On his anti-corruption and alleged $5million ‘gift’ from Abacha
The point I want to make here is around that period, we were preparing for constitutional rule. We needed funds for some activities and we got contributions from few places. The interesting thing is that I never went to, or asked Abacha for any contribution. And this is something that impressed me about the man. I didn’t ask him for a penny. But he obviously understood certain situations, our situation, and graciously sent me a small suitcase of money. I think there were two cars or three that came to the Air Force station to look for me. I was going for fly at that afternoon.
So, I was at the Air Force Station when a gentleman came over there and when he said he had a message from Abacha, I cancelled my flight and they set out to wait for me. I drove after them to the caste. As we got out of the car and we were about to move up, this elderly gentleman, Gwarzo he is called, had one of his assistants try to bring out a suitcase from the boot of a car. I had an idea of what it could be. So I said: ‘Leave it, shut your boot and let’s go upstairs first and talk’. He said he had brought something from Abacha. I said two things: ‘I hear you people don’t provide assistance without the world hearing it with a twist’.
He just kept quiet looking at me. I said two: ‘Don’t think that when you bring this, whatever it is, that would shut me up from criticizing if I think you are wrong, or if I disagree.’ He then opened his mouth and said ‘Sir, we need you more than you need us’.I am quoting him. He didn’t speak much. He was a very noble, quiet looking and elderly man. He was respectable looking. In fact, what he said simply disarmed me. So I said it was okay. He could send for the parcel. His assistant then went and brought in the parcel: 2million dollars: new notes packed in plastic bags, fairly heavy. We left it in the sitting room.
We finished with some niceties and he left. I informed some of my close comrades of the parcel from Abacha. I gave away about 350,000 dollars to two people for urgent disbursements. One of our senior colleagues who was in charge of an exercise drew down certain amounts.We went on like this until the suitcase was exhausted. Later when Abacha died and your country instituted an investigation into his assets, I read in one of your newspapers that Mr. Gwarzo, this fine gentleman, allegedly said that he brought me 5million dollars. I am glad I still have that suitcase. It shocked me a bit that such a fine respectable man could make such a claim. The amount he mentioned shocked me. That he could tell such a lie.
My colleagues knew about it. I didn’t know why I should be keeping these things secret. Moreover, I didn’t have any personal account to be putting these things into anyway. Besides we needed to use them for some national needs.
But lo and behold! Many years down the line when I fell out with some of my colleagues and they decided to get poisonous, two of them wrote a book on district assembly elections and the decentralization programme, and inserted in somewhere, when it was absolutely not necessary, something about Gwarzo’s supposed $5million just to poison my name. I just feel sad that Gwarzo should do this. I am prepared to be subjected to polygraph test. May be that’s what he needs also.
When General Abubakar took over, I told him to watch out. That that report in the papers about $5million was $2million and not $5million. He didn’t make any comment. He didn’t say anything. Obasanjo took over I thought I should straighten it out with him. The comment he made was: ‘Yes, that is how they behave. When they are given something to take somewhere, they will take the majority, the bigger share.’ That was the comment Obasanjo made.
I wasn’t used to those things. Otherwise, I could have called Abacha. I don’t even think I even called him over that. Maybe I should have called him to say thank you for the $2million and then he would have called his people to order. You see what I mean? I wasn’t used to money being thrown up and down. Money was not my thing. Yes, we were poor enough as a country, but we were working day and night to making sure we put the country on a solid foundation for economic explosion. We had our pride and our dignity was not out for sale.
I recall that in the early days I didn’t have any money in the account and somebody gave me a million dollar cheque. I just threw it on the workshop table. Eight years later, one of our comrades reminded me about the cheque and said we would need the money for something and I asked him to go look for it.
The mischief that our people get involved in hurt me. When I was a kid my grandmother used to say: ‘A liar is more dangerous than a thief’, and we could never understand it. It didn’t make sense to us, because as kids we were always denying something or telling fibs about something, and nobody gets hurt or anything. But you get whipped for stealing and more. When you grow up to my situation today then you wake up to what my Granny was saying, how liars are the most vicious and cowardly creatures. They can destroy a whole image and reputation.
That was why Chinua Achebe’s counterpart, Ayi Kwei Armah, wrote ‘The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born’. When I grew up, I realized he was wrong. The beautiful ones are born. They are there, but the platform is so dirty they dare not step on it to campaign to be leaders, because they would be slammed down with some of the nastiest fabrications. Nobody wants to have their name spoilt, so politics becomes a monopoly. No wonder he said the beautiful ones were not yet born.
But no, when I got in, I said no way. I brought the beautiful ones all on board when I came back the second time. That was how come we succeeded so beautifully. We provided a leadership of credibility and integrity. These are the hallmarks I stand for.
- Rawlings granted an interview to Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper