By Dele Sobowale
“The most uncharitable critic of IBB [Babangida}, after experiencing four other administrations (Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar, and now Obasanjo), readily concedes that but for the annulment of June 12, 1993, the man, IBB, would have been an untainted hero.”—Double Chief Duro Onabule, Chief Press Secretary to President Babangida.
On that note readers should permit me to open a subject which should be dear to the mind of any right thinking Nigerian. That matter can be summarised in one simple question: Has governance always been as bad as we have experienced since 1999? A corollary to that question is: Was there a time when government left us with a feeling that we can solve existing problems instead of multiplying them? The just concluded book was started last September when a top notch member of the ruling party answering reporters’ questions about the achievements of his government had proclaimed that “no government, including Babangida’s, since independence had done more for Nigeria than we have done.” Was it true? Unknown to the speaker, he had thrown a challenge which only a true researcher would accept. Nothing prepared me for what I was later to find out.
Oddly enough, as the author of two impressions associated with the IBB era, I was responsible for getting the tag ‘Hidden Agenda’ and ‘N40 billion political transition programme’ registered on the media circuit. I was a sharp critic of the government on many points. As it turned out, I was also an active supporter and promoter of at least six of its most important landmark achievements. There was never a time I was totally for or against IBB’s regime. Each issue was decided on its own merits based on my own personally held principles.
The differences highlighted in Duro Onabule’s statement and the ruling party’s spokesman presented for me an opportunity to ask the question: Apart from June 12, what exactly did IBB achieve in seven years? I am aware that he was in power for eight years. But I wanted to examine the man’s tenure free of the issue of June 12 – which, in my own view, had distorted our history. One day, somebody else will undertake the same sort of study on Gowon, Shagari, Obasanjo, Jonathan and Buhari. By that I mean a clinical evaluation completely devoid of the emotional claptrap which partisan politics induces in people writing about the tenures of Presidents and Governors.
Shocking as it might sound, there are very few books on our past leaders which are not essentially public relations printout. In the book, titled ‘IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM’, which was delivered to him on his 78th birthday, on August 17, 2019, I had gone to great pains to avoid leaving barefaced untruths as history for readers now and for posterity. It is probably the first book ever written about a former Nigerian Head of State, who, though he was aware the work was going on, was not allowed to make an input. There was no interview with him throughout. He was not asked to explain anything, defend any measures or offer any excuses. Everything in the book was sourced from data and evidence available in the public domain which over twenty researchers and I could lay our hand on. Nothing else! We did not even attempt to interview his friends and those who worked with him and who are still alive. This was going to be cold blooded inquiry into the tenure of a government and rendition of truths as close as my colleagues and I could get to them.
On August 17, 2019, just as we intended, we delivered some copies of the book to the Hill Top Mansion. We now have a limited number to distribute. Kindly let me render some portions of the book for your information. They were all taken from the book.
The first remarks explain how the seven years of the Babangida administration had been placed in a wider global context. There is an abiding tendency in Nigeria to judge our leaders from the narrow spectrum of partisan politics, ethnicity or how one particular event associated with them has affected us – for good or ill. Thus, an unambiguous statement was made about what the book ‘IBRAHIM B BANBANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM’ set out to achieve. It was an attempt to take an overall view of Nigerian history 27 years after the last chapter of that history was recorded and the main character had left the stage of our collective history to determine the long term impact of policies and programmes on our lives today.
“Because this is an attempt to write history, specifically, the economic, social and political history of Nigeria covering over seven tumultuous years in many respects, there is the need to plead for understanding on account of limitations faced by every historian. Will and Ariet Durant, history’s most famous couple, who, together, wrote ten books, pointed out the problem in ‘THE AGE OF FAITH’. According to them, “The historian always over-simplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend.” Seven years of Babangida produced enough materials to write at least ten books. No single book can adequately cover all of them.”
Later on, another observation was made in the attempt to let readers know that there are elements in the seven years selected which have historical parallels elsewhere. For instance, “French historian, Charles Peguy, in 1909, said that the world had changed more in the last thirty years up to that point than in the years since Jesus died. He had his reasons. It was the age of mass transportation – cars, trains, lorries, ocean liners – and the Wright Brothers had just proved that man cannot only fly, he can cruise higher, farther and faster than any feathered creature on earth.
In many ways, Nigeria’s economy and society were altered in more ways than at any point in our history during IBB’s tenure. The sheer volume of decrees passed and amended must leave one wondering if the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Prince Bola Ajibola, ever slept in those turbulent years.”
Nigerians don’t read history and our leaders generally reflect our aversion to learning from history. The Nigerian President who ordered history removed from the curriculum of secondary school is still alive and bragging about his exploits. No American President will lose his senses and make the same order. And if the US President does, surely nobody will obey his instructions. Consequently, we, as a nation, continue to fall into the same self-created man-holes – one administration after another. So, the book has anticipated the question: Why now write another book on Babangida. The reasons follow: “For those who would wonder why undertake such a study, at this time or any other time, the Durants also provided my alibi when they declared: ‘The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.’ It is almost impossible to make sense of what is happening to our economy and society today without some understanding of how we got here.”
Never in the nation’s history have Nigerians witnessed such a preponderance of destructive forces and so few clearly articulated solutions to existing problems before new issues crop up – just as threatening and divisive. We seem to have lost, since the end of the last century, the sense of reasonable compromise which kept the nation from disintegrating in the last years of the last century.
One of the greatest surprises in our research was provided by none other than Bashorun MKO Abiola, long before June 12: “The truth, from what I know, is that of all those who have prepared for high office in this country, he is the only one who did a thorough preparation, including the preparation of his immediate family. And that is because we used to have accidental Presidents – people who have greatness thrust on them. “Anyone who knows my friend, as closely as I have known him since 1966, will realise that something is propelling him. The types of friends he made, the type of things he was reading, the type of things he got interested in, the type of life he led, the type of demands he made on himself over the years…Looking back to even when we were playing games, when he visited you on a casual basis, the type of things he talked about…
“I remember when he invited me to address a soldiers’ conference in 1984. The theme was ‘The Economic Policy for Progress in Nigeria.’ …. I was writing my speech…and he said to me ‘You haven’t touched ….the issue of unemployment. I don’t think you have handled that sufficiently. Interest rates for example, the impact of that on the economy.’”
Finally, MKO Abiola made this revelation. “On the issue of agriculture, he is the only person who has ever been interested in discussing the problem of farmers in this country.” Readers need to be told that Abiola made these observations after being close to the pinnacle of Nigerian power under three military and one civilian leaders in the 1970s to 1980s.
Next week, we will take a look at IBB’s cabinet which was announced on September 10, 1985, less than two weeks after he seized power. Nothing testifies to the statement made by Abiola about his thoroughness and preparation more eloquently than that.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THIS SORT OF WORK
This sort of work is not meant for card-carrying party members wanting to impress the leader with public relations as the objective. Only non-partisan chroniclers can enlighten us in this regard.