Behold Babangida’s “Newbreed”

  • It’s a throwback to a duplicitous era of which he was a master

Though hugely discredited, and his eight-year political transition programme remembered more for sowing the seeds of the nation’s present woes and systematically destroying its value system than for anything else, former military president Ibrahim Babangida rarely misses an opportunity to sound off as elder statesman dispensing political wisdom.

With help from assorted careerists in the academy, the public service and the armed forces, he turned Nigeria into a vast laboratory for harebrained political experiments with the goal of manufacturing a “newbreed” political class uncontaminated by a past he painted relentlessly as dark and unedifying.  After undergoing tutelage under his watch, this new class would take over the reins of power and lead Nigeria to enduring peace, prosperity, and democratic bliss.

The scheme, which has aptly been described as “one of the most sustained exercises in political chicanery ever visited upon a people,” gulped some N40 billion and left Nigeria much worse than on almost every indicator. It wobbled on for some eight years until it collapsed under the weight of its own duplicity.

It is a mark of Babandiga’s overweening conceit that, years after annulling Nigeria’s fairest and freest election for reasons that have little to do with honesty of purpose or nobility of character, he sought to enter the political process he had eviscerated with such brazen contempt for Nigerians and run for president. Withering public hostility forced him to retreat on the threshold.

Since then, Babangida has sought to re-invent himself as an elder statesman, on whose experience and wisdom the nation could draw to solve its pressing problems. Whether holding court at his reclusive Hilltop Mansion in Minna, Niger State, or speaking at public functions to which he gets an occasional invitation, he inveighs against members of his generation still active in partisan politics.

All of them had failed, he says. They had overstayed their time in power. They had nothing new to offer. It was time they stood aside and left the turf for the younger generations.

Behind every statement or act of Babangida’s, there is always a larger agenda, often hidden but sometimes manifest. Babangida’s latest call on members of his generation – code for army generals who have served as head of state — was aimed squarely at Muhammadu Buhari.

Other Nigerians have made the same call, citing Buhari’s health, age, job performance, and intellectual disposition. But coming from Babangida, it is gratuitous. It is notorious that he spent eight years in power virtually unchallenged and would have held on if civil society and some of his fellow officers whose names he had been taking in vain had not forced him into an ignominious retreat.

To seek a second term or not:  that choice belongs exclusively to Buhari. The Constitution grants him the right to seek a second term. We hope he will exercise it informed by the concerns that have been voiced across Nigeria about his overall fitness.

Even so, that choice alone does not guarantee him a second term. Buhari still has to win the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) ticket, and thereafter the presidential election. If he clears both hurdles, he would have won a second term. Those bent on supplanting him might not like that outcome, but if they truly believe in democracy, they should be prepared to abide with it.

A free and fair election begins with keeping the field open for every qualified aspirant and adhering to the rules of selection, including the “newbreed” of Babangida’s fancy.

If only he would put his fabulous riches to work to breed this dream species, or beam them down from fairyland.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) which Babangida recently endorsed in his usual slippery manner has at its vanguard some of the most durable characters in Nigerian politics – Chief Olu Falae, Professor Jerry Gana, and Professor Tunde Adeniran.

All of them had figured significantly in Babangida’s transition programme, or had been content to serve in any government, no matter its colouration.

All of them belong in his generation. Yet Babangida did not urge them to vacate the political scene for the younger generations as he had urged Buhari and others. So much for his earnestness and his capacity for pointing the way forward.

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