By Yusuf Salman
Born Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida in 1941 in Minna, Niger State, IBB, as he is fondly referred to by many, is one man whose name, in the making of the Nigerian state can never be forgotten in a hurry.
Coming from a humble background and beginning, IBB attended the Provincial Secondary School, Bida, from 1957 to 1962 and later joined the Nigerian Army on 10 December, 1962, where he attended the Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) in Kaduna.
He received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, as a regular combatant officer in the Royal Nigerian Army, a month before it became the Nigerian Army with the personal army number N/438 from the Indian Military Academy on September 26, 1963. He went furthered to train in armoury from January 1966 until April 1966 by enrolling in Course 38 of the Young Officers’ Course (ARMED) in the United Kingdom where he received a four-month course in Saladin and gunnery.
From August 1972 to June 1973, he took the Advanced Armoured Officers’ course at Armored school. He attended the senior officers’ course, Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, from January 1977 until July 1977 and the Senior International Defence Management Course, Naval Postgraduate School, U.S in 1980.
He was heavily involved in quelling the Nigerian coup of 1976, where he liberate a radio station from one of the coup plotters, Col. Buka Suka Dimka to prevent him from making further announcements over the airwaves.
Although, IBB ran a military government, his was more consultative, as issues were subjected to public debates. His administration restored basic human rights and did revamp the economy.
His administration rode to popularity, as it immediately repealed Decree No. 4 on newspaper censorship and freed all detained journalists. Under him, sanity returned to Nigeria once again.
Babangida, conversant with the geo-politics of Nigeria, particularly the fears of ethnic domination and marginalisation, sought to correct the perceived structural imbalances by the creation of more states. Eleven states: Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Abia, Anambra, Delta, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Osun, Yobe and Taraba were created by the IBB government, with over 200 new council areas, owing their existence to this effort.
Under him Nigeria witnessed the creation of the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and the Federal Environment Protection Agency (FEPA). The Third Mainland Bridge, which helped to ease traffic situation in Lagos and the Federal Urban Mass Transit programme were introduced under this great Nigerian.
The Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DIFRRI), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) of which Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka was its first chairman. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), the National Housing Fund, the Petrol Chemical Plant in Kaduna, the National Revenue Mobilization Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal and NAFDAC were all Babangida’s brilliant creation. He realized the vision of Abuja as a Federal Capital city by providing its most vital infrastructure and moving the seat of government from Lagos in 1991.
The privatisation of the broadcast industry, the licensing of private universities and airlines; the liberalisation of the banking industry, including the establishment of community Bank among his best legacies.
His economic policy was predicated most importantly on the need to reverse the downward trend of the economy and arrive at a realistic exchange rate for the naira. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was a necessary strategy to achieve economic recovery. It was not a capitulation to the dictates of the World Bank and IMF, but a critically considered plan aimed at providing the platform for successfully recapturing the inflationary trend within a stipulated period of economic emergency. Deregulation, privatisation and economic self-reliance were key elements in the policy thrust.
IBB, during his administration was the first to implement a gender sensitive agenda that created a National Commission for Women that later became the Ministry of Women Affairs. Many women were appointed to key positions in national institutions, among which was the first female vice-chancellor of a Nigerian university.
Despite heading a military regime Babangida ran the most consultative administration ever in the annals of Nigerian history.
Rural development was a very key aspect of the Babangida regime’s economic plan for Nigeria. Approximately 90,857.40 kilometers of feeder road were constructed, thus opening up hundreds of rural communities to the rest of the country for the first time; electricity, water supply and improved health services reached many more rural people than ever before.
The formation of the West African Peace Monitoring Force (ECOMOG) is a Babangida initiative, anchored by bold and heroic Nigerian troops, who brought peace to war-torn Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Subsequent governments after Babangida have all, in so many ways keyed into his programmes and establishments. It goes to show that these were viable and laudable projects and establishments that any serious nation can develop on.
Today, the Nation is still breathing because of this great leader, a man with vision, a man who sees a country of hopes, dreams. Because of him, Nigeria lives. At 75 years, he still carries the scars of the civil war just because he wants a united Nigeria. What can be more patriotic than this? He has given his all to the unity and growth of this great nation and deserves the respect and peace of heart. He remains Nigeria’s finest soldier, leader and elder statesman. He remains a true Nigerian leader.
His awards were numerous. From the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR), to the Defence Service Medal (DSM), to the National Service Medal (NSM). The Royal Service Medal (RSM) to the Forces Services Star (FSS), to General Service Medal (GSM). In May 1989, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain conferred on him with the Knight Grand Cross of the Bath (GCB).
Our hero, our leader, father, the people’s General, patriot, father of modern Nigeria, happy 75th birthday. You remain a role model to millions of Nigerians. You are part of Nigeria’s history and you will forever be honoured, respected and consulted. Your passion for a united Nigeria is uncommon.
Happy Birthday, sir.
•Salman wrote from Minna