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Baba-Chelsea - An Interview with Gen. Babangida





Author: Mike Awoyinfa
Posted to the web: 10/9/2005 7:28:15 AM

Meeting General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s ex-military President three years after he gave The Sun its debut interview, you are hit with a sense of déjà vu.
Three years after, and it’s like yesterday as he sits to give another late night interview. He sits on the same chair and we sit exactly the way we sat the first time. Except that there is a third party this time: Femi Adesina, editor of the Daily Sun, who had joined Dimgba Igwe and I for the interview. Readers of the Adesina’s Saturday Sun column know him and celebrate him for the strings of scurrilous, scathing and satiric pieces he had written on the Gen. Babangida. Such is his near-manic obsession for the general that he once dreamt interviewing Babangida only to wake up to find he had been dreaming. And he went ahead to publish the imaginary interview with Babangida. A piece of creative fiction that fooled the unwary to think it was a genuine interview and not a fake. The point for bringing Adesina along with us is: Why an imaginary interview when you can have the man to yourself for real? Why a hallucinatory interview when you can get an interview with eyes unclosed and all your faculties awake? So, we said to Femi: “Get your questions ready. Join us on our mission to meet IBB in Minna.” We boarded the plane on Friday to meet the big man up the hill. Like Abraham carrying his begotten son Isaac, we carried poor Femi, along to sacrifice him flesh and blood on the altar of Babangidaism. But if we had thought the general would roar and pounce on Adesina and devour him instantly, we were mistaken. Instead, the thing boomeranged with Babangida turning his ire on Dimgba, descending on him as the man guilty of writing unpleasant things about him. In this night drama at the Minna palace, we tried to correct the king, explaining that he was picking on an innocent man. Instead we pointed to Femi as the accused, as the man we had brought for sacrificial roasting, but the general would not accept our sacrifice. He would not even look at Femi in the face. Instead, he pointed his finger like a pistol straight into Dimba’s face, saying, “You. You. You. You are the one. I know what I am talking about.” Meaning, he knows who his real enemy is. It was Dimgba Igwe and not Femi Adesina who triggered Babangida’s alarm. As for me—thank God—my face did not even register in Babangida’s radar. He declined an interview saying: “I only heard you were in town and I just invited you here as friends.” Again, déjà vu. There he goes again! But we ignore it all, press our three tape recorders and start firing our questions. And slowly, he responded like an old car that needed to be warmed first before it moves. Now, don’t ask: Is IBB warming up to be President one more time, come year 2007? It’s a question that can only be answered in a grey, foggy land of Maybeland. It is one question you can find an answer in the lost, hidden city of Perhapsopilis. Maybe he wants to be President again. Maybe not. Perhaps. Perhaps not. All the arrays of massive billboards in Minna and across the nation, carrying his accustomed smiling face, proclaim him as the man to be the next President, but Babangida would tell you he has no hand in the billboards. That they are the handiwork of his ringside supporters and loyalists who have been pushing him, urging him not to be afraid in the affray to regain his heavyweight crown. But can this old fighter beat Father Time and do what the legendary pugilist Mohammed Ali could not do? Many years after quitting the political scene, nothing has changed about Gen. Babangida, except that he is getting younger with age. At 64, he seems to have cheated Father Time. He doesn’t look his age. What’s more? He boasts that he is stronger and has stamina more than all three of us who are nowhere near his age. “Looking at three of you, in terms of physical fitness, I would be able to compete with the three of you,” he says. “I have maybe an advantage over you. So, that shows you I am reasonably okay at the age of 64. None of you is anywhere near that.” We had asked him if his state of health and age wouldn’t be a barrier to entering the Presidential ring to fight for his belt. And that was the answer we got: I am more than strong and healthy enough to go through the hassles of political campaigns, he seemed to be saying. We ask him to reveal the source or the secret of his physical fitness and unlike a newspaper reporter, the general was more than willing to disclose his source: The secret of his physical fitness, he explains, is that “I take things easy, doing the usual exerecises but not doing it in such a way as to cause pressure on you. I take it according to my age. I have given up games. I just walk, cycle, water, swim.” I would be doing injustice to my two other colleagues by exhausting everything Gen. Babangida said in this column. But one subject that interests me each time I meet Babangida is soccer. I was the one who spurred him to tell the world that Ronaldinho is his favourite footballer. And prophetically, Ronaldinho went to become the world”s best footballer. On this occasion, I asked which is his favourite football team and I was pleasantly shocked: Chelsea! My team! Ladies and gentlemen, I am renouncing my title as Baba Chelsea and handing it over to the man who has Baba in his name. Sitting at a comfortable distance during the interview was Governor Kure, a leading campaigner for Babangida for president in 2007. He agrees with the Niger Sate governor on virtually everything under the sun but soccer.“Governor Kure likes Arsenal. But I am a Chelsea fan,” he says. “They are really determined lads. Soccer comes to them naturally. It’s not like a do-or-die thing. It flows. That is the beauty. They have good players. People say they play defensive soccer. But what is important is that they are winning. They are winning. They are winning. They have the likes of Lampard and the rest of them. Lampard is my favourite. Because he scores goals.” Now, my fellow Chelsea fans, do I step aside and give my title to General Babangida as the new Baba Chelsea of Nigeria? Please send me your replies and tell me where you live.


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