HISTORY AND THE BABANGIDA LEGACY

Raji A. Rasaki


In his first broadcast to the nation, President Babangida said among other things:

This Country has had since independence, a history mixed with turbulence, and fortune. We have witnessed our rise to greatness, following with a decline to the state of bewildered nation. Our human potentials have been neglected, our national resources have been put to waste… My colleagues and I are determined to change this course of action.

Earlier as Chief of Army Staff, Nigerian Army, he once said:

“We must realise and accept the fact that levels for effective changes and improvement are dependent on our various characters and not official position held by us as persons.”

Is it possible to analyse General Babangida through his speeches, to know the man, his philosophy of development and his leadership style? According to Lt. General T. Y. Danjuma (Rtd.). “There exist an art, which is fast developing into a science, by which one can determine the character of an individual through the analysis of his speeches and writings.”

Therefore, analysing General Babangida through his speeches and writings coupled with his actions since his assumption of office cannot be regarded as out of place. General Babangida is a man of strong character; he has very strong will; he possesses the ability and capacity to search the past, compare and contrast with the present, with the sole aim of emerging with a vision that will lead to the attainment of a future goal. He is bold, courageous and ever ready to take full responsibility for his actions. These character traits have gone a long way to determine the man, his philosophy of development and his leadership style. Precarious as the political economic and social conditions were then, he along with his colleagues identified the nation’s problems and with the active participation of the citizenry, set out to find solutions to these problems.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) debate, the Political Bureau, the Constitutions Review Committee (CRC), the Constituent Assembly (CA), the Transition to Civil Rule Programme are ways mapped out in the quest for the total development of this Country. For example, the activities of the Political Bureau, the Constitution Review Committee, the Constituent Assembly, the Promulgation of the 1989 Constitution, the establishment of National Electoral Commission (NEC) with its plenary powers to conduct all elections in the Country, the creation of two National Parties in the Country. Creation of States, restructuring and autonomy of Local Governments, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Better Life Programme, the establishment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal, Community Bank, People’s Bank, Technical Aid Corps, all point to a Philosophy of development that is far reaching in its totality.

Therefore, if the style is the man himself, and if style is a distinctive manner of something and if a particular stylistic tendency may be nothing, but a particular response to grave social pressure, General Babangida, as a man of strong character and will, would be a fish out of water if he does not possess a distinctive way of solving distinctive political, economic and social problems in a pluralistic society like Nigeria. His leadership style is one that is goal-oriented. He has a vision, he has a goal, and he does not believe that anything or anybody should be allowed to be in the way of people oriented desired goals. Babangida’s style of governance has in essence been a product of his personality, vision, goal, environment and grave social pressures.

There are many areas to be covered which other participants have already covered and I do not need to repeat, issues like:

  1. The setup of the Political Bureau to guide our Politicians through the transition to Civil Rule Programme.
  2. The Creation of Political Parties (Two in number)
  3. The new constitution of 1989
  4. The empowerment of Local Government
  5. The Economic changes in Nigeria Like, the creation of Peoples and Community Banks.

The social changes that were well articulated during his regime like DFFRI, NDE and TAG.

But I would like to lay more emphasis on some areas in the administration of the Country and the Administration’s troubles, lets look at the state creation:

State Creation

The issue of state creation in Nigeria has been a recurring issue. The breaking up of Nigeria into 12 states started in 1967 by General Yakubu Gowon. He went a long way to ease the tension of those crying of domination. Nine years later, General Murtala Mohammed created additional 7 states, thus giving Nigeria a 19­State Structure. The death of regionalism did not deter Nigerians from clamouring for creation of more states. Since it appears easier for a military regime to create more states, it is no surprise when agitation for state creation started again during Babangida era. The Political Bureau in its report recommended the creation of six states but the Babangida Administration initially created only two states. These two, Akwa Ibom and Katsina were created in September, 1987, and on 27th August, 1991, General Babangida braved all odds to further split the country by creating nine additional states, thus giving Nigeria a 30 states structure.

The State Creation? So What? What is the big deal there? These and many more questions could be asked by any critical mind. But the appreciation of the daring spirit of General Babangida will only come to the fore when one takes the pain to examine the Nigerian environment. If it were in a homogenous society, state creation may just be regarded as another government exercise, but in a heterogenous society like Nigeria, it takes extra gut to embark on this kind of exercise especially where a person or persons will in most cases go from the ‘sublime to the ridiculous in making demands. Their demand might be coloured in bright but underneath, a careful examination will reveal the real reason behind reasons – personal or group interest at its best.

Local Administration

A glance through the history of Local Government Administration in Nigeria will surely bring to the fore one salient fact: the military administration have contributed much more to the growth and development of Local Government Administration than the civilians. Equally factual is the point that the Babangida Administration stands above the rest in terms of making the Local Government concretely relevant as a truly third tier of government. Prior to the advent of military rule in Nigeria, the Local Government existed as a patronage outfit which owned its existence to the whims and caprices of the State Government. In an address to the nation on 1st July, 1987, General Babangida, speaking on his political programme, among other things, affirmed: …This Administration is committed to making Local Government a third-tier of government in practice. This will enable development to take place at the grassroots level where most Nigerians live.

In pursuance of the above objective of making Local Government a third-tier of Government in practice, Babangida rose to live up to his promise and the radical changes were approved:

  1. Controlling role of the State Government over the Local Government was replaced with a supervisory role. Ministry of Local Government was abolished in all states. This is political autonomy in practice. Local Government now has the constitutional backing to operate within the schedule alloted to it without let or hindrance.
  2. The revenue accruing to the Local Government from the Federal Account was increased from 10 percent to 20 percent, and it will be paid directly to the Local Government. Also, the 10 percent of total state revenue that is accruable to the Local Government must be paid promptly to the local government’s account by the state or else it will be deducted from the state’s share of the Federation Account at source.
  3. The Local Government now had single legislature like the state.

In addition, he created additional Local Governments and at the last count, there were over 500 Local Governments in the Country. That is really bringing government to all nook and crannies of Nigeria.

President Babangida’s Troubles

Vatsa’s Coup

This was the first major message of betrayal of trust experienced by Babangida’s Administration as this occurred just when the administration was about settling down. Observers saw this as unnecessary reason to warrant the coup, although the Commander-in-Chief himself ought to have seen this as a sign or caution in trusting some of his colleagues in arms. All the claimed grieviances were actually flimsy and under confession were stated as follows:

  1. Retention of some former public officers in government
  2. The Administrations adoptions of human rights policy including the release of jailed politicians
  3. Involvement of middle level officers particularly those who had helped Babangida in the August coup in government.
  4. The Administrations rejection of the IMF Loan.

What baffled his Administration most was the involvement of a man whom he considered a trusted friend and brother officer. This issue of betrayal was a message of what was to come at a later date of his administration.

The OIC

The issue of OIC was another ill wind that almost shook Babangida’s administration to its foundation. The impression was that Babangida smuggled Nigeria into OIC which eventually led to the crisis of confidence on the part of the President and the Government. Many believed that OIC membership of Nigeria would likely be previewed by foreigners especially the Christian world as Nigeria being an Islamic Country. However, other sources particularly the Islamic world argued that since Nigeria had returned Diplomatic Relations with Israel . nothing was wrong with the country becoming a member of the OIC. This was seen as balanced mathematical equation; in any action there is bound to be merits and demerits. But as a good listener he quickly set up a committee to look into it and to the status quo.

SAP and Other Disturbances

On assumption of office in August 1985, President Babangida made it known to all Nigerians, the situation of the Economy and the general state of Affairs.

With the dwindled economy and the Debt burden, it was imperative for Nigeria to go to IMF for a way out. Several debates went on this and having weighed both merits and the demerits, the Country rejected the IMF Loan and opted for its own home-grown structural adjustment programmes. The President then educated the nation on what it entails in terms of sacrifices and pains.

As time went by, the effects of the monster started to manifest everywhere and the masses started to think whether it was necessary to continue with the programme again. Anger, Frustration led by hunger surfaced everywhere. Critics began to grumble, sometimes for good reason and on few occasions out of mischievous intentions. Violent disturbances started occurring in some cities in Nigeria e.g. Kaduna, Lagos, Kano, Kafanchan, Ibadan and Port-Harcourt with many lives lost and properties destroyed. Anti-SAP demonstrators emerged in some towns in the Country.

President Babangida with listening ears and human face had to soft pedal a little on this, having recognised the fact that hunger and frustration had compounded the disturbances beyond SAP level but now developing into religious and other attacks perpetrated by a set of misguided zealots. The President put in place new job creation programmes, also removed Import Duties on Commercial Vehicles to ease urban transportation, and increased workers emoluments in line with the prevailing trends of inflation. To a large extent, this worked and soathe the nerve of the people.

The Orkar’s Coup

The Orkar’s Coup of April 22, 1990, was a major event during Babangida’s Administration. These middle level officers popularly known as Orkars group had seen that there was divided loyality to Babangida by some of his claimed loyalists.

Dodan Barracks the seat of government in Lagos was bombarded by this group and their grievances as listed in their radio broadcast included

  1. Corruption in Government
  2. Admission of Nigeria to full membership of the OIC
  3. Oppression and marginalisation of Southern and Middle-Belt people
  4. Imposition of Ibrahim Dasuki as the Sultan of Sokoto
  5. Retirement or removal of certain top Officers including Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Lt. General Domkat Bali, Professor Tam David West, Mr. Aret Adams etc from office
  6. The unresolved parcel-bomb assassination of Dele Giwa and
  7. The continued affluence of the privileged few while the majority languished in misery.

Although, .no one expected the coupists to raise up arms against their boss because of the above listed reasons, most of their claimed grievances featured frequently in Nigeria public dialogue.

Here, the subject of betrayal of trust features again, which made the coup possible and also the officers involved whom the President said were like sons to him. The first was during Vasta’s Coup, then Orkar’s. These drove the President into a deep mind-search over the real meanings of trust and loyality in relations between mortals. But the final was yet to come and thanks goodness that the last betrayal after the Presidential election did not claim his life. The Orkar’s coup of April 1990 had a devastating effect on the President and his Administration. The trust was no more there, things started falling apart and the centre could no longer hold.

The First Lady

Mrs. Maryam Babangida like other wives of Presidents and Heads of State of the previous regimes before Babangida’s administration was expected to be at the home front only. But, as time went by, civilisation started to change and improve every facet of human endeavour, as these wives also become more exposed to international community. The period of conservativity both in government and other facets of human life are gone, if we are to advance and move along with the rest of the world.

Activities of Mrs. Maryam Babangida was indeed centred mainly on the improvement and welfare of women and children. This is to the benefit of mankind. A lot of success were achieved during the time she was the President of the Army Officers Wives Association and the success of the Better Life Programme was even acknowledged by the United Nations Development Programme. Her achievement was also recorded through the establishment of the National Commission for Women Development.

However, President Babangida’s problem arose from the angle of our cultural and Religious view of the genius activities of Maryam. Some religious scholars argued that Maryam was supposed to be seen not heard. She was to be in the home, and take care of the children. They also argued that such activities initiated by Maryam could expose Nigerian women to wrong ideas, thereby causing confusion and consequently a slap on our culture. Others also went further to say that what she was doing was illegal since there was no law or decree to back it up. Anyway the rest is history.

Most observers in the country however considered the merits of Maryam’s activities heavier than its demerits. For now, Mrs. Babangida has become a role model in the Country. The awareness she had created for women in the scheme of things especially in the governance of this Country and what is now known as the ministry of women affairs all had been ideas she initiated.

Conclusion

In discussing General Babangida’s emergence as a Political Leader, attempts had been made to focus on this as: the man, his philosophy or development and his leadership style. In discussing his efforts to analyse him, through his speeches has also been attempted.

General Babangida has no doubt contributed more to changing societal values and orientation more than any Nigerian leader, dead or alive. Because of space constraint, this paper has focused on only some areas, namely, Political, Economic, Social, Foreign Policy and his Troubles.

General Ibrahim Babangida is a gift of Providence to Nigeria. As stated earlier and as exemplified in his speeches and actions, he is one leader with a clear vision and a recognition of the rugged route to his clear goal. On his assumption of office in 1985, with benefit of hindsight, he set out a fully packaged programme, which has as its main goal the emergence of a new political order.

The major assignment culminating to the end of the Transition programme is the return of the country to a democratically elected Government, by 1992 which was further extended to 1993. However, some of the ills that had characterised the past surfaced. It was therefore wise that the programme of the election were scattered to give room for a learning process. The elections to the Local, State and the National Houses of Representative and the Senate were successful. It was therefore tragic that the Presidential Election which would have ushered in the THIRD REPUBLIC was annulled, thereby making the Democratisation Exercise uncompleted.

It was therefore a pity that this Administration could not complete its assignment. Finally one would ask the following questions:

  1. Having put up efforts and sound programmes for the return of Civil Rule with all its attendant problems, would someone like Babangida have loved to jettison people’s expectation, and be remembered as Moses or Musa of Nigeria?
  2. Will Babangida not have damned the consequences after the annulment and de-annul the election before stepping aside?
  3. What would have been the implication if Babangida had de-annulled the election?
  4. Do we finally accept that it is God’s wish that Babangida should put up these efforts, programmes and end the transition abruptly as it had ended?
  5. Does it mean that most of his trusted loyalist/followers in the Armed Forces failed him at the last count? OR was there any other external forces outside the military that encouraged the annulment?
  6. Will history judge General Babangida as a General who went to\battle, fought the battle, conquered the enemy, but failed to win the war?

All these and other questions are subject to debate and require adequate answers.