Anthony Akinola, Oxford, England
The psychologist in me says General Ibrahim Babangida is not a very happy man in spite of his stupendous wealth and legendary influence. He has the book of his political life placed before him and he does not like what he is reading. There may be therefore some sense and justification in the argument or assumption that the essence of his ambition to become an elected president is to be presented with an opportunity to redeem his name.

The problem in this "redemption theory" is that in the democratic nations of the world people choose political leaders on the basis of their pedigree. Not many nations of the world have had the opportunity to know the leadership history of an aspiring democratic leader in the manner as we do of General Ibrahim Babangida in Nigeria, not least because he had before been where he now wants to be. Assuming Babangida's leadership antecedents do not recommend him for a return to the apex of political governance, must we still put him there in the religious belief that he would change from his old ways? Would the Americans, for instance, have given disgraced Richard Nixon a second chance to be president in the assumption that bitter lessons had made him a wiser and better person?

Of course it is not a sin for a sinner to want to redeem himself or herself and it is even divine to forgive but redemption itself is coupled with an admission of guilt and repentance. General Babangida has not admitted to any wrong doing during his dictatorship of 1985 to 1993; in fact, Babangida sees his foray into partisan politics as an opportunity to make Nigeria "whole again". This, by any interpretation, suggests he is nostalgic for his previous leadership stint and those "maradonic" manoeuvres.

It is the fear of repeating an ignoble and inglorious era that must drive most of us away from his crusade. The Babangida era, as this writer once said in an article, was an era when corruption was elevated as an instrument of state policy. The murder, by parcel bomb, of journalist Dele Giwa in October 1986 heralded the era of hired killings in our society. The annulment of the presidential election of June 12 1993 - something which was the culmination of Babangida's reluctance to leave office voluntarily - led to many deaths and subsequently, the emergence of state terrorism under the succeeding regime of General Sani Abacha. General Babangida was "persona non grata" by the time he was forced to quit office in August 1993. One wonders what has transpired in his personal life or that of our nation between then and now that would have made him the best president we still want.

General Babanbida without any doubt has an army of supporters, people who are extremely passionate about him. His opponents would underestimate this fact to their own disadvantage. There is a population of Nigerians which craves the permissive, "anything-goes" society which Babangida's previous era represented. Of course one cannot underestimate the influence of those political appointees who were mandated to help themselves in their assigned roles - those governors whose three-month tenure forever transformed them into multi-millionaires. The retired army officer, John Shagaya, was quoted in an influential magazine as saying that the strength of Babangida's political support rested with those who benefited from political appointments and consequently became important figures in their individual constituencies.

The smuggler would like to be a customs official! One beneficiary of the Babangida largesse is the flamboyant Ondo chief, Alex Akinyele. He was on BEN television a few months ago defending General Babangida's political albatross, "June 12". Chief Akinyele's defence began with the often-heard statement that the annulment of the presidential election of June 12, 1993 was the most difficult decision General Babangida had to make, not least because there were pistols pointing at his head. He proceeded to talk of the unsuitability of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12 election, to be President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Chief Abiola's position, listeners were told, was made all the more difficult by opposition from powerful individuals from Yoruba ethnic background who were bent on avenging his well known opposition to Chief Obafemi Awolowo's presidential aspirations in 1979. Perhaps the one dimension of Akinyele's wobbled story which is rather difficult to reconcile was that Abiola had a plan to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state and that the north would have invaded the south if he was ever declared president.

Were the TV presenter a bit more experienced at the interviewing job he would have drilled Chief Akinyele on why the north, which is predominantly Muslim, had wanted to invade the south because a member of the latter who was so passionate about Islam was going to be president. Who were those people in the north planning the invasion? Sadly the chat with Akinyele was made to look like a partying occasion with the chief laughing away serious and dangerous allegations.

Chief Akinyele is hoping for a return of the good old days when his relevance will again come to the fore. So also are those great professors of political science who gave us grand theories that were destroyed with the same haste with which they were constructed. Had Babangida himself not killed the two-party system of "two and two parties only", events in contemporary Nigerian polity should have informed us that the two-party proposal was a mere gimmick. There were three political parties in 1999, but the number has risen to about 40 today. We made much noise about the futility of manufacturing a two-party system and constructing identical make-belief party offices in each of the local government headquarters. It would be interesting to know who today have inherited Babangida's party offices, where not armed robbers or rodents. A nation may choose to be a one-party state or a multi-party state, the two-party system does not arise as a matter of deliberate choice. However to Babangida's credit, he accepted our memorandum advising that, in view of the increase in the number of states, senatorial seats be reduced from five to three per state.

General Babangida seems determined to contest the presidential election in 2007; his ambition is pitched against those who are equally determined to halt him. Babangida, one believes, would be the most divisive character in Nigeria's electoral history. Even if he does not get the nomination of the political party of which he is a registered member, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), there may be one or more of the 40 or so registered political parties queuing up for his candidacy. The new political parties need funding to be able to mount a meaningful challenge to the ruling PDP, and Babangida seems well-equipped for that. Only the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the majority of the Nigerian voting public can checkmate Babangida's ambition. Even the EFCC cannot do it alone without a significant population crying "foul".

Talking of the Nigerian voting public, what percentage of the population can be described as politically enlightened? How many of them are capable of linking their collective poverty and travails to the greed, corruption and mis-governance of yesteryears? Those students from Plateau State protesting the arrest of corrupt legislators by officials of the EFCC remind one of the manipulative influences of politicians. How many of them do realise that the reason why Nigeria's university graduates have become dexterous okada riders and patients in the nation's orthopaedic hospitals is because of the corruption of politicians and military rulers. Nothing corrupts the human mind more degradingly than illiteracy and poverty and the scale of these crippling social and economic diseases in our land suggests we cannot take anything for granted.

  • Dr. Akinola lives in Oxford, United Kingdom

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