Maryam Babangida

Maryam Babangida

Happy New Year all.  Nigeria’s former first Lady Maryam Babangida passed on last week and since then I have read so many articles about the former ‘Queen of Aso Rock’.

As usual on NewsPulse, I went searching  for the views of fellow Nigerians on her passage and curiously on my alma mata’s forum i saw the post by Flabo. As we normally do when we mourn the dead in Nigeria, we say one does not speak ill of the dead and so we go overboard praise-singing even when we know the individual in question does not deserve such honour but it’s was refreshing to see another point of view.

One line that struck me in the piece “Prior to her death, she enjoyed the very best of healthcare in the world in California, USA – the kind of healthcare that she and her husband denied millions of ordinary Nigerians…” was also noted by another forum member who posited that:

It is sad to note that this is still the case. That people in government or places of authority, government parastatals are not interested in governance and provision of the basic necessities of life for the Nigerian citizens they claim to represent but what they can get out of the system. Buying property in the choicest parts of the western world

After how many years, Nigeria is still not able to generate power and there are still long queues at Christmas of all times of the year (a country with crude oil). No good roads, health care, public schools have been ruined .  What is happening??

The article below should be food for thought to our leaders, the self-elected V.I.P and their ilks, that whatever a man sow on earth, so shall he reap.  So fellow Nigerians, what do you want to be remembered for when you passed on?

One of the biggest problems affecting our Nigerian society has to do with our tendency to misapply our emotions. All too often, we are found blowing our emotional gaskets over the least reverent of events and issues – issues and events that pale into complete oblivion in the larger context of things that affect us.

It is why some of our federal lawmakers would purport – of all things important to the struggling Nigerian out there – to draft laws that would spell what amounts to ‘decent dressing’ for their fellow Nigerians. Of course, meanwhile, things like the freedom of information bill continue to be left unattended, amongst other similar priorities begging for attention.

Such behavior (of shrugging-off the critical to go ‘ga-ga’ over the mundane) is not only common with the ones in charge of our affairs. Indeed we ordinary people, too, are given to making a big deal out of non-issues, while overlooking or tolerating what ordinarily should be an intolerable affront of our very sensibilities.

Perhaps the similarity between the two camps (the ‘leaders’ and the ‘followers’) is better appreciated or understood when one bothers to consider the fact that these so-called leaders come from the same pool of people better known as “Nigerians”, and as such would only behave true to type either as followers or leaders, and hence may be deserving of one another.

That Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and his wife Maryam imposed themselves on the good people of Nigeria as “President and First Lady” for eight years is a fact with which we are all familiar. That those were eight long years of manipulation, deception and obfuscation is a fact that none of us would deny.

That for so long, Nigerians endured undeserved roller-coasters of emotions that swung precariously between excitation and dejection is as real as it is still raw for many a Nigerian. That the reign of Maryam Babangida, side-by-side with her husband Ibrahim, heralded an era of illicit glamor — an era of obnoxious and money-inspired rankadede — into our national psyche is a diseased reality we have to live with till present.

And so, the other day, the woman who assumed the title of “first lady” by the barrel of a coup-plotters’ AK-47 before going ahead to help herself to all the “glamorous” reign that she could afford (in her capacity as a first lady of a corrupt, coup-inspired regime that jailed and murdered citizens at will), died of the aggresive cancerous disease called ovarian cancer at the age of 61.

Prior to her death, she enjoyed the very best of healthcare in the world in California, USA – the kind of healthcare that she and her husband denied millions of ordinary Nigerians through the deliberately poor and narcisistic choices that they made while they held the forte in Dodan Barracks, Lagos and later in Aso Rock, Abuja.

Reading through the Nigerian newspapers yesterday and today, and seeing some of the comments on different Nigeria fora on the internet and beyond, one would imagine that the now deceased Maryam Babangida was some Nigerian version of Mother Theresa who gave her all for the needy Nigerians: saving young girls from promiscous old men; helping motherless babies find a home where they can be loved; campaigning against corruption and nepotism; helping the cheated and exploited of her Niger-Delta origin find a voice in Abuja; discouraging coup d’etats and murders of the men and women (including talented ones like Mamman J. Vatsa) over the greed and ambition of a few within the Armed Forces. Etcetera.

One would imagine that Maryam Babangida did all that and more. There is the continous reference to her in mournful tones everywhere. Those who aren’t talking like they are mourning her keep alluding to her so-called “glamor”, while others talk about her “kindness” – no doubt the kindness under reference here is the type that a few privileged ones recieve from close-quaters, hence their selfish rankadede.

Still, there are others who are invoking the tri-partite guilt-trippers of Heaven, God and His Ultimate Judgement as a convenient emotional blackmail on behalf of persons who are nothing more than apostates of opportunism and self-serving glamor – people who have rarely felt the kind of pain that millions of Nigeria have to live with everyday, thanks to these folks’ choices as leaders.

It is on occassions like this that one is forced to agree with those who say that we deserve the kind of leaders we get in Nigeria.

The man who looked us all in the face and damned us on several occassions – the man who took the jewel of our electoral annals and made a pariah of our nation out of it; the man who looked us dead in the eye with his boyish smile and lied to us on several occassions with his usual “Insha Allaha”; the man who murdered Mamman J. Vatsa, based on unsubstantiated allegations; the man stole the little that is left of our values and ran away with it; the man whom we gave a chance to appear before Oputa to explain himself but returned our favour by thumping his face at us; the man whom he and his wife lived a glamorous life with our commonwealth while we all suffered at home and abroad – is the man whom we saw crying yesterday.

Yes, that was Ibrahim Babangida. In another land where people value individual self-esteem and comeuppance for one’s life choices, the likes of Babangida would be long forgotten and joyfully ignored as a disgraced opportunist, forever to bow his head in shame wherever good Nigerians are present at home and abroad.

He would not be refered to as “former President”, neither would his late wife be refered to as “former first-lady”. He would have NO benefits or privileges, or recognition of any kind besides the one he deserves: a recognition of ignominy. When his wife died, he would get nothing but a curt note of sympathies from the representative of a people who would only be too happy to avoid any kind of association with him, even while they understand the gravity of the loss of a human life.

But ours is not a land where self-esteem is treasured as it should. Ours is a land where faith and God is constantly abused and used to decieve and blackmail one another with obsessive compulsiveness. Ours is a land where we refuse to use the pain of yesterday to rebuke the suffering or insult of tommorow.

Ours is a land that continues to reward the worst from amongst us with our sympathies, as opposed to our rejection of these people and our indifference to their burdens.

Most important, it is sad to observe how we reserve the most condescending of labels for those amongst us who do not sympathize with the survivor and his departed, while our tears and our heartaches are inspired by the sight of the opportunist and manipulator who wrecked so much havoc on our society.

Some of us continue to get our priorities backward as peoples of that land – it is like we have been so beaten-down by years upon years of subjugation and exploitation that we now take it all with gratitude. Or, it is like we are so far beneathe these cheats we call leaders, that all we can do is dance to their tunes like puppets on a string.

We all know what it is to feel pain, and I personally understand why the sight of a grown man like Ibrahim Babangida crying in public would evoke sympathetic emotion amongst some unlookers. Still, it is another thing entirely when this man’s dramatized loss inspires some people to preach-down on their fellow citizens who may not share their sympathies for the man. That is just unfortunate.

But those of us who have NO sympathies for Ibrahim Babangida or his belated wife are not intimidated by others who have made it their place to bombard us with condescending sanctimonies. We renounce and reject an expression of sympathy that does more to take away from our self-esteem than it does to sympathize with the loss of another.

We reject the attempt by the Nigerian Media to make an icon of “glamour” of a dead coup-plotters wife whose reign alongside her husband brought us most of sickening traits that continue to undermine our societal values today. We reject the notion that seeks to suggest that one may lack the ability to sympathize with the suffering of another, simply because one remains mindful of the dishonorable glamor that the suffering one personified before her eventual death..

We reject this unending journey that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti aptly called “suffering and smiling”.

We reject an invitation to mourn with those who continue to torment and insult us!

Folabi Ogunleye,
December 31, 2009.