By Bisi Lawrence
Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is still the cause. That was the exact word he used in his congratulatory message to the man many of us now delight to honour with title ofÂ the sage, ChiefÂ Obafemi Awolowo. One Prime Ministerial and two Presidential elections had come and gone, in all of which Chief Awolowo contested and lost.
He never felt satisfied with the conduct ofÂ the elections and then, in the Autumn of his life, had publicly foresworn any further participation in political activities ofÂ that nature. His influence would definitely have declined noticeably in the political arena, what with a spate of military regimes sprouting up and around. Babangida himself was heading one ofÂ them at that time. Yet he insisted that Awolowo remained the cause.
As it happens, so has IBB. He came on the national scene as a hero during the Dimka coup which he gallantly stopped. That was the stepping stone to the leadership of a military regime that created more excitement than anyone had a right to expect from what was assumed would be just for two or three years. In all, it lasted some eight years.
From the beginning, it was tinged with a dash of intellectuality that caught several people off their stride, while others seemed to welcome the development. Here was a military officer delivering a lecture, andÂ droppingÂ phrases that could be quoted â€“ and, in fact, seemed meant to be quoted. He appeared equipped with a quiver full of well-honed philosophy.
It was a gradual awareness of an unexpected fact that took place thereafter, and this was to the intent that this the military officer was prepared and equipped for a political leadership unlike the brittle type which usually seemed thrust on the leader.
It was indeed true. IBB had been schooled in the art of political organisation and strategy, and knew exactly what he wanted to do, and where he wished to go, before he took power. Some people remarked at the unusual preference of the title of â€œPresidentâ€ to that of â€œHead of Stateâ€ previously adopted by his predecessors whose ascendancy to national leadership had also been behind the authority of a gun. His tutelage had been focused, probably at a distance from purely democratic norms, but he re-adjusted very sharply later.
One is not aware that he made any strenuous effort to conceal the identity of Chief Awolowo as his mentor but the probability appeared, in any case, to have been too remote to strike anyone with any appreciable force. The word â€œmentorâ€ is perhaps too weighty in a sense, but those who are acquainted with Awoâ€™s somewhat dry intellectual approach to political issues might trace IBBâ€™s sometimes somewhat terse but profound pronouncements to the sageâ€™s matter-of-fact stance on political matters.
There is little doubt also that Babangida nursed an abiding faith in Awolowoâ€™s sense of decency matched by a resolute stand on mental discipline. It was soon discovered that the gap-toothed grins and open-handed shake were in no way linked to the iron will that backed the process of his decision-taking in all matters.
All this led to one important aspect of his life in his relationship to one and sundry: those who liked him when he was in office â€“ â€œand in powerâ€, as he would add â€“ did so with so much passion; while those who disliked him, couldnâ€™t stand the very thought of him. But there was hardly anyone who did not acknowledge the force of his being as he was.
Several people have found it easy, therefore, to react to the clear indication of his desire to be considered as the leader of this country once again. To those who find the proposition acceptable, you can hear them singing, â€œHappy days are he3re again! â€
Others who find it almost an abomination are not hiding the fact that they are losing sleep; they are up in arms from individuals to groups and societies, holding meetings, and rallies, and demonstrations. His supporters, on the other hand, are still holding their fire, studying the ground, but showing every sign that once the battle is joined, there will be no retreat.
There have been reactions also from overseas. The BBC describes IBB as a leader many Nigerians â€œlove to hateâ€. Several political leaders, Est and West, in Europe, Asia and across the Atlantic have also shown some excitement at the possibility of IBB entering the race for the presidency. Back home, there has hardly been such turmoil within the polity at the prospect of a candidacy.
Political bodies are re-grouping; new groups are emerging, both for and against; sentiments are being roused, vengeance evoked; the factors of the emotions about Dele Giwa and June 12 are being summoned into the fray. And of all that, IBB is the cause.
Gani Fawehinmi, brilliant and tenacious legal practitioner that he was, vainly tried to resolve the murder of Dele Giwa, a colourful personality and one of the most gifted journalists of his time. That effort left a legacy of truths, half-truths and untruths that recommend themselves in various ways to various people.
The election of MK.K. Abiola which came to grief will, in its own way, also stick to the annals of our history, irremovable and indelible for a long time. That perception is reasonable from this point, and at this time. But that election is usually factually referred to as the fairest and freest ever held in this country.
It is also stating a mere fact that the man who was responsible, which is ultimately the President of the nation, should take some of the credit for that success.
However, he also must bear the responsibility for the annulment which, in fact, he announced himself. He had earlier bluntly refused to do so during the course of the election, when he was warned that Abiola looked likely to emerge as the winner.
The reason for his change of heart would probably never be known, but it can be safely assumed that the final decision could not have been his or his alone. It is also reasonable to suppose that a free and fair election, for which the nation clamours, is possible under a Babangida regime.
This nation also yearns for probity in public life. It would be a fresh and untried greenhorn who could step out today as a squeaky-clean presidential candidate in this country. Even if there was one he would be discounted out of turn.
Would the masses have voted for Gani Fawehinmi as President? Or would Wole Soyinka have won a presidential election? So it would still be out of the murk and mire of our admittedly corrupt society that we shall have to pick and choose.
As it is, the Halliburton affair seems to have flung a stinking blanket of filth over the entire polity, anyway. So we are hard put, in all justification, to point and sustain accusing fingers in any particular direction.
This nation today might do much, much worse that accept Babangida back into her arms. He was once the toast of several groups who found comfort in his association. They did so because he spoke their language and they found him knowledgeable about the crucial aspects of our development and aspirations. Their support can still influence him towards a more acceptable term of office.
It is time they adverted their minds to the positive advantages that an administration under a veteran can usher in. He has been pacing up and down the riverbank for a while. Now is the time for him to take the plunge. I have heard it said that there is nothing to vile that cannot be forgiven. But we do not have to forgive, or even forget. But we surely can forbear.
We can discard the shibboleths of sentimental mindsets and rise renewed into an era of progressive thinking. In Nigerian politics today, IBB indeed remains the cause.