As he turns 75 today, former military president, General Ibrahim Gbadamosi Bababngida is still an issue in the annals of the nation’s body polity, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Hate or like him, former military president, General Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida remains an issue in the nation’s body polity. Particularly because of his role in the political evolution of the country, IBB, as he has come to be known, is not just a household name, he has continued to be a critical factor, either in the failings or the promises of the nation.
Born August 17, 1941, IBB, as he is better known, rose through the ranks before retiring as Nigerian Army General. He ruled Nigeria from August 27, 1985, when he overthrew the Major General Muhammadu Buhari military government in a coup. He “stepped aside” from office on August 26, 1993, after the agitations that trailed his annulment of the proverbial 12 June 1993, presidential election presumed as the freest and fairest election and purported to have been won by the late MKO Abiola that year.
With this profile and some other roles he had played, Babangida has remained a dominant force in the Nigerian political landscape. He participated in most of the military coups in Nigeria; the July 1966, February 1976, December 1983, August 1985, December 1985 and April 1990 coups.
Most popular in his military coup involvement was when he, as a Lieutenant with the First Reconnaissance Squadron in Kaduna, joined many officers of Northern Nigerian origin to stage what became known as the Nigerian counter-coup of 1966, which led to the death of Nigeria’s first military head of state, General Aguiyi Ironsi, who took over power in a coup de ta earlier that year.
He would be remembered for some of his economic policies such as the austerity measures suggested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, his Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) in 1986, which entailed the deregulation of the agricultural sector by abolishing marketing boards and the elimination of price controls, the privatisation of public enterprises, the devaluation of the Naira to allow competitiveness in the export sector, and the relaxation of restraints on foreign investment put in place by the Gowon and the Obasanjo governments in the 1970s.
When the policies were implemented between 1986 and 1988, as suggested by the IMF, the Nigerian economy grew, with the export sector performing especially well, but the falling real wages in the public sector and amongst the urban classes, along with a drastic reduction in expenditure on public services, set off waves of rioting and other manifestations of discontent that made commitment to SAP difficult to maintain.
Babangida therefore returned to an inflationary economic policy and partly reversed the deregulatory initiatives he had set in motion during SAP following mounting pressure, and economic growth slowed correspondingly, as capital flight resumed apace under the influence of negative real interest rates.
Though he was a military leader, he operated a hugely consultative government. His government was not a one-man show. Issues were subjected to public debate and did not feign to know it all. For instance, in setting up a 17-man ‘Political Bureau’ in January 1986, Babangida kicked off what was intended to be a national debate on the political way forward for Nigeria.
The Politburo ‘majority report’ appeared to have been completed whilst consultations were ongoing nationwide. Curious still, the manipulation of what would be revealed as a “minority report” made it to being the majority report.
Significantly, a member of the Politburo issued a separate report, now popularly referred to as the “minority report”. All the members of the Politburo were promised some involvement in managing the execution of the programmes suggested, and only four did not benefit after the report was issued. This methodology is consistent with Babangida’s patron-client political style.
The style of the former military ruler was succinctly captured in an extensive research by Kunle Amuwo of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, titled: ‘General Babangida, Civil Society and the Military in Nigeria – Anatomy of a Personal Rulership Project, where he classed his government system as ‘military oligarchy’, with elements such as “lack of concentration of power exclusively in the hands of the personal leader; collective decision-making by soldier-rulers and civilian technocrats and advisers, and an initial openness that permits debates as well as the use of objective yardsticks in policy evaluation.”
Babangida announced that he would run for president in the 2007 presidential elections. On November 8, 2006, he picked a nomination of interest form from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headquarters in Abuja, which put paid to speculations about his ambitions to run for the presidency.
His form was personally issued to him by the PDP chairman, Ahmadu Ali. This action immediately drew extreme reactions of support and or opposition from the western population of the country. In early December, just before the PDP presidential primary, it was widely reported that IBB had withdrawn his candidacy to be PDP’s nominee to run for president.
Though IBB cited “moral dilemma” of running against the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the younger brother of the late Shehu Yar’Adua, who was nominated to run for presidency during IBB’s military regime, as well as against General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, given IBB’s close relationship with the two, truth was that his chance of winning was less than average.
One of the major problems against IBB’s political ambition has been his decision to annul the June 12 presidential election. His quest to rule Nigeria under a democratic dispensation continued till 2011, when on April 12, 2010, his spokesman announced that he would be seeking the PDP ticket for the presidency.
He went on to launch his official campaign website on August 9, 2010, to provide a platform for interaction between him and the people but following the arrest and interrogation of the Director General of the Babangida Campaign Organisation, Raymond Dokpesi, in the wake of a bomb attack in Abuja during Nigeria’s 50th anniversary celebrations, there were calls for him to quit the race. Eventually, his 2011 ambition did not see the light of the day.
Though there were attempts to link his affiliates to the blasts, his position was that it was “idiotic” to link him with the attack even before the blasts, some of his former loyalists, popularly called “IBB Boys,” apparently asked him to quit the presidential race to avoid being rubbished by a non-general.
He eventually opted out of partisan politics in November 2015, when he turned down the invitation extended to him by the PDP to attend its rebranding conference scheduled for November 12 of that year. Babangida, who had been a founding member of the party, in a statement personally signed by him, said though as a founding member of the party he would have loved to be a part of the repositioning of the PDP after its dismal outing in the last general election, he had since retired from politics.
Part of the statement read: “I wish to make some clarifications concerning the invitation extended to me on the scheduled PDP Rebranding Conference slated for Thursday, November 12, 2015, aimed at repositioning the party after its poor outing at the last elections. While I welcome the invitation to the event as a mark of respect as one of the founding fathers, I want to be excused on the grounds that I have long bid bye to partisan politics.
“Four years ago at an elaborate event at the Transcorp Hilton Hotels, Abuja, I announced my retirement from partisan politics after my failed attempt to contest for president and having attained the gracious age of 70, in a society where life expectancy stands at a ridiculous 47 years. In appreciating what Allah has done for me in life, seeing me through many challenges, stabilising me during periods of tribulations, and safeguarding me through the thick and thin of political risks, I did state at that event that journalists would not push me around again.
“Attaining the age of 70 in 2011 was to me a great accomplishment for which I remain eternally grateful to Almighty Allah and my family, who have shown tremendous support and encouragement throughout my political trajectory. Since 2011 till date, I have been playing my role as an elder statesman and ‘consultant-in-chief’ to political office seekers and other like-minds who want my input in their aspirations.”
Babangida holds a number of enviable awards, which include Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR); Defence Service Medal (DSM); the National Service Medal (NSM); the Royal Service Medal (RSM); the Forces Services Star (FSS); General Service Medal (GSM) and in May 1989, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain conferred him with the Knight Grand Cross of the Bath (GCB).
What would seem as an albatross on his neck is the annulment of the June 12 election and he has tendered an apology for the action, even though he had opted to keep sealed lips over those actually behind the decision. But the general belief is that he did not take the decision alone.
A former Oyo State deputy governor, Hazeem Gbolarumi, who led the Babaginda campaign group in 2010, apologised to Nigerians on behalf of the former military president, over the annulment of the June 12 presidential elections among other things.
Gbolarumi said Nigerians must forgive the perceived sins of Babandgida, if they wanted the nation to move forward. He listed the alleged sins of IBB to include the death of Dele Giwa, Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), failure to appear before the Oputa Panel, and the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential elections, believed to have been won by the late MKO Abiola.
Quoting from a bible verse, which says “blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven”, Gbolarumi said Nigerians should learn to forgive the former military president.
There have been rumours of his death lately but more recently, the rumour went viral that he lost the battle after a corrective surgery as a result of radiculopathy diseases. He however debunked the story from Germany, promising to return to Nigeria and has since returned to the country.
Babangida may come across to some as manipulative, to many others, particularly those close to him, he is charismatic. Personal aides and political advisers tell tales about his legendary goodness and kindness to his entourage and friends. He is a jolly good fellow. Both in the barracks and in the presidency, he was reputed not only to have a smile for everybody, but, more importantly, was magnanimous and generous in assisting the ordinary soldiers and junior officers, which won him huge administration in his chosen career.
For many of his ministers and advisers, their relationship was mostly on first-name basis. He showed harmless persona and to the journalists, he reads every article about him and smiles, irrespective of how the author choses to portray his personality.
At any rate, IBB has come to occupy a relevant space in Nigeria’s political history and for a long time to come.
Though he was a military leader, he operated a hugely consultative government. His government was not a one-man show. Issues were subjected to public debate and did not feign to know it all. For instance, in setting up a 17-man ‘Political Bureau’ in January 1986, Babangida kicked off what was intended to be a national debate on the political way forward for Nigeria