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The leadership question has perceptive influence on all well meaning Nigerians whose fears about a failed nation is like a terrifying horror of a man watching his beautiful edifice crumbling before his very eyes.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is a beautiful edifice, that should be nurtured and value added to it to continuously sustain and improve its aesthetic qualities which is the attraction of all who desire its sustenance as an object of pride.

Perhaps, we have misused our past by the very nature of leadership that has traversed our political space since independence in 1960. In some national commentaries, most that has been said about leadership is that it is God-given; it is acquired by dint of hard work, guided by the zeal for service. Importantly, however, leadership is not thrust upon people, merely for the sake of seeking service whereas it may be seized by force of arms such as through a coup de ’tat.

Very well noted is the fact that in organized societies such as in democracies, the people hold the right of first choice to confer leadership on those whom they think will pursue their welfare and aspirations. Fundamentally, Nigeria’s attempt to enthrone credible leadership had been truncated over the years in the intervening periods of military governance.

It is therefore not out of place to hear many Nigerians, asking the question, is Nigeria a cursed nation? Why? Should people not freely mourn a nation that is a beautiful edifice, of rich natural endowments and yet has not been able to make good use of it to improve the lot of the people who cry and shout from the excruciating pains and pangs of hunger, poverty and deprivation as well as injustice?

Preponderant negative events of the past were clear indications that Nigeria is in dire need of good and transparent leadership. That is why looking over our shoulders against the backdrop of Nigeria’s preceding years we have experienced monumental calamities in the personages that have come on the national stage to offer service of leadership.

Nigeria’s history is common knowledge for those who care to search for it and history is being re-written everyday for leaders who have come forward to offer leadership of service to the people and, hence, continually have had judgment passed on them for their failure and excesses while in office.

It is noteworthy to mention that tracing Nigeria’s leadership crises may be a herculean task but facts simply show that the twists and turns of our treacherous epochs started in the first military putsch of January 1966 that rocked Nigeria’s first democratic government under the British parliamentary system. Be that as it may, some personalities stand out in Nigeria’s failure to offer good and transparent leadership to the people.

While failure of leadership in Nigeria should be ascribed to both civil and military regimes since independence, nowhere else in history has Nigeria gone down as the worst managed economy than in the years of military rulership of General Ibrahim Babangida and the late General Sani Abacha. Their years in the governance of Nigeria revealed horrifying spectacle of abuses of office and in the horrendous manner of the plundering of our collective and natural wealth.

Both periods were inundated by widespread looting, corruption and abuse of human rights. Their modus operandi was simply appalling and shattered all methods of conventional governance, known to comity of nations, awesomely insensitive to the feelings of the day and to the aspirations of the people.

Before going further, it is imperative to take a cursory look at the history of leadership in Nigeria and the geo-political structure as presently constituted. Nigeria is a tripod of three arms of peoples, diverse in culture and tradition. Essentially, the North is dominated by the Hausa/Fulani with pockets of other minorities who also differ in language and tradition but the overriding influence of Hausa spoken as a lingua franca makes it a political melting pot combined with Islam to engender a feeling of one North, the middle belt agitation notwithstanding.

The East, largely Igbo speaking, has its minority in the old South East of Rivers and Cross River, its population, driven by commerce and trade, exerts more political influence in the area while the West is dominated by the Yoruba until Midwest state was carved out in 1963.

However, in a deliberate political realignment, the country has been split into six-geo political zones, creating new power blocs of fundamental reengineering and restructuring of the Nigerian nation state. As a matter of convenience, it suffices to mention the new arrangement thrown up the South West which retained much of its ethnic configuration but split along different political leanings contrary to what the Action Group stood for whose ideals now live in Afenifere.

The South East is made up of the core Igbo speaking people and most fundamental however is the emergence of the South-South zone, made up of Nigeria’s ethnic minorities. Interestingly, however, is the splitting of the North into North Central, North West and the North East. It will be politically naive to assert that there is no profound political disequilibrium that has been wrought by these new political structures.

Significant in the political and economic affairs of Nigeria was when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida seized power in August 1985, cutting short the military regime of Buhari/Idiagbon. For the first time in its history, Nigeria had a military president, against conventional ideas of Head of State.

Trifling, as the change of title may have seemed, it was a telltale sign that smacks of insincerity which showed in coming years of his administration. He announced 1990 as the date of handover of power to civilians, which was not to be. Babangida’s methodology befits the popular aphorism that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. He manipulated and manoeuvred every stratum of society earning the nickname, Maradona after the self-styled Argentine legendary soccer-star, Diego Maradona.

He adopted the Machiavellian principle as an art of governance to the extent that at a point in our national existence, it became impossible to determine in which direction the nation was headed.

He launched the country into the most excruciating pain ever in the belt tightening formula of economic recovery, popularly known as Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Basic amenities needed by Nigerians such as staples, rice, beans and garri disappeared from the daily meals of the people and everybody had to queue up for ration of food.

The evil genius is another catch phrase by which Babangida was known in his heyday as a military ruler. He was seen as one who can spring sudden surprises on the Nigerian people. Some of his deeds were, in fact, shocking to say the least. Nigerians woke up one morning to hear that the country has been enrolled in the organization of Islamic conference in a secular state such as Nigeria.

Babangida’s approach to governance is riddled with insincerity as his administration deceived the Nigerian people, the most when it came to promises delivery. After assuring that power would be returned to civilians in 1990, he reneged, shifting to it 1992 but not until June 12, 1993 was the presidential election held.

The election which was adjudged the freest and fairest election Nigeria ever had with M.K.O Abiola as the acclaimed winner was annulled by Babangida, eliciting national and international outcry. The annulment caused widespread violence in the country, leading to his stepping aside on August 1993. He then appointed an Interim National Government (ING) led by Ernest Shonekan who held forte briefly before the late Abacha seized the reins of power.

Nigerians know better who IBB is, and the assertions of Abraham Lincoln, former American President that: "you can fool some of the people some of the time; you can fool all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time", is a soothing epithet of Babangida’s immoral choice to seek the presidency again under a democratic platform after ruling for eight years as a military president.

His years in office were replete with misdeeds which today, Nigerians cry out for justice to take its course. Hence, Nigerians are vehement and are digging out the archives of history in the present circumstance, because this is a man that has wittingly made feeble attempts to explain away the murder of Dele Giwa, founder of Newswatch Magazine, one of the brightest and best professional and investigative journalists Nigeria has ever produced.

The circumstances linking Babangida to Giwa’s death are all too revealing, in particular, his harassment by Col. Halilu Akilu then Director of Military Intelligence and Ajibola Kunle Togun, then Deputy Director of State Security Service who accused him of gun running and plotting a socialist revolution. Afraid of threat to his life, he had called on the late Gani Fawehinmi, his lawyer, to prosecute the security chiefs.

Importantly is the Oputa ‘s panel recommendation on the death of Dele Giwa. It says: "As for the case of Dele Giwa, we are of the view that beyond legal technicalities that some of the key witnesses hung on to, the federal government should be encouraged to re open this case for proper investigation.

"On General Babangida, we are of the view that there is evidence to suggest that he and two security chiefs, Brigadier General Akilu and Togun are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb. We recommend that this case be reopened for further investigation in the public interest."

However, a Supreme Court decision of February 3, 2001 had stopped the official gazetting of the Oputa panel report to make it a public document saying that "the 1999 constitution made no provision for tribunals of inquiry." Babangida also filed a suit at an Abuja High Court, precluding the government of Obasanjo from considering or accepting observations and recommendations of the panel and from implementing any recommendations, report or white paper arising from the report of the Oputa panel as they affected him, pending hearing and determination of the suit.

It is expected that as a man who has no skeletons in his cupboard and has nothing to hide or fear, should have allowed the full course of justice to determine his innocence in the murder of Giwa.

Also revealing of Babangida’s incompetence to offer himself again for leadership of this country is the report of Dr. Pius Okigbo which probed the $12.4 billion, gulf war oil windfall receipts. The full report submitted on 27 September, 1994 has never seen the light of day. Interestingly, the full report is now in the public domain, despite desperate efforts to keep it out of view.

Parts of the report reads: "in 1988, the president authorised the dedication of crude oil of 65, 000 barrels per day for the finance of Special Priority Projects including Ajaokuta iron and steel, Itakpe Iron Mining and Shiroro Hydro electric projects. The account was also to be used for external debt buy-back and the build-up of reserves. The quantity was subsequently increased to 105, 000 barrels per day and in early 1994 to 150, 000 barrels per day.

"In addition, a stabilization account to receive the windfall of oil proceeds from the gulf-war and a special account for Mining rights and signature Bonus were opened. Altogether, $12.4 billion was received into those accounts from 1998 to June 1994, all of which have been spent, leaving a balance of $206 million as at the 30th of June, 1994."

What else do Nigerians want in a leadership figure other than one who is transparent and exhibits honest disposition to free the nation from want and deprivation? The nation’s wealth and resources were squandered and wasted by a regime that did not give cognizance to the rights of Nigerians to good living standards.

Infrastructural decay and capital flight were the order of the day and Nigerians suffered in anguish and frustration from high cost of essentials and other commodities.

Babangida had eight years of uninterrupted governance to place Nigeria on a better and sound footing but failed to do so. Nigerians have become wiser from the events of the past and they are even more today, ever than before. We need a transparent president, not one who has destroyed our historic past, to beg for forgiveness as a ploy to mount the national leadership. To this, we say no! And on a resounding no, we insist!

Bello contributed this piece from Kaduna and can be reached on [email protected]


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