OUR HERITAGE: WE RE-ENGINEERED NIGERIA
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Being a Dinner Speech presented at the end of a three day symposium on the Babangida Regime: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, organised by the Open Press Ltd, held the 13th – 15th October, 2000, at the Hill Station Hotel, Jos, Plateau State.
I must first and foremost express my gratitude to Almighty Allah. His grace it was which brought into being that period in our history that is the subject of this impressive symposium. For eight years, He placed on my shoulders the destiny of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Words cannot express adequately my indebtedness to that Infinite Power who singled me out as the worthy candidate for the trust of leadership of the most important nation on the African Continent. This was an honor so eminent, a grace so complete, an opportunity so unique. I can only thank Him in words He has taught us. ‘My Lord! To you is my gratitude: a gratitude appropriate to the Majesty of Your countenance and the omnipotence of Your power.’
This symposium, which is just coming to an end, has been of exceptional interest to me. Your thoughts and insights into the period of our administration have aroused mixed feelings in me. The salient points concerning some of the failures of our administration have only reinforced the eternal unalterable fact of life: We are mere mortals. This I acknowledge completely and wholeheartedly. What your brilliant and unbiased minds have identified as solid achievements have also reinforced another fact of life, indelible and also unalterable: ‘WHO DARES WINS’. And to my mind, this latter point, sooner or later, may be identified as the most singular quality of our government.
As mortals operating within the broad parameters set by providence, we are bound to encounter situations and events. Some of these situations and events are and can be anticipated, contemplated or contrived. Some, we do not and cannot easily anticipate or contemplate, let alone contrive. Others are unfathomable and beyond human control. Situations and events invariably generate a momentum of their own. They invariably also generate problems. Problems exist for governments to solve. Problems come in various forms and dimensions. They fall into several categories. Some are simple, with simple solutions. Some are highly ramified but simple to solve. Some are extremely complex requiring solutions even more complex. Some are, even with the best efforts, simply unsolvable, being incomprehensible to the human mind and human imagination. Problems arising from situations and events especially of political nature whether foreseen or unforeseen, whether simple or complex, often come as a process. So also their solutions. Neither is wholly spontaneous. A solution to a problem began today, may, as it unfolds in space and time, take a while to mature. Problems and solutions, as processes, do have a lifespan and a duration of their own long, short or moderate.
Our administration was no exception to this general rule. We encountered problems of varying degrees and hues. Many of those problems emanated from processes we engineered. So we understood them and could and did solve them, by the grace of ALLAH. Others arose from situations we envisaged, and could manage fairly well. Others yet were part of the flow of world events. These we tried, in concert with other nations, to address, with mixed results. Others defied explanations, and defied solutions.
On the whole, we witnessed the most complex and the most dramatic moments of the century that has just ended. Situations and events kept unfolding throughout that period with unyielding and breath-taking rapidity, changing everything and everybody elsewhere, in a manner never before experienced, in a manner so thorough and so comprehensive. The tranquil period in global affairs in which things could be taken for granted, and predictions fairly accurate, suddenly gave way to a climate that was changing at cosmic speed. One needs just to remember the momentous events leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the sudden transformation of the whole of Eastern Europe. Those earth-shaking events led to instant dissolution of ideologies and total disruption of the political and economic equation in the world. It was as though providence had taken the world unawares. The dynamics of global politics changed. The world economy changed. Even the language and nuances of communication between nations changed dramatically. In short, our era was in truth the era in which only the brave could cope. That was a supreme challenge we had to cope with, and it was never an easy task. Every day brought a new situation, and every new situation required a new response. The response must not only be as rapid as the challenge but also as thorough and as breath-taking. I can state, with all the emphasis at my disposal and with utmost humility that we waded through the turbulence and vagaries of the time with much courage and fortitude. We responded appropriately. Critics may accuse us of failure whether of perception or execution, or of something else. However, I venture to say that they would labor in vain to accuse us of not daring in the face of daunting and difficult challenges, or of failure of nerves when horizons changed so instantaneously, so constantly and so profoundly. We took decisions that were difficult and painful and hazardous. Many of those decisions have matured and are resolved. Others are still unfolding.
Statecraft in essence is about taking decisions and solving problems. Both require courage, resolve and nerves but more especially foresight and fortitude. Statecraft is also, above all, concerned with engineering. Permit me to say that of all the tasks, none is more intricate, more involving and at the end of the day more rewarding than engineering a nation. Here, many factors of varying degrees and complexities converge. The needs, the hopes, the fears, the peculiarities of individuals and groups must be delicately woven into the wider web of the larger society which in turn must blend neatly and accurately into the wider web of the supreme interest of state.
The ultimate aim of engineering in the manner we have attempted was clear. It is to chart a new course for a nation towards a new environment consciously and carefully designed in anticipation of a future that can be understood, mastered and managed. Engineering a nation is, in reality, inventing the future. Everything has to be harnessed and focused. Human resources, material resources, moral resources, all must be brought into play. Over and above all, the psychology of the nation must be redirected and refocused. There exists a world of difference between engineering a nation and ruling it. I never wished to rule Nigeria and I never did it. My goal was to engineer it. Things must be redesigned, even re-invented. There must be a conscious and measured movement towards the greater good. Perceptions, concepts, aspirations, goals, objectives must be redefined and approached in new and better ways and methods. Nigeria, I thought, must overcome the constraints imposed by the past, the fears and hesitations inhibiting the present, and take the bold and giant leap into the future. We must take new initiatives. Some of these initiatives were to assume historic proportions. Our ultimate goal was to strike the best and most beneficial deal for our people and our nation.
Our vision was to carry the nation forward in a constructive engagement with destiny. No short-cuts were taken. Hardship was not avoided. Social scientists would perhaps credit us with a scientific approach to statecraft. We first produced original ideas and then tested them against the realities of life. This was a course with very few examples and very few precedents. The dangers on the way were visible and clear. Along the line, old grievances were bound to surface. Differences would become sharper. Long established practices and entrenched interests would be overturned. Good and bad could equally be affected in a terrain that was unbeaten and unfamiliar. In short, so many things would give way for the road to the future to clear. But we were determined and resolute. We decided never to allow problems pile up or lie beneath the carpet. We let them rise to the surface with the view to tackling them. We initiated the mechanism for resolving them in the wider interest of all. In many instances, we succeeded. Sometimes our success reached as far as failure can go. To me, this is the reality of all human actions. This is the beauty of our fallibility as mortals. This is the architecture of life. The balance sheet may not be ready yet, but it will eventually manifest. In the final analysis, it must be acknowledged that part of the essential outcome of our approach and our method is that Nigeria has changed irrevocably, perhaps beyond recognition. We now know and appreciate our problems more clearly.
The stark realities of our nationhood, its strengths and its weaknesses, are now clear to us in the horizon in their true and natural colors. The only incentive that encouraged our resolve and determination even in the face of grave dangers was the prospect of a sound and brilliant future for Nigeria. Looking back to those difficult but momentous years, I can say with some degree of satisfaction that all said and done, we have done our best for Nigeria. We have re-engineered it. We all today live in a new Nigeria. Every human endeavour, however ingenious, however well-intentioned, comes with two faces: the positive and negative. Our desire to secure the maximum good for our country did inevitably beget certain consequences that were negative, even harmful. These were never intended, and were never foreseen.
Ideals travel faster than action. Those constraints that so often inhibit the translation of ideas into concrete actions which every so often characterize human initiative may have created some distortions in the balance sheet of our administration. My consolation is that distortions of this kind are in most cases temporary. Whatever we may have done, rightly or wrongly, the ideas behind them and the policies borne out of those ideas cannot fail. The ideas will project in the final analysis a picture of sustained effort by a government to transform a historically, politically, socially and economically complex nation into a regional power strong enough at home and respected abroad to be a worthy player on the world stage.
I can very vividly recall a lot of ideas. Some may have failed the test of time, but I say, with a sense of pride that most of them have stubbornly withstood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were when they were first conceived. Human rights formed the bedrock and policy thrust of our administration. We broke the circle of the tendency inherent in military rule and insisted on a sustained enforcement and observance of human rights as best as we could. Whenever an infringement of right occurred, it must have been in error. We never set out deliberately and wilfully to subject any citizen, or indeed any human being for that matter, to a treatment inconsistent with their right to life, dignity or property or any other right considered inalienable and fundamental. Our economic policy, which of all our policies, has drawn most attention and, I must say, much misunderstanding, was in fact built on a simple principle. An economy must be free in order to grow. This freedom meant that the shackles and rigidity which had for ages held our economy hostage must give way. Our economy needed a friendly environment easier, faster and more conducive. Nigeria, we believed, must undergo massive and monumental adjustment, in order to fit squarely and conveniently into the global economic process.
I acknowledge that the scale of adjustment might have been severe, despite our painstaking efforts to minimize the effect. Nevertheless despite those reservations, a lot of our people have found their way and have been rewarded with success and fulfilment. Many others, quite unfortunately, were unable to meet the challenges, and life proved too hard and too painful. But overall, we were able to integrate Nigeria into the world economy and enforce the realization that Nigeria must prepare herself for competition and excellence at national, regional and international levels. This is the only way forward. It is my hope that as the reform programme proceeds and is being refined and fine-tuned, the fruits of our initiative would spread wider and faster across the spectrum of our society, and the pains would heal.
A military government is a transitional government. The goal of every nation is always towards a government freely and consciously chosen by the people. The goal can only be achieved through a sound political process. We were determined at the very early stage of our administration to move towards democracy in a measured and intelligent manner. We rejected the overture to impose an ideology, long before ideologies crashed. Our principle was that statecraft should not be conducted on dogmas. Subsequent developments world-wide have vindicated our stance.
Our principled drive towards democracy generated considerable interest within and outside. Our people, long denied freedom to choose, were mesmerized by enthusiasm and euphoria, when the opportunity came. The political process was a novel initiative and a calculated risk: We were aware of the value of the initiative as it unfolded. As it grew in leaps and bounds, it assumed a life and dimension of its own. Nigeria was on the threshold of a new reality. Our vision was to build a democracy that would endure. The vision was cognizant of the ever growing demands that democratic nations must strive to fulfill: human rights, justice, prudence in human and resource management, equitable distribution and prudence in human and resource management, equitable distribution and dispensation of resources, fairness to minorities, sustainable economic growth, high quality of education and affordable health rank among them.
I am also aware of the changing landscape of the globe. Information Technology was just then assuming a revolutionary proportion. Today it is the pathway to the future. It must be embraced with all the force and emphasis that we can muster. But as it turned out, our vision did not meet the rhythm of time as precisely and perfectly as was required. Democracy must wait. But the price of waiting was high and burdensome. What followed was an earthquake of a scale close to the events of the early years of Nigeria. We were only a hair’s breath away from the brink. ALLAH in His infinite mercy came to our rescue.
As the pivot of that political process, I am profoundly sensitive to the unpleasant and regrettable but wholly unintended consequences. I take full responsibility. I am satisfied that I did my best in the circumstances as a mortal working within the will of Almighty ALLAH. What I expect in return is the understanding and magnanimity of fellow citizens. An observer once commented and I quote:-
” When a design has ended in miscarriage or success, when every eye and every ear is witness to general discontent or general satisfaction, it is then a proper time to disentangle confusion and illustrate obscurity to show whence happiness or calamity is derived and whence it may be expected, and honestly to lay before the people what inquiry can gather of the past, and conjecture can estimate of the future.”
Our vision for a democracy that endures was only delayed, not destroyed. Our initiative did not die. When the time was ripe, democracy emerged upon our nation stronger and finer than we expected. The sacrifices made by Nigeria have been fully rewarded. Nigeria is today a democracy. I am happy, too, that our vision, for which I had invested all of my energy and for which I had tasked my colleagues even beyond endurance has been fulfilled. The setting and the time were not as we had envisaged, yet we have defied the odds and arrived at the goal. By the grace of ALLAH, we shall continue to be part of the democratic process.
Ours was a team work. At the beginning, many Nigerians of distinction and conscience were called upon to serve. As the journey progressed, others were also invited. They served in various capacities, as Ministers, Advisers, Governors, Bureaucrats, Commanders in the Armed Forces and Police, Captains of industry as well as resource persons, counselors, personal staff and friends of President and family. I thank you all for your loyalty and support throughout those most difficult years. You have made unforgettable contributions and sacrifices for the good of our nation. My heart goes out to the great and noble people of Nigeria. They accepted the trust of their leadership with grace, warmth and an exceptional sense of duty. So intimate had our relationship developed that they bore the pains of some of our policies with patience and understanding. They were convinced that we meant well. They saw that we had achieved much on their behalf and for their benefit. They were loyal and friendly. They were appreciative. I thank you all. May Allah bless you all.
We worked for Nigeria on a vision predicated on ECONOMIC RECONSTRUCTION, SOCIAL JUSTICE and SELF RELIANCE. We worked so hard for a greater Nigeria. I am absolutely confident that this will be the verdict of history.
May ALLAH bless you all.