Nigeria’s former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), has opened up on why he annulled the June 12, 1993 the presidential election won by the late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party.
In an interview with Arise TV on Friday, the former head of state admitted that there was a lot of pressure from within and outside the military and noted that if the true results of the election had been declared, the army would have staged a coup which would have turned very bloody and set the country backward.
Though the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had declared June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day, Babangida said that it took the manoeuvring of his regime to stabilise the country at the time to avoid a bloody coup.
“If June 12 had materialised, there would have been a coup d’état which could have been violent,” he said. “That is all that I can confirm. It didn’t happen thanks to the re-engineering and the way we manoeuvred. It could have given room for more instability. There was pressure from outside and within the military. The military could have done it because they had the weapons to do it.”
Speaking on the agitation for secession by separatist groups like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and Ilana Omo Oodua, he said even though everyone has the right to agitate, the issue of breaking up should not come up because according to him, it has been long established that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable.
He said: “We always believe that the person who should run the country must believe in Nigeria and that is why we supported Olusegun Obasanjo for President. If he didn’t believe in Nigeria, we would not go for him at all. Even if it is democratically or militarily imposed, you must have that core belief. It is good to agitate for what you want but because there is this belief that this country should be one and when you talk about war, you see that Nigerians usually don’t want anything that would disturb their peace of mind.
“When we were in the military, we talked about certain issues and the unity of Nigeria was one of them. As far as we were concerned, the unity of Nigeria, free market, federalism were all settled issues. The unity of Nigeria for us was non-negotiable. We decided to be one many years ago. Why should we keep on repeating conferences on how to remain one? There are issues we should not still be talking about now. We have already decided that Nigeria will remain united, so what we should be talking about is how to strengthen the unity of the country.”
On the high rate of insecurity across the country, especially in the North East, he attributed it to the failure of leadership. He said that there is disconnect between the leadership and the followership and that we don’t have core values that everyone defends. He also said the problem with restructuring is that it means different things to different people and until there is a unified definition and understanding of the concepts, it will not be actualised.
His words: “The problem of insecurity is due to leadership. If there is no disconnect between the leadership and the followership, when people relate with each other at various leadership levels, then we would not have problems. We don’t have core values in the country that everyone defends.
“Conferences have been done but the tyranny of the elite is the main problem. The leaders should understand Nigeria and Nigerians. Anyone who wants to lead Nigeria should be able to use his intellect. Nigerians are very resilient people, so if you want to lead them, you have to take a lot of things into consideration.
“The problem with restructuring is that it means different things to different people. We don’t have a common interpretation; we have not defined it. My definition is to give the people from the lowest level of governance to the highest, the opportunity to participate in how they are governed.”
The former military ruler also gave his opinion on the crisis rocking the two major political parties in Nigeria while dismissing fears that the country is gradually slipping into a one-party state. He said Nigerians will never allow a one-party system and would protest if anyone supports it.
Also speaking on zoning the presidency in 2023, he said the qualifications and competence of whoever will emerge president should be the most important rather than where the person comes from.
“Nigerians would never allow a one-party state to happen. Whoever would attempt to do that will not be allowed to succeed and this is the good thing about this country. They will talk, demonstrate and engage you so that you don’t do the wrong thing. I am not involved in any party because I am an elder statesman right now. However, I still maintain that a two-party state is the best thing for the country. We set up a committee to tell us why things went wrong and it was very revealing. We found out that up to the first and second republic, everybody was gravitating towards a two party system even though there were a lot of other parties. Now we have over 70 parties but no one is talking about them except the APC and PDP. During Obasanjo’s time, we came up with five parties but they all gravitated towards a two party system, so Nigeria can do well with a two-party system.
“On the zoning of the 2023 presidency, we have to make a choice. Do we want to practise democracy the way it should be practised or the way it is being practised? Or, do we define it according to our whims and caprices? If we are going to do it the way it is being done all over the world, we should allow the process to continue because it is through the process that we would be able to come up with a candidate that would lead the country. His qualifications should be more important regardless of where he comes from. I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader, a person who travels and has friends everywhere he travels, a person who is vast in economics and a good politician. I have seen one or two already who are in their 60s,” he said.
When asked about his regime’s performance in the aspect of the economy and the fight against corruption, he said what happened during his administration cannot be compared to the level of corruption today. According to him, those in his regime were ‘saints’. He also said he has no regrets on the economic policies of his regime, insisting that those who followed his policies are the ‘towers of industry’ today.
“You can’t compare what happened during my administration with the facts on the ground now. From what I read in the media, I think we were saints when compared to what is happening under a democratic dispensation. I sacked a governor for misappropriating about N313, 000. Today, those who have stolen billions are parading themselves in the streets. So who is better at fighting corruption? Nigerians voted for APC based on what they promised on the economy, corruption and security, so it is also Nigerians that would decide for themselves and know if these promises have been met.
“Having left office for the last 28 years, I think the decisions that my administration took were right. A lot of things have been happening since then which convinced me that we didn’t do badly; it is just that we were misunderstood. I told Nigerians that those who will take advantage of Structural Advancement Programme (SAP) would succeed in life, but those who couldn’t would go under. Today, I’ve been proven right. People who took advantage of what we did are today the towers of industry. I think I made a contribution in society on how to make it better.
“I didn’t declare war on the media, rather, I liberalised it. Today, you have private televisions and newspapers. I believe that the media is an essential part of society, and they should play their role for the country. The media and the public would not allow the government to clamp down on them. You can’t intimidate Nigerians,” he said.
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