Twenty-five years ago, he turned in power as Nigeria’s Military President and settled into a life of honour after decades of faithful service to his fatherland. Ever since, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, GCFR (rtd) has been an outstanding statesman in the Nigerian affair. Even as this revered gap-toothed General, leader, father, grandfather, adviser, opinion molder and advocate of a united Nigeria clocks 77 today, he shows no sign of slowing down. His avowed intent is to foster the unity of this nation— for which he still endures bullet wounds from the civil war—and ensure it is eternalised.
Whatever your view of him, IBB is a national sensation—popular, charismatic, charming, enigmatic, redoubtable and kind. He is a man much adored and longed to behold. His Hilltop villa in Minna has continued to be a Mecca of some sort, famous for its hospitality to a wide variety of peoplefrom politicians to professionals, royalties, artisans, the masses, and the high and mighty from within and outside the country.
Being a fountain of knowledge and experience, the pearls of wisdom that flow from IBB’s words, thoughts and demeanour continue to magnetise the people. The old, the youth, students and interest groups frequent him for inspiration and counselling.
One begins to wonder whether the General has time for himself. Even as he notches the seventh ladder of his seventies, I do not see him backtracking on his nation-building role or minimising his invaluable contributions to our democratic process especially with 2019 in the offing. The task of fixing Nigeria, to him, is an eternal calling. It was in that spirit that his administration, in April, 1983, constituted the National Committee on Corruption and other Economic Crimes, whose report inspired all subsequent anti-corruption initiatives in Nigeria.
The welfare of Nigerians preoccupy him. To him, the notional ‘’big man’’ is fiction. As he often says, ‘’We are all equals before Allah, and we must see ourselves as equals.’’ He remains a fascinating figure. Many are baffled by the sheer aggregation of followers behind him. Many are interested in his matter, apt to reciprocate for his magnanimity and generosity in any little way fit. He is a man of the people; he has touched many and is touching more lives.
As a mark of his timeless relevance to the wellbeing of Nigeria, he is constantly being approached and consulted by all levels of political leadership. Most recently, he was visited at home in Minna by prominent stalwart of his political party, PDP and other political organizations in the country. In fact, as a tradition, his hallowed Hilltop villa, serves as a bastion of democracy and nation building, accommodating a wide spectrum of interests and providing ample opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas on how to make Nigeria greater.
Clerics, beggars, student leaders, media gurus, corporate bodies—the list is endless—quest his advice and assistance. Tell me, then, how it is possible not to celebrate this iconic figure. His kind are rare, and only live once in every 500 years. How can anyone afford not to admire him?
As someone said two years ago, ‘’If you have stormed his house in anger—probably with determination to knock out one more tooth and double his signature gap-tooth, the aura of his presence soon melts your frown into a smile. Sometimes my mischievous sixth sense would just begin to imagine what he would have done to the ladies in those early days of sowing his wild oats. You must be evil, yourself, for you to meet Babangida and not like him. For me, therefore, the IBB phenomenon is not his political clout nor mythical financial war chest. It is the persona. The charm. The charisma.’’
Like every soul under the sun, IBB has his regrets. In retrospect, there are things he would have done otherwise. He once told a team of journalists that his biggest regret was his inability to deliver a nuclear plant to Nigeria. According to him, the epileptic supply of power in Nigeria today would have been averted had he pursued his hunch to build a nuclear power plant for the country.
As a peace-loving statesman, IBB continues to own up to the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election while defending and shielding other key players in the incident. He never shies away from his responsibility as the then Head of State. This leadership quality he embodies is still lacking in many of our leaders.
Today, Nigeria, Africa and the world celebrate you. You are a true and unique leader. The people’s General. The man many wish to be like. The lion that roars from the Hilltop. The watchman for the masses. Though the passing of your irreplaceable better half, Maryam, lingers in your heart, you are yet not deterred from the sacred duty to build a Nigeria where diverse religions, ethnicities, cultures, talents and age brackets would prosper harmoniously.
We salute you and wish you and your caring family happiness and good health. Nigerians, Africans and the global community value your sacrifices for the entire human family.
Shine on, our General.