Nigerians forget. Yes, Nigerians forget a lot. They forget past disappointments and achievements alike, they forget everything except the struggle to survive. Maybe it is an excessive adherence to the saying “forgive and forget.
If it is so, then why have they not forgiven Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB), the former military leader of the giant of Africa?
Is he the only military man to have ever ruled Nigeria? No.
Is he the only man who has led Nigeria in the past and is still alive today? No. Gowon is there, Obasanjo, Buhari and Jonathan.
Is he the only leader whose regime was fraught with errors? No.
His interview with Arise TV weeks ago raised and continues to raise a lot of discussion on the past, present and future of Nigeria. If there were 20 media publications arising from the interview, 12 of them were critical of the person of IBB.
In one of these writings the writer painfully wrote about the death of his young university friend, a first class student of engineering, at the hands of military men sent by IBB to quell peaceful protests so many years ago. This is just one of the many individual grievances which people hold against the former leader who came to be known as evil genius.
Many others condemned the octogenarian in unison, ranging from his many unpopular policies and foxy style of leadership. It seems he never did anything right. His implementation of Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) is said to be the genesis of anti-development economic policies in Nigeria which brought with it economic hardship for the masses.
IBB is said to be involved in all the coups that have ever taken place in Nigeria. He came into power through a coup too, usurping the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari regime in 1985. His sins climaxed in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections which has been termed one of the best elections ever conducted in Nigeria.
Now, why has IBB not been forgiven? The answer might be this; he has not had the chance like others in his era to do a second missionary journey to head the Nigerian government, and thereby engage in what could be called a damage control or image rebranding.
Though if anyone in his era also needed a damage control greatly, it might have been Abacha who we can say his death in power removed the animosity that might have been poured on him, though not completely. The others like Gowon has his role in the civil war (especially his declaration of ‘no victor, no vanquished’) and his introduction of the NYSC to thank for his in-between image; neither excellent nor evil.
When you look at Buhari today as a democratically elected president, you might wonder if he needed any second chance at damage control or righting the wrong in the system. His tenure as a military leader and the current one has been said to have many similarities. The hardship which Nigerians suffer today can be attributed to bad economic policies, while the security challenge, though not new, can be said to be handled poorly.
Lest we forget about IBB, his birthday was just two days ago and as usual there was encomium from different voices singing his praise and felicitating with him. One thing though to be noted from those who paid sent him goodwill message on his birthday is that they are all ‘made men’, elites of the society. So we can say that though he might have lost the love of the people, he still has the vote of some elites, many among them owing their fortunes to the doors he opened for them while in power.
In the interview with Arise TV, he attempted to justify every action for which he is criticized today. He gave reason for annulling the June 12 election as coming from an intelligence report which hinted future troubles for the incoming government. For him it was justified some months later by the removal of the Shonekan civilian government.
The much hated SAP according to him is currently benefiting those who keyed into it. He accepted though that there was corruption in his time, but insisted that he fought the corruption, citing an incidence where he queried a governor for misappropriating N313,000.
Despite all these justifications and many more, IBB is yet to win the heart of his critics. Maybe he should run again and wipe the bad memories from the mind of the people and history too, or he can set up huge socio-economic centers in the six geopolitical zones of the nation through his narrow but very deep social capital and let’s see what happens, maybe then, they will forgive and even forget.