By Sola Odunfa, BBC Focus On Africa magazine
The British Broadcasting Corporation has acknowledged that Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the stupendously wealthy former military ruler of Nigeria, is facing a concerted public campaign to rubbish his political ambition. Among his opponents: Domkat Bali, the Vatsas, Citizens for Nigeria (owners of this web site) and the EFCC.

Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the stupendously wealthy former military ruler of Nigeria, is only one of some 20 presidential aspirants in upcoming polls - but none excite half as much emotion as he does.

His supporters are fanatical with admiration; his opponents dislike him with an equal passion.

Hardly any Nigerian is indifferent to IBB, as he is known. And with the country's general and presidential elections due in April 2007, Mr Babangida's figure looms large over the political landscape.

During his years in power between 1985 and 1993, the press nicknamed him Maradona for his deft political dribbling skills - demonstrated in particular when his elaborate plan to hand over to civilian rule ate deep into the nation's purse for three years, yet produced no democracy.

But having given himself the title "evil genius", he is now tasked with convincing Nigerian voters that he means no evil. But the field he faces is hostile indeed.

Public campaign

On Mr Babangida's 65th birthday in August, a group called the Citizens For Nigeria spoiled the party with a full-page newspaper advertisement proclaiming that "the bedrock for today's economic and financial problems in Nigeria was laid by this man".

They blamed him for the "institutionalisation of the culture of corruption" in Nigeria.

And the concerted public campaign to rubbish Mr Babangida began as far back as May, when his former chief of defence staff, General Domkat Bali, revealed a minister who was executed for allegedly plotting a coup was convicted on "weak" evidence.

"I am not sure whether we were right to have killed him," General Bali said.

The widow of the executed minister, General Mamman Vasta, then wrote to President Olusegun Obasanjo protesting her husband's innocence and demanding that Mr Babangida be prosecuted for her husband's "murder".
Even without a decision on whether the matter will be officially pursued, incalculable political harm had been done to the former military ruler.

Meanwhile, the heat drew nearer to home in August when Mr Babangida's son, Mohammed, was arrested by anti-corruption agents.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made no allegations of impropriety, but he was questioned about his financial affairs and alleged investment in the local telecommunications company, Globacom. He spent three days behind bars before he was released on bail.

However, his father's supporters were quick to point the blame for his detention on Mr Obasanjo's government - and added that the EFCC's target was in fact Mr Babangida himself, with the intention of finding something with which to discredit him.

They also took issue with the earlier arrest and interrogation of Mike Adenuga, the highly respected owner of Globacom, claiming he is being harassed because of his close relationship with Mr Babangida.

Major hurdle

On his birthday, Mr Babangida gave his first personal response to these mounting problems.

"I can understand because we are getting into politics," he said, adding that the Vatsa execution had now been added "into the vocabulary of the atrocities committed by IBB".

But he called for people to "understand and to be fair in their condemnation."

"Nigeria is bigger than Babangida or any other person - so, we should be thinking on what to do to better our country," he added.

However, it is not yet certain whether Mr Babangida's name will even appear on the ballot papers - with a major hurdle for him being a recommendation to government that he and two other ex-military rulers, who rejected summonses to appear before the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, be banned from leading Nigeria again.

The decision to implement the recommendation rests with President Obasanjo - and perhaps ultimately with the courts of appeal.

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