Now that General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s former military dictator has declared his intention to contest for the right to rule and lead one hundred and fifty million of us Nigerians, it is incumbent on us, those ordinary mortals he aspires to lead, to question and access this right to rulership and leadership as well as his moral and ethical eligibility to aspire to this right.
In a most confident of manner, elucidation of language and with plenty of shibboleth and platitudes, Babangida dismissed and waved aside age old allegations of misrule, wrong doings and high crimes against him as nothing but the vituperative ranting of the unlearned and those who refuse to learn. These allegations even with clear proofs remain wish- washy allegations in the eyes and mind of General Babangida. He then proceeded to attempt to rewrite history in the most disgraceful way possible by drawing comparisons and allusions to the period of his reign in office and that of his better half, politically speaking, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo
Babangida came to power on August 27, 1985 by kicking out his friend from office. During his eight year reign, Babangida executed more soldiers for real and imagined coup plots than any other government in the fifty year history of modern Nigeria. He had his good friend and fellow “Nigerlite,” the poet-soldier Major-General Mamman Vasta arrested fro a coup that never took place and then executed him. Babangida admitted that he had Vasta’s execution videotaped and then watched it to satisfy himself that his “friend” was really dead. Thus began a well planned and methodical method by which Babangida weeded out perceived enemies.
But before he took to bingeing on the blood of friends and fellow soldiers, Babangida had been accused of being the mastermind, planner and executioner of the gruesome murder of the investigative journalist, Dele Giwa. Mr. Giwa it is said was murdered because he was investigating Babangida’ involvement in the very lucrative drug business. Babangida continues till today to deny his involvement in Dele Giwa’s murder but he should know by now that most Nigerians do not believe him. IBB defends himself by claiming that the issue was investigated and he was cleared by an inquiry. The truth is there was never any hope of a fair and free police investigation and it is well known that under Babangida’ despotic rule, no Judge dared indict him for murder. The state of fear under a military or civilian dictatorship is well known and IBB’s government was among the most feared and the most blood thirsty. If IBB was really confident that his hands are free of Dele Giwa’s blood, why did he refuse to appear before the Oputa panel, a panel headed and membered by persons of unimpeachable character and who could not easily be compromised? Why? 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. The Oputa panel’s conclusion after investigating the murder of Dele Giwa was damning yet insightful. The panel asserted after thorough investigations that IBB and two of his security chiefs, Halilu Akilu, then Director of Military Intelligence and Kunle Togun, then Deputy Director-General of the State Security Services “are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb.” The panel stated clearly also, that “We recommend that this case be re-opened for further investigation in the public interest” Thus, should a person on whose head and hands possibly hangs the murder of a fellow citizen be allowed to rule this country? Nigerians, a very insight people will decide this.
Babangida has consistently claimed that his government’s economic policies helped grow the economy. As a Political and Development Economist as well as an economic historian, I know this is one of the falsehoods that emanates persistently from IBB and his handlers. In his declaratory statement before media executives , at the controversial nocturnal press parley lst weekend, he claimed that when he left office the rate of the value of the naira was twenty-two naira to a dollar. That is a big LIE. Typical of IBB to lie his way through things! Sadly none of the media executives bothered to ask him how much the naira was valued when he came to power. Let me refresh Babangida’s memory, if age has dulled it, when he usurped power in August 1985, the value of the naira was one naira to one dollar, by the time he left office in August 1993 the naira exchanged for nearly N60 for one dollar. It was Sani Abacha who fixed the exchange rate at twenty-two naira to a dollar as the official exchange rate while the market rate stood between N75-N85 for a very long time.
Babangida pauperised Nigerians through his economics and economic policy. All Babangida craved was power, the exercise of power and if that meant the death of Nigerians through hunger, so be it. Now Babangida asserts that his era was better than Obasanjo’s second coming and even better than it is now. Well, I lived under Babangida and I assert as vehemently as he asserts that he Babangida is responsible for the short, medium and long term economic problems that bedevilled the nation of Nigeria today. I equally assert that the Babangida era is one Nigerians wish to forget in a hurry, it is a period that has been consigned to the dustbin of history; it was the chronological dispensation when Nigeria reached its political, economic and social nadir. It was the period we fell as a country and as a people and we struggle yet today to come out of the flotsam and jetsam.
When Babangida came to power, the Nigerian Airways was the pride of Nigeria; it had some two dozen aircrafts zig zagging the country and flying Nigerians and foreigners across the world. IBB systematically through corruption and mismanagement destroyed the airline. Only two aircrafts were left flying when he finally absconded from power! The Nigerian Airways hanger one of the best in Africa was left to rot and decay while the pilots trained at great expense to the state were left idle and unemployed. Many had to seek employment in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The Nigerian National Shipping Line NNSL was one of Africa’ few locally owned ocean going shipping lines transporting goods and peoples across the four corners of the world. Where is NNSL today? It was destroyed by Babangida. With over a dozen large cargo vessels and many other smaller boats when IBB came to power, he left this national heritage decrepit with no single ship sea worthy when he left office eight years later. The consequences of this action are varied and many. What about the Nigerian railways? That most eminent of national infrastructure was not left standing by the time hurricane Babangida was through with Nigeria. When IBB assumed power in 1985, the railway infrastructure including rail cars abounded in great measure traversing the length and breadth of Nigeria with its cargo of peoples and goods, eight years later; it was a sorry sight to behold. It had stopped working. Rail transport was dead and IBB killed it. People had to resort to road transport which put a lot of pressure on our roads leading to increased road accidents and more monies being diverted to road repairs and maintenance. Babangida so mismanaged our common patrimony and infrastructure that it is felonious that he has not been held accountable for these high crimes. It can only happen in Nigeria.
On corruption, ask a little kindergarten kid today to tell you what he or she knows about Babangida, the central theme of their discourse would be about corruption. It is not for nothing that IBB is regarded and rightly so as the most corrupt leader in the history of Nigeria. His government is also widely regarded as the most corrupt government in the history of Nigeria. With tongue in cheek, IBB continues to claim that what his government received in eight years equalled what the Obasanjo government received in one year. That is not only untrue but it is a lie of gargantuan proportion that only IBB could have told. I believe that Obasanjo is capable of defending himself, but let assume there is truth in that statement. What are the contrasts?
Babangida left us with a foreign debt of over thirty billion dollars through corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency, Obasanjo through prudent management that has been widely acknowledged by global financial institutions and governments paid off a quarter of these debts and had the remaining two-thirds, some eighteen billion dollars written off. That would not have been possible if the lenders and foreign governments felt that Obasanjo was corrupt and mismanaging the economy the way Babangida was. Secondly, Obasanjo left nearly fifty billion dollars of oil and other tax receipts in the foreign reserve as well as over twenty billion dollars in the excess crude fund when he left office, Babangida on the other hand and despite the gulf war windfall left next to nothing behind. On the contrary, he has been indicted by the Okigbo panel report of being unable to account for over twelve billion dollars. So while Obasanjo left some seventy-five billion dollars behind when he exited office, Babangida cannot account for twelve and a half billion dollars. Who then is the thief? Who then is the corrupt one? The answer is as clear as daylight. Thirdly, like Obasanjo or hate him, he has been widely praised in Nigeria and outside Nigeria by the unbiased and fair minded that he tackled and fought corruption through institutions like EFCC and ICPC. Obasanjo was the first leader to set up such institutions and it is a fact that EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu garnered accolades due to the organisations’ dogged and irrepressible onslaught against corruption. For the first time, advanced fee fraud was attacked and its perpetrators took to their heels. Thieving politicians become more circumspect and more scared, the fear of Ribadu’ EFCC became the beginning of wisdom. All these were because of Obasanjo’ determination to give Nigeria a new image. Let’s contrast these with Babangida and his government. Under Babangida, corruption was elevated to an art form. It became more scientific in implementation, nothing happened in Babangida’s Nigeria without money changing hands, 419 began during Babangida’ regime, it thrived openly and its kingpins were assured of protection by Babangida. Babangida did not care about Nigeria’ image, the protection of 419 perpetrators was more important to IBB than the image of Nigeria. Human rights activists who spoke out against the rising tide of corruption were clamped in jail or humiliated before open camera. It was the corrupt and the ethically debased that were celebrated by and under Babangida. Thus was the fate of Nigeria and Nigerians under the man that now seeks with chutzpah to rule us again.
It was under Babangida that religious and ethnic conflicts became more pronounced and prominent. Tribes were played off against other tribes while religious dominations and sects were set up and set off against themselves. Unnecessary rivalry was promoted and encouraged. Babangida created the religious gulf that currently divides this country. Under him, there had to be conflict in order to justify his hold on power. A peaceful and prosperous Nigeria was a threat to Babangida’ leadership, so a scorch-earth policy of social, political and economic degradation was designed and implemented. Ask the Kataf and Hausas; ask the Ogonis, ask the people of Jos, ask the people in Muri Emirate, ask the Christians, ask the Muslims, ask Ebitu Ukiwe, ask Domkat Bali, ask the Middle-Belt army officers who brought him to power whom he later discarded and retired one after the other, above all ask the ordinary Nigerians who felt the brunt of his evil leadership.
Babangida hopes that Nigerians will one day forgive him for the annulment of June 12 presidential election, an election regarded as perhaps the most credible in contemporary Nigerian history and won by the widely respected businessman Chief MKO Abiola because in his words, Nigerians are a godly people. I dare to speak for most Nigerians when I say that we will forgive but we will never forget. Our sense of justice will guide us in critically analysing the leadership options available to us while our sense of history will also guide us in determining how we vote or do not vote. As we forgive Babangida for annulling June 12, I also ask Babangida to seek for forgiveness from the family of Mamman Vasta, Martin Luther, Ochefo, Dele Giwa and others he unjustly and unjustifiably murdered. After that perhaps restitution could be made by ‘philanthropically’ giving back to Nigerians what he criminally took from us without our consent.
I am most happy that Babangida has finally garnered enough guts to run for the office of President. I am thrilled because I cannot wait for Nigerians to finally demystify that aura of brilliance and strength he has skillfully (and fraudulently) built about and around himself. When we finally speak, we will with a loud voice tell IBB to go home and sleep, we know who you are and what you represent and we do not like it. You have done enough harm. Leave us alone.
Nosa James-Igbinadolor is a Communications Marketing and Development Consultant. He wrote in from Secondi Crescent, Wuse 2 Abuja. He can be reached on [email protected], 07027875496