By Owei Lakemfa
IBRAHIM Badamosi Babangida, retired general and former military Head of State will turn 80 tomorrow, Tuesday, August 17. I congratulate him primarily because I also pray to grow old. But I do not pray that in my old age my children will organise gatherings where people will try to whitewash my deeds.
One of such occasions was the August 12, 2021 pre-birthday event. The summary of the endless speeches which were relayed live on television is that Babangida is a reliable, kind-hearted statesman who never neglects or betrays his friends. But that is not what the records show.
Yes, Babangida comes across as a comely, friendly, charming person, but so does the beautiful, cunning, crafty fox. Those gathering for the whitewash of Babangida know that Nigerians gave him the sobriquet Maradona. This was because like the famous Argentine footballer, Diego Maradona, who was a great dribbler and seller of dummies on the field, Babangida was dribbling Nigerians, selling them dummies, was quite crafty, deceitful and unreliable.
A great difference was that while the real Maradona never shifted the goal post during play, Babangida was always shifting the goal post whenever he thought a goal was to be scored against him. For instance, he promised to hand-over power to an elected civilian administration in 1990. When the date drew near, he shifted it to 1992, then January 1993, later to August 1993, and ended up not handing over power before he was disgraced out of office.
While claiming to be a champion of mass participation in decision-making, he declared a public debate on whether or not, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, loan and its conditionalities should be accepted. Nigerians in overwhelming numbers rejected both. On December 13, 1985, Babangida addressed the nation acknowledging the undeniable choice of Nigerians and even declared that “ …the path of honour and the essence of democratic patriotism lies in discontinuing the negotiations with the IMF for a support loan”.
Nigerians were ecstatic, but the cunning Babangida did the exact opposite by going to bed with the IMF and imposing its criminal conditionalities christened the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP. When Nigerians protested against this imposition, patriots like the labour legends, Michael Imoudu and Wahab Goodluck and lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi were detained, many tertiary institutions shutdown and protesters were shot in the streets.
As to the claim that Babangida was loyal to friends, at least two of his close friends who believed that, were sent to early graves. One of them was Mamman Vatsa, his childhood friend, high school classmate at Government College, Bida, and a fellow general. In fact, Babangida signed Vatsa’s marriage register as his best man. Vatsa was accused of harbouring the thought of overthrowing Babangida, was tried in a military tribunal, tied to the stake on March 5, 1986 and executed.
Another Babangida close friend, Chief Moshood Abiola, won the June 12, 1993 presidential election, fair and square. But Babangida annulled it and later claimed he did it to prevent a coup. Is that not treasonable felony? What a friend he had in Babangida! Abiola while fighting for his mandate was detained under the Abacha regime and eventually died.
At the Babangida whitewash last week, a former Director of Military Intelligence, DMI Haliru Akilu, a retired general, mentioned Babangida’s relocation of the capital from Lagos to Abuja as a monumental achievement adding: “This was a great decision that only leaders of IBB’s capacity can make.” I am not sure about this. Abuja was being built by previous governments and partially under Babangida. Not a few attribute Babangida’s December 12, 1991 relocation to Abuja as a fall out of the Orkar coup which exposed the vulnerability of the Dodan Barracks State House.
In fact, the haste and disorderly way the capital was relocated was like a man fleeing a city. For instance, many of those who had to relocate, had no offices. As for accommodation, it was in so short supply that many lived in their offices for years, while many desperate female public servants, some of them married, shared rooms with males lucky enough to secure accommodation.
This is the origin of the popular ‘Abuja Marriage’ syndrome. Businessman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, talked glowingly about Babangida as a dependable friend. Babangida, he claimed, made him leader of the Raw Materials Development Council, and stayed by his side for a whole day when he buried his father. But he only narrated one side of the story. The other is that the same Babangida sent armed security agents to traumatise journalists and staff of Iwuanyanwu’s Champion Newspapers and shutdown the publication without any warning or court order. It was simply the application of brutal force against a non-military institution.
The Babangida regime had no regard for fundamental human rights. People were detained without trial. At any given time, under that dictatorship, the cells and dungeons were packed full of patriots. When the pro-democracy protests broke out with demands for the de-annulment of the June 12 election, the regime sent out well kitted soldiers led personally by then Chief of Army Staff, General Sani Abacha to repress them. On July 6, 1993, a total of 118 protesters were shot dead on the streets of Lagos. Almost all were shot in the back which meant they were running away and not confronting their murderers. These are crimes against humanity for which the regime should be held accountable.
When the pro-state candidate, Takai Shamang, could not win the 1988 Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC elections, the Babangida regime banned the Congress under a nebulous ‘Economic Recovery’ decree. When senior staff of Nigeria Electricity Power Authority, NEPA, went on strike against the poor state of power infrastructure, the regime seized eleven of them and hauled them before a military tribunal demanding the death sentence. Eventually, the men were sentenced to life imprisonment for going on strike which is a right!
In 1986 after the police murdered four students of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, for protesting, the regime shutdown virtually all tertiary institutions in the country for protesting the murders. It also proscribed the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS. The Babangida regime was a lawless one which not only ousted the jurisdiction of the courts in many decrees, but also did not obey court orders and rulings.
Those gathering around the country in a vain attempt to whitewash Babangida are just deceiving him and deceiving themselves; history has already judged him. The wise in Africa say even if a man is being deceived, he owes himself the duty not to deceive himself. If Babangida does not apologise for his atrocities against the Nigerian people, he should go to a quiet spot in his hilltop mansion to pray that God forgives him his sins.