IBB’s Letter To His Countryman By Azu Ishiekwene

What was meant to be an assessment of the three-year-old government of President Muhammadu Buhari turned on its head before the ink dried up on the press statement.

Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, said he meant to advise Buhari not to run again in 2019, but to make way for younger politicians.

That might have been what he told his media consultant, Kassim Afegbua, but that was not what the public heard.

In less than three hours of a public relations disaster, two statements carrying different messages with varying degrees of howlers, potholes and contradictions were issued from Babangida’s Hill Top residence in Minna, culminating in a follow up phone interview by ThisDay, which confirmed what was intended in the first statement.

It was a comedy of blunders that left the sender with enough room to escape liability, pushed the messenger to the wall, and left the intended receiver in a state of convenient mockery.

That was not how Babangida wanted it to be. The man who ruled Nigeria for eight years partly from Abdel Nasser’s model, but largely from Machiavelli’s playbook, intended to go back to his first speech as military president in 1985.

That speech, made after Babangida and co overthrew Buhari in a palace coup, portrayed Buhari as an inflexible loner, a man whose tunnel vision propelled him to either have his way or drag others down the highway. It’s a speech that has been used to beat Buhari over the head many times, since his second coming.

Buhari’s slow pace and prevarication, his unwillingness or refusal to free himself from the grip and enchantment of a few powerful aides to whom he appears to have surrendered all, and his government’s the lack of a sense of danger and urgency, all make Babangida’s letter of 33 years ago read like holy grail.

That was the letter Babangida wanted to re-enact.

In Babangida’s early days in power, that speech endeared him to the public, including a number of high-profile politicians like Audu Ogbeh, jailed by Buhari at the time, but now serving enthusiastically in his government as Minister of Agriculture.

That was the speech Babangida wanted to borrow from this week, only for him to find that the book has since left the shelf.

Now, the talk of the town is not what Babangida meant to advise Buhari in a barely disguised continuation of their decades-old war, but what the letter says about Babangida’s mercurial quality.

He tried to redeem himself in a follow up interview credited to him after the first statement and the denial; he reportedly said he stood by his first statement that Buhari’s time was up and he must leave for the digital new breed to takeover.

But it was too late. The family squabble that foreshadowed the release of the first statement had spilled onto the public space and his media consultant, Afegbua, who signed the statement and defended it on Channels TV later the same day, was declared wanted by a hopelessly idle police force.

And Babangida is getting a beating. The public is so used to seeing the clown prince of inconsistency change positions that only a few are willing to grant that the ensuing exchange was not orchestrated.

His legacy of inconsistency – some might even say betrayal – included shifting his government’s handover date until it bred a monster that consumed him, having banned and reversed the ban of politicians and changed the rules of participation until the field became a muddle. His love-hate relationship with the press and his decision to cancel the result of the June 12 election and hang his friend, MKO Abiola, out to dry after a free and fair vote, have not helped his reputation either.

If the whole point of the jiggery pokery as Babangida claimed at the time was to create a new breed of politicians who would play politics as it is in heaven, we’ve seen nearly two decades after that his rigmarole was a colossal waste of time and resources.

But that’s not what he wants us to remember. Two weeks after another member of the retired presidential club, Olusegun Obasanjo, hurled a letter bomb at Buhari asking him to step down and committing to a third force to enforce his wish, Babangida was hoping that his own letter would help drive the point home.

In the cloak-and-dagger politics of retired but active partisan Nigerian generals, Obasanjo and Babangida have joined forces before, just as they have fallen out over their records in office. Obasanjo and Buhari have also collaborated to nail the political coffin of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

It was therefore not unusual that Babangida piled on Buhari after Obasanjo’s open letter. But why didn’t Babangida take the first shot? Why did he wait to do it under the cover of Obasanjo’s letter?

Some have said it’s part of the trademark Babangida inconsistency that he didn’t take the first shot. Or that he’s trying to curry public favourby being a latter-day hero.

I don’t know what it is, but my interviews with Babangida and Buhari in the last three years suggest that there are deep, smouldering scars from 1985 that both men will carry to their graves. If time and age should ever weaken their appetite for personal feud, proxy and clan will simply carry on the fight.

Both men also know how the awesome powers of office can be easily misused and even though Babangida may not care much in his present condition of health, the last thing his family wants is to be at the receiving end of the presidential stick.

Yet, in the light of the growing wave of discontent, silence was not an option and it probably occurred to Babangida that the only way to overcome silence was to speak in muffled tones.

The risk he now faces is that he’ll hardly be taken seriously next time. If his spokesperson cannot speak for him and his family cannot be trusted to issue a simple, coherent public statement in his name, the least Babangida can do for his own good is to save himself from mockery by keeping a low profile.

Babangida, Melaye, Saraki And The Audacity Of The Corrupt

Two developments that happened in Nigeria this past week serve as pointers that the amber lights of corruption are still aglow even in the face of the onslaught against corruption by the present regime. The marriage of former Military Head of State (though he prefers to be addressed as President) Ibrahim Babangida’s daughter and the launching of Dino Melaye’s book, Antidotes for Corruption, provided a fillip for corrupt Nigerians to come together and share camaraderie among their ilk. Both developments stand out in their attempts to rally the wellheads of corruption and stage an audacious national outing at a time the country is still bleeding from the deep gashes corruption inflicted on it. There is no doubt that in both outings, there were deliberate attempts to serve the Buhari regime and Nigerians a scathing notice that corruption is alive and kicking. There was no doubt that the sidekicks of corruption were served good notice to tarry awhile and stay awake for the re-launching of corruption.

To be sure, no one is begrudging Babangida on the wedding of his daughter. No one is questioning his right to treat his daughter with a lavish nuptial, even as he abridged the rights of millions of Nigerians to decent living by his many vile and corrupt acts and policies whose negative fallouts still resonate decades after his blistering reign. What one finds nauseating is the indecent display of filthy lucre and wealth which attended the wedding. From all seeming indices, it looks like there were deliberate efforts to serve a shell-shocked nation, still smarting from the bruises of corruption, that indeed, corruption is alive and kicking.

Several Nigerian news reports of the Babangida wedding were filled with raunchy, salacious tales of displays of wealth, power, and aplomb. The highlight of the wedding reports was the presence of so many private aircraft in Minna for the wedding. Nigerian media space, so steeped in vanity, reported the presence of 35 to 52 aircraft in Minna for the wedding! What a banality at a time when Nigeria is going through an asphyxiating economic situation. Nigerian economic woes were occasioned by the kind of profligacy, impunity and mendacious brazenness that was on display in Minna.

Senator Dino Melaye, on his part, has come off as a jester whose penchant for buffoonery is beyond compare. Here is a character that strayed upon the national space with a dubious history trying to prescribe antidotes to the same corruption that has dogged his many controversial outings in the Nigerian political space. That the writing of the book is coming soon after Dino Melaye himself was coming out of a blistering academic inquest that leaves very big and embarrassing question marks on his educational claims reveals that the book itself was another effort in revelry, as it connotes a paradox, an irony and indeed a contradiction to antidotes of corruption. Melaye and his cohorts were only mocking the fight against corruption and displaying brazen guffaws on the fight against corruption, and this formed the main theme of their display at the launching venue.

Dino Melaye’s case is even more complex. Melaye is a jester, a parodist, a reveler, a masker and a clown rolled into one. His intent in writing Antidotes for Corruption, while being mischievous, is neither meant to convince Nigerians but to play up the flagging wings of corruption. Here is a character that celebrates and deifies self-vanity in an obvious effort to cover a deep-layered personality defect and who deigns no scruple celebrating unrooted, unmerited and unexplained wealth at the drop of a hat. Melaye is a tragic character who struggles to justify multiple faces at the same time; he canonizes himself as an anti-corruption warrior yet displays obscene and indecent wealth with no verifiable source. Here is a character who does not mind sharing the dual faces of a saint and a robber. Here is a character whose life history is strewn with many unfilled gaps and yawning Here is a fellow trolled by serious academic doubts who does not mind laying claim to spurious academic records he neither earned nor merited. Here is a janus-faced poetaster who defies all norms in a bid to claim hallowed seats in the hall of fame where he is an outlaw.

That Dino Melaye can prescribe the antidotes to corruption amounts to a terrible rebuke to anti-corruption itself. His amounts to a blasphemy to decency and he knows it. He knows that Nigerians will treat his antidotes to corruption with contempt and scorn but then, he has a clear mission to play up corruption. That Dino Melaye, with his doubtful academic credentials, can even pen Antidotes for Corruption shows that the country’s moral fiber is seriously bleeding. His, while being an attempt to belittle probity and accountability, was a grand effort to ridicule and diminish anti-corruption.

All said it is obvious that the dual developments were meant to score a huge psychological victory against the war on corruption. It must not be allowed to be so. It is certain that the twin developments amounted to a daring audacity of the corrupt, which is why the authorities must redouble the fight against corruption. It behooves the present government and its anti-corruption agencies to see the huge presence of corrupt politicians at Babangida’s daughter’s wedding and the launching of Dino Melaye’s laughable Antidotes for Corruption as signals that the battle to retake Nigeria from the corrupt is still a long and winding war. It must be fought to a standstill. The necessary tools to fight this battle must be acquired, and the resetting of our national moral code must be embarked on. The anti-corruption war cannot accommodate such hideous shows on display at the two events.