IT obviously didn’t seem fair to former military president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida that ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo should continue to hug all the limelight. But in recent years, Chief Obasanjo has managed by circumstances and deliberate orchestration to situate himself squarely at the centre of national affairs.
General Babangida’s health may not permit, and the quality and relevance of his submissions may leave much to be desired, but having cavorted at that same national centre between 1985 and 1999, and even a little beyond that time, he seems pained that he is living as somnolently as one who is in suspended animation. He had once likened himself, perhaps unintentionally, to an evil genius, and to the football maestro, Maradona, and had thus dominated public affairs for years on end with his highfalutin political and social experiments. And with nostalgic fondness, he also remembers how the controversies he constantly and mischievously stirred helped nurture his myth. It is not unlikely that he craved an occasion when he could say something new and shocking, something to engage and agitate the public. That occasion soon presented itself last week, which he grabbed with both hands by speaking with gusto about a previously unknown Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) military wing.
Chief Obasanjo and Gen.Babangida have doubtless both played prominent, if not dominant, roles in Nigerian politics. Until they breathe their last, they will insist on doing so. Neither the irrelevance nor inappropriateness and controversiality of their views will attenuate that desire. Chief Obasanjo virtually took up the last two weeks. The next two weeks or possibly more will be taken up by Gen Babangida’s ‘PDP military wing’ talk. There will be editorials, and, as this column believes, there will be many column pieces on that shocking and disturbing revelation. Some of the rejoinders will be angry, and others snide and even outrightly abusive. But Gen Babangida will be satisfied that he is still capable of attracting newspaper front pages and dominating discussions, no matter how fleetingly. There are not many leaders out of office who are enamoured of anonymity or reclusiveness.
Gen Babangida chose the occasion of his interaction with members of the Strategy and Inter-Party Affairs of the PDP, led by its chairman, Professor Jerry Gana, to expatiate upon the founding principles and politics of the former ruling party. The committee, which reports to the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP leadership, had visited him at his Hill Top residence in Minna last week to intimate him of their findings, and perhaps to solicit his support, even if indirectly, in the struggle for the soul and leadership of the PDP . “From foundation stage, I saw PDP as IRA (Irish Republican Army),” boasted the former military head of state in his response to the Prof Gana presentation. “We are the military wing of the PDP. We took a lot of interest, and when I say we, I mean my boss TY Danjuma, Obasanjo, myself, Gen. Aliyu Mohammed. I term us as IRA military wing of PDP. I thank God we came up with the old concept, and one of our counterparts then said that PDP would rule for 60 years.”
The general’s comparisons, as his leadership history shows, may be awful and disconcerting, and sometimes his words may not convey the right meanings he intends, apart from being often inexact. Otherwise, of all the comparisons in the world, why choose the militant IRA as a backroom model for the PDP when nothing in the founding of the party bore any semblance to Sinn Fein? PDP may have in its fold many retired generals, some of whom have maintained an implacable hold on Nigeria and continue to throttle its destiny, but both the founding and existential principles of the IRA and Sinn Fein bear no real resemblance to the PDP nor to its philosophically undistinguished military members. Sinn Fein was the left-wing nationalist face of the armed IRA that waged a military campaign for independence in Northern Ireland. What did the PDP military wing represent?
It is not clear whether the other generals Gen Babangida mentioned as constituting the membership of the military wing of the PDP see themselves as such, or whether they will repudiate that comparison. But likening themselves to IRA, despite Irish group’s dangerous denotations, is not even as egregious as gloating over the expected six-decade reign of the PDP. “One of our counterparts then said that the PDP would rule for 60 years,” Gen Babangida had said. It would be thrilling to know which of his counterparts made that shameful prophecy. Notwithstanding, the point is that the general and many PDP leaders obviously took that 60-year reign to heart. More importantly, Gen Babangida himself spoke fondly of that reign, and he would doubtless have revelled in it had it come to pass not minding its dangerous effects on the polity.
This is the crux of the matter. Even if the generals had seen themselves as the military wing of the PDP and had modelled themselves along the line of the IRA, and if ‘one counterpart’ or another had spoken giddily of the PDP ruling Nigeria for 60 years, the visit of Prof Gana’s panel should have afforded Gen Babangida the opportunity to declaim upon Nigeria’s leadership troubles. In particular, given his age and past roles, he would have contributed to the wealth of knowledge on Nigerian affairs had he spoken on the PDP’s founding principles, the suppositions held by many party leaders, military or civilian, and what lessons they have learnt and are recommending regarding the principles of democracy, federalism, rule of law and other salient leadership issues. Instead of these, the general preferred to boast somewhat.
Gen Babangida’s revelatory remarks are, however, not without some usefulness. He enables Nigerians to take a measure of their leaders, how sometimes parochial and insular they are, the poor vision that guides and drives them, and often what mean and base principles inform the choices they make. Surely it should have occurred to the general’s ‘counterpart’ that had PDP ruled for 60 years — a silly and arbitrary figure no doubt — democracy would have found it difficult to survive, let alone flourish. Unlike the Sinn Fein and the IRA, the military wing of the PDP obviously inspired and directed everything about Nigeria’s so-called biggest party. That inspiration was, however, short-sighted, abysmal and demeaning.
The PDP’s military wing is probably still strong and influential. But since they are neither principled as Nigerians would like nor ideological as they seem to think, they will continue to exert a very unhealthy influence on national politics. They virtually perverted the early years of Nigerian democracy during which they laid a militarised and illiberal foundation for civil rule. Should they regain power without the drastic and fundamental changes required to bring about the change Nigeria needs and yearns for, the country will groan unbearably. After all, festooned with its own military faction, the APC has ruled Nigeria like a one-party state, after apparently succumbing to the same spirit of intolerance and excesses that undid the PDP.