Former military president General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida said yesterday that he did not attend the ill-fated Nigeria@50 celebrations at Eagle Square, Abuja last Friday because he did not believe in spending so much money for an event that should instead have elicited sober reflection on the heroes and heroines that laid down their lives for the country. He spoke to reporters at his Hill Top residence in Minna. He said the amount of money spent on the event was outrageous and unnecessary. The event, he also said, was driven by an agenda that lost focus and direction as it forgot to give due honour to Nigerians who laid down their lives for the country and to alleviate the sufferings of the people.
Babangida said, “People have been talking about my absence at the celebration of independence and Nigeria at 50 anniversaries and I have this to say, that I don’t believe in the flamboyance attached to an event that would have focused more on what an average Nigerian should benefit in terms of developmental projects.”
Babangida’s absence from the event has been quietly pointed at by government officials to support the allegation in official circles that he was linked to the bomb blasts. Tackling that charge yesterday, Babangida said claims by some people that he could have been behind last Friday’s twin bomb blasts in Abuja during celebration of the Nigeria@50 were idiotic.
He said many people have inferred that he may have an idea of the impending bomb blast, which was why he did not attend the parade at the Eagle Square. He however expressed amazement that some Nigerians would link him with issues that he is far removed from.
He said it would be idiotic for anyone to think that he was involved in the car bomb episode. He said he has fought for the unity of the country and will have nothing to gain causing any form of disaffection in the country.
He said, “It will be idiotic for anybody to think that I who fought for the unity of Nigeria and still carries about the shrapnel from the war will have knowledge of the car bomb blast which took the lives of many Nigerians. I and many Nigerians who fought the war to unite this country will never want Nigeria to go through what some of us went through during the civil war as we fought very hard to keep Nigeria as one nation.”
General Babangida also said the arrest of his campaign chairman Dr. Raymond Alegho Dokpesi by the State Security Service [SSS] for suspected complicity in the bomb blasts was done based on the imagination of some people. He said, “When things like this happen Nigerians will cast their imaginative and fertile minds and this is the price we have to pay as politicians. Anyone who knows my High Chief (Dokpesi) will not associate him with such act as he is a patriotic Nigerian who will not do anything that will undermine the security of the country.”
The former military ruler also accused the Federal Government of security lapse for the October 1 bomb blast that claimed many lives. He said the federal government had no less than five days’ notice that a bomb will be planted at the square. He said the unfortunate loss of lives would have been avoided if government’s security operatives had moved in quickly to arrest the situation.
“The federal government was given at least a period of five days before the bomb went off near the Eagle Square but failed to act in time to check the bloodbath. In my own opinion, and I speak as a retired General, that there are lapses in our security network and somebody must be held responsible for that. Given the period of time the government was notified on the impending disaster, it could have responded swiftly to check it within the period of less than 24 hours to put down the attempt.”
He described as unfortunate a situation where the federal government cannot ward off an attack that has been duly made public by the perpetrators and intelligence operatives outside the country, adding that it was a show of incompetence on the side of government.
General Babangida who also expressed concern over the level of armament in the hands of members of the MEND group filmed from their enclave in the creeks by a foreign media organisation. He said the government is not doing enough in the area of protecting the country from armed insurrection.
“I saw a young lady Yvonne Ndege taking footage of armed members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in their den. And I saw the militants wielding weapons of different calibration. I speak as a General that has witnessed war and I know that such armament with the MEND group despite the amnesty program of the federal government which I thought has cleared off all weapons from the militants shows serious security lapse in the country.”
He said the federal government failed to locate and suppress such armed groups, saying “once again the issue of security has been compromised by those vested with the responsibility to maintain it.”
He warned that it was time for the government of Nigeria to put an end to the free movement of arms and ammunitions as he described as unfortunate a situation whereby weapons of such magnitude come into Nigeria undetected.