In the 30 years that he has been in the public domain, General Babangida has established himself as a chameleon that cannot be trusted where faithfulness and fidelity are in contention. He lived up to this bidding in his recent interview with The Sun in which he addressed some critical issues on the State of the Nation.
In the interview, General Babangida addressed three issues in a way suggesting that the interview was actually designed to undermine the achievements of President Olusegun Obabsanjo and create a justification for his own obsession to get back into the Presidential Villa. Among other responses designed to achieve this goal were his views on the state of national security, corruption and the rumoured third term ambition of President Obasanjo.
Speculations about the third term agenda have been in the news for a considerable long term in spite of repeated rebuttal by President Obasanjo and top officials of the government. President Obasanjo has taken the advantage of local and foreign platforms to clear the air on this issue. In spite of the persistence of this speculated third term agenda, no single individual had come out to claim that President Obasanjo discussed the extension of his tenure with him. Those who champion the third term campaign have always claimed their freedom of expression upon which the government cannot stop their campaign.
It is therefore in bad faith that General Babangida joined the group of those arguing that the law of the land cannot be amended to give the president an extension. This is a baseless and mischievous position because there is actually no need for it. The President has stated clearly that he has no third term ambition. As a former president who has a channel of communication with the president, Babangida's posture amounts to playing to the gallery at the expense of the president. His argument would only have been necessary and tenable if President Obasanjo actually wants an extension of his tenure. Where that is clearly not the case, it amounts to mischief for a person of General Babangida's calibre to elaborately address a mere rumour.
His position is even more amusing because he appears to be subtly attacking President Obasanjo for a weakness which he exhibited while in office. In his reaction to the speculated third term agenda, General Babangida said all leaders who come under pressure to extend their rule and that it is the duty of the leader to reject such pressure. What is General Babangida's credibility in this respect that qualifies him for the role of adviser on such matters? We were witnesses to Babangida's fraudulent transition programme which termination date kept changing as we got nearer them. When Babangida rejected the recommendation of the Political Bureau to hand over power in 1990, was he saying "no" to those who wanted him to stay longer? When he changed the handover date from 1992 to 1993, was that his own way of saying "no" to those who wanted him to stay longer?
When he annulled Nigeria's freest and fairest election of June 1993 and lobbied the National Assembly to extend his rule, was that saying "no" to those who wanted him to stay longer in power? General Babangida should realise that it takes more that mere access to the media to become a populist. Those who play that role rely on their credible record to win public sympathy for their position on public issues. Babangida cannot be a Gani Fawehinmi and win public applause for opposing the third term agenda by merely repeating what people like Fawehinmi has said. He simply does not have the record and credibility to play that role. Nigerians would be glad if the likes of Babangida give them space to sort out this issue democratically. Babangida's intervention, given his antecedents on issues of leadership recruitment in the country, can only add a dangerous dimension that lovers of democracy will rather avoid in the quest to keep our democracy on course.
Another issue addressed by Babangida in his interview is the issue of security. Babangida said he is worried on the state of national security and that security will be his priority if he becomes president again. It is indeed heartwarming that unlike his bravado over the years, Babangida is beginning to talk of his return to power in probable terms. Before now, he had talked about his return to power as a fait accompli.
In any case, Babangida's position on the state of national security is a grand design to claim that there is no security in the country and that this was not the case when he was president. He should tell this to the marines. Nigeria never witnessed the level of insecurity that we witnessed under Babangida. Indeed, the root of the state of insecurity in the country today was sown under the government of General Babangida. All vices like armed robbery, advance fee fraud (419), drug peddling were institutionalised under Babangida's regime. It was under that regime that the country witnessed the tradition of government officials burning down public buildings to cover large scale fraud. It was under that regime that graduate unemployment and university strikes became the order of the day and our youths became available hands for sundry crimes.
Since he came into office in 1999, President Obasanjo has grabbled with the combined consequences of the misrule of Generals Babangida and Sani Abacha. One clear instance of this is the depletion in the population of the Nigeria Police Force. For the many years that both Babangida and Abacha were in power, they abandoned routine recruitment into the Police. The consequence was that by 1999, the ratio of policemen to the Nigerian population was so poor that the police could not effectively police the country. The Obasanjo administration had to embark on the recruitment of 40,000 policemen annually to bridge the ratio. There is also the complete abandonment of the welfare of that force as evident in the dilapidated state of police barracks across the country and the total absence of facilities for the force to work. Today, the force is a complete departure from what it was under Babangida and Abacha.
If Babangida complains about the ubiquitous ethnic militias that have become a national security crisis, he will also see his own imprint in their emergence. It was his annulment of the June 12 1993 election that led to the emergence of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) which was formed to protect Yoruba interest in the aftermath of that criminal annulment. The Arewa Peoples Congress was formed partly in response to the activities of the OPC.
The ethnic militias in the Niger Delta got their impetus in the rising opposition to the criminal neglect of the people of that area, which reached its highest level under General Babangida. Whichever way one looks at the security crisis in the country today, there is no way one can exonerate the incompetence and corruption of the Babangida regime. It is therefore illogical that Babangida whose incompetence caused insecurity problems in eight years of military dictatorship will see himself as possessing solution the problem. Babangida is too much part of the problem to be the solution to our national crisis.
On a final note, Babangida should not take his luck too far. Predsdent Obasanjo has offered him too much protection for the kind of politics he is warming up to play with him. But for the President, Babangida would have spent the better part of the last six years giving accounts of his stewardship before many tribunals and would not have had the temerity to bite the finger that is feeding him .A word is enough for the wise.