IBB has no regret, he is a happy man. There is no time you get to his house that you would meet less than 200 people with him.
Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Prince Ademola Ayoade, an associate of former Military President of Nigeria, Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), is former national secretary, National Democratic Party (NDP). He spoke with Daily Sun recently at his 68th birthday in Ibadan, Oyo State.
How would you react to the claim that Babangida when he was in power only built structures and not institutions?
It is a wrong and myopic assertion. Babangida did the best for this country within his ability and power. No government, either past or present, has surpassed the good things Babangida did. He initiated the Directorate of Rural Development, MAMSER, People’s Bank, Community Bank and the liberalisation of the economy. He changed Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO) to State Security Services, and he built the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. Imagine what Lagos would have looked like in terms of traffic congestion if there is no Third Mainland Bridge today. He had a plan of building the fourth mainland bridge, but when the seat of power left Lagos, nobody talked about building the fourth mainland bridge again.
If you build structures, whoever comes after you supposed to maintain the structures. But most leaders in Nigeria, the moment they get to power, they try to destroy or abandon programmes of their predecessors.
We had Better Life for Rural Women under Babangida. He built Abuja. They were able to sustain Abuja because it is the seat of government, and most of them stay or reside there.
Why is it that we still have the Directorate of State Security up till today? It is because they know it is useful for their existence. Why is it that we still have First Lady?
During the regime of Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, there was no First Lady. It was Babangida who initiated First Lady and Better Life for Rural Women.
IBB gave us the idea of two political parties – National Republican Convention (NRC), and Social Democratic Party (SDP). Is that system not sensible enough to have become an institution if it was sustained by the administrations that came after him?
Babangida introduced Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which was an idea of his economic team. He liberalised the economy, and one of the characteristics of a liberalised economy is competition. You will want to surpass your competitors, and in doing so, you have to get some incentives to have the buyers go for your products.
Let us consider what is happening in the telecommunication industry today, there is competition. You would have noticed different exciting promotions from each of the service providers. In a liberalised economy, there is tendency for what some,people would call corruption because you have to induce the customers to buy your products.
MAMSER, initiated by IBB, is what has become National Orientation Agency (NOA), today. It is an acronym for Mass Mobilisation for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery. It is the same regime of IBB that liberalised the broadcasting industry and it gave operating licenses to private television and radio houses to operate. It was the same IBB that started the development of rural areas under a special programme called DIFFRI. Today, we have an agency of the Federal Government coordinating rural development and electrification.
What kind of people did IBB surrounded himself with when he was in power?
In Nigeria, the only government that made use of intellectuals was the regime of Babangida. They included the renowned economist, Prof Ojetunji Aboyade, Prof Akin Mabogunje,
Prof Jerry Gana, Prof Tunde Adeniran and Tai Solarin. Prof Wole Soyinka served in the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) when Babangida was in power. He assembled intellectuals, who formed his kitchen cabinet. They advised him and he worked on their advice.
Would you then say Lagos was abandoned after Babangida left office and why?
Yes, the Federal Government abandoned Lagos. The immediate government after Babangida was the interim government of Chief Ernest Shonekan and it did not last. After Shonekan, Sani Abacha came. I need to say that South West was hostile to Abacha, which made it easy for him to abandon the region. Maybe, that is the factor that made it impossible for succeeding administrations to remember Lagos.
Abdulsalami Abubakar that came after Abacha only came to organise an election. So, he did not have time for any infrastructural development or whatever. Abacha believed that the Yoruba were hostile to his government.
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Babangida once told me that one of the things he supposed to do that he did not do, was the Fourth Mainland Bridge. He said he had already done the survey and everything was ready; it was just to start the engineering work.
It was said that IBB had the opportunity to ensure devolution of power, to make Nigeria truly a federal state, but he failed. What is your reaction?
Babangida is a military man, and the system of the military is central command. Definitely, what could have happened was for the civilian regime that came after to bring restructuring.
Before the first coup in Nigeria, we have four regions namely West, North, East and Mid West. After the coup, Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi changed to command system because it is the only way the military can function.
Generals Gowon, Murtala, Obasanjo and Buhari came as a military heads of state, they did not change it. Babangida came and he tried his best. But the principle of military command cannot be jeopardised.
In a military regime, it is not easy to talk about restructuring. The only thing I thought he would have done was to ensure that restructuring of the country was put in the constitution of Nigeria, which was handed over to the civilian in 1999. I said this because the military suspended the constitution of Nigeria when they came to power and that’s why when they wanted to return power to the democratic government, they should have asked people to come and write a constitution. But why are you blaming IBB? The politicians wrote the constitution. Why couldn’t they put it in the constitution if they truly wanted restructuring of Nigeria? The civilians are the ones that want restructuring because they don’t believe in central command. So, when they were writing the constitution, they should have put the restructuring there. It is not the fault of IBB.
IBB failed to function like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Kemal Pasha of Turkey that transformed their countries in spite of the ample opportunities he had. Do you agree?
No, I don’t agree with it. The reason is that in Nigeria we have cultural differences if compared with people in those countries. Also, we have value differences. Babangida could not function like them because of the psyche of Nigerians. Many Nigerians do not believe in their leaders. The people in those countries don’t only believe in their leaders, they uphold good values that are not antithetical to development, unlike the situation we have in Nigeria.
Lee Kuan Yew spent about 35 years in power and it was easy for him to make a change.
Do you know how many times coup attempts were made on IBB when he was in government? Series of attempts were made against his government. But he was popular and that was why he survived all the coups against him.
I can confirm to you that IBB intentionally handed over power to civilian government. He stepped aside intentionally. If he refused to step aside, nobody could overthrow his government. He was generally loved by the military boys because IBB believes in Nigeria, sanctity of human beings.
What would you say are the regrets of IBB?
IBB has no regret, he is a happy man. There is no time you get to his house that you would meet less than 200 people with him. Those people that condemned the administration of former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the so-called civil society organisations, where are they today? Those civil society organisations that condemned the regime of IBB, where are they today? It is because those people that sponsored or financed them to cause chaos in the country are now in government.
Jonathan increased the fuel price, and a large crowd assembled on the streets of Nigeria, especially at Gani Fawehinmi Park at Ojota, Lagos, against the hike. President Muhammadu Buhari increased the fuel price, there was no demonstration.
The so-called national chairman of APC, we know what he used to do when he was the national chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). He is in this government and they are treating labour this way now is a pointer to the truth.