ONE of the institutions most devastated under Babangida, was the judiciary. As usual, he presented himself as a champion of what he hoped to destroy.
On November 16, 1985 in response to a delegation of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) he declared: “The belief of this regime in the independence of the judiciary is incontrovertible.
We do not want, in any form, to interfere in the dispensation of justice, and the powers of the court will remain supreme”. But in practice, the regime was contemptuous of the courts.
It would not obey court orders and virtually all the decrees it issued had clauses ousting the jurisdiction of the courts. Lawyers led by the highly principled Alao Aka-Bashorun went on a national strike to protest disobedience of court orders and what came to be known as executive recklessness.
The regime was known to write laws to retroactively deal with situations and persons. When some prominent citizens organised a National Conference in 1990, Babangida’s chief legal enforcer and drafter of ouster clause decrees, Prince Bola Ajibola told them that if they held the conference, they would be guilty of an offence punishable by five years imprisonment.
No such law existed, but it was known that it would take Ajibola just a few hours to draft a custom- made decree for the conferees. Courageous patriots like Professor Adeoye Lambo, Aka-Bashorun, Tanko Yakasai and Beko Ransome-Kuti defied Ajibola and his principal.
Babangida pretended he was a friend of Labour. On September 23, 1985 he told a Nigeria labour Congress (NLC) delegation: “My administration believes in dialogue. We regard the Labour Movement as a partner in progress and in salvaging this country.
My administration is not interested in confrontation with the Labour Movement”. But confrontation was precisely what he set out to do. When in June 1986, the NLC decided to protest the murder of “only four” Ahmadu Bello University students by the police led Nuhu Aliyu (currently a Senator from Niger State) Babangida detained the labour leaders.
In 1987, when the NLC demanded a new minium wage and placed adverts showing the regime lied on oil subsidies, many labour leaders were thrown into detention. They included then NLC President, Ali Chiroma, General Secretary, Lasisi Osunde, Treasurer, Steven Oshidipe and spokesperson, Salisu Nuhu Mohammed.
In February 1988 when some Labour leaders refused to attend the NLC Delegates Conference in which the constitutional quorum had been formed, Babangida cited that as an excuse to ban the Congress under a dubious “Economic Emergency” decree. He then cynically appointed an employer, Michael Ogunkoya as NLC Sole Administrator.
In his maiden address, Babangida had claimed that the reasons why he overthrew Buhari’s 20 -month regime include its failure to address the “deterioration in the general conditions of living”, the decaying state of the hospitals and educational institutions and rising unemployment. By the time Babangida was forced out after eight years in power, the Buhari era seemed in comparison, a golden era.
Three words that came to summarise Nigerians objective experience under Babangida were “Maradona” for the deceptive manner he manipulated Nigerians, and “Hidden Agenda” popularised by Aka-Bashorun to show that his “transition programme” to civil rule was a ruse to perpetuate himself in power.
As part of the elaborate ‘transition’ scam, the regime set up a Political Bureau, Constitution Review Committee, Constituent Assembly and political parties.
His initial handover date of 1990 was shifted to what in an October 7, 1989 broadcast he claimed was “the straight path of a phased disengagement which shall be completed by 1992”. He cried that “it is uncharitable to insinuate that this military government does not want to go. It is already going…our outer limit of 1992 remains unchanged”.
But it was a lie. Babangida simply cancelled the presidential primaries and fixed a new transition date of January 1993. This he again moved to August 1993.
In order not to handover power on the new date, he cancelled the June 12, 1993 presidential elections even after the results had shown that his ‘friend’ Moshood Kashimawo Abiola had won. The reasons include claims that military officers like David Mark (the current Senate President) would not accept Abiola as their Commander-in-Chief.
When there were massive protests against the annulment, Babangida sent armed soldiers and police to shoot protesters on the streets. The massacre of the pro-democracy protesters started when he unleashed then Army Chief of Staff, General Sani Abacha on Lagos streets.
Abacha’s motorised convoy from the airport through Ikorodu Road shot dead 118 Nigerians and injured many.
I led protest organisers to pick up the corpses on the streets and deposit them in the Ikeja and Lagos General Hospital mortuaries and in that of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) At LUTH, autopsy was carried out which showed that almost all the victims were shot in the back.
Which meant they must have been running away from their assailants when shot. On this score alone, Babangida and his killing squad should be taken to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The Babangida regime was also involved in periodic bloodbath in order to hang on to power. There were the mass execution of alleged coup plotters. One involved his childhood friend, General Maman Vatsa and another, the 1990 Orkar coup which witnessed two-part executions.
There are also unresolved cases of massive fraud and corruption such as the Gulf War windfall.
In retirement, the Yar’Adua administration asked Babangida to go and make an assessment of the coup by Major Dadis Camara in Guinea-Conakry.
Babangida endorsed the coup plotters and asked ECOWAS to back them. A few months later, the Guinean junta carried out horrendous massacres and rape in broad daylight on the streets of the capital, Conakry.
It is understandable that Babangida having stepped aside from power for 17 years would be bored by now and itching to return to Aso Rock as Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military dictator did. Babangida is like a flood threatening to wash away our homes, it is in our enlightened self-interest to stop him.