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Bamaiyi’s heroes and villains


Ex-General Ishaya Bamaiyi

When the odd-defying English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking quipped that “ we spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly history of stupidity,” he did not do justice to the relevance of history to a people’s development. But if he had people like a former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi in mind when he said that, hardly can we find his postulation impeachable. For in most cases, history panders to the dictates of power. Such history unabashedly transforms the foibles of its originators into virtues.

This accounts for the centuries of the denigration of the black population as a benighted segment of the human race, without history, culture and philosophy, and thus their appropriation as hewers of wood and drawers of water for their white counterparts. But we need not go far to understand the manipulation of history to suit the purpose of its writer. We find enough evidence in the history of the Nigerian civil war as different participants and observers in the crisis tweak the history of that period to suit themselves .

This trajectory of the manipulation of history has been replicated in the case of the June 12, 1993 election crisis that has defined the nation’s subsequent democratic experience. What we have witnessed is a preoccupation with a Manichean bifurcation of participants in the crisis into heroes and villains. But the tragedy is that there is hardly an agreement on whose perspective is right since the real masterminds of the crisis have refused to apologise and tell the nation the truth. The further danger is that the generation who did not witness the crisis would be left with a welter of perspectives from which they may not be able to sift out the truth.


Bamaiyi has joined those who would make a truthful account of the June 12 crisis difficult for the generation who did not witness it. For through his account of the crisis in his Vindication of a General, Bamaiyi has conflated the virtuous and the villainous in a manner that would imperil the true apprehension of the crisis by the generation who did not witness it.

We need not read the book to arrive at the conclusion that in it we are confronted with the spectre we have been warned of by Hawking. The newspaper reports based on the book are sufficient signposts. Bamaiyi strives to engage in a revisionism that panders to an uncritical laudation of some people and unwarranted excoriation of others. He reopened old wounds not with the intention to heal them, but to make the pain more searing. We see this in his treatment of the June 12 crisis and the struggle for its validation. Bamaiyi considers Yoruba leaders under the auspices of NADECO as a bunch of traitors who precipitated the perdition of M.K.O. Abiola and the actualisation of his presidential mandate. To Bamaiyi, Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo among others are villains. But Bamaiyi singled out Abacha, Buhari and himself as heroes. For those who were direct participants or close observers of the crisis, it is simply because the book is built on this false edifice that it suffers a monumental collapse.

Bamaiyi constructs Buhari as an innocent and peace-loving man who was unjustly removed from office but who did not want to fight to retrieve his power just to avoid a needless bloodbath. He glosses over the fact that while the coup could be a turf war among military officers, it could equally be a response to the citizens’ disenchantment with Buhari’s policies that had impoverished them. He portrays Abacha as a good man who had the interest of the nation at heart.

Here, we need not defend these people whom Bamaiyi constructs as villains in the democratic space and the military that was riven by coups and counter-coups. Some of those disparaged are still alive and they are eminently qualified to present to the public their versions of the historical developments the country and her citizens are yet to recover from their baleful consequences. Thankfully, some Yoruba leaders and Bamaiyi’s former military colleagues have begun to counter some of the positions of Bamaiyi. Yet we must take cognisance of the disturbing linkage between Bamaiyi and Buhari.

Before Buhari became president, Buhari said many things which portrayed him as lacking a pan-Nigerian vision. Aside from his apocalyptic warning of blood and sorrow accompanying his political defeat again, Buhari equally gained notoriety for declaring that the late Abacha as head of state never looted the treasury. While the rest of the citizens saw Abacha as a blight on the nation’s democratic experience, Buhari wanted us to rue our doing so much injustice to his memory when we consider him as a blood-thirsty tyrant and military dictator.

Yet it is the same Buhari as president who strives to present himself to the citizens as loathing corruption. Buhari might have taken this position, no matter how outrageously untenable it is, because he served as the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund in the Abacha government . Buhari was quite aware that any admission of Abacha’s corruption would have meant his culpability in the government of monumental sleazes.


So, when Bamaiyi said during the launch of his book that the Abacha loot was a media creation, he was only re-echoing the position of Buhari. But like Buhari, Bamaiyi is oblivious of the facts that underscore the culpability of Abacha in the miasma of corruption of his regime. The Buhari government is currently trying to recover $550 million Abacha loot from the Swiss government. So far, $380 million has been recovered from Jersey, $723 million from Switzerland, $380 million from Luxembourg, $750 million as voluntary surrender, $150 million from the United Kingdom, $400 million from Liechtenstein and £22.5 million from the Island of Jersey.

Bamaiyi bends history in favour of Buhari because the latter has power now and he needs him to survive. But since Buhari is now the one fighting for the recovery of the Abacha loot, he owes the citizens an apology for once lying to them about the sainthood of Abacha. Such an apology remains part of measures to rescue his anti-corruption from mockery. But since Buhari may still insist on the innocence of Abacha while recovering his loot, he might as well affirm his goodness by canonising him.

What has given Bamaiyi the impudence to make outrageous claims in his book is the fact that we live in a society where there is no punishment for crime. If those who have committed different kinds of crime against the state have got their searing comeuppance, they would not be in a position to engage in revisionism that rankles the discerning among us. This is why the allegation by Bamaiyi that Abiola did not die through a natural cause requires a thorough investigation. If an investigation and justice had been done on the case of Abiola, Bamaiyi and his co-travellers would not have had the opportunity for self-vindication. Another challenge is for the true accounts of the nation’s developments to be documented for subsequent generations. But in a nation where the study of history is relegated and the culture of reading has suffered an almost irrevocable recession occasioned by the diminution of the people’s economic power, villains would keep representing themselves as heroes in heavily warped accounts of the nation’s critical epochs.


In this article:
Ishaya Bamaiyi
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