Flip-flop is a characteristic of politicians, even generals that mutated into politicians. That’s why we should not be surprised over the attention former Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida’s weekend statement has generated.
As a matter of fact, the derogatory label is traceable to the 1880s when then U.S. President Grover Cleveland reached a compromise with the United Kingdom on fishing rights in the waters off Canada. This outraged New England states that depended on the fishing industry and a New York Tribune writer then called the action a “fisheries flip-flop”, possibly a play on words on how a fish flip and flop on a boat deck. All adult Nigerians know that the self-styled military president run with the hare and hunt with the hounds which prompted a late brilliant journalist, Victor Olabisi Onabanjo of the Aiyekooto fame, to give him the appellation, Maradona. Football lovers who are old enough to watch Maradona in his heyday will surely remember his dribbling skills.
So, release, denial and affirmation are all in line with Babangida’s character. But I confirmed from some of those who should know that he authorized the release of the initial statement but he never bargained for the interpretation given to its content. Usually, all journalists can share experience of how sources have frowned at the angle stories are reported or the slant given to a statement or an interview. It is trite, however, expecting reporters to give only an interpretation to a particular subject matter. Immediately you push a statement out, whichever way journalists chose to interpret it is at their discretion. Subsequently, President Muhammadu Buhari’s camp reached out through mutual friends on the danger posed to our president with such news gaining traction.
They, thereafter, got Babangida’s son on board to issue another statement on behalf of the general. Remember also how the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Nuhu Ribadu arrested and detained Mohammed Babangida in 2006 as part of investigations into Globacom, a telephone company. This, possibly, was the reason why he was persuaded into issuing another statement before Babangida later, through his spokesman, who released the original message, affirmed the content. The younger Babangida’s mind was probably on his and the larger family’s business interests knowing the powers of a state like Nigeria.
But how come correspondence between retired generals and our president have suddenly become the talk of the town? Why are Nigerians giddy about what two old men think about who becomes the next president? Do we really need their views before drawing our conclusion on Buhari’s performance? My take is that there seems to be a coalition on pushing Buhari out of office come next year with Obasanjo and Babangida as the arrowheads of the plot and it can only get more interesting. The wily fox that Obasanjo is has succeeded in positioning himself as a patriot who is very much concerned about the country’s fortunes. We all know that this is not exactly the case. In Obasanjo’s public statement to Buhari he announced a ‘new’ coalition to lead Nigeria out of the woods but with the faces behind the coalition one cannot but ask, “Who is new among them?” They thereafter followed with a Babangida’s statement all in a bid to drum support for the coalition. To confirm this more, a politician friend of mine told me he has decided to be part of the coalition. ‘It is the way to go,” he added.
The last time a coalition worked so well in our politics was in 2010 when many Nigerians queued behind a coalition determined to ensure that the National Assembly do the right thing by affirming Goodluck Jonathan as the acting president before the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Former President Jonathan rode on the coalition’s coattails to win election in 2011. There is no thread connecting Nigerians to the coalition as the concept of a generational shift is still largely a southern thing and not yet national. It’s a way of bringing back the Obasanjo’s gang through the backdoor but Nigerians are wiser now. This is no endorsement, however, for President Buhari. His largely ineffective and parochial government has demonstrated that it takes more than integrity to run a government, even the much-vaunted integrity is simply what it is, an empty boast.
It takes more than statements and letters to persuade an incumbent not to run. This is better achieved at the polling booths and so we cannot expect Buhari not to contest based on the generals’ missive but they are drawing rings round him and it is possible they defeat him. Being a general too, the president must know what to do to come out of the corner he has boxed himself into but we must put a stop to being used as pawns in their game of power politics. We need a clean break from the past if Nigeria must succeed.