By Owei Lakemfa
IBRAHIM Badamosi Babangida, the gap toothed general who dictated to the country for eight years says he is â€œconsultingâ€ to decide whether to run for the 2011 presidential election or not. But we all know that as part of his instinctive nature of deception, whenever Babangida talks about peace, he would have sounded the bugle for war.
So when he says he is consulting, he actually meant that he has made up his mind to contest, and is merely testing the waters to find out the reaction of Nigerians to his latest scheme.
Like almost all Nigerians, I have fundamental reasons why I willÂ oppose the return of a man whose regime elevated corruption toÂ a major state policy. But my mainÂ objection is based on his natural tendency to be deceptive.
Twenty eight days after his August 27, 1985 coup, and having styled himself â€˜presidentâ€™ Babangida established a Presidential Committee on the IMF loan. It was charged with â€œconducting a national debate on the desirability or otherwise of Nigeria obtaining the loanâ€. He conned Nigerians into believing that their opinion would count, so they went all out to debate it. The decision of Nigerians to reject the loan and its slavish conditionalities was overwhelming.
On December 13, 1985, Babangida in a national broadcast titled â€˜IMF Loan Rejectedâ€™ said: â€œAfter due consideration of all the opinions expressed by Nigerians and other residents as embodied inÂ the interim report on the IMF loan, government has come to the conclusion that for now the path of honour and the essence of democratic patriotism lies in discontinuing the negotiations with the IMF for a loan support. This clearly is the will of majorityÂ of our people on the issueâ€.
But Babangida did exactly the opposite. He took both the loan and the punishing conditionalities which was called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). The IMF administered the SAP poison on many client states in Africa and the health of their economies and people deteriorated badly.
The IMF later apologised for these atrocities, but not Babangida who imposed it onÂ Nigerians despite our clear rejection. When students-led protests against the IMF and its SAP broke out, Babangida violently suppressed it; Nigerians were shot dead and some detained. In the case of the anti SAP protests in Benin, when the students went to Government House to deliver their message through the Military Governor, Tunde Ogheha, he allegedly led the shooting of the people. The regime then gave the army and security forces a public directive to â€œshoot rioters at sightâ€.
Babangida proclaimed respect for human rights as the fundamental principle of his regime. In his maiden broadcast he proclaimed: â€œWe do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves…We recognise that a government, be it civilian or military, needs the consent of the people to govern if it is to meet its objectives. We do not intend to rule by force.â€
He then proceeded to systematically violate all the stated principles. He had emptied the detention centres when he seized power, he then proceeded to refill them with his own detainees. One of my friends, Femi Aborishade was so frequently detained that we lost count. PerhapsÂ the Nigerian he detained most was Gani Fawehinmi, the conscience of the people.
For a Babangida who claimed he was for freedom of speech, even symposia on campuses became an offence for which a Nigerian can be detained without trial. He detained many lecturers like Professors Toye Olorode, Idowu Awopetu and G.G. Darah. One of the most cerebral intellectuals in the country, the historian, Professor Obaro Ikime was detained and forced to resign because his sermon in the church was critical ofÂ the regime and coincided with an attempted coup.
Babangida declared that his SAP programme, to use an acronym of his boys, was TINA (There Is No Alternative). To therefore talk of an alternative was to commit treason. The Economist, Professor Sam Aluko who argued that there is no economic system without an alternative and that even life has an alternative which is death, was spared a spell in detention. But when some Nigerian patriots decided to hold an alternative to SAP conference, they were carted into detention. They included Fawehinmi, the convener, andÂ the veteran labour leaders, Michael Imoudu and Wahab Omorilewa Goodluck.
Babangida would not ordinarily implement decisions reached with the Academic Staff Unions Of Universities(ASUU), so he resorted to banning it after any dispute.
One of his major victims was the press. As part of his strategy of wooing the media, he had in a January 20, 1986Â address told journalists thus: â€œTo a certain extent the media has a quasi â€“magistrate role than any other professional body. You are purveyors of information, you are moulders of opinion as well as judges of the time.
I implore you to beÂ custodians of the food of society, the barometer of national unity and security, the protector of its climate and the defenders of its interestâ€. This was good music in the ears of the media. But within a few years there was no media worth its salt the Babangida regime had not shutdown one time or the other. On one crazy day in 1990, he closed Vanguard, Guardian and Champion.
Some media houses like The News were shut down permanently and their premises seized. In the case of Tell magazine, the Babagida regime sent the secret services and soldiers weekly to seize the printed copies as a way of economically crippling it. On one occasion, he forced the then leading news magazine African Concord to apologise to him for a true story on his economic policies which included a verbal 100 percent devaluation of the Naira. Most of the editors were then forced to resign.
Babangida holds the dubious record from colonial times of detaining the highest number of journalists at a given time,19! They included the then deputy editors of Punch, Chris Mammah and Vanguard Chris Okojie and the publisher of New Breed magazine, Chris Okolie.
Continues next week.