Babangida And The Burden Of History

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Babangida And The Burden Of History
 

By

 

Sunny Awhefeada

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, October 3, 2006

 

I can not now remember when my love for history was born. But I remember vividly how I was an avid reader of Social Studies and History books even as a primary school pupil. As I grew up, climbing the ladder of formal education my love for History blossomed. And now as an adult, old enough to interrogate life and its manifold oddities History holds a great fascination for me. As a student and teacher of literature I have come to appreciate history not as a mere assemblage of past events but as a humanising enterprise.

 

My bond with History became sacrosanct after reading Chinua Achebe's political novel Anthills of the Savannah where the famed novelist proclaims "recalling is greatest" and goes on to reify History thus: "It is the story ... that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns us and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; ..." I think that Achebe's thesis on History holds a universal veracity. History is the torch that illuminates humanity's path in its everforward sojourn. This sounds paradoxical but it is an affirmation that our past begets our future.

 

Nigeria is once more at a critical crossroads and only a critical sense of her history, our chequered and beleaguered past can show us the right way we should go. The nation is less than 10 months away from the general elections that will mark the nation's first transition from one democratic government to another, but there are ominous signs in the air. There is tension, socio-economic turmoil, hostage taking in the Niger Delta, politically motivated assassinations and above all what can be considered as the Babangida problem. Nigeria's electoral history has always been unenviable. The consequences of the elections of 1964, 1983 and 1993 led Nigeria into tragic instances of anomie. The other elections that were not as bad gave rise to so much hullabaloo as a result of the deviousness that characterised them.

 

The foregoing shortcomings, frightening as they are, are not insurmountable. They are temporary setbacks which political education would redress in the course of time. But the Babangida problem which is defined by his unbridled desire to rule Nigeria again is what appears to be the greatest threat to Nigeria's future. Babangida at the moment looms threateningly over whatever promise the future holds for Nigeria. In a tone that smacks of unmitigated arrogance Babangida told Nigerians recently: "I would define the challenge of our immediate next national leadership as this: to make whole again. To that I am committed". With those words, Babangida announced his desire to return to Aso Rock. There has never been a greater insult to Nigerians than this opprobrious declaration by Babangida to run for the nation's presidency. Babangida it was who squandered Nigeria's goodwill for eight years as an absolute dictator. Of all those who ruled and ruined Nigeria, he it was who betrayed Nigerians most.

 

Babangida came to power via a military coup 21 years ago, precisely on August 27, 1985. He promised Nigerians the moon in his maiden broadcast. There was nothing he did not promise. The people took his words as a soldier's and a gentleman's. But at the end of Babangida's eight years of political brigandage, the people's lot was the killing cry. Babangida met a Nigeria that was learning to walk, but by the time he fled Aso Rock he had incapacitated and crippled the nation. I was a secondary school boy when Babangida stole power and I remember that before his take-over we bought BIC biro for 10 kobo, exercise books for 20 kobo, Geisha and Sardines (which boarding students relished with garri soaked in water) for 90 kobo, while the transport fare from Ughelli to Ibadan was a mere 11 naira! When Babaginda left the saddle in 1993 he took all of the above from the reach of the masses. Babaginda simply stole our tomorrow for his today!

 

Babangida has so far remained the most brutal ruler Nigeria has had. Some would award this prize to Sani Abacha, Babangida's successor. But the point should be made that Abacha was a product of Babangida. Babangida's rise to power and subsequent notoriety was not fortuitous. He is reputed to have had a hand in all the coups that balkanised Nigeria up to 1985. In the course of his soldiering he covertly studied and imbibed the tenets of political infamy for which Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, CAR's Jean Bedel Bokassa, Uganda's Idi Amin Dada and other buccaneering rulers were known.

A ruthless dictator who at the peak of his giddiness told Nigerians that he was an expert in the "management and execution of violence', Babangida cut the image of a wastrel in power. He fiddled while Nigeria burnt. He once admitted that he had no solution to Nigeria's economic problems! Yet he squandered over N40 billion on the ECOMOG misadventure in Liberia and an estimated N45 billion on his endless transition programmes. He has also not been able to account for the $12 billion which the nation earned from the oil windfall during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The climax of Babangida's rampage was his criminal annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, considered to be Nigeria's freest and fairest.

 

Babangida's buffeting of Nigeria cannot be recalled at one go! His affliction of Nigerians was more than what the most ingenious of minds could have pictured. Babangida devalued the naira, he devalued Nigerians, he devalued education and promoted deceit and corruption as hallmarks of statecraft. He also destroyed the Nigerian Army and one of his army chiefs, General Salihu Ibrahim described the army under Babangida as "an army of anything goes".

 

Babangida also hunted and hounded the civil society. His record of human rights abuse was unparalleled. He sank his fangs into the jugular of the press, but it is a tribute to the courage and resilience of the Nigerian press that it did not cringe or bow to the bestiality that marked that era. When in the year 2000 Babangida was summoned to the Oputa Panel to defend his atrocious stewardship, he brazenly disregarded the summons and even went to court in order to scuttle the panel's work. The panel recommended that never again should Babangida come near the portals of political power.

 

Babangida's ascendancy was made possible by sneaky, conniving and tutti-frutti eating intellectuals and a clique in the political class. Among these are University professors and expired politicians who are ever-ready to serve anyone in power. This group as much as Babangida should be held responsible for the Babangida debacle. These job seekers are at work again. They are urging Babangida to go on and contest.

 

The group is making efforts to rewrite our history in order to reposition Babangida and sell him to the electorate. They are also throwing money at people so that they can adore Babangida. They are engaging in a hokum. Nigerians are wiser now. Nigeria is almost 50 and it can now look back and interrogate history and know what was done and undone that has brought us to this dismal point. Again, as Achebe once asked: "Does it ever worry us that history which neither personal wealth nor power can pre-empt will pass terrible judgment on us, pronounce anathema on our names when we have accomplished our betrayal?" This aptly adumbrates the Babangida conundrum as neither his wealth nor power nor influence nor connections can obliterate our collective memory, our history. In this lies the burden of history for Babangida. History is now his albatross. What a burden!

 

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Awhefeada is with Delta State University, Abraka, Delta State

 

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