General Babangida and the things around his 79-year-old neck

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By Ibraheem Abdullateef

Twenty-seven years after his presidency, the former Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida marked his 79th birthday anniversary yesterday. The Legend in Minna, as some of his fans are wont to call him, received quite some glowing tributes from the creme de la creme. Atiku, Fani-Kayode, Jonathan, Mark, Lawan, name them. However, the one from his old colleague, President Muhammadu Buhari piqued my attention: “As the former military leader turns a new age, the President believes his services to the country will always be remembered.” Yes. Vantage Nigerian elites’ way.

But Buhari and allies don’t have to wait too long until we do his bidding; remembering the birthday boy’s many services to the nation he couldn’t talk about; unmasking the truth hid deeply in the congratulatory words, to dress a fellow’s class and status. You know, a good name doesn’t need a wash. The people shall remember what a leader does and say but not as much as what he did. Actions speak better and louder than voice. How I wish they’d advise him now that he is alive and ageing instead of taking on the feat of poets and singers, waxing lyrics. The man Babangida is written in the Nigerians’ heart. But how?

The military career of General Babangida was marked by involvement in coups. Although he did fine as a commander of the 44 Infantry Battalion where he eventually got shot on the chest and hospitalised in Lagos during the Biafra war, he’d be remembered as an official who’s only surpassed by General Sanni Abacha in the art of coup plotting. Until he seized power from General Buhari in 1985 in a palace coup even as his Chief of Staff, he supported all but the one coup which took the life of General Murtala Muhammed, led by lt. Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka.

But that would pale compared to his image as a dictator who brooks no mercy. During his Presidency, Commodore Ebitu Okoh Ukiwe, was removed as Chief of General Staff for opposing Babangida’s decision to join the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. He’d go along to arrest, try and kill hundreds of soldiers for allegedly conspiring to overthrow his government. Although they were created to consolidate his power, he established the State Security Service (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). What we didn’t know was that they’d help him to cage the nation for almost nine years.

If General Sanni Abacha would win the vote for the grandmaster of corruption, his military immediate predecessor, Babangida’s administration is unchallenged as the pacesetter. In 2011, according to a Forbes article, Babangida was worth the sum of US$12 billion! As he has since come out to deny, can he erase the true picture in the minds of the people who were alive?

One day if care is not taken, he would deny or these many poets will try to make us forget the fact that he annulled the acclaimed freest and fairest Nigerian presidential election won by MKO Abiola/Babangana Kingibe in 1993 for self interest. That he took us back by six good years for greed and inordinate ambition, by not allowing the coming of democracy in that year, a reality which didn’t set until 1999. Although democracy has since given us many villains than heroes, again he set the pace.

I am not sure Dele Giwa, killed in 1986 at his Lagos home by a letter bomb, wouldn’t be turning in his grave if he had gotten to see the way the prime suspect for his murder is being idolised thirty-four years after. If he had been alive, he’d have been 73 years old himself. Before he paid the supreme price, he was resolute against corruption and abuse against human rights. It is such a pity the elites including the incumbent incorruptible president would forgo his sacrifice and patriotism for whatever is worth and rather sing to high heaven the praises of the suspect they haven’t done enough to bring to book!

When President Olusegun Obasanjo empanelled the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission headed by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa to investigate human rights abuses which occurred during the military juntas of 1966-1979 and 1983-1999, Babangida continuously defied summons and refused to appear for once. It may be the reason why it doesn’t move Nigerians that another government critic in Kano, Dadiyata, has vanished for more than a year now! We’d rather not care or forget as wished by the elites with their rosy words, as we did for the irrepressible Giwa, some years down the line.

Although Babangida later “stepped aside” after a lingering crisis caused by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, that has not and may never erase his many sins. I have often wondered what I’d have called Nigeria if I grew up to count him as one of the civilian presidents in Nigeria as he relentlessly sought post-Head of State. Up till this moment, there is no record of him apologising to Nigerians for all the bloodbath, sleaze and corruption he engineered in the nation. And there is no trace of him retracing himself. Bravo!

There’d always be some of us taking to President Buhari’s calling in his latest birthday wishes, “remembering him for his many services.” As we’d remember the president himself and the elites who abandoned Dele Giwa and family to make a toast for his slayers and who would rather speak to class than for justice and patriotism. History may only be bent, it will never be completely rewritten. Time is ticking for every office holder. It is my hope they know that a good name is better than riches. They’d rather learned from the trajectory IBB, if they don’t want to have these many things around their necks.

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