BABANGIDA AND THE PAPER TYRANTS


Chidi Amuta


Published Daily Times, June 4, 1990


Those who have found a new pastime in fiddling with the tiger’s tail must mind their entrails. Or, better still, those who choose to farm in a burning bush must be prepared to reap one of two harvests. There is perhaps no other counsel for the growing clan of paper tyrants, the latter day gladiators of the pen, the handy serfs of the head – hunting political culture of yesteryears who have suddenly returned to  haunt us. Let me explain. Since after President Babangida and the AFRC disbanded the 13 political associations that applied to bid (as in bazaars!) for our mandate to rule the Third Republic, our social and political discourse has fanned out in two directions.

It is either you are part of Babangida’s much orchestrated hidden agenda of perpetuating himself in office or you are against the man’s continued tenancy at Ribadu Road. In order to qualify as a Babangidaist, all you need to do is say that there is some merit in aspects of the policies of his administration. Once you commit this mortal sin, your fate is nailed. You become part of “the trouble with Nigeria” (excuse me, Prof. Achebe!) and must be pelted with mud, lumps of tar or machetes and verbal AK 47 bullets. On the contrary, since it is fashionable in these parts to see everything wrong with every government (any government), heroes are made of those who see nothing good in all governments. In order to qualify for this nihilist definition of heroism, all you need to do is pick up your pen or mount a rostrum and profusely run down every policy and everybody in authority. Newspapers will scream with headlines, passers-by will clap for you. Before long; another “man of the people” is born. In the process, common sense goes to the dogs.

In between, there is no space for reasoned discourse, no room for balanced judgement. All comments on socio-political issues must be branded, pigeon-holed and cast in the mould of for or against. How does this writer come into all this? In my premiere column as Chairman of the Editorial Board of the new Daily Times, I had written on 15 November on a subject that I thought deserved a closer national attention. The piece was simply titled “Ibrahim Gorbachev” and was primarily aimed at placing President Babangida’s policies in historical perspective. I will return to this matter subsequently. But that was all it took to get into trouble with “the brotherhood of Armageddon.” Since I chair the Editorial Board of the Daily Times in which the Federal Government holds 60 per cent shares, then my view on any subject cannot but have been commissioned by government. So runs the simplistic linear logic of the brotherhood of Armageddon, especially their high priests. The agenda would appear to have been set quite early by The African Guardian in its issue of December 11, 1989.

My friend, Andy Akporugo simply adorned his otherwise usually unreadable column with a gigantic question mark! “Who wants the transition postponed?” After drawing attention to the disaster of military rule in Africa as typified by the likes of Eyadema of Togo, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Emperor Bokassa of Central Africa, Idi Amin of Uganda, Sergeant Doe of Liberia (note the choice of parallels), “a motley crowd of tyrants, clowns and buffoons”. Akporugo descends on the “ideologues and philosophers” who want Nigeria to join this ignominious crowd of nations ruled by fools by insisting that Babangida should remain in office for longer than 1992.

Predictably, the Daily Times and my piece in question provide ready victims, albeit in thinly veiled reference. Since it is not part of my preoccupation to respond specifically to the insinuations in Akporugo’s write-up as they concern my personal integrity, I can only say for now that neither myself nor the Daily Times was party to the decision to disband the 13 political associations. I would not know the relationship between that decision of the AFRC and the unrelenting anger and peculiar political temper of my friend’s column ever since that decision was made!

The African Concord has, curiously, been more interested in my position on the matter. In its issues of December 11, 1989, May 28, 1990, and June 4, 1990, this magazine has come to consecrate me and a few others into an informal pressure group who are opposed to democracy and the ousting, by whatever means possible, of Babangida and his regime. In the tradition of what I may call the new lazy school of journalism, this magazine has clung to a single sentence in my article of November 15, 1989, as the basis for its conclusion. Until their June 4 edition, I was inclined to believe that The African Concord whose publisher and principal staff are my friends, meant no harm. But not anymore. And I have my reasons to get worried. On Wednesday, May 23, I returned from the office just in time to meet a team of young men and women from The African Concord. They wanted an interview but since I was tired and also had to dash off again, I requested that they meet me in the office the following morning at 9.00am.

The preface of the interview, on the basis of which I granted it, was that my half-page article of November article on November 15 last year was hardly enough for me to fully develop an argument on the Babangida question. I accepted the challenge of making my views clear. I spoke to the reporters for close to one hour. But alas, when The African Concord issue of June 4 hit the streets, it was a carefully chosen single paragraph which was essentially a de-contextualized rehash of the one-sentence quote taken from “Ibrahim Gorbachev”.

At least, some progress was made from one sentence to a whole paragraph! But there was neither fairness nor rigour in the selection of the single paragraph that was used to confirm Amuta as an enemy of democracy “now now!” somebody else joined the “Brotherhood” in the Vanguard issue of May 30,  1990,  but I would rather ignore the ideological underpinnings of that particular attempt at an opinion column. There is of course a familiar pattern in the foregoing. Its significance becomes more important given the fact that the campaign against perceived Babangidaist institutions and personalities has been rekindled with even greater vigour since the sad events of April 22.

The plot is simple: Once a regime fails to satisfy certain narrow interests or makes a few human errors, it is time to discredit it, find new scapegoats – institutions and individuals – who can be said to have provided intellectual prop and credibility for the discredited regime. Once the regime is either stampeded out of office or shot out of power, there goes the credibility of those framed with it. That is how Chidi Amuta, Eric Oppia, The Economist of London, Daily Times and Othman Tofa have become the readiest scapegoats in the new hunt for the heads of friends of Babangida and, so it seems, the enemies of democracy.  The agenda is a clearly political one with a homicidal intent. But the tragedy of it all is that it is based on a deliberate distortion of facts and a reluctance to grapple with history as lived experience. Not to talk of the laziness of the average Nigerian reader which has also infected those who are entrusted with the responsibility of informing our hapless citizenry. What a pity! I am not however in the process of recanting the views expressed in “Ibrahim Gorbachev”.