“Because there is so much work left undone, we doubt whether any of us can afford to be in retirement, in the real sense. For as long as our people are held hostage by ancient fears and avoidable calamities, we cannot afford to be indifferent.”- General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida
No one can accuse General Ibrahim Badamsi Babangida of being indifferent. He said once that as a soldier, one must try to dominate his environment. Well, no one has dominated the Nigerian political landscape like the grin toothy General.
Years ago when he announced that he was no longer interested in contesting elections, some people said the man has reached his limits. They were quick to write his political obituary. Those armchair critics cackled about clipping the wings of the eagle, and celebrated what some publications called the end of an era.
They celebrated too soon. They made all the wrong assumptions. They assumed that IBB must be in power in order to matter. They forgot that he had been out of office for decades and yet his influence continued to grow. They also assumed that when a man like Babangida withdraws from a contest like that it must only be because he knew it was all over for him. They forgot that a well-trained armoured General may sometimes make tactical withdrawals. It is not fighting every battle that ennobles a warrior. It is winning the war. Life is a marathon afterall, not the hundred metre dash.
One of the reasons why the general has dominated our polity and psyche for so long is because he does not fight the battles the press or anyone chooses for him. He is so completely self-assured and in such control of his own mind that he alone, eventually decides what is worth fighting for and what is not. He is nobody’s foot-soldier.
A word of advice for anyone who wants to analyse IBB: he does not take your bait. He is not a gambler. I know that it is corny to say that of a man who has participated in more coups in Nigeria than anyone living, but there it is. He is a very meticulous, methodical and cerebral person and he does not rush into anything. If a man knows how to weigh his options, then Babangida is the man.
People get confused sometimes and say the man was not straight-forward and that is why they call him Maradona. The truth is that everyone expects IBB to look at things their own way and he is too polite to tell them otherwise. He understands how important it is for people to ventilate themselves as proof of their own importance. The problem is too often, they mistake a polite smile, a listening ear and a few chuckles for acquiescence.
Someone once said ‘the child is the father of the man’ well, you can’t understand Babangida, the man, if you don’t know Ibrahim, the child. He became an orphan so early that he grew up too quickly. In 1954 when he was a mere child about to begin elementary school, his father told him he (Ibrahim) would be very popular. He never forgot that, perhaps because barely a year later the man died.
At a very young age therefore, he had to make survival his watchword. And nowhere do you get survival training like the Army.
Although he wanted to be an engineer, the stories of his seniors like Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi who had joined the Army earlier right after school captivated him. So when Ibrahim Tako Galadima an indigene of Niger State and the Minister for the Army came to recruit soldiers, Ibrahim Babangida was quick to sign up for the Officer Cadets Training Programme at the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna. Later he trained in india and the Royal Amoured Centre Bovington, UK. He was so good that they called him back for the instructor’s course in armoured vehicle driving and maintenance. His love for the Armoured Corps was solidified and in February, 1976 this love was to bring him lasting fame when he took an armoured vehicle to Radio House to quash the Dimka coup.
IBB has phenomenal memory. He remembers nearly everything and everybody. Little, unimportant incidents stick to his mind like tick and he picks them up when he needs them. Professor Jibril Aminu who was a Minister in his cabinet confessed; “I am always amazed at the number of people he knows and the number of people who know him well. I always got surprise when I had appointments to make and made some recommendations. He picks up very odd names from the corner that I think he would not know and he will say; “Oh! That one! What is he doing now?” And I will ask “why now?” And he will say “he was doing so, so and so.”
Babangida knew so many people because all his life he has been opening social window with people. He studied them, honoured them, helped them, taught them, led them and some have even said, used them. He was an expert in the psychology of the Nigerian. He understood how people think, and the bizarre conclusions that sometimes attend such thoughts. In the past, he had been heard to lament the intellectual laziness of his fellow countrymen.
It has been said that no Nigerian leader had ever prepared for the job with the same devotion, the same single minded attention like General Babangida. He didn’t just want the job, he worked for it. By his own admission, he had been involved in every coup in this country since he got involved in the planning and execution of the 1975 coup that ousted General Gowon.
As he rose in the Army, he trained his mind. He read books on politics, government, economics, psychology, philosophy, history, mythodology, biographies, tactics, revolutions, diplomacy, and even foreign relations. According to Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi “Babangida may, perhaps be the first Nigerian George Marshall that we have as Head of State; the intellectual-soldier. Over the eight years before becoming Head of State, he made several speeches with foreign policy implications. He is a man who has his own image of the World and where Nigeria fits in.”
On Tuesday, August 27,1985, General Ibrahim Babangida took over the reign of power from General Muhammadu Buhari and set out to re-engineer the country according to his image.
Indeed, IBB seemed to have initiated programmes and policies that succeeding government’s appeared to have adopted under some guise or other. His eight years as President was the most active, the most innovative and productive in Nigeria’s history.
The IBB regime witnessed a whirlwind of activities, and more policy initiatives and fiscal measures than all other regimes of this country combined. The establishment of new Universities and Polytechnics; the movement to Abuja; the reorganization of the Nigeria Police into seven Zonal operation areas; the unemployment grants to states for agricultural programmes and vocational skills; A new National Shipping Policy adopting the UNCTAD code of conduct for Liners; MAMSER; a 46 member panel to review the 1979 Constitution; the Creation of Akwa Ibom and Katsina States; Direct funding of Local Government from the Federal Government to make them autonomous; NDE;FRSC, Commissioning of the Onne Fertilizer Plant; and the 260million dollars Petro chemical Plant in Kaduna; and in one day four bodies are established; i.e National Population Commission, National Revenue Mobilization Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal, there were also policies and establishment like ban on public smoking; creation of constituent Assembly; National Health Insurance Scheme; NNPC Escravos-Lagos gas pipeline at Egbin; NEC; Elesa Eleme refinery, Rivers state; Children Trust Fund; National Population Policy; SAP; Registration of Parties; Census; National Women Commission; Reduction of import duties on newsprints; ECMOG; Resumed diplomatic relations with Israel, Central Bank autonomy decree; the creation of Abia, Anambra, Delta, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Osun, Yobe and Taraba states and 136 new LGs with take-off grants; sponsoring General Obasanjo’s bid for the UN job; 30 demoractically elected governors;23 Mortgage Banks Licensed; NDLEA; National Guard; National Housing Fund; etc!
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is difficult to quantify the gains of all these programmes, their contribution to the development of Nigeria. Only a government imbued with ideas, resourceful and determined to make historical changes could have summoned the will-power to achieve such immense success in such diverse areas. Everything you see today has the IBB touch which means his leadership vision flourishes up till date.
Ironically, no one has been more maligned because frantic effort has been made into drowning all the aforementioned achievements in the murky waters of slander though futile. But the truth of what the General has done for this country cannot be wished away.
For years he has handled the outrageous charges against him, often trumpeted in the mass media rather than the courts, with an equanimity that even close relations find inexplicable.
In recent times, as the injury he sustained during the civil war that almost dismembered our beloved nation slowed his pace, the tendency to exaggerate his health challenges has increased. While age and the leg wound have indeed taken some toll, the man is far from retired from public affairs.
Daily, people troop to his house for consultations and for support and he can be seen attending to them all day with the same sharp wit, the same vigorous mind, and the same blazing intelligence.
Whether you like the man or not, the fact is that IBB has acquired such a reputation, reached such a height that he now belongs to that rare breed who can only be described using an oxymoron like ”living legend.”
There is no doubt that history will be kinder to him than contemporary hagiographers and pseudo critics have been. Even now, as he celebrates his 75th birthday, there is a decidedly less trenchant tone to the stories people tell about him, less inclination to blame him for everything that is wrong with our country. And more and more people are beginning to give him credit for always showing the courage of his convictions, and for the imagination and nimbleness of mind that led to all that political engineering.
In this his diamond jubilee, we wish this remarkable son of Africa many happy returns. We still need him yet! We can only pray to Allah SWT to continue to strengthen him in good health.