IBB and FDR: A Comparative Analysis of their Economic Policies

Yomi Kristilolu


“Most historical writing (of the twentieth century) has come from college and university professors with graduate-school training who write primarily for other historians and are more concerned with methodological exactitude than literary quality. Nonetheless, regardless of the extent of their research and the acuity of their analysis, historians often remain far apart in their interpretation of events. The nature of historical enquiry is such that, however, rigorously professional the approach, there will always be a plurality of interpretation.”

(Gary Land, 2000: 26)


Wittingly or otherwise, the organisers of this important symposium have done much more than call attention to an important national issue; the study of the legacy of the regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida as the President of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993, they have also dabbled into one of the murkiest waters of historiography; the issue of perspective and interpretation. This intellectual gathering, therefore, has been called upon to labour under two crucial yokes: an analysis of the Babangida years and an evaluation of the parameters by which they said years should be analysed.

This paper intends to tackle the issue in two parts. Part one will deal with the controversial issue of perspective and interpretation in history. While Part two treats the legacy o€ the Babangida years by comparing his regime with that of an American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (commonly known as IBB), and who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (commonly called FDR)? What basis is there for comparing the two?

Though separated by great differences in age, nationality, career, background and heritage amongst many other factors, IBB, former president of Nigeria, and FDR, a late president of the U.S., share a number of peculiar factors and circumstances in common. Both were at the peak of their careers as the presidents of their different nations, at the end of their public service. Two reasons compelled a comparison of these two men. One, both ran a series of economic, poverty alleviation and rural development programs that bear a striking resemblance. Two, in attempting an appraisal of the programs of the Babangida years in Nigeria, the similarities of the programs of FDR and IBB affords a kind of standard of measurement. Since FDR ruled ahead of IBB, it stands to reason that IBB can be legitimately measured against FDR in our attempt to situate the place of the Babangida regime in the annals of Nigerian history. Before we proceed, however, we ought-to treat the issues of perspective and interpretation in history:

The Problem of Interpretation in History

Clearly, there is a problem of interpreting the IBB years in Nigeria just as there is always a problem of interpretation in history. A number of reasons account for the difficulty of reaching agreeable interpretation in history. One, is the nature of historical knowledge itself. History deals with the past. Yet, since the past by its nature and definition is gone and cannot be retrieved in its complete, objective form, historians have to make do with only surviving materials of the past. These materials of the past on which history relies includes documents like letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, tax records, government and private records and publications as well as physical materials like coins, artefacts, structures and for non-lettered and contemporaneous periods like that of IBB, the human memory or recollection of eye witnesses.

Valuable as the materials enumerated above may be in historical reconstruction, they do not recapture the whole of the past. Seemingly trivial and sometimes crucial events of the past do not leave records. These includes matters like eating and appetite, dressing, emotional experiences, thought processes and unspoken motives amongst many others. Thus, the materials available to the historian at any point in time is never complete.

Secondly, the historian himself further reduces the amount of the surviving material of the past that reaches his audience by selecting what he judges to be most representative of the past. As a full presentation of all information gathered would tend to bewilder and overwhelm the average reader. Thus, 6ary Land notes that, what appears in history books is partial representation of a partial record, and the record itself is only the tracing of the past, not the past itself (2000: 27):  ‘

Further, historians critically analyse their material. They try to establish the genuineness and accuracy or otherwise of their material. They proceed to examine the relationship between the apparent facts they have quarried and other facts. They attempt to distinguish between propaganda and objective analysis by probing authorships and the leanings, biases and motivation of writers and producers of the historical materials with which they deal.

Finally, when all the processes have been completed, the simple, innocuous material that have been assembled are arranged and ascribed with the power of narration and explanation of historical phenomena. In this scenario, it is neither likely nor possible for interpretation to converge in history. In the words of Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., “The problem with historical facts, as with histories themselves, is that they are constructions and interpretations of the past” (Berkhofer Jr. 1995, cited in Land).

My counsel therefore, as we proceed in the quest for answers to the theme of this symposium is that, we abandon the search for a consensus of perspective and interpretation on the IBB years. Such a task can only be Sissypian in nature. Rather, let us heed the advice of the Norwegian publishing house, Tano Aschehoug as advertised in the invitation brochure of the 19th International Congress of Historical Sciences which was held this year in Norway, which counsels a constant writing and rewriting of history. To Tano Aschehoug, “history that ceases to be written stops being history; history needs constant writing and rewriting in order to be history”.

This counsel leads us to the second part of this paper in which we write a comparative historical analyses of both IBB, FDR and their years as presidents.

FDR and IBB: Disparate Pedigrees

There is no better place to begin our examination of FDR and IBB than at their roots. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was born to an elderly, rich father and a doting mother as an only child. His elder half-brother, born by his father by an earlier marriage, was already a family man himself when FDR was born. He enjoyed a well provided childhood; attended highbrow schools from Groton to Harvard and Columbia, graduating with a degree in law. This man, who was to become in the words of Dr. Fiona Venn, the greatest of all twentieth century American Presidents (Venn, 1990), began his political career as a state senator in the state legislature of New York state in 1910, at age 28. He was serving a second term in 1913 when he was appointed as a junior minister in the federal cabinet, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at 31 years of age. He returned to state political office as Governor of New York State in 1928. Four years later, he was elected to the highest office in the land the presidency at 50 years of age.

FDR was to set an unprecedented record of being re-elected in to office as President of the United States four consecutive times in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944 and he died in office in 1945 at an early age of 63. Only providence can tell if he would have secured a fifth term in office. In any case, no other president before or after him has come close to his record. FDR’s record becomes more incredible when it is realised that he suffered a devastating attack of polio which left him a wheel chair bound cripple at the age of 39.

IBB, on the other hand, was born in to a humble background. Born on August 17, 1941 in Minna, Niger State, Babangida was to lose his parents early. He-was raised by relations and he was trained as a soldier. IBB enlisted in the Nigerian Army in December, 1962 after a primary, secondary schools and initial military training which spanned 1950 to 1962. He took his commission at the age of 22 in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Between 1963 and 1981, IBB underwent numerous training at home and abroad. He attended the Indian Military Academy, India; the Royal Armoured Centre, U.K; the War Minister, U.K; the Army Armoured School, Fort Knox, U.S.; Command and Staff College, Jaji, Nigeria; the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, Nigeria; and finally, the Naval Post-Graduate School in the U.S.

In the words of Prof. Adele Jinadu: “President Ibrahim Babangida’s interest and experience in governance and development predate his assumption of office as President of Nigeria in 1985. He had previously been involved in policy-making at the highest levels of government: as a member of the Supreme Military Council under the regimes of Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo between 1975 and 1979, and from 1984 to August 1985 under the regime of Muhammed Buhari” Jinadu, 1991:xvi

Though born poor, IBB today is reportedly a man of immense means. What roles the different backgrounds played in his career will only become clear in the concluding analyses. Now to an examination of the economic, poverty alleviation and rural development programs of FDR and 11313.

FDR and IBB; Similar Presidential Circumstances and Programs

Though Babangida was only 3 years plus when FDR died, the popular saying that history repeats itself appears to be partially true in some respects for both men at the time of their presidency. While the similarity of events and circumstances socially and economically in the CTS and Nigeria at the relevant points in time were outside the control of both men, the conscious replication of FDR’s social and economic programs by the IBB regime is spectacular.

The social and economic problems that FDR came to tackle on his election to the US presidency began in the 1920s. The Great Depression which followed the Wall Street stock crashes of 1929, was only high stake dramatization of a creeping economic ill-health that had crept upon the national economy unawares in the aftermath of the boom that followed the First World War. Soon, businesses closed, workers lost their jobs, the banks experienced failures and by March 1933 two-thirds of them (the banks) closed (Morison and Commager, 1962-699). By the time FDR assumed office the economic problems and their attendant social woes had reached their lowest points.

When General l. B. Babangida seized power in Nigeria in August 1985 also, the national social and economic picture was bleak. In his maiden broadcast to the nation after seizing power IBB said: “The last twenty months have not witnessed any significant changes in the national economy. Contrary to expectations, we have so far been subjected, to a steady deterioration in the general standard of living and intolerable suffering by the ordinary Nigerians have risen higher, scarcity of commodities has increased, hospitals still remain mere consulting clinics, while educational institutions are on the brink of decay. Unemployment has stretched to critical dimensions”. (Babangida, 1985).

In the face of these identical situations of socio-economic problems, FDR and IBB responded in essentially the same manner, generally speaking. In the first place, both leaders reacted with a sense of urgency characterized by immediate action and the rhetoric of impatience and experimentation. The first inaugural address of FDR in March, 1932 spoke of the problems confronting America as amounting to a period of crises and emergency equal to being in a state-of-war. He warned Congress that he will push for fast and radical actions to deal with the situation and threatened to use extra-constitutional powers to tackle the issues if need be. He said, “This nation asks for action, and action now.” (Venn, 38).

IBB on his part said: “Never be afraid of taking a decision. History will forgive you for taking a wrong decision but will certainly not forgive you for not taking a decision at all.” (African Guardian, July 10, 1986).

Secondly, both leaders embarked upon a series of innovative and unusual programs characterized by epigraphic names which are shortened to striking acronyms like Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI), National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), National Economic Recovery Fund (NERFUND), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), River Basin Development Authorities (RBA’s), Works Progress Administration (WPA), National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), Public Works Administration (PWA), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Directorate for Social Mobilisation (MAMSER), Rural Electrification Administration (REA), Better Life Program for Rural Women (BLP), Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), National Housing Fund (NHF), and Civil Works Administration (CWA) amongst many others. These programs can be grouped under five basic categories:

  1. Economic Recovery Programs.
  2. Rural Development Programs.
  3. Banking, Finance and Micro-Credit facility Programs.
  4. Employment Generation Programs, and
  5. Education and Social Mobilisation Programs. It is under these five broad categories that we will analytically compare the programs of IBB and FDR shortly.

It must be noted that the programs of FDR and IBB had two basic aims; one, to provide relief and succour to the bulk of the citizens in their countries on their assumption of office, and two, to effect some reform of the aspects of the respective they identified as the systems root causes of the perennial socio-economic programs affecting their national economies.

Analysis of the Programs

The core of the economic, poverty alleviation and rural development programs of FDR and IBB are the set of programs aimed at economic recovery and industrial revival. Here, FDR initiated a number of programs without a central anchor, but IBB anchored his own programs in this area on a key concept of Structural Adjustment Program (SAP).

The list of programs FDR initiated for economic and industrial recovery in the U.S. in the 1930’s include the AAA, the NIRA, the National Recovery Administration (NRA), the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the TVA and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Replicas of these programs under IBB included NERFUND, TCPC, Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Foreign Exchange Market (FEM), later Second-Tier Foreign Exchange and Autonomous Foreign Exchange Markets, the NEXIM and CAC. These parallel programs aided economic recovery and the revival of industrial output through a variety of means. The NIRA, for example, appropriated $3.3 billion for public works and encouraged self-regulation and co-operation among business people. AAA paid farmers to reduce productive acreage. Both measures worked on the principle of encouraging scarcity in order to reflate prices. NERFUND was created as a credit boosting organisation for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in collaboration with the World Bank. The TCPC sought to divest most of the government holdings in public utilities to enhance efficiency.

In the area of rural development, both FDR and IBB recorded immense successes in infrastructural development. FDR created the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) as an offshoot of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA itself was a massive project which provided a wide range of services and utilities in hydro-electric power, model housing estate, dams, navigation services, cheap fertilizer, flood and soil control, as well as massive employment and rural transformation. It brought together many states and illustrated the first example of meaningful Federal and State collaboration, which was to be one of the hallmarks of the FDR revolution in America. The agencies that approximated the REA and TVA in Nigeria under IBB are DFRRI and the many RBA’s, like the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority. The programs of these agencies revolutionized development in the Nigerian rural areas too. Employment was generated in the rural areas, slowing the massive rural – urban drift in population. Rural productivity was enhanced and food supplies improved so much that some entered the export market. IBB also reinforced the rural development drive with the creation of NALDA as a collaborative agency between the federal, state and local governments in the early 1990’x. This was complemented by the pet project of IBB’s wife, Maryam Babangida, called the Better Life Program for Rural Women (BLP). This later had some urban based components.

The programs above also represent aspects of poverty alleviation efforts, but more targeted programs were designed for exclusive poverty alleviation by both IBB and FDR. In America, the programs included the TERA, FERA, WPA, PWA, CCC, CWA, and the SCDA amongst others. In Nigeria, equivalent programs included the Urban Mass Transit Scheme (UMTS) and the various apprenticeship schemes of the NDE. The statistics for America show that close to 60 million people benefited from these poverty alleviating programs, while the accurate figures for Nigeria, though unavailable, cannot be anything less than millions as well.

A crucial angle to the poverty alleviation drive of the IBB regime in Nigeria is the provision of micro – credit facilities to the poor for business ventures. The dedicated agency for this was the People’s Bank of Nigeria (PBN). The PBN along with a series of similar institutions like the Community Banks (CB’s), advanced loans at concessionary rates to the lowest strata of the Nigerian working classes – the petty traders, vulcanizers, mechanics, artisans, tailors, hairdressers, barbers, butchers etc.

Further intervention took place in the Banking and Finance sector to safeguard the interest of the larger public. FDR transferred control over money supply in the US from the private banks to the US central bank known as the Federal Reserve Board. IBB also regulated the Banking sector closely in Nigeria through the apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the power to license and revoke the license of financial institutions. He also created the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect depositors.

Lastly, in the area of education and social engineering, the activities of FDR were not formalized. He merely made use of the then new medium of radio and public broadcasting to achieve an unprecedented rapport within the annals of the US presidency by having a regular program of homely address to the nation. This came to be known as the Fire-Side Chat, in which FDR made moving speeches as though he was talking one-on-one with every citizen listening to him. With IBB the program of education and social re-engineering was a bit more formalised. True, IBB was also a consummate speaker who loved to give national broadcasts but the bulk of the work was assigned to the Directorate of Social Mobilization (MAMSER). And IBB sought to enhance the ability of government to communicate with every citizen by trying to educate everyone. Besides the regular schools, purpose designed schooling programs were made available for the itinerant segment of the society like the Fulani herdsmen in the form of the Nomadic Education and the School-on-Wheels programs. Instruction in democratic ethos was attempted with the civilian politicians through the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS).

In the final analysis, FDR and IBB had intended and unintended effects on the system in their respective countries. One, they both deepened the involvement of the central government in the life of the ordinary citizen. This is particularly true of FDR, who met a tradition in the exact opposite. Secondly, both created and bequeathed a legacy of what has been termed the Imperial Presidency. By this is meant an extremely strong executive with a virtual control of the entire political system. This trend was an inevitable result of the creation of dozens of extra-ministerial departments and agencies. Under a less able leader, this would lead to immense problems. Further, the programs of FDR and IBB led to the emergence of new political power bases. The empowered poor could take more meaningful part in the electoral process in the US, and they rewarded FDR with an ever-widening margin of mandate in the presidential elections of 1936, 1940, and 1944. IBB too, created a so-called class of new breed politicians by outrightly banning the Old Brigade.


It is obvious from the foregoing analyses that the IBB regime did much more than annul the June 12, 1993 election, which became its albatross. If the Babangida regime were to be appraised from the socio-economic, poverty alleviation and rural development angles alone, it would fare better in the pages of history, even though some disagreement will still abound in perspectives and interpretation.


The African Guardian, July 10, 1986

Ibrahim B. Babangida, 1995 The Justification for Change of Government, Maiden Broadcast to Nigeria, August 27.

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Gary Land, 2000, Teaching History, Andrews University Press, Berrien Spring.

  1. E. Morison and H. S. Commager, 1962, The Growth of the American Republic, Volume II, 1865-1950, Oxford University Press, New York.

Tunji Olagunju and Sam Oyovbaire, (eds.), n.d., Portrait of a New Nigeria: Selected Speeches of IBB, Precision Press and Spectrum Books, Ibadan.

Tunji Olagunju and Sam Oyovbaire 1991, For Their Tomorrow We Gave Our Today: Selected Speeches of IBB Volume 11, Safari Books, London.

Keith W. Olsen et al, n.d., An Outline of America History, U.S.I.A, Washington D.C.

Fiona Venn, 1990, Makers of the Twentieth Century: Franklin d. Roosevelt, Cardinal, London.