Which of the following three things do you think should break IBB’s heart the most: The opportunity he missed being a national hero and an international statesman with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won fair and square by MKO Abiola; the death of his wife Maryam; and his present state of health? Despite the many shenanigans of IBB, his many sins would still have been forgiven had he allowed the June 12, 1993 presidential election to stand, and had he relinquished power to a democratically-elected government like Olusegun Obasanjo before him and Abubakar Abdulsalami after him.
The mere fact of handing over to a civilian government is the reprieve Obasanjo and Abdulsalami enjoy to this day, both nationally and internationally. They are today treated as statesmen of repute; not that they did not sin. The same thing goes for former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who, rather than dig in, in 2015, made his now famous statement that his presidential ambition was not worth the blood of a single Nigerian. Jonathan proceeded to accept defeat, handing over power to Muhammadu Buhari.
When IBB sees the trio of Obasanjo, Abdulsalami and Jonathan strut on the global space as colossus, rubbing shoulders with, and being celebrated by world figures, how on earth will his heart not break? Yet, IBB stood on a higher pedestal than these three to win similar acclaim because the 1993 election which he annulled was widely acclaimed, nationally and internationally, as the best this country has ever had. For IBB, it was paradise lost that is hard to regain; an opportunity lost which will never come around again.
I am sure IBB has not forgotten the momentous events of June 12; who can ever do? He and his media minders have made spirited efforts severally to justify the annulment; to extricate IBB from the unfortunate mess and or rope as many people as possible in the debacle with him. On the occasion of IBB’s 70th birthday, I was in Minna where I had something to do for the government of the self-styled “Chief Servant”, Gov. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State; the day’s job done, my main man in the state, SOJ, drafted me into the train of state correspondents going to the HillTop residence of IBB to felicitate with him. I could not help but notice the decrepit state of some of the facilities in the place.
IBB was his boisterous self; though quite evident in him was old age, the wear-and-tear, so to say, of all he has gone through, and his fair or unfair share of life’s vicissitudes. As I introduced myself after many others had done so, he said, “Ah, my enemy!” I replied: “Your Excellency, I am not your enemy but the enemy of your obnoxious policies, especially the annulment of June 12”. As Editor of The PUNCH at the time, I refused, from beginning to the end, to compromise on June 12 even when I was baited with offers many would regard as mouth-watering: A house in London and one million pounds in a bank account there! I would also not consider the Shonekan government’s offer to support his “fidihe” Interim National Government.
Of all the leaders of Nigeria, it is debatable if there is anyone that has drastically and dramatically altered the fortunes and affected the destiny of this country than IBB. Consider his unending return to democracy rigmarole; the many times he shifted the goalpost in the middle of the match and, finally, the annulment. Noted for the manner in which he dribbled Nigerians, it was not an error that he was nicknamed “Maradona”! No thanks to IBB, Nigerians will never know the stuff of which MKO Abiola was made; whether or not he would have delivered on his “Farewell to Poverty” mantra.
IBB’s annulment of Abiola’s election victory killed Hope ’93! But for the annulment, we might never have had Gen. Sani Abacha; we might never have had Olusegun Obasanjo and we even might never have had Muhammadu Buhari! The story of this country would probably have been different from what it is today. With just one stroke of the pen, IBB changed the trajectory of this country forever! When he now looks back on the turn of events, will his heart not break?
Consider also the death, in far-away Los Angeles, California, the United States of America, of IBB’s adorable wife, Maryam, on 27 December, 2009. Without doubt, Maryam was the most flamboyant First Lady Nigeria ever had; she was powerful, too. In fact, many regarded her as the power behind IBB’s throne. Feyi, First Lady of Olabode George when he was the Ondo State military administrator, believed that much, with evidence. As Features Editor of The PUNCH at the time, I had led a team of writers to interview Feyi, in preparation for Maryam’s visit to the state in respect of her pet-project, the Better Life for Rural Women Programme, which Feyi said was a ruse meant to disguise its real purpose of collecting spiritual power from all over the place. She took us to some of the “spiritually powerful” women that the First Lady was slated to visit.
But you must not blame Maryam! Is it not said that behind every successful man is a woman? The Yoruba – and I am one – will lionize Maryam as “abiyamo otito”; a courageous, daring, conscientious and worthy wife and mother deserving of accolades. Now, who will lose such a “jewel of inestimable value”, to borrow the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s description of his wife, Dideolu, and not suffer heartbreak?
The last time I saw the photographs of IBB, he was on a wheelchair; whether this is temporary or permanent, I cannot say. All around him were other Nigerian leaders, some of whom, long ago, were rumoured to be in serious ill-health but who, today, are still on their feet bouncing! Fate can be cruel sometimes and life is not a straight course. As we close, let us hear from the philosophers: “As Herodotus tells it (in Book I of his The Histories) the Athenian lawgiver, Solon, travelled to the ancient kingdom of Lydia and visited with the ruling king, Croesus of Sardis. The king was delighted to have such a renowned philosopher and statesman in his presence. Solon is remembered as a lawmaker from the archaic age of Athens. His laws are often credited with laying the foundation for early Athenian democracy about a century later.
“For several days, the king instructed his servants to take Solon around his palace to demonstrate his enormous power and wealth. Once he felt that his riches had adequately awed Solon, the king asked the Athenian: ‘Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?’ Croesus already assumes himself to be the happiest man in the world but wishes to hear his name parroted back to him by such a renowned sage.
“Rather than name the king as the happiest man, Solon claims that Tellus of Athens is the happiest of all men. Croesus is shocked! ‘What makes this Tellus guy so special? Why is he the happiest?’ Solon replies: ‘His country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours’
“Croesus was perplexed by such an answer but he pushes on regardless. If he weren’t the happiest man, certainly Solon would name him the second happiest, right? But no! Solon says that the second happiest of mortals were a pair of strapping young Argives: Cleobis and Bito. These lads were renowned for their strength and athleticism. One day, their mother wished to travel to the temple of Hera to attend a festival but there were no oxen to pull the cart. The two brothers, who clearly loved their dear old mom, slung the yoke over their own necks and dragged the cart six miles. They were, in essence, the ideal ‘good sons’ who drove their mother to church on Sundays. When the brother arrived at the temple, the other citizens witnessed their feat and extolled the boys for their strength and dedication. Later, the mother prayed to the goddess to grant her sons the greatest of gifts a mortal could receive. After the festival, the youths fell asleep in the temple and never awoke. They passed from this earth and were forever remembered by their people as the best of men.
“At this point, Croesus is livid with Solon. These dead men are happier than he, a king? Surely, the old codger must have lost his marbles. Solon explains that while Croesus is very wealthy, the wealthy have only two advantages over the poor: The means to bear calamity and satisfy their appetites. However, the rich have no monopoly on the things that the classical Greeks thought constituted a good life: civic service, raising a healthy family, being of sound mind and body, and honouring the gods. Plus, riches do tend to create more issues for their possessors. After all, more money, more problems! The wealthy can be said to be ‘fortunate’ but ‘happiness’ must be reserved for those of us who have already shuffled off this mortal coil. How do we meet our end? Does our good fortune last until our dying breaths? Solon concludes that he cannot tell Croesus if he is happy or not until he knows the manner of his death. Count no man happy until the end is known!
“Croesus sends Solon away with much indifference but he might have done well to listen to him. Soon after, the king’s son is killed in a hunting accident and the king himself is struck blind by the gods for his hubris. Finally, after an ill-advised invasion of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great of Persia crushes Croesus’ kingdom and Croesus finds himself on the business end of a funeral pyre while he is still breathing. As the flames licked at his feet, Croesus cried out…‘Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Count no man happy until the end is known!’ “
This story is caveat emptor of sorts to men in power and authority. No one knows tomorrow!
Bye-bye, Muhammadu Buhari!
All things being equal, this is the last of this column that retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari will read – if ever he reads! – as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of its Armed Forces. In a few hours, he, too, will join the ranks of the ex-this and ex-that. Nothing lasts for ever! Other than saying “bye-bye”, I am not ready to waste time and resources on Buhari anymore. I prefer, instead, to keep my powder dry for the in-coming president and commander-in-chief, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. So, maa bayi, maa bayi o, alagba Buhari! E kaabo s’ori aleefa, olori oko titun, alagba Tinubu! Igba re a san wa; asiko re a si tu wa l’ara! Ase Edumare!
* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.