General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida(Rtd) popularly known by his initials, IBB, was Nigeria’s first and only Military President from 1985 to 1993. He is arguably one of the most controversial persons to have ever led Nigeria since her independence. He turned 80 yesterday, August 17.
IBB was a very harsh military leader who ruled Nigeria with an iron fist from 1985 and he came into power after he staged a palace coup that ousted General Muhammadu Buhari, the current President of Nigeria from office, to 1993 shortly after he annulled the June 12 Presidential election that produced late MKO Abiola as the winner. Before his birthday, he granted an interview to Arise TV where he spoke out on the many atrocities currently bedevilling Nigeria as a whole. He made a lot of comments while pushing points to justify and redeem his administration and some of the stances and measures he took while he was the Nigerian head of state.
Taking a tactful look at the interview, an observer would see that what Ibrahim Babangida is trying to do is to put up a comparative analysis between how things were in his administration and the current state of things in Nigeria thereby painting himself up as a ‘better evil’ because in fairness to him, things were quite better at that time than now even though his myopic leadership and haphazard administration laid the foundation to 60% of the problems that are currently bedevilling Nigeria.
In his time, corruption was a bit less, there were no anti-corruption or anti-graft agencies like ICPC, EFCC, DSS and the likes and the political movement in Nigeria at that time was quite fluid. But what most Nigerians who witnessed that period would say is that the seed for corruption was probably laid during the Military administration of Babangida days and many others think that monetisation of politics started at that time seeing how things played out with the June 12th saga. Babangida’s regime was also a regime of anything goes. He courted the good, the bad and the ugly. He brought them all under the same roof in order to gain relevance and some of the few good ones were able to read through his game-plan and left his regime before they could be tarred with the same brush as the bad and ugly ones. The other good ones who wasted time learnt the hard way, but by then, it was too late.
Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida or IBB rose to power based on public sentiments and popular opinions. He toppled the junta led by then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari under whom he served as chief of army staff. This move was met with a lot of mixed sentiments while most people argued then that as army chief, he was supposed to protect his commander-in-chief, but instead he chose to lead a coup against him. Others analysed that by making that move, Babangida read the country’s mood correctly. Buhari had overstayed his welcome with his brutish policies. The people had become fed up with his government, which they had also received with open arms when it toppled the Shagari administration on December 31, 1983.
IBB as it turned out was not so different from Muhammadu Buhari but he hoodwinked the people with his smiles. Those false smiles made many otherwise critical Nigerians to let down their guards. Those, who did not, became the junta’s enemies and they were promptly thrown into detention. One of such people was the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN). Gani was detained at various times in different parts of the country by the IBB junta under Decree 2, under which people were removed from circulation for a long period, and the courts stripped of the powers to look into the matter. Although IBB did not abrogate Decree 2, he kept the decree and made use of it to detain many people in far-flung parts of the country for as long as he wished since the courts had been rendered impotent. With the courts’ jurisdiction ousted, he had a field day tampering with the freedom of the critics of his regime. As he curtailed the people’s freedom, so also did he play games with the political future of the country under the longest and costliest transition project ever seen in this part of the world.
If the term of ‘Presidential fraudsters’ would be allowed in this article, then IBB was one of the worst. When he tried to usher in civillian rule under his regime, he made it look like a democratic dispensation that would be the envy of others across the globe. The transition project was solely made by and for Babangida and that was why he and only he understood the nuances of the programme. IBB knew from the beginning where he was heading to with the project, yet he invited his friends to join the transition train, giving them the impression that he was going to leave office. The money-guzzling scheme suited his purpose. It became a vehicle for ‘misappropriating’ (a word, which his regime was so much in love with) public funds. Other programmes were similarly designed and billions of naira were sunk into them without any results. There was the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI); there was the Mass Movement for Social Mobilisation (MAMSER); there was the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC); there was the Better Life Programme (BLP), which was run by his wife, the late Maryam, there was the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), with his bosom friend, Prof Omo Omoruyi at the helm. This same Professor was among one of the popular well-wishers who claimed that they tried to dissuade IBB from annulling the elections.
Today, IBB is still upholding the story that he did it to avoid ‘a violent coup’ which was brewing on the side. This is a very ironic and erroneous tone seeing that his regime was even borne out of a coup. Coups have always been known to be violent in this region of Africa. Was the coup that brought in Gowon in 1966 not violent? Was the one against Murtala Mohammed in 1976, in which he, IBB, disobeyed superior orders to flush out the putschists from Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos, not violent? Was the botched 1990 Orka coup against him not violent? He can only make these claims to fulfill all self-righteousness but deep down, he knows that it is a very stupid reason to give.
In that interview, IBB was able to paint himself as the hero because of the failure of Nigeria’s democratic leaders since 1999 to tackle the hydra-headed problem of corruption which has completely eaten deep into the skin of the country. Nowadays, there are anti-corruption agencies which believe more in witch-hunting those opposed to the government in power than getting the job done. These agencies have become tools for whipping people into line in a society where politicians see public office as an opportunity to loot. From office as an opportunity to loot. From Obasanjo to Yar’Adua and now Buhari, the story is the same. Corruption, as some say, is walking on all fours – that is on both hands and legs. They may be right because the anti-graft agencies have bungled most of the cases they took to court. But it is not in IBB’s place to condemn the corruption in this administration after everything he did while he was the Head of State. Things may not have changed much since he left office in 1993, but many Nigerians at that time can still remember the 1991 Gulf War oil windfall said have run into $12 billion ($50 billion dollars if adjusted for inflation). Some 30 years after, nobody has answered the query raised on it by the late renowned economist, Dr Pius Okigbo.
No Nigerian President or Head of State has been more abused by Nigerians and if curses could kill, IBB should have been long dead and forgotten. In the wake of the annulment of the 1993 presidential election by the Babangida junta, activists in the South-West rained curses on IBB, old women stripped themselves naked, based on the general cultural belief that if an old woman curses anyone with her exposed chest, such a person is doomed for life. Hurriedly-made wooden coffins were paraded on the streets of Lagos, and mock funerals were conducted.
Now, IBB is an 80- year-old man who is condemning others for what he did during his time. Happy belated birthday to him even as it wouldn’t be bad or unfair for nature to treat him, same way, he treated Nigeria during his regime as Military President.
Certainly, It would make him see things the way the average Nigerian is suffering under this present clueless and nepotistic administration of All Progressives Congress(APC) led by the despot called Muhammadu Buhari; because if he had done the neccessary things during his time in power, especially in the area of economy, the Purchasing Power of the Naira wouldn’t have been devalued at that time, and Nigeria wouldn’t be the jungle she is right now.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK