PROBLEMS AND PERSPECTIVES OF HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION
It is with delight that I join the organisers to welcome all of you to this history making symposium. I am particularly pleased with the calibre of the attendance, at this event which include past Presidents and Heads of State; past high ranking officials of the various tiers of government; current highly respected leaders, especially elected State Governors and their Commissioners, distinguished Senators, Honourable Members of the Federal House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly from across the country; other notable statesmen; distinguished journalists, academics, intellectuals, and commentators on public affairs. This symposium provides a deep sense of structural relief from many years of keeping mute from articulating well-known facts about the recent and contemporary history of our country.
I was present at the origin and beginning of the Babangida regime. I was present when the regime came to an end. Indeed, I was not only a key witness to historic events but also an inner-chamber actor in government and in the regime. While I can testify to areas of deficit, I can also testify with impeccable credentials about the enormous challenges, contributions and assets to national development made by the regime. I am not about to provide any testimony or a preface to my memoirs which in any case will not be too long now before they are published and presented to the general public; but I am tempted by today’s historic gathering to provide some token insight on what happened. I am not a lead speaker at this symposium. Yet I must say it loud and clear that events were not as bad as sections of the media and other opinion leaders and formulators have tended to dramatise since the end of that regime in August 1993. I know that a good number of those who are present at this symposium will have quite a lot to say about the contributions of that regime to building the infrastructures of the contemporary state of the nation.
At its origins, the regime was propelled by great challenges about the economy, society and the political process. It went about its programmes of economic, political and social reforms with a clear methodology, focus, philosophy, dedication and devotion such that many structural breakthroughs were undertaken. Details of these breakthroughs will obviously be identified for appraisal at this symposium alongside the difficulties of the regime. I wish, however, to provide a broad sweep in three areas:
Firstly, the economic reforms of the regime constituted a major breakthrough in the development of Nigeria. The regime was bold and foresighted enough to perceive the forces of historical globalisation; and it was, thereby, quite ingenious in undertaking market oriented reforms. This was before the command economies of communism collapsed in the defunct Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The reform policies were articulated in the 1986 budget as the precursor of the programme of structural adjustment. I have no doubt in my mind that this is the best package of a dramatic change in the economic arena that has ever happened to this country. Nigeria has not gone beyond the forces of deregulation of economic and social activities since these forces were inaugurated by the IBB regime. Understandably, change, and particularly socio-economic change, embodies costs and pains. The regime was, therefore, confronted with problems of having to cope with the pains and costs which Nigerians, and particularly the poorer segments of our people, had to bear under the Structural Adjustment Programme. The instruments of social cost reduction include DFRRI, Peoples Bank, Community Bank and NERFUND, to name a few, among many others.
Secondly, the regime undertook very massive political reforms previously unknown to programmes of transition to civil rule in Nigeria. The issues which the regime had to deal with at that time on this front included the opening of the political space by deferring partisan political activities, formation of political parties along two broad tendencies of statecraft, the resurgence of new forces in the ranks of the political class, growth and empowerment of civil society organisations, and, indeed, empowerment of the press. Like their economic counterparts, the regime’s instruments of liberal political reforms created enormous difficulties for the regime and for the country. They indeed provided the acid test of the regime’s political will. But it must be stated, even more to the hearing of those who do not want to listen, that the dividends and impact of the political reform programme of the IBB epoch were unassailable.
Thirdly, I have no doubt in my mind about the gains of the regime in the domain of foreign policy and external relations. The ascendance of Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa was relentlessly fostered. The gains included the Sub-Regional Initiative by protecting and securing the state system of the ECOWAS sub-region against internal disintegration and external subversion, provision of technical aid to African and Caribbean countries; securing chairmanship of the UN Security Council; increased profile of the country by the massive support for a Nigerian candidate for the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations; similar support for and securing the office of the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth by a Nigerian candidate; and the country’s role in the founding of the South-South Commission. Nigeria under the IBB regime advanced the permanent interest of the country; protected Nigerian citizens abroad, and was mutually reciprocated, respected and acknowledged by the rest of the world.
The regime was no doubt besetted by a number of problems. These included the series of abortive coups which caused enormous distraction from both governance and effective implementation of the multi-faceted programme of reforms; workers’ and students’ riots as well as communal and religious conflicts. In resolving issues of statecraft, the regime was largely collective in leadership and responsibility. The high water-mark of the regime’s score card was, arguably, the wave of the under-currents leading to the presidential election of June 12, 1993, the annulment of that election and the subsequent crises which engulfed the exit of both the leadership and the regime in August 1993. But it must be acknowledged that there are very fundamental issues of reforms and dividends of governance which touched very deeply on the lives of the people during the IBB regime. Debilitating to the cause of democracy as it certainly was, the IBB regime was fundamentally much more than `The Tale of June 12.’
Lead Speakers and participants at this symposium will no doubt dwell upon the variety of issues under that regime slated for this gathering. I have no doubt in my mind that in conceptualising and organising this symposium, the organisers have broken new grounds in contemporary times. Not long ago, the sociopolitical and security climate could not have encouraged any meaningful discourses on the IBB regime. The undoubted success of this symposium will open the flood gate for research and analysis of the problems preceding the regime, the problems encountered by the regime, and the problems which succeeded the regime, all of which can be visited with proper methodology and scholarly perspectives. It is on this note that I congratulate the organisers of this symposium for their thoughtfulness, intellectual bravery and determination to set an agenda for proper understanding of the recent and contemporary history of Nigeria.