As we celebrate the 80th birthday of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, we also appreciate him as symbolic of wisdom, experience and knowledge, which together came to him with age, active participation and commitment to national unity and development. The gift of life is an exclusive privilege from God Almighty, which no one can put a price tag on, but a life that is full of happy memories, beautiful moments, commitment to national service and selfless sacrifices, like IBB’s, is a combination of divine blessings and conscious personal obligation to hard work. IBB possesses the qualities required to celebrate in the life of a great man on the occasion of his historic 80th birthday.
In a span of 10 years, IBB has today transformed from a septuagenarian to a splendid octogenarian, and, till date, has remained an inspiration, treasure of experiences and a living example of perseverance to the younger generations.
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Some 45 years ago in 1976, at a tender age of 35 years, then Colonel Ibrahim Babangida came to the limelight in the political scenario of Nigeria, when he single-handedly confronted Lt. Col Bukar S. Dimka—the leader of the coup of February 13, 1976, that ended the lives of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, the sitting Head of State, along with his ADC, Orderly and Driver respectively, who were all assassinated on their way to office at Dodan Barracks, then the seat of the Federal Government—at the Federal Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos
Already a well-trained and strategic military Officer, IBB was specially selected and mandated to foil the coup and restore normalcy and peace during the turbulent time in the history of our country. To actualise his mandate, Babangida, in his strategic approach, decided to take “Okada” from Bonny Camp to get to Ikeja Cantonment, where he assembled armoured vehicles and advanced to Radio Nigeria, where he disarmed the coup arrow-head and also ended further coup broadcasts by the rebels. Since this incident, Col. Babangida remained in the limelight and continued to feature in national activities. Many analysts who write on him, have argued that IBB’s direct participation at the centre of Nigeria’s politics at a tender age provided him with the training, experience, confidence and courage he needed to be involved in all the subsequent military coups, until he shot himself to power in 1985, as the only Nigeria’s Military President the country ever had and he led and handled national affairs in his historic “maradonic” style.
During his 8-year rule, like all military governments, IBB faced fierce challenges of attempted coup plots, aimed at upstaging his government. Amongst the two officially announced coup attempts, the deadliest occurred on April 22, 1990, when a group of young officers, led by Major Gideon Orkar, nearly toppled the IBB regime, having succeeded in attacking and inflicting extensive damages at the Presidential Villa in Dodan Barracks, Lagos. The rebellious soldiers killed the ADC to the President, Col. UK Bello, but in a rather mysterious circumstance, the president and his family escaped unscathed. The survival of IBB and senior members of his regime enabled the government to quash the rebellion. IBB continued with his policies aimed at transition to civil rule and on August 27, 1993, he “stepped aside” and handed power to an Interim National Government.
Local and international writers have rated IBB as the most powerful leader in the history of Nigeria, he was a methodical ruler who was skilful and tactical in approach, but also unpredictable when his options collided with national interest, which earned him the nickname of “Maradona”. In the early days of his government, IBB was rated high on human rights, but when national interests were impinged, the General resorted to his unpredictable toga and deployed the ill-famed Decree Number 2, to enshrine country-wide safety and peaceful co-existence.
IBB has always been a believer that timely decisions shape an upright leadership, and he would, therefore, not sit on the fence and allow any situation to deteriorate without taking appropriate action. Throughout his rule, he never relented in taking a decision when the situation demanded so. For him, it was always better to take a timely decision, and realise it was wrong, than to avoid taking any decision at all and be at a standstill, to pave way for uncertainties and insecurity to worsen.
His regime faced several difficult times that needed urgent and tough decisions, which IBB courageously and decisively took the initiative and the lead; such as declaring a National Economic Emergency, which brought about austere economic measures that required great sacrifices, implementing important changes in the basic structures of military federalism, where for the first time in Nigeria, a military leader was officially named and addressed as “President”, aimed to emphasise the executive powers he wielded. IBB also renamed the supreme lawmaking body, from Supreme Military Council (SMC) to the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), and later in his regime he again created a new Armed Forces Consultative Assembly (AFCA) in 1989, to function as an intermediate legislative chamber between the AFRC and the rest of the military. IBB was known for regularly changing his ministers, state governors and other top functionaries, including the so-called “powerful” and “kitchen cabinet” members of his government regardless, with the sole aim of moving the nation forward; although critics speculated that IBB was only consolidating his power from the exercises. Other reforms the Babangidagovernment introduced, included far-reaching changes in the civil service, the police, the armed forces, security agencies and the entire political system.
The most controversial action IBB took was in 1986, when Nigeria became a full member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an international association of Islamic states, in which Nigeria had held only observer status. This action of IBB became so controversial until Nigerians realised OIC actually provides economic and political opportunities for all member nations irrespective of religious affiliation, despite being an organisation that emerged from Muslim solidarity, which Nigeria continues to enjoy till date. The
country remains a beneficiary from the action of IBB!
In running his government, IBB implemented an open-door policy approach, which provided him the opportunity to get closer to the people, to understand their problems and needs, it also provided him with the chance to identify grassroots local representatives in the states and local government councils for appropriate meritorious appointments to those who would analyse the basic problems of their people and also provide lasting solutions.
The government of IBB carried out a deep analysis of all sectors of Nigeria’s political, social, economical and developmental needs and took futuristic actions as well, to forestall any imbalance in the country and ensure security and safety for all. Between 1989 and 1991, IBB created a total of 282 local government council areas, in addition to the existing 301, as well as creating 11 new states, to accommodate demands from all regions of the country, which he aimed at bringing government closer to the populace and provide the required national development.
Very early in his regime, IBB realised the nomadic populace in the country were marginalised educationally, based on their itinerant lifestyle and the irrelevant curriculum to suit their nomadic lifestyle. His government, having realised the risk of denying education to the nomads and the consequences therefrom, IBB, in accordance with the provisions of the 1979 constitution, which stipulated that the government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels and that government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy among Nigerians, he introduced the nomadic education programme in 1986. The wisdom behind IBB’s action 35 years ago, was to forestall the current security challenge in the country.
In addition to physical developments, IBB also created over 55 different programmes and agencies across the country, to aid and support economic activities for nation building, with the sole aim of achieving unity, peace and progress. These agencies, including NDLEA, NDE, NDIC, NEXIM, FEPA, NDSC etc., are still making great inroads in nation building.
Nigeria’s history will continue to celebrate, remember and recognise the services, sacrifices and contributions of General Babangida towards nation building, unity and growth, which he still renders even in his retirement. IBB has continued to offer greater services to Nigeria and Nigerians across the entire nation, giving every Nigerian the opportunity to benefit from his wealth of experiences.
The reality is that not everyone who turns 80 years is a superstar or a quintessential personality, but only a very few who attend octogenarian status come with grace, respect, relevance and esteem like our celebrant. As he adds the second 40 years to the first 40 years, we wish General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Nigeria’s only Military President, an absolutely amazing, astounding and remarkable 80th birthday, with long life and prosperity, and seeking God’s blessings on him, his family and country at large, as he continues in the services of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, amin. Happy Birthday Oga!!!
Nourah Bamalli can be reached through email@example.com