Attack, it is often said, is the best form of defence.

And General Ibrahim Babngida seems on a course to prove true this assertion made by Prussian general and father of modern strategic study, Carl von Clausewitz.

When it first started to emerge that Babangida was nursing an ambition to return to power as President in 2007, not a few were shocked beyond comprehension.

Many could not just imagine how someone who ruled for eight terrible years, ruined the lives of millions, put generations yet unborn at some disadvantage, stole billions of dollars from public purse, schemed to remain in power till death and had to be chased out, could ever contemplate a comeback.

However, Babangida’s aspiration is proving to be anything but a cruel joke on the people. Even though his statements about the comeback bid have remained ambivalent, his closest associates appear to be in no doubt about it.

As a retired General in the Nigerian Army and a former military instructor at the nation’s Defence Academy, Babangida sure knows about the strategy of using attack to defend oneself. And the role such an audacious strategy could play in his bid to escape punishment for his sins.

Knowing the damage he did during his eight years of misrule, and naturally seeking to secure himself against probable trial, conviction, disgrace and/or death sentence, Babangida decided to strike first.

With that, he knew the people’s thinking would be completely swayed from trying to bring him to justice, to trying to prevent him from assuming power ever again. By this attack, he has successfully put the people on the defensive.

Being a military man through and through, who spent about 30 of his most productive years in the Army, Babangia’s present moves are no doubt influence by some of the things he learnt in service.

As the head of the then military junta, it was widely reported that Babangida made "The Prince", the treatise by the Italian Niccolo Marchiavelli his Bible of ruling. He so much believed in it that he styled himself "The Prince of the Niger".

Given his background and his motive, Babangida’s foray into politics could only be with one mindset. That of going to war. And where else could he draw guidance other than from the wisdom of war strategists of old, like Carl von Clausewitz and Frederick the Great.

Clausewitz, a Prussian general who lived between 1780 and 1891, wrote in his work, "On War", which has been styled the Bible of Strategy, that: "Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage than audacity."

At another insatnce, Clausewitz wrote: "No military leader has ever become great without audacity. If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them inspite of all obstacles."

On his part, Frederick the Great, who was the King of Prussia between 1740 and 1786 wrote in "Military Instructions" which he sent to his generals at the warfront that "Everything which the enemy least expects will succeed the best." The people are Babangida’s enemy, and it appears his making a bid to return to power was the least they expected.

Babangida’s audacity strategy oozes out of statements by his foot soldiers, the likes of Alex Akinyele, late General Abdulkareem Adisa and Victor Odili. Nine out of ten times when they speak on the aspiration, what comes out takes the "Nobody can stop him" slant. Only of recent have they started adding the "except God"
bit.

Even though his boys seem to be all over the place, Babangida is yet to make that no-going back pronouncement on his aspiration. He seems to still be testing the waters. If he is truly a good student of Clausewitz, then we would see him moving boldly forward after such a statement.

For the strategist wrote: "We must,therefore, be confident that the general measure we have adopted will produce the results we expect. Most important in this connection is the trust we have in our lieutenants. Consequently, it is important to choose men on whom we can rely and put aside all other considerations. If we have made appropriate preparations, taking into account all possible misfortunes, so that we shall not be lost immediately if they occur, we must boldly advance into the shadows of uncertainty."

Perhaps he has not moved boldly forward because he trusts not his present foot soldiers. Or have little faith in their abilities. Perhaps he is still making preparations.

Whatever might still be holding him back from moving forward boldly, one hopes that he realises that audacity as a strategy could be a double-edged sword.
It might work wonders and help him escape being brought to book in the immediate future. Or it could backfire and speed up his day of reckoning.

Politics, it is said, is the art of the possible. So, it is possible for General Ibrahim Babangida to emerge as a candidate for the 2007 presidential election. But this, I believe is highly unlikely. IBB, as Babangida is widely known, is just playing the games he knows how to play best. Courting attention at all cost, and keeping people guessing as to his real intentions.

A critical reflection would show that a serious IBB aspiration for the presidency would be foolhardy. A journey into self-destruction. The forces arrayed against any such bid are too formidable, the resources that would be required too enormous and the political soldiers coalescing around him too useless for the dream to be realised.

The IBB soldiers as we are seeing in the media are nothing but mercenaries. On board only for pecuniary benefit in the immediate. And mercenaries, according to Niccolo Machiavelli are not only useless but also dangerous.

This Italian, writing in The Prince, a treatise Babangida reportedly made his manual of governance while in power advised against the use of soldiers of fortune.

He said: "The fact is, they (mercenaries) have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a triffle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe"

It is too obvious that these IBB campaigners are useless political soldiers. Their activities can only hurt Babangida’s bid – if at all he is serious about it – the more. The cheap trick played with Mubashiru Abiola has succeeded in further radicalising the South West against an IBB comeback, rather than make penetration of the zone easier.

Another testimony to how politically incompetent the IBB group is, is that they have started campaigning without having a candidate. They have focused their energies and strategies on swaying the public, rather than members of their party. In fact, they are presently of no known party. Any serious aspirant would be visible in a party by now.

The truth is that there are two critical moments in the race for 2007 presidency. The first is the conventions at which flagbearers would emerge. The second is the voting day on which the people would cast their ballots. Any wise political strategist would concentrate his plans and moves on winning at these points. And would not start campaigning before being a candidate. Unless he is just being a distraction, which I suspect this IBB aspiration to be.

One of the manuals used by the Army (in the US, and I think there must be a similar one for the Nigerian Army) talked about some principles of war. And the first is "concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time". I am sure being a General, Babangida knows much more about this than we bloody civilians. That is why cheap political gimmicks by his campaigners still amazes not a few.

Of recent, he has been reported as saying that what becomes of his aspiration depends on God. Nothing can be more true than this. But if both sides in a war seek the help of the Almighty with equal fervour, then we can hold what Voltaire said to be true. "God is always on the side of the big battalions". I doubt if IBB’s current political battalion can win a party convention war.

Assuming Babangida clinches a formidable party’s ticket, then would the forces that would do him in, mess him up, demystify him swing into action.

Pro-democracy activists of yore would be back in the trenches. Members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) would regroup. The Abiola clan would take up arms. The media would go historical, and dig up his sins while in office between 1985 and 1993.

The missing Okigbo panel report would resurface. More damaging publications like The Sink would be rolled out. Babangida would need guards to campaign at certain venues. Being a man that is passionately loved and hated, there is no assurance that bullets would not be aimed at him at certain places.

Babangida would have as opponents not only the candidates of the opposition parties, but almost all of civil society. Many politicians who were victims of the protracted transition programme he embarked on while in power, and are in position today, would plot his downfall.

To fight his election, IBB would need more money than the other candidates. People believe, rightly or wrongly, that he is in custody of looted funds. They also take him to be the master of "settlement". So, apart from the mercenaries, many would see a Babangida candidature as a "project" from which millions are to be made without necessarily fulfilling their side of the bargain.

It is laughable to think people will donate generously to an IBB campaign fund. When a man has been reported to have between $12 and $20 billion stashed away somewhere, people with much less do not rush to give him their money for a venture which outcome would be dicey.

Another Machiavelli quote comes into mind at this point. "One should never risk one’s whole fortune unless supported by one’s entire forces"

To seriously fight an election in 2007 against other formidable candidates, Babangida would have to spend, and spend. While not being sure that those who are professing support would not defect at critical periods.

From my own calculations, the IBB aspiration makes no sense. It is a distraction.

In my earlier article, entitled "IBB and mercenaries," I dismissed Babangida’s aspiration as a distraction. I submitted that it made no sense for him to seek to be Nigeria’s President again, given the forces that would likely be arrayed against him.

I have since realised that those conclusions could only be valid for as long as things remain the way they are. Particularly if President Olusegin Obasanjo, who was helped into office by Babangida, remains head of state and government. We all know that he has paid back this favour by elevating Babangida to the rank of an "untouchable." What further proof of this do we need than the latter’s refusal to appear before the Oputa Panel and the President rationalising it.

However, should Obasanjo leave in year 2007, as we all expect, what would happen to Babangida? I think it is this fear of the unknown, of determination to escape prosecution for countless sins that is driving his aspiration.
I believe Babangida has realised this. He also knows that it is becoming fashionable to bring ex-leaders, who ruled by brute force and/or robbed their people blind, to be brought to book years after leaving office. And this is the kind of treatment he wants to avoid.

The theory that fear is the driving force of Babangida’s current aspiration to become President again come year 2007 is supported by some of the actions he took while he was at the helm of affairs.
We all know that Nigeria had the misfortune of being ruled by him for eight years, from the mid 80s to the early 90s. We know that while in office he had ABSOLUTE power, of life and death, and of spreading fortune or misfortune.That many Nigerians died piecemeal as a result of excruciating poverty to which he plunged the nation. That almost everyone was SAPped out of his or her last ounce of energy.

We know him as the ruler who perhaps did the most economic damage to the greatest number of people in human history. One who caused a whopping $12 billion to disappear from a nation’s treasury and then refused to render any account. Who ridiculed the black race by canceling the fairest election in the history of black nations. Who annihilated a "middle class" of hard working and honest professionals, and replaced them with a despicable class of fraudsters and drug pushers. We know all these about him and many more.

But certain other incidents deserve greater scrutiny to understand this person known as Babangida.
Deception is second nature to this character. Right from the first day he took over in a coup, Babangida set out to deceive Nigerians. I can remember that when Ibrahim "Badamasi" Babangida was announced over the radio as the nation’s new head of state, the Yoruba people of the South West (including my parents) lept up for joy, believing his middle name was "Gbadamosi", and that he was from Ogbomosho. Before then, as Chief of Army Staff, there was nothing like "Badamasi" in his name. We were to witness several other acts of deception during his misrule.

Treachery is another constant feature in Babangida’s life. This is examplified by the betrayal of late Bukar Sukar Dimka, at an hour the coup plotter had a 50 per cent chance of success (Dimka was later to pay with his life for trusting Babangida), and the annulment of the 1993 presidential election won by Abiola, who later died while trying to claim his mandate.

Even if the betrayal of Dimka could be excused, what happened to Abiola speak volume about who Babangida truly is. The Abiola case is very instructive. This was the man who made it possible for Babangida to seize power. Even though some might criticise him (Abiola) for this, while others might argue that he was well rewarded, the truth is that he would not have contested the election if Babangida had not assured him, in a way that he (Abiola) became truly convinced, that he was ready to hand-over. We all know what happened after Abiola won the election.

Another incident worthy of examination in trying to understand Babangida is the execution of Mamman Vatsa, the Best Man at his wedding. Till date, there are still doubts as to whether Vatsa really conceived any coup along with others executed with him. About three years ago, I met a retired Airforce Officer, who swore that one of the aircraft purportedly meant to be used for the violent overthrow of Babangida was under his command. That nothing like a coup could be said to be in the offing, given the situation on the ground then.

So, why would a man kill the Best Man at his wedding, for an alleged offence not proven beyond doubt? We all know that the guilty verdict was passed by a military tribunal composed of ‘Yes Men’, while the trial itself was held in camera. The answer, it seems obvious, was to strike fear in the hearts of everyone.
To deter other coups, especially given that the incident happened in very early days of the regime.
To consolidate his hold on power. You might call this Machiavellian tactics. But I call it a sign of extreme wickedness. And it is said that wicked men are cowards at heart.

Babangida needs power in his own hands or those of his surrogates to assure himself of his safety. He could not leave his fate in the hands of those whom he could not trust. Think about it: all those who have ruled Nigeria since his stepping aside were people he could trust - Shonekan, Abacha, Abdulsalam and Obasanjo. He had something to do with their being in power.

No doubt trouble looms for Babangida from May 29, 2007. If on that day Obasanjo hands over to anyone over whom IBB has no stranglehold, then it would be dawn of his day of reckoning.

The political ambition of Babangida is driven by the fear of the unknown. The future is so unsure for this dictator. And power is the only guarantee of his safety.

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