Nigeria Matters

Babangida Was Wrong To Apologise For ‘June 12’

Former military Head of State Ibrahim Babangida has reportedly apologised for annulling the June 12, 1993 elections, won by the late Moshood Abiola. He has variously been quoted as saying that he conducted the ‘best election’ in the country and would take responsibility for the annulment, which he implied was an error he regretted. He was quoted by the Tribune (online) of 16 August 2010 as saying that politicians from the South-West, where the late Chief Abiola came from, “had forgiven him after apologising on the issue.” Former Oyo State Deputy Governor, Hazeem Gbolarumi, who is a leader of one of Babangida’s campaign groups, also apologised to Nigerians on behalf of the Minna General.

I will argue that the apology, rather than mollify his traducers, compounds Babangida’s problems:

One, by admitting the annulment was a mistake, and using innuendos and body language to apologise without giving reasons for the annulment, Babangida concedes the argument to his critics that it was something done on a whim or out of malice. One would have expected Babangida to articulate a cogent explanation for the annulment, and defend it forcefully if he believes in it, so that his argument would, in the marketplace of political ideas, compete with the notions of ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ under which the campaign against the annulment was waged. There were several rumours on why the election was annulled – that Abiola was an agent of foreign powers and for that reasons the military government was uncomfortable handing over power to him, that Abiola was a serial sponsor of coups and because of that some military boys felt such a person would only inherit power over their dead bodies, and that as a close friend of the military top brass, they knew him better than other Nigerians and would not trust him with the leadership of this country. By apologising the way he did, we have not become wiser on the reasons for the annulment and he has unwittingly strengthened the argument of some of his critics that he tries to please everyone. Effective governance is not a popularity contest and shouldn’t be because some tough decisions necessarily have to be taken by leaders. Rather than the ‘forgiveness’ he craves by his apology, it will in fact only increase the sense of triumphalism by his opponents, who had defeated him on the issue and forced him to ‘step aside’. Had Babangida forcefully defended his conviction – if the annulment was done out of conviction – he would probably have been able to convince some people that it was a decision taken in the national interest based on the evidence available to him at the time.

Two, by apologising the way he did, or giving the impression that he was pressurised into annulling the election, his stature as a leader is diminished rather than enhanced. Besides, in litigious countries such as the USA and UK, such forms of apology could lead to a floodgate of compensatory law suits. For instance as unpopular as the Iraq War was, especially when the search for the so called Weapons of Mass Destruction that was a trigger for the war turned out negative, the two architects of the war, George W Bush and Tony Blair, have stood their ground that they acted in good faith on the basis of intelligence available to them at that time. True, there are circumstances in which apologies by leaders could be a show of humility and strength but rarely in matters of critical state policies such as cancelling an election in which people have invested fortunes and time.

Three, the events triggered by June 12 show that power is rarely handed over to anyone on a platter of gold. It is to the eternal credit of a faction of the Yoruba elite that they were able to lead and sustain a campaign to re-claim what they felt was theirs. Before Abiola and June 12, there had been coups and counter-coups in this country and nothing happened. Politicians invested huge resources in organising political parties or running and winning primaries only for these parties to be banned – and nothing happened. But when it came to June 12, a faction of the Yoruba elite, which was Conscious, Cohesive and Conspiratorial led other Nigerians in successfully resisting it by virtually making the country ungovernable. Not even the appointment of Shonekan, a Yoruba, could mollify them. In this sense, it is wrong for anyone to say they conceded power to the South or the Yorubas. The truth is that a faction of the Yoruba elite staked an overwhelming claim for their ‘right’, and the only way at that time for the country to move forward was to appease them by having another Yoruba run a civilian administration in lieu of Abiola.

Four, the successful struggle over June 12, has an important ramification for the current controversy over the PDP’s zoning arrangement, namely that power is rarely handed over to any one on a platter of gold. In democratic dispensations, it means staking a powerful claim to what you believe is your ‘right’ and making your ideas supporting the claim dominant in the marketplace of political ideas.

In this sense, power could be likened to a crown jewel thrown into a furnace of fire while zoning could be equated to an agreement on the order in which contenders will be allowed to wear this crown jewel. If it comes to the turn of Mr X, it will be up to Mr X to stake such a powerful claim to his ‘right’ that others will be forced to respect it. If it comes to a person’s turn to wear the crown jewel, and the person is unable to retrieve it from the furnace, it means he has not staked a powerful enough claim for his right or shown sufficient preparedness for it and should therefore really not complain if he is bypassed. It is in the nature of power that even if it is agreed and pasted on billboards throughout a country, that say in 2011, it will be the turn of Mr Y to wear the crown jewel, there will always be others who will come forward to stake counter claims. The fate of Mr Y will therefore depend on his preparedness and how forcefully he stakes his claim for his entitlement. The struggle for power is not for the lily-livered.

Five, it is surprising that the Igbos who are supposed to be the beautiful brides in the ongoing controversy over zoning (it is the only group in the three geopolitical zones of the political south not to have produced a president in the current dispensation) do not seem to appreciate they have a bargaining chip. This immediately raises the question of whether the group has a faction of its elites, close to state power, who are Cohesive, Conscious and Conspiratorial enough to set the agenda and fight for the group’s interest? Even Governors Peter Obi of Anambra State and Sullivan Chime of Enugu State – the two Igbo leaders who are arguably the best positioned to play critical roles in this dispensation and benefit from the process- seem not to even know that history is beckoning on them.

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