A TIME OF WITNESS
Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida
Being a Speech delivered on the occasion of the public presentation of IBB: a Heritage of Reforms at the International Conference Centre, Kaduna on the 17th of December, 2002.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen!
I wish to express my deep appreciation to the organisers of this event. Ordinarily, as the subject of the books being presented, I should modestly have been contented with receiving copies of the books and reading about the presentation in the press. But the organisers insisted that I should be here. More importantly, my brother and highly esteemed friend, His Excellency, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings has kindly accepted to give a special lecture on this occasion. I do not want to miss the rare opportunity of listening to one of Africa’s most illustrious sons and distinguished statesmen. And those of us who know “the Rawlings’ success story” in recent Ghanaian history hold Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings with very high regards.
Moreover, this highly distinguished audience offers a chance of meeting old friends and of reassuring the nation and the world that all is not bane and gloom in the country, but that we still meet and communicate as members of one large community of the Nigerian- nation state. Events such as book launches, prayerful burial ceremonies and other social engagements still offer re-assuring opportunities to remind us that our common patrimony remains intact in spite of our difficulties.
Because of the subject of the books being publicly presented today and my providential close relationship to the chapter of Nigerian history that has been analytically chronicled in these books, I consider this auspicious audience as an opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts and concerns about certain aspects of our past and present as well as my perspectives and hopes for the future of our country.
A PEEP INTO THE PAST
A society that does not correctly interpret and appreciate its past cannot understand its present fortunes and adversities and can be caught unawares in a fast changing world. This “Book Launch” may not necessarily be a mere ceremony to celebrate the past as embodied in the reforms, which were undertaken in the 1985-1993 period. Incidentally, “the IBB years” as that period has come to be popularly referred to are easily the most discussed years in Nigeria’s recent history. The multiplicity of interpretation of the period and of specific policy reforms and episodes, the vibrancy of the political economy and robustness of the regime as well as the populist activism of that period, have occupied and will continue to occupy the intellectual and media landscapes, indeed, the policy frameworks of governments for yet many more years, in sha Allah. Yet, one detects in those interpretations certain elements of new ignorance and lack of capacity to grasp the true meaning of the regime’s reform packages.
Ten years after “the IBB years”, is perhaps, an appropriate time for scholarship and journalism to begin to provide better insight into the objective motives and motivations of our choice of the reforms, which we undertook at that time.
The informing ideas and motivating force behind the change of government, which we led in August 1985 were not “personal reasons” but to stem the tide of a potential violent revolution, and safeguard those fundamental values, which our people hold dear. Our choice of a reform framework dictated that we looked at the fundamental assumptions that had driven Nigeria’s economy, society and polity hitherto and to seek ways of either abandoning or transcending those assumptions and their supporting institutions. We set out to assist in gradually changing the orientation of our people.
We said much about the reformative forces, which propelled the regime change in our inaugural address to the nation in August 1985 and in several other landmark speeches – thanks be to Allah for the competent documentation of these major speeches by respected scholars and journalists. We proceeded from the assumption that the inherent human creativities, initiatives and energies of the citizenry ought to be the driving force of socio-economic life while government should provide the appropriate legal and infrastructural environment to propel and sustain the imperatives of a free market economy. We were conscious of, and therefore, concerned about the consequences of the regime’s reforms, especially for the larger majority of the poor, both in the urban and rural areas, and we, accordingly, instituted a variety of measures and projects to generate social justice and poverty amelioration across the length and breadth of the country.
That was why we indicated our commitment to a reform trajectory along the core areas of economic self-reliance, building the infrastructure for political democracy and for social justice. We were by no means naïve as to think that this fundamental change in the historical direction of the post-colonial Nigerian state was going to be painless or yield instant results. However, we believed that our people possessed the resilience and understanding to tap the attendant opportunities and to cherish the long-term goals.
We were also cognisant of the fact that the rhetoric of our socialist compatriots contains certain truths about the conditions of the masses and the failure of the state. But we thought of the need to pursue reforms that would include some of these ideas while steering the state away from ideological orthodoxy and fundamentalism. We also knew that the path of the reform would in the long run produce revolutionary changes in the ways our people do things.
While we believe in the fundamental freedom of our people to express themselves, and organise and participate in the affairs of the nation, there were aspects of freedom that were incompatible with the spirit of the reforms.
We therefore, needed to subtly check those segments of the society that were bound to increase the urge for the distracting revolt while protecting the basic freedom of the majority. We also recognised that the Nigerian federation was not deeply rooted; and that it was in fact afflicted by centrifugal forces, which, left unchecked, could tear the Nigerian nation-state asunder.
We, therefore, identified and insisted on certain no-go areas in our national life; the unity and indissolubility of the federation, even though the federation needed further restructuring; multi-religious state; values of federalism and deconcentration of powers, liberalism and republicanism of constitutional government; and independence of judiciary, among others.
The challenge as we saw in the Nigerian project was to re-structure the economy decisively in the direction of a modern free market as an appropriate environment for cultivation of freedom and democracy and the natural emergence of a new social order. These ideas remain dear to our heart even today, and nothing has happened in the last ten years to negate the soundness of our perspective. Indeed, we have been roundly vindicated by developments in the global economy and society; and we can justifiably with hindsight, claim to have had an appropriate and enduring foresight.
Yes, as we mentioned earlier, the reforms produced unintended consequences. Some of the policies exposed the vulnerable groups of the populace to the repercussions of the free market. But we were sensitive enough to inject elements of compassion into the system to cushion the effects of the reform policies.
But by and large, the reforms inaugurated profoundly new attitudes in the economic sphere. They shifted national focus from state monopoly to deregulation, to production and healthy spirit of self-reliance with employees being challenged to become employers of labour and material resources, and an increase in the poles or centres of economic activities and governance. We also for the first time, drew forceful attention to regional development such as in the Niger Delta. For our regime’s reforms, the paradigm of development moved decisively and irreversibly from government control to a general democratised environment for private sector actors and their developmental partnership with the public sector. If today we are asked to name the most worthy legacy of our regime, we would very proudly say that our choice of reforms saved the nation from the clear danger of a violent revolution; preserved the federation and ensured that we did not join the league of orphan nations that arose from the end of the Cold War. We also laid down the normative infrastructure for the primacy of a modern market economy coupled with engrained consciousness of democratic restoration and social justice.
Our appeal to fellow Nigerians is that we should judge every regime or administration on the basis of its informing ideas or lack of such ideas, and not on the orchestrated prompting of the biases. Ten years since we “stepped aside” from the frontline of power, our modest contribution is increasingly becoming clearer by the day and by the year and therefore being appreciated.
THE STATE OF THE NATION
Our preceding peep into the past provides the opportunity to appreciate the present state of the nation. It is now ten years since we stepped aside from the leadership of the country. So much has happened since then, either to vindicate or vitiate our assumptions and aspects of our performance in office. It is encouraging that in spite of being the philosophical stock of a different regime of ten years ago, succeeding regimes and administrations have proceeded either on the same path or varied imitations of the same assumptions of our public policy framework.
There is no doubt that the situation in the country today indicates that there is much more work to do in the process of reforming the political economy and improving the quality of life of our people and communities. It is only by moving quickly in an orderly fashion to harness the fruits of developmental reforms that democracy can begin to have meaning for the nation, and to earn for the country the respect and reciprocity in our international relations.
The return of democracy in our land has indeed thrown the problems of development into bolder relief. Basically, the issues that we now have to grapple with concern:
- Leadership and management of the economy;
- The cost of democracy and governance to our people;
- The responsibility of a democratic or elected leadership to deliver security of life and property;
- Advancing the spectrum of freedom and social justice to all our people and communities;
- Improving infrastructure and secure the environment for law and order, employment and productive business;
- Generating trust and trustworthiness from within and from outside the country.
These are the very serious and weighty issues confronting the nation today. Each one of us, and indeed, all those who aspire to national leadership must bring their own visions, views and styles to the business of reforming Nigeria, and the search for solutions. It is the synergy between a leadership vision and the collaborative involvement of relevant forces in the polity that can produce the rapid improvement, which our people badly need.
There is something of worthwhile value to be said in favour of leadership, which served the nation under arms and have also experienced social realities as civilians. This complementarity embodies the social reality and character of the modern Nigerian state. Perhaps, experience in other parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world is beginning to indicate that only leadership, which fully understands the reciprocal complexity of the relationship between the supremacy of civilian authority and the concomitant support base for the modern state-system provided by the military are best suited to uplift and sustain our democracy. We have no doubt in our mind, based on the experience and reflection, that as we progress along the democratic highway, Nigeria has become a monumental work in progress.
The work of Nigeria is not complete for as long as there is any one Nigerian who goes to bed on empty stomach. The work is not complete for as long as our people remain divided by avoidable mutual suspicions, distrust and ancient fears. There is still work to be done for as long as our youth roam the streets without food. We all have work to do for as long as our factories lie in waste or idle, our utilities remain undependable, and outsiders who wish us well are reluctant to invest in our economy.
We have a variety of ill-health afflictions, ignorance, and lack the ability to domesticate our environment for the service of our people. We are yet to benefit maximally from research and ‘development, and from Science and Technology. Recent events have shown that we cannot take the unity of our country for granted. We see a new challenge in conquering new suspicions and demolishing the barriers of injustice and mutual distrust and antagonism. We must now replace clashes among faiths with faith in our nation. We must now re-present the nation as an indivisible patrimony founded on justice, fairness and equity for all persons who live within our borders.
And yet we need to recognize the local peculiarities and divergent sensibilities that give us our unique strength and appeal. There is work to be done in evolving a system of governance that recognizes and accommodates these differences in a harmonious commonwealth. In this commonwealth, it ought to be possible for every Nigerian to pursue his faith while keeping faith with the nation and with one another.
There is also work to do in the evolution of a stable family life and values, and in ensuring that the Nigerian family is built on core values that will form the bedrock of the future society. We must showcase the ideals of family life and be models of family values.
Our approach to economic development must be modern, focused and in tune with the global trend. At the same time we need to remain sensitive to the reality that we are still an African society in which the majority of the people and communities live under severe deprivations and afflictions that are no fault of theirs. The state needs to combine a definite economic focus with a sense of compassion and justice towards all those who are unfortunately alienated from the fruits of their land.
The state must develop a sense of care and balanced judgment in dealing with communal conflicts and clashes, and with neighbourhood disagreements without sacrificing its responsibility for firmness and commitment to the maintenance of order so that the rule of law, justice and freedom can thrive.
THE FUTURE AS A CHALLENGE
What we have said so far means that the nation is faced with a huge challenge. Because there is so much work left undone, we doubt whether any of us can afford to be in retirement, in the real sense. For as long as our people are held hostage by controllable socio-economic forces, we cannot afford to be indifferent to the ravages of poverty in all its dimensions and ramifications. To meet the expectations of the majority of our people, and to open up new vistas of economic opportunity so that the aspirations of Nigerians can stand a fair chance of being fulfilled in a life time, there must be a truly committed leadership in a democratic Nigeria.
Democracy opens new vistas and opportunities. We should use the opportunities it offers to correct past mistakes not to blunder anew. At no other time in our history are the challenges of national self-renewal and re-definition more urgent and desirable than now. Elections for mandate renewal are around the corner. I believe that it is the quality of leadership which emerges from the imminent election that will determine whether the nation will survive in democratic governance so as to face the critical challenges that lie ahead of over 125 million Nigerians and those abroad who look up for the enabling environment and encouragement to return home.
On our part, the thought that the actions and utterances of politicians could exacerbate current tensions remains an abiding fear. This fear is increased by our own greater fear that we may, unconsciously, be subjecting our fragile political economy and society to pressures of terminal instability. We have tottered at the brink for far too long; and for that long have been prayerfully lucky. But no nation can base its survival and development on luck and prayers alone while its leadership fritters away every available opportunity for success and concrete achievement.
The 2003 election offers perhaps, the unique opportunity for Nigeria to use the democratic process to mend its ways and squarely and courageously face the challenges of development. Whether we aspire to lead or to follow, it is these issues that must continue to agitate our minds. The present generation of Nigerians can only ignore these challenges to the peril of the nation.
The challenges are above party, ethnic arithmetic and personal advantages. Our primary concern in these matters must remain the survival of the country and the welfare of ordinary Nigerians. It is from Allah, and from Him alone, that all power derives. It is to Him that all those who wield or have wielded power and authority must return to account for their stewardship. And when our work is .done, it is to our people that we must return as fellow citizens and compatriots.
I will not miss the opportunity of this distinguished audience to openly acknowledge the value, to me personally and to the regime, which I had the providence of leading and the assistance of many Nigerians. First it is the group of young men who worked hard, even when at various points our reactions to their promptings ought to have discouraged them, in organising the national symposium on the subject matter of the Interpretation and Perspectives of the reforms which our regime undertook between 1985 and 1993.
Since that symposium was held in Jos in the year 2000, the same young men worked very hard for the collation, careful editing and the ordering of the professional bibliography of the reforms for publication. We gratefully acknowledge their resilience, persistence and devotion to research and documentation.
The second group of persons to which we are highly indebted is the rare assemblage of dedicated intellectuals and scholars who helped individually and collectively in formulating, articulating and implementing our regime’s reforms. We know that such well-meaning people have referred to our regime as one that was uniquely characterised by high-ranking men and women of ideas and calibre. These intellectuals worked with us and for our country without any inducement. Looking back at that historic period, we now realise that these men and women were not properly and adequately rewarded. As individuals, or as a group if we may refer to them as such, we find it difficult to believe that they worked for a regime, which was wrongly perceived “as having institutionalised corruption”.
Almost every one of these intellectuals and scholars lived and have continued to live modest lives with their integrity intact. We thank them immensely. We wish to refrain from naming them here, although the publications on our regimes, by Chief Gabriel Umoden, Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro, and Dr. Chidi Amuta mentioned quite a good number of them. We know the listed names in those publications are not exhaustive. We also wish to pay tribute to the memory of two of them who have passed on, namely, Prof. Tunji Aboyade, and Prof Erne Awa. May their souls rest in peace. Once again, we salute the courage of all the intellectuals and scholars who assisted our regime in spite of the occasional calumny against some of them.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your patience in listening to this Courtesy address. I wish you the blessing of Allah, a Merry Christmas in advance, safe return to your various places of work and abode, and a blissful new year ahead. Thank you.