THE OBASANJO-BABANGIDA FACE-OFF
The eve of General Ibrahim Babangida's 70th birthday had presented him an opportunity for a media chat. The expectation was that he would use the forum to reflect on salient aspects of his 70 years on earth. He did that, no doubt. But he struck the wrong chord when he sought to blame his senior colleague and contemporary, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd.) for some of the country's woes. That digression was unnecessary.
Babangida, a retired General and former military president had, on the occasion, derided Obasanjo, saying that his (Obasanjo's) administration spent $16 billion on power without generating electricity. He blamed this on lack of foresight and visionlessness and therefore concluded that Obsasanjo's government was a failure.
Obasanjo, as should be expected, was perturbed by Babangida's comments. Thus, two days after, he got back at Babangida, describing him as a fool at 70. He equally accused Babangida of presiding over eight wasted years, especially as he was unable to build any power plant that would have improved power generation during his regime.
These unsavoury exchanges were to set the tone for what was to follow. The retired generals and former Heads of State consequently threw decorum to the dogs and publicly castigated each other. This lack of restraint and public show of shame by the elder statesmen has been a matter of concern to Nigerians. Many have expressed disappointment at the conduct of the two generals who, at various times, presided over the affairs of the country.
It is significant to note that Obasanjo and Babangida's regimes account for 19 years out of Nigeria's 51- year history as an independent state. In other words, both leaders have been at the commanding height of Nigeria's affairs for a substantial number of years. What this means is that their years as presidents can be used as an index for measuring Nigeria's success or failure. But if this has to be done, it is certainly not the preserve of Obasanjo or Babangida to do so. The public display of the former presidents that bordered on this assessment is therefore pig-headed. Moreso, their approach does not befit their status as former leaders of this country.
At 70, Babangida has every reason to be grateful to God for all his accomplishments, especially for keeping him alive. Therefore, he ought to have used the opportunity to reflect meaningfully on his life. Pointing accusing fingers about Nigeria's failure should not have been one of the ways to reflect on his life.
As a one-time leader of a country that is yet to find its feet, Babangida, certainly, will have a lot of blame heaped on him. What we expect therefore is for him to look inwards, acknowledge his mistakes and seek to make amends by pointing the way forward for Nigeria. That is the least we expect from him. He is not the right person to apportion blames. He should therefore have left Obasanjo alone and allow history and posterity to be the judge.
Obasanjo also went off the mark when he chose to fly off the handle by describing his former colleague as a fool. Such an angry response by Obasanjo does not portray him as a mature mind. Our expectation is that he should be able to restrain himself in the face of provocation. It is childish to descend to the gutter level over a matter that can be settled with the force of argument. It is therefore little wonder that Nigerians are united in saying that the two men who were once their leaders lacked the right qualities to occupy the exalted office of president or head of state.
We are not impressed by the grandstanding of the former presidents. It is a well known fact that Nigeria's failure revolves around all the regimes that have held sway in the land. For this reason, it is futile for anyone to appear holier-than-thou. All of them, including those of Obasanjo and Babangida, disappointed Nigerians in their own ways.
What we expect from those who have failed to improve the lot of the country is not disdain for one another or buck-passing. Rather, they should give us their own idea of how Nigeria can be salvaged, while admitting and acknowledging their mistakes. At old age, these men now have the advantage of hindsight. They can deploy it positively by offering useful advice to the new generation of Nigerians. Unfortunately, Babangida and Obasanjo have fallen short of this. Their public displays have lowered their rating the more in the eyes of Nigerians.