In Nigera, former military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida has formed a political party as part of a reported effort to return to power. He took office after a coup in 1986 and left after annulling what was widely seen as a fair election in 1993. The military continued to rule until 1999 - when the soldiers handed over power to an elected civilian president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
General Babangida's possible return to public life after almost a 10 year absence is generating heated debate among many Nigerians. From Kano, reporter Zainab Ahmed has this sampling of public opinion. In a country where political rulers have been sometimes hailed as modern-day saviors, General Babangida's reported effort at a second coming is being embraced by many. One footballer in Gusau, Zamfara State, does not wish to be named - but says General Babangida's return to the political scene would be a blessing. He says the former president has the experience to recognize all the problems and intrigues of ruling - and a second term would allow him to correct his past mistakes.
A Babangida presidency would also be welcomed by an Imam of Sokoto -- Mallam Abdul Mumuni Hammali. "One reason - where we came from any sensible person knows where we are heading to in our present state. He is charismatic and knows how to take people along…" Mallam Hammali says where he came from any sensible person knows where Nigeria. He says General Babangida is charismatic and knows how to earn the support of the public.
Civil servant Mallam Mohammed Salisu says he would support General Babangida's campaign if he were willing to protect Islam and the fundamental rights of Muslims, as well as the welfare of all Nigerians. He says the general's performance as president was "fair".
Another Nigerian who agreed to speak on the record - but did not want his name used -- was undecided. He says before making his decision, he prefers to see the caliber of all the contestants. He says the constitution allows the former president to compete for election - and says the issue is up to the Nigerian people to decide. He says in his view, the General's failings outweighed his achievements. "Many people would not remember his good works but his shortcomings,"he says. He adds that many people would not remember General Babangida's good works - only his shortcomings.
General Babangida's past record was also a matter of concern for Mallam Muhammad Dantubishi - a lecturer at the Center for Nigerian Languages at Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto. He says General Babangida - known by his countrymen as IBB, was responsible for the greatest inflation ever to strike Nigeria. He says no one responsible for such a tragedy should be allowed to contest the Nigerian presidential elections in 2003. "My own opinion about IBB coming in 2003 is that people have to remember the past. His story is there to tell us what happened when IBB was the head of state. Even a common man is aware that it was during IBB's period that we had the greatest inflation which we ever experienced in this country," he says. "For example, we knew that Peugeot 504 [cost] N500,000, but during IBB's time Peugeot became over 2 million naira. So, somebody who ran an economy of a country and was responsible for such tragic episode cannot come back and say he wants to be the Head of State. For somebody that has thrown the country into calamity like that I don't think it is advisable for Nigerians to accept such a person to become Head of State." A lecturer at Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto, Dr. Muhammad Gurama says General Babanguida was not just responsible for increased inflation. "People have been talking about it - personally I feel General Babangida should not be allowed by Nigerians to become Head of State again because one does not have to go far to see most of the problems this country has been facing over the past several years were actually spear headed by General Babangida under (what he called) his political reengineering. The economy, [national politics}, in fact generally, he has changed our psyche, our way of thinking or everything," Dr. Gurama says.
General Babangida was one of the first presidents to try to privatize large and inefficient parastatals and to devaluate the Naira in an effort to integrate Nigeria into the international economy. Many say those efforts failed - as did his controversial attempt to steer the country toward civilian government. He annulled the 1993 elections, which were presumed to have been won by Chief Moshood Abiola. If Chief Abiola had been inaugurated, it would have been one of the first times that Nigeria had broken divisive ethnic and regional barriers to vote for an ethnic Yoruba from the southwest. The annulment - and Chief Abiola's death in prison while contesting it - were seen as proof that the largely northern-led and Hausa-speaking military was not willing to share power. But General Babangida can not be counted out. During his years in power, he earned the nickname Maradona - for the famous Brazilian soccer player - for his ability to get back on the political playing field after his opponents thought he was down and out. General Babangida kept his opponents on edge and the Nigerian public guessing… and he's doing the same today.