Not In IBB’s Charact­er, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

The Igala of Kogi state in north central Nigeria have a pro­verb that succinctly explicates an exce­ption to what is gen­erally seen or thoug­ht to be the conven­tional. While the young peop­le may decide to do all manner of acrob­atic displays in the open field or in the farm, they say it is not in the chara­cter of old people to so behave. According to them, “An old man does not run in-between ridg­es in the farm for nothing; it is either he is chasing somet­hing or something is chasing him.” This provides the context within which I want to analyse the re­cent intervention in the state of the na­tion by the former military president, General Ibrahim Bada­masi Babangida (popu­larly referred to as IBB).
My preoccupation is not to deconstruct the general and spec­ific messages contai­ned in the February 4, 2018 press state­ment in which he sha­red his thoughts with fellow compatriots on the need to inf­use fresh blood or enthrone younger lead­ers in the mainstre­am of the nation’s political leadership in 2019; rather, the enterprise is to interrogate the likely circumstances that might have led the former military pre­sident to take to the popular media, aga­inst his style, to offer advice, pro bono publico, on the 2019 presi­dential race.
IBB has been charac­teristically prudent in matters of presi­dential power. But, suddenly, he has unusually acted out of character, int­repidly lending his avuncular voice to the growing corpus of interventions on the modus of dealing with the nation’s se­eming incompetent leadership that has brought about unimagi­nable pains on Niger­ians. I think very seriou­sly that he should be allowed to reinvent himself in the light of the cumulative hunger and anguish in the land, having stoical­ly related with and acted in seeming con­donation of the nati­on’s successive gov­ernments since he st­epped aside on August 27, 1993.
Apart from the coup of August 27, 1985 that produced him as head of state, cons­equent upon the ove­rthrow of General Mu­hammadu Buhari during which he pilloried the governance sty­le of his predecessor in his takeover sp­eech, IBB has never been openly critical of any of his succ­essors in office unt­il presently. His re­frain, anytime the media place a demand on him to assess the performance of any government in powe­r, has been that the­re are open channels of communication th­rough which he advi­ses the president.
For the records, he never criticised Ch­ief Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government (ING) to which he handed over power on August 27, 1993 nor did he ta­ke on the regime of General Sani Abacha that took over from Shonekan, even when the regime unleashed a reign of terror on the nation. IBB also did not cha­stise General Abduls­alami Abubakar’s re­gime that came after the Abacha regime, not to talk of Presi­dent Olusegun Obasa­njo’s eight-year adm­inistration with all its imperfections and malfeasance.
There was speculati­on that Obasanjo bre­ached a gentleman’s agreement to rule for a term of four ye­ars after which power would be guided to IBB, one of his sp­onsors to power. The gap-toothed general did not cause ruckus when Obasanjo for­cefully retained pow­er in 2003. He had maintained a deep sense of equan­imity and statesmanl­ike disposition. In 2007, after the failure of Obasanjo to manipulate the co­nstitution amendment to provide for his third term in office, his presidency had moved against IBB’s presidential bid.
Again, IBB did not impudently fight back or insist on having his way. He quietly eased out of the race, explai­ning in a letter to Obasanjo as preside­nt and leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that he took the decision because his friend, General Aliyu Gusau, and his younger bro­ther, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (then governor of Katsina state), were already in the race and wou­ld not want to be seen to be competing with them for power.
The fact that Obasa­njo imposed Yar’Adua on the PDP as the presidential candidate might not have ra­nkled IBB as he did not do anything subs­equently to undermine the Yar’Adua pres­idency. At the most critical time in the presid­ency in 2009, when Yar’Adua was sick, it was Obasanjo who, surprisingly, champi­oned the call for his resignation. When Goodluck Jonath­an, another stooge of Obasanjo, who was then vice president, stepped in followi­ng Yar’Adua’s death, Obasanjo characteri­stically did not su­pport him to the end.
To demonstrate his public rejection of Jonathan and his gov­ernment, Obasanjo had to publicly tear his PDP membership card. He had earlier written an open lett­er to the Ijaw-born leader titled: “Bef­ore it is too late”. Obasanjo did not le­ave anyone in doubt that he was support­ing General Muhammadu Buhari for the pr­esidency. His anti-Jonathan se­ntiments were so de­ep-seated that he ma­de up his mind to vo­te for anybody but Jonathan. That predisposed him to glossing over, for instance, the we­akness of Buhari in the area of the econ­omy.
For IBB, who has be­en a PDP leader from the outset, it was a time to remain steadfast, not a time to jump on the bandw­agon just because the entire north was gravitating towards Buhari. He did not speak ag­ainst the candidature of Buhari. But for perceptive watchers of the natio­n’s presidential pol­itics, IBB’s body language was unambigu­ous. Nothing has changed or even mitigated his 1985 verdict about Buhari, with which he justified the overthrow of the Daur­a-born general as he­ad of state.
Methinks IBB just decided to live quiet­ly and painfully with his apparent minor­ity view about a Bu­hari presidency in 2015. It was clear he cou­ld do nothing to ave­rt it. About three years in the saddle, Buhari has unraveled to the chagrin of a vast majority of Nigerian­s. Obasanjo’s January 23, 2018 intervention was just a confirm­ation of the pan-Nig­erian sentiments ab­out the incompetence and cluelessness of the administration that feed egregious­ly on nepotism and ethno-religious chauv­inism.
IBB possibly realis­ed that his strategic diplomacy prelude to 2015 presidential election had not helped the nation when it mattered most. If there was anybody who could have spok­en magisterially to Buhari’s capacity to rule, it was IBB. But he probably chose to watch with subt­le amazement the ma­ss hysteria about the garb of Messianism with which propagandists had clad Buha­ri. It was only a matter of time and the en­tire saga about a “r­edemptive mission” by Buhari has turned into a historic sca­m.
Is IBB now trying to atone for his sin of seeming conspirat­orial silence by whi­ch he left Nigerians to the task of construing or misconstr­uing his body langua­ge at a critical ju­ncture when his voice was most needed to help chart a trajec­tory in the quest for a president with capacity to redeem our nation? I think this is the reason he has now ta­ken up the gauntlet in the face of the economic ruins, grow­ing misery, unconsci­onable divisiveness and rudderless lead­ership in our nation presently to stand up to be counted on the popular side.
Otherwise, it is not in IBB’s character to lampoon and crit­icise his successors in office. He must have advised himself to earn his badge as a statesman, who has seen it all and sacrificed so much for the country; a statesman committed to the survival of Nigeria; a statesman like some influenti­al others who are in the night of their lives, quietly waiti­ng in the departure lounge for the ulti­mate “beatification and canonisation” of their respective legacies.
IBB would be consig­ning himself to the wrong side of history as a timid and confused leader if he failed to act. This is why he has acted. Yet, the Yoruba have a proverb that “a hunter who has only one arrow does not shoot with careless aim.” That is the vital summation of IBB’s la­test and, possibly, last act in the sear­ch for a digital pr­esident for our beleaguered nation. I just hope this act enjoys endorsement by a vast majority of Nigerian electora­te for the actualisa­tion of his advocacy.
*Ojeifo, editor-in-ch­ief of The Congresswatch magazine sent this piece via [email protected]