By Joshua Salem
TODAY’S formal declaration for the presidency by General Ibrahim Babangida is a bold attempt by one man to reconnect history.
Seventeen years ago when he left office as a Military President he, in his words, claimed to have “stepped aside.” The phrase was then and today expressive of the political computation and capacity of one of Nigeria’s most reputed military politicians.
Babangida is perhaps the only one of the lot to have sought to rule Nigeria who succeeded in achieving the feat. Most of the others who have governed Nigeria starting from Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in 1960 to the incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan came into office by accident of history.
Today, Babangida makes his formal move towards stepping back to the office of the presidency of Africa’s biggest democracy. How he goes in the next few weeks could make or mar the political legend that has been built around him especially by his passionate supporters spread across the country.
Babangida, it is remembered, stepped aside in 1993 on the uproar against his annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. The annulment of what is generally regarded as the country’s freest and fairest election may be regarded as the General’s greatest undoing. That annulment was the undoing of the several institutional efforts that his military regime had built in the process of erecting an egalitarian society.
Enthronement of Abiola’s kinsman
The annulment of the June 12 election won by Chief Moshood Abiola and the enthronement of the Sanni Abacha regime, is perhaps a fire in General Babangida’s conscience that he has sought to quench.
His amends included his pioneering role in mobilizing support for General Olusegun Obasanjo’s successful presidential run in 1999. He perhaps thought that the enthronement of Abiola’s kinsman in the person of Obasanjo could soothe the angst of the Southwest political class. He was indeed mistaken as Obasanjo, his choice candidate, was scorned in the 1999 election by his kindred once his linkage with Babangida was known.
He has also made penance with his intellectual exposition of true federalism and the abolition of federal character principle as redemptive plots towards the erection of a better society. He could, otherwise, be declared a nationalist or a statesman if only the stigma of the June 12 debacle was erased.
Babangida’s effort to return to power is no doubt aimed at wiping the stigma that has soiled his position in history. It is, however, remarkable that his effort in stepping back to power has seen a reversal of some of the very principles he had lately pitched his credibility. Gen. Babangida who had in the past pilloried the federal character principle has lately been the champion of zoning of the presidency!
Gen. Babangida who as a military leader nurtured programmes to boost youth empowerment including the establishment of the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, was pilloried for his alleged assertion that the youths were not ready for leadership.
Babangida would no doubt be embarrassed by such gaffes. He had in the past sought to protect himself from such embarrassments even stepping back from the 2007 presidential contest at the first resistance. 2011 is undoubtedly Gen. Babangida’s last opportunity for self redemption. It was, until lately, also his brightest time to step back to power.
Regrettably, the vicious struggle for political power has taken its tool on the former President. His reported disposition to political debate and ideas creation have been overshadowed by the primordial debate over zoning.
Babangida’s contribution to the politics of the day at today’s event should be to unveil his ideas of how Nigeria could become a better nation. The politics and debate of ideas would be a welcome relief from the dangerous politics of destruction that the country is now approaching.
Even if he unveils the best ideas today, the fumes of the democracy hopes his military regime annulled seventeen years ago may yet be the comeuppance that may yet becloud his aspiration.