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In the February 27 to March 5, 1995 issue of West Africa magazine, Ben Asante conducted an exclusive interview with Nigeria's former head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida. During the interview, which yielded a horde of priceless information, Babangida answered questions ranging from the success of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, as a regional peace keeping force in West Africa, criticism of being a dictator, and his current role as an elder statesman. The following are direct excerpts from the historic interview.

Ben Asante: There is growing suspicion that some non-African interest, the Americans for example, would not like to see ECOMOG (the military wing of ECOWAS) succeed. Do you have any of these impressions?

Babangida: ...What counts is the determination of the member nations and the realization that they must succeed. There may be other external interests I agree, but I think our interests should override any other interest and we must realize it. The fact that others don't wish us well should even encourage us and provide the impetus to work harder to make sure that we prove our cynics, our detractors, other interests wrong. We must remain determined to prove them wrong and not allow them to defeat us in any way.

Ben Asante: The conflict in Liberia seems to be taking a long time to solve, despite the very strenuous efforts by the West African countries, there are now more armed factions and it appears the political will to act may now be weakening. Are we heading for a failure?

Babangida: I don't believe we are heading for a failure...I think what is probably needed now is an acute political education and awareness among the Liberians themselves as regards their patriotism to their country. Maybe if these factions which keep springing up realize that they have a responsibility for the country and the next generation of Liberians, then we would overcome the obstacles of peace. I think it would help once the faction leaders put their lust for power behind them and begin to think Liberia first and every other thing secondary. The important thing is the realization that you cannot build a nation by destruction. As far as I can see, it is Liberians fighting Liberians and this is very painful and senseless. It is Liberians that are putting alot of hardships on their fellow citizens. I think this is terrible. The leadership of the factions ought to start thinking about the suffering of their people. They should sit and ask themselves, wait a minute; are we doing the right thing? They should look around and start thinking about how the next generation will judge them with respect to what they are doing. I believe all Liberians whether faction leaders or politicians are responsible people. I believe they can get whatever they want through negotiations and through a strong sense of renewed patriotism to their country. This is the only country they have and I therefore feel it is about time they put aside these differences, be they ideological or otherwise and put the nation first. The leadership must think how best they can put talents together to develop the country. I want to see the leaders of the factions think about the future of the several thousand young men now bearing arms. I think there ought to be some concerted efforts by everybody involved to end the agony in Liberia".

Ben Asante: Why wasn't it possible for ECOMOG and ECOWAS to attract external funding?

Babangida: "Maybe the outside world didn't trust us and since they didn't trust they didn't think we'd be able to do it. This is one of the challenges I think that we had. They would love to see us fail so that they can say yes, we said so, and then force us to abdicate our responsibility to them. This is probably one of the reasons".

Ben Asante: Given the experience so far what do you recommend as a means to end this crisis?

Babangida: Well I think quite honestly the solutions to these problems now lie with the leadership in Liberia. They must realize that they need a country and the only way they can build such a country is by coming together, all hands on deck, sinking their differences, subordinating various ideological interests, putting the interest of the people first. I think if they decide to do that today the whole thing is finished.

Ben Asante: The OAU (Organization of African Unity) has tried many times, with ECOWAS following, to shape mechanisms for conflict resolution. What do you think should really be done to make conflict resolution effective on the continent?

Babangida: The idea of providing African solutions to African problems still remains very valid. This is the only hallmark of our independence and ability to solve our problems. We must build on our experiences so far and be able to maintain peace in Africa. If there is determination we should be able to do it".

Ben Asante: A number of Western governments acted against Nigeria following the annulment of the June 1994 elections on the basis of the fact that Nigeria is important and influential and anything that happens here is likely to be followed by others. Do you think this was a fair assessment?

Babangida: The Western nations did what they did because they wanted us to practice democracy. But what we have said and will continue to say--and I think the same is true with all the African states on this continent--is that our peculiar circumstances, our various circumstances will determine the pace of democratization, the type of democratization, and how the whole thing is run. I don't believe that we should wake up one morning and do it the way, for example, the Americans do it. They base their own on the experience they acquired over years to the extent that we must adhere to acceptable standards of political tolerance, human rights, and the guarantees of basic liberties in our medium. So the various African countries having gone through their own experience should be allowed to develop this democratic process based on their own peculiar circumstances and experiences".

Editor's Note: In an interview with Ben Asante of West Africa magazine (February 1995) Former President Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, Speaks On The Liberian Civil War. This interview was reprinted in the Summer 1995 edition of Barutiwa Newspaper.

Source: Barutiwa Newspaper

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