The Power of a Ringside Witness

As determined as Ireti Kingibe is to chart her own path in politics, the interview tended to via off more toward her ringside role in politics

Ireti Kingibe, a civil engineer and wife of the former Secretary the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe / Photo: The Interview Magazine.

As determined as Ireti Kingibe is to chart her own path in politics, the interview tended to via off more toward her ringside role in politics.

According to her, the late Ojo Maduekwe had encouraged her to write a book and even suggested a title which she believes is very apt. The unwritten book is an account of all she has witnessed up close and personal in the corridors of power and the political arena right from an early age.

A few phone calls and text messages were enough to secure an interview with her. The venue was her Maitama office just ahead of a string of political meetings.

She had given other interviews during the week but not everyone could get her to open up on her marriage, the June 12 saga and her senatorial ambition in the FCT. It took some convincing to get her to speak on a number of subjects we broached, apart from her senatorial ambition. When she finally spoke, she spoke at length.

During our 30-minute pre-interview chat, Ireti Kingibe took us on a journey of her front row seat in some of Nigeria’s defining moments, especially under the military. Her elder sister, Ajoke, is the widow of the late military Head of State, Murtala Mohammed, whose assassination shook the country to its core.

Her experience of that failed coup attempt is from the perspective of a family member. She is very proud of her heritage and speaks glowingly about Murtala Mohammed’s love of flowers and how his widow has today turned that passion into a thriving enterprise.

This is the first time the PDP will be heading for a general election as opposition party. It will no doubt be a litmus test for the party in states and constituencies where it had been the party to beat over the years.

The PDP has never lost the Senatorial seat in the FCT and for over a decade now, the city has been represented by an indigene, Senator Philips Aduda. And yet, Kingibe – who briefly defected to the PDP before returning to the APC – believes her chances have never been better. But first she needs to convince her party she deserves the party ticket.

Ireti Kingibe symbolizes the push to do away with tribal politics, which defines political aspirants along the lines of indigenes and settlers. She prefers to use the term “residents” for people in the FCT.

While the law recognizes the rights of citizens to vote and be voted for wherever they may live, the unspoken rule is that non-indigenes can vote in any city or state where they are resident but shouldn’t aspire to be voted for.

Demographic changes in Lagos (the former capital, for example) and trends in the 2015 election, have inspired a growing feeling in other cosmopolitan centres across the country to return to the time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when residents could vote and be voted for irrespective of their states of origin.

Kingibe is putting her hopes on the changing demography in the FCT as the impetus for change that better meets the needs of a cosmopolitan society.

In this interview, she speaks of how she became an early enthusiast of a Buhari presidency. He travelled a very long road to the presidency lasting 12 years with many supporters falling by the wayside.

Some have long been forgotten but there those that have stuck with him till the very end only to see late entrants to the Buhari project reap most of the reward.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for her. At a point she was forced to choose between her affiliation to Buhari’s party and her husband’s membership of the PDP, a choice many women have been forced to make against their better judgement and wishes.

She makes no pretensions about it. She believes women have a lot of work to do to increase their participation in politics. It may take some arm twisting, a bit of lobbying, but, she believes a path can be forged.

The recent decision by the Buhari government to honour Babagana Kingibe along with MKO Abiola has once again raised questions about who Kingibe was really loyal to – Abacha or Abiola? The story of June 12 and its aftermath has been told over and over again but often from the point of view of Abiola.

In this interview, Ireti Kingibe gives a rare insight into what was going on in the camp of Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe. She says that even though Babagana Kingibe may have his flaws, contrary to what most people believe, he was a prisoner in plain sight, held hostage by Abacha in order to compromise the June 12 mandate.

Abacha’s death, she said, set Babagana Kingibe free. The interview is a spellbinder.


Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Written by Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe is the Editor of TheInterview Abuja. She's worked as a journalist at The Punch Newspapers and also The LEADERSHIP Newspapers, where she rose to become the Editorial Director.