Hate him or love him, one thing is sure: he can’t be ignored. He possesses a dumbfounding knowledge of Nigeria’s power dynamics. It is based on this fact that his relevance in the nation’s politics cannot be disputed since he shot his way to the corridor of power through a bloodless coup on August 27, 1985.
He has remained in the lead of those whose footprints are visible in deciding the direction of the political pendulum when it matters the most. As the first Head of State who preferred to be addressed as a military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd) is many things to many people. Whenever he speaks, those who know him are quick to advise Nigerians to look beyond words as there are more in his silence. Throughout his years in the corridor of power, IBB, as he is popularly known, was and still an enigma of a sort.
As someone whose roles in politics continue to provoke discordant tunes, especially in the manner he handled the June 12, 1993 election that was presumed to have been won by Bashorun Moshood K Abiola, IBB’s place in Nigeria’s political history remains contentious as many analysts are yet to agree on some of the major issues that trailed his years as the nation’s military leader.
In surviving the political landmines of his time, the Minna-born General seems to have embraced early in life the advice of the English poet John Milton who said: “True luck consists not in holding the best of the cards at the table; luckiest is he who knows just when to rise and go home.”
Amidst the cacophony of voices that trailed his over eight-year reign, IBB proved that his knowledge of Milton’s wisdom warranted his stepping aside in August 1993, following the annulment of the presidential June 12 poll. On the basis of the annulment, some Nigerians are yet to forgive him as they continue to hold him guilty of cancelling an election that was adjudged the freest in Nigeria’s history of transition programme midwifed by the former military president.
At the death of General Sani Abacha in June 1998 who then was plotting to transmute into a civilian president, it was IBB who became the force that worked for the ultimate installation of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) as successor to the dark goggled General. As one of the nation’s prominent political figures with the capacity of rallying consensus across the nation, IBB would later synergise with other forces to drum support for the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo as president in 1999.
Last week, the former military president stirred the hornet’s nest when, in an interview with Arise Television, demonstrated the ultimate essence of the statesmanship as expressed by the former a former president of the United States of America, Mr. Woodrow Wilson, who said that the “real statesman is first of all, and chief of all, a great human being, with an eye for all the great fields on which men like himself struggle, with unflagging, pathetic hope, toward better things…. He is a guide, a counselor, a mentor, a servant, a friend of mankind.”
Political analysts have attempted to explain the essence of that media outing by General Babangida who turns four scores early next week. While the review of the interview from the South-west turned out expectedly negative, it is clear that IBB, who was once described as Maradona due to his deft political moves, is yet to lose relevance. Commenting on the current upheavals and religious tension tearing across the country, the man who ruled the country for over eight years minced no words in stating that Nigerians have become obvious victims of the tyranny of the nation’s ruling elite.
Drawing a big lesson from the writings of a British politician and linguist Enoch Powell who insists that the “supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils”, IBB is less concerned in getting portrayed in positive floodlights. Ahead of his 80th birthday that is due in less than 72 hours, the canceller of the June 12 poll recently opened up on key issues that still bear the wounds of the past.
The ruling elite, according to the former military president, are the culprits behind the nation’s myriad of challenges and the major unseen hands behind the woes and frightening uncertainties turning Nigeria into a blind alley. The quest for power and the deployment of religion and ethnicity by these mongers that have become major drivers of our nation’s march to self-destruction.
It has become tragic to allow a group of selfish politicians to get away with its earnest intention of subjugating national interest on the altar of personal aggrandisement. Amidst the crisis of nationhood, these ruling elites have resorted to whipping ethnic and religious sentiments to cling to power in the defence of selfish ambitions.
To break the jinx, the gap-toothed military leader suggested that presidential aspirants for the 2023 polls must be in their sixties. This suggestion has sparked a debate among Nigerians who are quick to note that hinging productivity of leaders on age limit has never helped matters just as few elected young leaders have also not proven that youthful years is synonymous to performance.
Though leadership can derive tremendous mileage from experience; it does not in any way mean that the young are deprived of wisdom in government. What needs to be done is to guide against bringing back old hands and tired legs to the corridor of power. Of course, the view of IBB on the age limit may have been influenced by the performance profile of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, present realities have shown that while the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a misfit in government, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is a wobbling platform and incapable of providing effective opposition.
A society that abhors and loathes debate in resolving problems afflicting it cannot truly be democratic. Those who were beneficiaries of yesterday’s freedom of speech and were allowed the right to criticise should not be allowed to trample on the rights of others to criticise and hold contrary opinions. As for the circumstances that led to the cancelation of the June 12 polls, no amount of defense aimed at exculpating IBB can be justified in the eyes of those who see June 12 as a watershed in our nation’s political history.
There’s no doubt that what our nation needs in 2023 is the emergence of a true Nigerian president that must dedicate himself to the urgent task of making citizens believe in our unity. More than six years of the present administration have widened our cove in sharing the table of our citizenship as equal partners. In the face of galloping insecurity and crushing economic hardship made worse by crippling corruption, Nigeria seems to be sitting on edge. We are not only groaning in the valley of hopelessness, citizens are now hunted and hounded by monsters of terror just as over 200 of our students are now in the den of kidnappers demanding millions of naira in ransom.
IBB may not have captured all the issues to warrant a national consensus, but he struck the major chord when he described the ruling elite as the worst of culprits responsible for our dilemma. Nigerians must not remain silent and allow these greedy elites to hold sway over their future. Those who do not want freedom for others deserve less for themselves and unworthy of enjoying any form of freedom. As General Babangida turns 80 on Tuesday August 17, 2021, may the divine powers grant him many years in good health in order to continue serving his fatherland and humanity.