IBRAHIM B. BABANGIDA
1985 – 1992
LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS
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First published, 2019
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It is despair and despair alone that begets heroic hope, absurd hope, mad hope.
Miguel de Unamuno. 1864-1936. Spanish Philosopher
This book is dedicated to those few patriotic and courageous Nigerians who truly gave everything they had to achieve a revolutionary transformation of Nigerian society during those glorious years (1985-1992). They did not succeed in everything but they left Nigeria a much better place than they found it. For a brief period at the tail end of the twentieth century, they induced in us hope for a greater Nigeria. They created enduring institutions which still govern us today and left enduring footprints on the sands of our era.
Never let it be said that we failed because we did not have leaders. We missed the boat because we did not follow them as we should. The major heroes of what, over the long stretch of history, would be regarded as our finest hour in the last century art the following; not in any particular order:
- Professor Jubril Aminu
- Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti
- Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji
- Dr Kalu Idika Kalu
- Professor Bolaji Akinyemi
- Major General Mamman Kontagora
- Chief Olu Falae
- Dr Chuks S. P. Okongwu
- Justice (Prince) Bola Ajibola
- Alhaji Shehu Musa
To them I am deeply
honoured to dedicate this book.
Books are not absolutely dead things but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction”
…John Milton, 1608-1684.
The most uncharitable critic of IBB, after experiencing four other administrations (Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar and now Obasanjo) readily conceded that but for the annulment of June 12,1993, the man, IBB, would have been an untainted hero.”
Duro Onabule, in A Heritage of Reform, Volume /. Perspectives and Interpretation. Edited by: Baba Yunus Muhammed and Chidi Amuta.
To what Milton told us, Professor Barbara Tuchman of Harvard University, in 1994, added that “Books are the carriers of civilisation. Without books, history is silent…” Meanwhile, according to the Chinese, if you expect to live for thirty years you should plant a tree. But, if you want to live forever, you should write a book.
However, when the book is about another individual
and not a personal biography or memoirs, at least two people are immortalised –
the subject of the book and the author. IBRAHIM BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A
THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM is one such books. It is deliberately designed to ensure
that despite the poor reading culture in Nigeria today, some of our history is
not silent; to preserve for posterity a record of the monumental events which
occurred from 27 August, 1985 to December 1992 and which continue to shape our
lives today. Some of the landmark achievements will last forever, as long as
there is a country called Nigeria, because they are now almost irreversible.
It has also been written that “if you want to live for a few years, then buy shares.” But, not all books enjoy readership for a long time. It will amount to vanity to assume that one will live forever for writing a book. My objectives in writing this book are therefore more modest. The prime objective of this book is not for self-immortalisation of the author. Instead, it is aimed at ensuring that the great legacies which constitute the subject matters of the book – IBRAHIM BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM are not erased – perhaps because leaders coming after can learn from them. His successors have learnt very little even when they routinely execute his programmes and even bastardise them. Yet, Babangida has left the most comprehensive series of legacies of any leader at the Federal level in the last century without exception. He has created more institutions, many of which have survived till today 2019 – twenty-six years after he stepped aside. To him alone belongs the honour of immortality.
Because this is an attempt to write history, specifically the economic, social and political history of Nigeria covering over seven tumultuous years in many respects, there is need to plead for understanding on account of the limitations faced by every historian. Will and Ariel Durant, History’s most famous couple, who together wrote ten history books, pointed out the problem in THE AGE OF FAITH. According to them, “The historian always over-simplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend.” Seven years of Babangida’s regime produced enough materials to write at least ten books. No single book can adequately cover all of them. Every book written on Babangida had exposed the bias of the author from the selection of data and available information. Readers will readily notice that this book ignores the political transition programme almost totally. The choice is deliberate.
French historian, Charles Peguy, in 1909 said that the world had changed more in the last thirty years up to that point than in the years since Jesus died. He had his reasons. It was the age of mass transportation – cars, trains, lorries, ocean liners – and the Wright Brothers had just proved that man cannot only fly, he can cruise higher, farther and faster than any feathered creature on earth.
In many ways, Nigeria’s economy and society were altered in more ways than at any point in our history during IBB’s tenure. The sheer volume of decrees passed and amended must leave the keen observer wondering if the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN, ever slept in those turbulent years.
For those who would wonder why undertake such a study, at this time or any other time, the Durants also provided my alibi when they declared: “The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present un-rolled for our understanding.” It is almost impossible to make sense of what is happening to our economy and society today without some understanding of how we got here. Many events in the past are best explained with the benefit of hind-sight and its presumed perfect vision. The emotions attending the turbulent changes at the time have been mostly drained away and we can assess them more dispassionately.
The years spanning August 1985 to December 1992 were years of frenzied motion and movement in equal measure and few Nigerians who lived through those tumultuous IBB years would never forget them – even if they lived a thousand years. Nobody complained then that “we have no government”. If anything, we almost had too much government. Babangida literally grabbed us by scruff of the neck; shook us as never before and made us pay attention to him in mostly positive ways. Several of these will be revealed in this book. But, one appetiser will indicate what the reader should expect. How many Nigerians are aware that IBB, with Decree 41 of 1990, introduced Breast feeding as a social programme and he backed it up with tariff adjustment making powdered milk so expensive that millions of women were forced to breast-feed their babies? That initiative alone has saved millions of kids from debilitating diseases and increased survival rate by reducing infant mortality by half. Now that breast feeding has become universally accepted, that is one change that will last forever or as long as there are people living on this planet. It was certainly one of the greatest health measures introduced since 1960 by any Nigerian government. IBB, of course, had helped as will be disclosed later. It was another workaholic Minister of Health who championed that cause. Millions of kids are alive and are living more healthy lives as a result.
Reading through all the decrees passed during the years under review, as well as other documents, one comes away with the impression that IBB had ambitions almost as great as those of the leaders of the Asian Tigers. The only things his government did not touch or consider too seriously were those which were beyond reach for financial or technical reasons. Otherwise, for him, his ministers and advisers, nothing was impossible. One of them even thought of developing a “Black Bomb” – meaning Nigeria’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. That only demonstrates the sort of confidence they had in their own abilities and those of their fellow Nigerians. For Babangida and for them, the sky was no limit. Great nations emerge under such leaders.
The reader will search in vain for any mention of June 12, 1993 in this book. That is easy to explain. The narrative deliberately ends on 31 December, 1992 when Babangida executed what he thought was his last budget in order to insulate this segment of our history from the emotions which June 12 generates and which makes it impossible for people to objectively evaluate IBB’s record of achievements in all the previous years he was in office. As far as this book is concerned, June 12 is irrelevant. For that matter so are all the other things done after 1 January, 1993. My story ends before then. No apologies for that decision.
The 1992 Budget which is presented fully in the appendix was one of the longest addresses Babangida delivered. It was like a handing over note which attempted to explain to his successor several complex decisions and the state of the Nation. It was never delivered.
That brings me to the statement by Chief Duro Onabule at the beginning of this preface. Indeed, any objective researcher into the years 1985 to 1992 under Babangida must agree that but for June 12,1993, IBB would have been our undisputed hero of the twentieth century. I will even go further, despite the blunder of June 12, Babangida was our greatest achiever as Head of State by far.
A journalist should be pursuing a fair rendition of truth without regard to popular moods; the journalist should not be swayed by public opinion, only by the pursuit of truth, as close as he or she can get to it.
Malvin Kalb Vanguard Book of Quotations
I am not a journalist; but for over thirty years, media had been my life. Primarily, I have been involved with Vanguard Newspaper, as well as other papers. I had come to accept the basic principles of journalism as espoused by Malvin Kalb without reservation. I strive at all times to live up to those lofty standards of journalism. This book about President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is one such attempt. Journalism or media reports now constitute the first rough draft of history. History is quite often accidental. The circumstances which lead to historical events are seldom planned In advance by anyone; or at least not in every detail. This book, pm t history of Nigeria from 1985 to 1992, is also an accidental hook. Neither the subject, President Babangida, nor the author consciously planned it. A remark in September 2018 by one of the leaders of the Alt Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party, induced it. Journalists covering an event had taken the official to task by pointing out that the APC government had achieved very little in three years. In self-defence, the official had replied that “None of the previous leaders from Babangida till now had achieved anything.”I read the report while on my way to the Ministry of Justice Library at Marina to conduct research for a client on the Corporate and Allied Matters Act, Decree 20 of 1990 promulgated under the Babangida regime. As an active participant in several of the initiatives during the IBB era, I knew that the APC leader was grossly wrong. But, fate had something else in store for me that day. The librarian on duty, instead of bringing the set of 1990 Decrees, brought 1991 set She was about to take it back and bring the correct one when it occurred to me to go through some of the 1991 decrees as well. It was an eye-opener. Starring me in the face were decrees and amendments to decrees promulgated by the Babangida government covering several aspects of Nigerian life and creating several abiding institutions in the process. Despite being an adult and already well-educated and an active participant during the IBB years, it was astonishing for me to realise how much I had forgotten about IBB’s accomplishments. I took additional time to glance through Decrees for 1992. It was time to write a rejoinder to the statement credited to the APC leader. The rejoinder was published in Sunday Vanguard and Daily independents following Thursday. My duty as a media person done, I forgot about the whole matter. But the research continued for another month as a purely personal academic exercise. Burning in my mind was the question: “What actually did IBB achieve?” Fate again stepped into the matter. A colleague, and one of the best columnists anywhere on the planet, called me to tell me that he had drawn Babangida’s attention to the rejoinder. The first 50 pages of my research, leading to this book, had already been concluded by the time I met Babangida for the first time in my life. The outlines of the book were already determined. My meetings with him changed nothing. We met four more times since then and the only entries in the book which were disclosed to him were: The Kuru Address – October 1985, his first Cabinet list, institutions created by his government (see partial list on the cover), selected decrees passed from August 1985 to December 1992. He has made no input into what I regard as a dispassionate and historical chronicle of IBB Years -1985 to 1992.
I would not want it any other way. Readers can be rest assured that this is not a PR job for IBB. As Malvin Kalb had advised, these are the truths about IBB regime as close as I can get to them finally, the book deliberately ended on December 1992 in order to insulate the narrative from the emotions attaching to June 12,1993. Even the Political Transition Programme is seldom mentioned and only when necessary. Instead, the focus is on economy, agriculture, education, health, population and governance – the matters which can conveniently be divorced from the emotions of June 12. That was my choice. No apologies.
HE CAME FROM “NOWHERE”
Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them.
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 in Twelfth Night
Nigeria’s long and mostly painful experience with military governments started on 15th January, 1966. In Africa and some nations of Asia and Latin America, military takeover of governments had become the vogue. The armed forces in several newly independent nations, as well as some old countries, in Africa and Asia, had become impatient with the pace of progress by the elected leaders or by the perceived corruption in government. Some of the emerging military leaders were simply personally ambitious or became the pawns of the two Superpowers – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR and the United States of America, USA – who were both engaged in a struggle for global domination. It was not often possible until years after to know the motivation for any military coup under those circumstances. Invariably, the military take over resulted in a change of political power not only within the military itself but in the society at large. On very few instances were the abuses which were the alibi for the power-grab ever corrected. Quite often things got worse.
As soldiers assumed the roles of national and regional political authority, they inevitably became the controllers of financial resources and determinants of the fates of their people especially in resource poor nations. Nigeria was not a resource poor country when its first military coup occurred which altered the political landscape for good. It was a relatively middle-income economy with diverse agricultural economic resources – long before it became a major oil producer. With the benefit of hindsight, most economic and financial experts are almost in total agreement that crude oil which started as a blessing to the nation had eventually become a curse. The easy money generated from exporting crude oil led to the almost total neglect of the other resources on which the nation was steadily but surely developing until 1973. Unused to easy money, Nigerians could not understand how such windfall could spell doom for a nation hitherto accustomed to gradual incremental improvement in aggregate national income. Later, especially during Babangida’s period as Head of State, Nigerians, like the biblical prodigal son, were to learn more than they needed to know about business and economic cycles; about exchange rates, interest rates and the devastating impacts of inflation on employment, on education and all the aspects of social welfare.
When he finally stepped fully unto the stage of Nigerian history on 27th August, 1985, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, was an enigma waiting to unravel and be unravelled by the people he later led for almost eight years in his own unique way. It was mesmerising – part politics, part sports, part statesmanship, and now with the benefit of hindsight, also part entertainment. Until another one comes along, Babangida remains the most discussed Nigerian leader in the twentieth century and perhaps even now. He was our own Caesar or Napoleon.
The Roll Call of Leaders -1960 to 1985
Babangida was the eighth Nigerian head of government when he mounted the saddle on 27th August, 1985. Before him, seven others had tried their bands at running this most complex of all nations on earth. Nowhere else under the sun is there such a diversity of ethnic groups and cultures, religions and “kingdoms” as is in Nigeria. Various attempts have been made to catalogue the different ethnic groups and, even now, nobody can be sure that they have got them all; a list, not presumed to be complete, is provided in the appendix. Identifying Nigeria’s ethnic groups remains work in progress and might never be finished. But, that fact need not delay us here.
What is important is the fact that Babangida, who incidentally came from one of the minority tribes in Niger State, stepped into history as Nigerian leader and it must have been astonishing to discover the complexity of the task he had self-assigned. Unlike the Japanese or the Finnish leader, the Nigerian president is not leading millions of homogeneous people with the same culture, aspirations and mindset but millions with differences so deep as to call for constant arbitration and balancing of interests, virtually all the time. He cannot often predict how a particular policy decision will play out in the polity. What is hailed by one group is denounced by another-sometimes with vehemence.
The seven brave souls who attempted to rule Nigeria from 1960 to 1985 were:
1. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa 1960 – 1966
2. General Aguiyi Ironsi 1966 – 1967
3. General Yakubu Gowon 1967 – 1975
4. General Murtala Mohammed 1975 – 1976
5. General Olusegun Obasanjo 1976 – 1979
6. President Shehu Shagari 1979 – 1983
7. General Muhammadu Buhari 1984 – 1985.
In the twenty-five years between Nigeria’s independence and Babangida’s assumption of power in August, 1985, two civilians, Balewa and Shagari and five military Heads of States, Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala, Obasanjo and Buhari, have tried their hands at solving the riddle that the Nigerian Federal Republic had become with varying degrees of success and failure. That Nigeria in 2019 is now regarded as the Poverty Capital of the world compared to our status on the day we attained independence in 1960 summarises the verdict of history on Nigerian leaders; there were far more failures than successes. Nigeria is now holding all the unwanted trophies for cumulative failures of leadership and policies.
Three of the first four, Balewa, Ironsi, and Murtala Mohammed, had lost their lives on the job – making the period 1966 to 1976 the bloodiest in our history in terms of what can only be described as regicide. So uncertain was survival of the Nigerian Head of State that when Murtala Mohammed was assassinated, the next in line to replace him, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had divinely escaped the same fate, went into hiding and a search party had to be organised to locate him and compel him to accept the leadership. Among his first acts was to announce a transition to civil rule programme lasting three years.
That transition to civil rule introduced by Obasanjo gave birth to the presidential system to replace the parliamentary system of government bequeathed to Nigeria by the British colonial masters and in many ways amended the constitution inherited from Britain and on the basis of which political independence was granted to the founding fathers of Nigeria. Then, and even now, there was disagreement regarding the relevance or utility of the presidential system to Nigeria. That it is more expensive is not in doubt. Whether it has succeeded in keeping the country from disintegrating is still hotly debated. This is not the book to resolve the contradictions.
Obasanjo also left a precedent which would later have a significant impact on Nigeria’s history as the narrative in this book will demonstrate. In 1978, the Federal Government, despite strong opposition from civil society groups, accepted a $2.8 billion loan facility from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, based on advice from technocrats led by the Organised Private Sector, which in turn was led by Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was to temporarily assume the role of un-elected Head of State In 1993. The argument at the time was simple and on the surface very sound. Nigeria was under-borrowed and could accelerate the rate of economic growth by making use of low interest rates available in the global community.
The assumption underlying that argument was also clear. The low interest loan would achieve the aims expected if the funds are judiciously administered. Furthermore, repayment, as and when due, will be assured if crude oil prices stayed up. Three facts sabotaged the projections. First, the more disciplined military leaders departed in 1979 – a year after the loan was taken. Second, politicians took over and with them fiscal discipline disappeared. For instance, whereas Obasanjo had no more than twenty ministers at any time, Shagari, at one time appointed 44 ministers despite the fact that Nigeria had only nineteen states at the time and the constitution only specified the appointment of one minister from each state. Some ministries had three ministers assigned to them. Given such example from the top, it was easy to understand why waste was pervasive. Corruption had always been a feature of the Nigerian political system, but under Shagari and the state governors, it became official policy nationwide. Inflated contracts were awarded and the entire contract sum was sometimes paid upfront even before the contractor was mobilised to the site. Several contracts were awarded without any binding agreement between the governments and contractors. Many of the contracts were destined to become the unfinished projects littering the Nigerian landscape even today. Nationwide federal and state governments’ revenue was being depleted faster than funds were being accumulated. Finally, the unexpected occurred. The global crude price crashed as global recession set in. Nigerian leaders were slow to take pre-emptive steps. When in 1982, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the opposition party (Unity Party of Nigeria) warned that Nigeria was heading for economic turbulence, he was accused of playing politics with the economy and others who made the same predictions were called “prophets of doom”. Again, the repercussions of the loan taken so late in the tenure of Obasanjo’s rule were to be felt later. They were not pleasant and they helped to shorten the lifespan of the civilian administration which followed.
Obasanjo departed on appointed date on 1st October, 1979 and the first elected President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, assumed office. Nigerians thought they had seen the end of military rule. They were totally wrong. The transition to civil rule did not last long. Throughout Africa and some parts of Asia, military rule was still popular. Shagari, a civilian, attending the meeting of African Heads of States, from 1979 to 1983, was in a distinct minority. Four years and three months later, 31st December, 1983, the military struck again on. By then, it was clear that the country’s economy was heading for tough times with no discernible remedy by the Shagari’s government and no attempt to check barefaced corruption. The coup announcement on New Year’s, Eve found this author in Akure. A small, black and white television set in the beer parlour where people gathered to celebrate the New Year suddenly stopped broadcasting reviews of the out-going year 1983. On came late Colonel Sani Abacha to announce the change of government. The applause and jubilation were spontaneous and free drinks were offered well into the night until a detachment of soldiers came and asked everybody to go home. By all measures, the coup of December, 1983 was popular. Later, we were told that one Colonel Babangida was the planner and executor. To be candid, nobody cared who did it. It was just something that had to be done. And, the coup once again changed the trajectory of Nigerian history. Politicians were once again back in the wilderness for the next sixteen years. The long stretch brought many towering political reputations to an end and brought forth new leaders. The remaining founding fathers of the country – Azikiwe, Awolowo, Aminu Kano – passed away. Like it or not, the political class must search for new leaders to manage the affairs of the nation in a rapidly changing world. Somehow, we have not been able to produce them – even now.
General Muhammadu Buhari, just about 41 at the time, emerged as the new Military Head of State and in his first broadcast made it clear to his “Fellow countrymen” that they were in for a rough time. To begin with, crude oil money had peaked in 1982 and the country which once enjoyed increasing external reserves and was a net-contributor to the African Development Bank, ADB, during the years of oil boom, became a net borrower. Federal and state governments (twenty in all) had gone on borrowing sprees globally in the ill-founded belief that crude oil prices would continue to climb and they could easily repay the loans taken. Instead of going up, crude prices went down as the loans, especially the off-shore debts, were due for payment. Suddenly, the federal and state governments found themselves unable to repay as and when due. Nigerians had experienced austerity measures before, introduced by Obasanjo to a nation unused to belt-tightening of that magnitude. But, that was child’s play compared to what the nation and its people were then experiencing. Most refused to believe that the “seven fat years” were over and perhaps, the “seven lean” years were here. The only people to first realise that the party was over were the economists and the financial experts. But, they constituted a distinct small minority. To make matters worse, even they were not united regarding the remedies for the predicament in which the nation found itself.
Had the civilian government kept Obasanjo’s financial prudence in place, perhaps the country might never have had to experience the harsher punishments which became inevitable under Buhari in 1984-5. History never tells us the alternatives to what occurred. History would record that the Nigerian economy went into recession during Buhari’s brief rule and people suffered deprivations which they thought were impossible to contemplate during the years of abundance.
Every government during the period under review left its own imprint in terms of code words signalling the major impacts the administration registered. For Gowon, it was Udoji awards; Obasanjo left us with $2.8 billion and ‘austerity measures; Shagari departed with the ‘Green Revolution’ Buhari did not leave office twenty months after without burning into our brains the harsh realities of the time. Ordinary food items – powdered milk for infants, canned fish, evaporated milk, sugar and even detergents became essential commodities (Essenco) or extra ordinary items which only the rich and middle class could afford. The middle class, usually the backbone of every growing economy, shrank in size and influence; the poor were completely cut out.
Oderint dum mutuant – Let them hate as long as they fear.
Lucius Accius, 170-85 BC.
Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo focused more on economic and social reforms and tampered very little with abrogation of fundamental human rights of citizens, and could be described as “benevolent dictators”. That contradiction in terms is acceptable only as long as people realise that a dictatorship remains benevolent only as long as its own interests and objectives are not threatened. Benevolence vanishes the minute any assault, real or imagined, on those interests held sacred emerges from any segment of society. Then, the iron fist behind the velvet glove is revealed.
The Buhari junta was the first military government to dispense with the glove and to reveal the iron fist from the first day and also the first to take dead aim at violation of citizens’ fundamental rights including the freedom of the press. Several of the decrees passed in those twenty months were aimed at turning Nigerians into slaves in their own country. To call them draconian would amount to gross understatement. A few were absolutely satanic. Decree 4 of 1984 would have made Stalin, Hitler, or any of history’s monsters who gleefully and unjustly sent millions of people into early graves during their tenures, green with envy. Under Buhari, the accused had to prove his innocence- a change which turned the universally accepted principle of presumption of innocence of the accused on its head. Tribunals replaced traditional courts and their judgements could only be reviewed by the Supreme Military Council headed by Buhari. He became the absolute ruler. But, we all know that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton, 1834- 1902). A leader who aims for absolute power is already sowing the seeds of a corrupt system headed by him. Perhaps that was why Lord Acton added another line that is not often-quoted saying: “Great men are almost always bad men.”
Buhari, until Abacha, was the only military Head of State who sought to govern by making Nigerians fear for their lives. His brutal killing of people convicted of trading in hard drugs so shocked Nigeria and most of the world that people all over were praying for an end to his government. He was also the only military leader who refused to discuss a transition to civilian rule programme. Gowon started one and self-aborted it by saying “1976 is no longer realistic”. Muhammed/Obasanjo/Yar’Adua started and concluded their own on October 1st, 1979. When asked by reporters when his junta would commence its own transition programme, Buhari bluntly replied: “Nobody put us here; so nobody should ask us when we are going.”
Given his age and no previous education in any aspect of civil society, Buhari might be excused to some extent for thinking that the brutal discipline of the barracks, indispensable for forging functional and effective forces, would also apply to civil society. He might even be forgiven for thinking that he meant well for Nigerians. But, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. His military education and training obviously did not expose him to Alfred De Vigny (1797-1863), who declared that “An army is a nation within a nation.” What is perfectly permissible within the barracks as punishment would, on the outside, be regarded as an outrage. He was leading Nigerians into hell on earth – until 27th August, 1985.
Discussions with fellow top military officers also revealed that Buhari was a loner in an institution which depended heavily on team players for its effectiveness. Only God knows how he rose so far as Major General to be considered by his colleagues as the person to succeed President Shehu Shagari. Most soldiers are known for drinking hard, smoking everything imaginable and being riotous with their sex lives. Buhari neither drank nor smoked. His only known vice was women. He must have been some sort of a sexual athlete. One officer who served with him in two stations had this to say: “You can leave your money, bottle of hot drinks or packet of cigarettes with Buhari, go away for several months, return and find that nothing would be missing. But, leave your girlfriend or sister with him and you might return to find her pregnant.” That might be an exaggeration but he had that reputation. What he was widely known to lack was comradeship. After he was removed from office in 1985 and was eventually released from detention, he retired to Daura instead of Kaduna or Abuja like most retired officers.
Few of his appointees in 1984-5 visited him after he was released from detention; far fewer still followed him during his long journey to the Presidency. He was too aloof as a leader. It is doubtful if many will keep in touch whenever he departs from Aso Rock as civilian President. The bond between most presidents and the top officers they appoint was simply not there.
Buhari’s overthrow was made easy by the fact that nobody in the army was really loyal to him. He probably was aware of the lack of popularity among the military brass as well as the rank and file and attempted to protect himself with the draconian decrees passed. It did not work.
Prince Tony Momoh, journalist, lawyer and Federal Minister of Information under Babangida from 1986 to 1990, in his book, Reflections on Letters to my Countrymen, summarised the terror winch Buhari/ldiagbon became for Nigerians for posterity this way:
It is necessary to remind ourselves that between January 1984 and August 1985, all, repeat, all institutions and pressure groups had had their existence undermined. The courts had tribunals taking over their functions and appeals going to the Supreme Military Council instead of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. This was so telling on the integrity of the courts that the Nigerian Bar Association had to boycott appearing before the tribunals. The lawmakers had been incapacitated and incarcerated. Whether they were being investigated, arraigned before a tribunal or had been found guilty, they were all in jail or detention. Journalists who have a constitutional role to play in monitoring governance were shut up by the obnoxious Decree 4 which provided for the seizure of radio and television stations; sending to prison of journalists without an option of fine and imposing heavy fines on newspaper houses that printed the stories that irked the authorities. Students were barred from student unionism as we all have known it, and were even told that they had to house and feed themselves. Trade Unions had no right to negotiate wages. Even the leadership had no access to the authorities in Dodan Barracks.
The Guardian, self-proclaimed flagship of the media, in the editorial published hours after the Buhari junta was sacked summarised the reasons why his downfall was so popular.
…It did not take long before the Buhari administration, so openly and warmly received by Nigerians, when it came to power, began to show its true and frightful face. Soon enough, it became clear that his administration had a conception of government in which the governed were regarded as a hostile, adversary force, and in which government was virtually an end in itself…
..Blackmailed into silence, Nigerians watched as the traditional foundations of the state were eroded. Ethnicity became a principle of state policy. The economy sputtered along. Education policy was in shambles. Our hospitals became graveyards. And all along, we were invited to believe, as an article of patriotic faith, that we lived in the best of all possible worlds.
Ultimately, it was the arrogance of the Buhari administration that led to its downfall. For arrogance always leads to moral and political blindness. Blindness leads to isolation, and when any government is isolated from the governed, its end is always predictable….
(Source: Sonata Olumhense, Sunday Punch,
January 20, 2019.)
Obviously, contrary to the impression which Buhari later wanted to create that his ouster was the work of a few corrupt and disgruntled military officers, there was sufficient evidence that most Nigerians regarded his departure as a divine intervention and deliverance.
Some sections of Decree 4 of 1984 need to be presented in a book instead of being locked up in the law libraries for Nigerians living and for posterity to appreciate how demonic they were and why the nation embraced the Babangida’s intervention. Below are the relevant sections:
The Federal Military Government hereby decrees as follows:-
1(i) Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement, being a message, rumour, statement or report which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a State or a public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree.
Any station for wireless telegraphy which conveys or transmits any sound or visual message, rumour, report or statement, being a message, rumour, report or statement which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a State or a public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree.
It shall be an offence under this Decree for a newspaper or wireless telegraphy station in Nigeria to publish or transmit any message, rumour, report or statement which is false in any material particularly stating that any public officer has in any manner been engaged in corrupt practices or has in any manner corruptly enriched himself or any other person.
2(1) Where the Head of the Federal Military Government is satisfied that the unrestricted circulation in Nigeria of a newspaper is or may be detrimental to the interest of the federation or any part thereof, he may by order published in the Gazette, prohibit the circulation in the federation or in any part thereof, as the case may require, of that newspaper; and, unless any other period is proscribed in the code, the prohibition shall continue for a period of twelve months unless sooner revoked or extended as the case may require.
(2) Where the Head of the Federal Military Government is satisfied that the unrestricted existence in Nigeria of any wireless telegraphy station is detrimental to the interest of the Federation or any part thereof, he may by an order published in the Gazette – (a) revoke the licence granted to such wireless telegraphy station under the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1961; or (b) order the closure or forfeiture to the Federal Military Government, as the case may be, of the wireless telegraphy station concerned.
It is difficult to imagine how a leader who wished his people well could sign such a decree into law. One must also wonder about the sort of person the Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Chuks Ofodile, SAN, was who helped to draft that decree. Forever, the question will remain: in whose interests?
American writer and Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1954, Ernest Hemingway, 1898-1961, in his book, The Way to Dusty’ Death summed up Buhari’s downfall long before it occurred: “A man alone hasn’t got a chance” – particularly in an environment where team-play is indispensable for success. Buhari has never been a team player.
Then Came Babangida
A lot of people remember vividly, for years after, when and where the news of a coup first reached them. General Gowon’s overthrow found me at Leventis Stores Warehouse situated at Mobil Road, Apapa, Lagos. I had arrived at the office very early to resume work around 7.30 a.m. Usually, there would be a few people around by that time – especially the truck drivers wanting to load early and get going to the states. On this day, the gate was locked and the gatemen were the first to inform me that a coup had taken place and everybody was asked to stay at home. This was my first experience of coup in Nigeria. Having spent ten years in the United States and only learning about the first two on television, it never occurred to me that an entire country could be ordered to stay at home when there was no war declared. It also never struck me that by not listening to the radio in the morning that I was violating a curfew imposed. The workers at the warehouse were those trapped there after working the third shift from 10.00 in the night to 7.00 in the morning. They could not go home because there was nobody to relieve them and they could not abandon the place. At any rate, there was no transport for those staying far from the workplace. Bearing in mind that there was no GSM then and the telephone lines had been severed by the security forces, as the most senior officer on duty even if by mistake, suddenly I became the Chief Operating Officer for the unit for that day. To me, it was absolutely strange.
Murtala Muhammed’s assassination by dissidents led by Colonel Buka Suka Dimka occurred while my company, Bristol Myers, was undertaking a training programme for the sales staff at Iganmu in Mandillas Building. The expatriate trainer, who was scheduled to fly out of Nigeria that night had to be rushed to a nearby clinic when he collapsed after it was reported that all airports were closed. My daughter was attending Adrao International Nursery/Primary School at Victoria Island on Friday, 13th February, 1976 and Lagos was in turmoil. I had to cross Ike Budge to get her even with the bedlam. Till today, it is difficult for me to remember exactly how I reached Adrao and got my daughter home. But, coup or no coup, there was no way I would go home and leave my daughter out. At every check point, the soldiers manning the post saw a desperate “craze man”, as they called me, ready to die unless allowed to get my daughter. They allowed me to go and waved to us when we returned to go home. One of them even offered my daughter Gala. God bless him; she was hungry and the street vendors had disappeared.
Babangida’s takeover of government was the easiest on my nerves. A planned visit to the University of Ibadan to collect cow manure for my small farm was terminated when students took over the roads leading to the campus, rejoicing about the coup. Going forward was no option. Just as the response to the 31st December, 1983 event was not sponsored, the joy this time was also heartfelt. Buhari and Idiagbon had succeeded in scaring Nigerians so much they were prepared to try anybody else. Whereas Idiagbon, the stern face of the Buhari junta, had established himself as a man who never smiled, not to talk of laughing, Babangida came on the scene smiling, handsome as a movie star and friendly. The difference was dear from the first encounter.
The first question which came to my mind then was: Who is this Babangida? Why twice in a row had he got his fellow officers to risk certain death to organise and successfully execute coups? Only an extra ordinary individual can do that The answers are still tumbling in even today.
There have been few individuals known in history – Napoleon, Caesar, among others – who came from humble and obscure origins to generate the sort of followership that would make others risk all to take the chances they took with him and to succeed and leave their footprints indelibly on the sands of generations.
In 1985, nobody could have predicted how long IBB would last. He could have gone the way of Ironsi or Muhammed – and he almost did. But, he survived eight long years to emerge the most influential Nigerian leader of the twentieth century as this narrative will show. He was, at first, not exactly my idea of what a leader should be – even until the end of his tenure. And I had three unpleasant brushes with his security people. But, the individual embarking on writing a historical document, if he is honest, has no choice but to allow the materials at hand to guide him. I would not allow personal grudges to get in the way of rendering a true account of history. The research into the Babangida’s administration years (1985-1992), actually started by accident. A request for the 1990 Decrees to take another look at the Company and Allied Matters Act, CAMA, Decree 20,1990, was misunderstood by the librarian, at the Federal Ministry of Justice Library in Lagos and 1991 Decrees were brought instead. She went for the correct one while leaving me with the wrong one. Then, reading started. Right there in black and white was information which had escaped me and other Nigerians regarding the great achievements of the Babangida’s government. Naturally, I returned for more. I went for decrees from 1985,1986 and then 1987. Not all were available in Lagos. The search then moved to Abuja. It was a tough task and even now most of the Decrees are still not available. But, by then, my attitudes have changed. Face to face with objective facts, it became clear that Babangida was easily Nigeria’s greatest leader since independence in 1960 as this book will show.