General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retired), who presided over an 8 year pestilence as Nigeria’s military president (from August 27, 1985 – August 27, 1993), is celebrating 75 years on earth today (Wednesday, August 17, 2016). His colourful life which began in rural Minna (now in Niger state) in 1941 saw him enrolling in military school, participating in the major coups, fighting in Biafra war, and rising high during the interregnum and ending as head of state.
Dubbed Maradona because of his political deceits as he supervised an unending transition to democracy in the early 90s, his annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential elections won by Bashorun MKO Abiola, smeared his reputation irredeemably.
Adored and hated, the colourful elder statesman, widower, father, grandfather, former combatant and orator reputed to have changed the financial status of scores for good is living a quieter life in his Hilltop mansion in his home state.
Here are some interesting episodes in the life of the master strategist…
1. IBB, whose parents are Muhammad and Aisha, is from the ethnic group, Gwari, predominantly found in central Nigeria – Niger, Nassarawa, Plateau, Kogi, Kaduna and Federal Capital Territory.
The Gwaris, mainly farmers, speak two dialects, and are said to be over 15 million.
Though rumours were rife during the June 12, 1993 logjam that IBB was originally from Ogbomosho or Oshogbo, the claims were unsubstantiated and largely ignored.
2. Father of four children (along with Maryam King whom he married on September 6, 1969), he is a proud grandfather. His children – Aishatu, Muhammed, Aminu and Halimatu – are also living quieter lives after the bedlam of growing practically in public glare, with the last child being born while he was head of state.
The first two children have had turbulence in their marriages, with Aishatu divorcing twice (from Basheer Garba and Aliyu Shinkafi) and Muhammed separating from his first wife Rahama Indimi.
3. After his beautiful Asaba born (Delta state) wife Maryam died from complications of ovarian cancer on December 27, 2009, he has remained single.
4. The illustrious life of IBB took root as he attended Provincial Secondary School, Minna between 1957 and 1962, where he could count among his classmates General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retired), the former head of state who superintended the Fourth Republic (which kicked off on May 29, 1999).
5. He joined the Army on December 10, 1962, and attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna.
On September 26, 1963, after attending Indian Military College, he was decorated as a Second Lieutenant by Royal Nigerian Army with number N/438.
From then on, he was trained in the United Kingdom and United States of America.
And he rose from being a Second Lieutenant in 1963 to Lieutenant (1966), Captain (1968), Major (1970), Lt. Col. (1973), Brigadier (1979), Major General (1983) and General (1987).
He headed the Army as its Chief of Army Staff on December 31, 1983, that military arm’s top most position.
6. The gap-toothed strategist tasted political power on August 1, 1975 when he became a member of the Supreme Military Council, the junta’s highest decision making body, until 1979 when the Second Republic berthed.
7. From the second coup which ousted Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi on July 29, 1966, he was a major player in all the coups – February 1976 ( where he liberated a radio station where his friend Col. Buka Suka Dimka had announced a coup in which General Murtala Mohammed, then head of state was overthrown), December 1983 (which saw the burial of the Second Republic) and August 1987 (where Major General Muhammadu Buhari was overthrown).
8. He participated fully in the Civil War, helping to defeat the rebel government led by the Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, son of the billionaire businessman (Sir Loius Phillip Odumegwu Ojukwu) which raged for 30 months from 1967 – 1970.
9. His trickery and manipulation of the electoral process, especially the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections won by Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, dented his image irredeemably and eventually led to his ‘abdication’ on August 27, 1993.
10. The October 1986 murder of adulated journalist and columnist, Dele Giwa, with a parcel bomb at his Ikeja (Lagos) residence has been planted on the door steps of IBB. With many insiders pointing at him, and some soldiers named as the perpetrators, it is difficult for him to wash off his hands the blood of the co-founder of Newswatch magazine.
11. The injury he suffered on his leg during the war still largely affects him. During his reign of deception, the word, ‘radiculopathy’ crept into our lexicon. And on many occasions, his pain from the injured leg was visible. Even lately, some of his medical trips to Germany have been as a result of the troubled leg.
12. Rumours of his death have become recurring lately. With the former head of state frequenting medical centres abroad, Nigerians are excited about spreading afield tales of his death.
And at 75, the handsome elder statesman says he’s not afraid of death.
13. The April 22, 1990 botched coup led by Major Gideon Orkar was a very scary period for the Babangidas. The plotters who almost took power, bombarded Dodan Barracks (Ikoyi, Lagos), the official seat of power and residence of the head of state. They killed quite a number of officers, including IBB’s aide de camp, Lt. Col U. K Bello, who was Orkar’s course mate.
The plotters were merciless as they rubbished IBB, labeling him with sordid traits.
Many have attributed the quick relocation of Nigeria’s seat of power to Abuja officially on December 12, 1991, to the coup of 1990.
14. Babangida has tried to see if he could return as civilian president on a few occasions, but he usually backed down at the last minute.
15. Corruption was said to have assumed monumental proportions during the reign of IBB. Many claim that the vice became a national pastime, adorning acceptable garbs as all sorts of games with our national resources were played openly and gleefully.
The military became very political, and seeing how resources of the state could be appropriated, abandoned their peace keeping and defence roles. Politicians and crooked businessmen made billions under his regime.
With the stroke of the pen, he turned quite a few to dollar billionaires.
-Agbolade Owolabi for Encomium.ng