Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd), who turned 75 today (Wednesday, August 27, 2016), has thrown more light on some of the most controversial decisions of his regime (from August 27, 1985 – August 17, 1993).
Here are excerpts from the interview…
Sir, you have been a military officer and a President, which one was more challenging?
Being a military officer is more challenging than being a military President. Being a military officer, you are leading men into danger. Your life and their lives very much depend on you as the Commander. I see it as more challenging than being the President. As a military president, you still have to seek people’s advice, you interact, you discuss based on the prevailing situation you find yourself; but being the military officer, you are the only one with the troops you are commanding and their hopes are on you and if you read a situation wrongly, you will put everyone in danger.
You experienced the civil war. What experience can you describe as your toughest experience?
I think it was the movement from Enugu to Umuahia. It was very tough and challenging, you need to be physically fit to be able to undertake such a thing because we were moving on our feet and we had to go through the jungle, mountains, hills and so on. It was the toughest experience I’ve ever had.
It has been a while since your wife died, how have you been able to cope?
It has not been easy but I thank God that I have children who show remarkable understanding and have been doing their best by trying to do what their mother would have been doing or could have done if she were to be alive today. I also have a lot of wonderful grandchildren and they take most of my time.
From your heart of hearts, how do you feel being 75?
From my heart of heart, I feel old because what I was able to do 25 years ago, I am not able to do it physically now; but I thank God that he has kept me alive to reach this golden age.
What advice do you have for younger generation and for young ones who want to join the army considering the prevailing security situation in Nigeria today?
The basic elements still remain the same up till now despite what we are going through. We joined the army for the purpose of being in the force to protect this country. So, that to me hasn’t changed. They also have to submit themselves to constituted authority and they will have to undertake tasks or job assigned to them by the government and they should be expected to serve in any situation that they may be called upon to serve. The army is a noble profession and to me, it is a profession that requires a lot of courage. And again, one or two other things that will guide them through life – play hard and pray hard.
What way have you been misunderstood or misinterpreted in the past and people still view you that way today?
I am not the evil genius that quite a lot of people consider that I am. I have had a very excellent background and training. We have to love one another however, I can understand the feeling people have towards me.
By the virtue of the job I was doing, I was bound to be misconstrued and my actions misinterpreted as evil. I consider what people say as an opinion as long as I am not what you think I was, I feel satisfied. I read somewhere sometimes ago that they said I stole N12.8 billion and I said if I stole such a money, I had no business staying in the country, but like I said, those are the type of things that one has to live with. I hope the younger generation will carry out a research about leadership, people, individual and what role they play in Nigeria’s development as they come up with different conclusions on issues from what is on ground now.
How do you feel when death rumours started flying about you?
It is not new. They did it to Nigeria’s first civilian President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. They have done it for former civilian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and other statesmen, so, it is not new to me. Whether I like it or not, I will still die one day; they are only stating the obvious. The only thing we do not know about death is that, we don’t know the cause, time or the place it will come, but surely it will come one day and unannounced.
What do you wish you would do differently if you had the opportunity, either in your private or public life?
During my days in public life, there were a number of decisions we took as a military officer or as a political officer (when I was a dictator) that if I had the chance again, I would have done it differently. For example, in 1989, we proposed that the National Assembly should be optional, that is part-time and I still believe that if I had the opportunity, I would make the National Assembly to become part time. I believe in that very strongly, it is all in an effort to cut down the cost of governance and these are some of the decisions that some people felt shouldn’t have been muted by anyone, but for what we stand for, we had to do what we did then.
When you were young, you must have been very handsome and smashing. Looking back, how were you able to convince your late wife to marry you?
While we were courting, one aspect that she did not believe me is if I was serious because of the reputation I had as a playboy then, but I assured her that it won’t be a problem that I will be a changed person completely and I am glad I was. I had no problems solidifying the relationship shortly after because I knew very much about her and every member of her family.
On a lighter note, how did you ask her to marry you?
I was straight to the point. I told her bluntly that I wanted to marry her.
Going into the army, was that the only option you had in your choice of career?
Not really. When I was young, my principal wanted me to go into administration but I personally wanted to go for engineering. Then politics came, the Minister for Army at that time, one Tanko Galadima from Bida came on a recruitment drive to my school. He wanted people from this part of the country to enlist into the Nigeria army because there weren’t many of them in the Nigerian Army at that time. Then he asked how many of us were interested and a lot of hands went up thinking it was a joke, our names were taken down and within a week, enlistment forms into the army were brought. We sat for the examination and we deliberately decided to pass the examination because we didn’t want people to say we fail, and so as luck would have it, we passed the examination, interview, medical tests and aptitude test and we decided to go into the army because we had a strong backer in the then Minister in charge of the army.
Records has it that most of the drainages in the state capital were your handiwork, what was in your mind, do you have premonition of Minna submerging due to flooding and what advice do you have for people living along riverine parts of the state?
There has always been the problem of flood in Niger State during the raining season. Lots of people lose their homes and properties during this period and that was why I made a very good drainage system around the state. I made Minna to have one of the best drainage city you can find anywhere in Nigeria. For my advice to communities living along river overflowing its banks, I think the government should look at those areas prone to flood and start putting measures in place to avoid losses of lives and properties. The warning from NEMA is coming at a very good time and I hope the government and people take caution to avoid incurring losses.