General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd),
Olawale Olaleye, Shola Oyeyipo and Zacheaus Somorin
The hands of the clock were set back Thursday as former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), and Colonel Anthony Nyiam (rtd), who attempted to topple the Babangida regime in the April 22, 1990 coup d’etat, put that experience behind them and held hands in a moment of reunion.
In the same vein, Chief Great Ogboru, the alleged financier of the same coup plot, and former Director of Military Intelligence (DMI) in the Babangida regime, Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu, also exchanged pleasantries, exuding an air of let bygones be bygones.
The historic moment took place at the presentation of two books in honour of a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Babangida administration, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos.
Perhaps, no one other than Akinyemi could have amassed such an unusual gathering of strange bedfellows at a forum, which inadvertently provided the opportunity for the remarkable reunion.
Even more remarkable was that Nyiam, a supposed beloved officer of the former military ruler, who had rebelled against him, stood up and walked to the podium to acknowledge the presence of his former boss where they both held hands and spoke for about three minutes to the surprise of many who were privy to the story behind their friendship, before, during and after the coup.
As if acting out a script, Ogboru, who was seated at the back of the hall also stood up to greet Akilu, who was seated on the front row, thus sealing the unplanned reunion.
In the aftermath of the 1990 coup, Nyiam, Ogboru and some others had fled the country into exile as the Babangida junta went after them after the failed coup.
Interestingly, Akinyemi who made the reunion possible maintains a good relationship with both parties. Apart from serving as a minister under Babangida, Akinyemi noted in his remarks that his relationship with the former military president dated back to when he was still a young Lt. Colonel in the army.
He explained that back then, IBB, as Babangida is called, attended several functions at the NIIA where he (Akinyemi) was the director-general but would only sit quietly at the back and leave once the events were over without attracting any undue attention.
Elucidating further on their relationship, Akinyemi said he was able to spend eight years as a director-general at NIIA because of the roles that IBB played in his career as a Lt-Colonel and Commander of the Armoured Corps, as well as member, the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
Similarly, Akinyemi, over the years, had also built as much strength in his relationship with Nyiam and Ogboru, who were later to pitch tent with the progressives in the struggle for the actualisation of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, presumably won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, under the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
Standing conspicuously between the parties, Akinyemi, unknown to him, used the platform of his book launch, where IBB was chairman, to reunite the four who practically parted ways some 23 three years ago.
However, in his opening remarks, Babangida asked Nigerians to consider as a challenge to their intelligence, the prophecies that Nigeria might not exist beyond 2014 and ensure that the predictions do not become self-fulfilling.
“As Nigerians, we are aware of the great doubts that have even been cast about what 2014 portends for the continuing existence of our nation. I’m aware that Nigerians have taken great umbrage at these predictions.
“Even Lord Lugard who founded what has been called Nigeria gave it a life-span of 100 years. I regard it as a challenge to our intelligence to ensure that these prophecies do not become self-fulfilling.
“We should engage these predictions on an intellectual level, testing whether the fact justifies the conclusion.
“First, we must identify the problems that needed to be addressed. Second, we must address these problems honestly. Third, we must identify the most current and the most appropriate mechanism for addressing these issues,” he said.
He noted that his calls for strengthened unity in Nigeria were not premised on predictions by foreigners that the country may disintegrate, but on the conviction that “Nigeria is precious enough to be saved. It deserves the investment of our time and resources to make ‘Project Nigeria’ a success.”
He said the starting point has to be the admission that Nigerians need to fix things.
“We need a new mindset about the Nigeria project. Let us start off by admitting the mistakes of the past. Right policies have at times been wrongly implemented. Temporary solutions have often been turned into permanent policies, even though the problems they were designed to address have long been solved.
“For example, the issue of the principle of federal character needs to be revisited. In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, the principles of federal character, is a sensible one and there is no alternative to it.
“Each national group must be given a feeling of belonging. What needs to be refined is the question of standards. Federal character can go hand-in-hand with merit.
“Fifty years after independence and over 50 years after the establishment of universities in Nigeria, there should be no national groups, no state, no zones, and no hamlets without qualified citizens.
“Therefore, there should be no question of employing unqualified people in the name of federal character, just as there should be no question of abandoning the principle of federal character in a federation.
“May be in the past, there had not been sufficient recognition of the fact that each national group has legitimate fears and grievances. Some of the mistakes of the past have now come to haunt us.
“But let me make one thing clear. Not all these mistakes were made out of callousness and bad faith or malice. Most people in office do their best. They act to the best of their ability.
“Unless we think that our leaders have divine ability, we have to admit that even with all the best of intentions, human beings will still make mistakes,” he said.