When Eleanor Roosevelt , the former United States President F.D Roosevelt stated “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”, she probably had in mind the likes of Nigeria’s former military president, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (Rtd).
Today, August 17, this great leader is 78. To a very large extent he has given back so much to the society and history is kind to him in spite of his imperfection as a mortal. He has provided light to show the way where hitherto gross darkness held sway.
His ascendance in August 1985 as the Head of State was phenomenal, coming when the nation was under an iron grip, with the people yearning for a change. On the international scene and within comity of nations , the former British Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher simply told United States President Ronald Reagan that this one , in reference to IBB , we can do business with him .
Even though it was a military administration, he carried the civilians along. His capacity for dialogue was unprecedented in the history of military rule in Nigeria. No military ruler before or after him approached governance the way he did. He was open to anyone who had anything to say to help him make Nigeria a better country. He felt free with the public and the public responded to him with genuine affection.
National issues were thrown open for debates and contributions were made by everybody. All over the world, a military government is dictatorial but because he subjected issues to public discourse, he was nicknamed, a “benevolent dictator” It was the first time such a paradigm came into our political lexicon.
If Nigeria were a sane clime where continuity is a strong point, the country would have been classified among developing countries. Some of the programmes that are being executed today were initiated by him and if the successive administration had carried these initiatives with great fervour by now Nigeria would have berthed or be about to berth at its destination and would have been among developing economies.
Some of these programmes are the deregulation of the telecommunication sector and the electronic media. Many Nigerians who are poor students of history may not understand the genesis of the GSM revolution in the country. He initiated the deregulation of telecommunication and broadcasting sector. There was also the Peoples Bank, which was created to leverage the petty traders and artisan to a higher level as a prelude to jump start the economy. The National Directorate of Employment (NDE) was also created. It is on records that the IBB era witnessed mass recruitment of graduates in to the civil service. Thereafter, no one can categorically state when there was another recruitment exercise in the Federal civil service. It is surreptitiously done now. Another programme was the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI). The impact of this agency is still very visible in most places. There is also Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) that is putting sanity on our roads, among many others.
During his time, there was relative peace in the Niger Delta. Nobody heard of MASSOB, MEND or militant OPC. This explains his charismatic and dynamic leadership while he held the reins of power as the head of state. His foreign policy was unrivalled. He was passionate to see Africa rise from the abysmal state it was. At the 46th session of the United Nations, he called for a Marshall Plan for Africa. He campaigned for the cancellation of Third World debts and the institution of a new international economic order to free Third World countries from their heavy dependence on imports of consumable items and industrial raw materials.
This robust foreign policy to ensure a stable and strong sub region of Africa was the reason for setting up ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and Nigeria’s venture in to the Liberia crisis, which started in August 1990. Without ECOMOG’s intervention, Liberia, which was engaged in self immolation would have been completely wiped out. Their former colonial masters looked the other way from the ogre of massacre going on in the country. Events in the country led to the massive destruction of properties, the massacre by all the parties of thousands of innocent civilians including foreign nationals, women, children and those who had sought sanctuary in the churches, mosques, diplomatic missions, hospitals and the Red Cross protection, contrary to all recognised standard of civilized behaviour and international ethics and decorum.
ECOMOG was indeed Liberia’s only hope of ending its fratricidal war and returning to peace. The enthusiasm with which the war weary Liberians embraced the operations of this mission showed quite clearly that the IBB administration acted with great wisdom and courage, towards bringing a semblance of peace to that unfortunate sister country. The West later adopted the ECOMOG as a model for peace keeping in Africa.
IBB’s foreign policy was driven by the passion for commanding respect in the international community. During his era, Nigeria was never the laughing stock as it is now in the international community. His foreign policy initiative was taken in restoring Nigeria to its Big Brother status in Africa, which also gave birth to Technical Aids Corps scheme, which was to extend Nigeria’s skilled labour to other African and Caribbean countries. When the scheme was inaugurated in 1987, hundreds of Nigerian graduates volunteered to serve across Africa and the Caribbean. This initiative went a long way in reestablishing the perception from across Africa, of a big but meek and caring black nation.
Even out of office, he has been playing leadership and visionary roles in the administrations or governments after him. He has always been the Nigerian envoy to crisis-laden African countries. During the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the government sent him to Guinea to calm the civil unrest there. He went, negotiated with the young military leader who had overthrown the civilian government of President Conte and he returned with good report.
After a careful study of the problem of ethnicity in relation to political development, from the report of Coker Political Bureau he came up with two-party system, National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), which Nigerians are clamouring for again in the face of over 70 political parties, most of them mushroom. This two- party arrangement is now on its own accord and quasi playing out – PDP and APC.
However, most Nigerians are disillusioned over the silence of IBB as the country that he laboured hard to build, faces entropy. Your words carry weight, and when you speak, even the deaf hear. How can IBB keep quiet when the drumbeat of war is resonating at every corner? How can the former military leader keep quiet when the country he fought and sustained a bullet injury to keep as one is on a cliffhanger ; when like a phoenix, the agitation for Biafra re-echoes? How can you keep quiet when a traveller on major Nigerian roads dies before he gets to his destination because of fear of kidnappers that lay siege on the way? How can a phenomenal leader like you keep mute when soldiers fighting Boko Haram insurgents are massacred on daily basis in the Northeast? How can you keep quiet when bandits on daily basis are sacking communities in some Northeast states? How can IBB keep quiet when herdsmen walk with sophisticated assault riffles, walk about unchallenged, killing, maiming, raping and destroying farms and communities? How can you keep quiet , when cows have superior position in creation over human beings ?
How can you keep quiet, when the hardship in the country has led to high cases of mental health disorders and citizens easily taking their lives instead of dying of hunger? How can you be quiet , when a tribal army of occupation has taken over the Nigerian Army? The Nigerian soldiers have abandoned professionalism and degenerated to traders, not pepper soup ones . The Nigerian soldiers are now justifiable cops killer. Soldiers are now frequently cutting down cops to unlawfully letting loose known notorious kidnappers.
Brady Chijioke Nwosu [Ozowara] , Imo State APDA Governorship Candidate, 2019, writes from Lagos.