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Opinion: Olubukola Saraki: The return of Maradona (IBB)!

Opinion: Olubukola Saraki: The return of Maradona (IBB)!

Editor’s note: The writer Buchi Obichie outlines the various similarities between former military head of state Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, and current senate president Bukola Saraki. She notes that both men have enormous skills in cheating and dribbling their way around the political space. And with the recent victory of the senate president at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, she has bestowed on him, the nickname of IBB, the man he resembles in looks and deeds- Maradona!

My very first ideas about politics came from my father. As a child born during the regime of Ibrahim Babangida, my father was fixated with the man. And even though the economic policies of the Babangida government did more harm than good to the nation, my father’s face would light up whenever the head of state appeared on our screens. But I guess my father’s love for the man was not out of place.

My father and IBB had a few things in common.

For one, they looked alike. Even today, if you place a picture of both men side-by-side, one could assume that they are brothers. Also, they were both ‘uniform men’. While IBB was in the Army, my father was a Customs Officer. Both men also had flamboyant style. They were like two gold fishes that had no hiding place. But then, while they both had similarities, I guess what made my father really fond of the man IBB was that he possessed something my father did not have- cunning! And that was something that propelled IBB to the highest heights of the political ladder while my father’s fortune came crashing down!

Growing up, I knew IBB by another name. It was the name my father always called him – Maradona.

As a girl child that grew up amidst boys, I knew for sure that IBB had never been a member of the national football team so I didn’t initially understand why he would be constantly likened to a football star. But in time, I got to find out that though Babangida was not ‘literally’ a football player, the name was a metaphor for how he ‘dribbled and cheated’ in the national political sphere.

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A man who in some way had been involved in every political coup in the nation’s history, who toppled his former boss- Muhammadu Buhari- in a bloodless coup and ascended to the position of head of state, IBB referred to himself as a ‘military president’.

IBB himself would also have been toppled from power if Major Orkah had succeeded in 1990; but as fate would have it, ‘Maradona’ escaped via a back route when the coup plotters invaded Dodan barracks.

He introduced his SAP’s to Nigerians who fell for his trick thinking he was such a patriot and was introducing austerity measures because he did not want the country to be at the mercy of the IMF. But the SAP was a disaster!

Babangida had promised to hand over by 1990, but did not. When he finally agreed to the formation of political parties, he suddenly changed his mind afterwards; forming his own two parties instead, and asking Nigerians to join any of them.

We cannot forget the events of ‘June 12’ 1993. IBB annulled the election that became known as the ‘freest and fairest’ in the nations’ history.

In all of this, Ibrahim Babangida certainly earned the right to his nickname- Maradona.

He sure did have unmatched skills for political survival in Nigeria- cheating!

IBB may have hung up his jersey, but the ‘number 10’ does not seem to have been retired. It has just been passed on to a younger player. A man called Bukola Saraki.

The former governor of Kwara pulled off what I think is one of the biggest political upsets of the post-1999 era, when he emerged as senate president.

While his party had settled on Ahmed Lawan, Saraki had his own plans.

Playing along that he would be present at a 9am meeting at the ICC in which the president was scheduled to address the crisis that was brewing within the party, Saraki instead managed to convince the PDP opposition senators along with a handful of rogue APC senators to give him their vote.

So while fellow APC colleagues were at the ICC, Bukola Saraki was unanimously voted in as the president of the 8th senate.

Since his election, he has been plagued with troubles arising from his time as governor of Kwara state.

As the story goes, he allegedly used state funds to purchase personal properties. He was eventually brought to trial by the CCT for alleged false declaration of assets; but once again, Saraki pulled off another stunning political upset when all 18 counts were recently dropped.

Talk about Maradona striking again!

The Nigerian political space is brutal, and only the strong survive. That probably explains why men like IBB and Bukola Saraki seem to succeed where others may have failed. Their successes might not always have been in the best interest of the nation; but this is a country where self-aggrandizement comes before the interest of the whole.

There are similarities between both men which do not go unnoticed.

IBB was dubbed Maradona for ‘his special skill to cheat and divert’ just like Argentina’s soccer star, Diego Maradona did on the pitch. All I said before, Babangida has had some sort of involvement (whether passive or active) in all Nigeria’s coups.

On his own part, Saraki pulled off a stunning 'coup' with his emergence as senate president.

Both men have also been accused of laundering funds - IBB on a federal level and Saraki at the state level. IBB allegedly laundered money through his Structural Adjustment Programme while Saraki allegedly laundered funds as governor of Kwara state.

Both men have also been known to ‘dribble’ the judiciary.

Babangida flatly refused every invitation to appear before the Justice Oputa panel during the investigation into the death of Dele Giwa. Finally, an Appeal Court stated that past presidents could not be forced to appear before such panels. So till date, IBB has never answered in court, personally, whether he actually ordered the murder of the renowned journalist as popularly alleged.

Saraki, on his own part, told us that the CCT trial would come to naught, and it did.

It seems to me like IBB was reincarnated - though he is still alive - in the person of Bukola Saraki.

Oh, lest I forget, like my father, both men are also very handsome - just had to add that in there - and possess the natural ability to command attention in any space they enter, without doing so much.

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In conclusion, if we were to liken both men as players on a pitch, I would say this is Mexico 1986 all over again.

Saraki and IBB are both number 10s on the Argentinian side while the rest of us are on England's.

Saraki and IBB (Maradona) keep scoring ‘dubious goals’ and for some reasons, their goals keep getting allowed.

Just like Babangida dribbled not just his opponents but an entire nation, Olubukola Saraki is doing the same thing. He has just told the federal government again, that their recent appeal against the CCT judgement would also come to naught…it probably would…again. At every turn, Olubukola Saraki is running circles around all of us and scoring into the net. Can this be ‘the hand of God’?

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