I belong to the generation of Nigerians that learned to walk, talk, and spell under the rule of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), a handsome, gap-toothed general who famously broke with dictator tradition and styled himself "president" instead of "head of state". Babangida was a charming man, unlike the dictators before (and after) him, and it was said that he threw some of the best parties in town. Think Barack Obama in a Nigerian military uniform.
However, by the time Nigerians hounded him out of the presidential villa in 1993, eight years after he moved in, his ratings had crept into sub-zero territory. Of that period, Karl Maier, Africa correspondent for the Independent, wrote: "At no time since the 1967-70 Biafran civil war has Nigeria been closer to an outbreak of fratricidal violence."
Babangida's most effective tool of misgovernance was a badly implemented economic reform program called SAP whose full meaning â€“ Structural Adjustment Programme â€“ every schoolchild had to know by heart.
I was three when Babangida came to power in 1985, and the first child of a middle-class family â€“ doctor father, nurse mother, two cars (bought brand new), four children. The second of my family's two cars, a Volkswagen Beetle, was bought the year before Babangida came to power. (In those days there was a company called Volkswagen of Nigeria, which assembled Volkswagen cars locally).
The next time my father, a civil servant, bought a car was about 17 years later â€“ a secondhand 1992-model Honda Accord shipped from Europe. Volkswagen of Nigeria, like many other industries â€“ and like Nigeria's middle class â€“ hadn't survived SAP.
Recently my friend, Chude Jideonwo, another "Babangida child", published an article titled Why I blame Babangida. He wrote: "I do not know what the figures and facts are, but one thing I remember for certain: Christmas got worse every year under Babangida's administration."
Chude's father also owned a Beetle (bought in 1985), until SAP claimed it. "Soon enough, like it was happening with a lot of other people, he lost his job, and then the car," Chude lamented. "He wouldn't get another car until IBB had long left government, and even when it came this time, it just had to be secondhand."
Seventeen years after he left office, Babangida, now a 68-year-old widower, has become the first Nigerian to announce a presidential ambition for 2011. As you would expect, the disclosure has set Nigeria on fire â€“ everyone is talking. Most of the voices are of anger, disbelief and surprise. How dare Babangida? A man who annulled the least controversial election Nigeria has had in its 50-year history, now turns around to say he wants to be elected into office?
Last week the BBC asked him why he wasn't thinking of giving the "younger generation" a chance to lead Nigeria. His reply: "Because we have seen signs that they are not capable of leading this country and so we feel we should help them. Maybe they are not given the proper education that is why â€¦ [t]he younger generation is supposed to be in charge by now. But a country like Nigeria cannot be ruled by people without experience."
That was Babangida's confident "vote of no confidence" on his "children", many of whom are now on the cusp of 30 â€“ roughly the same age as Babangida when he became a major player in the affairs of Nigeria. (By 32 he was a colonel in the Nigerian army, and by 34 a member of Nigeria's ruling supreme military council.)
It is puzzling, depressing news. After struggling to graduate from universities that started to fall apart under his rule (strikes by university teachers and violent protests by their students became routine during Babangida's regime), after hustling for nonexistent jobs, we, young Nigerians, are told â€“ by the man who played no small role in destroying our educational system â€“ that we lack "the proper education".
Equally bewildering is the comment about "experience". When I remember that Babangida's pre-presidential palace "experience" consisted chiefly of three successful coups, I don't know whether to cry or laugh. The one thing I know for sure, however, is who will not be getting my vote in 2011.