Wonders, they say, shall never cease. I am not sure if Nigerians all over the world were surprised or not by this recent news item published in many newspapers and internet sources on Wednesday, 4th February 2009, that Nigeria’s former dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, has publicly foreclosed a possibility of his return to rule the country. Babangida made the disclosure during an interview on a satellite television programme, Moments With Mo, mainly citing his age as the reason “I am not getting younger; I am an old man” and that “there are things I would do to correct certain things which a lot of you would not like.”
That about said it all! I have always thought that IBB, (also referred to as The Evil Genius and Maradona, for his ability to dribble out of tight situations with the media) as he is popularly called, is not a quitter. He is also a very clever, if not wise man, intelligent to boot, and though he has allowed himself to being misled and used by sycophants and flatterers in recent times, he must have thought about this very carefully, before he made such welcome declaration. The man is definitely not stupid. During his ill-thought, ill-advised planned comeback debacle in 2006/07, firmly scuttled by his former boss, Obasanjo, he must have realised a lot of things: One, Nigerians definitely did not want him back; two, Obasanjo certainly did not want him back; three, he lost a lot of money to those political jobbers, sycophants and hangers-on spurring him on to run for the Presidency (ironically, these included his own wife, Mariam) and four, that he was one of those who heated up the polity so much that Nigeria’s very existence was in jeopardy.
So when he declared that, what reaction is he expecting from Nigerians? Does he expect us to be relieved that he’s finally, perhaps, leaving the political scene for younger generation?
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (born August 17, 1941) was the military ruler of Nigeria from his coup against Muhammadu Buhari in August 1985 until his departure from office under heavy popular pressure in 1993 after his annulment of elections held that year.
Ibrahim Babangida hails from the Gwari ethnic group and was born in Minna, Niger State. Babangida studied at the India Military School in 1964, the Royal Armoured Centre from January 1966 until April 1966, at the Advanced Armoured Officers' course at Armored school from August 1972 to June 1973, at the Senior officers' course, Command and Staff College, Jaji from January 1977 until July 1977, and the Senior International Defence Management Course, Naval Post graduate school, U.S in 1980.
He joined the Nigerian Army's officer corps on December 10, 1962, and served in an administrative capacity under the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo. He was heavily involved in the Nigerian coup of 1976, when he was to ‘liberate’ a radio station from one of the coup plotters, Col B.S. Dimka (a close friend of his), to prevent him making further announcements over the air waves. Although he did prevent further broadcasts, Col Dimka managed to escape.
• Second Lieutenant: 1962
• Lieutenant: 1966
• Captain: 1968
• Major: 1970
• Lieutenant Colonel: 9 July 1970
• Colonel: 1973
• Member of the Supreme Military Council: August 1, 1975 - October 1979
• Brigadier: 1979
• Major General: 1983
• President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1985 to 1993
I am not a fan of IBB at all, but I must concede that he is a charming, suave, polished and intelligent man. He is also a brilliant schemer. However, this does not defer from the fact that as of today, he is still widely regarded as the man who presided over the most corrupt government in the history of Nigeria. In some quarters, he is regarded as the man who institutionalised corruption in the psyche of Nigerians. For this alone, I find it very difficult to warm up to him, because of my personal abhorrence to any form of corruption.
I have written about Babangida before (see “Of Sychphants and Rulers” 17 October 2006 http://nigeriaworld.com/articles/2006/apr/015x.html ), so I find this newfound grace of his to finally quit the visible aspect of politics as a personal victory. I am sure also that this will be a sort of victory for the courageous people at www.againstbabangida.com who devoted their time to ensuring that Babangida does not run for the 2007 Presidential election. I was overwhelmed, and I thanked the Lord. Maybe Nigeria has some hope after all. Having said this, Babangida not running for the Presidential office in 2011 does not preclude him from being a major political Godfather. As it is, we must admit he is still a force in Nigeria, not only by virtue of being a former military President, but also because of his wealth, charm, influence and his guilty conscience.
He will always be interested in who becomes the President of Nigeria, the Governor of his state of Niger, and so many other political offices such as senators, ministers, representatives and even local government chairmen and councillors. This is because he would not like to be subjected to a probe of his activities whilst he ruled Nigeria for eight disastrous years; introduced SAP, unilaterally upgraded Nigeria’s observer status to full-fledged membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, survived several bloody coup attempts, and botched the transition to civilian rule in June 1993.
After Major Orkar tried to oust him from power – an attempted coup that resulted in a bloody purge of the military class, IBB accelerated the building of the new capital, Abuja and scurried to the relative safety of the uncompleted new capital, away from the former capital, Lagos, where he and his military cohorts felt vulnerable. He embarked on a massive construction and development program of Abuja, and is still widely regarded as the man who built Abuja.
He does not also want to be held accountable for several violations of human rights which included the murder of Dele Giwa, the suspicious downing of a plane-load of top military officers, and the arrests and detentions of several journalists and human rights activists. The killing by a letter bomb of Dele Giwa, a magazine editor critical of Babangida's administration at his Lagos home in 1986, remains a controversial incident to this day. In 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo established the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission headed by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa to investigate human rights abuses during Nigeria's decades of military rule. However, Babangida repeatedly defied summons to appear before the panel to answer allegations of human rights abuses and questioned both the legality of the commission and its power to summon him. His right not to testify was upheld in 2001 by Nigeria's court of appeal which ruled that the panel did not have the power to summon former rulers of the country.
The Oputa Panel Report would conclude that "On General Ibrahim Babangida, we are of the view that there is evidence to suggest that he and the two security chiefs, Brigadier General Halilu Akilu and Col. A. K. Togun are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb. We recommend that this case be re-opened for further investigation in the public interest."
On the corruption front, IBB would rather not answer questions about how wealthy he suddenly became after being forced out of power, or account for the money that Nigeria made during the Iraq-Kuwait conflict; and so many other corrupt practices. It is to his dubious credit, that Babangida made a lot of otherwise ragamuffins – military and civilian alike - in Nigeria very rich. A lot of people made their money, and hence their names, under IBB, and these “noveau rich” are still loyal to him today. His government practically destroyed the middle class in Nigeria, and it is now that the middle class is gradually trying to recover from IBB’s impoverishment plan. During Babangida’s regime, you are either very rich or very poor. There was no middle road. He virtually ruined Nigerians.
It is widely held that of all the rulers of Nigeria, Babangida had the best ideas on how to move the country forward, at least economically. He issued a referendum to garner support for austerity measures suggested by the IMF and the World Bank, and subsequently launched his "Structural Adjustment Program" (SAP) in 1986. The policies entailed under the SAP were the deregulation of the agricultural sector by abolishing marketing boards and the elimination of price controls, the privatization of public enterprises, the devaluation of the Naira to aid the competitiveness of the export sector, and the relaxation of restraints on foreign investment put in place by the Gowon and Obasanjo governments during the 1970s.
Between 1986 and 1988, when these policies were executed as intended by the IMF, the Nigerian economy actually did grow as had been hoped, with the export sector performing especially well, but the falling real wages in the public sector and amongst the urban classes, along with a drastic reduction in expenditure on public services, set off waves of rioting and other manifestations of discontent that made sustained commitment to the SAP difficult to maintain.
Babangida subsequently returned to an inflationary economic policy and partially reversed the deregulatory initiatives he had set in motion during the heyday of the SAP following mounting pressure, and economic growth slowed correspondingly, as capital flight resumed apace under the influence of negative real interest rates.
Babangida presided over one of the most corrupt government in Nigeria because he got derailed. To this day, many Nigerians believed that, surfing on the goodwill of the Nigerian people when he snatched power from the rigid, disciplined and strict regime (at least to some people, because I admired and welcomed their style of governance of Nigerians at that time) of Buhari/Idiagbon, Babangida could have done a lot more for Nigeria, however a combination of greed, inflated ego, power and sectionalism (protecting the Northern interest at the expense of protecting the whole country’s interest), was his undoing.
In a way, I sympathize with him, but I do not forgive him. He has tried several times to explain himself, but Nigerians are not listening, because they believe he was not being sincere. He had his opportunity at the Oputa Panel, but chose to ignore this chance. He had planned with Sani Abacha to return to power, after Abacha had seized power from the ignorant puppet, Ernest Shonekan’s interim government, but Abacha double-crossed him and hung on to power, and he could not claim it back. Many lives were lost during this period and money was wasted in building political houses in all local government of the country.
One last thing! During his interview on Moments With Mo, IBB commented on the reasons for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. He said “June 12 was accepted by Nigerians as the best of elections in Nigeria. It was free and fair. But unfortunately, we cancelled that election. I used the word unfortunately, for the first time. We were in government at the time and we knew the possible consequences of handing over to a democratic government. We did well that we wanted ours to be the last military coup d’état. To be honest with you, the situation was not ripe to hand over at the time. Forget about the wrong things that happened in politics. The issue of security of the nation was a threat and we would have considered ourselves to have failed, if six months after handover, there was another coup. I went through coup d’état and I survived it. We knew that there would be another coup d’état. But not many people believed what we said. They could have allowed me to go away and then they (coup plotters) would regroup and stage another coup”.
Countrymen and women, if Babangida were to tell one truth, this is it. We might not like him, we might not agree with him, but what he said above is fact. I am a sympathizer of June 12, in that it was acclaimed as the fairest, freest and most peaceful elections ever held in Nigeria, and on the premise that it was annulled primarily to protect Northern interests, but I have since mulled over it, and believed that an MKO Abiola-led government would not have lasted a year before the military seized power again, probably planned and executed by Babangida himself, or by some other junior officers, who see Abiola as an aberration because he was in too thick with the military boys, after he made his money and name through the same people. That, I think, is the truth of what Babangida said above.
He of course has not apologized for this. This is more of an excuse.
So don’t cry for Babangida, if you really do love to see Nigeria progress. He was one of our problems, who unfortunately believed, and was deluded, up till two years or so ago, that he was the solution to our problems.
Good riddance, but don’t hold your breath and start celebrating, because he is still there; still lurking behind the corridors of power. His house, or rather, his mansion, is a place to which politicians, traditional rulers, current and ex-military officers and even civil servants still troop to as a kind of pilgrimage, looking for favours, advice, money, etc. And we will always continue to have these cowards for a long time.
To IBB, we say, thanks for all you have done, or have not done for Nigeria. It is time to sit back and enjoy yourself. Why not? You are rich, healthy, free, influential and without a worry in the world.
Adios IBB. The evil that men do lives after them, but probably not yet.