Persistence. Focus. Stubbornness.
With these three attributes, it wears down opposition. Anyone who will deter the proverbial goat at the beans market must match its resilience and pay close attention to its tricks. While it is almost impossible to devote time fully to it because of the other reasons for being at the market, smart traders are often able to deter it with the only language it understands - the cane. Watching from the corner of the eye, the trader is ready to fling the whip whenever the goat attacks.
Ibrahim Babangida is Nigeria's market goat and we must not spare him the cane. He has never been away. Rather, he always picks his moment to strike. Those who think he retired do not really know him. In fact, he never said he was leaving power - he only stepped aside until a time like this when he calculates we are worn by his persistence. He reasons the best time to strike and loot the market is the height of its activity. Babangida has been around, focused as ever and immensely stubborn against a forgiving society. Probably even more forgiving to him as a result of the loss of his wife, Maryam.
In recent months, I have come to the sad realization that we now have large sections of Nigerians who were either too young to know who Babangida is or simply have volatile memory. In their ignorance, these Nigerians on Facebook and web blogs sing praises of one of the most dangerous dictators in Africa's recent history. I call him dangerous, not because he did the things he did, but because he did them so perfectly that the least discerning did not even know anything happened. He is like an arts thief who steals the original piece and leaves a counterfeit behind. Such a criminal could get away with the heist for a long time. Babangida is counting on using his greedy friends and the naïve ones among us to ride right back to power. For the sake of these clueless Nigerians, I like to take a moment to introduce the man, Ibrahim Babangida.
Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, a.k.a, IBB, was popularly called Maradona by Nigerians for his special skill to cheat and divert, in the fashion of Argentina's soccer genius, Diego Maradona, who infamously cheated to earn victory over England in the 1986 World Cup. A self-described 'evil genius,' Babangida led Nigerians through a tortuous and deceptive political and economic transition that ended in a cul-de-sac. Perhaps because of his craftiness, it wasn't until the end of his military career that the dictator's ruthlessness and lust for power became obvious.
He is believed to have been born August 17, 1941, at Minna, Niger State and attended Government College, Bida, from 1957 to 1962. There is no evidence he passed his School Certificate examination, as he did not receive his undisclosed results until three decades later in a publicized ceremony as the military head of state. Babangida received his military training at the Nigerian Military College, Kaduna, and was commissioned into the Nigerian Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1963. Judging by his records, he was more interested in politics than a professional military career, as he had been the face behind every military coup in Nigeria over a 30-year period. The BBC remarked that Babangida had taken part in all coups in Nigeria, through which he unleashed many years of needless bloodshed and power rotation that left Africa's highest grossing nation one of its poorest.
When the military returned to power on December 30, 1983, IBB became the chief of army staff and member of the highest ruling military body, the Supreme Military Council, SMC. He also served in that council during the Murtala Muhammed/Olusegun Obasanjo administration. On August 27, 1985, the Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon administration was toppled in a palace coup by Babangida, who made himself Nigeria's first "military President," an indication of his lust for political power. Babangida was Nigeria's sixth military ruler and inarguably the most powerful.
As with most dictators, the evil genius was methodical, shrewd in power, flamboyant in style, and ruthless in response. His predecessor, Mohammadu Buhari was resolute, but Babangida would kill by any means necessary and would not consider it inappropriate to weep at his enemy's funeral. Deft and tactical, Babangida announced himself to power as a champion of human rights, but unleashed a spate of human rights abuses that was only matched by his savage hand-picked successor, Sani Abacha. As he strategically spread his political tentacles, Maradona's first call was to release most of those jailed by Buhari, including the late music star, Fela Kuti. Nonetheless, Babangida brutally muffled opposition, as he frequently detained labor leaders, students and human rights advocates.
He closed newspapers at will and sent soldiers to shoot protesters of his economic program on sight in daylight. In the course of my seven-year journalism career, I worked with The Guardian, Concord and Punch; all were closed as a direct or remote consequence of Babangida's war against the freedom of speech. This is why my heart sank at the report that editors of media companies, some of whom were colleagues who suffered under Babangida's heavy boots, went to his house recently to collect his blood-stained 10 million naira in the dark of the night. The blood of innocent Nigerians who died as a result of June 12 is on those journalists who betrayed the trust of the people and the sanctity of the pen.
Ibrahim Babangida has been indicted by the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, led by the respected Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, for the killing of Nigeria's top journalist, Mr. Dele Giwa, by a parcel bomb in 1986, reportedly to stop a story linking Babangida and his wife to a drug trader. Up till now, the killers of Dele Giwa have not been officially exposed, and efforts to probe Babangida's implicated associates have been consistently blocked by him. The report noted: "On General Ibrahim Babangida, we are of the view that there is evidence to suggest that he and the two security chiefs, Brigadier General Halilu Akilu and Col. A. K. Togun are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb. We recommend that this case be re-open for further investigation in the public interest." Babangida has blocked that report from being released, through the judicial system he blatantly corrupted.
By the time Babangida was one year in power, he had begun to demonstrate his deceptive abilities. He started a national debate on whether to accept an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan or embark on austerity measures. Thinking their leader was faithful, Nigerians favored the measures but soon found that the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) was not being faithfully executed. While they were sacrificing, billions of dollars of Nigeria's money was being pocketed by Babangida and his followers, such that under SAP, unemployment numbers, food prices, and cost of living soared. As Ghana and Uganda made gains under SAP, Nigeria was going under, until Nigerians responded in a 1989 riot, to which the dictator replied by first killing hundreds of protesters, then issuing palliative measures. A World Bank report issued in 1995 fully documented how grand theft under Babangida's regime nullified the gains of SAP.
His government implemented a myriad of failed programs, which only helped to divert attention and fritter scarce national resources. Such programs include the People's Bank, Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), and Better Life for Rural Women. All these programs are today dead or moribund. IBB tricked respected people, including Professor Wole Soyinka and the late Tai Solarin, to serve under his administration. They later found they had been tricked and resigned.
Among his leadership abilities, Babangida replaced his deputy, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe with Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu -the former was headstrong and idealistic, while the later was largely a yes-man. He executed dramatic changes in public administration, filling strategic military and ministerial positions with his loyalists. Babangida introduced measures that threatened the secularity of Nigeria. Under his watch, Nigeria secretly became a participant at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an action so controversial that it was linked to the ouster of Ebitu Ukiwe.
As things got worse, a band of top officers, including Babangida's colleague and best man at his wedding, General Mamman Vatsa, allegedly planned to remove him. They were all captured and killed without sufficient evidence. We later learned that Vatsa may have been murdered for offences he did not commit, going by revelations by the former Chief of Defence Staff, General Domkat Bali.
Nigeria continued in spiral fall until April 22, 1990, when a brave junior officer, Major Gideon Orkar, almost toppled the Babangida regime. The official residence of the head of state, the Dodan Barracks, was razed. Babangida escaped by a slim stroke of luck. Significantly, Nigerian civilians were, for the first time, involved in a coup attempt, a development the dictator responded to by quickly moving the seat of power from the heavily populated Lagos to previously abandoned national capital city of Abuja, just about an hour's drive from his hometown of Minna. Orkar had, however, made damaging allegations about Babangida's personal life and political problems, including homosexuality, drug peddling and corruption.
From this point, IBB was held in widespread suspicion among Nigerians. He held on to power with a single promise: to lead Nigeria back to democracy. Trusting and hopeful once again, Nigerians were carried along until 1992, when his abrupt cancellation of a political process led to mass suspicion about his true intentions. At this point, the term "Hidden Agenda" was coined by the late lawyer, Mr. Alao Aka Bashorun, who declared that Babangida was attempting to succeed himself. Bashorun seemed to have provided light in a dark tunnel as Nigerians began to place the evil genius' programs under the microscope.
The outcry that followed the cancellation of presidential primaries about to be won by the late General Shehu Yar'Adua led Babangida to hurriedly, without much of his usual plotting, move the political transition process at such a pace that caused a generally accepted candidate, billionaire philanthropist, M.K.O Abiola, to be elected as president in Nigeria's most peaceful and acceptable election. Confused and dazed, IBB annulled that election and unleashed a national outrage that led to his downfall. Hundreds of Nigerians were killed by soldiers acting under the directives of Babangida and his beneficiaries, as the citizens fought for the mandate given to Abiola.
Eventually, it dawned on the Maradona, the game was up. He was forced to vacate his beloved presidential seat. Nigerians can remember how Babangida made a spectacle of himself on the NTA as he bounced continuously on a chair in utter confusion when he had to "step aside." Babangida was forced out, but not before he planted his equally ruthless and utterly vindictive partner, the late General Sani Abacha, to guide a lame civilian caretaker administration of Ernest Shonekan. It surprised no one that Abacha sent Shonekan packing in less than three months, and continued the evil legacy of his former boss, IBB.
Do not be fooled into thinking Babangida is not serious about being a civilian president at the age of 70. The evil genius knows he had stepped aside long enough and his insatiable thirst for power cannot be quenched by time. IBB has sent his beneficiaries out to the field on a mission to buy back lost political patronage with his vast wealth, stolen from Nigerians, and which is now being employed to bring Nigerians back to servitude in 2011.
The bedrock for today's economic and financial problems was laid by this man, Ibrahim Babangida! He created conditions malignant to national advancement, such as the institutionalization of the culture of corruption that is now heavily entrenched in the social and moral fabric of the Nigerian society. The phenomena of the notorious thievery schemes or theft-by-deception, a.k.a "419," is largely believed to have gained undue prominence and seeming acceptance during the eight-year misrule of Ibrahim Babangida in Nigeria. Today, the nuisance of the so-called "Yahoo Boys" is believed to be a by-product or creation of the IBB era. Owing to corruption and deception, Nigeria is not able to participate without restriction in modern commerce. What is the moral justification for a society to wage war on scammers when known social culprits enjoy stolen public wealth without restraint? These conditions have been almost impossible to reverse. And now, IBB is out again make things even worse. For those who think otherwise, on what ground can Babangida be trusted?
Babangida has, over the years, schemed to have the facts of his misrule erased. He has been a bit successful, we must admit. How else can one explain the failure of some of us to appreciate recent history? It is against this backdrop that Againstbabangida.com was launched; to continually educate Nigerians about his legacy, but more importantly, as a watchtower against his return.
It has been six years since Againstbabangida.com came into existence. Over these years, many have accused our organization of wielding too big a stick for the goat. We have been blamed for giving too much focus to one problem and have been asked to widen our scope. While we admit that Nigeria has multifarious problems, requiring wide-ranging solutions, we are glad at Againstbabangida to focus strictly on Babangida. We know him. Like the proverbial goat, he will not go away. While we have volunteered to watch, we also know that he visits many markets. The revelation that Mr. Raymond Dokpesi, owner of Africa International Television, whose station hired many of the journalists who were victims of Babangida's misrule, now works for the general is tragic. Nonetheless, it goes to show the extent to which Babangida can wear the most resolute among us down. It shows that we can't but watch the devil.
It is sad to realize that among those taking money from Babangida against the interest of the society are the so- called Emirs, Obas, Obis, and High Chiefs, business executives, retired military officers, political bigwigs and, even, intellectuals. For this reason, we wonder how our collective conscience became depleted to the extent that people who should be leading are the greatest culprits of the moral bankruptcy that is prevalent in Nigeria today. It does not matter how highly placed they are, any Nigerian who is willing to serve Babangida is an enemy of the people. They should be identified and treated as such. The time has come for Nigerians of goodwill to totally unite and unequivocally reject the enemies of the people. This was the theme at the launch of Dr. Olatunji Dare's book, Diary of a Debacle: Tracking Nigeria's Failed Democratic Transition (1989-1994), in Lagos recently. This should our collective theme from now, until Babangida is beaten back into his hole in hilltop Minna.
The only deterrent to IBB's persistent strike is a focused people, who have the horse whip lifted to beat him. I ask all Nigerians who truly understand the issues, who have lived the problem created by Babangida and are determined never to let it happen again, to get their 'kobokos' ready and keep watch. When this goat sees how determined we are, he will think twice. He may not entirely give up, but as we exchange watch, month after month, year after year, he will get old and get out. He may even die on his duty.
This is the perfect time for Nigerians to tell Babangida and his fellow crooks, "Never Again." For him to think he can rule us again with his dirty, bloody hands is already a national tragedy. Let us all get our sticks out and beat the devil out of our national life. Never Again, Babangida!
Tunde Chris Odediran, former journalist in Nigeria, is the founder of Citizens for Nigeria and Againstbabangida.com