FORMER Head of State and Presidential Candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 2011 general election, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), on Monday threw a direct challenge to three of his successors - Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo as well as President Goodluck Jonathan, accusing them of being responsible for the rot in the oil industry and the spiraling wave of corruption in the country.
The comment drew responses from President Jonathan and Babangida and is panning out as a repeat of a similar face-off between Obasanjo and Babangida exactly a year ago.
Last August, Babangida, who ruled Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, kick-started the fight on the eve of his 70th birthday celebration in Minna, Niger State when he dismissed Obasanjo's achievements after eight years as President, as low. He said Obasanjo failed to improve the power sector, despite the huge cash available to the government.
Vintage Obasanjo's reply was swift. He said Babangida should be "pitied" and not "condemned" or visited with "anger" because he was a fool. His words: "Some of the things he (Babangida) said, unfortunately, were not well thought-out. For instance, he talked about our energy. When I was the military Head of State, I built Jebba Dam; built Shiroro Dam. I prepared the foundation of Egbin plant, which President Shagari completed and commissioned.
That time, the money we were making was not up to the money Babangida was making annually for his eight years and yet we built two dams. But since the building of Egbin power plant, until I came back in 1999, there was no generating plant for almost 20 years and Babangida spent eight years out of that.
Dividends of democracy
"Now, he has the audacity to talk about anybody; I think that is unfortunate. I also read where he said in his time, he gave the dividends of democracy and at the same time he regretted.
"When I read that, well, I said Babangida should be pitied and shown sympathy, rather than anger or condemnation because the old saying says a fool at 40 is a fool forever and I would say a regret at 70 is regret too late. Well, a regret at 70 is regret to the grave."
Babangida countered and accused Obasanjo of massive failure during his reign. "In my eight years in office, I was able to manage poverty and achieve success while somebody for eight years managed affluence and achieved failure.
"Chief Obasanjo should ponder these incontrovertible facts: The revenues that accrued to former President Olusegun Obasanjo during his eight years are more than those that accrued to the nation from independence till 1999 before he took over. Despite such stupendous wealth of the nation, what is his performance profile? ...The history of Chief Obasanjo is an open sore that is irredeemably contrived in several incongruities and contradictions," he said.
The bitter exchanges were to continue for a while before the Generals sheathed their swords and denied Nigerians of dearly needed details that would have helped to unearth the reasons behind Nigeria's paradox of poverty amid plenty.
This time, eminent citizens want the battle to be fought to a logical conclusion and have challenged Babangida, Obasanjo and Jonathan, to defend themselves against the allegations.
Incidentally, the quartet, cumulatively, have ruled Nigeria for 23 out of the 52 years the country has existed as an independent nation. While Obasanjo ruled for 11 years, Buhari was in power for approximately two years, Babangida - eight years and Jonathan, two years.
Buhari's allegation: Pointedly, Buhari said that the corrupt practices in the oil sector during the eras of Babangida, Obasanjo and Jonathan had led to the enslaving of the masses. The first to respond was President Goodluck Jonathan.
While declaring open the 52nd Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja, on Monday, President Jonathan said he could not be held responsible for the country's failings and wondered why former leaders, who had the opportunity of fixing the nation and failed to do so, were now criticizing his young administration.
"Sometimes, even people who have held offices in government criticise me to the extent of personal abuses. Sometimes I ask, were there roads across the country and Jonathan brought flood to wipe out these roads? Or we had power and I brought hurricane to break down the entire infrastructure?
"If they say Boko Haram is because of poverty; were there massive irrigation projects in the North where agriculture can thrive and massive farms, and Jonathan brought drought to wipe out these farms? Under two years, is it possible?" he wondered.
Obasanjo is yet to defend himself on the issue. Rather, speaking at the Nigeria Leadership Initiative, NLI, Guest Speaker Forum in Lagos, on Tuesday, he regretted his inability to fix the power problem, which he attributed to lack of funds in the initial period of his administration, owing to the low price of crude oil in the international market, Nigeria's depleted foreign reserves and huge debt burden.
He also refused to comment on Nigeria's leadership at the moment when asked to rate the country's current leadership.
On his part, IBB, who spoke through his spokesman, Mr. Kassim Afegbua, threatened to expose Buhari's shady deals in the oil sector when he functioned as Petroleum Minister and later chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), if Buhari did not shut his mouth.
"We are conversant with General Buahri's so-called holier-than-thou attitude. He is a one-time Minister of Petroleum and we have good records of his tenure as minister. Secondly, he presided over the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), which records we also have. We challenge him to come out with clean hands in those two portfolios. Those, who live in glass houses, do not throw stones. General Buhari should be properly guided," he said.
However, Buhari insisted on his comments and challenged Babangida to expose his shady deals if he had facts.
Reacting to the development, some eminent Nigerians have urged the former leaders to speak up in the interest of the country's development.
Among those who spoke are Second Republic politicians and elder statesmen, Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim; former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa; former Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; one-time Minister for Finance and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae; and former President of Institute of Chartered Accounts of Nigeria, ICAN, Otunba Lateef Owoyemi.
They should fight it out--Balarabe Musa
Musa said the issue should not be swept under the carpet. "It is a disagreement of former heads of state. Apart from President Jonathan, they are all former heads of state. Let them fight it out themselves. I don't think anybody should interfere. Let Ibrahim Babangida expose Buhari like he threatened," he said.
Obasanjo, Babangida, Jonathan must defend themselves -- Isyaku Ibrahim
On his part, Isyaku Ibrahim said the manner Buhari made the allegation should compel the former leaders to speak and defend their integrity.
His words: "Babangida should expose Buhari instead of threatening to do so. If Babangida has anything on Buhari, let him say it. Buhari said that the governments of Babangida, Obasanjo and Jonathan are the most corrupt. He said it categorically; he did not issue a threat.
"If Babangida has something on Buhari, he should say it. If your integrity is involved, you come out to fight because Buhari threw the challenge directly," he stated.
"For me as a politician, if somebody challenges my integrity and I know something about the person, I will say it. The matter is in the public. Let them say whether or not what Buhari said is true. Buhari has challenged them, let them defend themselves. Buhari is going to run for election, if Babangida has something against him, we will like to know."
We want to know how they ruined Nigeria -- Ezeife
To Ezeife, General Buhari must come out with facts to substantiate his claims. In a telephone chat with vanguard, he said, "General Buhari must know what he is talking about. Is he saying that Jonathan inherited oil industry destroyed by leaders before him? He must know what he is saying: how they ruled and ruined our great country, Nigeria, ruining the North even more.
"Please, it is not every high level statement that I understand. I don't know what they know but if Buhari is saying that IBB, Obasanjo and Jonathan destroyed the oil industry, he must surely know what he is talking about. However, let me say they, all together, should tell Nigerians how they ruled and ruined Nigeria and the North."
Corruption blossomed under Obasanjo --Falae
Reacting to the exchanges, Falae told Vanguard on phone that corruption reached an alarming height during Obasanjo's administration in 1999.
His words: "The people are former heads of state and to the extent that corruption had been going on for quite sometime in the country, maybe that is why he (Buhari) is holding them accountable. But I don't know the statistics or information to either agree or disagree with him (Buhari). But there is corruption in the whole country; the country is washed with corruption and nobody can really know where it started from though some government functionaries can. Corruption is the biggest problem we have.
"I cannot attribute it to any particular person but this thing started in earnest since 1999 that was during the Obasanjo administration; that was when the thing really blossomed. In the past, one suspected that a few military leaders were the ones, who had access to the money, but since we returned to civilian rule, thousands of people now got into the act: from the local to state and federal government level. And it has been growing since then. Corruption has grown very fast since 1999."
They are all culpable -- Owoyemi
However, Owoyemi said the former leaders, including Buhari, contributed to the rot in the oil industry.
He said: "Whoever should have done the maintenance of the refineries and did not do it and instead started importing fuel should be blamed for each and every part of the problem.
"Whoever provided funds for people to do turn around maintenance of the petroleum refineries and did not carpet or disgrace the contractors for failing to carryout their jobs, should be blamed for the destruction of the oil industry.
"So, definitely the military as a whole did a lot of havoc with the issue of accountability and transparency in this country; all of them, all the military people, including Buhari. Their take-over of the government was illegal and they ran the government illegally throughout when they suspended the Constitution of the country especially law and order.
"They, all of them, are guilty. If the politicians had been in charge since 1960 till now, things would have been better. They should allow the politicians to run the government and things will be better off.
"They were just too ambitious that was why they dabbled into the whole thing and messed everything up and now we are in for it. This is our generation: nobody has money except the corrupt! It is very unfortunate," he said.