Sixty-four years ago, in the early morning of April 1957, aged 16, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, and Abdulsalam Abubakar, who were at various times destined to be the President of Nigeria, were joined by another young lad, late Christopher Bala Kuta.
The ‘triumvirate’ headed to Minna Railway Station to catch the early train to Badeggi, enroute Bida as fresher college boys at the Provisional Secondary School (now Government College) Bida, Niger state.
The celebrant, case of General Babangida, can be regarded as the metaphor for destiny. To talk about IBB, as he was later fondly called, requires a thesis. He is not a run-of-the-mill persona. He is extraordinary and his footprints are literally everywhere in this country.
He was a model in the military service, ranking in the memory of those that witness their generations who have devoted their lives to the ideals of the country. He was a parker officer with dispositions that enabled him stand for his constituency and the country without losing sight of the larger interests of the nation. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he knew that simplicity and concentration produce lucidity and decision.
Born on August 17, 1941, the typically cheery and humble former President of Nigeria is marking his 80th birthday today, August 17, 2021.
Today is another momentous landmark in the life of the General whose legacies, if truth be told, have left remarkable spots in the lives of all Nigerians from all orbs of human endeavour. No single Nigerian leader either dead or alive has influenced our national development like IBB, even as he was and still being vilified with malicious manipulation of the press, religious, ethnic and regional odium. He is practically Nigerian Human Bridge across the Niger.
IBB is regarded as one of the most important, much discussed and influential presidents in the history of Nigeria. He is a political intellect, theorist, military strategist and a futurist. He is credited with modernising the nation and kick-started the economic diversification of Nigeria and helped it become the super-power it is today in Africa.
A workaholic from his career days, the first-hand civil-war experience, professional commands and to the president office, he was not a type that dishes orders and go back to comfort zone, but led from the front for the success of the tasks.
IBB, as president, was a towering figure on the global stage that set the foundation of economic and industrial transformation of Nigeria. His leadership undoubtedly helped make Nigeria one of centre piece of Africa’s policy and gave it a strong position in the map of the world.
By the standards of African autocrats, President Babangida was hardly a tyrant as seen in some quarters. He did not brutalise and impoverish his country. He made sure he chose the best people for job, irrespective of where they come from and it is an incontrovertible fact that no administration before or after his has paraded the best brains and competent hands in the service of the nation.
It is frequently said that the most positive qualities of leaders under any dispensation relate to their hallucination, and their knack to drum up their subjects towards the accomplishment of their universal objectives. As military president, available records will prove that IBB fully understood such sensitivities.
Appointments into the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), National Council of Ministers (NCM) and National Council of States (NCS) which he headed were broader in ethnic, cultural, religious and geo-political spread, including key appointments of security agencies. The same was also true from the composition of his team of advisers from the onset.
But any frank reflection on his tenure as the nation’s military leader without taking cognizance of the impact of his reforms and achievement will be an exercise in futility.
Sadly, in my opinion, Nigerians will come to realize one day that in their obsession of what many persist to hype as the pessimistic impacts of his administration, they also, inexorably, buried their heads in the sand by ignoring its affirmative impact on our national development. As he celebrates 80th birthday of his long life, it is time to reflect on what his regime means for Nigeria. However, as Frantz Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.”
The tragedy of Nigeria has been that those who came after IBB embodied many of the vices that they claimed to deplore. Today, we see how elected political holders, pro-democrats, activists, youths and journalists holding elected and appointed offices have turned worst than those they labelled “corrupt military dictators” by abusing the trust of their offices, abusing rule of law, abusing judiciary, abusing freedom of speech and mocking the democracy they claim to cherish and yearn for during the military era. In celebrating IBB @ 80, we need to remember his mammoth contribution to nation building.
His signature projects which include roads, bridges, hospitals and schools are ubiquitous in every State, every Senatorial District and every Local Government of Nigeria.
The Agricultural, Petroleum, Education, Water Resources, Science and Technology, Foreign Policy and human capital development sectors all witnessed rapid growth in term of infrastructure and polices for the betterment of the nation. In the economic sector, SAPs laudable by-products included the liberalization of the banking and communication sectors – to name just a few – which paved the way for private ownership of financial institutions. Today, several privately owned Nigerian banks such as GT Bank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank and United Bank for Africa (UBA) are expanding into multiple African nations.
Without SAP we would not have the Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Value Added Tax (VAT) i.e. Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) are few of the numerous federal and regulatory agencies that were all progenies of SAP reform that are still very important pivots to economic growth and development.
We would also certainly not have the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) or the NCC in their present states; neither would there be the African Independent Television (AIT), ITV, Channels TV, TCV, Arise TV, Private Radio Stations among several others. All of these institutions are also major employers of labour. SAP, if we can recall, did not occur in vacuum. It was the natural reaction to the sweeping changes in the global world in the early 1990s which rejected communism in favour of regulated private enterprise as the preferred model for the economies of developing nations.
The other legacy of the IBB administration was the wholesale for the creation of States and reforms of the Local Government system in Nigeria.
Without his foresight of bringing development closer to the people, we will not have Katsina, Akwa-Ibom, Abia, Enugu, Delta, Jigawa, Kebbi, Osun, Kebbi, Taraba and Yobe states in existence which will today not have a Governor, Senators, Ministers, House of Reps members, Commissioners, State Assembly members and Councillors.
We have had local governments since the days of the Native Authority system of the colonial era, but it was IBB who provided the system with the legal and structural wherewithal for effective development at the grassroots.
The LGAs were not only given full executive powers, their share of revenue from the federation account was increased from 10% to 20% and paid directly into their respective treasuries bypassing the State governments. Today, Nigerians watch helplessly and only grumble on how the LGA allocations are being pocketed by the Governors.
In the good governance sector, IBB stocked his administration with the best brains and capable hands who all served the country and never used the offices they occupied to enrich themselves or their cronies.
Nigerians will not forget soon names of few technocrats like Professors Aliyu Babatunde Fafunwa, Olukoye Ransom Kuti, Jubril Aminu, Clement Akpambo, Ben Nwabuze, Godwin Obuneme Ezekwe (the brain behind the Ogbunigwe Bombs), Sam Oyovbaire, Bolaji Akinyemi; Drs Kalu Idika Kalu, Tunji Olagunju, Rilwanu Lukman, SP Chu Okongwu. Others were Uche Chukwumerije, Gray Adetokunbo Longe, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji (Alhaji Alhaji), Chief Olu Falae, Shehu Musa (Makaman Nupe), Prince Bola Ajibola, Ahmadu Abubakar, Matthew T. Mbu, Adamu Fika, Prince Tony Momoh, Segun Olusola, Abdulkadir Ahmad, Shuaibu Kazaure, Aliyu Mohammed (Wazirin Jema’a) and a host of others who contributed their best with their expertise to lay a strong foundation for a modern economy.
Now, if over time, some corrupt state Governors somehow contrive to divert the monies meant for the LGAs into their private pockets, Should IBB to be blamed for that? Is it fair to attribute the poor performance on the man who reformed the system by taking the government closer to the people by was creating more states and LGAs? This brings us squarely to the issue of corruption because not too long ago, it was the favourite pastime of many opportunistic politicians to blame the IBB administration for entrenching corruption in the polity without any speck of evidence. President Muhammadu Buhari recently confessed this in an interview where he accused the State Governor’s of holding Local Government allocations.
Since his famous ‘stepping aside’ in 1993, none of the successive administrations has been able to unearth the critical smoking required to crack the allegations against him as an individual. It is a matter of fact that the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, through the then EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu spared no efforts in investigating IBB, but could not pin anything on him at the end.
Meanwhile it was under the same Obasanjo civilian administration that newspaper reports claimed the sum of 16 billion Dollars earmarked to fix our comatose energy sector could not be accounted for. And, in for close to three decades he left office, a chairman of the EFCC himself being investigated and sacked for alleged corruption and mal-administration, conventional wisdom should dictate that fighting the vice is very much the responsibility of the led far more than the leaders we have had in this country.
Even a cursory examination of the stench from the endless forensic audit of the N81 Billion Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), N61.1 Billion NSITF probe, N1.05 Billion Maritime Academy probe, N27 Billion PHCN Pension probe, N44 Billion Military Pension probe, NNPC revenue from 2010 to 2020, $16 Billion Power sector probe and other numerous probes since 1999 to date which ended in blind alleys. Indeed, given the gargantuan scale of corruption ever since, IBB regime can be said to be saintly.
It is impossible to end this tribute without a reflection on an issue that many have come to refer to as the singularly most devastating blight on IBBs legacy as a leader – the annulment of the June 12, 1992 elections.
If there ever was a moment for Nigeria to embrace democratic principles fully, it is at hand. He gave us the two-party system (SDP & NRC) which brought together and united the country irrespective of the religion, region or tribe. I do not have a clue as to how the mind of IBB functions, or how it affects his psyche. I don’t also know whether, given the negative local and global reactions to the annulment, IBB would have acted differently if provided with the same opportunity today.
Someday, somehow, the reasons for the annulment of the June 12 elections will become fully known to Nigerians especially when the principal actors decide to write their memoirs. What we know for certain is that IBB has always maintained that his decision was patriotic. What remains is for Nigerians to draw useful lessons from the impasse. And the first lesson is for Nigerian elites to critically re-examine their roles in the socio-economic development of the country.
If your successors are still struggling to improve on the economic reforms, uniting the country and infrastructural development you started almost three decades ago, then IBB must have been a man courage and uncommon patriotism as he clocks 80.
He was an exceptional Nigerian ruler that avoided the traditional, authoritarian, anti-Western norm. IBB exerted a crucial influence on the development of Nigerian nationalism. He was a man who exhibited both a “mathematical cast of mind” and a “taste for adventure”. Nigerians could not deny his courage nor ignore the uncommon gallantry that was in plain sight even today.
Which of President Babangida’s successors has been better than him since he left office? IBB has remained the very picture of post-presidential charisma, rallying point, dignity, enigma and unifier both in service and retirement. Happy birthday sir!
Yahaya writes from Abuja.