Hananiya who spoke with Sunday Sun as he marked his 80th birthday in Abuja, said that alongside the then Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, General Joseph Nanven Garba, they informed Buhari who was the military Head of State of plans by Babangida to overthrow him.
Hananiya, however, said in spite of the prior information made available to Buhari, he did not take action, probably because he was overwhelmed, a situation that saw the eventual taking over of the government by Babangida.
Hananiya also recalled his most trying moment as Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom when the late Umaru Dikko, Nigeria’s erstwhile Minister of Transport who had taken refuge in London following the overthrow of the Shehu Shagari administration, was abducted by the Buhari regime.
The former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia, with concurrent accreditation to Somalia, the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), opened up on these, his headship of the FRSC during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha and the civilian administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, among other issues.
How has life been with you?
Oh! Wonderful! I give thanks to God Almighty for what He has done in my life and the life of my family.
What have you been doing since you left service?
You know I retired from service in 1987 and I took to farming and I am still doing it. And from farming, I was recalled to come and head the Road Safety (Federal Road Safety Corps) during Abacha’s time and later, during Obasanjo’s administration. So, since I left the Road Safety, I have maintained a low profile.
So, you are not into private business?
No, I am not a businessman except farming. And I do this farming to help the community, not really to make profit out of it.
You are 80. How are you managing old age ailment?
Wow! That is a very good question. You should have asked my wife how I am managing it. There are certain foods I want to eat, because of fear that I might be sick as a result of eating some of these foods, they have stopped me from eating them. One of my daughters is a pharmacist and another one is a medical doctor. So, they breed down my neck, they don’t want me to eat all these foods. They said they don’t want me to suffer in old age. Old age in itself is nothing to fear about. But sickness in old age is what people fear.
At 80, you are at the departure lounge. How do you feel about it?
Oh! I am looking forward to it so that I can go and meet my Jesus and leave you people with all the problems of this world.
Do you want to reach 100?
No, I don’t.
Because I don’t think it is necessary to reach 100. Reaching 100 in good health is one thing. One would not say no, I don’t want. But there are very few people that would reach 100; there are even very few people that would reach 80. So, I am very grateful to God for making it possible for me to reach 80. I don’t want to be a nuisance or a burden to my family.
What has life taught you?
To be tolerant, to love people, to be close to your God and everything will go alright and be well with you.
Any regret at 80?
No, I don’t have any because I have a wonderful family that has been looking after me very well and I have no regret.
You headed the Road Safety twice. How was your experience?
Very challenging! When I first got into Road Safety, I was told to come and reorganise the Road Safety because the Constitutional Assembly of 1983 decided that the Road Safety should be reorganised because at that time, it was only the Yoruba who were controlling the whole Road Safety. They called for the scrapping of Road Safety, but the members of the Constitutional Assembly said no, Road Safety is a very good organisation and what needed to be done was to reorganise it properly so that it would accommodate every tribe in this country. And that was when I was brought in because I never thought of heading Road Safety at all. So, it was a surprise and it was also a challenge.
Where were you at the time of the appointment?
I have returned from Ethiopia where I was serving as the ambassador. I retired when I was in Ethiopia. I was ambassador in Ethiopia from 1984 to 1987. It was after the coup of 1983. I was commanding One Division, Nigerian Army, Kaduna and Buhari was commanding the Three Division in Jos. But they were planning the coup and we were not involved, so as a result, when they took over power, they decided to redeploy most of the senior officers to go abroad on ambassadorial postings. I was sent to London as the high commissioner. It was when I was there that we had the problem of Umaru Dikko.
So, you were the high commissioner on ground at that time?
That must have been a very tough period for you?
Oh! It was very, very tough!
How did you surmount it?
Well, by the grace of God, I did. And when you are honest about everything and you trust your God, everything will go on smoothly.
And there was a diplomatic row between both countries?
There was. But the good thing was that I was in touch with the president directly and Idiagbon. So, it made it very easy for me to know what was going on.
And you were recalled eventually?
Yes, I was recalled for briefing and then, after that, they said well, I shouldn’t go back to London. So, the Nigerian government said okay, if I can’t go back to London, then the high commissioner in Nigeria must also leave.
And they expelled the high commissioner?
Yes. They sent him away. So, it was after some few months when I was at the General Assembly in the United Nations that I was appointed the ambassador to Ethiopia for three years. I was still a serving general, but in 1987, I retired from service and came back home.
So, you were in Ethiopia when Babangida took over the government?
And he left you in Ethiopia for some time?
When Babangida was preparing to take over the government, I was aware because we had a source of information. I and the late General Garba (Joseph Nanven Garba), he was the Permanent Representative to the United Nations then, he came to Addis Ababa for the annual OAU (the defunct Organisation of African Unity now African Union) meeting. We told Buhari. He came to Ethiopia to attend the meeting as one of the heads of state, that there were some people planning to overthrow you and we told him our source of information was very correct and he should know what to do about it. So, at that time, he panicked. I think he wanted to come back immediately, but I think Idiagbon calmed him down that he shouldn’t; he was going to take control of the whole situation, so he should stay, complete the meeting and then, return home, which he did. And then, after some time when we came in for… because they used to recall ambassadors for meetings. We had a meeting in Jos and from Jos, we came to Abuja. At that time, Buhari was in Abuja and Vatsa was his minister of the Federal Capital Territory. So, Vatsa organised a meeting between us and Buhari. We the military ambassadors, we went to tell Buhari that well, what we told him about the coup was real because this was the D-day and the hour. So, it appeared he was helpless and didn’t know what to do. We left and went to our various stations. I arrived Ethiopia and four days after, Babangida took over.
Why do you think Buhari was helpless?
Well, he could have done something to prevent the coup since he knew all the information that he needed to know. But apparently, he didn’t want any bloodshed or struggle, so he just let the thing to go like that. I said okay, if they want to take over the government, let them go ahead. But he was not prepared to allow bloodshed.
As the high commissioner, you may have played different roles. Do you have any regret over the abduction of Umaru Dikko?
My only regret was that I was not told the whole story behind the abduction of Umaru Dikko. As the high commissioner, at least, I should have been brought into confidence and be told that this was going to happen. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell me that and that is my regret. In fact, I was so annoyed. I had to tell the government then that if they don’t have any confidence in me, why should they send me to embarrass me like that because it was a big embarrassment. When something of that magnitude happens and you are there representing the government, of course, I had to deny knowledge of anything and that my government was not involved. That was my regret that I was not informed on time.