IBB: A Misunderstood Statesman?

General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, the former Nigerian military dictator is a clever corruption-compromised political animal. To say that IBB was well schooled in military politics is obviously a statement of fact. He knew what he had wanted from day one of his enrolment into the Nigerian Army. So his ambition of becoming the Commander-in-chief was never realised out of sheer luck or by accident. He worked and manipulated his way to the top by participating in almost every successful coup d’etat which ensured his steady rise in rank among the rank and file.

IBB, the evil genius, understood the Nigerian nation and the psyché of the average Nigerian. He once boasted of that special gift of compatriotic knowledge and he knew how to make friends and keep them in moments of happiness and unhappiness. That is why fifteen years after a forced ‘stepping aside’ from power he still maintains a chain of friends that cut across the length and breadth of the nation. Staunch loyalists include Alex Akinyele, Omo Omoruyi and Chidi Amuta.

Gen. Babangida is a study in fraudulent political engineering and re-engineering. He shot his way to power in August 1985 when Nigeria was undergoing a Buhari/Idiagbon-inspired war against indiscipline, a WAI war fought without compromise. The Buhari/Idiagbon regime meant well but Nigerians were tired of their draconian style. Enter IBB, a gap-toothed smiling handsome man who came brandishing mass-oriented reforms and gestures. The first deception came with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) national debate. The majority of Nigerians said a loud No to SAP but IBB chose otherwise. He smuggled in the programme through the back door.

Ibrahim Babangida, in his craftiness, may not have been the most brilliant student among his peers in the military academy but he was a master strategist and meticulous planner and schemer. He carefully took his time, studying situations and playing smartly along after every attempt at constitution subversion. When his time came he knew and seized the opportunity. As a prominent member of General Muhammadu Buhari’s ruling junta Ibrahim Babangida betrayed Buhari who thought he was with him as they collectively took decisions in the then ruling military council.

IBB began one bogus project after another. DFFRI, MAMSER, No-More-Coup campaign, name them. At a time Nigeria became a huge political laboratory where every political idea competed for attention. He tinkered with almost everything banning and unbanning politicians – newbreed and oldbreed. Remember the NRC and SDP? Option A4? Better Life for Rural Women programme of his wife, Maryam, which bettered lives other than those of the poor rural dwellers?

And in the end after wasting billions of naira on two-party experiment what we had was a flawless presidential poll on June 12 which was never allowed to stand. Unknown to Nigerians Babangida never meant to re-establish democracy General Buhari truncated in 1983 ending a Shehu Shagari 4-year democratic debauchery that had the likes of Umaru Dikko, Adisa Akinloye and Uba Ahmed as glorified heroes!

Babangida is not an intellectual though he pretends to be one. During the years of Babangidaism he courted and engaged notable intellectuals appointing some into his cabinet and using others to boost his international profile. General Babangida’s legacy included the barbaric letter-bombing of the intrepid ‘Newswatch’ founding Editor, Dele Giwa, the execution of his best friend, Mamman Vatsa on coup plot charges and the killing of many fine officers via the Ejigbo plane crash.

During eight years of lonely long distance race Ibrahim Babangida terminated his political marathon in Minna Hilltop Mansion after the June 12 presidential poll won by the late business mogul, Bashorun MKO Abiola was inexplicably annulled by Babangida and his reactionary forces. IBB squandered whatever was left of his legacy by that singular annulment of a popular will. June 12 remained his greatest undoing as he still struggles even today to provide reasonable grounds to justify the crime against democracy.

Gen. Babangida ‘killed’ June 12 by a stroke of a dictatorial unsigned decree! But June 12 lives on 15 odd years on! June 12 lives in the minds and hearts of many Nigerians including this author. Democracy in its true unadulterated form remains the best system for Nigeria‘s survival as a heterogeneous complex society.

In an interview he granted “The Sun”, a Lagos-based newspaper, last Easter weekend, IBB was as evasive as ever playing on words and to the gallery. For him: “I think one day, the facts will emerge. But each time I think about it, I feel the political management at that time was the undoing. I think June 12 was mismanaged. We had people who handled the whole issue about June 12, they didn’t apply a lot of political common sense.” Always shifting responsibility and dodgy Babangida still believes Nigerians would, with time, wish away June 12.

After a friendly meeting with the late Bashorun Abiola Babangida reasoned that his handlers misread his intentions and misled him: “The moment he left, those forces around him took over the whole thing. And they went on and on, saying don’t trust him, he is not going to do this, he is going to do that and I think he got carried away by them”.

When asked about the medal of corruption he still wears as the person that institutionalized the cankerworm in Nigeria IBB was somewhat relieved that another dictator has snatched the trophy from him saying in essence that those that served under him and himself were all proud for what they ‘achieved’. He declared that with the kind of huge resources that accrued to the government under OBJ he would have given Nigeria her first nuclear power were he to have been in the saddle. But failed to say why he refused to answer to the Okigbo Panel which indicted him of frittering away about 12 billion-dollar Gulf War oil windfall.

Granted, Olusegun Obasanjo was more corrupt that Babangida but IBB cannot escape the ‘settlement’ syndrome he made the instrument of statecraft. Obasanjo, straight from hell of a prison, with less than 250 dollars left in his bank account could not have resisted the enormous temptation to rehabilitate himself big time for good. It’s like asking a certified serial killer to take good care of one’s family as one takes a trip outside town! Or an international fraudster to manage one’s bank account!

For a poor diminutive military recruit from Niger State (or wherever) whose paternity much like that of Obasanjo is still questionable the 8-year stint in power which saw him swimming in petro-dollars must have ensured that the rest of his life is lived out in opulence of unimaginable proportion. Nigeria is a failed state (or a serious candidate for one!) because of the Babangidas that share citizenship with the rest of us.

Is IBB by any means a misunderstood statesman? I think he’s not qualified to be addressed as a statesman and least of all a misunderstood one. Babangida is trying to be relevant. Playing politics with the confusion that has engulfed our body polity. His many grievous sins against Nigerians while in Dodan Barracks and Aso Rock are still haunting him. Though livi

ng in obscene opulence in retirement in Minna, IBB may go into his grave a thoroughly troubled man with an unclear conscience.

My prayer is that he lives long enough to continue providing insights into why and how he failed as a military ruler. And why and how he gave ‘birth’ to the Locust that bit us like a scorpion.

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