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Just why did the old generals meet?

By Ochereome Nnanna

ON Tuesday, May 2, 2017, curious news came that three former military rulers of Nigeria – Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami  Abubakar – were meeting in Babangida’s Hilltop palace, Minna.

Usually, for reasons best known to him, Obasanjo always makes a great fetish of shying away from being seen with Babangida. In the past (even while Babangida was a military emperor) Obasanjo frequently gave him a dose of his acid tongue. But in return, Babangida maintained an indulgent air of superior maturity by never giving it back in kind out of respect for the fact that Obasanjo was his superior in the Army.

As if to confirm that the meeting did take place, we saw photos of the trio: Abdulsalami in sky-blue babanriga, Babangida in a chocolate-coloured babanriga and Obasanjo in a simple white kaftan. The camera caught Obasanjo talking. Babangida, who perched on prosthetic support, listened with a wide smile (how different he has become these days, shellacked by illness and old age!) while Abdulsalami kept an uninterested stony expression, his mind seemingly far away.

After meeting behind closed doors for a couple of hours, nothing was said of the topic of their discussion. In the absence of that, speculations (as usual) took over. Incidentally, this came when President Muhammadu Buhari’s protracted absence from the public eye and his duty post resurrected rumours about his frail health. There was this version in the social media which alleged that the generals met to consider options in case Buhari’s indisposition renders him untenable to continue as President.

According to this macabre speculation, the generals were meeting to decide which Northerner should be brought in as Vice President if Buhari makes good a supposed intention to resign by May 29th, 2017 to tend to his health, with a proviso that VP Osinbajo would complete their tenure and hand over to a Northerner. This unfounded rumour also added that while Babangida and Abdulsalami favoured Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as Osinbajo’s VP because he is young, intelligent and popular across the divides, Obasanjo preferred one of his cronies and failed picks for 2015, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso.

It may well be that nothing of the sort was discussed. They might have merely gathered to catch up with old times and pray for the quick recovery of the President. I think this is what we should really do, sentiments apart.

Buhari has wronged many Nigerians by sharing our top public offices among his kinsmen and women and defying the constitutional Federal Character principle. He looked away while herdsmen-turned armed bandits killed thousands of Nigerians and drove them from their villages and farmlands. He authorised or condoned the massacre of unarmed pro-Biafra and Shiite Muslim protesters.

Buhari ignored court orders and illegally kept some of his political enemies behind bars. But in his current state of helplessness, these should take the back seat in our minds while we pray for his total recovery. You never can tell, he might come back a changed man. The anger and bitterness might have been doused and he might begin to see the whole country as his family of which he is the head, and no longer in terms of “97 per cent versus 5 per cent”.

The majority of the Nigerian people gave Buhari their mandate to run the country for four years. That mandate is sacred; it no longer matters who you voted for in 2015. Just how sacred is it? Let me illustrate with the living example of our “Father Country”, the United Kingdom. In June 2016, the people of Britain voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. The leader of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned for Britain to stay in Europe, resigned and packed out of 10 Downing Street.

Theresa May was elected as the leader of the ruling Conservatives and succeeded Cameron as Prime Minister. She, too, had campaigned for Britain to stay in Europe. But, because of the sacredness of the choice made by the British people, she moved with missionary zeal to get Britain out of Europe as quickly as possible. In fact, she has called a snap election, hoping to win and thus collect a reinforced mandate of the people to carry Brexit to its logical conclusion.

It is a moral onus on all Nigerians to work and pray for Buhari to complete his four years and go back to Daura unless Providence decides otherwise. Let no man play god.

The three generals who met in Minna are fond of playing god. After the civil war, this trio after running the affairs of the country believes Nigeria is a piece of its estate. They are reportedly very wealthy and have their hands in so many pies. Obasanjo ruled as a military Head of State and produced the Second Republic. Babangida relayed the foundation of Nigerian politics where power and money became the primary quest of being in politics. Abdulsalami ran the shortest transition programme and produced the current Republic which has endured for seventeen years. He had brought out Obasanjo from jail and, in collaboration with Babangida and other Northern leaders, sponsored him for election as civilian president.

Obasanjo made himself a rampant figure in our political firmament, manipulating two former presidents (Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan) into power for his own interests. When the plans failed, he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP,  which Abdulsalami had snatched from its founders and given to him and drifted to the new “sheriff in town”, Buhari.

When a period of uncertainty like this comes (as it did before the 2015 general election when Abdulsalami became a peacemaker between the main presidential candidates), these men became super agitated because of the danger that Nigeria, their gravy train, could be faced with. They will always want to steer the polity their own way until their era becomes a thing of the past.

With them around no real change is possible.



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