BY ABU NMODU
Estranged political allies from different political parties converged at the recent wedding Fatiha of the daughter of former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, which held in Minna, Niger State. ABU NMODU captures the drama.
he Hilltop residence of the former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, popularly called IBB, witnessed unprecedented crowd last weekend as he gave his daughter, Halima, out in marriage to Sarikin Sudan Gombe, Awwal Lawal Abdullahi.
Though many expected a magnificent occasion, the marriage, according to keen watchers, ended up becomitng, perhaps, the most grand gathering of elites this year.
Signs of a mega gathering manifested on Friday, May 12, 1017. As early as 6am, heavy security presence was noticed around strategic places within Minna, the Niger State capital. Dignitaries started trooping into the town by road and air as early as 9am.
Typical of IBB’s events, everybody felt comfortable. Playing the perfect host, it was obvious that the high and mighty were at ease with the former military president, a testament to his ability to nurture relationships on various levels, transcending age, tribe, religious proclivity and political affiliations.
The presence of many economic and political players in Nigeria showed the tremendous goodwill the former leader enjoys across the country, notwithstanding that the bridegroom, Abdullahi is a key economic and political player in his own right.
Babangida (who announced his exit from partisan politics few years ago), ease at gathering the creme-de-la-creme of Nigeria’s political class in a social event as his daughter’s wedding, spoke volumes of his enormous goodwill and his elder statesman disposition.
Having become a political father to a generation politicians, the former military president has also indispensable served as bridge builder and stabilizer of the polity.
Indeed his political scions abound in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and much as in the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), such that his advise is constantly sought in times of intense strife in the parties and by extension the polity. What’s more, for one who has propagated the two party system the loudest, Gen Babangida, has managed to give equal douse of attention to both parties, always opening his doors anytime, any day for any for call upon him.
Meeting of political friends and foes.
Many watchers who saw former President Goodluck Jonathan and a national leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu sitting side by side, wondered what other platform could have brought these two political figures together in recent times, If not for a wedding ceremony like that of IBB’s family.
Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, is credited for being not just a major actor in the formation of the APC but one of the key players who made Jonathan lose the 2015 election as an incumbent.
Yet, on that day they sat, not only under the same roof, but beside each other right to the right hand side of the former Military President.
Jonathan came into the pavilion where top dignitaries were sitting as the wedding fatiha commenced about 2.30pm, stting downwith IBB, and the Jagaban Borgu, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who joined them with his retinue of aides.
Immediately he entered the pavilion and exchanged greetings with IBB, Tinubu shifted his attention to Jonathan. They exchanged pleasantries before Tinubu was ushered to the seat between Jonathan and former Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido. Before long, many dignitaries including the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, thronged to greet IBB and Jonathan.
The immediate past president was however more engrossed in discussion with IBB, while the APC national leader maintained a very normal countenance throughout.
Although the smiles and exchange of pleasantries between Jonathan and Tinubu, could only leave many guessing as to whether they have forgotten the 2015 saga, it was, however, clear, that both men enjoyed certain level of closeness with IBB, and on that table, the common ground was the goodwill which the former military president apparently still commands.
Also, many believed that there was no love lost between the former Lagos State governor and the Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki. But on that day, the Senate president sat left of IBB, a few metres away from Tinubu on the same table.
Some observers would think that the sitting arrangement was deliberate, considering that some political opponents and adversaries would be gracing the occasion. However, it seemed that the spontaneous arrival of the dignitaries made it almost difficult to believe that such arrangements were deliberate.
Saraki, who came with some of his colleagues like Sen Dino Melaye, few minutes later, exchanged greetings and pleasantries with Tinubu who was already seated. Also Sen Melaye believed to be political adversary of the Tinubu political clan, threw some jokes as he greeted one of his party’s national leaders.
Other political adversaries who were at the wedding were the leaders of the two factions of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sen Ali Modu Sherrif and Sen Ahmed Makarfi, both of whom are former governors of Borno and Kaduna states, respectively.
The last time both men were reported to have sat in same room was at the turn of last year where they agreed to the formation of reconciliation committee, which, like all attempts so far, crashed few days later.
Although, both of them have in the past visited IBB on different occasions, since the crisis of the party started but it was a moment of political scintillation to see both men trying to cope with each other at the pavilion where all the dignitaries were seated.
Whereas Senator Ali Sheriff sat in between Aliko Dangote and other dignitaries in a corner, Senator Ahmed Makarfi was seen in the midst of the former governors.
The former governors from the classes of 1999-2015 were seating on the same table adjacent IBB. They were quite noticeable as they exchanged jokes and banters with former governor of Niger State, Dr Muazu Babngida Aliyu, who appeared to be playing the host.
There was also sharp distinction from where the incumbent governors like Nasir el- Rufai of Kaduna, State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Abdullahi Umaru Ganduje of Kano State and host of other governors sat from where the former governors were sitting and Niger State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State playing host.
Evidently too, a sharp divide between serving senators and their governors could be seen. Besides the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State who came in together, and maintained high level of the cordiality, others barely exchanged greetings and they came at different time.
For instance, the strained relationship between former governor of Kano, now Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and his successor and incumbent governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, was quite visible.
Similarly, the political face-off between the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai and Senator Shehu Sani, was also manifest, as there was rarely show of friendliness or solidarity between the duo.
While the drama of political allies and foes played out, it did not show in the disposition of the former military President as he was comfortable with all of them, exuding his usual calmness and charming them with his gap-toothed smile.
He also played host to his military colleagues at the wedding with General Muhammadu Inuwa Wushishi, former chief of army staff serving as the father of the bride who gave the bride out.
He was supported by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, with the backing of General Halilu Akilu, Sen David Mark and Sen Tunde Ogbeha, who are regarded as IBB boys back in the military days.
Meanwhile, the financial community was led by titans like Aliko Dangote, Globacom chairman, Mike Adenuga and oil mogul, Mike Otedola, all showing their solidarity and support, indicating that IBB has a great reach also within that clan.
Although the wedding has come and gone, its significance, for political watchers, underscored the ability of the political colossus to relate with ease, the movers and shakers in the current political firmament despite having resigned from partisan politics some years ago.
What’s more, for a former president that left power over 20 years ago to still command the kind of friends that the wedding of his daughter attracted, for analysts, it shows that he remains an enigma in Nigeria’s political, social and economic spheres.It also showed an elders statesman and a bridge builder who was in turn, truly honoured by his friends last weekend.