Ochereome Nnanna, The Vanguard
IT had seemed like one of those routine media rumours – until the doors of the Presidential Villa were thrown wide open to admit Mrs. Safiya Mamman Vatsa and sons a few weeks ago. That was when many Nigerians began to consider seriously the contention that President Olusegun Obasanjo might not be enamoured with former military president Ibrahim Babangida’s current ambition to succeed him in office.

Safiya, nee Nwaeza Onwuka, a widow of twenty years standing, was in the official residence of the President to reopen a case that could very well torpedo the presidential ambition of Babangida. If Obasanjo was eagerly looking forward to Babangida succeeding him in 2007, he would have prudently considered this visitation “inauspicious”.

In furtherance of her mission of getting the government to delve into the circumstances leading to the arraignment, trial, conviction and execution of Major General Mamman Vatsa, then the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in December 1985, the Vatsa family, namely Safiya and sons, featured prominently in a powerful documentary ostensibly sponsored by a group termed: the Middle Belt Democratic Vanguard. It was aired a couple of times on the lion-heart of Nigerian private television broadcast media, the Africa Independent Television (AIT) earlier this week. It was then followed by a national network discussion of a related topic by the station. Either by coincidence or design, the eldest son of the former military strongman of Nigeria, Mohammed Babangida, was briefly detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) within the same period for his alleged unexplained shareholding status in a major GSM operating outfit.

Two questions have arisen in the wake of these fascinating developments, and interestingly, they form two sides of the same coin and one answers the other: (a) why now? and (b) why not? Why now? That was exactly the question the only pro-IBB panelist in the Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja centres of the AIT circuit, posed. This fellow, whose name I was unable to catch, curiously came from one of the handful of Babangida’s surrogate political parties, the National Democratic Party (NDP). In a laboured defence of Babangida, the chap queried how come the Vatsa family did not take their case to the Human Rights Violation Investigation Committee (HRVIC) known as “Oputa Panel”. Why now, when all appears set for Babangida to enter the presidential race? 

The answer to that is: why not? When else is it opportune for questions to be asked about individuals’ past records of private and public lives than when they want to take up elective office? In the case of Babangida, the question of anybody taking any case against him to the Oputa Panel hardly arises because he, along with Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalami Abubakar, showed their utter disdain for the Oputa Panel by refusing to respond to summons to answer cases similar to the one that Vatsa’s survivors are now bringing forward. They went to court to claim their rights not to appear, and the courts awarded them their case.

It would have been quite another matter if Babangida had chosen to safely remain in his cosy retirement. His intention to come into the electoral contest is bound to be fraught with questions for him to answer. And this time is not like the last (1998/99) when a military government handpicked an individual and virtually plunked him down the throats of the Nigerian electorate. All who seek to rule us must answer hard questions because Nigerians have become a question-asking public. When we ask questions, we want convincing answers and we take our position, the way we did during the tenure elongation debates.

 Nigerians have, since the National Political Reform Conference, made up their minds that their next president and governors will be carefully gone through with a toothcomb. There are criteria to be met. We want to know about each aspirant’s past records of performance to determine his competence, genuine nationalism, integrity, trustworthiness, ability to cope with the intricate demands of democracy, tolerance of contrary views and sensitiveness to issues of equity, fairness and justice. The next President must also be a law-abiding citizen and not a notorious abuser of the laws of the land.

WHEN Babangida enters the race, he will also tell us, among other things, what happened to Dele Giwa, why he repeatedly fouled the transitional processes and annulled the June 12 presidential election and where he put the oil windfall. He might choose to tell us the positive side of this story, such as how he laid the foundation for today’s reforms. He might appeal to the good graces of those he gave states and local governments and also the army of people he gave one job or the other. He will tell us how, in possible eight years, he intends to right the wrongs he created in eight years.

These and other questions are waiting for him. If he chooses to run.

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