The Caging of Babangida


Babatunde Adenodi

East Orange, NJ



There is no question that IBB has been a formidable power broker on Nigeria’s political theater for the past 30 years. Until at least two weeks ago. He has been close to the seat of power since perhaps the second coup of 1966. And each successful coup had moved him one notch up the political hierarchy until 1985 when he got the ultimate price and declared himself our president against established tradition of coup plotters calling them-selves Heads of State.


Obasanjo has been a major beneficiary of Babangida’s political machinations. First, he disarmed Buka Suka Diimka at the NBC studios in Ikoyi thus foiling Dimka’s rebellion and installing General Obasanjo as Head of State in 1976 after Dimka had assassinated Murtala Muhammed. Then in 1993, he was the first to visit Obasanjo in Otta to suggest that he run for the post of president after Abacha had died suddenly. The convenience of Abacha’s unexpected death made the manner of his death suspect till this day. And since no one except Abacha’s immediate family and political hangers-on mourned Abacha, the manner of his death is now part of history.


Babangida is one soldier who knew exactly what he wanted and did his damnedest to work for it. He did not wake up on August 17, 1985 to call himself President for nothing after ousting Buhari. It is clear that he had given it a lot of thought prior to the coup. So, he was the most prepared for the post.


Most importantly, Abacha’s death effectively brought Babangida back to the fore by perhaps being remotely involved in the installation of one of his most loyal comrades – General Abdusalami Abubakar as the Head of State. Abubakar is IBB’s next door neighbor on the Minna Hill. You don’t get to be that neighborly unless you are close. In other words, IBB was back in power! So, Babangida would not have suggested the presidency to Obasanjo had Abubakar not sent him. Or, put in another way, had both of them not agreed that he be offered the post! So, Babangida was president by proxy.


Then, Abacha dropped dead followed 30 days later by the death of MKO Abiola who it was determined would not be allowed to be president at all cost.


As president for 8 years, IBB had come to assume that the post of president was his birth-right reserved for him and his appointees only. This was why he said he was making a personal sacrifice by “step(ping) aside” when he did! Even his wife had begun to be so swollen headed that it was rumored that she had slapped a federal minister. Babangida had been an ardent fan of Chile’s Augustino Pinochet and even Indonesia’s Surhato, two of the world’s brutal dictators. These two were his heroes.


So, he annulled Abiola.s election and plunged us into the political abyss where we have been till date. No atonement of any kind. No contrition. Indeed he said he had no regret whatsoever implying that he would do it all over if given the chance! He rolled back our political development by no less than 50 years and our economic advancement by just as


much. He, along with Abacha, brought out from us all the primordial fears of old. He, even more than Abacha, brought to the front burner issues thought to have been settled. He exacerbated the problem of ethnic division in the society. In other words, he left us worse of than he met us politically, economically, socially and developmentally.


Babangida is a lucky man. In other climes, he would be no more literally and politically speaking. To run for office, you must at least be alive. President Chaucheski of Rumania was executed along with his wife for no more offense against his people. William Tolbert of Liberia was disemboweled by Samuel Doe and his men after he was toppled. And Doe’s ears were sliced off and he suffered castration in the hands of Yomi Johnson. As for Ghana’s Rawlings, he simply lined up all Ghana’s former leaders and executed them! But tyrants never learn from others. It can never happen to us, they all say.


So, in spite of his record he wants to come to be Nigeria’s president again. And he is not short of political hangers-on who urge him on daring history to repeat itself.


Come to think of it, IBB can hardly be faulted for wanting to come back to be president. Thirteen years after leaving office with ignominy, he is regarded as messiah by a section of his people. The current president conferred the land’s highest title of GCFR on him. The party in power shows him off as a political asset to be paraded! One political party even reserved the presidential slot for IBB! And in order to accede to their demand he formed an outfit aptly called Operation Double O Seven: license to kill. And since he had put in a lot of thought to this latest move, it is clear that he means to kill us all if given another shot at leading the country again.


But thank God for some of us that are still sane. Thank God for a president like Obasanjo who does not like to share the honor of being given such a unique opportunity of ruling his country twice in his life. Thanks to the almighty, that we have a president who has no qualms at “atikulising” any one.  IBB is now check-mated He is caged at least for now. Since he is one type that pretends that he did not understand OBJ’s body language, he had left Obasanjo no other choice than to tell him in unambiguous language to back off from the presidency.


For those who think IBB will heed Obasanjo’s admonitions and go to Minna quietly to sulk, they do not yet know IBB. He will not back off without a fight. He will not behave like Abiola who not only resigned from NPN in 1982 but also from politics after Umaru Dikko told him the presidency was not for his likes! IBB did not call himself the “evil genius” for nothing. No one treats IBB like that and get away with it. The presidency is his birthright and no one, not even an OBJ can deny him his right. So, he must go back to the drawing table.


Obasanjo’s   malleability in the hands of his northern handlers during his first outing was one of the reasons why he was thought to be the right man for the presidency in 1999. He demonstrated courage in denying Awolowo the privilege of litigation on the contentious result of the 1979 federal elections which gave Shagari 12 2/3 of a state; not to talk of his



demonstrable favoritism to the interests of his northern constituency. For this, they trusted him with the presidency a second time around.


He was acutely aware that his northern base, or what was left of it, would evaporate overnight if he had done the politically correct; hand over to a South/South candidate! IBB, Buhari and Atiku were on hand to cash in on this. No amount of rigging would help his southern candidate win! So, he decided to do the politically expedient by grooming one of them by name Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.


At the drawing table, IBB did not have to wait long. The first person visited by Yar’Adua after his nomination was General Babangida! It is not known whether the visit was to assure IBB that he was still in good hands despite the rebuff OBJ gave him. Whatever the reason for the visit, it is an ominous sign of things to come under Yar’Adua’s presidency. So, he has to work on Yar’Adua. And if Yar’Adua is like Shagari as I suspect he is, IBB does not have anything to worry about. Yar’Adua will turn out to be IBB’s boy. So, OBJ did cage IBB. But he has given the key to Yar’Adua for safe keeping.


 In a way, IBB, the mentor of Obasanjo, has become his greatest (tor)mentor! Obasanjo does not know how to deal with IBB just like he does not know how to deal with Atiku. And IBB is enjoying Obasanjo’s dilemma.


IBB’s only worry is Buhari. The fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom. Buhari does not forgive. He takes all infractions against his government personally. IBB it was, who was rumored to have authorized the raid on Awolowo’s residence when Buhari was in power. Buhari had to pretend that he knew everything that was going on while he was in power. Needless to mention that IBB was the one who toppled Buhari.  If Buhari is back in power, then IBB is in trouble. But Obasanjo is not going to hand-over to Buhari even if he wins. Buhari is a lose cannon. He is not going to pretend that he will honor any deal with OBJ and therefore OBJ cannot trust him. But can he trust Yar’Adua to follow through on any deal made with him?


So, to cage IBB and do a good job at that, Obasanjo has to do it himself. Or allow Buhari to take over after him. There is no question that Buhari will curb IBB’s excesses. If this is the only reason why I must support Buhari, then I must. IBB must not be allowed to be Nigeria’s president again. Not even in his dreams!