Between OBJ And IBB —Tayo Ogunbiyi


OBJ and IBB are two of a kind. They share a lot of things in common. Both of them have had the privilege of presiding over the affairs of the country. The first as a military dictator and democratically elected ruler. The latter as a military dictator. They are both retired army generals. The story of IBB and OBJ is the story of Nigeria. The story of squandered opportunities. The story of boom that gave rise to gloom. The story of failed promises and unrealisable dreams. As an undergraduate, who was passionate about the political stability of the country, I was among the youths that trooped excitedly into the Ilorin mini stadium in 1985 during the National Sports Festival hosted by Kwara State to catch a glimpse of IBB who had come to declare the event open. He was the toast of Nigerians at that time having successfully staged a coup that ousted the dreaded Buhari/Idiagbon military junta. Our enthusiasm then was hinged on IBB’s promise of a new dawn for the country.

Unfortunately, like the story of Nigeria in the past 50 years, the eight years that IBB spent in power left the nation with scars and wounds that are yet to heal. The height of his ignoble tenure was the annulment of the June 12 1993 election. After several ‘maradonic’ twists and turns that reinforced speculations that he was not willing to leave office, IBB conducted what was internationally adjudged to be a free and fair election but denied the late Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the election, the opportunity to benefit from his popular mandate. What followed was sorrow, tears and blood as the nation was plunged into a needless political quagmire that claimed thousands of lives and properties. Chief Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane, Suliat Adedeji, etc. were among the high profile casualties of the fallouts of the June 12 crisis. To date, IBB has not come out to give any official reason for the annulment of the mandate freely given to MKO by Nigerians across ethnic and religious divides.

OBJ had his own fair share of opportunities to write his name in gold but like IBB, he wasted them. I am yet to see a Nigerian that is twice as lucky as OBJ. He never had the ambition to rule on the two occasions that fate beckoned on him to lead the nation. It was reported that he reluctantly agreed to mount the saddle after the death of his principal, General Murtala Muhammad on 13 February, 1976. With regards to his second coming, it reportedly took persuasions from certain ‘powerful’ individuals before he agreed to contest the 1999 general elections. Ironically IBB, with whom he is dancing naked now, was a leading figure among those that prevailed on him to contest. To date, aside OBJ, no other Nigerian has had the privilege of ruling the country cumulatively for eleven years (1976-1979 and 1999-2007). Equally, no other Nigerian has missed the opportunity to be a national hero like OBJ. It was during his administration that the decay of federal infrastructure across the country got to an amazing height. Though he was a civilian ruler, OBJ ruled in such a fashion that made people thought he was a military dictator. Lagos state had a taste of this when it had a running battle with his administration over seized local government funds. Today, we hear revelations from the Senate enquiry on privatized public corporations that are not too palatable to the ear. Yet, at the tail end of his rule, as it is customary among African rulers, OBJ wanted to extend his hold on power. If not that he decided not to tell God about his tenure elongation plan, he would have had it!

Nigeria’s founding fathers had lofty dreams for the country. Indeed, the immediate post independent years were used by the various leaders in the then regions to lay solid foundations for their respective regions. That is why names such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, among others, have continued to evoke sweet memories in the minds of Nigerians. Today, as they get to the twilight of their sojourn on earth, rather than embrace ideals and attitude that could positively impact on the young generation and indeed the country at large, OBJ and IBB have decided to dance naked; each of them calling the other fool.

What we need now is a conducive political environment and a united front to ensure that the country truly fulfils its potential as the giant of Africa. We do not need the distraction of two sulking elders who are part of the reason why a famous writer alluded to this generation as a wasted one. The IBB and OBJ generation is partly responsible for the sorry state of the nation today. Ironically, this is the same generation that benefitted immensely from the prosperity of the country. It was during their time that the country was sponsoring students abroad to study. It was during their time that graduates had unlimited opportunities for employment. The Nigeria that our founding fathers bequeathed to them knew nothing like power interruption. The economy that they inherited favourably competed with that of any country in the world. In their time, money was never the problem of the country but how to spend it. Today, the Nigeria that these men are leaving behind is the sixth oil exporting nation in the world but couldn’t fix its refineries. A country where things have gotten to a level where governors have to be personally involved in the sale of kerosene is a shame. A country where young Nigerians jump and shout each time public power (electricity) is restored. A country where people die unnecessarily because the roads are in bad shape.

Between OBJ and IBB, there is little to choose. They both remind us of our lost opportunities and inglorious past. I just want to remind them of a certain lonely Egyptian old man now tucked away in a cage. The day of reckoning will soon come for all men who derive joy in inflicting pains on fellow human beings. It has come in Egypt. Who knows, Nigeria might be the next port of call.

•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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