The Babangida Intervention


In my capacity as the spokesperson of the Coalition of Nigeria Movement, CNM, I have found myself returning to a familiar theme and cause-championing the cause of generational transfer of political power to the younger generation. In political science lexicon, it is captured as leadership succession and recruitment. As a cause celebre, it first came to national notice with what the abortive Ibrahim Babangida military government transition to civil rule programme conceptualized as the ‘Newbreed’ political class-as a preferred category to the class of recycled Nigerian political actors. Ever since, it has become a recurring problematic, seeking a resolution, an idea whose time has come.

The conspicuous failure of President Mohammadu Buhari has once again highlighted the imperative of the age factor in the evolution of Nigerian politics. In the Nigerian tradition, if the official age of the President is 76, it can be safely assumed that in reality, he is not younger than 80 years. The reality of this advancing years and allied biological attrition was brought to bear on his incumbency in the shape of falling victim to a life threatening medical emergency that kept him away from his desk for over a hundred days. At length he was discharged with the medical admonition, in his own words, ‘to eat more and sleep more’. The medical attendant who gave this counsel would have been taken aback that his patient was returning not to a well-deserved restful retirement but to the cauldron of the political leadership of Nigeria-and potentially seeking reelection.

In a less troubled and normal political clime where politics is not a do or die affair, the prolonged enforced physical indisposition should have been a terminal leave. In the circumstance, Buhari had made the choice that whatever constraint his age related debility imposed on him would be at the expense of the optimal governance of Nigeria. For good measure, he recently and defiantly reiterated that he would work at his own pace. Among other disqualifying shortcomings, the narrative of his age related failing health has become a compelling backdrop to the imperative of the emergence of a younger successor political class. In recognition of this vacuum and few years into the Fourth republic, I collaborated with my peers to float a political organization, Progressive Action Movement, PAM, as a specific response to this emergent challenge. We were guided by the following theoretical formulation

‘PAM was conceptualised as a response to the failure of the political system to fulfil the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political class-to assume political succession from one generation to another. There was an emergent generational gap and vacuum-to whose remedy we programmatically addressed ourselves. We intended ourselves as a kind of political nursery for preparing and producing a successor class at the shortest possible time. As it were, the major indication of this systemic failure was the recycling of political leaders rather than a renewal with successor generations. Conventionally and specifically, the role of leadership recruitment into the political system is that of the political parties. Understood as such, the poverty of the performance of this role is self-explanatory in the non-existence of political parties for the better part of the period spanning 1960 to 1999’.

‘The political party system and the legislative institution are the most conspicuous and consequential casualties of military intervention in the governance of Nigeria-as elsewhere. The more protracted the rule of military dictatorship, the more impoverished the political system and the attendant roles of the party system including leadership recruitment. Unlike the political system, and to underscore the point, is the analogy of contrast to the Nigerian economic sector which has witnessed progressive and periodic renewal and turnover of the public and private economic sector leaders. Many major contemporary economic leaders were either not born or were toddlers when people like Adeyemi Lawson, Michael Omolayole, Grema Mohammed, Mai Deribe, Gamaliel Onosode and numerous others were holding forte’.

This was the background to the drama of Babangida’s latest intervention in the political leadership succession ritual that plays out every four years since the advent of the Fourth republic in 1999. He utilized the opportunity to reaffirm the necessity nay the centrality of focusing national attention on political leadership succession and recruitment strategy as of the essence.
Babangida ventured “We must be unanimous in what we desire for our country; new generation leadership, result-driven leadership, a sound political foundation, While saying this also, I do not intend to deny President Buhari his inalienable right to vote and be voted for, but there comes a time in the life of a nation, when personal ambition should not override national interest”. And then the drama of the degenerate political situation of Nigeria began to unfold

“The Inspector General of Police has ordered his arrest for giving false statement, making injurious falsehood and equally defamation of character or an act which is inimical to law and order in the country” . The preceding excerpts were the characterization given by the Nigerian police to the press statement ‘Towards a national rebirth’ issued on behalf of former military president Ibrahim Babangida by his regular spokesperson, Kassim Afegbua.

The confusion that followed is, in many respects typical of President Ibrahim Babangida’s penchant for becoming captive to hostage politics. Against his best judgement he succumbed to the blandishment and the bullying of his military protégés to take a decision that amounted to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory-the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections. Seemingly impervious to negative public perception, he is prone to rendering himself supine to the protective custody and personal excesses of those around him-who profess to love him more than he loves himself. It is a character flaw that has cost him dearly in public life-vacillation and pandering to personal relations and private concerns at the expense of public duty and obligation.

More than most people I know, I perennially grapple with his characteristic bundle of contradiction personality. From the record of his military career, it is difficult to extrapolate any reputation short of a daring do adventurous officer. Among his many impressive escapades was the uncommon craving for dangerous exposure that saw him demanding immediate return to the war front right after an elaborate surgery and hospitalization for injury sustained in the civil war. Yet, since my first encounter with him in 1998, I have seldom found the occasion to change my perception of him as unsuited to the conventional dare devil imagery of war and military coup veterans.
My familiarity with his keen fellow feeling and empathy is at variance with his infamous devil may care boast of himself as a career practitioner and manager of organized violence. His kind hearted happy go lucky mien fails to square up with the single minded ruthlessness of his prior job description. He is a natural prince charming and to know him is to like him. His strength of character tended to stop where his soft spot begins-often at the expense of a highly consequential decision.

If the roles were swapped I would not wager on Babangida extricating himself and firmly exiting the web of the third term tenure elongation intrigue once it was dealt a death blow at the national assembly. On the contrary, it is inconceivable that President Olusegun Obasanjo would have succumbed to pressure from any quarters to go through with the (own goal) annulment of Moshood Abiola’s Presidential victory in 1993. The difference here is the ability to look those who presume to be caliphate than the Sultan in the eye and say no. This time around, all we can say is all is well that ends well.

According to ThisDay “Following the confusion that arose from a counter-statement purportedly issued by former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida yesterday spoke exclusively to THISDAY saying that his “original statement still stands”. Babangida said the second statement was issued by friends and had nothing to do with him. Indeed, the sources informed THISDAY that the second toned down version was not signed by the Babangida but his son who simply appended the retired general’s name to the revised statement. But when Babangida got wind of what had transpired, he instructed Afegbua to reach out to media houses reaffirming the validity of the first statement”.

If there is anyone who should feel vindicated by the meltdown of the Buhari Presidency, it is Babangida-who, in the unfolding drama of Nigeria’s revolving door of ultimate political power, had been cast as the villain who aborted the fullness of a prospective Buhari’s heroic leadership-(as terminated in the military coup of August 1985). A critical inference from the latter’s dismal performance in office since 2015 is the retrospective justification of his ouster 33 years ago.

In reinforcing Obasanjo’s repudiation of Buhari-especially in the most dangerous aspect of constituting an existential threat to the durability of Nigeria, Babangida has validated my earlier projection of both of them as Pan Nigerian patriarchs. It was not long ago I remarked ‘His (Obasanjo) public interventions in times of political stalemate and crisis often prove decisive even if those interventions tended to default on the side of preserving the status-quo. He is the most valuable status-quo Nigerian and his pan Nigerian political reach surpasses that of any other Nigerian leader. For all the exaggerated shortcomings of Ibrahim Babangida, he is the only other living Nigerian ruler who comes near him in the attribute of Pan Nigeria patriarch’


Chairman of Northern Senators forum, Senator Abdullahi Adamu said: “Chief Obasanjo said President Buhari is selective in his anti-corruption war. I agree with him because if the President were not selective, Chief Obasanjo himself would be in the dock today on trial on charges arising from the pursuit of his third term gambit in the National Assembly in 2006.

Senator Dino Melaye-“This is to inform the Senate that the majority signatories of members of the Northern Senators Forum have decided to remove Senator Abdullahi Adamu as chairman of the Northern Senators Forum for financial mismanagement and misadministration. We announce his replacement with Senator Aliyu Wamakko immediately….. we now have snakes consuming about N36 million, and now you have monkeys carting away N70 million from a farm house.”