Author: Dan Agbese
Title: Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria
Reviewer: Lawrence Olaoye
Publisher: Adonis & Abbey
Page: 408 pages
The book makes a compelling reading with meticulous description of the former Military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, beginning with his itinerant grand-father, Mallam Ibrahim, who hails from Sokoto only to finally settle in Wushishi. Babangida?s father, the second child of Mallam Ibrahim and the first son, Mohammadu Badamasi, who incidentally moved to Minna, having secured a white collar job as a messenger to colonial District Officer, succeeded in building around himself influence and contacts that were to later help his offsprings after his demise at 45.
IBB, as he is fondly called, was originally born Ibrahim Maigari Wushishi on August 17, 1941. The author depicts his formative years as those of sacrifice, exhibited through an agreeable character and influential personality with which he distinguishes himself among his peers. IBB, earlier in life demonstrated an uncanny ability to get along with people around him by endearing himself to them.
Agbese, by intermittently interjecting commentaries from IBB childhood friends, including former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and others, was able to portray the former Military President as a precocious child, who earlier in life realized his leadership traits and consciously utilized same to build a cult around himself. Through his ability to exhibit the traits of uncommon generosity and self control, the quintessential General was able to cultivate a large cult-like followership in his early years.
Growing up, the author portrays IBB as a listening leader who was able to balance the extremes of conservatism and radicalism; he developed the rare gift of seeking to listen and empathized with several shades of opinion with the ability to strike a balance without having to offend any sensibility. This gift was later came to play in his adult years, first as a Military tactician and later as the nations?s Military President.
These rare attributes of accommodating new thinking formed the basis of his adult years as he encouraged diverse opinions on myriads of political , economic and social challenges facing the nation since independence. The book portrays IBB as a man with strength of character, who recognizes his mission in life earlier enough and prepared to face the accompanying challenges head long.
As a loyal and courageous officer in the Military, IBB, who was then the youngest member of he Supreme Military Council in the late Gen. Murtala Muhammed?s administration, quashed the Col. Buka Suka Dimka?s coup in spite of the fact that the coup plotter was his personal friend who played a major role in organizing his wedding with Maryam in 1969. His onslaught against Dimka and the eventual dislocation of the coup plotters not only depicts him as a brave soldier, but a patriot who would stop at nothing to salvage his country.
The former Military President rose through the ranks and became the Chief of Army Staff in 1984 after the overthrow of the Second Republic government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Since the coup, his profile continued to rise unabated as he joined the Military elites who decided the fate of the country for a very long period of time.
Agbese exhibited the best of journalistic capacities in him as he made frantic efforts to strike a balance between a historical narration of events and the socio-political realities pervading the IBB years in the country.
The former Military President warmed himself into the hearts of the people with his determination to do things differently from his predecessors both politically and economically. The desire to be different fired by his patriotic zeal, according to Agbese, and this made him to experiment with several political and economic theories.
Babangida?s economic miscalculations began with the introduction of the notorious Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) contraption aimed at reinventing the nation?s economy, failed woefully leading to people?s revolt in 1989.
He introduced such grassroots programmes as Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) and Mass Mobilisation for Social and Economic Reforms (MAMSER). But they were also short-lived; they were not allowed to remain long enough for their effects to be fully felt by the people.
According to Agbese, Babangida?s name would have been written in gold but for the annulment of the globally acclaimed freest and fairest election in the country held on June 12, 1993.
IBB?s government, on a voyage of political experimentation, had created two political parties and funded same where all were joiners. This, he did to resolve the crisis created by tribal and religious proclivity of the nations?s political class. His government, after cross pollinating ideas with erudite political scientists across the country, resolved to establish the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party(SDP).
He dislodged perceived old breeds and moneybag politicians so as to give way to new breed, clean politicians. After several bouts of banning and unbanning of politicians adjudged to be old breeds and others with perceived tinted character, his government conducted an election which was largely believed to have been won by his friend, Chief M.K.O Abiola.
To Agbese, IBB?s penchant for playing games with everything and his capacity to outmaneuver the people caught up with him as the annulment turned out to be his albatross which made nonsense of all his good intentions and contributions to national development. The famed ?Maradona? successfully dribbled himself into opprobrium even though he had unsuccessfully argued that the decision was collectively taken with his colleagues in power.
The author however credited IBB, who is one of the most imfluential leaders the country has ever produced, with his meticulous approach to planning and his commitment to excellence and professionalism. He portrays the former Military President as a tough military man, who was always a step ahead of his colleagues; a man who was not afraid to take decisions and act upon them regardless whose ox was gored.
IBB scored first in all areas of life but fell victim of human foible. This however is characteristic of reformers world over who finds it difficult to draw a line between accomplishments and their overreaching tendencies. IBB, in the quest to place the nation on a sound pedestal for sustainable development, succeeded in sharpening the people?s resistance to military rule.
Although IBB is being variously vilified for the annulment of the June 12 election, but the fallout and its implications are not lost on Nigerians. First, the struggle for power shift and its eventual recognition by major political parties in the country, with the inclusion of power rotation clauses in their constitutions, is a direct fallout of the annulment.
Agbese?s treatment of the June 12 imbroglio betrays his sentiment and biases as an activist who joined hands with some other progressives to fight for the revalidation of the June 12 mandate when he pointedly posits that IBB rubbished his accomplishments in office as he stated: ?Babangida made some fundamental mistakes of the head and heart. Babangida?s most fundamental political mistake was, of course, June 12. The ship of his greatness floundered on the rock of June 12. June 12 sabotaged him and erected a permanent wall between him and greatness. June 12 was a spectacular culmination of Babangida?s own incredible capacity for self-sabotage?
The author who is writing virtually from the point of view of a journalist and an activist with judgmental venom described the old General as a leader who ?derived a near-infantile joy from playing this very deceptive game. The game got the better of him and robbed him of the hardheaded determination he needed for the prosecution of his programmes. In the end, none of his many truly innovative programmes was prosecuted to a logical conclusion.? But many critics of IBB?s 8 year regime may not totally disagree with this submission.