By Kassim Afegbua
Speaking for a former President of His Excellency, General Ibrahim Babangida’s status could be as Herculean and complex a task. The former leader is a behemoth of some sort and has combed the entire gamut of Nigeria’s political life in a manner that makes him the issue in Nigeria’s over 50 years of developmental discourse.
Easily understood and misunderstood, Babangida has grown to represent the positive and negative currents of Nigeria’s political adventure, with a larger than life image that is often viewed with a mythical candour.
Conscious of his place in history and the humanity of his political excursions throughout his 71 years on earth, IBB till date remains a study, a puzzle and an enigma yet to be unraveled. That is the leader’s own way of remaining his relevant self and running through the bends and curves of life’s unassailable architecture. In his typical characteristics, he indulges in anything based on his convictions and sense of patriotism.
The Babangida narrative in Nigeria’s history is one that is not ready to peter out in years to come. Even after death [May Allah Grant him many more years on earth], his image will still continue to loom larger than life. This leader of leaders’ story is woven in several anecdotal details that make it easily difficult to consummate his memoirs in just one edition of a literary inquisition. Depending on what aspect of him one intends to write on, or deconstruct, Babangida’s story is as enthralling and interesting as the subject matter.
Babangida, is a delight any day, any time no matter the aspect of his life that one is beaming his searchlight on. A leader that is imbued with the forgiving spirit, coupled with his kindness and fear of God, I feel a pain of ignorance each time I read commentaries that are easily at variance with his personality and philosophy. At times, one is provoked beyond the rubrics of good scholarship, to puncture make-belief stories that have become his lot as his vocal critics would always have the world believe that the problems of Nigeria start and end with IBB.
In all of these, I have not come across any individual that has a bad story to tell from an interaction with him. His humaneness, kindness, fear of God disposition and his calmness in the face of provocation remains a quintessential aspect of his total person.
Nineteen years outside the Rubicon of power, IBB’s voice still reverberates with the tempest of a born leader. His interventions in shaping the political trends and dimensions are as instructive as the intention behind his interest in seeking democratic political office.
Not many people know that the real intention behind his participation in democratic engagements particularly in his presidential aspiration was primarily to pass a message to his military constituency that democracy has come to stay.
His involvement helped in no small measure to instill confidence in the democratic system while keeping the desperate military adventurists at bay. His latest declaration at Abuja during the graduation ceremony and 20th year anniversary of the National Defense College that military coups are no longer fashionable in the global sense further underscores his presidential leit-motif.
That is why each time he puts his hat in the ring, and seeing animated audience participation, he will tacitly withdraw at the appropriate time and allow the democratic course to flow uninhibited. That is his own peculiar way of adding content to the democratic road-map in Nigeria’s march to full blown democracy.
IBB is surely worried about the declining morality in public service. Each time he makes his position known on any subject matter in full expression of his fundamental right to own an opinion and express same; critics would easily feast on him.
The level of corruption and sharp practices in the country today worries IBB to the hilt. When he ventured a parallel in the expenditure on power generation and production to the actual wastages that attended the Obasanjo era, he drew the ire of the Ota Farmer who ended up calling him unprintable names. But that did not deter him from sticking to his convictions and expressing same whenever opportunity presents itself.
He would often tell me that the nucleus of creativity is here in Nigeria, but the utilization of those creative talents is often misplaced,and most times under-utilized. Perhaps one of the reasons why he still remains an issue in public discourse till date could be a function of his ability to recruit sound minds and futuristic leaders into the various sectors of the economy to drive governance and public accountability.
Today, all the milestones and footprints of those brilliant interventions could be found across the country; rural infrastructure, roads, healthcare delivery system, rural empowerment, agricultural boost, media reforms, banking reforms, and several others too numerous to mention.
IBB is also worried about how deep we have personalized governance. Explaining his support for State Police for example, he reasoned that the fact that governors would exploit and abuse the initiative is not enough reason to jettison an idea whose time has come. According to him; “a time will come when public enlightenment and orientation will make it difficult for governors to abuse and exploit such initiative. We need to be looking at the future of Nigeria, and not thinking backward.
This is why I find our federal structure rather defective. Why is it difficult for States that form the component parts of our federation to enact laws that would facilitate good governance in their domain? Why the over-bearing influence of the centre?” he queried. While advocating for the proper strengthening of the Federal Police, IBB is of the opinion that complimentary laws could be enacted across the states to buffet what already exists at the Federal level. He had earlier made a case for devolution of power to the extent that the Federal Government would concentrate more of its energies on economy, defense and foreign policy, whilst allowing the states to develop based on their comparative advantages.
According to him, it is not a given that states must develop at the same pace, but that given the right incentives and encouragement, they could exploit their God-given potentials to fulfill the aspirations of their people.
The idea of Federal Government commissioning rural roads, rural water supply and healthcare centers has since become out of tune with the temperament of modern developmental studies. Those are responsibilities for the states and the local governments, he reasoned.
A reporter’s delight
Those who have had opportunity to interact with IBB at different levels would attest to the fact that the leader is a delight to be with at all times. His witty presentations, his wise cracks, his jokes, his ideas and his reasoning are based on sound intuition and scholarship.
There is no question that IBB does not have an answer as far as it is within human comprehension. Even the June 12 episode that has become a recurring discourse has enabled him with a better understanding of how the Nigerian mind works; criticize government at the heat of sunlight, and romanticize with same at night.
A lot of the actors and actresses of the June 12 episode enjoy this description generously. My forthcoming book on the man IBB will give a further insight into, and understanding of the roles which most of these modern day vocal activists played when the June 12 orchestra lasted.
I have had the rare privilege of probing into his thoughts about the labyrinths of the June 12 untold stories, and on each occasion, he’s got an answer, not just an answer, but one that is scalding hot as the subject of June 12 itself. One thing you cannot ram down his throat is to think that the leader must dance to public hysteria; no way. Not IBB. He will stick to his guns provided he gets convinced about his actions and decisions. That is the stuff for which great leaders are made.
IBB: looking forward
A lot of Nigerians would agree with me that IBB is not flippant with comments on public issues. When he is not talking, people read meaning to it. When he chooses to talk, people still try to decipher what could be his real intention. And each time he tries to express an opinion on an issue, you often hear his itinerant critics questioning his right to own an opinion. Whatever IBB does, is considered news. Most times, very constructive with his comments which are sparingly rendered to ventilate public discourse, IBB’s understanding of the country and its people may unarguably be second to none. Apart from his deep and wide network of friends, his knowledge of the geography and history of the country is tremendous. This partly explains why he was able to assemble some of the best brains the country can boast of during his intervention in the political life of the country.
Despite all the shenanigans that are sprawling across the country today, IBB is still very hopeful that a better Nigeria is possible. His conviction about a better future is driven by his belief that no matter the challenges, Nigerians have the capacity to contend with all the manifold parallels that have become the lot of the country. With little orientation and attitudinal change, he reasoned; the country will be on its part for full utilization of her potentials for public good and not self.
At 71, it will be a good limerick to shout, happy birthday to the ultimate godfather in Nigeria politics; the leader of leaders, the friend of the masses, and a great stabilizer of all times. Happy birthday sire.