corrupt. But Buhari is the only one person; corruption should be fought by all Nigerians irrespective of their party, tribe, or religion. It is simple, the giver, the taker, are all guilty.
Among the people you started this journey with, who is still close to Buhari?
None at all.
What about the foreign allies?
They wanted to see a better Nigeria. We started on corruption in 2014, then later, Mamman and his group started saying insecurity and economy and corruption came third; but corruption is the cause of insecurity that destroys the economy.
How worried are you that Buhari is sick?
I am worried but there is nothing you can do and there is nothing I can do. There is nothing he (Buhari) can do. I am worried and I am hopeful and prayerful that Allah will see him through.