His Excellency, Chief (Dr.) Ernest A. O. Shonekan, CBE, Former Head of State, Federal Republic Of Nigeria

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, Gentlemen of the press, Ladies and Gentlemen, I feel most honoured and particularly delighted to be part of this occasion which is the public presentation of a set of books on the Babangida Regime, titled “IBB: A Heritage of Reform”. I am informed that the publications were the results of a project initiated by a group of scholars who have committed themselves to documenting the high points of the modest contributions, which were made to our national life between August 1985 and August 1993. You will recall that towards the tail end of the Babangida administration, I answered the national call and participated in his administration as Head of Transition Government – all in an effort to help in moving the nation forward. As such, I strongly believe that permanent records like the set of books, which are being presented to the public today, are most welcome for a number of reasons.

First, is that such permanent records serve as data for researchers, students and, indeed, political leaders, who are interested in our growth as a nation. Thus, these books, which are being publicly presented today, can serve as materials from which Nigerians and others outside the country can learn useful lessons, especially in the area of quality of governance.

Second, is that human memory is short. Often, commentators and public analysis fail to fully appreciate the reasons behind the actions and inactions of those in power. Unfortunately, all over the world, particularly in the developing economies, the tendency has been for commentators and public analysis not to fully appreciate the place of particular administrations in history for one reason or the other. In Nigeria, due to a combination of the Nigerian factor and the short memory phenomenon, the Babangida administration is better remembered for the imbroglio that followed the June 12, 1993 presidential election. This is sad and unacceptable, more so because the event in question took place at the tail end of an eight year tenure. As you will agree, there must be more to an administration that lasted for eight years than the political imbroglio that came at the end of its tenure. It is precisely for this reason that I welcome the initiative of the authors of this set of books, which seeks to dispassionately document the high points of the modest contributions of the Babangida administration to the growth of our nation and thus contribute to the growing literature on our national life.

I like to also point out that the authors of this set of books have again brought to the front burner, the need for the emergence in our country of scholars who will regularly focus on recording and analyzing the activities, the peculiar styles and personalities of our Heads of Government as it is done in the developed economies. I believe that our leaders can benefit immensely from the work of such scholars.

While to many Nigerians, the Babangida administration is better known on the political front for its reforms, to many of us in the private sector, the Babangida administration made more strides in the economic front than has been readily acknowledged by Nigerians. Take for example the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1986 without which the country might have continued to wallow in the economic mess, which it found itself in the early 1980s. You will recall that the Babangida administration came to power in the wake of economic decline occasioned by the collapse of the oil market. It initiated a national debate on whether or not Nigeria should implement the policy reform usually specified as conditions that must be fulfilled prior to obtaining IMF support in forms of loans. The outcome of this national debate, which rejected the IMF loan, was accepted by the administration after which a package of reforms christened the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was introduced. It is clear therefore, that SAP was a product of the reality on ground on the economic front.

The underlining philosophy of the programme was the operation of the market system under which the deregulation of the economy would ensure efficient allocation of resources. Among others, the Structural Adjustment Programme sought to:

  • Strengthen our fiscal and monetary policies so as to achieve a reduction in inflation and rationalize public expenditure programme,
  • Adopt a realistic exchange rate policy,
  • Rationalise and restructure our tariffs in order to aid the promotion of industrial diversification,
  • Liberalise trade and financial sector reforms,
  • Adopt appropriate pricing policies for public enterprises and the removal of subsidies; and
  • Privatize and commercialise public enterprises.

Although, SAP was intended to last for two years, from July 1986 to June 1988, its consequences have continued to live with us while its impact on Nigerians have been mixed. However, the fact remains that by introducing SAP, the Babangida administration meant well for us as a nation and for the growth of our economy. For example, the economic liberalization that came with SAP saw the end of the notorious import license regime as well as the corruption and other abuses that were inherent in it.

Critics of SAP, especially those in the academic sector kicked against the devaluation of the Naira, which was one of the most visible features of SAP. They argue that the programme failed to take due cognizance of the structure of our economy and that the economy was not ripe for such liberalization at that time. Be that as it may, observers believe that SAP in itself was good for our economy but the problem was in its inconsistent implementation. Looking back, we now know that given the exigencies of the time, there was no way the country could have ran away from SAP or variants of it. If anything, the nation’s rejection of the IMF loan made it more incumbent on the administration to introduce an acceptable alternative economic programme in the same form as SAP.

As I said earlier, SAP brought with it the liberalization of the economy. The liberalization of the financial sector, in particular, saw the growth of many banks and financial institutions many of which have become leaders in that sector today. Economic liberalization also brought competition and improved service delivery across the economy. Many of the public enterprises that were privatized then are better managed today than they were prior to their privatization. It is also the credit of the Babangida administration that the policy of liberalization, which it adopted in 1986, has remained a common economic policy of successive administrations in Nigeria and as a fundamental economic policy of nations across the globe in the new millennium.

In the areas of rural development and poverty alleviation, the Babangida administration used the People’s Bank to introduce a micro-credit system thereby bringing hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who had been in the informal sector into the formal sector of the economy. Also, with the People’s Bank in operation, many people in the rural areas who had never seen or patronized banks became beneficiaries of micro-credit facilities of the People’s Bank.

And, in the area of rural development, the administration established the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI). Also, the administration introduced the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to encourage the creation of jobs and in alleviating poverty. However, while the conceptualization of these two directories were sound, commentators and public analysts believe that their performance fell short of the expectation of Nigerians. Still on the economic policy of the Babangida administration, there are three areas, which I wish to emphasize here. First, is that it was during Gen. Babangida’s tenure, precisely in 1993, that the foundation was laid for a formal and continuous dialogue and partnership between the public and private sectors for national economic development. The ensuing collaboration between the public and private sectors blossomed into the Nigerian Economic Summit Group. And, as you will know, NESG has been very active in making many useful inputs into the government’s policy making process. Second, is the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project, which had been on the drawing board since the 1960s but saw the light of the day during the Babangida administration. If anything, the fact that we have a functional LNG plant today is a good legacy of the administration.

Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, one of the lessons, which we must take home from today’s event, is that we must resolve to have positive attitude to our leaders and to our country. A situation where Nigerians continuously run down their leaders at will without any major cause does no good for the image of the country neither is it good for us as Nigerians. Of course, when a leader does something good he should be praised and when he does something wrong he should be criticized. But, such criticism must be constructive and they must be done in good faith with a view to pointing out where the leader went wrong and what he ought to have done in that circumstance. Even in the advanced countries there are limits to the criticisms of their leaders. They do recognize that their rights to free speech must be exercised with every sense of responsibility and with due regards to the rights of other citizens.

Next, is the lack of follow-up on policies of past governments by succeeding administrations thus leading to policy inconsistency. The trend over the years has been that each administration quickly jettisoned many of the key policies of past administration and, instead, put in place new policies, which were in most cases, at variance with what were on ground. Consequently, the country has always suffered as a result of such policy inconsistencies as her growth prospects were scuttled and her developmental dreams largely unrealized. For example, the policy on privatization and deregulation was one of the pillars of the Babangida administration but suffered a setback following the introduction of guided deregulation by one of the succeeding administrations. And, by the time the present administration re-introduced privatization and deregulation, many of the parastatals, which were slated for privatization by the Babangida administration in the early 1990s had been ran down and their values or worth drastically reduced. It is, therefore, not a surprise that the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) at the recent 9th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja described the parastatals now being privatized as “mere junks” and not worth being called “family golden jewels”. Again, the lesson here is that there is need for policy consistency by succeeding governments in the country if we are to achieve the growth targets of our vision.

That brings us to the frequent ethnic and religious clashes in many parts of the country and the calls for National Conference by leaders of many of the ethnic nationalities in the country. While I consider the issues at stake as socio-economic and political ones, the answer to their calls is neither here nor there. Suffice to say that the report of the Political Bureau and that of Vision 2010 Committee may serve to adequately answer many, if not all of the key issues being raised by the agitators for National Conference. Indeed, I can reveal here that one of the secrets of the success of Vision 2010 Committee, which I will like to recommend to Nigerians is consensus building. By agreeing to arrive at decisions through consensus, it was easy for the large committee members, in spite of their different religious inclinations, to forge ahead in their assignments in an atmosphere of peace and in the interest of the nation.

In effect, what I am saying is that whether we decide at the end of the day to go for a National Conference or not, we must learn to look at past national efforts in that direction and bring their recommendations to bear on our new thinking. If anything, a great deal of intellectual hard work and man-hours went into the Political Bureau and Vision 2010 committee’s work and their reports are still very relevant to solving some of our current socio-economic and political problems.

Equally, a credit to the Babangida administration is the 1991 National Census, which was generally accepted across the nation and internationally. It was also devoid of the acrimony and controversies that characterized other headcounts since 1963. The lesson to learn, ladies and gentlemen, from the 1991 census is that we can evolve the process of successfully conducting a national census at regular intervals. Such a process must be fool proof and must be able to engender public confidence and public acceptance of the census results.

Your Excellencies, Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, one can go on and on in revisiting those aspects of the Babangida administration, which Nigerians generally seem to have forgotten too soon. But I strongly belief that the public presentation of this set of books on Gen. Babangida’s regime will help in setting the records of the administration straight for posterity.

Let me end by quoting Jean Jacque Rousseau, a French poet, he says, “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. May be, ladies and gentlemen, this is the time for us to have a change of attitude and work closely together as a team to make Nigeria a greater nation than what it is today.

General Badamasi Babangida, let me also take this opportunity of congratulating you. It is nice to have a crowd of your fellow citizens coming together to pay respect to you during your life time. Let me also once again congratulate the authors for a job well done. Please, do not relent on your efforts. There are other leaders who want to write and put the records straight. I congratulate you.  While I recommend the books to our political leaders and the reading public, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I also hope that we will all learn useful lessons from them.

Thank you and God bless.