After months of denials and playing the ostrich, Nigeria’s former military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, has declared his intention to contest for president in the 2011 poll.
The former self-styled military president let the cat out of the bag yesterday at the Benin Airport where he made a stop over on his way to Asaba, the Delta State capital. Babangida was a guest at a memorial event in honour of Mariam, his late wife.
When asked by journalists if he would join the 2011 presidential race, Babangida gave a laconic response in his characteristic soft voice: ‘the speculations are correct.”
He was dressed in off-white Babaringa, accompanied by Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu.
He is the first of major presidential hopefuls to declare interest in becoming Nigeria’s helmsman.
Babangida, who was accompanied by his children and associates, was on his way to attend the commissioning of Mariam Babangida dual carriage way, the building of a Women Development Centre and a lecture organized in honour of his late wife by the Delta State Government.
He was received at the Benin Airport by government officials of both Edo and Delta States led by Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State.
At the memorial lecture in Asaba, former President Babangida and other guests fought back tears when the sister of the former First Lady, Dr. Nkadi Onyegegbu (nee Okogwu) reeled out Maryam’s numerous achievements.
Earlier in his remarks, the Delta State Governor, Uduaghan said late . (Mrs) Babangida in whose memory the projects were being dedicated, held was a great woman, a role model and pace setter who devoted most of her life to improve on the lot of the less privileged women in the society particularly those in the rural areas.
Earlier in the day, Babangida was conferred with the traditional chieftaincy title of “Dike-Doziani”, meaning (Great Warrior who transformed the land positively) while the late wife was post-humously conferred with the chieftaincy title of “Ochiligwe-Nneoha (mother of all) of Asaba by the Asagba of Asagba Obi Chike Edozien.
Babangida seized power in a military coup in August 1985 on the pretext that the General Mohammadu Buhari regime which he overthrew was trampling on the rights and privileges of the citizenry. Gen. Buhari is also expected to officially declare his ambition. He recently left the All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP) which fielded him as the presidential candidate in 2003 and 2007 to form Congress for Political Change, CPC.
During his eight-year stranglehold on the country, Babangida was linked to strings of human rights violations apart from putting in place a transition programme marked by twists and turns until it culminated in the annulment of the June 12 presidential election in 1993.
Rights activists accuse his regime of killing several military men, including his best man at his wedding, Gen Mamman Vatsa, in 1986, and about 76 junior officers that plotted to overthrow his regime in bloody circumstances in April 1990.
His regime was responsible for the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP) which led to job cuts, decline in the country’s production capacity, purchasing power and the weakening of the country’s industrial base, apart from creating a chain of sordid economic downturns that brought the country’s infrastructure almost to its knees. He also led a commercialisation drive that his critics believed crippled the commanding heights of the country’s economy.
However, one of the most visible dark spots in his political career was the annulment of the June 12, 1993, election won by his bosom friend, the late Chief M.K.O Abiola. The annulment of the election threw the country into unprecedented turmoil which culminated in the death in detention of Chief Abiola in 1998. During the widespread protests against the annulment of the June 12 election, thousands of people reportedly lost their lives. Only last week, a civil rights organization accused Babangida of squandering the $12.5 billion naira realised from oil sales during the boom of the early 1990s.