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IBB’s Unending Sophistry

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On Tuesday, ex-military ruler Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, more popularly known as IBB, will be 80 years old. He has done well for himself. Life expectancy in Nigeria is about 62 years, nearly 20 years less than the life expectancy of those who have had the privilege of ruling Nigeria. Olusegun Obasanjo is 84, or so he thinks; Shehu Shagari was 93 when he died in 2018; Yakubu Gowon is 86; Abdulsalami Abubakar is 79; Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent, is 78, all other records being equal; and Goodluck Jonathan at 63 is still as strong as an aurochs.

Their longevity is remarkable, especially in the face of the brevity of life to which their policies and methods have sentenced the people. Gen Gowon may be the archetypal officer and gentleman of the lot, but IBB is the one credited with understanding the nuances of power, despite applying that power wholly to private gain. Thus to keep himself in the consciousness of Nigerians, IBB granted Arise TV an interview last week in which he tried, perhaps for the last time, to explain and justify the leadership malfeasance that undid his administration.

The interview was naturally self-serving, as narcissistic as everything about him in and out of office. Arise TV has made a point of getting reticent leaders to grant interviews. No one can begrudge the broadcast medium from trying to coax other tongue-tied leaders to massage their own egos and vituperate their enemies. In June, they had inveigled President Muhammdu Buhari to loosen up. That interview left bemused Nigerians wishing it had never taken place. IBB said so many things last week but overall failed to explore new ideas or disclose hidden facts, virtually ending up saying exactly the same things he had said over and over again, only this time in different, bothersome ways.

The media have an enduring fixation with political dinosaurs, and would give anything to get them to say a few words, whether those words make sense or not. But hopefully, like President Buhari, IBB will have no reason ever again to grant another interview. The country has had enough of their prevarications, their patrician airs, and their undisciplined, sectional and shortsighted self-portraiture.

There was nothing revelatory about the IBB interview. There was no new insight into his person or the workings of his mind. Both remain jaded and off-putting. There was no indication that years out of office, including lessons he gleaned from a second presidential race in 2010, had afforded him the chance to reflect on his years in power. He is incapable of self-reflection.

There was also no indication in the interview that he was ever tempted to be honest with the public. Till his dying day, he will continue to revel in the imaginary heroics to which his childish longings had seduced him to lie; or when not lying, to quibble; and when not quibbling, to dispense with all restraints, to cheat. Thus he spoke of liberalizing the media space in Nigeria when in truth he repeatedly banned and played ducks and drakes with financially pressed but critical media establishments, and his government still stands accused of deploying strong-arm tactics against media owners and leading essayists.

It is inconceivable that anyone would describe the interview as redeeming. It had no redeeming virtue whatsoever. True, there were a few bon mots in it, such as the quip on Nigerians’ capacity to resist the imposition of one-party state, and the other quip that suggested the silliness of gagging the press. But if it was an indirect execration of the faltering attempt by the present administration to induce defections into the ruling party and thus overwhelm the polity, or if it was a ploy to tick off the Buhari administration over its abominable attempt to gag the press through sundry media bills, then maybe the interview could be of some use to the government.

Otherwise the interview has little redemptive value. Indeed, the two major views which he expressed and which have become controversial bear no semblance to either logic or truth. In one, he affected to talk gravely about the age of the next president but ended up being discursive; while in the other he casually flung in the public face the real reason he annulled the 1993 presidential poll, thereby ruining the little reputation he had left and foreclosing any chance of redemption he had before the poll.

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The IBB interview not only showed how limited and inadequate Nigerian leaders were before they took office, a situation that has still not changed today, but how sadly they have refused to improve themselves after their uneventful years in office. There are many books on leadership, some of them written by great statesmen; it is tragic that after ruining his leadership and reputation during his years in office, IBB never attempted to read those books or improve himself in any way. No one who has read books on leadership would advocate the drivel of qualifying the age of the next president to 60 years or younger. Why not 50? Why not 40? Are there no fools at 30, 40 and 50, just as there are fools at 60, 70 and 80?

If his mind considered the piquant appeal of physical strength to a leader, perhaps because President Buhari at 78 years appears truly spent, is there anything to show that a younger president would ipso facto be stronger than an older president? He also seems to think that the next president must be versed in economics. With that one hideous argument, he simply erased other professionals from the power loop.

IBB was young when he seized power; beyond that, he possessed little else to recommend him to the office he stole through the barrel of a gun. President Buhari is older, having fanatically coveted the office for more than three decades after his first brief foray as a military head of state, but the intervening decades have neither encouraged him to reform his person or ideas, including ameliorating his zealotry and rigidity, nor led him to the expansiveness and cosmopolitanism that are indispensable to successful national leadership.

History is replete with exceedingly young people who became famous for impactful leadership, and the same history tells of older leaders whose maturity and wisdom benefited, grew and empowered their empires. Perhaps IBB confuses warrior leaders who led troops into battle with modern leaders who furnish wars by the stroke of a pen and lead from the safe confines of underground bunkers. Remarkably, IBB talks of some of the qualifications the next president must have, and they include wide networks, connections and intelligence. Had he stopped at these, he would have made sense. As military ruler, however, obsession with age was the leitmotif of his many adventures in superficial political engineering. As head of state, he talked of new breed versus old breed, without doing anything to reform the substructure on which the different breeds, or his preferred breed, could be built; and he manipulated the country into embracing his indefensible logic. Yet, despite his profligate use of national resources, the country still managed to produce a transition programme and an election worthy of some support in 1993. But he stepped in and blew the process into fragments.

His reason for the annulment of the 1993 presidential election is even more controversial. He was of course silent on whether he wanted to stay on in power, as indeed his body language showed. He was also silent on whether he would have vacated office, and no coup would have been attempted, had the Kano politician, Ibrahim Tofa won. All he said was that there would have been a coup against Chief MKO Abiola had there been an attempt to swear him in, and that would have in turn led to more instability. How the offensiveness of his argument escapes him every time he mouths that egregious logic is hard to fathom. Even though he had in 1993 disputed the sanctity of the election, and even denigrated it, it is clear he no longer thinks so, and has in fact boasted that he conducted the best election in history. Last week’s interview was not the first time he would make this self-serving boast; hopefully it would be his last.

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Elaborating on his annulment defence, IBB gave the impression that he listened and eventually submitted to pressures from military and civilian conspirators in order to determine what to do with an election he knew in his heart was concluded and won. When he decided to annul the poll, his future place in history was a distant consideration; nor did he care what his conscience dictated, having spent nearly all his time in office disrespecting and muting that conscience. He did not even worry whether his conduct violated the officer and gentleman mantra which his trainers inculcated in him. He despised his oath as an officer and loathed anything that suggested he should vacate office. In matters of principles and values, he suffered no qualms in refusing to consult with his conscience or the faith he extravagantly feigned in those days. Instead, he chose to consult drifters and adventurers who pimped power; indeed he listened to them attentively, and he finally succumbed to their solicitations though it was obvious to him that their moral compasses had been cracked by greed and avarice. Instead of clearing the Augean stable and enabling the winner of the poll to take office, IBB cowered behind extenuating arguments and hidden and bigoted excuses. Without doubt, his place in history is assured, regardless of how many interviews he grants and the same arguments he keeps parroting. Fittingly, that place will be remorselessly unkind to him.

Source : The Nation

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Hammed Tajudeen is the editor in-chief of Blaze News, holds Higher National Diploma(HND) in Mass Communication, graduated from Osun State Polytechnic, Iree.

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