In May 1993, a month before Babangida fatefully annulled the June 12 elections, the late revered activist and patriot, Gani Fawehinmi said of IBB: "he is a man whose words mean nothing to him". In all likelihood, when the dust of history has settled on the personalities and events that have utterly ruined Nigeria in the last three decades, this will be the verdict of posterity on the political legacy of IBB: a man whose words mean nothing to him. Is this what I have in mind regarding the fundamental, as opposed to the "convenient" objections to Babangida's aspirations to once again be Nigeria's ruler? Yes, but there's far more than that in my purview of what a Babangida presidency, 17 years after he left office in disgrace and universal condemnation, would mean now at this point in time at the start of a new millennium.First, let us put Fawehinmi's bitter summation of IBB's political morality in May 1993 into its proper context. Remember that May 1993 was close to the elections that gave victory to M.K.O. Abiola and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Well, even that close to June 12, 1993, nobody was sure that the elections would be held; or even that Babangida had true, honorable intentions of holding the elections, thereby paving the way to return to civilian rule and democracy in Nigeria. In the immediate previous years, he had shifted the date of return to democracy many, many times; he had banned and unbanned many prominent politicians, especially those whom suspected to be a threat to his true intentions, whatever those might be; and he had toyed with every conceivable ideological and moral framework for moving the country forward. Indeed, it was on account of these antics, these embodied acts of a man whose words mean nothing to him, that Babangida got his infamous moniker, "Maradona". Nigerians should keep this in mind any time that they hear that nickname of the former dictator: "Maradona" is the apt, symbolic appellation of a man whose words essentially mean nothing to him.
At this point, I want it to be perfectly understood that this essay is not about pouring verbal insults on Babangida. I say this because this tactic is often adopted by people and groups bitterly and justifiably opposed to IBB. This is not a particularly wise or effective tactic or strategy, for it reduces the crucial issues to merely gratuitous name-calling. And this reaches its nadir when some of Babangida's foes rest their case on the assertion that he is essentially a man of evil inscrutable in his deviousness and amorality, as if he came from the nether regions of hell, not our own Nigeria where IBB is just one among a cast of rulers and public officeholders who have utterly, utterly ruined the country.
The thing to do is to place Fawehinmi's simple but profound comment on Babangida as a man for whom his words mean nothing to him in the broader context of a pattern that ran completely through his eight years in office. Nowhere is this pattern more visible, more palpable than in the claim that I made last week that the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections was neither the first nor the second time that IBB had cancelled the mandate of the Nigerian masses. Let me now address this crucial issue since those who make the cancellation of M.K.O. Abiola's electoral victory and mandate the ground of their principal opposition to IBB always seem to be unaware of the fact that June 12, 1993 was not the first or only occasion of the former dictator's consistently populist anti-popular and anti-democratic acts.
Among many instances, two particular occasions of such arrant negation of popular referendums by IBB stand out. The first centered on the work and the impact of a body that Babangida set up very early in his rule, a body that he named The Political Bureau. This designation, by the way, was intended to resonate with Politburo of socialist and communist regimes. Nigerians who either were not yet born then or had not achieved maturity as young adults can never remotely imagine the work and the impact of Babangida's Political Bureau since nothing like it had ever happened in Nigeria or so far at least, since then. Simply stated, the work of The Political Bureau was to mobilize Nigerians all over the land, down to the most "remote" villages and hamlets, to indicate what kind of government, what kind of social and economic order they wanted for their country.
Members of this Political Bureau set up consultative mechanisms all over the country; not a single inch of the land was left out and the options about political governance and socio-economic arrangements were carefully explained to the people. The two starkly contrastive options boiled down to, respectively, a free enterprise system with very little governmental regulation; or a social democracy in which entrepreneurial activities and interests exist side by side with nationalization and public ownership of critical sectors of the economy. At the end of its work, the Political Bureau recorded an overwhelming vote for the social democratic order among the generality of Nigerians, North and South of the Niger. Babangida accepted the verdict of the Political Bureau, but from that moment in his rule, he moved decisively in the other direction and at the end of the day, freewheeling and buccaneering entrepreneurialism of the worst kind that Nigeria had ever experienced became the social and moral order of the Babangida years.
The second instance of Babangida's negation of a national-popular mandate was even more dramatic than the case of the work and the impact of the Political Bureau because this one touched more directly on the socio-economic well-being of Nigerians. This was the case of the referendum on the IMF: whether or not to take loans from that body and institute the infamous, draconian SAP policies. When Babangida made this a matter of extensive public debate and referendum, everyone was caught by surprise. This had never happened anywhere else on the African continent. Even Kalu Idika Kalu, Babangida's Minister of Finance, seemed to have been unaware that his boss was about to institute this national referendum, for he infamously went on the record to say, with maximum contempt, that the workings of the economy were too complex, too arcane for market women and laborers to understand!
For those of my readers who were not yet born then or were still too young to have any memories of these fateful events of Babangida's military presidency, you have probably guessed where this narrative is leading: at the end of that national referendum, the Nigerian people overwhelmingly and resoundingly said "No!" to the IMF loans, NO! to SAP. One memory stands out clearly and indelibly in my mind: the GOC of a division of the Nigerian army based in Enugu arriving at the airport tarmac in that city and asking the honor guard waiting to receive him whether or not Nigeria should take the IMF loan and all the men shouting NO! and throwing their caps in the air to underscore the strength of their viewpoint on this crucial matter.
What was IBB's response to all of this? Again, you have guessed it: Babangida formally and ceremonially accepted the verdict, but not long after this he went into business with the IMF and instituted SAP policies that destroyed the economy, devastated millions of lives and massively corrupted politicians and public officeholders. Fawehinmi had the immediate context of Babangida's maradonic antics around elections in mind in1993 when he said that IBB is a man for whom his words have no meaning for him. However, as we have seen, this astute observation marks a definite pattern in the eight years of this former dictator's eight years in office as an absolute ruler.
I had thought I would end this series this week, but there are a few things left to say, a few loose ends and knots to tie up. In next week's definitely concluding essay, I shall draw attention to many other critical aspects of Babangida's reign as a military dictator that are of great pertinence to what we ought to regard as the fundamental objections to his ambition to rule Nigeria again. One of these was IBB's complicity in the bloody coup against Thomas Sankara, one of the most progressive and genuinely idealistic military rulers that our continent has ever seen. As I shall show, it says a lot about IBB's reign in Nigeria that he reached all the way across our West African region to Burkina Faso to have a military leader of the caliber of Sankara assassinated.