Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda has been busy lately. He has been tending his sick body and refuting rumors of his own death.
He returned to Minna on Friday, after spending three weeks in a German hospital. While he was still in the care of his doctors, a wildfire of speculation spread across the Nigerian blogosphere that the former military president had died. This prompted him to call into a live TV show to swear that he was alive and would soon return to Nigeria.
Before this rumor, in April, some people imagined him dead and spread the word. Babangida heard the gossip and invited a select group of journalists to his 50-bedroom hilltop mansion for a chat and a lunch.
There and then, he affirmed the obvious truth that he was alive.
He admitted that he was struggling with the intermittent resurgence of a condition that originated from the bullet wound he sustained in his right leg during the Nigeria/Biafra evil war. He has become a tethered recluse. But he was far from incapacitated or dead.
He went further to make this boast: ”The rumor does not shock me neither does it bother me because I know I must go and meet my creator. There is nothing really to worry about because my religion has told me much about death and we must all go at the appointed time.
”Therefore as a Muslim, I strongly believe everybody has to die. It could be now or in hundred years time or two days to come but the time doesn’t matter because nobody can predict that day or time.”
Well, the part that says death is a guaranteed experience for all humans is correct. The one that says the grim reaper is always unpredictable is not. In an ideal world, people should only die of natural causes, sicknesses, accidents and natural disasters. But human beings have often predicted the death of their fellow men correctly by indulging in premeditated murder.
Needless to say, Babangida lied when he said that rumors of his death did not perturb him. He wouldn’t scamper to squelch the rumors if he was indifferent to the false news. He would have sat the rumors out, if he was really unconcerned about them. He would have humored himself by watching the antsy obituarists wait for the funeral they ordered to materialize. After all, a hoax would remain a hoax though the multitude retail it.
His frantic rebuttal bears out the presence of the fear of death he denies. His counter was a verbalization of an inner desperate bluffing that the logical self uses to debate and negate a trespassing fear and protect the territorial integrity of the mind. Babangida, according to his own words, would tarry for one century, if he had his way!
So, Babangida doesn’t want to live forever. He would manage 174 years. Which is a reasonable deferment of what would ultimately be his reunion with some of his friends.
There was a soldier-poet called Mamman Vatsa. Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and J.P Clark respected his gift. Vatsa was IBB’s confidante. IBB was the best man at Vatsa’s wedding. The wives of both men were equally close. Whenever IBB’s wife’s Mercedes broke down, she borrowed Vatsa’s wife’s Peugeot 404.
But that bond didn’t deter IBB from framing Vatsa up and killing him for plotting a phantom coup.
After the dark deed was done, Babangida asked for the video tape of the execution. He wanted to be sure that the firing squad did a beautiful job of dispatching his bosom friend.
Babangida claimed that he could bear to watch only the foreplay of the death porn. He said that he averted his eyes when Vatsa, in his last seconds, before the hail of bullets, removed his wrist watch and requested that it be given to Vatsa’s wife, Sufiya.
Sufiya was denied that bequest. She was denied the knowledge of the place where the love of her life was buried. She died a desolate, disconsolate, brokenhearted widow.
When the best man’s day finally comes, he will meet his bullet ridden friend, Vatsa. Vatsa would be an older resident in eternity. Vatsa may be the tour guide of his killer friend in paradise!
There is a certain Dele Giwa.
Giwa died at 39. He was one of the most curious, studious, and conscientious journalists Nigeria has ever seen. He was blown apart by a mail bomb two days after the State Security Service interrogated him. The couriers of the lethal letter handed it to his then-19 year old son, Billy, to pass it to his father.
The package had an instantly recognizable seal on it. When Giwa saw it, he exclaimed, with a mixture of anticipation and certainty: ”this must be from the president!”
His opening of that letter was the end of his life.
Giwa was killed because he was set to publish a very consequential story. He had run into Grace Okon in London. The lady was a drug mule. Law enforcement agents arrested and detained her. But they didn’t hold her for long because she was on an errand for the First Lady. That connection discharged and acquitted her and clandestinely smuggled her out of Nigeria.
Giwa bumped into her overseas and teased out astonishing revelations from her. Revelations that would have exposed a drug cartel that was bearing rule over Nigeria.
Someone killed Dele Giwa in order to kill Dele Giwa’s story.
When the day finally comes, the killer would meet his bomb-blasted casualty. The casualty would have been a longer tenant in eternity. Maybe it will be the casualty’s assignment to escort the new arrival to the judgement throne. Who knows, Giwa may recite his famous quote as they go along:
“Any evil done by man to man will be redressed; if not now then later, if not by man then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary”.
There is a certain Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
Babangida says MKO was his friend. He said he still mourns and misses his friend. That he still pulls out one of the many letters MKO wrote him and re-reads it.
Abiola would have died differently if IBB wasn’t a friend who is worse than an enemy. IBB annulled a transparent, free and fair presidential election that Abiola won cearly. Abiola won in all parts of Nigeria, including in Kano, the birthplace of his rival.
June 12 annulment was Judas-class betrayal of a friend by a friend. Abiola died in prison for insisting on the validity of the mandate Nigerians had freely entrusted to him. A mandate Babangida unilaterally invalidated.
Babangida adduced no reason for overruling the entirety of Nigerians. No excuse would have sounded sensible enough. But he didn’t even try a token. He thought he didn’t owe anybody any explanation. He liked to say that he was not only in government, he was also in power!
He supposed that Nigerians should intuit that if the outcome of the election did not fit his fancy, that’s reason enough for him to cancel the expensive exercise and make nonsense of the long hours Nigerians stood in long queues to vote.
Twenty years after that annulment, Babangida has uttered no apologize. An apology would not reverse the damage he inflicted on the Nigerian psyche. It won’t mitigate the alteration of the positive trajectory Babangida had caused. An apology would have been a mere token of contrition, an acknowledgement of an error in judgement, an IOU for a debt he can never pay in full.
But it’s not in his character to show remorse. He never says ‘I was wrong’. Never says, ‘I am sorry’. It’s beneath him to concede wrongdoing.
He said he didn’t kill Vatsa. Military laws killed Vatsa. He says he didn’t annul June 12. A conspiracy of factors compelled the decision.
He cannot divulge those factors. They are secrets he alone is qualified to keep.
Babangida’s nullification of June 12 presidential election is the biggest man-made disaster that has happened in the postcolonial Nigerian state. It destroyed Nigeria’s most credible chance to define its unity and exploit the richness of the diversity of its people. It ruined Nigeria’s momentous opportunity to transcend religious bigotry and embrace an ideal every Nigerian would believe in.
June 12 was Nigeria’s date of destiny. It was the day all adults of the space delineated by Lugard turned out to regularize the union of Nigeria’s federating entities. It was the day Nigerians appointed to appropriate their country and invest in it the hope that it would be a huge family.
If we had begun to build on that June 12 paradigm, on a violence-free election, on a voter-owned polls, on a people-chosen leadership, Nigeria, by now, would have grown into one of the most prosperous democracies on the face of the earth.
But the self-confessed Evil Genius, a con artist who scammed his countrymen with an expensive, interminable ‘transition program’ so much that they unanimously agreed he was a crook, refused to let Nigerians have a nation that befits its promise.
June 12 is one of history’s most shameful instance of a leader betraying his nation. The man of smiles and guile called an election and promised to hand over power to the winner. Everyone believed him. At the end of the day, he called the polls a non-event!
Babangida plunged Nigeria into an existential identity crisis. That crisis lingers still. And it keeps metastasizing, producing more toxic politics, spawning ethnic militias, inflaming secessionist movements, and arousing religious wars.
The man’s day will certainly come. Because every man’s death rumor will eventually prove true some day.
That day, 100 years from now, I presume, Babaginda will meet his friend, Abiola. And meeting this friend he purports to have missed for many years, I trust Babangida will be bold enough to inch closer and kiss Abiola!