IBB: A tormented mind at work By Olatunji Dare

Former military president General Ibrahim Babangida’s greatest fear, I gather from some persons who see him from time to time, is that despite his many accomplishments, he will be defined by a single event: the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

That fear would seem to explain why, over the past five years, he has been labouring desperately to re-write the very public record of the crucial events of the time, and to latch on to anything from that era that could soften what is sure to be history’s harsh judgment on him.

Irony of ironies, he has seized the very election he annulled with such brazen casuistry as his path to redemption.

He was back peddling that line the other day, in an interview with ThisDay, on the 20th anniversary of that election.

“Well, it has come and gone,” he said of the poll. “Whatever I feel about it, at least, Nigerians agreed on one thing, that we, the administration, succeeded in holding one of the best and freest elections ever held in this country.”

Then, this:

“I can say I feel proud. We may not have achieved the objective but at least, we conducted an election that was not rigged, an election that was not marred by violence, an election that is still being referred to in the country.”

In case he has forgotten, here, in his own words, is what he said in his June 24, 1993, national broadcast justifying the annulment:

“ . . . Even before the presidential election, and indeed at the party conventions, we had full knowledge of the bad signals pertaining to the enormous breach of the rules and regulations of democratic elections.

“But because we were determined to keep faith with the deadline of 27th August, 1993 for the return to civil rule, we overlooked the reported breaches. Unfortunately, these breaches continued into the presidential election of June 12, 1993, on an even greater proportion.

“There were allegations of irregularities and other acts of bad conduct leveled against the presidential candidates but NEC went ahead and cleared them. There were proofs as well as documented evidence of widespread use of money during the party primaries as well as the presidential election. These were the same bad conduct for which the party presidential primaries of 1992 were cancelled.

“Evidence available to government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates at over two billion, one hundred million naira (N2.1 billion). The use of money was again the major source of undermining the electoral process.

“Both these allegations and evidence were known to the National Defence and Security Council before the holding of the June 12, 1993 election. The National Defence and Security Council overlooked these areas of problems in its determination to fulfill the promise to hand over to an elected president on due date.

“Apart from the tremendous negative use of money during the party primaries and presidential election, there were moral issues which were also overlooked by the Defence and National Security Council. There were cases of documented and confirmed conflict of interest between the government and both presidential candidates which would compromise their positions and responsibilities were they to become president.”

Then, the coup de grace:

“It is true that the presidential election was generally seen to be free, fair and peaceful. However, there was in fact a huge array of electoral malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before the actual voting began. There were authenticated reports of the electoral malpractices against party agents, officials of the National Electoral Commission and also some members of the electorate.

“If all of these were clear violations of the electoral law, there were proofs of manipulations through offer and acceptance of money and other forms of inducement against officials of the National Electoral Commission and members of the electorate.

“There were also evidence of conflict in the process of authentication and clearance of credentials of the presidential candidates. Indeed, up to the last few hours of the election, we continued, in our earnest steadfastness with our transition deadline, to overlook vital facts.”

But Babangida was not done yet.

“For example, following the Council’s deliberation which followed the court injunction suspending the election, majority of members of the National Defence and Security Council supported postponement of the election by one week,” he continued. “This was to allow NEC enough time to reach all the voters, especially in the rural areas, about the postponement.

“But persuaded by NEC that it was capable of relaying the information to the entire electorate within the few hours left before the election, the Council, unfortunately, dropped the idea of shifting the voting day. Now, we know better.

“The conduct of the election, the behaviour of the candidates and post-election responses continued to elicit signals which the nation can only ignore at its peril. It is against the foregoing background that the administration became highly concerned when these political conflicts and breaches were carried to the court.

“It must be acknowledged that the performance of the judiciary on this occasion was less than satisfactory. The judiciary has been the bastion of the hopes and liberties of our citizens.

“Therefore, when it became clear that the courts had become intimidated and subjected to the manipulation of the political process, and vested interests, then the entire political system was in clear dangers. This administration could not continue to watch the various high courts carry on their long drawn out processes and contradictory decisions while the nation slides into chaos.

“It was under this circumstance that the National Defence and Security Council decided that it is in the supreme interest of law and order, political stability and peace that the presidential election be annulled. As an administration, we have had special interest and concern not only for the immediate needs of our society, but also in laying the foundation for generations to come.

“To continue action on the basis of the June 12, 1993 election, and to proclaim and swear in a president who encouraged a campaign of divide and rule among our ethnic groups would have been detrimental to the survival of the Third Republic.. . .”

My apologies, reader, for drawing so copiously on Babangida’s broadcast formally announcing and justifying the election annulment. A paraphrase would not have done justice to it, I fear. Nor would it have shown so starkly the irreconcilable differences between Babangida’s 1993 evisceration of the poll in question and his desperate bid to canonize himself for conducting what he now advertises as a model and a signal achievement, if not his crowning glory.

The ThisDay interview raises anew the question: When did Babangida know that the election he denounced so forcefully was indeed “one of the best and freest elections ever held in this country?”

When did it occur to him that it was “an election that was not rigged, an election that was not marred by violence?”

If he came to that judgment before his broadcast and yet annulled the election, history will charge him with perfidy and grand perjury. If he came to it after the broadcast but chose not to correct the record, history will hold him accountable for the tens of thousands who lost life, limb, livelihood and estate in the struggle for the validation of the election.

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