IBB AND THE REST OF US
By Gozie Irogboli
When Nigerian contemporary political history is properly, objectively and dispassionately analysed and distilled, one name that would stand out prominently as a force to reckon with is that of Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) and that explains the volumes of encomium showered on him the penultimate week during his 78th birthday anniversary in spite of the jeering voices in some quarters. The tributes especially coming from respectable individuals and current political office holders are indications that IBB was and still very much relevant in the Nigeria political arena. And as a concerned Nigerian who witnessed the enormous accomplishment during his regime I feel obliged to make my contribution, not necessarily to countervail the bitter comments from his traducers but to give honour to whom honour is due.
IBB’s regime was an epoch-making era in the annals of Nigerian politics. Although, there is no space in this piece to accommodate all that were accomplished during the tenure, yet it is pertinent to point out a few. A cursory look at the Babangida years is enough to establish his landmark achievement in Nigeria. Before he came to power in August 1985, Nigerians were living like people under siege politically. In particular, the economy was in sorry state, with low national productivity arising from our firms operating below their installed capacities. There was high and rising unemployment with its attendant high dependency-ratio and social problems. There was high import-dependency with its concomitant chronic balance of payment situation and the economy was precariously mono-cultural, almost entirely dependent on oil. There was heavy debt burden and dwindling government revenue arising from negative vibrations from the international oil market. And, previous policy responses to these problems by regimes preceding his were in the form of ad hoc measures. The Obasanjo’s low profile, Shagari’s austerity measures and Buhari’s moribund counter trade policies threw the economy into recession until IBB came on board. Worse still, Nigeria had had faulty centre-periphery development paradigm that never addressed our development challenges.
IBB’s response to the motley of economic challenges facing the nation then was the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP): a home-grown policy initiative that was designed by the government think-tank after the rejection of IMF loans by Nigerians. SAP was a bold, comprehensive and a genuine economic reconstruction programme; a fundamental departure from the past ad hoc measures. The overall objective of SAP was to diversify the productive base of the economy by reducing dependence on oil, generate employment, increase indigenous participation in our economy and improve the welfare of the citizenry. The commercialization and privatization programmes were to increase local participation and reduce cost of governance and unproductive investment in the public sector. The deregulation and liberalisation were to encourage competition, innovation and growth in the economy. The forex management policy was aimed at using the market forces to find the realistic exchange rate of the Naira. Local sourcing of raw materials was aimed at vertical integration to promote our local industries and SMEs to generate employment and growth in local technology. This was a dual strategy of import substitution and export promotion. Debt equity swap and other measures were designed to attract foreign direct investment.
The big firms and the big names in our business environment today benefited from the enabling environment created by the deregulation and liberalization policy of SAP. The liberalization of the telecom sector led to the GSM that we use today. Again for the same reason NECO, NABTEB were established and ANAN granted charter. The programme opened up the economy for investors as banking licenses were granted to willing investors, private universities were licensed, private TV and radio stations came on board.
In the internal affairs, IBB achieved a lot upon assumption of office; he abolished the obnoxious decrees 2 and 4 and dissolved the notorious NSO and created State Security Service (SSS), DMI, NIA and other agencies for national security. Many Nigerians who were hitherto incarcerated illegally were released. To demonstrate his avowed commitment to work and national unity, he chose and worked with some of the best brains in the land. Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the contributions of members of IBB team like: Dr. Chu S.P Okongwu, Chief Olu Falae, Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Prof. Jubril Aminu, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Prof. Eme Awa, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, Prince Bola Ajibola Prof. George Obiozor, and many others. Every sector, every facet of the society and every region felt the impact of his administration. Indeed IBB understands the essence of governance and the principles of stakeholders’ engagement. He carried the people along in most of his programmes. He instituted the Political Bureau headed by Dr. S. J. Cookey to enable the people make their input in the evolving political process. MAMSER now NOA was established to educate the public on government programmes and policies and for mass mobilisation. It is on record that the introduction of SAP came after the Nigerian people roundly rejected the IMF loan and its stringent conditionality. Granted that his transition programme was a bit long but that is not unconnected with his desire to develop and perfect our home grown democracy. He adapted two party system (SDP & NRC) and option A4 voting system which obviously are the best for us. This explains the success of June 12 election which even his critics adjudged to be the best and fairest election in Nigeria History.
Furthermore, there were some people-oriented agencies and institutions created to provide physical infrastructure, human development and commercial activities—NDE, DFRRI, Peoples Bank, Community Bank (now Micro-Finance Bank) and many others were established. OMPADEC (Now NDDC) was designed to attend to the needs of the oil producing areas and by implication Niger Delta Region. NAFDAC and NDLEA were established to check the menace of fake drugs and hard drugs. He built landmark physical structures in Nigeria. Clearly, no government in the history of Nigeria built more structures like IBB. There are scores of landmark physical projects—Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, Aso Rock Villa, Police Headquarters, CBN headquarters, ECOWAS Headquarters, Federal Secretariat in Abuja, Federal Secretariat in all the states, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport among others. Again, no government in the history of Nigeria has built more institutions like the IBB’s. There scores of institutions and structures of governance—LNG, NAFDAC, FRSC, NDLEA, FERMA, etc.
Added to these was the role of Mrs. Miriam Babangida who glamourized the role of the first Lady. With the active support of IBB, she was able to mobilise and organise the rural women through her Better Life Programme. The consciousness and attention generated by her pet project together with others led to the establishment of Ministry of Women Affairs under Abacha.
On the foreign scene, the regime of IBB placed Nigeria firmly as a force to reckon with. IBB proved that he was not only a nationalist but also an internationalist. He reorganized the NIIA and adopted a robust foreign policy that saw Nigeria playing dominant role in the world politics. Nigeria championed the non-aligned movement for the medium powers. Our role in ECOMOG and other peace keeping exploits in the world established the nation’s popularity. The Technical Aid Corp (TAC) scheme benefited so many of our African Neighbours and boosted our image in the international power politics. As a proof of our popularity, in 1986, when Nigeria boycotted the common wealth games on account of the British government role in Apartheid South Africa, the competition lost its shine as almost half of the countries also did not participate in solidarity with Nigeria. Under IBB Nigeria was Common Wealth secretary-general, president of World Court, president UN general Assembly, ECOWAS chairman, OAU chairman. We championed the struggle for the independent of South Africa and Namibia. We contested for the position of UN Secretary-General. It was his regime that restored diplomatic relationship with Israel.
It is therefore heart rending that despite his landmark accomplishments, he is still being attacked in some quarters and it is not out of place to say that IBB is the most criticized, misunderstood and vilified Nigerian leader. Those who take umbrage at IBB apparently did not see anything good in his eight years at the helm of affairs in this country. Obviously these people have some oblique intentions other than patriotism and national interest. It is said that those who believed Nigeria belonged to them alone were riled by the fact that IBB was fair to all the regions—the majorities and minorities alike.
Leading the pack of anti-IBB group, are the people we call pro-democracy activists and their hearsay disciples and some self-seeking individuals who want to use every opportunity to seek relevance. They know IBB is a remarkable personality. He is a force to reckon with in Nigerian political landscape. We cannot wish that away. Thus, it is fashionable to use IBB and June12 to remain in the imaginary struggle of self-rehabilitation and delusion. The IBB traducers use annulment of June 12 election as a barefaced camouflage to belie their true primordial motives. I am not justifying the annulment but clearly, the annulment of the election is not different from violent overthrow of a democratically constituted government to which the main victim of the annulment was alleged to have sponsored in the past neither is it different from the subversion of the democratic will of the people through rigging that is still being perpetrated in the polity till date by the so-called June 12 adherents. Obviously, there is nothing they accuse IBB of that has not been done by governments after him and yet they singled him out for crucifixion for some obscure reasons.
This is so much so because some Nigerians are gullible folks who believe more of what they hear than what is real. That is why a tribal irredentist can be packaged as a nationalist, an anarchist as a democrat, the greatest military apologist and a putschist as a symbol of democracy, one who believe not in fairness as a man of integrity and non-performing public officers as great achievers and it is accepted. Yes, over the years, Nigerians have been force-fed with lies, facts have suppressed and irrelevant issues have been highlighted and real issues glossed over, characters have been assassinated and vilified, heroes have been adorned in a garb of villainy while villains have been elevated to the status of heroes and legends through the use of hirelings, hack-writers and spin-doctors in the mass media.
Interestingly, another major area of criticism against IBB is Structural Adjustment Programme introduced in 1986. Those who attack IBB about SAP forgot that all subsequent regimes after his retained the key elements of SAP. The basic framework of the Structural Adjustment Programme is still with us. Privatization, Commercialization and Deregulation/Liberalisation are still going on. Those who fought IBB’s appropriate pricing of petroleum product when the pump price of fuel was only N5 became taciturn when Obasanjo sold our refineries resorted to fuel importation and pushed pump price to N65. The Dutch Auction is still being used to determine the value of the naira. Those who said the naira was devalued at N33 per dollar under IBB did not see anything wrong when it depreciated to N150 per dollar under Obasanjo and N360 per dollar under PMB. Again those who cried foul against IBB’s privatization programme supported OBJ’s brazen, fraudulent and blatant acquisition of our common wealth in the name of privatization. Ironically, the bulk of those who opposed the SAP were the so-called progressives who incidentally are in power now and yet 33 years after its introduction and 26 years after IBB left power no government seemed to have deviated from the SAP programme.
Evidently the SAP programme of IBB was opposed by some sclerosed minds that had a strangle-hold on the economy and did not want to change the status quo. It was sabotaged by those benefiting from the unproductive investment in the public sector. It was criticized by activists, political hirelings and their hear-say analysts operating from the standpoint of hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance.
Thus, it is clear from this that most critics in Nigeria do not have regard for performance or facts. Most criticisms are based on prejudice and primordial sentiments. A friend of mine once joked that criticism in Nigeria is directly related to performance. Put differently, it means that the more you perform the more strident the criticisms you attract. I find most attack hurled at him as misdirected. I sympathize with IBB. He is the most misunderstood Nigeria. He is attacked, vilified, demonized unfairly and yet as a true leader he bore it all with philosophical equanimity. He believes that time will tell. And indeed time will unearth the hidden truth.
Be that as it may, I am one of those who acknowledge IBB’s enormous contribution to the nation. I respect his ingenuity, administrative sagacity, urbane disposition, deep sense of equity and fairness and his leadership competencies. IBB is brave, courageous and humane. He understands the power game and the essence of leadership for empowerment and human development and shared values. He is intelligent, competent and far-sighted.
An economist and public policy analyst