Ahmad T. Muhammad Replies Dele Momodu: Why I Will Vote for a General

Monday, April 12, 2010

General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida

Right of Reply-Why I Will Vote for a General
By Ahmad T. Muhammad

The back page of THISDAY newspaper dated Saturday, 3rd April 2010 contained a write-up by Dele Momodu entitled: “Why I Won’t Vote for the Generals”. I am no politician, neither am I a journalist, but as one passionate observer of events with Nigeria’s best interest, I deem it my duty to respond to the several erroneous or biased points of view advanced by the writer, in his rightful capacity as a Nigerian citizen who also happens to be a journalist by calling.

I have been reading Mr. Dele Momodu’s column for many years and have come to admire his attempts to be objective in advancing his views on topical issues, and he has, by and large, been fair and factual. It is against this background that I must observe that this time around he is very wide off the mark in his discourse as to why he would not vote for any general, thus disappointing me by being more sentimental than objective. That is why I have taken the unusual decision to respond as a concerned citizen. 

Although he was referring to three generals, Momodu’s venom was largely aimed at General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida – the others being Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Aliyu Gusau. It is clear that he regards IBB as the most likely acceptable one among the three to most Nigerians, the man to beat whoever else may contest the 2011 presidential election, and he presumably does not like to see the general back in power for reasons, which for the most part, are peculiar to him.

Nigerians have been reeling in agony under the rot resulting from the political “do-or-die” misadventure, corruption, insecurity, poverty, collapse of basic infrastructure for education, health care, other social services and much more, under a garrulous President Olusegun Obasanjo and a sick President Umaru Yar’Adua who – minus the peace he brokered with the Niger Delta militants – has nothing much to show for being president for three years.

Before addressing Momodu’s concerns, let me observe that by limiting his consideration of the generals who may be president, he restricted himself to those of them who are of “Northern” extraction, and I wonder whether or not this means that he believes in “power rotation” as adopted by the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party. If so, I am disappointed and further aggravated by the writer because, surely, power rotation is undemocratic and unknown to the constitution, and Nigerians expect that practitioners in the Fourth Estate should adhere to, advertise and defend democracy as enshrined in the Constitution of our Federal Republic. Or are there no generals of Southern extraction who are capable and have the right to aspire to any office like everyone else?

Come 2011 and God willing, I shall surely vote for General Ibrahim Babangida, should he choose to stand for election as president. Indeed, in the event that he is reluctant, I would enjoin Nigerians of goodwill who mean the country well to, if need be, coerce him to join the contest. However, I would like that contest to be based on the strictest possible democratic tenets; ‘one-man-one-vote’, free and verifiably fair and in which rigging and zoning would play no part. Therefore, though being a northerner, I would vote for General Babangida only if he wins the nomination of whatever party he chooses, in a ‘primary’ open to ALL Nigerians wherever they may come from.

I don’t believe in geographical power rotation, neither do I believe in ethnic or religious colours being added to the dynamics of political equations. I will vote for Babangida not because he is from the North but because I believe merit should be amongst the most important criteria for electing political office holders, and IBB has served meritoriously as a brave soldier and military president. I will explain specifically why I will vote for IBB in the course of this response to Dele Momodu, but before then, let me respond to some of the issues raised by him in his column.

First, Momodu asserts that his “mutual friends who swears by his (IBB’s) name” have tried hard to convince him in vain that Babangida is the best man to rescue Nigeria. He is categorical that IBB may be a king maker but cannot himself be king, and that we must “see issues beyond the personality”. Regarding the latter assertion, I thought it is elementary commonsense that Nigeria and its destiny are superior to any one individual no matter how powerful, brilliant, honest and competent he may be.

As for his view of the general being a king maker who cannot be king, Mr Momodu advances some bizarre explanations: IBB is getting to 70 years and is therefore too old to be the next president; he is alleged to be associated with Mr. Dele Giwa’s sad and mysterious murder; IBB “was playing games” when he invited Obasanjo to be president in 1999; IBB annulled the best and freest elections in 1993 which “his best friend” Abiola won; technocrats and youngsters would make better presidents. In case he does not know, let me inform him that in this 21st century, Babangida is, by modern definition, a middle-aged man, because the criteria for classifying people as “young”, “middle-aged” or “old” have changed as a result of people living much longer than before.

Does he not know how old the Indian prime minister who rules the world’s largest democracy (1.2 billion people) is? Does he not know that justices of the US Supreme Court can remain in office until they die or choose to retire, as Justice John Paul Stevens is right now contemplating at the ripe age of 90? Does he not know that the late Edward Kennedy who was a Senator for 47 years died an active Senator at the age of 76? Does he not know of a football manager (a most rigorous job) known as Sir Bobby Robson who actively managed Newcastle United before he died at the age of 75?

I hate all dictators, but if being fit and active is the issue, is Robert Mugabe not actively oppressing Zimbabweans at the age of 84 – no matter how distasteful and obnoxious that is? No Mr. Momodu, age is not against General Ibrahim Babangida who is a healthy, active and competent middle-aged Nigerian and also has the very best interest of Nigeria at heart.

I do not know if Babangida was solely responsible for “inviting” Obasanjo to lead Nigeria in 1999, but assuming he was, that must have been a rare act of magnanimity by any standards. 

Among the oft repeated reasons why Obasanjo was released from prison, pardoned, rehabilitated and imposed on Nigerians is that he comes from Ogun State, as did the late MKO Abiola who won the 1993 elections, efficiently and freely conducted by IBB. My understanding is that this was to appease the Yoruba of “South-west” which should therefore be applauded for being an act of atonement. In which case, IBB can no longer be accused of robbing the South-west of an election victory, unless of course there are other ulterior motives for continuing the campaign of calumny and denigration mounted on the general by a section of the Nigerian media.

Obasanjo was a costly misunderstanding of the dangerous tendency among some Nigerians of conducting themselves with duplicity, but I do not agree with those who claim that he is ungrateful. I think he appreciates those who brought him to power. On the 1993 presidential election, everyone agrees that it has been the best conducted free and fair election in the history of Nigeria. Babangida should be applauded for his conduct during that presidential election, as he did not allow rigging to determine the outcome. For Momodu to infer that IBB can only become president via rigging smacks of unbridled hypocrisy, innuendo and blackmail. The modern technology – call it digital but it is much more than that – which Momodu alluded to that will empower Nigerians to resist rigging in 2011 has been there before 1999, but Nigerians were unable to stop the massive rigging that characterized the 2003 and 2007 elections in particular.

This is a little digression, but the fact that the “North” voted en masse for Abiola who beat his opponent even in Kano, the latter’s home state, should persuade those Nigerians with idle minds that there is no real ideological or, for that matter, religious divide between the “North” and “South” in Nigeria when it comes to electoral matters.

Dele Momodu was so “enraged” that Obasanjo was a candidate in 1999, that he was ‘forced’ to vote for Olu Falae. Among his reasons must be that he was still mad about the annulled elections. If so, he should remember that Abiola was IBB’s “best friend” (his words). Having organized and conducted that freest of all Nigerian elections, and having to annul it after his friend had won hands down must make any reasonable neutral observer think not once, not twice but many times as to why he had to do that – or if indeed he was solely responsible for such action.

My own personal take is that IBB was pained, and still probably is, by the annulment. This is a clear case that calls for people to look beyond the persona, a point made by Mr. Momodu himself. Babangida has himself stated severally that he would explain the annulment at the appropriate time, but whether he does so or not, is a moot point. Whatever happened that led the military to annul the 1993 election will sure declare itself sooner or later. This is a matter of historical necessity and no one should question or doubt the power and consistency of history.

Then there is the issue of “youngsters” in power. Many credit IBB with promoting and empowering the youth to partake in politics and seek elective offices, a measure which in theory at least is entirely appropriate. The young are energetic and given a high degree of patriotism, they could turn the country around for the better. However, consider the performance of elected or appointed officials from federal, state and local governments, from senators to governors, representatives at national and state houses of assemblies, local government chairmen, ministers and commissioners, and you must be deeply disturbed by the conduct of the “youth’ in government, if you are an honest and patriotic Nigerian.

The charge that IBB encouraged corruption in the polity is one that leaves me confused. It may well be that my understanding of the meaning of corruption is faulty, but where is the evidence that he actually did? There has always been corruption in Nigeria even before 1960, just as there is corruption in every country including those constantly point accusing fingers at Nigeria. There was corruption in the First, Second and Third Republics, and there is massive corruption today, the scale of which is audacious and frightening. It is nonsensical for anyone to blame Babangida for corruption that has become endemic in the 10 short years whilst he remained admirably inconspicuous. 

Now to the allegations and conspiracy theories surrounding the unfortunate death of Mr. Dele Giwa, a fine journalist and a gentleman, via a letter bomb. Nearly all the accusing fingers have been pointing in one direction only, i.e. at the government in power at the time. Presumably because he was the president then, IBB has been accused directly and indirectly of being behind it. Mr. Momodu mentions the late Gani Fawehinmi as one of those who had been continuously and assiduously trying to nail the suspects in this murder, to no avail. To me as a layman, if such illustrious lawyers and activists failed to find credible evidence against anyone including the government of the day, after well over two decades, the reason must be that they have been looking in the wrong direction. Despite the lack of evidence, many Nigerians have been misled to pass judgment on such a serious matter. I would love to see those responsible for Dele Giwa’s murder brought to book, because I have always been fond of him, so that the matter can be brought to closure. Until then, I think we should allow his soul to continue to rest in peace.

Mr. Momodu is highly enthusiastic of “technocrats” believing that only they can provide the kind of leadership we need today. How I wish I could share his enthusiasm. I have no idea who qualifies as a technocrat on Mr. Momodu’s “PENDULUM”, but the appellation probably includes professionals, university professors, business moguls, boardroom giants and public servants. There is no shortage of evidence of the poor understanding of the art of governance among technocrats, nor is there shortage of similar evidence for corruption, maladministration and outright incompetence. Being a technocrat does not necessarily translate into being a good, honest and competent public office holder of any description!  

For the reasons I have given above, I will definitely vote for General Babangida should he be a candidate in 2011. Here are some more reasons why I will do so. IBB is a seasoned and astute administrator who has the best interests of Nigeria at heart. He is fair, competent, honest and achievement driven, who has done more to advance the cause of democracy more than most politicians, despite his military background. In my personal opinion, Babangida has been more democratic than any other Nigerian leader since 1966.

Nigeria is in semi-coma and badly needs a natural, strong, determined, committed and truly democratic leader. General Ibrahim Babangida is such a leader and we should urge him to come to the rescue. I suspect that even Mr. Dele Momodu will vote for him in 2011.  

 Muhammad wrote from Kano

Source: www.thisdayonline.com

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