Eminent Nigerians, including former head of state, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), and former Senate president, David Mark, yesterday urged leaders across the country to emulate the inclusive leadership qualities of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, in managing Nigeria’s multi-ethnic polity.
The former top government functionaries, who served under Babangida’s regime, also raised concern over the retrogression of intellectualism in governance.
They expressed concern over the mismanagement of Nigeria’s multi-ethnic nature, even as they set an agenda for the next set of leaders in the country.
According to them, the next set of leaders must have a broad network of friends across the country in order to ascertain the true situation of things across the country.
They spoke at the maiden edition of IBB legacy dialogue, one of the products of the IBB and Maryam Babangida Presidential Library.
The dialogue was part of events organised to mark the 80th birthday celebration of the former military president which comes up on August 17.
They however exonerated the former president from blame in the cancellation of the June 12 election, noting that he didn’t take the decision alone.
Other dignitaries at the event were former former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu; former minister of Information, Prof Jerry Gana; former minister of education, Prof Tunde Adeniran; media mogul and chairman of the Daar Communication Group, Raymond Dopkesi; elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Gen Olagunsoye Oyinlola (rtd).
Speaking as a panelist on the theme, “How He Built His Tribe”, former head of state, Abubakar, extolled the virtues of the former military president.
He underscored the need for leaders in the country to carry everybody along in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
Outlining the leadership qualities that have endeared Babangida to a lot of Nigerians, Abubakar said, “Once you are a leader everybody is yours. You are supposed to look after the welfare of all of them.”
Abubakar who recalled his early childhood years with Babangida said the former military president displayed leadership qualities from a young age, serving as class monitor in primary school and later as head boy in secondary school.
The former head of state who regretted that the former military president is one of the most misunderstood, noted that Babangida has the love of Nigeria at heart.
He recalled the institutions established under the Babangida administration, adding that Nigerians are now reaping the fruits of the numerous agencies created under his watch.
Abdulsalami said, “IBB has the love of the country in his heart. He is one of the most misunderstood Nigerians but by and large you can see that what he has established over the years we are seeing the benefits. Abuja is one of the greatest and fastest growing capitals in the world.
“He is quite accommodating and generous to a fault; he can deprive himself to make sure someone is okay.”
Also speaking as a panelist on the topic, “Vision Foresight and Rebuilding a Modern Nigeria,” former president of the Senate, David Mark, said Babangida’s personal touch of governance has made him a popular figure in Nigeria.
Recounting his experience while serving as military administrator in Niger State and later as minister under the Babangida regime, Mark said the former military president stood by him and didn’t unduly interfere in decision making.
Mark, while stressing that he served in three capacities under Babangida, said, “Niger State had the highest number of generals in the Army. But Gen Babangida stood by me when Generals pulled me in different directions over an issue. But the military president stood by me. He would allow you to make decisions.”
Mark also recalled how as minister of communications the military president gave him a free hand to revitalise NITEL, leading to the establishment of two earth stations.
He said he was able to convince the military president to allow him to cut phone lines of government offices as a means of making them pay the backlog of their bills.
He added that Babangida was not swayed by those who claimed that the process of disconnecting phone lines of government offices, including Dodan Barracks as a means to ensure government offices paid their bills, was part of a coup plot.
Mark recalled that the military president had replied: “This boy would not do a coup without telling me.”
He praised Babangida for establishing many institutions and getting the best hands to work with him.
“He had intellectuals, strategists and tacticians and he was able to bring them together. He allowed those with extreme and moderate views during meetings to express themselves. But what marveled me was how he was able to get the best from them.”
He said Babangida insisted on a two party system despite a lot of pressure on him to do more than two parties.
Also, reflecting on his long relationship with Babangida, elder statesman and member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, echoed the need for inclusive government.
Iwuanyanwu who said IBB impressed him as a friend and leader in many dimensions, hailed his inclusive leadership abilities in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
Iwuanyanwu who hailed the leadership qualities of Babangida, said “When you assume leadership of a multi-ethnic country, you must carry everybody along.”
He however urged secessionist groups to desist from stoking the embers of war, noting that having experienced war just like Babangida, it was not a tea party.
“We are warning younger ones causing trouble; it is not a tea party. I fought in the war and he (Babangida) fought and we suffered injuries,” Iwuanyanwu said.
He however stated that when Babangida came to power he assured those who fought the war on the side of Biafra of inclusion, a promise he said IBB made real.
“He (Babangida) had people of all parts working for him. It is an example other leaders must learn. He didn’t neglect any ethnic group; he carried them all along. IBB has confidence in a people called rebels and that is why Igbos have confidence in IBB. He married our daughter. He gave us respect,” he added.
The PDP chieftain recalled that Babangida founded the raw materials development Council in order to address the way foreigners were exporting raw materials from the country.
Iwuanyanwu also described the allegation linking Babangida to the demise of the late Dele Giwa as fake news, even as he also said the former military president was not to blame for the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Recalling how the former president spent the whole day at his hometown in Imo State when he buried his father, Iwuanyanwu said, “He is an excellent leader. He is being misrepresented. All leaders are misrepresented. But it is for the leader to tell his story; if he does not tell it others will tell it for him. He should say with joy that I came, saw and conquered”.
Speaking also, a member of the defunct Armed Forces Ruling Council, Gen Haliru Akilu, said he was attracted to Babangida during the civil war when Babangida, as a young military officer, defended a junior officer from a bully military officer.
“There was an incident that attracted me to him. He stood up for a junior officer who was being bullied. He cared for the junior officers working under him,” he recalled.
Describing Babangida as a gifted person who is kind to a fault, Akilu further recalled how the former military president gave out his only car to a friend who needed it.
He also decried the lack of maintenance of the federal secretariat which was built by the Babangida regime.
On the relocation of the federal capital territory from Lagos to Abuja, Akilu said, “He (IBB) was courageous to take the right decision at the right place and time, even when many of us were saying it was not the right time.”
Speaking also, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, underscored the need for the next leader to have a firm understanding of the country.
“To govern the country, you must know the country. You must know in virtually every part of the country,” Oyovbaire stated.
He noted the former military president’s role in starting the democratising of the Nigerian society and liberalisation of the economy, saying “he had a rare gift of knowing people by their first names.”
Also, former deputy governor of Lagos State, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, who described IBB as a hero to the womenfolk however, said he should not be blamed alone for the cancellation of the June 12 1999 election.
“He didn’t singlehandedly annul the June 12 election. People were behind it but unfortunately, the buck stopped somewhere. Babangidas administration was a success. I hope the incumbent admins will look into some of the things,” she said.
On his part, former military administrator of Lagos State, Col Olagunsoye Oyinlola, stated that he almost cried when Babangida and former President Olusegun Obasanjo insulted each other in the media.
Oyinlola, who is close to the two leaders, referred to that fight as the most trying time of his life.
Obasanjo and IBB had called themselves fools on national papers
“I was close to tears. I went to Baba at Ota and I said, ‘Sir, in my place there is a saying that old dogs do not tear the mat. It is the small dogs that try to bite the mat’.
“Baba said ‘go and meet your Oga; he started’. I took a flight to Minna. I want to thank God that the two of them allowed me to mediate in the matter.”
On his part, renowned political economist and member of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof Adele Jinadu, expressed concern over the widening ethnic divide, warning that “the way we are going, if we are not careful, it can tear the country apart.”
He also lamented the trend of relegating intellectualism to the background in governance.
Former minister of External Affairs, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, said IBB was more interested in the idea of individualism in recruiting people into his government and not where the person comes from.
He recalled that IBB always attended lectures at the Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) when he, Akinyemi, was director-general of the institute.
On his part, president-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ambassador George Obiozor, said, “Under Babangida’s leadership you know that the president is the chief diplomat.”
He hailed the former military president for his inspiring confidence and charisma which he said helped to restore confidence in Nigeria, noting that the sheer force of his captivating leadership got the attention of the international community.
He also noted IBB’s “inclusive approach to governance,” adding that “he didn’t tolerate tribalism; he had friends across the country; he believed in Nigeria.”
He added that the no victor no vanquished declaration was not mere words for Babangida.
Similarly, former minister of foreign affairs, Senator Ike Nwachukwu, hailed Babangida for his role in stabilizing neighboring African countries.
While praising the former military president for his tremendous understanding of world affairs, Nwachukwu noted that IBB was not afraid of ideas and engaging in debates.
He recounted how Babangida mobilised other African states to ensure stability in Sierra Leone and Liberia through the use of ECOMOG.
He said the former military leader strived to bring honour to Nigerians and the black race by proving that they can deal with their problems.
“We brought peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone,” Nwachukwu said when the history of the crisis in Liberia and Sierra Leone is told, IBB will be given credit for his leadership role in stabilising those countries.
“He was not afraid of ideas. He had the intellectual strength not to be afraid of others intellectuals around him. He was glad to debate.
“He has a tremendous understanding of world affairs and a great understanding of why Nigerians unity should be kept. He doesn’t care who or where you come from but what you can contribute to society. He helped to ensure that West Africa remains safe,” he added.
Earlier, chairman of the event, and Daar Communication, Raymond Dopkesi, said the former military president assembled some of the best minds in Nigeria to turn the country around.
He said Babangida’s team contributed positively to reshape the country, adding that even his worst critics would regard him for the work he has done for the country.