Ibrahim Babangida: A Lion To Be Caged


In recent times, General Ibrahim Babangida’s visit to Ogun, Delta, and later Edo State had generated mixed reactions and feelings among Nigerians. In Ogun State, he said he was consulting. In Delta State, he confirmed he will be running for the presidency. In Edo State, the presence of Babangida was an embarrassment to the governor in particular and the gathering in general during the one man, one vote rally organised by Governor Adams Oshiomhole in Benin.

Babangida is a citizen of this country. He has every constitutional right to contest election into any elective office of his choice. But there are reasons for the sustained protest against his presidential ambition. Before I delve into the reasons, let’s go down memory lane. Nigeria got her independent on October 1, 1960. Notable Nigerians fought for the independence, constitutional reforms, freedom of speech, fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

After independence, Nigeria moved six years into civilisation. In 1966, rebel soldiers went on the rampage. They killed as many prominent politicians  as they could. Some of the victims were Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Akintola, Okotie Eboh, Maimalari, Ademilegun, etc. They created so much confusion and ended up throwing the nation into three years of civil war between 1967 and 1970.

The end of the war did not signal a return to civil rule. Far from it. The civil war ended in 1970, but the military junta took over power and held tight to power until 1979 when they grudgingly handed over to civilian adminstration headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

In 1983 December, the rebels came back again, chasing the civilian government out of power. They suspended the constitution which is the fundamental laws of the land. The rule of law became a luxury even the rich could not afford, freedom of speech became an aberration, members of the fourth estate of the realm became fugitives in their homeland with unannounced death sentences hanging on their necks. Quite a good number of them found refuge in other countries.

Ibrahim Babangida was part of the military junta from December 1983 to 1985. And from August 1985 to August 1993 when he stepped aside, he actually headed the junta government. Now he wants to return to power after stepping aside for 17 years.

What reasons can we give for a self-styled democrat seeking elective office of the president of our country next year after participating and actually leading a military junta for upward of 13 years? In reality, he spent more than two terms while he was in power.

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There is a theory that Big Animals naturally are not afraid of spider’s web. The laws of the land and the structures on ground to enforce the laws are like spider web too weak to bring to book powerful animals like Babangida. That is why people like him will always return to power. In Nigeria, vagabonds in Army uniform bought with tax payers’ money plot and execute coups. When the putsch turns out to be a success, nobody asks questions, certainly, not the police. It is when it fails that it becomes a crime. It was Babangida that was the chief coup plotter while he was still in service.

The other theory as to why Babangida will participate in illegality is because of his belief that national interest and national security must override the rule of law. So we have seen why Babangida is a professional at circumventing the rule of law at getting at his goal using national interest and national security as excuses.

In the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, who was in power from 1933 to 1945, put up the same argument. When the second world war broke out, the United States was neutral initially. Within two years, an increasing friendship from the presidency especially towards the British government, and an American declaration of a national emergency in May 1941 naturally exposed the United States as being passively behind Great Britain. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought about America’s active participation in the war. But two issues stand out: firstly, the president’s immediate order of retaliatory attack on Japan and Germany meant the United States was in a state of war. The technical implication is that since the president did not deem it necessary to obtain congressional approval before going to war, the action was seen as an abuse of the rule of law.

Secondly, as the war progressed, the president and his security advisers perceived without concrete evidence that American citizens of Japanese descent were a threat to their war effort. They decided that all Americans of Japanese descent must be detained without trial until after the war in 1945. After the war, they were released. But quite a good number of them died in detention.

The constitution did not say any person or race should be detained when the United States is in a state of war. Wherever Franklin D. Roosevelt and his security adviser got their idea from still baffles students of American history up till date. The president’s argument that Americans of Japanese descent constituted security risk then, and that national security should override the rule of law if only during that emergency period of war was certainly not welcomed by the American public.

Back home in Nigeria, Babangida cannot cite national security as reason for the coups that he participated in from 1983 to 1985 and for taking over power for eight years and annuling the freest and fairest election in June 1993. Nigeria did not experience any emergency situation to warrant all the detrimental actions he took during this period.

If Babangida was circumventing the  rule of law at getting himself properly positioned in the seat of power using national interest as an excuse then, today, he cannot come up with such cheap excuse and hoodwink the people.

That he has asked some of his agents to tender apologies on his behalf means he is admitting he is a failure to say the least.  He says he is apologising for annuling the June 12,  1993 presidential election. But he is keeping quiet on the death of General Mamman Vatsa. He is keeping quiet on the Dele Giwa issue. He has tendered a public apology. Yes, when a harmless man tenders a public apology, forgive him. But Babangida is different. He is like a leopard that never changes its spurs. He cannot be trusted. Babangida should just limit his politics to Niger State and forget 2011. Nigerians won’t give him another chance again.

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