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Babangida @ 80: As ‘Maradonic’ as ever

Former military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) today clocked the golden age of 80, joining the octogenarian club.

Despite his age, he has remained as Maradonic as ever in explaining away some of the decisions taken by the military junta he presided over in the late 80’s to early 90’s when he was forced to “step aside”.

Babangida was given the sobriquet as a result of his handling of statecraft, in the same manner, the late Argentine footballer, Diego Maradona dribbled his opponents on the soccer pitch.

Maradona’s football career was at its peak at the same time Babangida’s reign in Nigeria was on its full throttle.

Read Also: IBB: Corruption worse under civilian leaders than military rulers

He was born in Minna, Niger State, on August 17, 1941. Babangida, fondly called IBB, ruled Nigeria from 1985-1993. He toppled the junta led by then Major-Gen., Muhammadu Buhari under whom he served as chief of army staff.

As the chief of army staff, he was supposed to protect his commander-in-chief, but he chose to lead a coup against him. It is generally believed in some quarters that IBB rose to power through public sentiment and acceptance in 1985.

Since Nigeria gained independence in 1960, it has produced a variety of leaders, both civilian and military.

The leaders often come with their uniqueness in style of leadership, policy formulation and governance.

In the eyes of many Nigerians, IBB is a “saint” and “sinner” at the same time.

He has contributed both positively and negatively to Nigeria’s political life.

For those who see him as a saint, they say that the man from Minna, regarded in some publications as ‘The Prince of the Niger’, made great contributions in building a modern Nigeria.

It is believed that some of the programmes being executed today was initiated by him.

He also has also been credited with initiating deregulation of the telecommunications sector and the electronic media.

There was also the People’s Bank, credited to him, while his regime also was credited with mass recruitment of graduates into the civil service. And not forgotten the social and economic development programmes; like the Structural Adjustment programme (SAP).

Meanwhile, Babangida has continued to receive criticism in some quarters over his decisions and dictatorial rule while in power.

Those who see him as a “sinner” in this regard alleged that his radical decisions set Nigeria back and has continued to retard the country’s progress, making her lag its peers.

He was credited to have run the country with iron fists for eight years.

A political commentator, who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, said IBB’s regime was a government that allowed everything. “It was a regime of anything goes. He courted the good, the bad and the ugly. His controversial decision annulling the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was about the worst decision he took that has continued to haunt Nigeria. I am surprised he recently tried to re-write history by justifying that evil”, the analyst said.

According to him, if the 1993 election had been allowed, that could have set a good example of what ideal elections should be in Nigeria.

“The annulment of that election brought all the electoral problems the country is grappling with today. The 1993 election was the freest and fairest election I have ever witnessed in my 62 years in Nigeria’s history,” he said.

The 1993 election was the outcome of a transitional process to civilian rule spearheaded by the military ruler, but he could not put it through, instead, that singular decision to truncate the will of Nigerians has become Nigeria’s nemesis.

Speaking recently in an interview organised to celebrate his 80th birthday, Babangida said he annulled the presidential election because confirming Abiola as winner would have led to coup d’etat and more instability in the country.

IBB revealed that he was pressured by the military and civilians to annul the election.

According to him, “If it had materialised there would have been a coup d’etat which could have been violent. That’s all I can confirm.

“It didn’t happen, thank God for the Maradonic way we handled you guys in the society. Both the military, they can do it because they have the weapons to do it. The other is social agitation”.

While some Nigerians have commended his prescription on the quality of the president Nigeria needs in 2023, some others believe that IBB should save them the trauma of casting their mind back at the last days of his regime.

As he clocks 80 today, Nigerians from all walks of life remember a man that impacted their lives in more ways than one.