Third-Term: What Can IBB Do?


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Third-Term: What Can IBB Do?




Tunde Rahman




culled from THISDAY, April 2, 2006



Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, must be passing through difficult moments in his hilltop residence in Minna, the Niger State capital. Spurred by the need to burnish his image rubbished over the annulment of the June 1993 election which culminated in his forced exit from power and urged into the presidential race by his hordes of followers, the gap-toothed general seems increasingly unsure of his political future; unsure of what to do. His precarious political situation was like this in the build-up to the 2003 election. Many had thought the former military leader was warming up to contest the 2003 election. His posters adorned the length and breadth of the country and the talk of a Babangida candidature on the platform of any of the 30 political parties that dotted the landscape at that time caused a stir across the land.
But it was only the unwary particularly among his  followers that took IBB serious particularly in the event of President Obasanjo seeking re-election. So the moment Obasanjo indicated he was seeking re-election, Babangida quickly retreated into his shell leaving those who thought he would join the fray in disarray. At that time those who should know said Babangida as a tactician was actually targeting 2007 knowing fully well that Obasanjo would want to seek re-election. 

Babangida was said to have confided in some of his associates that even in 2007, he might not run, but would spend money to elect a government or candidates at all levels whose political direction approximates his own ideas of democracy. But unlike in 2003, the man popularly called IBB seems to be getting increasingly restive. He is said to have told some of his confidants of the need for him to step back to power to rewrite his legacy and that age is not on his side. Already, Babangida is said to have commissioned a book on his years in office and a chapter is devoted to the issue of 2007.  In his recent interview with some newspapers published two weeks ago, Babangida said once the whistle was blown, he would not let the people down. Asked whether he would be contesting the 2007 poll, the former military ruler said, “Once the whistle is blown, I will be depending on what the mood of the people is. I would not let them down.” He added that he would contest if he got the nomination of his party.

On the third term issue, he said, “It is wrong to conclude it is a reality. I read your paper of yesterday (Tuesday) where you came up with 40 for, 40 against, 15 undecided or thereabout. As far as Iím concerned, if those who fight against the tenure elongation; are 40 in the Senate, then the game is lost. You need two-thirds of 109 and if 40 said no, then comes no. I’m very well informed by what you are dishing out to us and I think it is very factual. Even if we unnecessarily get scared over some of these, okay let’s assume those for it have their way, this is an assumption, why can’t you also think that there can be a candidate belonging to another party, who can come out tops.”

The former president in that interview spoke about how passionate he was about correcting some of the misconceptions about him ostensibly with respect to the annulment of the June 12 election. “Even if I don’t run, I m content at this. That is why I told you I know who I am. I will not allow my children, my relations, my well-wishers and friends, I will not leave them in limbo. I will leave something behind that even after death, they will be able to protect or to speak about.”
Some think that the former military president was talking tongue in cheeks in respect of 2007. The whistle has since been blown in the PDP though unofficially, said one political analyst, adding that those serious about contesting the election and challenging the third term project ought to have declared their interest for the race. Babangida is a card carrying member of the party. Only at the weekend, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenged its members with presidential ambitions in 2007 to come out now and declare their interest. The PDP raised the challenge through the National Secretary, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, at a forum of the Publicity and Legal Secretaries of the party at the state level. Maduekwe said the ongoing campaign to amend the constitution for tenure extension had not in anyway foreclosed the presidential primaries of the party. Also, during his recent visit to United States, when he was asked by the Voice of America (VOA) to comment about reports that Babangida had expressed interest in contesting next yearís presidential elections, President Obasanjo declared that every Nigerian was free to exercise his right to seek elective offices if he wanted to. But will IBB contest the 2007 poll? The problem is that the former military president does not confront constituted authority and his attitude since he left office in August 1993 confirmed this clearly. Throughout Abacha reign of terror including the move by the late military dictator to transmute into a civilian president, Babangida did not voice out any opposition against the regime talk less of raising a finger. IBB kept mum while the late dictator was despoiling the nation. Given this background, it is not likely that IBB will challenge President Obasanjo on the political turf.

Asked to react to the declaration by Babangida that he would contest the 2007 poll, Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, told journalists last Wednesday at a media briefing in Lagos, “I don’t think Nigerians should take the ex-military president serious. Babangida is part of the game plan of the third term agenda. He must have made the statement to divert the attention of the Nigerian people from the real plot. His declaration of interest in the 2007 presidential race is part of military conspiracy against the Nigerians people. Nigerians are wiser than before; those gimmicks will not work in present day Nigeria.”
The Deputy National Chairman of the PDP (South), Chief Olabode George who is a frontline campaigner for third term also said Babangida, as a Nigerian, was free to contest any election he is qualified for. “As a Nigerian, he is free to say whatever, provided he obeys the laws of the land. He has only said his mind. We will wait for those reviewing the constitution to conclude their assignment after which we can begin to talk. For now, he is free to say whatever. But when we get to the bridge, we will cross it.”

But the Director-General of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Prince Kazeem Afegbua, offered a different perspectives. He told THISDAY over the telephone on Saturday that IBB’s position on third term was real and genuine. It is a formidable challenge. And with IBBís declaration and his position on third term, you should consider the third term dead. Even though the PDP is trying to arm twist the Senate, that plan cannot go far. We the political parties are also going to the Senate to participate because the National Assembly is for all Nigerians.
“IBB’s position on third term is very genuine and real because Babangida cannot wait for another term for Obasanjo before contesting because by that time he would be 70, and an old man. We his supporters and followers would not allow it to happen and that is why he has succumbed to our request that he should run,” he said.

But granted that IBB will confront President Obasanjo over third term, how will he do it? What are the options open to Babangida and the obstacles therein?


Options and Obstacles


One of the approaches open to Babangida to fight third term can be located in the ongoing rapprochement among the political forces in the North. Northern intelligentsia in politics and military are said to be coming together to forge a common front to fight the third term agenda. Babangida has been part of this initiative and as a matter of fact sources said it was the impending fight that brought about the final resolution of the problem between him and former military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari. Also working along with them in a bid to jointly confront President Obasanjo is Vice president, Atiku Abubakar. Third term for President Obasanjo is being perceived as a major blow to the North which is eager to take over power after the 1999 handover to the South and that is why frontline politicians in the North are fighting a battle of their life to resist third term. Northern Senators and House of Representatives members are said to have been warned by their people not to proffer any support for third term. The only problem in this resides around the question of the respective ambitions of those involved. Who among the gladiators in the North is ready to subjugate his interest for the larger Northern interest?

It is believed that IBB will however be more potent in the battle against 3rd term in the National Assembly.  His supporters in the federal legislature and others who admire him now have an inspiration to oppose the idea.  His entry into the arena will at least constitute another obstacle to the 3rd term campaign and make it more difficult to realise.  Babangida’s supporters will add more to the growing number of legislators who are expected to vote against 3rd term.
If Babangida decides to go it alone, what platform will he use to prosecute the war? What is the guarantee that there will be sanctity of the electoral process in a fight involving the incumbent? It will seem that the PDP platform is sealed for President Obasanjo to do a third term. The party’s National Chairman, Senator Ahmadu Ali, had spoken many times about the need to grant tenure extension to President Obasanjo. All the anti-third term elements within the party have been virtually muscled out which is what has given vent to the formation of new political parties like the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and the Movement for the Reformation and Defence of Democracy (MRDD) among others.

But the NDP had a long time ago given its platform to Babangida to run in 2007. The party itself was formed around the personality of the former military leader after the 1999 election.  It waited in vain for him to run in 2003 before former Foreign Affairs Minister, Major General Ike Nwachukwu, picked the party’s ticket, which he allegedly placed at the doorstep of the PDP. Nwachukwu knew he would not contest the election and many in NDP today refer to him as a mole planted in their party at that time. Afegbua reiterated that the NDP had given its presidential ticket to Babangida. “We have given him our ticket and we are waiting for him and that is why there is an influx of people into the NDP,” Afegbua said. But will IBB take the NDP option to confront Obasanjo and third time?

Some will insist that a major obstacle that may hamstrung IBB in his 2007 quest is the perception in some quarters that the former military leader still has questions to answer over some issues while in office. Apart from the June 12 problem, there is also the issue of Gulf oil windfall which the former president allegedly squandered. It is for this reason among others that many human rights and pro-democracy activists have gone on rooftops to oppose any attempt by Babangida to step back to power. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, had said in far away South Africa that people like General Babangida would not be allowed to step back to power.

But so far no probe has yielded anything incriminating against Babangida. At one point and inundated with demands for a probe of IBB over the Gulf oil windfall, President Obasanjo charged anybody that had any evidence against IBB over the Gulf oil windfall to come forward with it. In response to a question on June 12 and some of these issues in the interview he granted to the newspapers, Babangida said, “I cancelled an election; I didn’t annul an election. I took responsibility for the cancellation of that election and in the course of performance of my duties as the military president, unelected president of the Federal Republic, it is my duty, no matter, to accept full responsibility.” But he concluded that if he decided he was going to run for election, ìsome of these controversial issues, I am going to talk to you about them in writing. May be I will talk about the N2.4 billion that I stole. I will supply you information to judge if at all there was any N12.4 billion.”

Will Babangida be on the hustings in 2007? The answer is in the belly of time. But for now the general is playing his cards close to his chest and only Babangida can answer if Babangida will confront Obasanjo.

Born August 17, 1941 Minna,  Niger State, Babangida served as head of state from 1985 to 1993. He received military training in Nigeria, India, Great Britain, and the United States. He rose through the ranks and was known for his courage. For instance, he played a major role in suppressing an attempted coup in 1976 when he walked into a rebel-held radio station.



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.