In days gone by, ‘IBB Boys’ was an appellation envied by many. It was a status symbol of sorts, and those who were lucky to belong flaunted it. It was a sort of ultra-elite club whose members seemingly possessed super-human qualities and were looked upon by the rest of the society as capable of doing anything and everything. They carried around a subtle air of intimidation.
Membership cut across both the military and civilian divides. For obvious reasons, however, those in the military were more visible than their civilian counterparts. After all, the godfather himself, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, was the head of state then. As would be expected, they were courted by the public more for the favour they could dispense than a measure of love or affection. But time, that inimitable strand of nature, has a way of changing everything. It has closed that chapter in the socio-political history of Nigeria, or so it seems.
Today, that compact army of fiercely loyal ‘boys’ is either nowhere to be found or is experiencing internal rebellion even as their principal engages in one last desperate effort to rule Nigeria once more.
Since IBB began his third attempt to return to power, after his rather ignominious ‘step aside’ drama in 1993, members of his fabled ‘IBB Boys’ have refused to show public enthusiasm for his ambition. They may be clear indication that the days when he shone like a million stars on the nation’s political landscape are not only over but that he might have considerably overdrawn his goodwill account, politically.
At a moment he seems to need them most, only one or two of the ‘boys’ have been linked with him, and even that has been based largely on rumour and covert political engineering. This is quite a contradiction to what many had thought would be a full, total and open declaration of support through thick and thin for the gap-toothed Minna-born General by his erstwhile loyalists.
On Wednesday, September 15, at the now popular Eagle Square, Abuja, former Information Minister, Chief Alex Akinyele, graphically drove home the stark reality IBB has to contend with. Akinyele could not contain his disappointment as IBB formally declared his intention to run for the number one job in the country without any of his ‘boys’ in sight. It was symbolic of a crumbling empire that has out-lived its usefulness.
The Ondo high chief, in apparent exasperation, questioned the failure of the ‘boys’, both military and civilian, to show up and at least honour the man who had imbued them with so much clout and seeming invincibility. He had regarded that hour in Abuja as the most crucial to IBB, as it would have sent a long-lasting impression of what to be expected from him in the contest that promises to be keen between him and other aspirants.
Akinyele, who once served in the Babangida government which spanned eight years, chose a biblical allusion to drive his point home. "Out of the 10 lepers that were healed by our Lord Jesus Christ, only one came back to show appreciation," he declared, asking rather rhetorically, "Where are the remaining nine?"
For those with some knowledge of Mathematics or Arithmetic, one out of 10 leaves too much difference to be desired. This is not only just a miserable score; it could symbolise outright rejection politically, even by ‘family members’.
Signs that things were no longer what they were became apparent after the September 15 declaration in Abuja. Those who were observant noticed that no particular group mobilised by any of the known names among the ‘IBB Boys’ met to vow to install their principal as the next president in 2011. Only IBB himself was ‘determined’ to stake all he has, including his contacts and experience.
Previously, in 2002 to be specific, his loyalists had gathered in Jos to consider the possibility of the former military president contesting the 2003 presidential election long before he voluntarily withdrew, apparently because former President Olusegun Obasanjo had declared his intention to seek a second term. Then, during the one-day meeting, convened by the likes of the late Gen. Abdulkarim Adisa, the ‘IBB boys’ came up with a strong communiqué, declaring their support and loyalty to the former president for the 2003 election. This time around, no loyalist of his has convened any meeting with a view to declaring support for him.
The fact that there was no single move like the 2002 Jos meeting anywhere in the country may have spoken volumes about the fate awaiting IBB’s ambition in 2011. Akinyele might have spoken the mind of the General or at least his expectation that, considering their long-standing camaraderie, this is the time for them to come out en-masse to show their support for Gen. Babangida.
In the present dispensation, some of the key former ‘IBB Boys’, include the Senate President, David Bonaventure Mark; Senator Tunde Ogbeha; Tanko Ayuba; John Shagaya; Raji Alagbe Rasaki; Chris Garuba; Abdulmumuni Aminu; Larry Koinyan; Oladapo Popoola; Adetunji Olurin; Chris Ali; Yohanna Kure; Abubakar Umar; Murtala Nyako and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, among others.
Among these individuals, some have come out to declare their support for President Goodluck Jonathan without blinking an eyelid. Mark and Ogbeha, like many of their political leaders from the North Central Zone, are supporting Jonathan.
Former military governor of Lagos State, Brig.-Gen. Raji Rasaki, had also along with his kit and kin from the South-West identified with President Jonathan in the 2011 race. And while Oyinlola is regarded as an ardent supporter of IBB, he has not come out to support him openly.
A retired major-general resident in Benin, Edo State, who would not want his name in print, told The Nation, rather jokingly: "
The man no dey market again. If na you, you go support am?"
Sounding rather serious, he reasoned that many factors must have made the ‘boys’ to stay aloof. He reasoned that conjuring the image of the past to get attention in the present would always provoke intense resentment.
He said: "We are in a democracy and this is 2010. Evoking the memories of what happened about 16 or 17 years ago to win the present will not be an effective tool, particularly, when those memories conjure resentful memories.
"Again, I think some of the so-called ‘boys’ then are now sufficiently grown up. They are no more in the military. This is a democratic era and many now have other godfathers who they are loyal to. Nyako, for instance, came into office courtesy of Obasanjo. Do you expect him now to turn his back on Obasanjo who is supporting Jonathan?
"The ‘boys’ are not in any dilemma. They know what they are doing and they don’t want anything that would jeopardise their own political fortune. Jonathan is in power and is contesting; who do you think they will support? They know that it will be difficult to defeat him in the primaries of the PDP. So, they know what they are doing."
Besides the play-safe attitude of the ‘boys’, it was gathered that some of them had actually advised IBB not to run for three reasons. First, his age, which makes him the oldest of all the presidential aspirants currently on parade, is said to be of concern to them. Second, some of the ‘boys’ were more disposed to a situation where he would be a kingmaker and not jostle to be the king when many of his ‘boys’ could be. Most importantly, that he would be so badly demystified if he should ‘fall to any of these young elements.’
But by far most telling on why the fabled ‘IBB Boys’ may never be of any consequence in influencing the current political tide in his favour is the fact that the zoning debate has so badly divided them. And since they have suddenly been exposed to a dichotomy hitherto unknown to them, they are not willing to let down their own people, not even in the name of espirit de corps.
Again, the retired Benin-based major-general said: "In those days, when you talked of ‘IBB Boys’, was there anything like North vs South rotation of the presidency? No! Today, the party in power is viciously divided by the zoning debate, and if a governor has promised to support a once-upon-a-time ‘IBB Boy’ to get to the Senate on the grounds that he would support him and his principal, supposing the principal is Jonathan or Atiku or Saraki, will the spirit of IBB Boys still be relevant? No. The situation is such that it is every man for himself and God for us all. You can’t blame them. What this means is simple. Look very well, you can see the end of the road."
Now that the ‘boys’, who obviously could have represented a critical segment in the IBB-for-President project in terms of mobilisation, logistics and moral encouragement are nowhere near the General, a reasonable chunk of the support base for his 2011 ambition has already been dealt a terrible blow. The general impression is that the IBB 2011 train, without his ‘boys’, is bound to suffer seizures.