Baleful legacies of Babangida

Nigerian youths below 28 years of age, the target of General Babangida’s last week Arise interview designed to whitewash his soiled image need to know the truth. They need to be informed that Babangida, the evil genius, was chased out of office by the media that created him for betraying the country with his annulment of the most credible election in our nation’s history won by his friend, MKO Abiola. The youths need to know that their current travails stemmed from Babangida’s misguided socio-economic and political policy thrusts. The youths, our future, must understand our nation itself is a victim of a misadventure of a military not trained to manage society but in the words of Robin Luckman “marched out on a straight path towards their vision of good society, a vision that became more elusive the closer they came towards it”.

While it was true that the politicians as new inheritors of power undermined our constitution after independence, it was our politicized military that destroyed the superstructure, replacing it first with a unitary system through Decree 34 of 1966 and later the current federal constitution that is anything but federal. Then confronted with crisis of nation-building, they plunged the nation into a civil war. And instead of addressing the fundamental source of social dislocation after the war, they waged war against institutions of society including, the universities, bureaucracy and the press. In pursuit of their blurred vision, they embarked on military social engineering efforts such as National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC), establishment of unity schools and quota system of admission into federal schools and into the bureaucracy which are mere symptoms of our unresolved national question.

On corruption, Babangida says he and his colleagues that fraudulently claim they “sacrifice their present for our future” are saints when compared to what is happening under a democratic dispensation where “today, those who have stolen billions and are in court are now parading themselves on the streets.” Babangida probably thinks Nigerians suffer from collective amnesia. If we are, President Buhari recently reminded us that it was Babangida who pardoned those he imprisoned for corruption in 1985, returned their loots and then forced him to take the place of the freed thieves in prison for three and half years.

With characteristic conceit and deceit of Shaka the Zulu, his hero, he says the 2023 presidential candidate must be someone who understands Nigerians and with wide appeal across the nation. But Nigerians remember that when his decreed parties and option A4 experiment unexpectedly threw up an MKO Abiola who secured votes from all states of the federation including Kano where he defeated Tofa, his opponent in his state, Babangida annulled the election.

He says he always stand by his friends but Nigerians still remember how his friend and best-man, Mamman Vatsa, the poet was killed on allegation of a phantom coup despite the pleading by Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and other Nigerian patriots.

Babangida in the said interview, dismissed by Afenifere as ‘a sour taste in the mouth’ also inflicted more injuries on the nation with his hypocritical comment on Nigeria’s divisive issues of politics including restructuring, fiscal federalism and rotational presidency. Any Nigerian elder statesman that wishes Nigeria well will not say that with our current dysfunctional structure, adoption of market economy that works only for a few and a presidential system that ignores our diversity and Nigerian unity “are settled issues that we shouldn’t be talking about now”.

The travail of the naira started with Babangida and his economic whiz kids- Chief Olu Falae and Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu. The duo insisted on what they called “the inevitable large scale programme of devaluation” despite reservation by the then World Bank Jaime de Millo and Ricardo Fari of Johns Hopkins University who maintained that the wholesale devaluation of our naira would not help our situation. The experts were vindicated when what was called ‘first tier rate’ which was N2.80 to $1 in 1986 had by November 1990 moved up to N10.75 kobo to the dollar.

Babangida’s economic whiz-kids who insisted there was no alternative to SAP assured Nigerians that “SAP will encourage the elite that have stolen our money and transferred them to foreign banks, to bring them back to re-invest”. But those who brought their money back chose the banks that guaranteed more interest and snubbed the manufacturing sector since SAP brought with it IMF conditionalities that mandated us to open our market to importation of anything under the sun, reducing us in the process to net importer of the labour of other societies while our own youths roam the streets.

It was not long that our car and truck assembly plants in Lagos and Kaduna, Ibadan and Bauchi and automobile supporting industries like battery, glass, tyre, brake pads plants collapsed. The flooding of our market with electronics, textiles, shoes, sanitary wares, electric cables, furniture and pharmaceutical products among others, finally sounded the death knell of our own budding manufacturing industries that had guaranteed stable exchange rate.

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