Is Babangida More Dangerous As A Distraction?

If, as Simon Kolawole, asserts recently in his Thisday column, General Ibrahim Babangida is only on an egomaniacal mission to self-construct as "the main issue" in Nigeria's political life, the gap-toothed evil man from Minna must be chuckling in satisfaction. His recent declaration of interest in the 2011 presidential race has transformed our nation-space into one giant Babangidapolis. Our entire commentariat has been operating on overdrive – as if the perceptive Okey Ndibe never warned several weeks ago that it could come to this.

Simon Kolawole is only partly right though. He is somewhat naïve to assume that attention and centrality to our national narrative are all Babangida seeks. There is a sinisterly dark side to Babangida's ego which creates a restless urge to be a living determiner of history. Nigeria and Nigerians are mere instruments in Babangida's urge to self-consecrate as history. He seeks a presidential podium from which to gloat: "when I used the expression, "step aside" instead of step down in 1993, I was talking in full cognizance of the fact that history would one day beckon on me again to lead this nation and I would be left with no choice than to humbly accept the call of history." This is a speech that this silly man has been rehearsing since 1993 in his head and his ego would never surrender to the idea that he wouldn't deliver it one day as President.

This is where the dangers, contradictions, and dilemmas of our current national situation come in. We are held hostage by an ego that can and will only be stopped by the collective will and vigilance of the Nigerian people. But it is also an ego that feeds on and thrives in the attention it gets – no matter how negative. Make no mistake about it – Babangida is enjoying all of this. And he is likely to continue to make one outrageous statement after the other till 2011 – and have Kassim Afegbua issue tepid denials after grabbing the headlines for weeks. That's a strategy and it is working. We cannot ignore such provocations. Yet our frenzied reactions water the man's ego. This is the terrible bind into which Babangida has pushed us. There is more. He is an expensive distraction.

Ask yourself this question: what do we risk as a nation when Babangida works us into a frenzy and we all plug into his mystique – even while attacking him? Think of what happens whenever an opposing team focuses exclusively on and throws all defenders around Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. They make themselves vulnerable to an orgy of goals by other opportunistic and equally dangerous strikers. By transforming Babangida to the Messi that we need to stop at all costs, are we perhaps overlooking the Zlatan Ibrahimovic that the National Assembly represents?

Babangida is distracting us from the dangers of not completely overhauling the National Assembly come 2011. All things considered, Nigerians have suffered more from being so poorly served by our wholly useless National Assembly since 1999 – and particularly since 2007 – than we have suffered from being equally poorly served by a no less useless federal Executive. The National Assembly has wasted more money than any other arm of government since 2007; they have squandered more opportunities of national growth and rebirth than any other arm of government; they have stolen more money than any other arm of government.

Even at the symbolic level, the National Assembly has been much more disastrous for our national image than any other arm of government. The picture is grim: very few of them – especially David Mark - won the election that got them there in the first place; too many charlatans, motor park touts and certificate forgers – one slapped a security guard and another slapped a female secretary; they traffic in careless, pedestrian statements unbecoming of their station – one fool advised the nation to sacrifice 20 million lives, Ekweremadu wants Mutallab senior to be given a national honour; majority of them are illiterates who have zilch knowledge of parliamentary discourse and procedure – hence the common incidence of a reps and senators who just go there to sleep, wake up after debates, collect their daily quota of Ghana-must-go, and repeat that cycle for four years. And the latest embarrassment is Sani Ahmed Yerima, that silly Taliban from Zamfara, who just bought a 13-year-old Egyptian slave.

One could go on retailing these instances of individual irresponsibility that have made the National Assembly not just the most dysfunctional and indolent arm of government but also the most embarrassing. Their conduct in the Yar'Adua saga – their inability to rise up to the occasion and impeach the man swiftly – should sensitize us all to the dangers of having a mediocre National Assembly. Although they like to sell the myth that as lawmakers, they are not in the position to affect/improve our lives materially and qualitatively like folks in the federal, state, and local government Executives, the truth of the matter is that we suffer very real, concrete, and material consequences from their demission and inactions.

The same type of characters are now benefitting from the Messi-Ronaldo dynamic that Babangida's interest in 2011 has foisted on the country. As the anti-Babangida protests grow louder, snowballing into our exclusive national political praxis and preoccupation, scurrilous characters are prowling every nook and cranny of the country, expressing interest in the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate. Apart from what I've been able to read in the papers about emergent and depressing candidacies, I've been tapping into my networks and connections all over the country to get hands-on information on who is interested in heading to the National Assembly. The news is not good: same people, same structures, same old story.

We are so worried about Babangida that we seem to have forgotten that there is an even greater danger for us in the combination of a Babangida presidency and a dysfunctional, corrupt, and mediocre PDP-controlled National Assembly in 2011. If the combination of Yar'Adua and the National Assembly has been so disastrous for us, just imagine what the combination of Babangida and this National Assembly would be!

Nigerians need to begin to multitask their vigilance and mobilization. The mobilization against Babangida should be matched by an equally zealous mobilization against the sort of National Assembly we currently have. We should sleep with both eyes open – one watching Babangida, the other watching the National Assembly – as we approach 2011. Babangida must be stopped and the composition of the National Assembly must change. You can only do that by paying very close attention to who is going around in your own ward quietly making moves to become your senator or federal rep. If s/he is one of the opposite people, resist him or her with the same zeal with which you are now resisting Babangida. Remember you may see him as just one person but if you accept his money and bag of rice, he will join forces with his ilk in Abuja and you get the sort of National Assembly we currently have!