Afolabi Gambari

Every August 17 is special for former military
president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. But the one of 2016 was even more
special. It was his 75th birthday. He knew it too. For, to live so
long in a clime as this, where tomorrow can be too long to ascertain, calls for
more than just celebration. To live 23 years of 75 in so controversial manner
as Babangida has lived his, even called for ceaseless singing and dancing.

But the somewhat self-effacing former Nigerian
leader is not given to fanfare. He did the usual this year; as has become his
carriage in the past years since he was hurried out of power on August 27 1993,
exactly eight years after he assumed the power in a palace coup.

It was a gathering of local and foreign journalists
at his hilltop residence in Minna, Niger State, 24 hours to the D-day. He calls
such gathering annually as part of his birthday programme and picked on issues
of national importance, whereupon the newshounds would unleash their reports on
the birthday to, as it were, open another year of his life. This was not going
to be different. He must have weighed in on the nation’s mood to beam his focus
on the National Assembly that has for over 16 years drained Nigeria’s resources
in the name of promoting democracy. Little wonder he advocated part-time status
for the 460-member assembly to, in his reckoning, save valuable funds that the
state could expend to address other needy areas of national life.

“In view of the recess that we have been through in
recent years, there is no better option any more than to ensure that National
Assembly members carry on their duties on part-time basis,” Babangida told his
audience.

It is not impossible that the assembly members would
have been displeased by Babangida’s advocacy, especially coming at a time the
members have come to a grinding level in their private businesses due to the
prevailing recess and have embraced the legislative work and accompanying perks
as safety net against economic adversity. But it did not seem Babangida cared
about how they would take his submission. Nigeria and its survival mattered to
him now than ever.

He painted his regime (1985-1993) in good light to
elucidate on his views. Hear him: “In 1989, we proposed that the National
Assembly should be made part time and I still believe I will make it part time
if I have the opportunity.”

As if he realised he was ruffling some feathers with
his statement, IBB, as Babangida is known by his admirers, added quickly: “I
know I may be in trouble for calling for this measure which I believe will
drastically reduce cost of governance. I have to say my mind, anyway, because
Nigeria is greater than all individuals combined.”

The earlier rumour of his death took a chunk of time
at the gathering. But he proved to the audience that if he was scared to
embrace anything at all, death was completely out of it. Hear IBB again: “The
first thing that came to my mind upon learning of the rumour was that I wasn’t
the first person that encountered such experience. The rumour peddlers did it
to (First Republic) president Nnamdi Azikiwe and (Second Republic) president
Shehu Shagari as well as other prominent Nigerians. So, it was not a surprise.”

He explained his pain away, however, leaning on religion.
“As a muslim, I must die one day whether I like it or not,” he submitted,
adding: “The rumour peddlers were only stating the obvious. Nobody knows the
time or place that death will come, but it must come for everyone.”

Not a few had thought for years that Babangida
reveled in the nickname “Evil genius”. But he seemed to abhor the tag, as the
gathering in review revealed. “I am not the evil that a lot of you think I am,”
he said, nonetheless showing compassion for the name-callers, perhaps in the
birthday spirit: “I can understand that by virtue of the job I was doing (as a
military president), I was bound to be misunderstood. I consider is all as an
opinion and it is one of those things you have to live with. As long as I am
not what people negatively think I am, I feel very much satisfied.”

Was he really misunderstood?

Anyway, he exploited the gathering to correct
another misconception that rocked his regime almost to its bottom, bordering on
accountability. Nigeria had reaped bountifully from oil sales after the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait in early 1991 which plunged the Gulf Region to turmoil. The
profit, which some reports put at N12billon (by 1992 value), was enough to turn
around Nigeria, in addition to reducing social tension that had become part of the
national life. But in the end, it was as though Iraq never invaded Kuwait to
push up world oil prices, let alone enable Nigeria to benefit from what looked
like the biblical Manna from heaven. The whole gain was wasted in so tragic
manner as to suggest that Christmas comes every day.

But here was IBB on August 16 2016, suggesting the
huge fortune, otherwise known as “Gulf War Windfall”, was a mere figment of
some people’s imagination! Hear him yet again: “If I have so much money, I
would not be living in this country today.” Nimble-footed Argentine football
legend, Diego Maradona, would not have done better in deploying simple-mindedness
to answer a question so vital to the well-being of millions of people. This
simply implies that Nigerians may take longer to know exactly how N12billion of
their resources developed wings between January 1991 and August 1993 and then practically
flew away.

Whether IBB admits it or not, he had wronged
Nigerians and hampered the progress of generations yet unborn with the callous
manner he annulled result of the June 12 1993 presidential election, which
himself has since adjudged as the freest and fairest poll ever conducted in the
country. It is to this day a huge mystery that he would rather annul the
election result and set the country he governed for eight years back by 30
years socially, economically and politically than earn for himself a place in history
as among the greatest mortals that ever lived.

Every birthday he had celebrated after his hurried
exit from power, aforesaid, presented an opportunity for him to admit his error
publicly and plead for leniency from the innocent citizens who had either their
lives ruined totally or pegged endlessly by his unpatriotic decision. But he
always failed to seek forgiveness for his atrocity. Instead, he glossed over
the gory period he superintended. He has missed another opportunity as he
clocked 75 years on August 17 2016. Will he exploit yet another opportunity in
2017? The world, especially Nigeria, can only wait. 

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