THE IBB ERA IN RETROSPECT
I met IBB for the first time ever on September 9, 1985, about a fortnight after he requested late Chief M. K. 0. Abiola for my services as his (IBB’s) Chief Press Secretary. Until that time, I was the editor of Chief Abiola’s daily newspaper, the National Concord. I was surprised at the request of a man I had never met to occupy such a sensitive national post.
Therefore, even if 1 had premonition of the turbulent crises that came one after another in the last years of that administration, I would not have been more appropriate in the three requests I made of IBB when I met him in his office for the first time at Dodan Barracks on September 9, 1985.
First, I demanded unlimited access to him. Second, I demanded the freedom to tell him my mind on any issue concerning his administration. Third, I advised him that nothing should happen to his immediate two predecessors in office and their deputies, Shehu Shagari, Alex Ekwueme, General Muhammad Buhari and late General Babatunde ldiagbon, three of whom were under house restriction while Alex Ekwueme was at Kirikiri prisons, Lagos.
IBB easily granted my first two requests but was noticeably curious to know the reason for my advice on the fate of ex-president Shehu Shagari and his co-detainees. Briefly, I told him “Sir, anybody occupying your seat represents that symbol of Nigeria’s sovereignty and whatever his faults at the end of the day, nothing should be done to humiliate him.”
The new IBB regime, might probably have taken a decision on that issue. But I still made my position clear, among others, to know the type of man for whom I was going to work with. There was no immediate resporise to my advice but I could sense an air of satisfaction. The rest is history.
I have to give this background because the concessions I wrested from IBB on that day especially the freedom to tell him the piece of my mind on any issue influenced the performance of my duties throughout the next eight years.
Since I imposed the task on myself to focus on the entire eight – year tenure of IBB at this symposium, 1 will divide this paper into the five most controversial areas of critical interest to observers. These are:
- Cancellation of June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
- Attempted self-perpetuation in office
- Collusion with General Abacha
- Alleged institutionalization of corruption
- Structural Adjustment Programme
The most uncharitable critic of IBB, after experiencing four other administrations (Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar and now Obasanjo) readily concedes that but for the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, the man, IBB, would have emerged an untainted hero. The first focus should therefore be on the annulled election.
The election itself has been variously described as the best, fairest and the cleanest in the country’s political history. For a military administration implementing a transition programme, such a well-acclaimed election was a God-given blessing for a glorious exit.
Instead, the 1993 presidential election was cancelled, an event which plunged the country into the worst political crisis in Nigeria’s history only next to the Nigerian civil war (1967 – 70). As must be expected, critics have, in most cases, innocently adduced many reasons which were mostly circumstantial.
For example, contrary to the general impression, ethnic interests could only have played a negligible role. The bitter truth was that the annulment of the election was purely the decision of the military following threats of middle rank officers and above to revolt and assassinate the key figures in the crisis – Ibrahim Babangida and Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola.
Before trivialising this threat, let us consider this hypothetical situation derivable from our past political history. It was possible that the threat of some of the military officers to revolt or assassinate key figures in the 1993 crisis was mere bravado. But the truth was that the threat was real with the hot heads in formidable positions. And if the claim of ethnic interests in the annulment of the 1993 presidential election should influence the threatened assassinations during the crisis, Nigeria would be back in January 1966 or July 1966 when on each occasion the pattern of killings affected only one part of the country or the other.
For example, we were only lucky (that is Nigerians) that General Sani Abacha died before Bashorun Abiola. If Abiola had died first, the consequences for the country would have rendered the scale of the 1967- 70 Civil War a child’s play. That exactly was what the military hierarchy in their wisdom if not self-conceit, thought they were avoiding with the annulment of the 1993 presidential election instead of calling the bluff of the mutineers.
By the way, who were these middle-rank officers who triggered the cancellation of the 1993 presidential election? Key among them were those who openly displayed group opposition and personal hatred for Bashorun Abiola. Yes, “hatred” was the word. The venom and vehemence of that hatred made it clear that they would carry out their threat to kill the man.
There was another group and officers who over the years, had got used to power and influence that they could not contemplate a sudden end to their privileged status which handing over to Abiola would have portended.
Of course, lurking in the dark behind all those mutinous officers were some of their senior officers hell bent on having their own share of the action. General Sani Abacha was only smart to strike first before others could strike him out.
As we blame the military for the wrong done the nation in cancelling the 1993 presidential election, we must also focus on the role of the political class as collaborators. According to a Yoruba adage, the real culprit is not the man who stole from the ceiling but the one who assisted in landing the loot.
Could the military have sustained the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections if the political class did not play the treacherous role of accomplices? These politicians were a special group with inter or intra party interest. Understandably, the rival NRC rejected the results and demanded cancellation, by citing alleged irregularities which were never substantiated. The demand for cancellation should therefore, have been ignored but the fact of history remains that the NRC as a political party initiated the series of events which culminated in the annulment of the election.
Against all expectations, the SDP whose presidential candidate, MKO Abiola, won the elections, was even more treacherous. There is no record in world political history of a party whose leadership was indifferent and devious in its -att tde on the victory of its candidate in a major election. Bashorun Abiola’s party, the SDP set that record.
One faction in the SDP publicly remained indifferent to, but privately acquiesced in the annulment of its candidate’s imminent presidential election victory. The attitude of this faction was simple. The annulment should be reversed. How could MKO become president after the primary election victory of late Shehu Yar’ Adua was cancelled a year earlier?
This was the group that most unexpectedly and dramatically released the editorial opinion of Chief Abiola’s newspaper, National Concord, which called for and supported the cancellation of Shehu Yar ‘ Adua’s primary election victory as SDP’s presidential candidate in 1992.
Then there was this other group also within the SDP, which either kept quiet or publicly denounced the annulment of the 1993 election result but, in silent tones, rejoiced at the development with the claim that the annulment was in line with the law of Karma. They were elated at having it back on M.K.O. Abiola, on the ground that he stopped Chief Awolowo from becoming the president of Nigeria.
This group solidly supported the military to uphold the annulment. They would request Aso Rock Press Corps to quote them as condemning the cancellation of M.K.O Abiola’s victory but the same group would decline to speak on television cameras for actuality reports, because that would expose their hypocrisy and mischief.
These were men, women and traditional rulers in society who, in those days of grave political crisis could easily but wrongly be presumed to be honest with the government in proffering solutions. Such so-called leaders were the most dangerous and most unhelpful throughout the crisis. Indeed, they were reported to have extended their dangerous politicking to the regime of late General Sani Abacha, who unknown to them recorded most conversations – on both audio and video. Should there be a playback of such recordings for the public, Nigerians would lynch most of these self-proclaimed defenders of June 12, 1993 Presidential election.
They neither stood for nor by June 12. Instead, they stood behind June 12 as a step to public office as cabinet ministers and board members. Without the support and endorsement of these characters, the military could not have sustained the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections. In some cases, they went as low as demanding power shift from Ogun state because according to them, after the lot of chief Obafemi Awolowo as premier of the defunct Western Region and the then General Olusegun Obasanjo a military Head of State and both of them from Ogun State, why should M.K.0 Abiola, also from Ogun State be elected Nigeria’s President? With that circumstantial argument, they supported the military in, annulling the 1993 election. It is worth noting that these mischief-makers were busy toying with Nigeria’s destiny even as both ex-President Babangida and late Bashorun Abiola were holding discussions in the first few days after the annulment either face to face at the VLP lounge at Abuja airport or in regular conversations on hot lines. So much was the confusion thrown round the military by the political class in the search for solution to the 1993 crisis.
Of course, despite this, it is only fair to acknowledge the boldness and sincerity of the few who were either there with Chief Abiola from the beginning and throughout the convention and the campaigns in the rains and sunshine leading to the electoral feat of June 12, or stood above ethnicity to oppose the annulment.
Most outstanding among the lot was former Kaduna State military governor, Colonel Abubakar Umar. I want to put on record that his post-annulment unrelenting opposition to the decision of his bosses was not an after-thought or an adventure on the bandwagon. A few days before the annulment, he ran into me as he was coming from IBB’s office at Aso rock.
There was nothing unusual in stopping to exchange greetings. But thereafter he stunned me. Fully dressed in military uniform, Colonel Abubakar Umar, without the least care for whoever might be around, expressed disgust and frustration on the tense political situation in the country.
Quoting him word for word, Colonel Umar said “Triple Chief, you see all these useless people confusing Oga on this election? I am just coming from Oga’s office and I have told him my mind. If Oga cancels this election, I will resign from the army.
You would think the man was joking. But I took his threat with mixed feelings. First, I was happy that at least, another voice, a non-Yoruba for that matter, joined me in facing up to IBB on the annulment crisis. On the other hand, I was disturbed by Colonel Umar’s threat to openly split with IBB because if there was ever anv military officer to stand by IBB until both breathed their last, he was Colonel Umar.
As soon as the June 12, 1993 election was annulled, Colonel Umar made good his threat but was persuaded to withdraw the resignation. There was no way anybody as loyal as Colonel Umar could have totally abandoned IBB during that crisis. With his resignation, Colonel Umar was only alerting his C-in-C of the danger ahead.
There were also Chief Segun Osoba and Lateef Jakande who both accompanied M.K.O. Abiola throughout the campaigns for the presidential elections. It became public knowledge that Chief Osoba was earmarked to be assassinated along with Kudirat Abiola for holding out against the annulment even after IBB had left office and M.K.O. Abiola had been arrested.
There were patriotic others like Joe Igbokwe, retired Admiral Ndubisi Kanu (not related to Daniel Kanu) inevitably Gani Fawehinmi and surprisingly a traditional ruler indeed, my traditional ruler, Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Nwujale of ljebuland in Ogun State, who must have risked his throne if not his life in opposing the annulment throughout the crisis.
These were some of the courageous patriots who genuinely and sincerely fought against the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential elections. If all the hypocrites parading as champions of June 12, had been of this stuff, the certainty was that Nigeria’s tragedy of the recent past would have been avoided.
In the early months or even years after the annulment, IBB had always taken full responsibility for the controversial decision and that he had no regret. That surely was in the self-satisfaction that in nullifying the election, he opted for the lesser evil against the undisguised threat of restless middle-rank officers to execute key figures in the crisis, including specifically his friend, M.K.O. Abiola.
As the crisis prolonged the same IBB while maintaining the “no regret” posture, eventually had to concede that “we” (the military) were wrong to have cancelled the election. That was in the face of the unending incarceration of Bashorun Abiola and a dangerous development in the crisis – mysterious intermittent assassinations of well-known Nigerians opposed to the annulment.
After IBB admitted in one of the series of interviews with the media that “we” (the military) were wrong to have nullified the June 12, 1993 election, there had been pleas for public apology. That was even when nobody (not IBB anyway) expected M.K.O. Abiola to die during the crisis. Indeed, the general expectation was that in line with the pattern of political struggle in Africa in the past fifty years, he (Abiola) would emerge from incarceration (like Ghana’s late Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya’s late Jomo Kenyatta. Nigeria’s late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to assume a prominent role in the political leadership of Nigeria.
With that hope, the plea for public apology might appear prematum if necessary at all. Most unfortunately, M.K.O. Abiola’s shocking death in entirely different circumstances destroyed all such logic.
We now have a lingering problem with that national tragedy. Despite IBB’s sincere intention as Commander – In – Chief of the military in cancelling the 1993 presidential election to guarantee M.K.O.’s life, the death of the same MKO in the end did not justify the annulment as a means of protecting him from assassination plots by mutinous officers.
I spoke to IBB on the day M.K.O. died and I could feel the depth of his sorrow for obvious reasons. The death of his close personal friend was a fall-out of a decision he (IBB) had innocently taken with good intention which did not materialise. There could be no regret deeper than that. Yet that was in a private capacity.
The Nigerian public deserves a feel of that personal agony. IBB as the Commander- in – Chief of the military which took a political decision which proved fatally flawed should ignore professional agitators and left Nigerians know his feelings on the death of his friend. Without any or much- difficulty, an opportunity should present itself on how and where to express such feelings. Public apology? What does that matter?
Some centuries ago, white settlers inflicted the most inhuman atrocities on the aborigines in Australia. Till last year, the animosity between the two groups kept the wound open. But in the run – up to the recent Olympic games hosted by that country, prime minister, John Howard publicly apologised for the crime committed by his white ancestors. Two years ago, Nigeria’s General Alani Akinrinade apologised to the Igbos for their setback during the civil war. General Yakubu Gowon, former head of State similarly at Umuahia, Abia State apologised for the assassination of General Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966. The military must also apologise to Nigerians for our innumerable losses since the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections.
Of course, those who thrive in negative publicity or personal vilification of IBB will be undeterred whether the military apologises or not. Reckless sections of the press will still not reconcile, themselves to the prospects of the end of their exploitation of IBB’s name.
Moreover, Nigeria will attract world headlines for its efforts at national reconciliation. Back home, responsible section of the press will live up to their reputation. Above all, MKO Abiola’s immediate family will be comforted. These are ultimately what matter most.
“Sit -Tight” Plan
Arising from public anger against the nullification of the 1993 presidential election was the allegation that it was part of IBB’s secret agenda to perpetuate himself in office. For a start, there was no such plan. But if for the sake of argument, we assume the existence of such a plan, then circumstances, events and once again the political class were willing if unconscious accomplices. As far back as 1986, the IBB regime announced its political programme to terminate with the hand-over on October 1 st 1990. Along with that programme, a Political Bureau under Dr. S. Cookey was set -up to recommend necessary restructuring with a view to avoiding, once and for all, the political hiccups of our turbulent past.
When the Bureau submitted its report in 1987, it recommended at least four years extension for the IBB regime. But the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRO) with the same IBB presiding reduced the extension to two years, setting October Ist 1992 as the handover date.
Towards that end, IBB announced a transition which was strictly adhered to and largely implemented item by item. Hence, by December 1991, a democratic dispensation was already in force in all the existing thirty states. Executive governors were in control while houses of assembly assumed their constitutional functions to legislate.
With October 1st 1992 still the target for restoring democratic rule in the country, necessary arrangements were made for the presidential elections fixed for about June. However, the election was preceded by the primaries for both the SDP and NAC to select their respective presidential candidates.
Instead of demonstrating their eagerness and thirst to assume democratic control, the political class once again created tension in the country. Suddenly, there were protests especially in the Southern part of the country against the victories of the candidates of the two parties, Shehu Yar’ Adua for the SDP and Adamu Ciroma for the NRC.
Citing alleged irregularities in the conduct of the primary elections, rivals of the two successful candidates demanded immediate and outright cancellation of the results of the primary elections. Agitation for cancellation of the primaries was fiercest against Shehu Yar’ Adua.
In the forefront of those demanding cancellation of the SDP primary election results were Olu Falae, Patrick Dele Cole and Lateef Jakande. These were men of reputable standing who could not play the role of agent provocateur to disrupt the transition programme at that stage to enable IBB continue in office.
Apart from these three, seven other candidates who lost the SDP primary elections also demanded the cancellation of Shehu Yar’ Adua’s victory. In such a tense situation, any decision by IBB either way was fraught with controversy. Not the least because only two newspapers in the country, Kaduna-based Democrat and The Reporter, opposed cancellation. There were understandable reasons for the stand of the two newspapers. Both were based in the North and in any case, Shehu Yar’ Adua, the controversial winner of the SDP primary election was the publisher of The Reporter.
On the other hand, down South, specifically in Lagos and all the newspapers including the National Concord, demanded cancellation of the primary election of both parties. There was nothing at that time to link Chief Abiola with his paper’s editorial demand for the cancellation of the elections, because at that time, he was not in politics.
Then there was this other major reason why eventually the military government that is IBB eventually had to cancel the 1992 presidential primary elections of both parties, SDP and NRC. Dangerous and alarming insinuations became regular features in the press down South that the results of the primary elections were so manipulated to produce two Northern winners – Yar’ Adua and Ciroma each of them with a chance of taking over an elected president from another Northerner military ruler Ibrahim Babangida.
To drive home the message, references were made to how the other General Olusegun Obasanjo as military ruler in 1979, manipulated the electoral process to make it impossible for a fellow Yoruba, Chief Obafemi Awolowo to win the elections and succeed him. If true, that was a “crime” in 1979 which suddenly in 1992 became a “virtue”. With such blackmail, plus threats of hell and brimstone only a decision in the national interest which could guarantee peace and unity was the answer. Hence, IBB had to cancel the 1992 presidential primary election. But the same politicians who called for the cancellation of the election turned round to accuse him of planning to sit tight
Did the political class in their agitation not reckon with the consequences of the cancellation of Yar’ Adua’s primary election? Did the cancellation of the primaries not render inevitable a new set of primaries at a new convention of the Party? Did that not mean extension of the transition programme to accommodate a new hand over date? Who was responsible for shifting the end of the transition programme from 1992 to 1993?
Collusion with General Abacha
Again, arising from the understandable and indeed, justifiable anger over the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections, there had been strongly-felt allegations that there was some form of collusion between IBB and his late friend, General Sani Abacha, for one to succeed the other as Nigeria’s military ruler.
Anybody holding that view by now is being churlish. We might not like General Abacha’s face. The man is also dead we cannot deny him his due. Here was a man everybody presumed to be dull and uninspiring if not unintelligent. He further confused observers with his quiet and seemingly unambitious outlook. Until he sacked Ernest Shonekan nobody, not even his friend IBB, could credit General Abacha with any aspiration to rule a volatile country like Nigeria.
General Abacha picked his victims confidently one by one. The first to be outwitted was his good friend and. Commander in-Chief, General Ibrahim Babangida. After the annulment of M.K.O. Abiola’s election to which he was party, General Abacha assessed Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government as being unpopular in the country, unaccepted by the troublesome South -.West and therefore, vulnerable to being overthrown by the ambitious middle rank officers who earlier hinted this danger with their mutiny over M.K.O. Abiola’s election victory.
Accordingly, General Abacha provided a solution that the presence of a strong military officer with solid base in the barracks was the only guarantee for the survival of Ernest Shonekan ING.
It made sense, quite rightly to IBB and Abacha thereby escaped retirement along with other service chiefs in 1993. But IBB himself was to later emerge in very good company.
Next to be outwitted by General Abacha was M.K.O. Abiola himself who was decoyed along two distractions. First, his election was annulled all alone by IBB and (b) it was better for the military to sack Ernest Shonekan ING, and therefore, restore M.K.O.’s mandate, instead of a prolonged litigation in law courts. M.K.O. Abiola should therefore, sell the good news to his party men.
Bashorun naively run, bought that up. Chief of Defence Staff Oladipo Diya posed not much problem. From Ogun State like Bashorun Abiola the post of Chief of General Staff in the impending restructuring of government in Nigeria was irresistible especially if that meant reneging on earlier mutual agreement to restore Abiola’s mandate.
A further task for Diya was to enlist the support or at least neutralise any possible or expected opposition from pro-democracy groups. According to the arrow-head. Olu Onagorowa, all of them – Fawehinmi, Beko Kuti etc, – lost their innocence. The result? Acquiescence in the dismissal of Shonekan.
Meanwhile, General Abacha unleashed his political artistry, an excellent display of old time scheming of use and dump. General Abacha’s regime recorded the shortest tenure for a Chief of Army Staff when the incumbent, Lt-General Aliu Gusau was sent packing within a few hours after assuming office.
It was also made clear that there was no intention whatsoever to restore M.K.O.’s mandate. Abiola had been used to secure the support of SDP politicians and dumped. But not before Lateef Jakande had accepted Abiola’s recommendation for ministerial appointment. Withdraw’? It was too late for Jakande. M.K.O. Abiola had also fallen into the trap of the famous back-hand slapping in endorsement of General Abacha before hidden NTA cameras.
Jakande was not only one of the political class to be outwitted. The list was long. Solomon Lar, Ebenezer Babatope, Jerry Gana, Margaret Osomo, Jim Nwobodo, Abubakar Rimi, Adamu Ciroma, Sule Lamido, Sunday Awoniyi, etc. were all used by General Abacha to stabilise in the first twenty months and discarded. The Chief of Army Staff, Chris Ali and his Naval counterpart Allison Madueke unduly day-dreamed, and indeed became unnecessarily enthusiastic about June 12 and got the boot as well.
Ex – IBB `boy,’ Lawan Gwadabe, a hero in the barracks, after an initial shine as Principal Staff Officer at Aso Rock, was rubbished following a power struggle with self-assuming almighty CGS Oladipo Diya. The same Gwadabe was subsequently decorated with prison tag for alleged coup plot.
For giggling at Lawan Gwadabe’ s misfortune, Chief of General Staff Oladipo Diya opened the way for ruining his own career with a death sentence hanging on him. For that humiliation, Diya in advance, lost his home base with the non creation of a new Ogun State despite all assurances.
It will be interesting to publish for Nigeria’s reading public, all those inciting statements of pro-democracy groups and activists inviting General Abacha to take over power. Those statements were not made by or on behalf of IBB.
Could the political activists also have been in collusion with General Abacha? General Abacha never paraded any super education beyond his military training. Neither did he claim to be intellectually erudite. Yet, nobody can deny the man his due. It was to his credit that in the politics of survival, his victims fell easily like autumn leaves. This submission is not meant to derogate his person. Neither is it meant to admire him. Instead, we must recognise his higher political skill in dealing with his opponents.
On a note of humour, but for General Abacha’s religious injunctions, his burial should have been delayed to allow medical experts the chance to dissect his brain as a case study for the benefit of aspiring politicians in the art of attaining their goals.
One moment, General Abacha was totally angry, but at a stage he provided fun and entertainment in dislodging opponents or meandering his way unscathed through the thickest of thorns. Vilified, detested and cursed everyday even in his grave. But he was peculiar in his class.
Structural Adjustment Programme
It was to be expected that no administration anywhere in the world could last for eight consecutive years without incurring controversy. Even by that standard, the IBB regime appeared to have earned more than its own share of such controversy. If there was so much agitation against the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, there was no less opposition to an earlier IBB policy on Nigeria’s economy, the Structural Adjustment Programme, more popularly known as SAP.
So much criticisms did SAP generate that the picture was that of IBB, a non-Nigerian, indeed a colonial administrator posted to our country to pauperise Nigerians. Yet two decades after IBB left office, the reality of SAP today not only puts the worst critics of yester-years in place but also remains the only tool for them in the discharge of their national assignment.
What happened to “SAP with human face?”
Undoubtedly. everybody will agree that Nigerians have short memories. It is worse than that. Nigerians have porous memories. Therefore, the first thing we have to remind ourselves is that Nigeria is not an island to itself. We are part of the international community and must therefore, be part of developments around the world or we are left behind.
Indeed, as at the time IBB introduced SAP, Nigeria was twenty years behind developed countries. Late Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in 1966 introduced SAP in Britain as the major weapon to tackle the country’s economic problems created by thirteen years of Conservative’s rule (1951 – 1964).
Voted into office in 1964 with a slim majority of only three, Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson called a snap general election in 1966 demanding a bigger majority because there was much to do in turning around the national economy.
The Labour party was returned to power with a majority of over one hundred. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was therefore, well placed to restructure the economy. A Labour administration with the antecedent of turning Britain into a welfare state in 1951 to cater for the poor and needy , had to take the unpleasant decision of belt tightening for all segments of the society fifteen years later.
In the process, traditional Labour supporters like trade unions and working class were alienated, while the disillusionment in the country was exploited by the opposition party to place itself for returning to power.
Labour government’s Structural Adjustment Programme involved mainly strict incomes policy, devaluation of the pound and withdrawal of government subsidies on basic items of daily needs. Opposition leader Edward Health (1969 seized the opportunity to impliedly berate Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson by calling for “Capitalism with human face” the unacknowledged source of our own “SAP with human face” (1987).
At the next election in 1970, Labour government suffered a major defeat as the Conservatives cruised home almost effortlessly and Edward Health became Prime Minister. Surprisingly, the very conservatives party which, under Edward Health as opposition leader critically descended on Labour governments Structural Adjustment Programme, could not help in sustaining the same economic policy under their new administration. Indeed, instead of scrapping the policy, the new Conservative government under Prime Minister Edward, tightened SAP especially on the incomes policy which precipitated confrontation with various workers unions hell-bent on breaching of the pay rise limits.
Hence, the famous miners’ strike in Britain in 1973 which inconvenienced the average home with unprecedented power rationing even as winter was approaching.
By 1974, the same Britons had had enough of harsher side of SAP under the Conservatives to appreciate that not only was the restructured economy a necessity but also that the labour version under Harold Wilson was, in comparison, more humane.
In effect, that bitter lesson caused the defeat of Edward Health’s ruling Conservative party and the return of Labour government under Harold Wilson once again as prime minister in 1974.
When the Labour administration under Jim Callagham as prime minister lost the 1979 general elections, Margaret Thatcher, as the new leader of the Conservatives became the prime minister. It was not without reason that for the next eleven years, she emerged the “Iron Lady” to stamp her authority in maintaining the Structural Adjustment Programme.
We, therefore, have to relate this historical background to the introduction of SAP in Nigeria to enable us appreciate the fact that it was an act of courage and patriotism–on the part of IBB to initiate SAP in 1986.
Was SAP necessary? Was there an alternative to SAP? How did SAP fare under IBB? What was the effect of SAP on the everyday living of Nigerians?
The country is handicapped with porous memory. We therefore, have to remind ourselves of the economic situation in Nigeria before IBB assumed office in August 1985. That was the period in our history when we had to survive on essential commodities, owing to scarcity of every basic necessity of life.
Struggling and starving Nigerians had to queue for days under rain and sunshine in cut -throat rivalry to purchase items like rice, cooking oil, sugar, toothpaste, tomato puree, salt, which were usually not available or in the alternative, attracted prohibited prices. In some cases, Nigerians had to go to neighbouring countries like Benin Republic, Togo, Chad, Niger or Ghana to smuggle these items into the country.
Factories either closed down permanently or were operating at very low capacity. Hoarding of the very few commodity available was the order of the day.
Industries requiring raw materials had to depend on middlemen with strong connection in government for import licences without which they could not import very essential raw materials. The situation was not helped with rigid foreign exchange control.
Business transactions were unnecessarily stunted owing to the arrogance of the limited number of banks refusing to stimulate the private sector of the economy with liberal loan policy. Even insurmountable obstacles were placed before customers willing to open personal accounts.
Owing to the existing rigid foreign exchange control, it was a criminal offence for the ordinary Nigerian to bring in or thereafter take out every legitimately – earned foreign currency. For extending his famous non-conformist nature to trying to travel out with his legitimately earned dollars, it was a gamble for late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and he paid dearly with a jail sentence.
Travelling within Nigeria by air was most cumbersome. At the airports like Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Sokoto, etc, intending passengers were spending many nights at the end of which the picture was like the Olympic one hundred or two hundred metres race in which securing the last seat on the plane was always a big relief.
Democracy could not even develop in the country since all news and discussions on the electronic media were totally one-sided owing to complete state monopoly of all frequencies.
By the way, I had a personal experience of the harsh effects of essential commodities. As editor of National Concord in 1984, 1 was on the entourage of my publisher, late Bashonm M.K.O. Abiola to Cote d’Ivoire to watch Nigeria play in the finals of the African Cup of Nations Soccer tournament.
Except M.K.O, all of us had to spend our foreign exchange in buying omo powdered soap and other basic needs either unobtainable or too costly back home in Nigeria. That was the specially and economically intolerable situation in the country which IBB courageously confronted.
Today, it is a different story. It was a total change rooted in the much – criticised SAP and which, yet four administrations after IBB (Ernest Shonekan, Sani Abacha, Abdul Salami Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo) nobody can scrap. I repeat that it will be economic suicide for the country, for any administration either now or in the future, to contemplate scrapping SAP.
In practical terms what then was SAP as introduced by IBB? It was the best thing to happen to Nigeria’s economy and that is why despite the cheap blackmail of being a corrupt country, Nigeria has turned the best market in Africa for foreign investors.
This is mainly due to the enabling environment created by the SAP policy of Ibrahim Babangjda. He deregulated the domestic aviation industry to make various choices available not only for Nigerians but also for foreign investors travelling from one point to the other.
SAP smoothened business transactions with the deregulation of the financial sector especially the banking industry. In any event, the erstwhile rigid foreign exchange control was scrapped. Potential Nigerian and foreign investors can thus operate without encumbrance.
Undoubtedly, the greatest impact of the structural adjustment programme of IBB was in the scrapping of import license. Only the beneficiaries of the major change can testify. Middleman ship, hitherto the source of easy money for sizeable lazy Nigerians, is no longer a menace for manufactuurers. Industries now easily access their raw materials, which in turn enhance capacity utilisation.
In effect, it is boom for consumers. The queues for essential commodities have long disappeared, employees now feel a sense of security on regular scale while the prospects are always there for job seekers.
There is an irony in the criticisms always levelled against IBB for initiating the Structural Adjustment Programme way back in 1986. The media have been foremost in championing the misrepresentation either by initiating it or by conveying the malicious views of publicity seekers. Up to eighty percent of the print media in Nigeria today were established after the introduction of SAP by IBB. Were SAP so economically destructive, all these publications would not have been able to take off or at least, would have collapsed down the way.
Instead, hardly would they take off than they started booming with job opportunities for journalists. It is even a happier story on the electronic media. Before IBB introduced SAP, there was no single private radio or television station in the country. In other words, the free market base of IBB’s SAP policy and the subsequent deregulation of the electronic industry, hitherto a total state monopoly, opened the way for private radio and television stations. Without the SAP introduced by IBB and the consequent rapid and booming expansion in both the, print and electronic media, the unemployment situation in that vital sector is better imagined.
But more than that is the enhancement of prospects of democracy in Nigeria inherent in the deregulation of the electronic media. This was evident throughout the recent fuel-price hike crisis in the country. Private radio and television stations, at least in South-Western part of the country (Yoruba land) offered the ordinary citizen, Igbo, Ijaw, Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Fulani, etc; the opportunity to air his or her views in visuals or audio or through audience participation in phone-in programmes. The venom and vehemence of the participants’ reaction rattled the government as a mis-match in the controversy. The government had to beg not to be humiliated publicly and offered N2 increase instead of the earlier proposed N 10.
Then of course, it was not as if SAP had no negative effects on the ordinary citizen or that IBB completely disregarded such hardship. That was why he created particular agencies through which the biting effects of SAP could be contained.
At the lowest cadre, the Peoples Bank was created to grant loans without interest to peasants. The beneficiaries could take as much as ten thousand naira and as low as one thousand naira. With branches all over the country, tradesmen, artisans fishermen, farmers etc, not only took the advantage of the service but more remarkably, kept their side of the bargain by repaying the loans and taking new ones.
The National Economic Recovery Fund (NERFUND) was specially created for the advantage of the middle -class to enable them establish small-scale industries with totally interest free loans in either local or foreign currencies. Consequently many small-scale industries in Nigeria today are by-products of the SAP police under IBB.
Not left out were commodity farmers, who before SAP, were at the mercy of government monopoly of the export of cocoa, cotton, grains and palm kernel. IBB’s administration as a major aspect of SAP, deregulated the monopoly of the various marketing boards in exporting the commodities.
The deregulation made an instant impact as all erstwhile “suffer-head” farmers became instant millionaires, earning correct financial reward for their labour. In Ondo and Ekiti areas of Yoruba land, cocoa farmers also became vehicle owners and married extra wives in those days of Peugeot 505 Evolution.
Above all, despite the harsh criticisms of SAP as introduced by IBB, fuel, the livewire of social economic and industrial activities in Nigeria cost 70k per litre, far less than one naira when he left office in 1993. And that was when SAP was without human face. Today, Nigerians know the meaning of SAP with human face amidst the expressed determination to increase the cost of fuel to N22 per litre price. The difference is not too foggy.
By the way, with his SAP policy introduced in 1986, IBB put Nigeria ahead of former iron fisted economies like the Soviet Union and China which, only years later, had to embrace SAP and free market.
It would have been surprising if critics did not accuse IBB regime of corruption or the man would not have ruled Nigeria at all. This is not because corruption is an accepted standard in governance in Nigeria or anywhere in the world but that virtually all his predecessors at federal or the defunct regional level tasted the same poisonous potion from malicious and irresponsible critics, both during the colonial era and after independence.
The impossible task as always, is in proving the allegation especially in the face of self-contradiction by the critics. Under colonial rule, the first major corruption probe in the country was the Storey Commission of Inquiry into the NCNC controlled Lagos Town Council in 1953. At that time of Nigeria’s political development, the probe was equivalent to setting the microscope on a Federal administration, as revelations at the daily proceedings shook the country.
At the end of the day, the only punitive measure was the dissolution of the town council. All evidence available was purely circumstantial and no legal basis could be established to prosecute any of the councillors pronounced guilty. That was almost fifty years ago. Behind the probe was the divide and rule tactics of the colonial power to distract the efforts of Nigerian nationalists fighting for independence.
The next major corruption probe which also shook the country was Nicholson Commission of inquiry in 1955 into the tenure of late Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu as chairman of Ibadan District Council in the defunct western region. The focus of that probe was equivalent to a state government in the present constitutional structure.
The target, Adegoke Adelabu was a thorn in the flesh of his political opponents in the Action Group government of Western Nigeria. Adelabu’s party, the NCNC won the 1954 Federal election in Western region to the House of Representatives in Lagos. It was an unprecedented and since unrivalled political upset.
In the subsequent Federal cabinet, Adegoke Adelabu on NCNC ticket bagged the powerful federal ministry of social services, combining health and education. The decision of the Action Group controlled Western regional government to retrospectively probe Adelabu’s tenure, of an office he had vacated was aimed at discrediting the political foe.
And they succeeded. The probe report judged Adelabu guilty of corrupt practices as chairman of lbadan District Council and he had to resign as a Federal Minister less than two years in that post.
However, the political move by his opponents to rub it in when he was tried at the law court in Ibadan for criminal corruption failed woefully. The government controlled by Adelabu’s political opponents could not adduce the necessary evidence. In short, a purported administrative fact failed under the law.
Again, when late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in 1953, assumed the post of leader of government business in the defunct eastern region, the Owelle was almost suffocated with volumes of petitions alleging corruption practices in the region, probably by the preceeding administration. In response, Dr. Azikiwe set up the Ikpeazu Commission of inquiry to probe allegation of corruptions in the entire public life in Eastern Nigeria.
Till today, the report could not be published, either because the allegations of corruption could not be proved or any proof of corruption could never, be sustained in law. The fact of history is that nothing was established. I understand Justice Chuba Ikpeazu lives in retirement somewhere there in Onitsha, Anambra State.
We can cite scores of other examples of the futility of charges of corruption against highly placed public figures. Certainly, that was why late Papa Awo, as Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1972, at a graduation ceremony, described the value of charges of corruption or any probe to that effect as usually malicious and ill-motivated. Into that context we must therefore, situate the charges of corruption against the IBB regime.
There is even a greater curiosity in the charge IBB himself does not seem to be directly accused. Instead, the accusation is that IBB “institutionalised corruption”. The immediate implication is twofold. (A) IBB either corrupted members of his administration or (B) IBB created atmosphere for every Nigerian to be corrupt.
Till today, among one hundred and twenty million Nigerians (less IBB himself), not even one “will admit to being corrupt or that he corrupted others or that fellow Nigerians corrupted him.
Who then Did IBB Corrupt?
In the history of political appointments or public office holders in Nigeria as far as the colonial era, IBB so far is unrivalled in picking the best team, men of unquestionable and untainted integrity as well as proven capability before, during and after serving IBB.
Prince Bola Ajibola, Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, Professor Emovon, Professor Godian Ezekwe, Professor Babs Fafunwa, Dr. Rilwan Lukman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Dr. Kalu ldika Kalu, Prof. Tam David – West, Chief Olu Falae, Dr. Tunji Oldgunju, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Chief Ernest Shonekan (never mind his ING misadventure ), Prof. Jibril Aminu, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Prince Julius Adeluyi, General Alani Akinrinade, Chief Phillip Asiodu, Chief Don Etiebet, Admiral Patrick Koshoni, Abubakar Hashidu (now Governor of Gombe State), Prince Tony Momoh, Tonye Graham Douglas, General Ike Nwachukwu, Prof. Jide Oshuntokun, Prince (now Oba) Oladele Olasore, Shettima Mustapha, Bunu Sherif, Alex Akinyele, John Shagaya, Clement Akpamgbo, Chu Okongwu, Uche Chukwwnerije, Late Tai Solarin, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Chief Michael Omolayole, Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro, late Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade, Prof. Akin Mabogunje etc. This list could be longer.
None of these distinguished figures could be said to have allowed himself to be corrupted by any influence while serving IBB and nobody can produce any evidence of corruption against any of them in whatever position they held during the IBB era.
Corrupt tendency is not only a personal phenomenon but also global in dimension. After less than eighteen months in office, chairman Yesser Arafat had to sack the first ever Palestinian cabinet obviously after proven evidence of corruption. Certainly, that was not because IBB “institutionalised” corruption in the Middle East?
Even in a self-proclaimed civilised gathering like the European Commission, IBB couldn’t have “institutionalised” corruption to warrant the dismissal of that organisation’s cabinet some two years ago?
IBB does not have the remotest influence on either the International Olympic Committee (1OC) or Federation of International Football Association (FIFA). Yet it is on record that both organisations have been faulted with proven evidence of corruption in their selection of venues for their respective international tournaments.
I do not lend the least credence to any outside do-gooders passing judgement on the morals of our public office holders. But for the purposes of argument, it is an incontrovertible fact that under IBB, Nigeria was just ranked among the corrupt countries in the world.
However, within the last eighteen months of civilian administration, and seven years after IBB left office, the international image of our country has crashed to that of the most corrupt country in the world
In the light of current allegations of corruption in Nigeria or actual proof of corruption in places like Palestine or organisations like FIFA and IOC, or our National Assembly, it is clear that the country’s national leadership could not necessarily be faulted for any misdemeanour down the line.
Put bluntly, Nigeria did not deteriorate to the most corrupt country in the world because President Obasanjo `institutionalised’ corruption. Neither could it be said that corruption riddled the first Palestinian cabinet because Chairman Arafat “institutionalised” corruption.
Furthermore, in 1984, UPN former governors were hurriedly arraigned before a military tribunal in Lagos to face accusations of corrupt enrichment. In the end, only one was found guilty not even of enriching himself, but for enriching his political party. Wac it reasonable or fair to have stained the reputation of the governors in the first place?
That is the nature of malicious allegations of corruption against public figures in Nigeria.
Finally, with the experiences of chairman Arafat in Palestine, and president Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria, what emerged was that even in the worst case of proof of corruption, the leader might still retain his integrity. Why not then extend the same benefit of doubt to IBB?
The answer? Nigerian factor. Your part of the country determines your fate in such situations. Witness the silence or at the worst, the white-washing since the so-called Transparency International pronounced Nigeria the most corrupt country in the world.
Finally, a note of caution. Foreign intervention in our domestic politics is, by the way, discernible in the recent verdict of Transparency International. The chances are that from sentencing Nigeria to the lowest level of the most corrupt country in the world, the same Transparency International will return in the future to promote Nigeria as one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
Who would have been awarded the honour of clearing Nigeria’s Aeugian stable and for what purpose? It cannot be too early to prepare for the national assignment.of providing the answer.