It was a day of encomiums for former Military President Ibrahim Babangida as prominent Nigerians gathered in Abuja, the nation’s capital city, to celebrate him ahead of his 80th birthday coming up August 17.
Leading the pack of guests comprising associates and former aides to Babangida was a former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd).
The occasion had in attendance former Senate President David Mark, former Niger state Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, former Education Minister Prof Tunde Adeniran, Emeritus Chairman, Daar Communications Plc High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, and former Lagos state Deputy Governor Sinatu Ojikutu.
Also at the event were the immediate past governor of Imo state, Senator Rochas Okorocha, foremost industrialist, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; President General Ohanaeze Ndigbo Professor George Obiozor and former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Professor Jerry Gana, who was the director general of MAMSER – a Social Mobilisation and Reengineering Agency under the IBB regime.
The roll call also had Alhaji Bello Maitama, Professor Sam Oyovbaire, Major-General Tunji Olurin (retd), Professor Adele Jinadu, and former Lagos state governor under the regime, Brigadier-General Olagunsoye Oyinlola (rtd) in attendance.
The occasion was the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida Legacy Dialogue 2021 put together by the Ibrahim and Maryam Babangida Library and Museum.
Speaking at the occasion, General Abubakar, who spoke on the growing tendency for secession in some parts of the country, told the gathering there’s strength in diversity.
The former Nigerian leader urged Nigerians to devise ways of emphasising more of those things that unite them as a people than those along the line of division.
Explaining how breaking up as a country would be difficult, Abubakar said: “Even if you break Nigeria now, how are you going to do? When everybody, every Nigerian, anywhere you go in the village, you will find a Hausa man, a Yoruba man, an Igbo man, Itsekiri and so on and so forth.
“So, when you say you divide, where do you draw the line with the inter-marriages and so on and so forth? It is going to be difficult.”
On the security challenge currently facing the nation, Abubakar called for a collective effort to tackle the menace just as he urged the citizens to expose those perpetrating the heinous acts.
Abubakar, who chairs the National Peace Committee, further said the criminal elements behind the nation’s security woes lived among the populace, “so, let us expose them to the authorities and let us put our hands on deck to tackle the security challenges.”
He spoke glowingly on the former military leader whom he said demonstrated leadership right from his childhood when he was made a class head in elementary school and a head boy in his secondary school days.
Abubakar who said IBB was just a year older than him, recalled that in their school days, IBB was a monitor and was also called Maigari, an attestation to his leadership qualities which stood him out in his childhood.
He further said, upon graduating from secondary school, Babangida joined the military, where “as an officer and gentleman, the ex-Head of State, also displayed his leadership qualities.
“Leadership is about caring and it is about managing resources, people and personnel under you. He exhibited these leadership qualities even before he became an officer.”
Also in his remarks, Senator Mark, who served as the military governor and communications minister at different times under the IBB-led government, said like any other person, his erstwhile boss was seen differently by different persons.
He said: “And there are those who feel, like somebody said, they can be blindfolded, they will follow him to anywhere he decides to go.”
Describing the former Nigerian leader as one with “a human heart, a feeling, and a personal touch he brought into governance,” the former Senate president noted that “the way he sympathises with people is unique and truly, it is very, very unique.
“For people like me, I mean, he was like a protector, a mentor in the Armed Forces. And for so many of us, that is exactly what he is. So, I think I am not surprised that there are people who, regardless of what he says or does, will believe him and there are those who will be against him.”
Similarly, the occasion’s chairman,Chief Dokpesi was full of praises for the former military president, even as he faulted what he called the misconceptions around the former military ruler.
He described IBB “as the most talked about ex-leader in the country,” attributing it to his sterling qualities and the glamour the former military ruler brought to governance.
The media guru, who went memory lane, absolved Babangida of blame in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that would have produced Chief MKO Abiola as president.
He also dismissed the insinuations around the alleged missing $12 billion oil windfall under the regime.
In her remarks, for Deputy Governor Ojikutu, stated that the choice of Maryam, the military ruler’s wife, was the beginning of the IBB vision.
Also, another speaker, Dr Chidi Amuta, praised the ex-military president for his “effective management of our diversity, which is absent in today’s Nigeria, as he has always been surrounded by people from different walks of life,” a reason he said IBB remains a detribalised Nigerian.
Also speaking to journalists at the event, a former Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu (retd), said contrary to the narratives in certain quarters, Babangida was not solely responsible for the execution of a former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Major-General Mamman Vatsa.
Vatsa, a senior military officer and associate of the former military ruler, was executed alongside some military officers for their role in a coup to topple the Babangida administration March 5, 1986, barely one year after coming on board.
“When you know General Babangida, you will understand that these narratives did not fit the picture. As the leader then, Babangida had to follow the right process of the military trials of any act of treason and there are persons bestowed with that responsibility.
“Babangida laid solid infrastructural development for the nation during his regime. We have that bringing the country’s Federal Capital back to Abuja. This was a great decision that only leaders of Babangida’s capacity can do.
“The second is the building of military barracks in Abuja, the building of the National Assembly Complex, the Aso Rock Villa (State House), the Federal Secretariat among others.