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The Babangida in all of Us

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More than 27 years ago (Sunday, August 22, 1993) when this article was first published, it satirised deep national moral and political paralysis with their reflection on every facets of life in Nigeria. It’s being reproduced, first, to launch a new column, The Guardian CLASSICS which will henceforth appear on a regular basis on Sunday, and also to celebrate the transition, last week, of the enigmatic journalist.

I do not know whether Gen. Ibrahim Babangida will go on August 27, 1993 or on October 1, 1994 or December 1994 or on August 27, 1997. I do not even know whether he will ever go.

Given the reality of our contemporary mores, one could even ask, why should Babangida go? One thing I know is that there are clearly demonstrated lessons for all of us to learn in the current crisis. If we are ever to get out of our developmental crises.

At one level, Babangida is a metaphor or a reflection of our deep national moral and political paralysis. He is a mirror against, which we are permitted to see ourselves as to how ugly or how beautiful we all are. For the past many weeks, l have been painfully amused reading the impassioned articles and heated editorials written against Babangida.

The Nigerian political chicken has finally come home to roost. This is the chicken, which we have reared and nurtured since 1960. It has finally achieved full maturity in 1993.

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The good book says — “Whatsoever ye soweth the same shall ye reap.” You cannot plant corn and harvest soya beans. If you water it and fertilise it, you will reap basketsful of corn in due season. That, to my mind, is what is happening to all of us in Nigeria today. It is all very easy for us to point accusing fingers at Babangida as our current “bad guy” without realising that if you point an accusing fingers at your opponent, three others are pointing at you. There is a Babangida in each one of us.

Aren’t we all hypocrites for condemning Babangida for not wishing to relinquish power? Do we all realise what we have all done to put him in power, to bring about the harvest that is Babangida?
The banker that buys the dollar from the Central Bank at N25 pockets a brokerage of N5 and sells at N30 — N32 hypocritically blames Babangida for “not playing straight.”

The Customs officer who accepts a bribe and let’s in contraband goods, the JAMB officer that sells question papers, the university administrator that sells university admissions, the university don that insists on sexually violating his female students before passing them, the top company executive that inflates invoices to credit his European accounts, the storekeeper that signs the contractor’s delivery note without receiving goods, the finance company executive that rents out money usuriously at 20 per cent per month, the market mammy that sells Thailand parboiled rice knowing full well it is a banned item, the Abuja contractor, the “Born-Again” pastor that opens a “deliverance ministry” in order to make money, the NEPA man that makes an illegal connection, the NITEL operator that connects an international call, fools the computer and pockets the money, the importer that imports a dutiable item and conspires with the Customs officer to declare it a duty-free item, the produce exporter that exports Grade 11 cocoa beans against a Grade 1 Letter of Credit, the corporate director that has a management account different from his taxation account, together with the conniving firm of auditing accountants, the motor spare parts dealer that sells “Taiwan” for the original, or the chemist that does the same, the policeman that knows all the armed robbery kingpins or the drug barons in his area but looks the other way, the Danfo bus operator that breaks his journey into four sections to profiteer from his passengers’ misery, the “respectably” married woman who sells her body for cash or for professional advancement, right up to the mallam that sells you fake dollar on Martins Street in Lagos or the newspaper vendor that buys The Guardian for N4 or N5 and sells at N10 — N15, all hypocritically wring their hands, shake their heads, to say how terrible General Babangida is for not respecting June 12.

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We are all guilty. We are all hypocrites. This is, of course, not to talk of the journalist that takes money to publish, the politician who bribes to get the “mandate” for state, National Assembly or the Governor’s mansion. All condemn Gen. Babangida not realising that each is at his / her own level as Babangida. The people that say in the morning: “On June 12 we stand” and in the evening say “On Aso Rock we stand.” All of us are guilty. Babangida is the phenomenon that happens to a generation or a country that cannot tell the truth, that discounts honesty and integrity.

Babangida is what God visits on a dishonest generation. Is he the scourge of God? How many of us have ever sat down to ask ourselves: Would a Babangida have survived in Britain, France, Germany, Canada or the USA? Can you imagine somebody getting on radio in Britain to say, “I Major XYZ…have taken over the British government?” Why is this so?

Now, what does IBB do that we do not like? Put delicately, no veracity analyst or insurance agent will insure any statement made by Babangida. The average Nigerian tells lies. IBB is unpredictable. The average Nigerian is not too reliable. IBB allegedly “settles” to get his way. The average Nigerian will seek to bribe his way out of any sticky situation.

IBB can be ruthless. The average Nigerian believes that the end justifies the means. Compared to what is going on in Nigeria today, what did Richard Nixon do? Would anybody have questioned a local council chairman in Nigeria for what Nixon did? Isn’t it normal here to take advantage of your opponent by all means fair or foul. 

Now, when we cast our bread upon the waters and it comes back to us in an unpleasant manner we are unable to accept it. Why? Have we asked ourselves: Would Gen. Babangida have survived this far if, as in case of Nixon, all members of the NDSC are not with him; if all his field commanders are not with him; all the members of the Transitional Council are not with him; all state governors, all Supreme Court Justices; all the Federal directors-general are not with him; all the Civil Service leadership are against him; all the private sector leadership; the trade union leadership, the leadership of the two parties and media are not with him? Isn’t ours a case of people getting the kind of leadership we deserve?

Corruption is the highest common factor in the Nigerian today. How many Generals (serving and retired), ministers, governor’s, commissioners, federal and state directors-general as well as heads of federal and state parastatals and extra-ministerial departments can put their hands on Holy Bible or Qu’ran and say they are honestly living within their salaried incomes and have never had anything to do with corruption? If the foundation is weak how can the structure stand? Routinely one reads of reports — of clerks of the Central Bank, Ministries of Works, Customs having fat bank accounts.

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You read about them when they are caught. You don’t read about them when they are punished. Nigeria matches on. By the same token, how many presidential aspirants (banned, unbanned, cleared, uncleared), how many NEC Commissioners can swear? If the body is rotten, why do we expect the head to be different? How can you tell your children now, against the evidence of their own eyes, that honesty is the best policy in Nigeria? It is getting close to impossible in Nigeria to succeed materially, without having anything to do with corruption. Like the mythical Atlas that supported the world on his shoulders, Nigeria has been supported for too long by the god of corruption. The god of corruption has now presented his invoice for “settlement” in the currency of our own souls.

Unless we change our ways, as the Americans say—”we ain’t seen nothing yet.” Instead of the leadership thinking of how to make the country great, what we do is wallow in conspicuous consumption, riding “one-in-town” cars — BMW 7 Series, 5 Series, Mercedes Benz S-Series, V-Boot, X-Boot, Lexus, Pathfinder, Acura, Legend. We even take pride in riding Daewoos and Hyundai, not remembering that South Korea from where these cars come was more backward than Nigeria in 1962 when we both launched our respective first development plans.
 
But Babangida didn’t just happen to us. We invited him. We seduced him. We called for him. When we all accepted and the highest court in the land held that two-thirds of 19 was 12, we were preparing for Babangida. When Awo warned in 1982 that our ship of state was approaching the rapids and Akinloye, Edozien, Chuba Okadigbo, Uba Ahmed, among others hurled abuses at him as “a prophet of doom,” we were all preparing for Babangida.
 
Indeed, all those who by various acts of commission or omission frustrated Awo and later came back at his transition to shed crocodile tears as, “the best President Nigeria never had” were preparing for Babangida.
 
At times, I wonder what the Nigerian political situation would have been if Awo had been alive. That was one tree, to quote Woke Soyinka, that made a forest. That is the challenge to the whole country and to all but vanquished political class. Babangida knows how to play on the Nigerian elites’ greed and lust for office. He knows he can possibly count on the fingers of his hands the numbers of resolutely principled Nigerians. He knows them and those he cannot successfully dribble, he avoids — like the plague. Don’t we as a political class deserve all the scorn and contempt he pours on us?

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As soon as Gen. Babangida announces any new government scheme, our elites fall on top of themselves looking for positions as ministers, secretaries, board chairmen, etc. Considering the weakness of our political class Gen. Babangida could very well have become our first life President — if, and a big IF, he had been able to get on top of the economy. So, carry on Maradona. We are only on half-time break. IBB is the modern day military-politico prodigy; a live theatre for which no gate fees are charged, a modern day American-wonder. It would have been so funny if it wasn’t so tragic. 
 
Most important countries of the world, at one time or the other get a leader who has a mono-maniacal thirst for power. Such a leader either propels his country with a “great leap forward” or becomes a sad watershed in the country’s history. Egypt had Nasser. China had Mao Tse-Tung. Taiwan had Chiang Kai Sheik. Korea had Park Chung Lee. Britain had Cromwell and Churchill. Germany had Hitler. The Soviet Union had Stalin. Vietnam had Ho Chi Minh and General Giap. Ghana had Nkrumah and Rawlings. Iraq had Saddam Hussein. Libya had Ghaddafi. Iran had Khomeini. Pakistan had Zia Ui Haq. They are leaders whose countries would never be the same for their being born. Nigeria will never be the same after IBB.

But what have the Babangida years represented for us? They have been the worst of our life. Taken together with the preceding two years, they represent Nigeria’s lost decade.

There has been an absolute collapse in living standards. The educational system has collapsed. The medical system is in the morgue. There is widespread unemployment. There is fear everywhere, and general insecurity of life and property. Poverty is the only thing available in Nigeria today. Out there in our urban centres and country side, there are hundreds of thousands of able men and women who desperately wish to apply their knowledge, their training, toward building the Nigeria of our dreams. They are all frustrated. They will never be able to achieve personal or professional self-actualisation. That is the message of our contemporary times. Chief Sam Mbakwe once cried that we were better off under the British while Wole Soyinka lamented that the current generation is a wasted generation. The danger confronting us now is, can we save our children’s future? But how can we when all our universities are dead and we decorate semi-literates with university academic certificates?

The naira in our pockets has been rendered useless while consumer prices have risen at least 15 times in the past eight years, while average household income had not risen correspondingly.

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I have watched painfully as eminent Nigerians are disgraced all over the world and Nigeria’s passport has all but become a badge of dishonour. I have watched a thousands of young Nigerian boys and girls have spread all over the world desperately trying to do anything to forsake their fatherland, seeking British, German, American, Greek, Spanish, Polish, Italian, Hungarian, Swedish nationalities. In fact, any other nationality will do. Sometimes I find myself asking “Oh God! What have we done to deserve all these?”

Can Nigeria survive the current era? I think she will. Not because we deserve to, but simply just because of God’s love and His benevolence. As He promised in the case of old Sodom and Gomorrah, of which Nigeria is possibly a reincarnation, God will save Nigeria because in spite of our inquiries, I think there should be up to at least one honest man or woman per state in Nigeria. Or at least one honest man or woman per state in Nigeria. Or at least one honest man throughout Nigeria — Cardinal Ekandem? Archbishop Adetiloye? Sam Aluko? Tai Solarin? Or to be on the safe side, the Nigerian baby to be born at LUTH tomorrow morning.

But as a grain of maize needs to degenerate in the soil before germinating, the current “system” has to be destroyed before a new Nigeria can flower. So, all is not lost. As Awo said: “I believe that everything that happens to a man in life happens to him for his own benefit.” So also with nations.

Everything that happens to a nation happens to it for its own benefit. If only we have the presence of mind to recognise the benefit from our present travails, it should afford us an opportunity to make a new beginning. Our almost wasted 33 years amount to nothing in the life of a nation. Japan, Korea, Singapore took less than 20 years to turn around. This developmental experiment is being currently replicated in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Thailand. But if we are going to realise the promise we had at independence, we all have to be “born- again” politically. We all have to do away with our hypocrisy. Or put simply, we all need to jettison the Babangida in all of us. If we don’t, if and when this Babangida goes, another Babangida will come up in future.

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In this article:
Ibrahim Babangida
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