In this interview with DailyTrust at his residence in Kaduna, the 69-year-old political observer and retired businessman, Lawal Idris [left] said despite his good intention for Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has been hijacked, but that there is still hope.
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.