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General Babangida At 79: A Hero Or A Heroic Failure? – Ibrahim Muye Yahaya



Monday, 17th August, 2020 will mark the anniversary of the birth of former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), our nation’s 8th president. Where presidential birthdays are a cause for public reflection, this too is not supposed to pass without some reflection. That will be not entirely surprising: Because he is one of the ex-leaders some Nigerians love to hate and prominent on the regular lists of the most “misconstrued Presidents’’. If the past and present have not been unsparing in their critique of him, then there are enough raison d’être his legacies is review for posterity as he celebrates the 79th birthday.

The celebrant’s case is a metaphor for destiny, as all he aspired in life as a youngster was to become a practicing civil engineer, but end up as a military officer whose only reverie was to be Chief of Army Staff. Although he did ‘attain’ his ‘dream’ to become the Chief of Army Staff, he ended up becoming the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To talk about IBB requires a thesis. He is gentle-mannered, cosmopolitan, charming, elegant, consensus-builder, eloquent, modest, proud African, peacemaker and one of the truly iconic figures of modern times. General Babangida is not a run-of-the-mill persona, but an extraordinary leader whose footprints are literally everywhere in the country with a happy and optimistic temperament which enabled him stand for his constituency and the country without losing sight of the larger interests.

Former President Babangida is a loyal servant of the centre. As a young Lieutenant Officer on his return from United Kingdom in 1967, he was posted to the war front. His first taste with battle was at the Nsukka sector where he fought gallantly in the Civil War under the command of General Muhammad Inuwa Wushishi. A year after in August 1968 as a Captain, he was given the command of the 44 Infantry Battalion, known as “The Rangers’’,   that was known for its bravery to both the Federal and Biafran side of the War. All those that served under his command will give a testimony of the sacrifices he made not only to win the War, but the knack to manage casualty for lost of life from both Federal and Biafran forces. On 13th February 1976, when the then Chief of Army Staff, General TY Danjuma gave him a matching order to go and crush the coup plotters at the premises of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation House (NBC), Ikoyi, Lagos where Lt. Col BS Dimka and his co-plotters were, he complied readily without mincing a word, and unarmed coming face-to-face with the coup plotters, he was able to neutralised the leader of the rebels which was the turning point in quashing the coup that claimed the life of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed. His heroic exploits against the plotters boosted his profile, not only with the army, but the entire armed forces and he become a household name to Nigerians.

Action and dynamism were central to IBB’s appeal. He helped give urgency to the idea of pursuing a national purpose—a great Nigeria mission. He is, and remains a powerful symbol of a lost moment, of a soaring idealism and hope that later generations still try to recover. Like all humans, leaders and all presidents, he had successes and failures. Till date, he remains the only ex-President on par with our founding fathers who has influenced our National Development, although the mischievous press would prefer to vilify him and downplay his iconic achievements. Some of the signature projects of his administration include: Lagos 3rd Mainland Bridge, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano dual carriage way, Phase 1 & II of Federal Secretariat Complex in Abuja, 6 Military Barracks in Abuja, International Conference Centre (ICC), ECOWAS Secretariat, Aso-Rock Presidential Villa, expansion of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Phase I & II, construction of NNPC Towers in Abuja, Defence Guest House, Radio House, Defence Headquarters, NNPC, CBN and FCDA Staff quarters, National Women Development Centre (NWDC), Ministerial Quarters (Ministers’ Hill), official residential quarters in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Garki and Federal Secretariats Complexes across the 30 States. His administration also constructed Jebba and Shiroro Hydro Electricity Dams, Niger Dock, Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Standard-Gauge Rail, Aluminium Smelter Plant in Akwa-Ibom State, construction and commissioning of Gusau, Suleija, Makurdi, Minna, Yola and Gombe PPMC Depots which were all functional even after living office.

Other monumental projects of his administration include; Supreme Court Building, Apo Legislative Quarters, Eleme Petrol Chemicals, Egbin Thermal Power Station, Challawa Gorge Dam, completion and commissioning of Teaching Hospitals at Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Abuja and Irrua, Building of Escarvos-Lagos Gas Pipeline, construction of LNG Bonny, Katsina Airport, Minna Airport, IBB International Golf and Country Club and establishment of the following agencies; Anambara-Imo Basin, Cross River Basin, Lower-Benue Basin, Niger Delta Basin, Upper Niger Basin, Lower Niger Basin, Ogun-Osun Basin, Benin-Owena Basin, Oil Minerals Production Area Exploration Commission (OMPADEC), Petroleum Products Monitoring Company (PPMC), National Defence College (NDC), Nigeria Police Academy, National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Agency for Mass and Adult Education, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) which many African Countries found as a model and adopted. The administration also constructed Jibia Dam, Gurara River Bridge in Muye Niger State and the link road to Gegu in Kogi State, Yaba Bridge in FCT, Zungeru Bridge in Niger State, Toja Bridge in Kebbi State, completion of Kaduna new Airport and Gusau Water Scheme. His administration is also credited with establishing of the following Universities; University of Uyo, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Akwa, University of Abuja, Federal Universities of Agriculture in Makurdi, Abeokuta, Umudike and Federal Colleges of Educations at Asaba, Bichi, Gusau, Umunze and Omoku. He is a reserved and pragmatic man who almost never revealed passion. Yet many people saw him—and still do—as an idealistic and, yes, passionate president who did his best to transform the nation. But in the eyes of many, this reticent man is a charismatic leader who, while in office served as a symbol of purpose and hope.

The most important prerequisites for a leader are vision and courage: vision to overcome the danger of stagnation; courage to navigate hitherto uncharted territory. IBB never claimed these attributes for himself, although he embodied them. He is a leader that presented a portrait of fair version of the country’s geo-political and socio-cultural diversity in all his appointments. For instance, his appointment into ruling organs of the government was broader in ethnic, cultural, religious and geo-political pattern with key appointments of security and none-military staff was similarly more representative of the Country’s diversity. His administration gave the Local Government Areas (LGAs) full executive powers; their share of revenue from the federation account was increased from 10% to 20% and paid directly to their treasuries bypassing the State governments. The reform also removed all other forms of control on LGs by State governments including power to appoint. His late Wife, Mrs. Maryam Babangida’s “Better Life for the Rural Women” was instrumental in closing gender gap and ushered involvement of women in governance and political landscape of Nigeria. From mid 80’s to date, we have had women as appointed and elected officials at the State, central government and private sectors. IBB exerted a crucial influence on the development of Nigerian nationalism by exhibiting both a “mathematical cast of mind” and a “taste for adventure”. He had the intuition of grasping situations holistically.

IBB is blessed with a deep sense of obligation that did his best to take the country from where it was to where it had never been. His attempt of re-engineering Nigeria can never be regarded as a whacked exertion. For instance, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was trying to call to order, that business could not continue as usual. It was meant to force lazy and the sycophants to become active and productive by cutting the umbilical cord linking them to public coffers. His administration established the following institutions; Value Added Tax (VAT) i.e. Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND), Nigeria Export Processing Zone (NEPZA), Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), National Population Commission (NPC), Sheda Science and Technology Development Complex (SHESTCO), National Mathematical Centre (NMC), National Productivity Centre (NPC), National Agricultural Land Development Agency (NALDA), Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC), National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Technical Aide Corp (TAC) and Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). For instance, NERFUND catered for funding needs of small and medium scale industries; while NDIC provides insurance cover for Bank depositors; NEXIM Bank support and promote import and export financing and NAIS encourage direct lending to farmers. Three decades after, the aforementioned agencies and many others which were all progenies of SAP reform are still very active, pertinent, functioning and aiding the nation’s economic growth and development.

Agencies such as DFRRI, MAMSER, Community Banks and People’s Bank established by his administration had empowered rural and urban cooperative societies, farmers unions and rural communities to undertake self-help projects and provided easy access to credit to the ordinary man without need for collaterals by making federal presence closer to the people for the first time in the Country. Despite been accused of manipulating and aborting the transition programme in order to prolong his stay in power, he facilitated the entrance of new breed of politicians in the Country. Many evidences, body language and revelations show that the annulment of June 12 election was handiwork of members of the political elite’s selfish interest, corruption, betrayals, ego and weakness. The significant political gladiators especially those that blamed him for annulling the June 12 election end up lobbying and taking appointment as Ministers, Ambassadors and other head of agencies immediately after stepping aside. Today, it is the group of the young politicians that emerged owing to the cancellation of June 12 elections are those that are currently controlling both political and economic power in Nigeria.

His foresight for creation of states and LGAs in 1987 and 1991 had incredible upshot of both extenuating the incongruity of national questions and spreading of contemporary structures and avenues of governance in most of the areas concerned. The States and LGA’s he created offered opportunities for people and communities who have for long considered themselves as slave-master relationship, neglected, relegated, under-represented or even unrepresented at both the state and federal level to have a voice. Today, without those States and LGAs he created, there would have been absence of many federal presence and infrastructural development, absence of elected and public appointees such as Governors, Ministers, Ambassadors, Federal and State legislators, Commissioners, Council Chairpersons and Councillors in those States and LGAs.

Among President Babangida’s greatest legacies is accomplishing the dream of Late General Murtala Muhammad administration by moving the capital of the country from Lagos to Abuja. For those old enough to witness and remember the early hour impressive ceremony of Thursday, December 12, 1991 when Major-General Muhammad Gado Nasko, the then Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) handover to him the key to the Capital city at the “City Gate’’ of Abuja which formally signified the movement of the capital city of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja. Other accomplishments worth mentioning include constructions of National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Headquarters; State Security Services (DSS) Headquarters; provision of infrastructure in Jabi and Gudu Districts; Abuja Central Areas Phases 1 and 11; Asokoro and Asokoro South West Extension 1 and 11; Maitama and Wuse General Hospitals; Asokoro, Kuje, Karshi, Orozo, Gwagwalada, Kubwa and Abuja Municipal Water Supply Schemes.

President Babangida is a visionary leader who values know-how, excellent, merit and good governance. He proof that by stocking his administration with brainpowers, policy makers, strategists and professionals. Some of his Ministers, appointees and committee members during his administration include Professors: Aliyu Babatunde Fafunwa, Olukoye Ransom Kuti, Clement Obiora Akpambo (SAN), Jubril Aminu,Emmanuel Emovon, Tam David-West, Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Bolaji Akinyemi, Jerry Gana, Godwin Obuneme Ezekwe (the brain behind the Biafran’s Ogbunigwe Bombs), Wole Soyinka, Oyetunji Aboyede, Omo Omuruyi, Ikenna Nzimiro, Adedotun Oluwole Phillips, Jadesola Akande, Jonah Elaigwu, Ema Awa, D.A Ijalaiye, George Obiozor, Sidat Mobadeje, Humphery Nwosu, AD Yahaya, Oye Oyediran, Sani Zahardeen, Tunde Adeniran, Akin Mabogunje and Sam Oyovbaire.Doctors: Kalu Idika Kalu (KIK), SP Chu Okongwu, Edmund Daukoro, Ignatus Ayua, C. Abebe, Tai Solarin, Hamza Rafindadi Zayyad, Bala Takaya, Edwin Madunagu, Abdullahi Augie, SJ Cookey, Haroun Adamu, Tunji Olagunju and Rilwanu Lukman; others are: Comrade Uche Chukwumerije, Chief Gray Adetokunbo Longe, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji (Alhaji Alhaji), Chief Olu Falae, Alhaji Shehu Musa (Makaman Nupe), Owelle Gilbert Chikelu Obaijulu, Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), Alhaji Ahmadu Abubakar, Amb. Matthew T. Mbu, Alhaji Adamu Fika, Alhaji Abdullahi Ma’aji, Prince Tony Momoh, Alhaji Abubakar Hashidu, Amb. Bunu Sherrif Musa, Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmad, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Hajiya Hamra Imam, Alhaji Shuaibu Kazaure, Chief Alex Akinyele, Gen. Mamman Kontagora, Chief Alabo Graham Douglas, Alhaji Samaila Mamman, Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed (Wazirin Jama’a) and many others who have contributed to the development of the nation

President Babangida is endowed with charisma without confines: Global, African, Nigerian, spiritual, high, professional, humorous, formal, informal, cosmopolitan, cerebral, union, and more. At 79 he is still very dynamic, intelligent with sound mind and memory. Despite his health challenge which was the upshot of the gunshot wound he sustained during the Civil War in 1969, he is not a man of many maudlin and egotistical words, he always speaks on substantive matters as his sense of humour and conviction remained indestructible. There is no second-guess about him as the founder of modern Nigerian nationalism and the first real leader to articulate some sense of modern identity, and one of the leading forces behind the establishment of the many institutions we are proud of in Nigeria today. For close three decades after he stepped aside, he has remains the poster boy of modern Nigeria and his ideas are not only the beating heartbeat of Nigeria, but no doubt the cement of the contemporary Nigerian nation.

General IBB is an avant-garde and visionary leader who shunned the traditional, authoritarian and anti-Western norm of leadership whose administration kick-started the economy diversification of Nigeria. If historic figures were like companies listed on the stock exchange, and many were ask where to put their money on assets that were almost certainly to rise handsomely in the years ahead, then former President Babangida is where many would place their bets. If Nigeria truly had no leaders we can accord the title of a “hero” to, do we really have leaders who have had massive impact than him? General Babangida indeed does deserve to be called a hero. This is because his achievements are still very glaring, enduring and will increase in significance as the years press on.

As he clocks 79, I will end with one of his quotes, “History will forgive you for taking a wrong decision, but history will not forgive you for not taking a decision at all”. Every leader, even those that were feted as the best in the world have their shortcomings. As we gaze back to remember this awe-inspiring leader that sacrifices his life for the unity and development of the Country whose administration gave us many infrastructures and institutions we are proud of today; patriotism and deep sense of unbiased thinking attributes are still traceable in him. President Babangida is an epitome of hard work, sacrifice, tolerance, unity and a promoter of tribal, regional and religious tolerance; the gospel he has never stop to advocate and a trait that Nigerians need most today. With his glaring achievements and legacies, former President Babangida is in fact a father, or one of the fathers of modern Nigeria and a hero, not a heroic failure. 

This is to join the family, friends, associates and well wishers on this occasion of the unique anniversary to salute his selfless, unwavering commitment to humanity and astonishing accomplishments to the country. Happy birthday and happy many more years of sound health to the most urbane President in history of Nigeria.

Mr. Yahaya writes from Muye, Niger State., +2348036616767

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