Ukertor Gabriel Moti


Chinweizu in his Vanguard column of July 6, 1986 first called Babangida, “Maradona.” The name stuck. When Kaye Whiteman, the Editor-in-Chief of West Africa interviewed the President in September, 1987, he asked how the Nigerian leader had reacted when the magazine described him as’Maradona in the Nigerian political game.’ ‘I laughed’ declared Babangida.’

General Ibrahim Babangida earned for himself the nickname of Maradona because of his skillful and astute manipulation of the polity during his years in office.’ Maradona is an Argentine footballer. During his prime playing years, he was very skillful and controversial. He scored a goal with his hand at the World Cup, which earned his country victory. Because the referee did not see the “offence”, perhaps because of Maradona’s skills, he allowed the goal. When confronted with the evidence later Maradona described it as “the hand of God.”

Desirous of extending his stay in office beyond 1990, the year in which he had promised to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian President. Babangida deliberately manipulated his eight-year transition programme (the longest in the history of transition programmes in Nigeria), to extend his stay. This gave rise to what popularly became known as the ‘Babangida hidden agenda,’ and euphemism for the General’s hidden intention to either perpetuate himself in office or succeed himself as civilian President. It is these various forms of political manipulation and how they were used to destabilize the political class that is the focus of this paper.

The Concept of Manipulation

Manipulation is an activity in a polity, which is intended to influence or control artfully or deceptively. According to David lornem, manipulation refers to “any action taken to control a person or a group in the area of action, thought, activity and or speech”‘ Manipulation is regarded as the opposite of accommodation. Accommodative as opposed to manipulative action is a relationship where people or groups on different sides of divide agree as to how they can jointly behave, think or speak in particular circumstances. The major features of accommodative action are sensitivity to one another’s feelings and objectives, which leads to cooperation. Manipulative action tends to artfully or deceptively influence or control a relationship or situation without those involved been aware that they are manipulated. Because General Babangida’s manipulation was in a political setting, we have qualified his manipulative schemes as political manipulation.

Channels Of manipulation

Manipulation as an activity can better be understood in the context of a particular setting and particular objectives. However, in any given setting, it involves a complex interplay of two channels. Ian C. MacMillan has identified two channels of manipulation.

These are the Situation Channel and the Intentional Channel. In the Situation Channel, the structure of the setting is retouched through a careful rearrangement of people or things in such a way as to result into. a particular mode of action. For example, a candidate for an election in which a party hierarchy may be crucial could work towards influencing the change of the hierarchy as a first step towards manipulating the election. The Babangida administration for example, desirous of extending his stay in power beyond 1990 set up the Political Bureau which recommended that: “he should stay in office up to 1992. He simply accepted the “recommendation”. This was unlike the Yakubu Gowon administration, which told Nigerians that 1976 was no longer feasible (practicable).

In the Intentional Channel, attempts are made to colour the perception of others in such a way as to lead them to actions which they would otherwise” have not taken. For instance, in a polity where voters have made up their minds against candidates who have the backing of an unpopular” and disliked incumbent government, rumors can be milled and filtered into the polity branding some candidates as “government candidates”. Almost automatically voters will change their perception of such -“candidates.” Since it is easier in an electoral situation for people to agree on what they do not want than what they want, once an idea of “government candidate” rubs on one, the attributes of the opponent become irrelevant.

The Military have used the Intentional Channel of manipulation whenever they, seized power. They accused civilians of corruption and ineptitude all in the hope that the general public would react against the ousted civilians and support the military’s treasonable acts of ousting a popularly elected Government. These manipulative calculations have worked well.

Methods of Manipulation

The stage for political manipulation in every polity is set in the historical evolution of the polity and can be understood in the context of the structures that make up that polity.

In Nigeria, our colonial experience and the uneven development discernable in the polity in the areas of education and infrastructure have given rise to myriad of tendencies that are susceptible to manipulation. For effect, political problems are invariably anchored on some tendencies thereby obscuring their roots and misleading victims to reactions they would have otherwise not contemplated. In keeping with this mentality; most public officers resort to ethnicity when they get into trouble.

Whether a manipulator chooses one or a combination of channels for a particular manipulative activity, four methods are used singly or severally for effective result. These are: Inducement, coercion, persuasion and obligation.

The use of anyone of these or a combination of a number or all of them in a manipulative activity depends invariably on the character of the polity, the demands of the situation at hand and the ultimate goal of the manipulator.


This method of manipulation involves retouching the setting of the manipulated in such a way that the victim’s circumstances are improved as a result of succumbing to the manipulation. The “settlement” syndrome that was associated with the Babangida Administration is a good example of the inducement method of manipulation.


In coercion, a manipulator attempts to change the victim’s circumstances in such a way that he is worse off if he does not succumb to the manipulation. Manipulative activity based on coercion is similar to blackmail. Withholding of opportunities to make money and improve one’s economic status can also be used. This is the typical carrot and stick, strategy in political manipulation.


This involves the use of argument and logic to sway a victim towards a course of action he would otherwise have not taken. This is the first step in political manipulation. Here, the manipulator attempts to ram home their views through cold argument and logic. Persuasion in politics with no tradition of political discourse degenerate into a story line in which the other side need not be heard; and fairness and the accuracy of the evidence adduced need not even be scrutinized. In this type of story line, proof is irrelevant and the manipulator can even escape responsibility for his stand.


Obligation as a method of manipulation also involves some arguments and logic to convince the victim that the manipulator’s course of action would be more in keeping with the victim’s true values. The manipulative activity here is set up in such a way that the victim, while doing what the manipulator wants, feels as if he is discharging an important debt to the manipulator. Manipulative activity based on this philosophy involves a lot of planning, and scheming.

These methods of manipulation can only succeed if the manipulator has power and influence over the setting of the manipulation. By power, we mean the ability of the manipulator to “retouch the structural setting within which the manipulative activity is to take place. Power is therefore crucial in the situational channel. Influence on the other hand refers to the capacity of the manipulator to restructure the perception of the victim. Influence is crucial in the intentional channel, General Ibrahim Babangida had both enormous power and influence to retouch the structural setting and to restructure the perception of his victims.

Tools of Manipulation

The complexity of the manipulative activity in a polity depends on the level of political education, as well as the tools deployed in the activity. In developing politics where there is a low level of interest and participation in the political process, it is easy to carry out manipulative activity not only because of the poverty of political education and general economic poverty but also because of the type of tools that can be deployed in the manipulative activity. Dictatorial regimes, especially benevolent dictators such as General Ibrahim Babangida find it easy to deploy the following tools of manipulation: money, the media, rumours, anonymous literature, Government machinery, and credible personalities.


Money has been identified as very crucial in political manipulation. This is because, besides the level of poverty in our polity, people are generally greedy; and for many, political office is a Gold mine. Money can be deployed to settle individuals and special groups, and to ensure the appearance of legitimacy. A tyrant can use money to mobilize friendly demonstrations to enforce a facade, of support. In fact money is the grease that oils the wheels of all other tools used in manipulative activity.



The Media

The media is also a crucial tool in the process of political manipulation. To be able to use the media for manipulative activity, the manipulator must have power and influence over the media. Through careful programming, advertising, newsgathering and reporting, tendencies susceptible to manipulation can be exploited. Editorials, features and syndicated columns are written and sent to newsrooms of friendly media houses. Sometimes to make manipulation through the media easier, there is a clamp down on what is regarded as ‘hostile press.’


The ultimate purpose of manipulation is to obscure reality. One way of obscuring reality is through rumours. Bits and pieces of lies interjected with half-truths are coated in plausible language and filtered into the polity.

Anonymous Literature

In politics where political education is advanced, anonymous literature may not be significant in political discourse. In our type of polity, grossly lacking in ,standard norms of discourse, anonymous pamphlets, letters, posters, memoranda and adverts can indiscriminately be used to sway opinions and mask reality.

Government Machinery

The use of government machinery can be an effective tool in the manipulative activity. This is why politicians always talk of the influence and power of incumbency. In our type of polity where governments are a short- cut to all sort of riches and privileges, a manipulator sitting in control of the official instrument of power can effectively utilize it to manipulate his stay in power.

Credible Personalities

Credibility is one of the potent tools of a manipulator. Politicians deliberately or intuitively use credibility in their search for public acceptance. Endorsement by significant individuals confers credibility on the beneficiaries of the endorsement. In Nigeria, the military have used credibility in their schemes to maintain a hold on the rulership of the nation. They encouraged solidarity visits from traditional rulers, community leaders and religious leaders, and appoint acclaimed academics and social crusaders into their cabinets.

Behavioural Aspects of Manipulation

Manipulation involves restructuring the environment in a unilateral manner in order to cause the target person or group to act or behave in certain desired ways. Effective manipulation takes place when the victim does exactly) what the manipulator intends. If the manipulative action causes the intended victim to act or behave in a manner different from what was intended the manipulation has failed.

Individuals and groups are influenced in their behaviour by group or social factors as well as by psychological factors. Therefore, any design to manipulate must consider the options available in both the social and psychological realms of human behaviour.

According to lornem, social factors affecting the behaviour of groups (and individuals alike) include, culture, ethnicity, social class, the family, reference groups, and opinion leaders. Psychological factors on the other hand would include motivation, perception, learning or experience, attitude and personality` Anyone who sets out to manipulate the individual or group of individuals must have a nodding acquaintance of the mechanics of the social and psychological factors influencing behaviour if he is to achieve success.

The Babangida Regime and Political Manipulation

Having considered the theoretical aspects of political manipulation, let us now focus on the Babangida Regime and examine how it employed this weapon. General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida has been described as “a military intellectual and strategist: a man with great personable disposition, charm and humour; a very brilliant and witty person”.’ General Babangida used these qualities effectively in his strategy of political manipulation. On August 27, 1985 when he took over power from General Muhammed Buhari through a coup, he never called it a coup. He simply described it as “a change of Government”. Upon assumption of office, General Babangida changed the title and office of Head of State to that of President. These were the first signs of political manipulation.

Nigerians were used to calling their military rulers, Head of State. By declaring that he was President, General Babangida had subtly changed the perceptions of Nigerians towards him.

Transition Progrannne

The Babangida Regime set up a Transition to Civil Rule Programme which was to terminate in 1990, with the handing over of power to a democratically elected civilian President. Under the cover of institutional restructuring during the transition period, a Political Bureau was set up. The Report of the Political Bureau stated that “in effect what we need is not a hand-over programme of the 1979; experience, but a broadly -spaced transition in which democratic government can proceed with political learning, institutional adjustment and re-orientation of political culture, at sequential levels of politics and governance”.’ Accordingly, the Report “recommended” an extended transition period from 1990 to 1992. General Bababgida simply accepted the “recommendation”, thereby extending his stay in office by two years without drawing flakes from Nigerians. The Report of the Political Bureau was the blue-print that lay the groundwork for political manipulation of the transition programme. Ad-hoc consultative bodies such as the Constitution Review Committee, the Constituent Assembly to fashion a new constitution for the country, the Transition Committee, the National Electoral Commission and the Centre for Democratic Studies were set up for the purpose of running the Transition to Civil Rule Programme. The proliferation of transition agencies was problematic. Instead of cooperation and facilitation of the programme, it led to competition and conflict. All these suited the Babangida regime’s manipulative strategy.

Destabilisation of the Political Class

In order to have a firm grip on power, monitor and control the outcome of the Transition Programme, a ban and or disqualification was imposed on certain categories of Nigerians and on specified past holders of elective party and public offices from participation in politics during or beyond the transition period. Those banned fell into three groups. In the first group were “all those politicians who held political offices” in the first and second republics “and who were subsequently indicted and found guilty of offences or misdeeds by any tribunals, assets/special investigation panel, judicial commission or administrative inquiry.”‘

This category included Secretaries to Federal and State Governments, judges, Chairmen and members of Boards of Statutory Corporations and parastatals, all military and police personnel who held offices from January 15, 1966, to the end of the transition period and who were removed from office or dismissed from service. Persons in the public sector who lost their jobs in the same way fell into this category. They were “banned from taking part in elections to any elective offices or from holding any office in any political party in Nigeria”.’

The other two groups were luckier. Barring their running foul of the law during the transition programme, they could return to politics after the transition period. The ban was extended on July 23, 1987 to cover all civilians who served in the first and second republics. This_ was known as Decree No. 25 of 1987 “Participation in Politics and Elections (Prohibition) Decree amended in the form of Decree No. 9 of 1989. This ban gave rise to what became known asnewbreed” politicians. With their emergence the political class was destabilized. The new and the old and “discredited” politicians could not work together. The political class was in disarray. They could not confront the regime as a united force because the old politicians had no platform and the ‘newbreed’ saw themselves as successors to the ‘old’ politicians and eventually Babangida.

A second aspect of the _destabilization was formation of political associations/parties. Guidelines were issued for the formation and registration of political associations as political parties. The guidelines included documentation of members, declaration of assets and liabilities of individual members of the National Executive Committees; obtaining clearance from NEC for members of these executive committees, functional offices in at least two-thirds of the States and F.C.T.

Thirteen political associations applied for registration. NEC verified their claims and submitted its report to the AFRC None of these associations qualified to be registered as political parties. They were accused of factionalism, rigging and falsification of claims, disregard of the guidelines for registration, poor organization, and association with banned politicians and the use of money. Consequently, all the associations were dissolved and in their place two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) were formed. Many observers believe that the NEC was manipulated to score down the associations and deny them registration because the military did not trust that the voluntary independent associations would do their bidding if they were registered as political parties.

Babangida himself was aware of this fear. During his address to the Nation on the occasion of the registration of two political parties on 7th October 1989, he said that “there is the fear that this Federal Military Government has no intention of relinquishing power, and, therefore, allegations have been made that we made the rules governing party formation stringent, and thus unattainable, in order to provide the excuse, for postponing military disengagement.

The way the two political parties were manipulated continuously by funding them, starving them of funds when most needed, checking and auditing their accounts with vengeance; dissolving the executives at all levels at will, appointing government officials to run their affairs confirmed the ‘fears’ of most Nigerians that the non-registration of any of the 13 political associations was pure political strategy at manipulation.

Cancellation and Staggering of Presidential Primaries

The cancellation and staggering of Presidential Primaries was also considered as a tool of manipulation in the hands of IBB. Although the staggering of Presidential Primaries is a common feature of the American political system, when Nigeria adopted it for the SDP and NRC Presidential primaries, many saw it as another way the Military regime of former President Ibrahim Babangida had devised to closely watch the outcome of the primaries and more significantly to use it to manipulate the outcome and in the end control the choice of possible successors to him. Many politicians had favoured open primaries to be conducted one – day nationwide.

The staggering system involved clustering the States into groups A, B, C, D. The Primaries were conducted group after group beginning with A through D. After group C primaries were conducted, there were allegation of irregularities and malpractices such as falsification of results, over voting, impersonation of agents, undue interference by interested Governors etc. Some aspirants called for the cancellation of the primaries. The government “relying” on these complaints halted the primaries and ordered NEC to investigate the allegations.

In a ‘Record of Oral Evidence Presented Individually to the National Electoral Commission by Presidential Aspirants of the Social Democratic Party on Monday October 12, 1992 from 4.55pm -9.10pm’, and ‘Record of Oral Evidence Presented Individually to the National Electoral Commission By the Presidential Aspirants of the National Republican Convention on Monday, 12th October, 1992 from 1.30pm – 4.50pm’, many aspirants favoured the cancellation of the staggered primaries and the conduct of a one-day-nationwide primaries without extending the transition period .

Curiously, Chief Authur Nzeribe’s suggestion that “I will like to see the transition period extended. I will go for an extension of the transition period by a minimum of one year” was highlighted by NEC. The government did not only cancel the primaries, all the presidential aspirants of the two political parties were disqualified and the transition period tactically extended by 9 months!

These aspirants included, late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Chief Lai Balogun, (late) Dr. P. D. Cole, Otunba O. O. Durojaiye, Prof. Jerry Gana, Dr. Olusola Saraki, Alhaji M. Waziri, Chief Olu Falae, Alhaji L. K. Jakande, Chief Arthur Nzeribe (SDP). NRC included, Major-General A. Aduloju, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Iro Dan- Musa, Alhaji Inua Wada, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Alhaji Lema Jibrilu, Chief Melford Okilo, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi and Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.

It was this cancellation and disqualification that gave rise to the primaries that produced the late M.K.O. Abiola of the SDP, and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the NRC.

Alteration of the Voting System

The National Electoral Commission, the Government body that regulated political participation and conducted elections during the Babangida transition period had a dilemma. It had used the Open Ballot or (open queuing) system to conduct the Local Government Elections of December 1990.

It was argued that this system was capable of causing intimidation, victimization and disenfranchisement of some Nigerians. It was also not conventional to any known political system. It was further argued that this was another of IBB’s manipulative strategy to monitor the political participation and affiliation of the ‘banned’ and ‘disqualified’ politicians. In other words, the open-ballot system was another control system on the transition period and on the political class way of checking the voting pattern of some prominent Nigerians at any election.

In response to public criticism of the open-ballot system, NEC requested the two political parties and the Directorate for Social Mobilization, (MAMSER) to submit their views on the suitability or otherwise of the open-ballot system. It also planned a national workshop in Abuja to discuss the system. Ahead of the Workshop, MAMSER kicked the dust of controversy by making its own position known. It recommended the Open-Secret system.” The choice was between the Open-ballot system, Secret ballot system and the Open- Secret ballot system.

The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, which favoured the Secret ballot argued in a 45-page report on the Local Government Elections that “we estimate that about 53.93 million eligible voters, representing about 89.43 percent of the electorate, did not cast their votes in the December 8 elections, an election in which such a large proportion of registered voters did not vote can hardly lay valid claim to democratic fairness and to being free”

Eventually NEC adopted the Open-Secret ballot system for the Presidential elections of June 12, 1993, but conducted the Governorship, State Assemblies and National Assembly elections using the Open- ballot system.


From the above analysis, it can be inferred that the Babangida regime employed political manipulation as a weapon of control. Above all, the political decisions looked at from hindsight were deliberately and consciously calculated to influence or control the political class and the Transition period artfully and deceptively. No wonder at every turn of event the regime was accused of a ‘hidden agenda’.

Because manipulation succeeds most when it is done in such a way that the people involved do not know that they are manipulated, most Nigerians gave Babangida a benefit of doubt. That is why he went so far. The regime adopted and used all methods and tools of manipulation such as inducement, coercion, persuasion, obligation and money, the media, Government machinery, anonymous literature and credible personalities. Babangida was therefore able to effectively destabilize and control the political class, the Transition Programme and the country until things went out of hand in August 1993. He thus left the country a legacy of a weapon he so well perfected.


  1. Newswatch, Magazine,” Babangida’s Brinkmanship’ (What do we call thee?).” August 29, 1988, p.27.
  2. David lornem, How to Win Elections: Tactics and Strategies JVC Press, Kaduna (1995), p.60.
  3. Ian C: Macmillan, Strategy Formulation: Political Concepts. West Publishing Company. New Jersey,( 1978) P .10.
  4. Ian C. Macmillan. Op.cit. P .13.
  5. David lornem. Op.cit. P.77.
  6. Tunji Olagunju and Sam Oyovbaire, For Their Tomorrow We Gave Our Today (Selected speeches of 1 BB volume II) Safari Books (Export) Limited. lbadan. (1991) R iv.
  7. Quoted in Tunji Olagunju and Sam Oyovbaire- p.xx.
  8. Newswatch Magazine, ‘1992: The Big Purge’ October 12, 1987, p.14.
  9. p.15.
  10. P .2. See also Seven Years of the Babangida Administration.
  11. Record of Oral Evidence Presented Individually to The National Electoral Commission By The Presidential Aspirants of The Social Democratic Party, 12th October 1992 From 4.55pm-9.10pm.’ p.15.
  12. Newswatch Magazine, Election Debate: Open or Secret Ballot, February 18, 1991, p.8.
  13. Quoted in Newswatch, February 18, 1991, p.9.