Chidi Amuta

Daily Times, August 5, 1991

Can Babangida be a lame duck in the political sense? Are we approaching that time in the life of the present administration when the dramatic effects of his actions will be drowned by the novelty of civil political actors on the stage of public expectations? In short, can Babangida lead an administration which, even for a day, will have any one in doubt as to who is in charge?

There is perhaps no better way of returning “home” psychologically at least, and reactivating this column than by sharing these questions with a wider public. I raise these questions now not just because elections will soon hold at the state level. And by January next year, President Babangida will be sitting in council either with ministers, all of whom are already civilians (in their costume at least) or with governors, all of whom will be popularly elected. The sheer imminence of that prospect should have dictated that the personae and actions of the military administration ought by now to have taken a more obscure role in our day-to-day life.

President Babangida did indicate that much at the beginning of the year when he caused Aikhomu and his military ministers to metamorphose overnight into strange kinds of civilians. Apparently faithful to this promise, the President himself would seem to have wilfully suspended and subdued his natural penchant for tactical surprises and dramatic action for which our journalistic lore christened him Maradona. As it were, for quite some time, there has been little or none of those deft moves for which Babangida has become famous.

One explanation would be that time and experience on the job may have taught the President that in the affairs of state, drama can evoke immediate ovation but can also leave certain hangovers which return, in the long run, to haunt princes and peoples. It is also possible that the President may have been content in the past few months with sitting back and watching his reform programme work itself out, with minimum interference, while the public cheers or jeers. It may as well be that the man does not want to frighten off the budding politicians with the sounds of his military footsteps.

Yet, in spite of what appears like a lowered profile, in the domestic sphere at least, by the President himself, some of his subordinates have created serious doubts as to whether they, in fact, understand the meaning of the transition process. Governors have been busy speaking the language of ultimatums, demolishing people’s houses, shutting down newspaper (what abomination!) and generally issuing warnings to the emergent political class.

On our part, the media is still largely reluctant to begin to give less prominence to the actions of the military. After all, they are still occupying centre stage and making all the news; and news is what we are out to sell. We have insisted on consigning the activities and utterances of the new politicians to tiny obscure segments of our publications which we call “political pages”, as if what we have always had on our front pages is not often politics by other means.

What all this resolves into is the question as to whether Babangida, can indeed become a lame duck in the sense of becoming ineffectual, minimally relevant and just sitting out his self-appointed term. There would appear to be something in the man’s style of governance and intrinsic disposition that will not permit a lame duck posture. He is infinitely resourceful, politically and naturally restless, constantly thinking up new schemes, re-assessing and readjusting old ones and generally impatient with activity. This is why the last six years has witnessed many number of decrees, programmes and projects but all of which fit nicely into a definable reform project. More importantly, the scope and implication of the reform programme which the administration has set itself is so wide that even a moment of inactivity will create serious gaps.

There is still at the moment a great deal of the uncovered ground and unfinished business: the creation of states, movement of the seat of government to Abuja, a reliable national head count, supervision of the electoral process, stabilization of the major indices of the economy and the resolution of the National Guard question. In the external sphere, Babangida still has to resolve our relationship with Israel and South Africa respectively. We also need a more definitive strategic definition of our responsibility in the West African sub-region beyond the present skirmish in Liberia. These are urgent matters which will not wait for the familiar pussy-footing and legislative long talk that we have come to associate with civil rule in these parts. But in the months ahead, especially from the moment the elected governments are sworn in, the President will begin to face his loneliest and most trying days.

Those governors will not obey any military commands nor will they react briskly to signals emanating from Aikhomu’s office. The Vice President, an unelected ex-military officer may find it hard to understand why he cannot “control” the civilian governors who, in the event of a face-off with the Vice President may invoke the combined force of the civil electorate. Therefore, the language of the political deal-making will soon replace the barrack idiom of “obey before complaint” this necessity will invariably compel the President to adopt a less obtrusive role in matters that affects the states. Without the mandatory loyalty of governors selected by him, the President will look more towards the AFRC and the military high command for political company. If the President insists on emphasizing the obvious fact that the military is still in charge, he will be confronted with our growing army of professional litigants who will then find shelter under the constitution to make life uneasy for everyone. It is precisely the challenges that lie ahead and the dexterity which they require that may make the rest of Babangida’s tenure at the top more eventful and even more exciting than the last six years. In the days ahead, the man will have to live with the reality of political aloneness.

Even as those days approach, those who think that the man has exhausted his political skills may be in for a few exciting moments sooner than later. I can’t wait for the next few weeks!