from Africa in Transition

Babangida and Boko Haram

February 21, 2012

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

The bad relations between former strongman, military general, and head of state Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) and President Goodluck Jonathan are yet another sign of the breakdown of elite bargaining, which has been the traditional way elites have ruled Nigeria. If the chief of state is by definition the head of the largest patron-client network, IBB’s would be nearly as strong.

An alleged member of Boko Haram, Sheik Sani Haliru, has accused IBB of having “more than 600 men and women jihadists on his payroll.” Babangida immediately responded publicly that such accusations were not only false but were planted by the Jonathan administration.

IBB is not to be trifled with. He was involved in a string of coups during Nigeria’s generation of military rule, and was military chief of state for eight years. At the time, he pursued a policy of economic and political reform that looked toward the restoration of civilian rule. Though ultimately he failed, his government was seen as competent. The level of security for ordinary Nigerians was certainly higher than it is now. His critics – and they are legion – accuse him of fostering a political culture that led to much higher levels of corruption than in the past.

IBB still has political ambitions, and sought the presidency as a northern candidate in 2010. He withdrew when victory was not certain. He is immensely rich, and has deep contacts with the military – if not necessarily with its politicized upper reaches. He shows himself to be a shrewd and skillful politician. He can be both charming and ruthless. But, he does not like to lose, and draws back from any situation where that might be a possibility. One might have thought that Jonathan would seek good relations with him, rather than tolerating scarcely credible charges that IBB is complicit in Islamic radical terrorism.