By Ochereome Nnanna
General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida are birds of a feather in Nigeria’s political history. They are like father and son to each other. Obasanjo is both a predecessor and successor to Babangida on the presidential seat. But he is senior to Babangida as a General of the Nigerian Army, while Babangida is his political mentor.
It was only a year ago that these former presidents of Nigeria openly traded insults at each other. Babangida opened the face-off when he scored Obasanjo low as a two-time president of Nigeria.
Obasanjo, whose ability to exchange insults with anyone willing to take him on even in the marketplace, called Babangida “a fool at seventy who should be pitied because he is living a life full of regrets”. When Obasanjo was in office as an elected president, he elevated insults to a high office by employing the services of Femi Fani-Kayode as a Senior Special Assistant. And for satisfying Obasanjo’s expectations, Fani-Kayode was appointed Minister of Aviation! Right now, Babangida has in his employ a certain Qassim Afegbua, whom he deploys to mouth off his feelings. Afegbua was the one mandated to answer Obasanjo back and he had this to say: “Only Nigerians can tell who the biggest fool is between (Babangida) and Obasanjo after a good assessment of their pedigrees”.
Babangida was to later on tender a public apology to Obasanjo over the repartee, reiterating the fact that Obasanjo was still his “boss”. There are many things you can say about Babangida’s gross inadequacies. Insulting people is certainly not one of them. That is Obasanjo’s trade mark. Even when Babangida intended to do away with the services of people during his eight-year reign, he still managed to maintain a deceptively polite, even smiling mien.
Those who had followed this episode must have been stunned when on Monday, July 30, 2012, the media were saturated with an alarm jointly raised by these septuagenarian generals over what they described as growing fear, insecurity and uncertainty among Nigerians, cautioning that Nigeria must not be allowed to break up. If you were surprised, I was not.
As I said, Babangida and Obasanjo are birds of a feather. If you are looking for three Nigerians who put this country where we are today, I will tell you their names. They are: General Yakubu Gowon, General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida.
These are the longest-serving leaders Nigeria has ever produced. In fact, at a point it became something of a contest. Gowon, the man who led the federal side to prevent the secession of Biafra, ruled the country for nine years and was toppled on July 29, 1975.
Obasanjo was deputy to General Murtala Mohammed, who succeeded Gowon. And when Murtala was assassinated on February 13, 1976, Obasanjo took over power, ran the government exactly as the North had intended it and faithfully handed over to a Northerner, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, just as the North wanted. Obasanjo became a darling of the North and a villain of his native West.
Meanwhile, Babangida shot his way to power on August 28, 1985. He ruled the country for exactly eight years and fled from power on August 27, 1993 after failing several self-succession bids. During his time, he reconstructed the political infrastructure of the country, invented a new mafia style of politics which popularised the politics of godfatherism. By the time the military under General Abdulsalami Abubakar was conducting a hurried transition to civil rule, Babangida persuaded the North to rein in their political ambition and pacify the West, whose son, Chief Moshood Abiola, was not only prevented from mounting the presidential throne after winning the June 12, 1993 presidential election but also killed in detention. The West seemed set to secede from Nigeria and the North, alarmed at the looming break-up of the country, panickly conceded the presidency to the West.
But they arrogated to themselves the choice of which Yoruba man should be allowed to be president. Babangida was the man who recommended Obasanjo (who was then in jail for plotting to overthrow the government of the late General Sani Abacha) to Abdulsalami. Once he was adopted, Atiku Abubakar, ever the political opportunist, went to Ota to inform Obasanjo that he would be the next president. Imagine the irony! Babangida, who had told Nigerians that he was keen to give the “new-breed” a chance to come to power and change the way the game of politics was played (after discrediting the “old-breed”) championed the unearthing of a political fossil, Obasanjo, from prison to the presidency!
And so, after spending another eight years in power, Obasanjo finally beat the nine-year record set by Yakubu Gowon by chalking in eleven and a half years. Babangida’s major motive to return to the Presidential Villa is probably to beat Obasanjo’s record; and the latter would have none of that!
By Ochereome Nnanna
—>> To be continued