FORMER Military President Ibrahim Babangida appears to have again provoked Nigerians, as eminent citizens have warned him not to dare the nation by his intention to contest the 2007 presidency. Their warning followed interviews he granted some national dailies, in which he said he was ready to vie for the presidency.
Fiery lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN); a former leader of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Chief Ayo Adebanjo; the Secretary-General of Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa (EMIROAF), Comrade Alfred Ilenre; members of the Integrated Supporters for Obasanjo fumed with rage when Sunday Punch sought their views on the renewed presidential ambition of the former leader.

They wondered that he had the guts to declare that he wants to lead the country again after he literarily took the nation to the brink in 1993.

Babangida assumed power in August, 1985, after he led a palace coup to topple the regime of another former military leader, Gen. Muhammed Buhari.

He shifted three times, the handover date to civilians under the political transition programme of his regime, during his eight-year rule.

But Babangida still cancelled the result of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by the late business and politician, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, despite the fact that the international community adjudged the poll as the freest and fairest in the annals of the country.

The annulment threw the entire country into a protracted political upheaval, as Nigerians stoutly and defiantly demanded for the de-annulment of the election.

While law enforcement agents killed hordes of protesters, including pro-democracy and human rights activists,, others were dehumanised and hurled into detention.

Several others, including members of NADECO like Chief Anthony Enahoro; Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade; Commodore Dan Suleiman and Chief Ralph Obioha, were fled into exile in the United States (US) and Europe.

Abiola was, however, arrested and thrown into detention for attempting to claim his mandate, and he eventually died in incarceration.

Gani accused Babangida of taking Nigerians for granted, warning he and other activists were fully prepared to mobilise the public against him.

“We are going to resist it because it is too insulting that Obasanjo will hand over to Babangida, who was disgraced out of office for annulling the fairest and the freest election in this country.

“MKO Abiola won the June 12 presidential election and Babangida rubbished the electoral wishes of the Nigerian people by annulling the result. That such a person wants to seek the democratic mandate of the people is the biggest piece of insult and we must resist it.”

The legal luminary also accused the former leader of instituting corruption in the country as well as flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens.

“Babangida brought organised corruption into our body politic. He violated our fundamental rights and committed other atrocities.

“Now, he has the effrontery to say that he will seek the mandate of the Nigerian people! This is a man that should by now be languishing behind the bars. We just will not allow it (Babangida’s ambition). We just must resist it in the interest of constitutional order, democratic principles and good governance.

“Who does this man think he is? He wants to come back to do what? Is it to impose more hardships on us; to steal more of our money and kill more of our people?

“If it remains one person to fight against this man with all his might and means, that man will be Gani Fawehinmi, and I am ready. Babangida is the greatest enemy of the masses of Nigerian people. We must resist and oppose him.”

Taking a swipe at the former general for what he regarded as his atrocities in the past, Adebanjo said Babangida was a victim of delusion as Nigerians were no fools.

According to the chieftain of the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, Nigerians can only remember him for bringing misery and promoting corruption in the country.

“Babangida can only be remembered for the evils he perpetrated while he was military president. I don’t know why he feels people would be happy to have him back again when they considered his exit as good riddance to bad rubbish.”

Describing the promoters of Babangida’s presidential ambition as mercenaries, the former NADECO top shot warned them against underrating the power of the people.

“Those clamouring for him are just mercenaries. We will do everything legitimate and constitutional to make it impossible for him to stage a comeback. That a man of his past could contemplate coming back to rule us is the greatest insult anybody could heap on Nigerians.”

EMIROAF secretary general, Ilenre cautioned Nigerians against complacency over who becomes the nation’s next president because Babangida was not fit to rule the country.

“Babangida is not a material for the presidency, given his antecedents. His past record, as a military president, shows that he sees governance as a game of tricks, not of ideas. He does not have what it takes to take Nigeria to greater heights. If he becomes president, he will not be better than what he was during his first coming.”

The National Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, in his own comment, said though every eligible citizen had the constitutional rights to aspire to any elective office, the onus was on Nigerians to scrutinize his antecedents.

“Anybody can declare interest to become anything, but it is the right and duty of the electorate to determine who will be their president, not who has declared to run for the office.

“The Nigerian electorate should look at the antecedents of aspirants to determine whether or not they will be given the mandate to become anything. And this is why I believe that Nigerians must insist that there should be free and fair elections because it is through that process that Nigerians can truly say no to a person they don’t want, and yes to someone they want.”

The Leader of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the House of Representatives, Hon. Wunmi Bewaji, also said that the provisions of the 1999 Constitution were unambiguous on who was eligible for all elective political offices in the country.

“The constitution is very clear on who is qualified to run for the office of president. If he is convinced that he is qualified and he decides to run, why not? That one says he will run does not necessarily mean he will win.”

A former NUPENG scribe, Chief Frank Kokori explained that Nigerians should be able to decide decisively since the man was not a stranger to them.

“Babangida is not a stranger to Nigerians. They know him very well. If they still want him to be their president, good luck to them.”

Kokori, who was among labour leaders that were incarcerated for spearheading the prolonged protest for the de-annulment of June 12, said it was premature to say Babangida had indeed announced his presidential ambition.

“I have read the interview. He was not specific or whether he would run. He based everything on ‘ if, if, if’. That was vintage IBB. Always dribbling. Why should I join issue with someone who is afraid to say, ‘I’ll run?

When I led NUPENG to fight his regime and that of the late Gen. Sani Abacha, it was not personal. We did that based on convictions.

Both the National Coordinator of Integrated Supporters of Obasanjo (ISO), Otunba Idowu Odewale and the national secretary, Prince Kingsley Obolo accused the former leader of insulting the intelligence of Nigerians.

Speaking to Sunday Punch in Lagos on Saturday, they recalled that apart from being responsible for the systematic destruction of the nation’s economy, the former leader pushed the country into the valley of political wilderness.

Leaders of the south-south geo-political  zone on Saturday also faulted former Babangida’s  declaration of interest to  contest the 2007  presidential election.

Among those who reacted in separate telephone  interviews were the chairman of the South-South  Peoples Assembly, Ambassador Matthew Mbu, the president of the  Ijaw National Congress, Prof  Kimse Okoko and the cooordinator of the Niger Delta Development NGOs Network, Mr Mac Farlana Ejah.

While Okoko expressed shock at what he called  Babangida’s affront, he also said it was an unbelieavable piece of information.

To him, IBB had no business seeking Nigeria’s mandate to return to power, considering his past records.

“My initial reaction is that he has no business coming back to power after  what he did in office” but Okoko said he would be favourably disposed to making a more comprehansive  statement after confirming that IBB had truly declared he intention to return to power.

On his part, Mbu said the position of the SSPA remained the ambition to produce a presidential candidate for the 2007  election at the appropriate time.

According to him, there was no going back on the desire and  determination of the south-south to produce the next president saying the group  would not support any candidate from a zone other than the south-south.

But the civil society groups in the region, were more vehement in their opposition to Babangida’s  reported ambition.

Sunday Punch, March 26, 2006

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