By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The Igala of Kogi State in North-Central Nigeria have a proverb that succinctly explicates an exception to what is generally seen or thought to be the conventional. While the young people may decide to do all manner of acrobatic displays in the open field or in the farm, they say it is not in the character of old people to so behave. According to them, “An old man does not run in-between ridges in the farm for nothing; it is either he is chasing something or something is chasing him.” This provides the context within which I want to analyse the recent intervention in the state of the nation by the former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (popularly referred to as IBB).
My preoccupation is not to deconstruct the general and specific messages contained in the February 4, 2018 press statement in which he shared his thoughts with fellow compatriots on the need to infuse fresh blood or enthrone younger leaders in the mainstream of the nation’s political leadership in 2019; rather, the enterprise is to interrogate the likely circumstances that might have led the former military president to take to the popular media, against his style, to offer advice, pro bono publico, on the 2019 presidential race. IBB has been characteristically prudent in matters of presidential power. But, suddenly, he has unusually acted out of character, intrepidly lending his avuncular voice to the growing corpus of interventions on the modus of dealing with the nation’s seeming incompetent leadership that has brought about unimaginable pains on Nigerians.
I think very seriously that he should be allowed to reinvent himself in the light of the cumulative hunger and anguish in the land, having stoically related with and acted in seeming condonation of the nation’s successive governments since he stepped aside on August 27, 1993.
Apart from the coup of August 27, 1985 that produced him as head of state, consequent upon the overthrow of General Muhammadu Buhari during which he pilloried the governance style of his predecessor in his take-over speech, IBB has never been openly critical of any of his successors in office until presently. His refrain, anytime the media place a demand on him to assess the performance of any government in power, has been that there are open channels of communication through which he advises the president. For the records, he never criticised Chief Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government, ING, to which he handed over power on August 27, 1993 nor did he take on the regime of General Sani Abacha that took over from Shonekan, even when the regime unleashed a reign of terror on the nation. IBB also did not chastise General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime that came after the Abacha regime, not to talk of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight-year administration with all its imperfections and malfeasance.
There was speculation that Obasanjo breached a gentleman’s agreement to rule for a term of four years after which power would be guided to IBB, one of his sponsors to power. The gap-toothed general did not cause ruckus when Obasanjo forcefully retained power in 2003. He had maintained a deep sense of equanimity and statesmanlike disposition. In 2007, after the failure of Obasanjo to manipulate the constitutional amendment to provide for his third term in office, his presidency had moved against IBB’s presidential bid. Again, IBB did not impudently fight back or insist on having his way.
He quietly eased out of the race, explaining in a letter to Obasanjo as president and leader of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, that he took the decision because his friend, General Aliyu Gusau, and his younger brother, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (then governor of Katsina State), were already in the race and would not want to be seen to be competing with them for power. The fact that Obasanjo imposed Yar’Adua on the PDP as the presidential candidate might not have rankled IBB as he did not do anything subsequently to undermine the Yar’Adua presidency. At the most critical time in the presidency in 2009, when Yar’Adua was sick, it was Obasanjo who, surprisingly, championed the call for his resignation. When Goodluck Jonathan, another stooge of Obasanjo, who was then vice-president, stepped in following Yar’Adua’s death, Obasanjo characteristically did not support him to the end. To demonstrate his public rejection of Jonathan and his government, Obasanjo had to publicly tear his PDP membership card. He had earlier written an open letter to the Ijaw-born leader titled: Before it is too late.
Obasanjo did not leave anyone in doubt that he was supporting General Muhammadu Buhari for the presidency. His anti-Jonathan sentiments were so deep-seated that he made up his mind to vote for anybody but Jonathan. That predisposed him to glossing over, for instance, the weakness of Buhari in the area of the economy. For IBB, who has been a PDP leader from the outset, it was a time to remain steadfast, not a time to jump on the bandwagon just because the entire north was gravitating towards Buhari. He did not speak against the candidature of Buhari. But for perceptive watchers of the nation’s presidential politics, IBB’s body language was unambiguous. Nothing has changed or even mitigated his 1985 verdict about Buhari, with which he justified the overthrow of the Daura-born general as head of state.
Methinks IBB just decided to live quietly and painfully with his apparent minority view about a Buhari presidency in 2015. It was clear he could do nothing to avert it. About three years in the saddle, Buhari has unraveled to the chagrin of a vast majority of Nigerians. Obasanjo’s January 23, 2018 intervention was just a confirmation of the pan-Nigerian sentiments about the incompetence and cluelessness of the administration that feed egregiously on nepotism and ethno-religious chauvinism. IBB possibly realised that his strategic diplomacy prelude to 2015 presidential election had not helped the nation when it mattered most. If there was anybody who could have spoken magisterially to Buhari’s capacity to rule, it was IBB. But he probably chose to watch with subtle amazement the mass hysteria about the garb of Messianism with which propagandists had clad Buhari. It was only a matter of time and the entire saga about a “redemptive mission” by Buhari has turned into a historic scam.
Is IBB now trying to atone for his sin of seeming conspiratorial silence by which he left Nigerians to the task of construing or misconstruing his body language at a critical juncture when his voice was most needed to help chart a trajectory in the quest for a president with capacity to redeem our nation? I think this is the reason he has now taken up the gauntlet in the face of the economic ruins, growing misery, unconscionable divisiveness and rudderless leadership in our nation presently to stand up to be counted on the popular side. Otherwise, it is not in IBB’s character to lampoon and criticise his successors in office. He must have advised himself to earn his badge as a statesman, who has seen it all and sacrificed so much for the country; a statesman committed to the survival of Nigeria; a statesman like some influential others who are in the night of their lives, quietly waiting in the departure lounge for the ultimate “beatification and canonisation” of their respective legacies.
IBB would be consigning himself to the wrong side of history as a timid and confused leader if he failed to act. This is why he has acted. Yet, the Yoruba have a proverb that “a hunter who has only one arrow does not shoot with careless aim.” That is the vital summation of IBB’s latest and, possibly, last act in the search for a digital president for our beleaguered nation. I just hope this act enjoys endorsement by a vast majority of Nigerian electorate for the actualisation of his advocacy.
By Sufuyan Ojeifo