August 14, 2021

Mission impossible: The Babangida story can’t be deodorised

By Tony Eluemunor

You can’t be wrong and get right, no matter how hard you may try Jimmy Cliff; in a reggae song.

Recently, there has been a burst of activities in the Nigerian firmament as Gen. Ibrahim B Babangida’s associates try to paint the legacy of his eight-year long administration in a favourable light for his 80th birthday. But all their efforts may be as fruitful as deodorized bullshit; it will still smell and appear nasty.

Those same associates of IBB, Nigeria’s past military president, may not remember it now, but they and their champion had a chance to work out a wholesome legacy, but that did not matter to them as they pursued their narrow-minded and personal interests, as against the interest of the nation. They were sure and autocratic footed in their despotic ways, disdaining all attempts to call them to order.

The result is that for almost 30 years, Babangida has remained alive to see his name being used as a bye word for nothing wholesome.  Before I go into the intricate details, I must take journalistic notice that soon, President Mohammadu Buhari’s associates will also ask the citizenry to be magnanimous enough as to grant Buhari stratospheric pass marks concerning the way and manner he ran his administration.

In fact, Buhari said recently that he hoped history would be fair to him. On reading him, I wondered if he does not know that the moment he assumed office as president, he started writing his personal and his administration’s history. Attempting to change that history after he would have left office would be akin to someone blowing against the wind. Even Babangida himself has shown us how to judge Buhari; he said that compared to Buhari’s, his own anti-corruption record appears angelic. Ah ha!

So, what I have for the likes of the newspaper columnist and Economist, Mr. Dele Sobowale, is serious pity, as he attempts to present Babangida in more favourable light. It is a mission impossible.

I know that the likes of Sobowale have argued that it is satanic to judge a man whose presidency spanned all of eight years with just one act; his annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. Some have even argued that 28 long years have passed since 1993 and so Nigeria must have had several opportunities since then to correct that mistake, no matter how costly. 

To such people I have only a reminder: “ä fool does not know the gravity of an offence.” IBB and Dele Sobowale are no fools and so they should know the gravity of that terrible offence. There is another reminder; societal wounds are difficult to heal. I sincerely wish that the present leaders should take this lesson to heart and begin to correct their mistakes, because the since 2015, Nigeria’s unity has been steadily shredded.

Unlike coup speeches, Independence Anniversary addresses are often well-prepared documents and are signpost for the future. On October 1, 1995, IBB pointed out four main problems with the Nigerian economy which he had to tackle. One; “Decrease in our domestic production while our population continues to rise.” 

But did the domestic production increase under IBB? No, is the answer.  Many manufacturing plants began to close under Buhari’s military administration owing to a lack of raw materials.  But this industrial sickness turned an epidemic under IBB. And that trend has yet to be reversed.

Two;“Dependence on imports for both consumer goods and industrial raw materials.” Yes, IBB vowed to change that trend, but he failed woefully. That failure has been replicated by every succeeding administration.

Three; “A grossly widening gap between the rich and the poor.” That gap became really accentuated for the first time during IBB’s regime and has only worsened afterwards.

Four; “The big role played by the public sector in economic activities with hardly any concrete results to justify such a role.

In that speech, IBB announced a ban on the importation of maize, rice and vegetable oil to “shift attention from buying and selling syndrome ad parasitic services …to increased total real production, rising labour productivity and greater efficiency in investment.” Please, could any one point out in which way IBB’s regime succeeded in any of the above points.

In his 1986 Independence Anniversary speech, IBB promised to: 1; Restructure and diversify the productive base of the economy to reduce dependence on the oil sector and imports. 2; To achieve a fiscal balance of payments viability over the medium term and 3; to lay the basis for a suitable non-inflationary growth over the medium and long-term.  Did he succeed?

New Year day 1986, IBB increased petrol pump price from 20kobo per litre to 39.5 kobo; a near 100% increase. That introduced Nigeria’s to IBB’s legacy—Structural Adjustment Programme.  I am not an Economist, but I am ready to debate any pro-IBB Economist on the effects of SAP.

Yet, SAP had actually started on January 27, 1986, when IBB introduced the Second-tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM). In two weeks flat the value of the Naira fell by 66%. In January 1985, the N1 fetched $1.2. Within five months of SFEM, five Naira bought a dollar, at the official rate and it was N7 to $1 at the parallel market. The 5.4 pre-SFEM inflation rate surged to 10.2 within a year.

Since then, the economy has been crashing and crashing. Let nobody tell me about the Third Mainland Bridge or the Rural Life for Women, but instead tell me how IBB grew the economy and jobs. My challenge is mainly directed at Mr. Dele Sobowale for he is an Economist. May be after that we can revisit the June 12 election annulment and the result of IBB’s smuggling Nigeria into the Organisation of Islamic Countries.