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The fire next year


Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida

My sympathies go to Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Nigeria’s most determined president to date, who supposedly refuted a public statement released in his name last Saturday, despite mounting accolades from significant sections of the populace for the nationalistic fervour of that same public statement.

Ironically, there is only one noteworthy difference between the first release signed on his behalf by his long standing public relations officer, and the second, which we now know originated from his “friends,” but which was thought to have been signed by the former president. In the latter, there is no talk of Muhammadu Buhari resting his ambitions for a second term of office on the altar of patriotic sacrifice.

The amendment raised a fundamental question: Who’s putting pressure on IBB to rescind a harsh verdict on the Buhari score card, for a tepid analysis of the tense political climate in the land?

A plausible clue surfaced in the report of Mahmoud Abdullahi, the man who claimed authorship of the rebuttal: “When I saw Afegbua’s statement, I went to see IBB. He said he never authorised Afegbua to release such statement. He told me to write a rebuttal which I did, and he signed it. I was with General Babangida in the presence of Brigadier-General Halilu Akilu and Mohammed Babangida, when he denied the statement written and signed by Afegbua.”

Akilu, who was chief of military intelligence under Babangida, has remained a strong ally of the former president even in retirement. It is possible to add two and two from all this and reach a rational judgement on where the arrows are coming from. Nevertheless, beyond the uproar over the two versions of Babangida’s enlightened commentary on contemporary Nigeria, are the objective conditions that gave rise to the “unauthorised” public statement and its purported rebuttal thereof.

The fact remains that the 2019 election, as it draws nearer every day, radiates a rising heat of mind gripping tension. This is occasioned by what the authors of the second statement refer to, as “greater concerns for the corporate existence of Nigeria beyond 2019 general elections.”

One may point out that this state of mounting anxiety is much in sync with Nigerian political temperament. Quite normal, we might even say. Accordingly, we could refer to the tussle of 2015- which ended rather happily; naked threats notwithstanding, of “dogs and baboons” sweating blood in a battle-royal for electoral victory.

But there’s a twist. The second statement decries the actions of people who under guise of freedom of expression are “eroding democracy by antics of hate speeches” and exploiting “religion, tribal or self-imposed mentorship” to pitch “the political class and the people against one another.”

It seems therefore, that in the view of Halilu Akilu, Mohammed Babangida and Mahmoud Abdullahi, the original statement which they sought to redress- for and on behalf of the former president- contained these negative attributes. Hence, their vigorous effort to distance the man from that kind of messy, self-serving intervention in the politics of our beloved country.

Alas be the day, I think, when General Ibrahim Babangida is accused of ‘self-imposed mentorship.’

Going forward, Akilu and Company point to a disturbing aspect of the unfolding political climate. “The clamour for re-alignment of governance in the country,” is welcome, they contend. But on one condition: Only “through appropriate channels of law and order and the observance of the supremacy of the Constitution.”

This should be the right sentiments on every Nigerian lip, except for one sour fact: This Constitution is the subject of a very divisive argument that has pitted different sections of the country against each other. Indeed, to gloss over this continually swelling avalanche of a controversy is to call into question one’s credentials as a patriot.

Ibrahim Babangida, bless his astute mind, touched on this situation in that once rebutted, now reconfirmed, statement. “Like I did state late last year, devolution of power or restructuring is an idea whose time has come if we must be honest with ourselves…We need to critically address the issue and take informed positions based on the expectations of the people on how to make the union work better.”

The former president is asking us to be honest with ourselves in finding cogent solutions to a serious national challenge. How can anyone, but the rabid tribalists and religious fanatics among us, expect any less? Unless, we pay heed to such noble sentiments as his, 2019 could mark the beginning of the end for Project Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the trend of discourse has deviated from viable solutions for defending the corporate existence of Nigeria, to less consequential matters such as, who runs or does not run for the presidency in 2019. That should not be of any importance, so long as voters are allowed their unfettered choice in a free and fair election.

Concluding his previously “annulled”, and later re-affirmed, statement, Babangida said he was speaking as a “a patriot who desires to see new paradigms in our shared commitment to get this country running.”

That is the least we should expect from every Nigerian.

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