Between IBB and 2007

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Between IBB and 2007

 

By

 

Emeka Kalu


culled from VANGUARD Tuesday, December 02, 2003

General Babangida ruled for eight years, making him the second longest ruler in the nation's history.

NO issue has dominated the political scene of late as much as the rumoured candidature of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida in the 2007 presidential election.

As usual, General Ibrahim has shied away from publicly acknowledging his interest in the election. Instead, he has used every opportunity to admonish those canvassing for his candidature to bid their time. Knowing General Babangida pretty well, this admonition is nothing more than an endorsement of the activities of his supporters.

What I personally find intriguing, however, is the familiarity in the method of General Babangida in this emerging political contest.

As a former military ruler, Babangida's ascension to power in 1985 was hinged on the clamour of the Nigerian citizenry for a change of government. This is the way of the military. Lacking in morality to assume political leadership, the military readily alludes to public resentment of the prevailing order to find their way to power. That was the system of Gowon in the 1960s, Murtala Muhammed in the 1970s and Buhari and Babangida in the 1980s and Sani Abacha in the 1990s. The question to ask is: why is Babangida adopting the now worn-out style of some characters calling on him to contest election since he is eminently qualified for that office?

Verdict of history

The answer, I guess, lies in the moral burden that General Babangida bears. Having ruled Nigeria for eight years, he is well placed to reflect on his years in power and conclude on the verdict of history on his stewardship.

The activities of Babangida's canvassers have attracted public interest because Babangida is not just an ordinary Nigerian. At least, Abubakar Rimi, a veteran in the presidential race has indicated his interest to contest the 2007 election, without generating any significant public interest. There has also been a feeble attempt to test the political waters for the presidential ambition of the governors of Sokoto and Bauchi States without anyone taking significant note.

Babangida has attracted so much interest because he remains a factor in Nigerian politics. In 1993, when he was forced to vacate the presidential villa, he said he was ‘stepping aside.' His increasing interest in the presidency once again, has only confirmed that he meant every word in his ‘step aside' valedictory speech.

But what else does Babangida has to offer Nigeria? In our 43 years as an independent nation, General Babangida ruled for eight years, making him the second longest ruler in the nation's history, coming a close second to General Yakubu Gown who held on to power for nine years.

General Babangida, more than any other ruler in the nation's history, attempted fundamental changes in the Nigerian landscape. His numerous economic, social and political programmes were designed to fundamentally affect the structure and nature of the Nigerian state. His Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) for instance, was designed to fundamentally change the orientation and structure of the Nigerian economy. The political transition programme, another major plank of Babangida's social and economic reforms, was expected to generate a new leadership that could take Nigeria to the promise land.

Eight years of the implementation of the programmes only worsened rather than solve the multi-dimensional problems that Babangida inherited in 1985.

Violence on citizens

The economic programme unleashed the worst violence on the citizenry than ever imagined. By the time Babangida vacated office in 1993, the entire middle class in the Nigerian political economy had been wiped out, leaving only two extremes in the social structure, the extremely rich and the extremely poor.

The numerous economic measures successfully forced many industries to their early death. Unemployment soared beyond control as collapsed industries swelled the labour market. Fresh university graduates were trapped in the labour market. The situation was so bad that the then governor of Lagos State, Navy Captain Mike Akhigbe introduced a policy to employ university graduates as drivers of the Lagos State Transport Corporation!

A major contribution the Babangida years added to the Nigerian lexicon was the phenomenon of "brain drain." Nigerian youths and adults moved in drove to seek greener pastures outside the shores of the country. Within years, most of our institutions were groaning under the pangs of brain drain. I vividly recall that Bisi Ojediran, a leading journalist, did a brilliant expose on this phenomenon. His findings published in an essay aptly entitled "brain drain leaves teaching hospitals in a sorry state" and published in The Guardian of November 20, 1988 page 7 is worth recalling. His words: ‘In July 1988, the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council (NMDC) had withdrawn partial accreditation to the College of Medicine, University of Maiduguri; the College of Health Sciences of the University of Port Harcourt, Uthman Dan Fodio College of Medicine of the University of Sokoto over lack of necessary personnel and facilities in the training of medical doctors. In Port Harcourt for instance, staff strength had fallen from 52 in 1983 to 40 that is,30 short of the desired strength of 79. The only three consultants in the Department of Radiology have left. In Pathology, out of the required 20, there are only six. Surgery had five out of 10 required in anaesthesiology. By 1989, brain drain had caused the nation over 1,500 medical doctors and nurses.

The same crisis confronted the universities as lecturers moved in large numbers outside the country. At the Ahmadu Bello University, 120 lecturers left between 1987 and 1988, most of them in critical areas like Pharmacy, Mathematics, Medicine, Microbiology, Industrial Design, Biochemistry and Biological Sciences.

This is only one of the social crises that Babangida's Structural Adjustment Programme created. To be sure, SAP was not the problem but the inability of the Babangida selectively implemented the programme to sustain a patronage system. The inconsistencies resulted in the dislocations that brought the Nigerian economy to its knees and turned the entire country into one vast land of misery.

By 1993, there was hardly any difference between workers and the unemployed as wages became increasingly incapable of caring for the needs of the workers.

 

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