In a recent interview with the EFCC “Zero Tolerance” magazine, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) denied his involvement in the looting spree that characterized his 8-year misrule. Unfortunately for the former dictator, he ended up confirming himself as an embodiment of official corruption. For instance, when asked to justify the enormous cost of his 50-room mansion at Minna, Niger State, General Babangida claimed that “I cannot estimate because it has appreciated. I know what my friends spent. No, my friends contributed.” It is not true that the general’s friends contributed a dime as the palace was built and donated ex gratis by the leading government contractor in the country.
That was in utter breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Decree signed by IBB in 1989. When he was also asked how he acquired his stupendous wealth, the general informed the reporters of the Zero Tolerance magazine that he is a major shareholder in an unnamed bank. I have it on good authority that there is no “major shareholder” in any of the local banks who is not a billionaire. However, the retired General did not disclose if he invested in the particular bank with the proceeds of his gratuity and pension. Certainly, he did not set up a university and other businesses from his retirement benefits. Or did he, like one of his predecessors, engage in the primitive accumulation of public properties and assets through “blind trust” when he was in power?
While denying that the sum of $12.4 billion was stolen by his regime General Babangida said the Gulf War lasted only three months and as such “there is no way you could make $12.4 billion in three months.” Of course, the money was not made in three months but in six years. The fact which the former military president did not disclose was that he opened and maintained some dedicated and stabilization accounts at the Central Bank into which the sum of $12.4 billion was paid from 1988-1992 from the proceeds of crude oil. The accounts were operated outside the Federation Account. Out of the said sum of $12.4 billion the Pius Okigbo Panel found that the dictator could not account for $12.2 billion withdrawn from the accounts. In a dubious rationalization of the criminal enterprise the General claimed that the huge fund was spent on developing Abuja, the Third Mainland Bridge and the Kaduna-Kano dual carriage way. Contrary to such misleading claim, the projects listed by the ex-military president were budgeted for by his regime whereas the Okigbo panel found that the $12.4 billion was not captured in any of the budgets of the country at the material time. In fact, in the historic report of the panel the few projects accounted for by the IBB junta include a documentary film on Nigeria, purchase of TV/Video for the Presidency, TV equipment for ABU, Ceremonial Uniform for the army etc. whose total value was less than $400 million. On how the huge fund was stolen the Okigbo panel stated that “ in a number of cases, there were significant variations between the amounts approved and the actual disbursements made, without any further explanations from the documents supplied.” On the monumental damage done to the economy by the criminal diversion of the money the panel was compelled to conclude that “if the funds had been counted as part of the external reserves and had been held as such, the impact on the exchange rate in the years under review would have been stronger in 1994, in relation to the dollar, than it was in 1985 when it stood at N1 to $1.004. It should be evident , therefore, that the burden of external debt to the Paris and London Clubs and the pressure on the exchange rate would have been substantially mitigated if not completely eliminated.”
As if that was not enough the junta defaulted in the payment and servicing of the nation’ external debts. Even though Nigerians rejected the dangerous conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund the junta imposed the imperialist-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) on the nation. The implementation of the neo-colonial capitalist agenda led to the reckless devaluation of the national currency, retrenchment of workers, privatization of public assets, trade liberalisation which destroyed local industries. National morality was debased as 419 kingpins, drug barons and other economic saboteurs were given protection by the police while some of them were given national honours. Civil servants and other public officers who engaged in official corruption were not sanctioned. To the detriment of the rule of law and national integrity the junta provided a congenial atmosphere for extra-judicial killings, examination malpractice and the emergence of illegal educational institutions and fake banks. Under the Babangida junta, it was common knowledge that official corruption was made the directive principle of State policy. Hence military officers who were accused of corruption were promoted while patriots who challenged them were detained without trial under the obnoxious Decree no 2 of 1984. A foreign journalist, William Keeling who alerted Nigerians of the unprecedented looting of the treasury by the head of the junta was deported from the country. Apart from Professor Tam David-West who was illegally jailed for allegedly taking a cup of tea no public officer was brought to book for official corruption. David-West was eventually discharged and acquitted of the charges by Nigeria’s Special Appeal Court on 8 August 1991.
To prove that everyone had a prize many credible Nigerian citizens and reputable organizations were corrupted and destroyed. Those who rejected the juicy offers of the junta were subjected to harassment and intimidation. For refusing to be compromised some of us were routinely arrested and detained. Four of my comrades and I were even charged with treasonable felony by the junta. It was during the dark era that Dele Giwa, a prominent journalist, was parcel bombed in Lagos on Sunday, 19 October, 1986. The terrorist attack was officially covered up. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) who demanded that the culprits be fished out and prosecuted was almost killed by the junta. To silence other journalists and prevent them from exposing corruption some media houses were shut down. Cultist groups were funded on the campuses and unleashed violence on progressive lecturers and students. Radical lecturers were sacked for teaching what they were not paid to teach. In fairness to General Babangida, he did not deny the fact that corruption was the directive principle of State policy under his regime. Indeed, while admitting that the junta led by him was corrupt he only expressed dismay because the menace of official corruption has since assumed a monumental dimension under the current political dispensation. Hence, he said: “I don’t have the facts but if what Iread in the newspapers is currently what is happening then I think we were angels”. In other words, official corruption under the Goodluck Jonathan Administration is much worse than what was witnessed by Nigerians under the Ibrahim Babangida junta. On the brutal murder of Major-General Mamman Vatsa the former military ruler claimed that he was hamstrung by the law. Which law? According to him, “the only change in that law was introduced by us to give room for appeal.” This is an after-thought which flies in the face of the record of proceedings of the case. In the first place, the allegedcoup suspects were arrested on 17 December, 1985. As their conviction could not be secured under the Criminal Code Act, the existing law at the time, the Treason and Other Offences Decree No 1 of 1986 was hurriedly but belatedly promulgated by the dictator in January 1986. Thus, General Vatsa & co were tried and convicted under a law that was enacted after the alleged coup. So, it was a clear case of premeditated cold murder. Secondly, the convicted coupists were not given the opportunity to file any appeal against the illegal verdict. It is on record that the trio of Professors Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark and Chinua Achebe who pleaded that justice be tempered with mercy were assured by the dictator that the lives of the convicts would be spared. But a few minutes later, the nation was rudely informed that the convicts had been executed by firing squad!
Finally, the General was characteristically dodgy and evasive on what informed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. In a rather shameless manner he boasted that the election conducted under his dictatorship has remained the most credible in the annals of the country’s history. Yet he cancelled the results of the fair and free democratic exercise and installed an illegal interim regime with his comrade-in-arms, General Sani Abacha, as the secretary of defence. Thus, through the corrupt manipulation of the democratic process, General Babangida allowed General Abacha to take over power. The latter continued with the state-sponsored killing of innocent persons and the rapacious looting of the public treasury. So far, the federal government has recovered over $3.5 billion from the Abacha loot. Those who have been allowed to keep their own loot, pro tempore, should stop insulting the collective intelligence of Nigerians!
Falana is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN.