Prof Patrick Wilmot: The ABU Lecturer Deported By The IBB Regime

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Professor Patrick Wilmot, former sociology lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, visited Nigeria from where he was deported many years ago by the Babangida Regime for “teaching what he wasn’t paid to teach”.

The Jamaica-born writer who was invited to Nigeria in 1970 as reward for his contribution as member of a pan Africanist group that campaigned against the bulkanisation of Nigeria found a home in the country. He married Makki, a Nigerian, and was immediately absorbed in Nigeria’s local and international politics.

At ABU Zaria, he was an intellectual radical who encouraged his students to ask questions. He was also an outspoken academic who criticised defective policies of government. But he made enemies too. Those in power saw him as an irritant who had no business meddling in the affairs of the nation. He was deported by General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), former Military President.

However, Wilmot is still his old self, frank, acerbic, honest and even patriotic to a very large extent. He spoke with Sylvester Asoya and Idowu Ogunleye on his brutal deportation, his new book, Seeing Double, Nigeria’s political crisis and Babangida whom he said should be in jail.

The interview was held 48 hours before his arrest in Abuja by security operatives who counseled him against granting press interviews so that you will not be misquoted” and released him afterward.

Could you recall how you left Nigeria?

Patrick Wilmot: You know, I was abducted. I was taken out of my car. Professor Idi Yahaya came to my house. He was working in Lagos then, and he was a friend of Ibrahim Babangida. He said he wanted to use my telephone.

After using it he said we should go to Zaria Club, but I said I was leaving home very early in the morning because I was supposed to represent the university in Owerri. So I said I had things to do but when I finished, we would go.

Later, I went to his house and we went to the Zaria Club. I didn’t know why he wanted us to go to Zaria club because he had stopped drinking after he had an accident. On our way, four brand new Peugeot cars with armed men started pounding on our door.

Idi Yahaya said I should open the door because they would break the windscreen if I refused to. I thought they were armed robbers, I did not know who they were. But I think Yahaya knew them because he asked me to open the door which I did and they dragged me out.

But I was worried about him because I concluded that if these people actually wanted to kill me, they would kill him as well so that there won’t be any witness. Later, I found out that they took him home where they held discussions with him. He didn’t contact my wife or any of my friends.

This means he had been sent from Lagos to get me into the hands of these people. They drove me from Zaria to Lagos without identifying whom they were and what they were going to do with me. I thought they were actually going to kill me.

I traveled in handcuffs and they damaged my wrists. Even till today, I still have problems with my hands because they really hurt my hands. When I got to Lagos, I was taken to Murtala Muhammed Airport and detained in a cell.

Later, I was put on a plane to London together with the head of immigration. I had Safari suit and a pair of sandals on and about two pounds equivalent in Naira, and the temperature was minus three degrees.

Professor Patrick Wilmot
Prof Patrick Wilmot (Second right) with some of his comrades

But what exactly was their reason for deporting you (Patrick Wilmot)?

Patrick Wilmot: They issued statements afterwards that I was planning with students and other staff to overthrow Babangida. That I was also a spy for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Isrealis and South Africans. I can’t remember the other things they said I was doing. In fact, one of Babangida’s governors said everything was quiet after I left.

Looking back, don’t you think it was good that you were sent away, especially, considering the fate of your colleagues today? The universities are almost dead, no serious academic work is going on and teachers are still migrating?

Patrick Wilmot: I wrote an article where I had to thank Idi Yahaya, Babangida and Gwarzo for getting me out of town because I was staying in this country trying to help ordinary Nigerians. My wife is a Nigerian but for years, she kept telling me to leave, that Nigeria was not good for me. My family in Jamaica said I should leave because if I didn’t, I would be killed.

Many of my friends equally said the same thing. I attended Yale University in the US, I was a classmate of John Kerry. I was more intelligent than John Kerry. I was two years ahead of George Bush who is now the President of the United States. My Intelligence Quotient doubled that of George Bush. I was more dynamic and charismatic. I also had more leadership abilities.

So if I wanted to make money, I should have stayed in the United States. I never changed my visa from student visa so that I can stay in the US. I never asked for US citizenship. I came to teach in Nigeria and went to the Ahmadu Bello University, not even the most famous university at the time.

There were universities of Ibadan, Ife and Nsukka. I went to ABU and taught my students and it became one of the best universities in the whole of Africa because people like myself and many of my colleagues were dedicated.

Instead of allowing the students to memorise things, we taught them to ask questions and the students learnt a lot because that is the way you develop a mind. You must question your teacher and all your ambition must be to better your teacher; not to be equal with your teacher.

And I appreciated everything the students did in terms of criticizing me. That is why many of them are occupying very high positions in the society today.

You were part of the formulation of General Murtala Muhammed’s foreign policy, especially on Angola. What actually inspired that dynamic policy?

Patrick Wilmot: At the time, the problem with Angola was the African Union (then Organisation of African Unity) policy which was to treat all the different liberation movements equally. That meant they had to treat the MPLA, SMNA and UNITA at the same level, giving them the same support.

Now, this restrained the AU from doing what was right for movements that were qualified to carry on the liberation. But it did not restrain the Americans, South Africans or NATO. So these people were putting all their money, all their support for the SMNA and UNITA, yet AU could do nothing.

I then said look, this policy is dangerous. What we need to do is to study the different movements, pick the one that is more competent and has the widest support and allow them to take over the country.

And I said, on the negative side, if movements have the support of South Africa, it means that the AU should not bother. So Muhammed made that famous speech at Addis Ababa on 11 January 1976, one of the best speeches ever made by an African leader.

He told them that they had to support the MPLA because the others have the interests of imperialists of South Africa and the United States, not of Africans. Therefore, he requested the AU to recognize the MPLA even though the AU consisted largely of reactionaries.

But Muhammed’s logic and dynamism made the AU to recognize MPLA as the sole government. And the implication of this is that if the MPLA had not been recognized, and the MPLA had invited the Cubans, the Americans would have come and bombed the Cubans because they would have claimed that the MPLA was being supported by communists. But the fact that a majority of the AU had recognized the MPLA meant that the Americans could not openly support UNITA.

You were close to Murtala Muhammed, and the anniversary of his death is around the corner. What kind of leader was he?

Patrick Wilmot: In the first place, he was a very decisive person. He was very charismatic. He was somebody that inspired people to follow him. But even more important is the fact that he made sacrifices.

He had properties which he got rid of before he became Head of State so that there would not be any conflict of interest between his personal desire to acquire property and the interest of Nigeria as a nation. The leaders after him were all interested in their own personal ambitions, not in the welfare of the people of Nigeria.

So what are your views on such African dictators like Idi Amin, Abacha, Babangida and others?

Patrick Wilmot: Idi Amin was totally illiterate. He was trained by the British. You know he had the frame of a heavyweight boxer. But the British used him in Kenya to torture the Mau Mau people. Later, the British government organized a coup against Obote, they brought in Idi Amin because they said he would represent the interest of the British.

The first thing Idi Amin did was to visit Buckingham Palace and he was received by the Queen. It is very unusual to have such a reception from the Queen. Then Idi Amin turned against Israel and the British, and they started saying that he was a terrible person. But they brought him in. Babangida as we all know is a man of average intelligence.

He thinks he is very intelligent because many of my colleagues from ABU give him the impression that he knows what he is doing. He doesn’t know what he is doing. After eight years in power, there is not a single quality thing you can point at.

Are you going to compare him with Napoleon? Napoleon introduced the metric system, in addition to winning some of the best battles in history. What did Babangida achieve as a military man? Did he win any battle? Look at the houses that Babangida has. Abacha was substandard in intelligence. He did not pass the Staff College examination.

He should never have become a lieutenant Colonel. He should have been dismissed from the army a long time ago. Even during the civil war, he committed all kinds of atrocities and we heard that he broke down several times. He should have been flushed out of the army.

It was just sentiments that made him a General. He spent most of his time as a General, sleeping. He was only interested in stealing money and he stole a lot. As a member of Transparency International, I’m trying to help Nigeria to recover that money.

Seeing Double, your book, is not easily read, it is energy-sapping. From the reviews and reactions, people say the materials in the book usually get in the way of easy understanding. Do you think that is a way to write a good novel?

Patrick Wilmot: I read a lot of books in England. I will buy a book in the morning and by late afternoon, I’m already through with the book. Sometimes, the books are just too simple and you will find nothing there. Then I decided not to buy them again. So I usually go to the library.

I then decided not to write just a simple book that will not be relevant in the next three hundred years. It must make demands on the readers. When I was a teacher, I made demands on my students. You cannot just sit down and read it like one of those bestsellers. That is my ambition.

Are you aware that you could be misunderstood?

Patrick Wilmot: Not at all. If you work on something, it is usually not a question of whether you like or not. But a question of what it does on your mental ability.

Could you comment on Nigeria during your first visit and now?

Patrick Wilmot: I came to Nigeria briefly in 1969, then I came to teach in Nigeria in 1970. At that time, Nigeria was a poor country but it was a country. I mean, there were communities here. There were dedicated people.

There were leaders that sacrificed. There were people like Awolowo, Azikiwe and even Gowon (though he made mistakes). He should never have extended his stay in office. He did tremendous things. He prosecuted the civil war together with the financial expertise of Awolowo.

Just with cocoa, cotton, groundnut and agricultural products. They did not have any debt. They finished the civil war in credit, that is good management. So you were proud to be a Nigerian, although you were poor.

Nigeria is supposed to be a rich country. Coming from the airport, but I saw more poor people than I saw the first time in 1969. I saw complete chaos. I know from Transparency International how much money has been stolen from this country and put into account all over Europe and the far East.

Let me tell you, 63 percent of savings from Africa goes out of the continent in terms of dirty money; 17 percent goes out of South America which is next to Africa in terms of poverty. But in Asia, only 3 orrcent, and Asia is attracting so many billions now in terms of foreign investment.

People are saying Africans are not investing in their own economy, why should we? Why should anybody come to Nigeria and invest, except for a scarce commodity like oil? But do you blame them? You don’t have the infrastructure.

The power supply is always going off, you don’t have water, you don’t have roads, you don’t have good ports. If you want people to invest in Nigeria, the leaders must stop stealing the money. They should employ jobless Nigerians and fix the infrastructure. Nobody will come if a leader’s first ambition in office is how to inflate contracts and where to hide the stolen money.

Do you see hope?

Patrick Wilmot: Of course. There is a younger generation of Nigerians who can see these problems. There are so many gifted Nigerians who are now working in the U.K, South Africa, US and all over Europe. I was in the Caribbean last November and I saw Nigerians in Jamaica. They are all over the place.

They are in the universities and in business. Wherever you go, you find talented Nigerians. When you come to Nigeria, you will discover that their leaders are dunces and incompetent, and they are thieves. I know it because I know where they put their money.

I know where their houses are in the UK and when I go back to England, I’m going to start exposing them. But I am urging them to ask their leaders where they got the money to buy houses in Mayfair. I can’t afford a broom closet in Mayfair.

I cannot afford a parking space in this place. But you find young, incompetent Nigerians buying mansions in these places. Where did they get that money from? Let them explain that to the Nigerian people.

You played a part during our civil war. Do you think we learnt any lesson from that crisis?

Patrick Wilmot: The civil war was fought to keep this country one because intelligent people understood that the problem with Nigeria was not that it was too big. The problem with Nigeria is that it is not democratic. If you have democracy in Nigeria, there will be no problem in the Delta, you will not have any problem in Kano or Lagos.

Nigeria should be one country. Young Nigerians have been marrying each other across religious and ethnic lines. You should stone anybody coming to talk about ethnicity because nobody is marginalized. Those who are marginalized are the poor people and you can find them across all the tribes.

What do you miss in the last 18 years?

Patrick Wilmot: My wife is a Nigerian and I have great friends here. Moreso, my favourite foods like suya are here. But physically I miss my former students and friends.

You did say that you trained your students to always ask questions, why?

Patrick Wilmot: My experience from attending the best schools in the world is that you learn more from the questions you ask.

You were also accused of teaching what you were not paid to teach. Why?

Patrick Wilmot: Jubril Aminu was the one who said it when he was a minister. I know Jubril very well, he is an excellent cardiologist. And I have always told him to return to cardiology because he is a hopeless politician. For a person who has achieved so much in the field of medicine to say that we were teaching what we were not paid to teach, shows complete lack of knowledge of what the intellectual world is all about.

We are not plumbers afterall. If Babangida says that, I will not be surprised because he is of average intelligence. If Abacha said that I will not respond because he is a substandard human being. But Jubril Aminu was the best student in his days. I went to Yale where you have the best teachers in the world. The food I eat at Yale I have never been able to afford it since I graduated because I came to live in Nigeria.

Do you have any regret living in Nigeria?

Patrick Wilmot: No. In fact, I learnt so much about Africa, human beings and poor people. Unfortunately, I was brought up differently in the schools I attended. The people around me all the time were very rich people. At Yale, I would go to lunch with my classmates and I would see original paintings on the wall that cost millions of dollars.

I was served by a butler and I was brought up in the context of people who are rich and powerful. But I said, this is not the kind of life I want and I came to Nigeria, a poor country. I tried to make it better but people who wanted to steal Nigeria’s money to make England and the United States better felt uncomfortable with me.

Will you return to Nigeria?

Patrick Wilmot: I have returned. I’m here for 16 days but I am too busy doing other things now. I don’t have time to spend another 18 years. And at my age, I can’t even think about it and besides, Nigeria has not made any progress. If you had good public transport, good health and education systems, maybe I will be back. But I can’t spend the rest of my life here.

If you meet Babangida today, what would you say to him?

Patrick Wilmot: Nothing, I will walk away. I don’t want to be in the same room with such people, I don’t want to shake their hands, I don’t even have to breath the same air with them. In England, I always avoid such so-called African leaders. Once I know they are corrupt, I avoid them. If I have to be in the same place with them, I stay far away.

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Chila Andrew Aondofa

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