THE popular saying is that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that tends to suffer. This may not be necessarily true in the case of two former Nigerian leaders, Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, who are locked in a battle of wits over their stewardship in the past.
When IBB was making a comment on Tuesday at a press conference to commemorate his 70th birthday, perhaps little did he know that it was an innocuous one, which could trigger a pandemonium. He probably, did not realise that he was trying to detonate a time bomb or tamper with a tinker powder, the consequence of which could be too intense to immediately imagine. He, peradventure, did not appreciate that he was trying to touch a very sensitive spot on the body of Obasanjo, who is famous for his cattle and chicken.
IBB had stirred the bees’ hornets by imputing that the Obasanjo administration, from 1999 to 2007, was a failure, especially because it alleged spent $16 billion on power without any tangible result. He explained that the OBJ government generated more revenue in a year than what his military administration had at its disposal to administer the country in its eight years. The statement provoked an angry reaction from a few disciples of OBJ, who exploded with fury by itemizing the sins of the Minna, Niger State-domiciled general. Obasanjo went up like a bomb on Thursday, shelling with all cylinders on IBB for committing an act of sacrilege. “If Babangida had decided on becoming a septuagenarian, that he will be a fool, I think one should probably do what the Bible says in Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 4. It says don’t answer a fool because you may also become a fool.” The bombshell did not catch IBB unawares, as he spontaneously fired another salvo with unparalled ripples. “We do not want to believe that Obasanjo said that, but if it is true that he did say that, Nigerians know who the greatest fool is,” IBB was quoted as saying.
On the scale, both men have had their successes and failures as presidents. Obasanjo rode on the crest of the northern oligarchies both in the military and the civil populace to power on two occasions. The first time was when he became the head of state, following the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed in a palace coup in 1976, while his second coming was facilitated under PDP in 1999 as some powerful forces negotiated his release from jail to the Presidential Villa in Abuja. IBB and other military top brass had toppled General inflicted on the psyche of Nigerians and the country for almost a decade. There are those who hate him because of the belief that his eight-year regime worsened the rate of corruption and the gradual destruction of the national economy that has continued to defy any realistic solution. Many others detest his guts for not saving the life of his friend and colleague, Major General Mamman Vatsa, over a coup as he was executed after his conviction by a military tribunal.
Conversely, the adversaries of OBJ accused him of arrogance and arrogating to himself, a solomonic wisdom. In other words, he is generally perceived as a leader who believes he should have no reason to find anything useful in an advice from a special adviser, appointed to offer regular advice on certain grudges against each other and were only waiting for an opportunity to vent the spleen on each other.
There are speculations that IBB has not forgiven OBJ for allegedly standing as a wedge between him and his ambition to become a civilian president so as to rival his (OBJ’s) record of becoming Nigerian leader twice first as a military officer and later a civilian. Another theory is that Obasanjo had succeeded in installing his favourites as possible successor, in spite of the political calculations of other interested powerful political forces in the North and the South.
There is also the assumption that IBB is angry because OBJ has not demonstrated the spirit of appreciation to those forces that railroaded him into power in 1999 but has instead worked against their interest.
There are those who believe that the face-off between them is all about ego, and was bound to fizzle out because of their individual ratings in the eyes of majority of the ordinary Nigerians. To such people, the roforofo fight is nothing but the endless scramble by the political class to remain relevant in the scheme of things despite whatever atrocities they might have committed against the Nigerian people and nation.
Whatever may be the crux of the matter, the current battle between the two is bound to send a dangerous signal to different quarters as it would be seen as the propensity of some Nigerian leaders to dance naked in the market square on matters that are too glaring to the public. Nigeria could not be where it is today politically, economically and socially if its leaders have been more responsible, circumspect and focused in managing the abundant national resources. But let’s wait to see who will be the first to blink: OBJ or IBB?