By Dele Sobowale
NOTE: Because of our current travails on account of the partial lockdown of the Third Mainland Bridge, this part of the article ended abruptly. Readers could not possibly understand the significance of the bridge and the vision it entailed at the time. IBB embarked on completion of the bridge approximately 17 years after the Eko Bridge was opened by Gowon in anticipation of the population surge which the 1988 Census revealed. Even then, it was clear that the 3rd Bridge would provide only temporary relief. Another bridge or tunnel was needed within 15 years. Today, nearly 30 years after that forward looking regime, we are feeling the lash of the folly of his successors who failed to construct another bridge or the first tunnel.
“I hold that man in the right, who is most in league with the future.”
Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1906. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 71.
Today, the economy of Lagos State is under double lockdown – CORO-19 and Third Mainland Bridge. Nigeria’s economy is also partially under lockdown because what is good for Lagos economy is good for Nigeria. We are in this sad state because after Babangida had the foresight to build Third Mainland, as Gowon had the sense to erect Eko Bridge, no other President has had enough sense to either build the fourth bridge or the first tunnel. A little bit of history is however necessary to illustrate how different leaders react to the problems which confront them when they assume office.
In January 1984 Buhari became Nigeria’s Military Head of State; he met two transport projects underway in Lagos. The first was the Lagos Metro Line designed by Jakande’s government to provide rail transport from Mile 2 to Lagos Island in order to ease the traffic hold up along the Badagry-Mile 2-Orile-Iganmu route. Although it was strictly a state project, Buhari ordered it to be stopped. That was the end of the vision of trouble-free movement along an important corridor of the nation’s economic centre, gateway to ECOWAS and social melting pot. The problem persists till today.
Buhari also inherited the Third Mainland Bridge ; started by civilian President Shehu Shagari to relieve commuters in Lagos of the horrible hold up on Carter and Eko Bridges. Until he left office on August 27, 1985, Buhari, twenty months after, the bridge as an abandoned project.
Today, the Third Mainland Bridge which was 90 per cent completed by Babangida has been partially closed down for urgent repairs. The hardship Nigerians using that bridge now experience should remind all of us of the men who built it. One is the late Major-General Mamman Kontagora. The other is alive and he will be 80-1 tomorrow. The problems we are now experiencing and the negative impact on our economy illustrate vividly the difference between governments which solve problems and those who make them worse. Every Nigerian, not just in Lagos has a good reason to say Happy Birthday to IBB.
“An entire book will be required to do justice to what Babangida and [Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti] achieved during the period under review. But, it was the most revolutionary period in Nigeria’s health sector in the last century.”
Tobacco Smoking (Control) Decree 20, 1990 is one example of how governments lead people towards a better society. Globally, health experts have been warning mankind against the debilitating effects of smoking. Hundreds of millions of us have paid no heed to the alerts issued. By 1990, several nations had passed laws prohibiting smoking in public. Nigerian governments had ignored the danger until Babangida did something about it in 1990.
That is why today, non-smokers can as a matter of right order smokers to stop or move away when they violate the law. In buses trains and – most definitely air planes – No Smoking became the new normal in 1990. Deserves an applause.
“According to our projection, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor people in early 2018..”
That is on page 263 of the book. How did we get into this sorry state?
Don’t blame IBB. Blame all his successors.
Babangida set out to control Nigeria’s population which the 1988 Census had proved unsustainable from the standpoint of food security, job creation, provisions of housing and other social services. For the first and last time in the nation’s history, a Population Policy emerged which was set out in the “green book” widely distributed at the time. Those old enough and not forgetful would remember that fiscal measures including limiting the number of children a couple to four were introduced. Tax incentives were offered to induce compliance. Babangida himself set the perfect example – as all good leaders should – by having only four. (Compare that with leaders who today preach distancing to citizens and then in full view of Nigeria’s “suffer-heads” pack themselves like sardines at the funeral of one of them; and the differences in leadership styles become glaring. They also help to explain why some leaders leave legacies; other excuses.
The introduction of the Population Policy and all the measures required to make it work – establishment of Family Planning etc – met with unforeseen resistance. For once in Nigeria, the Catholic Church and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, SCIA, were united in the fight against any attempt by government to control the sexual and reproductive activities of citizens. Defiance was pervasive; families were divided. Obviously, IBB and Ransome-Kuti had underestimated the vehemence of resistance they would encounter. In that regard, population control was an idea which, in Nigeria, was ahead of its time.
The rejection of population control by majority of Nigerians is now having predictable devastating consequences for Nigeria. Unfortunately, there is space constraint. But, those wishing to read more about this aspect of IBB regime history have options. The extremely harsh controversy, over what to him was a straight forward issue – Nigeria controls its population or disasters will follow – hastened the departure of Professor Kuti. The loss was ours in more ways than one can recount. The World Health Organisation was waiting to receive him.
“Goals are dreams with deadlines.”
Diane Schaff Hunt, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 76.
Babangida was a man who had dreams and who actually set timelines for his ambitions, as I found out from romping through his library in Minna.
Last week, in the first part of this series there was a last line asking those who love IBB to show it now. Don’t waste our time or yours writing a tribute he will never read. I sneer each time a tribute is published praising someone already dead. My reaction is always “Of what use?” So, this week I want to lead off with two tributes Babangida probably read when they was first published in a book, but, which bear repeating even if he had read them before. At any rate, they illustrate a side of this “enigma wrapped in a riddle” which makes the mere mention of his name provoke intense emotions. Some of his harshest critics don’t want his accomplishments mentioned at all; only his alleged “crimes against humanity”. They don’t offr convincing proof of the allegation but want them accepted as gospel truths. I have had a running battle with a few since last week. I expect more skirmishes this week. Writing weekly columns, to me at least, is not a popularity contest. As much as is humanly possible, I write what can be established as fact.
Publish it; and damn the consequences.
So presented below are two tributes from those who knew him well when in office. One should be a surprise. But, it is in the book.
- “I knew General Babagida before he became the president of Nigeria. That was one reason why it was so easy to accept the honour of serving with him. I cab tell you that I have also had plenty to do with nearly all our heads of state. For example General Murtala Muhammed was my classmate…
Working with him, I can tell you this country is very fortunate to have a leader like him at this time because he has the qualities which Nigeria needs at the moment. Number one is that he has got a vision…He also has the ability to understand..”
Professor Jibril Aminu, CON, Former Minister of Education and Petroleum under IBB.
- “The truth, from all 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 preparation of his immediate family. And that is because we used to have accidental presidents – people who had greatness thrust upon them. Anybody 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…
I remember when he invited me to address a soldier’s conference in 1984 in Minna. The theme was: “The Economic Policy for Progress Un Nigeria”….He had the opportunity of visiting me a week before I presented the paper. I was writing my speech…, and he said to me, “You haven’t touched….the issue of unemployment….Interest rates for example, the impact of that on the economy.”
You see, he was virtually telling me to come out and really get the audience educated on the issue of quantity of money…”
Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola in IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM, p 178. (Source: Gabriel E Umoren in THE BABANGIDA YEARS).
Vision and preparation for leadership permeated Babangida’s life. I had liberal access to his library in Minna when writing the book. It was astonishing how many great world leaders since the birth of history he had and had obviously read. I also stumbled on some examples of how thorough he was in planning for anything. To be candid, if IBB failed in some ways (though not all) , it was not for lack of preparation. It was because only Allah makes no mistakes. Politicians aiming for top elective offices — President, Governor etc should first spend the little money required to read the KURU ADDRESS which was delivered two months after he assumed office. It would be clear to them how to outline a mission statement. But, they need more information about how to prepare each critical step as I discovered. I found out that the outlines of the address were ready when he was asking people to deliver lectures. Unknown to many around him, he was already selecting his cabinet!!!! This is all history now.
SPECIAL BIRTHDAY OFFER
Two hundred (200) copies of the book are on offer at N2500 per copy (paper back) and N3500 (hard back) to readers to celebrate General’s birthday. It is first come, first served. Price excludes postage. Offer ends August 31, 2020.
LAST LINE: If you love IBB, show it while he is alive. Don’t waste our time or yours writing tributes he will never read. Do it now. Get in touch.