Let me begin this short comment by congratulating General Ibrahim Babangida. A few weeks ago, he announced he will sue the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP) for malicious assault on his “distinctive reputation, strong character and unblemished record of achievements.”
SERAP has championed the cause of determining the fate of the Pius Okigbo panel’s report on the disappearance of the Gulf War $12.4 billion oil windfall. Last May, the group sent a copy of the report to the government, at the request of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke.
Recently, IBB issued a double-sided comment, suggesting that the government did not know what it was doing and casting aspersion on the character of SERAP officials. “The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, cannot be marooned by the propaganda machinery and out-right falsehood of these corrupt petitioners who do not live above board.”
Mr. Adoke regrettably—but not surprisingly—agreed with IBB that the government does not have the heart to push him around. I agree with the AG’s excuse that the government probably does not have enough material to pursue justice, although it is not known to have looked. If justice is the point, it ought to be done transparently, so I am content to wait while this federal government eases itself out of the responsibility.
For the moment, however, that is not even the issue. To me, it is thrilling when a man of IBB’s stature chooses the court of law rather than seek to change the game, change the rules, or organize the cowardly murder of fellow Nigerians.
The question is whether IBB was just bragging. He is widely-known for that: he has bragged in the past he would reveal exactly why he annulled the 1992 presidential elections. And of course, he has bragged he will win the 2010 elections.
Hopefully, he is strong enough not to bribe a judge, but to brief a lawyer, which means we will find out whether he is the coward critics say he is or the tough guy he claims to be. I will be in all three court rooms: the one in which I expect him to bring an armada of lawyers; the court of public opinion; and—if his sense of democracy is superior to his record—the polling booth.
Let me begin from this court of public opinion. In the past few months, as IBB’s presidential bid falters nationwide, his “supporters” have drummed even louder than Nigerian supporters at a soccer match in his defence.
They are writing books and newspaper articles in which they are trying to portray him not as the assailant, but as the victim. They argue that contrary to public opinion, IBB has actually done a lot for Nigeria.
I am hearing tales about how his “errors” should not be held against him, and how he must be credited with the emergence of a cadre of successful Nigerians and even certain powerful sub-national groups.
I am hearing that IBB should not be blamed about June 12 because there would have been no Abiola candidacy in the first place without IBB.
One of these apologists, Aresekola Alao, has even suggested that the reason IBB invalidated the 1993 elections is that he was scared to die for Nigeria.
Swearing on the holy month of Ramadan, Alao said last week that the military threatened to kill both IBB and Chief MKO Abiola if Abiola’s victory in 1993 was announced.
To be fair to IBB, he has never made such a scandalous excuse. But again, Alao may be more courageous than the man who has vowed to rule Nigeria again.
But that would still leave us with a shameless egomaniac that is desperate to acquire power by whatever means. I do not know who IBB’s teacher is—he once claimed his military hero to be the brutal Zulu leader--but it is probably Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi propaganda chief it was who once said: “By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.”
Ruthless propaganda seems to be the latest element in IBB’s armoury, and he certainly seems willing to pay for it: two weeks ago, he put down a 10 million Naira bribe labeled “transport” money for journalists who crowded into his palace to hear him butter them up for his presidency bid.
My assessment is that all of this is simply IBB looking in all the wrong places. He certainly will never rule Nigeria again. Even if the presidency were going to the highest bidder, I am pretty certain that Moshood Abiola will outbid him.
But there is an amazing achievement that is within IBB’s reach: he can win back an element of respect.
All he has to do is show his country—not through the mouths of paid lackeys and errand boys—that he actually can still tell the truth.
He can tell the truth about the shooting squad murder of his best friend, General Mamman Vatsa, and show humanity by visiting his family and apologizing to them.
He can tell the truth about his voiding of the 1993 elections which led to the death of his other good friend, Abiola, and show compassion by visiting his family and apologizing to them.
He can tell the truth about how “a little to the left, a little to the right” produced Sani Abacha.
The road ahead is as simple as this. It is not as complicated as the red herrings his sycophants are painting all over the trail. It is not North versus South, or Igbos and Yorubas. It is not even about material corruption. This is about whom IBB the man really is.
Unless he faces this fundamental question, he will not have a place in history to lay his head, let alone a presidential palace in his dreams in which to speak to compile a new litany of empty speeches.
Unless he faces this question, he will have nowhere to run, let alone a fig leaf behind which to hide. It is the one question that makes almost every former Nigerian ruler a fugitive in his own country, hiding behind walls and fences that are higher and stronger than any jail in the land.
It is the reason why IBB can call himself whatever he likes, but not even a former Nigerian leader. I remind him before his revisionists tell him otherwise: he ruled the land not with anyone’s consent, but with authority seized in a military coup, and then shamelessly proclaimed himself president.
To clarify: he is no role model. He is no statesman. Locally, he is pariah and a liability. Internationally, he is a featherweight and will never overcome the infamy his praise-singers claim to be unimportant.
By choosing to return to the very limelight he polluted, IBB demonstrates his eyes cannot see, although they may be open. He may have strutted the highways and byways of power once, but he does not understand his country. Nor does he care that it is not only by holding political office that you serve your country. His focus on self, and contempt for Time disrobe him and expose his soul.
One final thing: I know IBB is surrounded by all manner of mammals. I urge him to write this on his door so he sees it every day: Not one of them believes in IBB.
Not one. They all want his money, because they know that of all of this nation’s corruption chieftains and empty vessels, his are the palms that are easiest to pry apart for cash. And the more desperate he gets, the more he plays into the hands of adventurers that can justify anything.