By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor
Some 12 years ago when the then military administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar decided that Olusegun Obasanjo had served enough in prison in the aftermath of his conviction for the 1995 phantom coup, two men played a critical role in ensuring his emergence as Nigeriaâ€™s elected president in 1999: General Ibrahim Babangida, and General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau. The duo were not quite new to the art of installing rulers.
The legend behind Babangidaâ€™s roles in installing past heads of state dates back to December31, 1983, when the army toppled Shehu Shagari and installed Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the nationâ€™s fifth head of state.
On August 27, 1985, Babangida himself toppled Buhari to become military President. Penultimate Saturday Babangida said speculations about his intention to return to Aso Rock as a civilian President were â€œcorrectâ€.
He said the electoral reform exercise was the only panacea for the emergence of credible leaders without questions about their character and ability to deliver on the dividends of democracy.
â€œAll of us are looking forward to it (electoral reform) because we want a legitimate election. We want an election everybody will accept. We want leaders that will emerge, that can say stop these things. We donâ€™t want people whom we will doubt whether they are actual leadersâ€, he said.
It was with that statement that Babangida entered the presidential race of next year.Â But some Nigerians did not immediately take Babangida serious when that declaration was made penultimate Saturday in Benin City.
Here was a man who was widely believed to contest the 2007 presidential election.
In fact, mobilisation for Babangida had reached fever pitch before he withdrew from the race.
The first was the insistence by Obasanjo that Babangida should not bother to contest that election because he, Obasanjo, would make sure Babangida did not get the ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.Â Babangida then wrote formally stating that he was no longer in the race.
More importantly, Babangida gave some two reasons why he would not be contesting that election.
Kazeem Afegbua, Babangidaâ€™s spokesperson told Sunday Vanguard that â€œwhen Babangida decided not to contest in 2006, he gave two reasons and these reasons were very fundamental.Â First he said it would be a moral burden for him to contest against his friend who is General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau who served as National Security Adviser, NSA and who has been a very long standing friend of his.Â So he said he could not contest against him.
â€œSecondly, he said Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, the brother to Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua is like a brother to him too and he could not see himself contesting against either of these two men.Â Therefore, the best thing for him to do in 2006 was to pull out of the contest.
â€œThis time around, the scenario is a very different one from what obtained in 2006.
We are already in the race, we have made it public.Â He has made his intentions known and we are going to market him to the Nigerian electorate and make sure that they see him for what he is.Â Babangida is a very sellable person and we intend to do just that.
Meanwhile, everything I have said is without prejudice to the fact that some people who go by the title activists or radical lawyers. They would say as much as they want to and they will try to say things for which they do not have evidence but that is not our concern.
Our interest and concern is the Nigerian electorate who are spread across 120,000 polling units of this country.Â They are the ones on whom we base our trustâ€.
Interestingly, here was a Babangida who just during his last birthday rationalized why he might not be contesting the Nigerian presidency again.
Babangida had said that by the time Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua would have finished his two terms as president it would be 2015 â€“ by which time he would be 74years old.
But even next year, Babangida would be 70years on August 19.Â But Babangidaâ€™s statement was made at a time when Yarâ€™Adua appeared hail and hearty.Â The calculations are quite different now.Â Yarâ€™Adua may not return as President and Commander-in-Chief and it does appear that Nigerians are already resigned to that fact. For Babangida to commence mobilization now for the 2011 race signposts and seals that resignation.
Having a head-start, Babangida is the only Nigerian politician today who has made it clear that he is contesting next yearâ€™s presidential election.Â There are also rumours speculating about Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and Mohammed Gusau, the incumbent NSA, contesting that same election.Â In the same vein, there is a remote possibility of an Atiku contesting that same election next year.Â But as of today, Babangida continues to bestride the polity with his evangelism of a prosperous nation in the making in the event that he mounts the presidency. Lately, Babangida has been making statements about the state of the Nigerian nation.
Ideas once thought alien to the conservative leadership or elite in the country suddenly became a buzzword for even Babangida. For instance, Babangida gained instant applause recently when he espoused the ideals of meritocracy and even went ahead to warn that unless and except the Nigerian nation toed such a path, development would continue to suffer massive discounts.Â Even Afegbua said this much in his interview with Sunday Vanguard:
â€œHaving left the field some17 years ago, and Babangida has reflected that if given the opportunity to serve this country again, democratically elected as president, those ideas he is pushing now when practiced would move Nigerians to the next level of development because he has seen it before and he knows what exactly to do.
â€œThose issues are:
â€œOne, the issue of fiscal federalism is one whose idea has come to stay.Â He is saying that there should be devolution of power and the people as members in the constituent components of this nation must have a say in how things are done.Â He also believes that it is time for people at the state level not to wait for Abuja before they can begin to perform.Â They can exploit their potentials and they can also exploit their opportunities without waiting for Abuja before they act.
â€œBut all of these, people are losing sight of because they feel Nigeria is one big entity that must be slaughtered from different areas.
â€œHe is also talking about state police to the extent that it would complement the federal police.Â There are certain cases that the federal police should not bother itself with.
When you make members of a community to be part of the policing of any area, they would do a far better job than when you just bring somebody from Borno State to come and be police boss in Shaki, that person would spend so much time trying to understand the area very well first.
â€œHeâ€™s also talking about the local governments which are not enjoying any autonomy because they are mere appendages of the state governments.Â He believes that these people are also chief executives in their own rights and because they also presented themselves for elections with their manifestoes.Â So the thing to do is to allow them deliver on the promises they made to the electorate in their respective local government areas.
â€œHe is also talking about resource control.Â He says let them control their resources but let them pay tax to the state or federal government depending on what the laws would stipulate as amended.
â€œHe also believes that it is high time the electoral reforms that weâ€™ve been talking about for so long take root.Â Â He also believes that even if the annulment of June 12 was not a singular act, why canâ€™t Nigerians borrow from the credibility which that election created for Nigerians?Â At least, we have not been able to say that any other election has been more credible than the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, so why canâ€™t we pick some of the ideals of that election and employ them for our development.Â He sees all these ideas as Germaine to the success of Nigeriaâ€. (See interview with Kazeem Afegbua)
But some views puncture all that Afegbua has said.
Mr. Ayo Opadokun, a chieftain of defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO and long time General Secretary of Afenifere, the pan Yoruba socio-economic and political organization, took offence to the ascription that he was a Babangida man and that he had actually worked for Babangida before.
Opadokun told Sunday Vanguard that in his own view, Babangida has nothing new to offer.Â In fact, Opadokun likened Babangidaâ€™s return to the return of Obasanjo in 1999, insisting that â€œthe argument that he is trying to make has been completely punctured and deflated by the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo and the way he ran Nigeria down for eight years as a civilian rulerâ€. (See interview with Ayo Opadokun).
But Sunday Vanguard has learnt that Babangida had been on the road long before his declaration in Benin penultimate Saturday.
In fact, as at the time of writing this report, Babangida is said to have hit the road again.Â Flying through the length and breath of Nigeria, Babangida has been and is still consulting with politicians and leaders of thought.Â Just last Wednesday, Babagida was said to have returned to Minna very late after one of such consultations in the Federal capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.
Babangida was said to have felt fairly satisfied with the level of reception his moves have received.Â Sunday Vanguard was informed that virtually all the governors in the opposition political parties are exploring the possibility of joining forces with IBB, as Babangida is fondly called.Â In the ruling PDP, Babangida continues to consult.Â Those rooting for Babangida believe that this time the quest is for real. What is, however, certain is that the race for the presidency next year is bound to be very, very interesting.