Two topical issues that seized the public space last week underscore the fact that as a country, Nigeria is still too sold to the allure of corruption that it would only take a surgical intervention to rescue it from the vice grip of that decibel. The decision of the organizers of the NLNG literary prize to sip from the contaminated well of corruption by inviting the former military despot, Ibrahim Babangida to deliver the keynote address in this year’s event and the continued attempt by the indicted Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh to hang unto her seat after she had been roundly indicted by a probe panel she set up to investigate her roles in the N628million house renovation scandal. The jury is still out in the Etteh case, her persuaders are still searching for exit routes for her and a shell-shocked nation is watching the developments. So I shall devote this to the NLNG decision, which to all practical effects, has compromised the quality of that prize and opened the flanks of the organizers to the doubts, cynicisms and suspicion of Nigerians that still suffer the debilitating hangovers of Babangida’s awful feel on leadership for the period; 1985 to 1993.
Perhaps, the feeling that overwhelms one before the organizers of the NLNG literary award decided to taint their award with the corrosive Babangida invitation was that the award is reward for excellence with all the moral flaps in tow. With the decision to vitiate this assumed moral appurtenance, the organizers of the NLNG award trifled with a choice perception that would certainly not be repaired and would get worse with the days. One wonders whether the respectable deck of the country’s literary giants that decided to sit home than ennoble a self-recreational quest for a discredited military despot, as the Babangida NLNG show certainly is, will ever improve on their perception of the prize or its organizers in the years to come.
Come to think of it, there should be nothing wrong with inviting a former head of state for such public lecture but there is everything wrong with inviting Ibrahim Babangida to deliver a lecture in an award that seeks to recognize literary excellence. Apart from the well advertised position of Prof. Wole Soyinka and several literary giants to the effect that Babangida’s era was an anti-intellectual era that demeaned the worth and value of academe through deliberate policies of the regime, Babangida still hugs an unenviable record as the annuler of the freest and fairest election in the history of the country. This is apart from the fact that his regime was one that institutionalized and glamorized corruption and set its feet towards assuming the invincible status it has taken at present. Babangida presides over the sustained effort to frustrate the aspiration of Nigeria to greatness through deliberate political schemes and manipulations and I believe, in their desire to sip from the soiled allure of discredited military tyrants, the organizers of the NLNG award were not blind to these facts.
It was obvious that the organizers of the NLNG award, fed up with the arid and Spartan image of writers and intellectual giants that dominate the award, wanted to try the glamour of thieving former military despots. They definitely were bitten by the very defrenesting bug that eats away the country’s moral sinew and wanted some change of scene and went for a costly gamble. Sure, they got a full house of those they wanted. They satisfied themselves with the cross section of military brasshats and their cahoots on display at what should have been a celebration of literary excellence but they tossed away the central audience that justifies the award. They made so much in terms of artificial glamour and concocted camaraderie the class of morally stunted ex-military leaders like Babangida invests in anything they come in contact with. They benefited from the moral deprecation that informed their choice and reaped bountifully of the loud presence of military interlopers in a ceremony that would have gained so much from retaining its moral flavor. One would certainly bet that with that decision, the organizers of the award chose to gamble with their own credibility and the credibility of their award and in a little time, they would realize the dangers in gambling with one’s moral strength because the allure and the glory of such awards as the NLNG award reside with those that boycotted the event than those that graced it. They would come to weigh the opportunity cost of scaring away the Spartan lot for which the award came to be in the first instance in preference to the self-celebratory locusts that landed us in the jam we are at present.
But I wanted to examine Babangida’s immodest boast of not being ready to be intimidated by anybody after spending thirty-two years in the military vis-à-vis the observable traits of the Babangida we know, which have hardly supported that vain boast. If the organizers of the event never knew that inviting Babangida to play such central role in their event is meant to give him an avenue to ventilate his well-known passion of narcissism, then they have been in wrong union with the country’s literary icons for the period this award has lasted. Truth is that shorn of the opportunity to celebrate himself and his quarter wits, Babangida looks like a fish, violently scooped from water. Babangida craves any opportunity to shout out and holler about his negative genius and perverted wisdom as if nothing else matters in a country of over 140million people. He begs and in fact induces chances to sell himself and exhibit his over bleached face and act out an intellectual acuity that never obliged him as he ran a scotching eight years rule that stood out for its haphazard, trial and error approach to statecraft. The organizers of the NLNG award deliberately wanted to offer Babangida a platform to exhibit his masochistic ability because Babangida knows no other pastime than this vain art since he ignominiously ran from Aso Rock in August 1993. They wanted to offer him a platform of reconstruction where he would again and again seek to re-channel history’s verdict to vitiate his awful reign as a maximum, underachieving, corrupt megalomaniac who stands eternally indicted by history for his many shortfalls in government. It is the same way Olusegun Obasanjo now craves history’s favour after the locust invasion he superintended on Nigeria for the period; 1999 to 2007. Babangida’s observable traits rather than support his vaunting boast of invincibility, reveals a spineless, gutless and boneless coward that hides under the comforting walls of hubris. If not being intimidated is honoring the invitation by the organizers of the NLNG award, then Babangida needs to source more tutorials on what constitutes bravery and its display.
Beyond the façade he chose to hide in while the NLNG rehabilitation project lasted, Babangida has been a study in evasion whenever duty calls for him to demonstrate bravery either on national issues or taking emergent governments to task on issues that border on the welfare of all. More than any other former leader this country has had, Babangida has shown the least penchant to talk to power and complain the degeneracy that has been visited on the country by successive government; both military and civil. He chooses equivocation where resoluteness is demanded and chooses discretion where valour is needed. Even in his personal interests, he hides behind subterfuge to resist confronting power and always seeks to obfuscate by parrying issues and questions in the vain belief that we are still stranded at the very stop where his poor wits left us in 1993.
A Babangida that never dared enter Lagos until recently following the threat of getting mauled for the annulment of the June 12 1993 election can’t lay any claim to bravery. A Babangida that uttered not a word as the Abacha pestilence lasted is a coward to the marrows. A Babangida that endured the taunts and half-hearted campaign of the Obasanjo regime and never ever raised a voice to protest the unpopular conduct of the government, even when he bought his freedom by laundering a hefty chunk of his stolen wealth on Obasanjo’s 1999 campaign is a sickening weakling that cannot bite although he makes a hell lot of shows about his bravery. But what would best advertise Babangida’s dearth of guts than the way he was humiliated into abandoning his dream quest for fresh presidential power? On two occasions, Babangida served notices to his hirelings and cronies that he wanted to test presidential power again. On two occasions, he abandoned his ragged band of ballad singers in a pitiable lurch just because Obasanjo and his goons frightened him out of the game. The last case was particularly pitiable and shredded the façade of hubris Babangida has warmed since his flight from power in 1993. After several years of kite flying through a retinue of paid propagandists, Babangida mounted a road show of picking a PDP presidential form. Immediately he did this, Obasanjo sent him a veiled message disavowing of his presidential dream and suddenly, without prompting, Babangida devoured the humblest of pies in a humiliating manner. He discovered suddenly that he had two distant brothers in Musa Yar’Adua and Aliyu Gusau and with this, a fourteen years old dream of an impostor went up in smokes.
As he boasted, to the transient pleasure and satisfaction of the NLNG award organizers who provided that platform for him, he knew that only his withering band of praise-singers and palace jesters and the NLNG award organizers, hit by the bug of compromise, believed him. With that, he took away the honour and reverence that are attached to a once-upon-a-time respectable award. While we can hazard the definitive outcome of the Babangida nuisance, seeped in vanity and immodesty, no one can say for certain if the NLNG award can recover from this deliberate hara-kiri.