His public declaration on Wednesday, September 15, broadcast live on Africa Independent Television was a clear signal that Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s former military president was not leaving anything to chance, and he is obviously set for the 2011 polls.
No doubt, Babangida, popularly called IBB, who once described himself as an evil genius, is anxious to return to office as Nigeria’s president. Few weeks ago, he had said that in the event that the ruling party denied him ticket he would cross over to the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP to contest. Babangida intensified his efforts to get the ANPP’s presidential ticket apparently because of his realisation that his chances of securing a PDP ticket were shrinking. This became clearer to him when Gbenga Daniel, governor of Ogun State; Ibrahim Shema, Katsina State governor and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, governor of Osun State, all of who were believed to be working for the former army general, recently assumed new positions as coordinators of Jonathan’s campaigns in their various states.
As things stand now, Babangida is one candidate with legs in two parties. But this only shows the man IBB for who he truly is. Babangida is a crafty strategist who knows how to work on the consciences of his political “victims” to secure their approval. His intelligence is also unquestionable, giving his quick rise through the ranks in the army. Commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1963, Babangida was appointed commanding officer, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, between 1964 and 1966. In August 1968, he was promoted to the position of a captain and by April 1970, he became a major. Between 1975 and 1983, he rose from the position of a commander, Nigerian Army Armoured Corps to become a major-general. By August 1985, Babangida became the head of state, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, having taken power from Muhammadu Buhari in a palace coup. He was military president from 1985 to 1993.
Babangida, of Gwari origin and a Middle Belt Muslim was Nigeria's sixth military ruler and, as of 1990, considered as the most powerful. According to observers, he was somewhat a methodical ruler, deft and tactical. Reported to have taken part in all coups in Nigeria, he was described as 'Maradona' for his political survival skills.
While in power, the former army general introduced some economic policies, some of which though were beneficial to him, did not favour many Nigerians. Having declared national economic emergency, Babangida told Nigerians that the options open to them were to either accept an International Monetary Fund, IMF, loan and the conditions attached or to embark on more austere economic measures that would require greater sacrifices. Though the people favoured a non-IMF option, they soon discovered the hardships eventually imposed differed little from the IMF's conditions. Eventually, he went for the IMF loan that devalued the naira and contributed to making the country heavily indebted. The economic recovery programme recommended by the World Bank was instituted as a self-imposed Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, which involved a drastic restructuring of the country's economy. With the implementation of SAP, prices of food increased while unemployment rate shot up. As Nigerians suffocated under such unfavourable condition, the Babangida regime imposed numerous user fees for education and health services. His administration could not also account for the billions of dollars Gulf War oil windfall.
That was not all. Babangida also introduced far-reaching changes in the civil service, the police, the armed and security forces, and the political system, some of which though brought some positive changes, were to the detriment of the people. One of the many ironies of Babangida’s administration is the fact that whereas he came to power as a champion of human rights, his regime stands accused of some of the worst abuses in the nation’s history. He released most of the politicians incarcerated by Buhari, his predecessor, and also hounded opposition interest groups, especially those of labour and students. He detained many radical and anti-establishment persons for various offences. Several journalists and other critics of the military regime were detained just as some newspapers were temporarily closed. It was also during his tenure that Dele Giwa, then editor-in-chief of Newswatch, received a letter bomb that killed him. The letter was said to have been sent from the presidency.
Up till now, Babangida is yet to clear his name of this allegation. Even when an opportunity presented itself through the Human Right Violations Investigations Commission, headed by Chukwudifu Oputa, otherwise known as Oputa panel, Babangida went to court to get an injunction restraining the commission from summoning him to come and witness. The infamous Decree Number 2 were also used to maximum effect. Apparently fed up with his government, some aggrieved soldiers planned a coup led by Gideon Orkar, a major, on April 22, 1990. He survived and became even more severe in his governance. His regime planned transition to civilian rule for the better part of his eight years in office. But after the 1993 presidential elections, the evil genius made more enemies than friends following his annulment of the elections believed to have been won by late Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
Million of Nigerians are still angry with him for that odious act; Babangida has become something of a creep to the Abiola family. However, he has also lent his voice to those canvassing that the late business tycoon be immortalised. “I want to see a situation whereby he (Abiola) will be immortalised as a person who fought for democracy in Nigeria," Babangida said. The best way to do this he said is to “set up an institution named after him that talks only about democracy. That is the most enduring legacy we can give MKO.”
However, such statements coming only 17 years after the criminal annulment of Abiola’s mandate and at a time IBB needs the people’s vote once again paints a clearer picture of the man, who wears the appellation of Maradona