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- Why last Sunday’s statement by the former military president became a subject of controversy
Although Kassim Afegbua, spokesman of former military president, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, has worked with him for 14 years without blemish, he is currently in the centre of a controversy over a statement he issued on behalf of his principal last Sunday. Between then and now, Afegbua has submitted himself to both the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) for interrogation. Nevertheless, he has approached the court for the protection and preservation of his fundamental human rights.
In a suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/129/2018, which was filed against the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) before the Federal High Court in Abuja last Tuesday, Afegbua is asking for N1billion as damages for the breach of his fundamental human rights. Joined as respondents to the suit are the NPF, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris; the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Moshood Jimoh, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Channels TV.
But what is behind his present travails? What did he get wrong this time in doing his routine job that has pitched him against the security agencies or is he just a victim of the political intrigues that are beginning to unfold ahead of the 2019 general elections?
It could be recalled that the controversy arose last Sunday after Afegbua issued a statement on behalf of his principal asking Nigerians to vote out President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. In the statement titled, ‘Towards a National Rebirth,’ and signed by Afegbua, Babangida advised Nigerians to do away with analogue leaders and embrace those of the digital age.
“In 2019 and beyond, we should come to a national consensus that we need new breed leadership with requisite capacity to manage our diversities and jump-start a process of launching the country on the super highway of technology-driven leadership in line with the dynamics of modern governance. It is short of saying enough of this analogue system. Let’s give way for digital leadership orientation with all the trappings of consultative, constructive, communicative, interactive and utility-driven approach where everyone has a role to play in the process of enthroning accountability and transparency in governance,” the statement read in part.
Babangida had concluded the statement by noting that, “I have not written an open letter to the President; I have just shared my thoughts with fellow compatriots on the need to enthrone younger blood into the mainstream of our political leadership starting from 2019.”
However, few hours after the statement emerged, another one, which was purportedly signed personally by Babangida, was issued. In the latter statement, Babangida debunked the content of the earlier statement, saying he had existing communication channels through which he could reach President Buhari on topical issues of national importance should there be the need to do so.
The statement read: “My attention has been drawn to a report making rounds especially online in which I was quoted as advising Nigerians not to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari in the coming 2019 election. Not only is the said statement untrue, it is in its entirety, an inaccurate representation of my view of the state of our dear nation.
“As a former president and an elder statesman, I have existing communication channels through which I reach out to President Muhammadu Buhari on topical issues of national importance, should there be the need to do so.
“The media, both online or mainstream and indeed the unsuspecting public are advised to disregard such false reports. Thank you and God bless you all.”
Expectedly, Nigerians were confused as to which statement to believe. The confusion, however, became heightened when it was observed that while the first statement had Babangida’s current Nigerian National Honours title of Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) behind his name, the second one erroneously identified him as a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). But following enquiries by the media, Babangida affirmed that his earlier statement stands, saying the second statement was issued by friends and had nothing to do with him.
The police, perhaps, sensing foul play along the line, got into the fray and went after Afegbua. They declared him wanted, accusing him of “making false statements, defamation of character and for an act capable of instigating public disturbance throughout the country.” The DSS followed suit last Wednesday by inviting him to their headquarters in Abuja.
But who are the friends that issued the second statement on Babangida’s behalf? Why did they issue it? Why hasn’t Babangida called on the security agencies to investigate the issue and prosecute those that did the hatchet job? And why are the security agencies harassing Afegbua, a loyal assistant, whose principal has clarified that he authorised the statement he issued? These posers and more further obfuscate the issue.
But speaking with Sunday Sun, President/Lead Consultant at Africa Network for Peace and Justice (ANPeJ), Prof. Nick Idoko, said the former military leader might be behind the controversy, which he noted was needless.
He said: “It’s just a typical Nigerian thing. I can imagine that Afegbua wouldn’t lie. But our political class tends to always renege or recant when they think that their public statements have become a nemesis. For somebody as high ranking as Babangida, I would have felt that he shouldn’t have gone public to recant and then demonise his media person. Babangida and Afegbua had been partnering faithfully and mutually ever since he (Babangida) drafted him to be his media consultant. So, what Nigerians witnessed was a very surprising turn of events that Babangida would disown a statement he made through his media person; perhaps because of the reverberations the statement has made. It could be that he felt that he shouldn’t be the one, as a northerner, asking Buhari not to re-contest. So, it’s a second thought if you ask me.”
He added: “If you know Babangida’s antecedents, he was called ‘Maradona’ and that was not without reason. Maradona is a football legend; he is renowned for his dribbling skills. So, my take is that after issuing that statement, he now realised the consequence of it. And you don’t know what may have transpired behind the scene, whether he had a communication with Buhari himself, Buhari’s aides or northern leaders and influencers who may have blamed him for issuing such a statement. You see, media people are usually demonised unnecessarily by the political class, who always think they are right even when they are wrong. So, it’s a matter of somebody feeling at odd and making a scapegoat of a media person.”
Idoko wondered why the security agencies were harassing Afegbua since his principal has cleared him of any wrongdoing. “Now, the police declaring Afegbua wanted was another anomaly. Would you now imagine that Afegbua went out of his way to concoct such a statement and made it public, knowing the consequence? I’m wondering and I think every reasonable logical Nigerian should wonder. And when has that kind of matter become a police matter; it’s a matter between a principal and his assistant. And there is nothing even criminal about it. The police waded into it probably because they have no serious things to do. What did the police do before declaring him a wanted person? For me, what happened is not a criminal case against Afegbua and I believe he has done the right thing by going to court. But even after going to court, he showed up at the police headquarters just to show that he hasn’t been in hiding and has no reason to be in hiding,” he said.
Idoko, who is also Director/Chairman, R+MC Global Concept Ltd, noted that to resolve the issue, Babangida having admitted that he authorised the statement and that his friends issued the rebuttal, should ask the police and the DSS to stop harassing his media consultant. “If that happens, the case would be withdrawn from court. I think the case should be settled out of court but Babangida should take steps to douse the tension he has created in the first place. It should be a matter between himself and his consultant. So, the public demonstration they carried out is completely unnecessary and a distraction,” he added.
Nonetheless, Afegbua does not see himself as a scapegoat in the entire scenario. Speaking with journalists after visiting the Force Headquarters, Abuja, with his lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, last Wednesday, he disclosed that Babangida has been giving him the needed support as the controversy rages. He further explained that police told him that there was a mix-up somewhere that warranted declaring him wanted and so apologised to him.
He added: “It will even interest you to know that when I was declared wanted on Channels TV and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), my boss IBB was the one who called me and said ‘why are they declaring you wanted? Are you a criminal?’ And we laughed over it.
“He also asked if I was on the run and if I have been given invitation and he said, okay that is interesting. My boss said he heard on the news that they talked about defamation of character and he asked whose character have you defamed?
“So I am very much in touch with him and I am not doing anything out of the blues. He is a man I have been with for the past 14 years as spokesman. Even when I went to serve in my state, I was still very much in touch with him. I have said it before that I am part and parcel of him, we are family and so I don’t have any cause to worry over anything.”
But why has the Presidency not responded to the controversial statements? And how would they impact on the 2019 general election, given that they were issued less than two weeks after former president Olusegun Obasanjo wrote an open letter to Buhari advising him not to seek re-election?
To Idoko, the Presidency might be keeping mum because they believe that it’s within Babangida’s right to make any statement he wants to make. “There is freedom of speech in Nigeria; this is a democratic setting. So, apparently they are looking at the issue from the perspective that if that is Babangida’s opinion, he is entitled to it. But the Presidency not responding does not mean perhaps the statement does not affect them; it might just be that the President has directed them to ignore him. After all, when Obasanjo released his open letter, he also advised his aides not to respond or if they should respond at all they should not confront him. So, may be that is his style. Babangida is entitled to his opinion and that’s just the way it is. If they want to sort themselves they will do that behind the scenes,” he said.
On how the opinions voiced by the two former leaders would impact on the 2019 general elections, Idoko said their opinions had to do with the candidates and not the election itself.
“The statements being made concern the candidates and not yet the election. People are asking the expected candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), that is President Buhari, not to stand for re-election because he has failed. Obasanjo in his letter accused him of all kinds of things. If he takes heed of all these comments and refuses to re-contest, then that will affect how the election will go, because he will need a successor and nobody knows for now who the successor might be; whether he would have the power to anoint someone or the party will take over and anoint someone; or the National Leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, will sidestep the party and go his own way and produce another candidate may be from another platform. So, what may happen is still a matter of conjecture. But I think it’s not far away from the decision day. I think that sooner than later, we will know who is coming and who is not coming,” he noted.
As Nigerians await the decision day amid growing controversies in the country, it’s apparent that Babangida, not Afegbua, is at the centre of the current imbroglio. As such, it will take his intervention to set the records straight and put the matter behind a nation that is in dire need of political understanding and direction.