Did former military President Ibrahim Babangida urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek re-election and give way to a new generation of leaders in 2019?
The controversy raged on last night after two statements reflecting different opinions were credited to the former military leader. Both were issued within hours.
Gen. Babangida, who ruled Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, was the Chief of Army Staff in the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari military regime between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985.
He led the coup that ousted Gen. Buhari and succeeded him. During his tenure, he organised a long transition programme which led to the election of civilian governors. He truncated the process when he annulled the 1993 presidential election won by business mogul Moshood Abiola. That election is believed to be Nigeria’s freest and fairest ever.
Yesterday, a statement issued by Gen. Babangida’s spokesman, Kassim Afegbua, a former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Edo State, quoted Babangida as criticising the Buhari administration just as former President Olusegun Obasanjo did.
He urged Buhari to complete his first term and allow a new generation of leaders to take control of the affairs of the nation.
Babangida, according to Afegbua’s statement, said:
“In the fullness of our present realities, we need to cooperate with President Muhammadu Buhari to complete his term of office on May 29th, 2019 and collectively prepare the way for new generation leaders to assume the mantle of leadership of the country.
“While offering this advice, I speak as a stakeholder, former president, concerned Nigerian and a patriot who desires to see new paradigms in our shared commitment to get this country running.
“While saying this also, I do not intend to deny President Buhari his inalienable right to vote and be voted for, but there comes a time in the life of a nation, when personal ambition should not override national interest.”
But, in another statement he personally signed and released from Minna by one of his aides, Mahmud Abdullahi, the former military leader warned against a gang-up outside law and order.
He said any realignment of forces for 2019 elections must be within democratic tenets.
Although he did not mention any group, Babangida’s statement appeared a subtle response to the recourse to the formation of groups against President Buhari’s re-election.
One of such groups is ex -President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM).
Gen. Babangida insisted that only a two-party system is the best for the country,
and recommended the fusion of parties to serve as a strong opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
He also called for proactive measures to stop farmers/herders clashes in the Middle Belt, cattle rustling, armed robbery, kidnapping, gangsterism and cultism in other parts of the country.
He disowned the Afegbua-signed statement, saying since he had unfettered access to the highest authorities in the country, there was no way he would have written a sensational statement.
He, however, said it was worrisome that political events and civil unrest in many parts of the country had raised many questions on the governance and unity of the nation.
The statement said: “Recent happenings and utterances by political gladiators are alarming and not in the interest of common man that is already overstretched and apparently living from hand to mouth due to precarious economic conditions.
”Despite all these challenges, I am optimistic that the political actors will play within the ambits of political norms and decorum to ameliorate the problems facing our society now.
”I am a realist that believes in all issues in a democratic atmosphere are sincerely discussed and resolved in the spirit of give-and-take.
“Since after my military years that metamorphosed to being the only Military President in the history of Nigeria and my civilian life, I always have one clear objective that freedom can only be achieved through democracy.
”Some people find this freedom as an avenue for eroding democracy by antics of hate speeches under the guise of religion, tribal or self-imposed mentorship. This trend of pitching political class and the people against one another is unhealthy and must be discouraged by all and sundry.
”The clamour for re-alignment of governance in the country as we are approaching the 2019 election year is a welcome development only if the agitations are genuinely channelled through appropriate channels of law and order and the observance of the supremacy of the Constitution.
“Therefore, any attempt outside this circle of democratic tenets is deceptive and divisive idea capable of plunging our political journey into disarray.”
He cautioned against hate speeches and divisive statements by political gladiators.
Babangida added: “However, with due respect to individual opinion and constitutional rights, it is worrisome that political events and civil unrest in many parts of the country have raised many questions on the governance and unity of our great nation.
“Indeed 2018 has been inundated with political clamours and hot debates over the corporate existence of this country.
“Many of contributions, including constructive criticisms and engagements, have shown greater concerns for the corporate existence of Nigeria beyond 2019 general elections.”
Babangida insisted on a two-party structure for the country.
He added: “Our present political parties and their structures need parameter pillars that will make them stronger with unique ideologies. However, our present political parties need surgical operations that will align them into a reasonable number.
“ I have been an advocate of a two-party system but in our present reality in Nigeria, our political parties can fuse into a strong political association or party that can form a formidable opposition to a ruling party.
”As students of history, we are aware that many advanced democracies have two distinct ideological political parties, with a handful of smaller political groupings that serve as buffer whenever any of the known political parties derailed or became unpopular. I still believe in a two-party system as the best option for Nigeria.
”It is high time that we engage in constructive dialogue on national issues in order to have a political solution to our myriad of problems. It is sad that Nigeria had its fair share of conflicts, and we cannot continue to fall back to those dark years of bloodshed.”
After his statement was disowned, Afegbua issued a terse message, saying: “Please this is to affirm that the earlier statement issued and signed by me on behalf of General IBB stands.
“We regret the mix-up in a rebuttal issued to contradict the statement. The statement stands.”
But Abdullahi, who released the IBB-signed statement in Minna told our correspondent that the second statement was authentic and took precedent over Afegbua’s having been personally signed by the former military leader.
Last night, Gen. Babangida’s son Mohammed told The Nation through a media aide that the statement personally signed by the former military president is his true position on the state of the nation.
He said Gen. Babangida would not issue a statement without reading thorough it thoroughly to ensure that it represents his opinion.
He said Afeghua was not authorized to issue that statement purportedly on behalf of Gen. Babangida.
He said Afegbua was told to withdraw it but he declined and instead insisted it was authentic.