Niger State — Monday, 17th August, 2020, marks another birthday for former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), our nation’s 8th ruler. Where presidential birthdays are a cause for public reflection, this too is not supposed to pass without some reflection. 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”.
His case is a metaphor for destiny, as all he aspired in life as a youngster was to become a practising civil engineer, but ended up becoming the President 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 to stand for his constituency and the country without losing sight of larger interests.
As a young Lieutenant, 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 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 Nigeria and Biafran side of the war.
All those who served under him gave testimonies of the sacrifices he made not only to win the war, but the knack to manage casualty for loss of lives from both federal and Biafran forces. On 13th February, 1976, when General TY Danjuma gave him a matching order to go and crush the coup plotters at the premises of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation House, Ikoyi, Lagos, where Lt. Col BS Dimka and his co-plotters were, he complied. Unarmed, coming face-to-face with the coup plotters, he was able to neutralise the leader of the rebel, a turning point in quashing the coup that claimed the life of General Murtala Mohammed. His heroic exploits against the plotters boosted his profile, not only with the army, but also the entire armed forces, and he became a household name to Nigerians.
Action and dynamism were central to IBB’s appeal. Till date, he remains the only ex-president at par with our founding fathers who have influenced our national development. Some of the signature projects of his administration included: 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, ECOWAS Secretariat, Aso-Rock Presidential Villa, and so many projects too numerous to mention.
The most important prerequisites for a leader are vision to overcome the danger of stagnation and courage to navigate hitherto uncharted territory. His administration gave local government areas 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.
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 of Nigeria. From mid 80’s to date, we have had women as appointed and elected officials at the state, central government and private sector. IBB exhibited 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 he did his best to take the country from where it was to where it had never been. His attempt at re-engineering Nigeria can never be regarded as a whacked exertion. For instance, the Structural Adjustment Programme SAP led to the establishment of the following institutions; FIRS, NDIC, NEXIM, NERFUND, NEPZA, NAIS, NDE, NASENI, FMBN, NPC, SHESTCO, NMC, NPC, NALDA, RMRDC, NAFDAC, NDLEA, TAC, and RMAFC.
Three decades after, the aforementioned agencies and many others are still functioning and aiding the nation’s economic growth and development.
Despite being 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. Many revelations show that the annulment of June 12 election was handiwork of members of the political elite pursuing selfish interests. The significant political gladiators that blamed him for annulling the election ended up lobbying and taking appointments as ministers, ambassadors and other heads of agencies immediately after he stepped aside. Today, the young politicians that emerged owing to the cancellation of June 12 elections are those currently controlling both political and economic power in Nigeria.
His foresight for creation of states and LGAs in 1987 and 1991 helped in aking governance to the grassoroot. The sates and LGA’s he created offered opportunities for people and communities who have for long been neglected, relegated, under-represented at both the state and federal level sto have a voice.
Among President Babangida’s greatest legacies is accomplishing the dream of Late General Murtala Muhammad’s administration by moving the capital of the country from Lagos to Abuja.
President Babangida is a visionary leader who values knowhow, excellence, merit and good governance. He proved that by stocking his administration with brain powers, policy makers, strategists and professionals. Some of his ministers, appointees and committee members contributed immensely to the development of the nation.
General IBB is a visionary leader who shunned the traditional, authoritarian and anti-Western norm of leadership whose administration kick-started the economic diversification of Nigeria. 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.
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 the history of Nigeria.
Mr. Yahaya wrote from Muye, Niger State