Whether you see him as the Evil Genius, political Maradona, military president, statesman, patriot, ‘frenemy’ of Mamman Vatsa, nemesis of Gideon Orkar and Dimka, Maryam Babangida’s widower or simply as father of Mohammed, Amina and Halima, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is one man we love to hate. And as he turns 75 today, I do not see that situation changing any time soon. There’d be just as many people wishing him well as there would be those wishing him dead. I unashamedly declare that I count (and have always counted) among the former.
Only last Friday, I got a surprise call from him. It was my wedding anniversary, which, as usual, I didn’t remember, until my wife sarcastically reminded me. But this former head of state remembered – and called to say hello to my wife. Unfortunately, I was still out of town – away from the poor woman! In that characteristic soft voice, he asked me to convey his greetings to my wife, and also prayed for us. Yes! Babangida prays too.
The same IBB had called to show solidarity last year when those sons of the devil abducted my wife from our Lagos home.
Now, you begin to wonder how such a ‘big man’ shows so much concern in the affairs of ‘scamping rascals’ (apologies, Pastor Dimgba Igwe) like myself. But that is the essential IBB. Very arresting. Very disarming. If you had stormed his house in anger – probably, with a determination to knock out one more tooth and double his signature gap-tooth, the aura of his presence soon melts your frown into a smile. Sometimes, my mischievous sixth sense would just begin to imagine what he would have done to the ladies in those early days of sowing his wild oats. You must be evil, yourself, for you to meet Babangida and not like him. For me, therefore, the IBB phenomenon is not his political clout nor mythical financial war-chest. It is the persona. The charm. The charisma.
Incidentally, the last time I visited IBB’s home (a mansion about which so much falsehood abound on the Internet, especially about the number of rooms and the ‘lavish’ decor) was in the company of my then Managing Director, Mr. Femi Adesina. Yes, the same Adesina (IBB pronounces the name sound like Ade-sinner) whom IBB had jokingly said was not welcome in his house.
But, just like Mr. Adesina, IBB does not dwell long on a hurt. He forgives and moves on – unlike some other people who have history of long-standing hate. People who would bear a grudge for more than 30 years, looking for the right opportunity to revenge.
IBB knew Femi did not really hate him, but merely disagreed with him on principles – and that did not mean they could still not be friends.
In fact, in all the three or four occasions I have visited IBB’s home, he was most frank the day Mr. Adesina and I visited. He answered virtually every question we threw at him, including questions about his love life. He told us of how he would still love to marry a Lagos woman, if he were to ever contemplate remarrying – and how his children had even tried to nudge him in that direction.
However, one thing that has never ceased to baffle me about IBB is his ability to maintain a large network of followers, who have continued to believe in him a quarter of a decade after leaving office, and having no further patronages to dish out. Proof of this can be seen anytime it is rumoured that IBB is interested in running for the presidency of the country. All manner of people line up in readiness to fund the campaign. Posters spring up everywhere. People begin to spend their own money, even as IBB is yet to give them the go-ahead.
It seems so many people, from all strata of the Nigerian society, feel so indebted to the former head of state that they’re desperately looking for just any opportunity to do him favours.
But IBB has always been smart enough to read the situation and not throw his hat into the ring. That way, he has been able to sustain the IBB myth and not demystify himself.
Unlike some other hyperactive former heads of state, IBB has maintained a respectable comportment out of power. He doesn’t pour vitriol on his successors. He has always known when to speak and when to keep silent – maybe because he also knows there are quite a few Nigerians out there waiting for an opportunity to have a go at his jugular.
Of course, IBB has a few regrets. There are things he’d probably have done differently if he had a second chance. Several years ago, when I first interviewed him at his Hilltop home in Minna, I’d asked Gen. Babangida what he regretted most after leaving office. His answer, disappointingly, was not annulling June 12 election, the alleged mismanagement of Gulf War oil windfall or all the talk about institutionalising corruption in Nigeria. In fact, IBB would later tell Mr. Adesina and I that if he had a chance, and the same security report he had back then, he’d still annul that election again.
So, rather than June 12, IBB said his biggest regret was his failing to deliver a nuclear plant to Nigeria. According to him, the pitiable power supply situation in Nigeria today would have been largely addressed if he had gone ahead with his hunch to build a nuclear power plant for the country.
However, each time I tried to isolate everyone (military and civilian), who served during the IBB regime, and identify the specific roles each of them played in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, IBB would rise to their defence, shield everybody and take responsibility. He would insist that, as the head of state, the buck stopped on his desk. He believes it is not proper to demonise everybody and leave the country without any heroes. My conclusion from that stance is that there would not be any person still standing clean, if IBB were to reveal all he knows.
And so, the Minna-born former head of state bears the burden alone – determined to go to his grave without smearing anybody else with the blame for the ignominy of those dark days. He’s not envious that many of the equally guilty colleagues have since moved on to greater things. That is the mark of a great leader.
No doubt, IBB has not enjoyed the best of health lately. But then, who would lose the type of wife that Maryam Babangida was and remain the same? And, hey, he’s past 70 years of age.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, while he was on a medical trip abroad, rumour filtered in that he had passed on. But to the glory of God, IBB is around to celebrate his 75th birthday. Here’s wishing him the best of health and happiness.
Oil wells of Lagos
Long before Folawiyo Petroleum and the Lagos State government found oil in Badagry, some Lagos landlords and landladies had actually struck oil in Ejigbo, Idimu and Ilasamaja. Before the first oil well could be sunk in Badagry to prospect for crude oil, tens of oil wells were already in existence at Ilasamaja, spewing forth finished products.
What manner of landlord would build over an oil pipeline, burst the pipeline, erect overhead tanks, install pumping machines and begin to suck products for sale?
Welcome to the real oil producing communities of Lagos!
It is unbelievable. And to think that this has gone on for so many years, with many residents in the know, and keeping quiet!
It was Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN) who once told me that every Nigerian is corrupt, to the extent of the opportunities available to him. The artisan would cheat you to the extent of opportunities open to him. While the junior civil servant would play pranks, hide files and engage in other shenanigans to make an extra Naira, the senior ones would sign away public funds, help politicians pad budgets and inflate contracts. The chief executives just loot from source – first-line looting.
Surely, we live in a country of economic saboteurs. Everyone is a saboteur, waiting for his/her opportunity. So sad.