By Dele Sobowale
There is no Nigerian past officer or leader that you can point at today and say he paid greater attention to Army welfare. General Babangida was in the Armoured Corps as our Commander, but, his approach to professional excellence cut across the entire Army. Everybody came to see him, without protocol; everybody was free with him; you always left him feeling happier than when you went in” – Colonel (ret.), later Brigadier, Mohammed Marwa.
You can’t please everybody. But, till today, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida remains the most popular officer ever to put on any military uniform in Nigeria’s history. And, his popularity cuts across all ethnic, religious, regional or zonal groups. When people, who laid their lives on the line, trust one individual more than others, that should tell all of us something about him.
“Even God cannot change the past” – Agathon, 447?-401.
Africans don’t write their own history. For that matter, we don’t read what is written about us by foreigners. Ask any Nigerian to list one thousand most respected people and you will most probably not find any Nigerian historian among them. History professors on university campuses are like the invisible men and women in academia. Perhaps the last time a professor of history was Vice Chancellor was when University of Ibadan had one in the 1980s. For all practical purposes, they don’t exist – except on the payroll of their institutions.
Consequently, a lot of rubbish gets stuffed into our heads and those of the young ones concerning what happened in the past. One of the primary history books we read at Igbobi College in the 1950s to 1960s started by telling us that “History is a record of what has happened in the past.” That record, as much as humanly possible, is supposed to be verifiable from objective records, data, information provided in written or oral form etc – completely devoid of ethnicity, religion, regionalism, political partisanship and sentiments. A good historian ideally should be like a good pathologist who is supposed to determine objectively what killed the victim. His feelings concerning the dead or those responsible for it should have no place in the report.
Frequently, Nigerians, even till today, write about “our Founding Fathers” – Ahmadu Bello, Azikiwe and Awolowo – as if they created for us a paradise on earth on October 1, 1960 instead of a crude work in process which did not even last six years before disintegrating with the first coup. Nigerian political relics, close followers of the three late leaders, continue to talk and write as if nothing has changed since the three regions – East, North and West — were granted self-government by the British and the men departed the stage of history.
My own South-West is particularly pathetic. The “Free Education” gimmick which the Action Group party used to brand itself “progressive” is still being employed today by the “Progressives” in the South-West when even the village idiot knows that it had long been abandoned by all the governments of the zone.
Awolowo’s and Akintola’s kids were in the same schools as the rest of their age group. We now follow blindly those who have lost vision.
Despite the total repeal of all the elements which constituted the “Progressive Agenda” in the 1950s to early 1960s, most South Western leaders of thought still talk as if Awolowo left us with an abiding legacy. He did not. We have demolished it. Ahmadu Bello and Azikiwe were even worse. Whereas Awo is still fondly remembered for “Free Education” in the old Western Region, neither Azikiwe nor Ahmadu Bellow left behind any such legacy. All we cling to when looking longingly at our so-called “glorious” past are sentiments. Few laws which have had a lasting impact on Nigeria can be attributed to our “Founding Fathers”.
At any rate, one thing that cannot be denied by even their die-hard admirers (no names please) is that they were local champions. None of them was a Head of Government. Even Azikiwe, who was Senate President, before the coup of 1966, was not an Executive President. His role was essentially ceremonial. He was responsible for no laws.
Thus, in reality, we had only the following Heads of the Nigerian government from 1960 to 2000: Abubakar, Ironsi, Gowon, Mohammed, Obasanjo, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abdulsalami and Obasanjo (again). Apart from the various laws, edicts, etc which were handed to us by the British, which don’t concern us here, virtually all our leaders have left us with very few statues which still govern us till today. They might as well not have existed.
In all fairness, Babangida, as explained in my new book, IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM, can only be compared with Gowon (almost nine years in office), Abacha (five years), Shagari (four years) and Obasanjo (almost four years). The others – Abubakar, Ironsi, Mohammed, Buhari and Abdulsalami had very little time in the saddle for any fair comparison to be made — except perhaps by looking at what was undertaken in the first year and the implied direction of government from the measures undertaken. Otherwise, they too don’t count. Only four leaders matter.
“Leadership is always somewhat mysterious. Leadership can be summed up in two words: intelligence and integrity; or to use two synonyms: competence and character” – John Brademas, US Congressman, 1984.
To that observation, one must add two other attributes of great leaders: hard work and team-building. Babangida, from the materials available to me excelled with respect to those two attributes as I will point out later.
Even after making all those allowances for other leaders, it is still a fact of our past history that “even God cannot change” that IBB, as we called the man, was, by far, the greatest lawgiver in the last century in Nigeria. To start with, the number of fresh decrees passed by his administration and those that were amended was astonishing even within the first two years. The book cover, front and back, lists some of the selected decrees passed during those seven tumultuous years. Even with over twenty-five researchers working full speed and racing to deliver the book by Babangida’s 78th birthday on August 17, 2019, we still left far more decrees untouched than we were able to lay hands on, read, summarise and select for inclusion in IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM. Nothing we had known or read about IBB prepared us for what we discovered. The third party and objective data was so overwhelming talking to the man or seeking an interview would have uncovered very little additional information that was significant.
IBB THE TEAM-BUILDER AND THE TEAM; THE TEAM!!!
With all due respects to my parents and family, this is not the sort of book one dedicates to them. God will forgive me I am sure for not dedicating it to the Almighty. The co-heroes, with IBB, of this narrative are people who are total strangers to me – except four – Professor Jubril Aminu, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and Dr Suleiman. I never met the others including Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Major-General Mamman Kontagora, Chief Olu Falae, Dr Chu S P Okongwu, Justice (Prince) Bola Ajibola and Alhaji Shehu Musa till today. I doff my hat for them.
It is a pity many of them have passed on. I only hope that this book will constitute a permanent record for posterity of their heroic attempts to re-engineer Nigeria during the years 1985 to 1992.