By Sedisye Abiodun Durowaiye – Herberts
Human nature is unique and naturally at liberty to make choices that best suit it in every sphere of living. Perhaps, that explains the natural feeling of attraction or distraction towards people we hitherto have never been so close to physically or otherwise.
January 15th of every year has become a ritual. A date set aside to honor our fallen heroes, but little or no attention is being paid to the ‘living heroes’ of our time. Sadly, rather than raining encomium on some of the outstanding achievers, we take pleasure in condemning them.
And of course, so much are been said in the media and in my view, most of the commentators/critics have completely lost focus in their unfortunate negative comments that have largely been characterized and driven by sentiments, jealousy and hatred which unfortunately are incapable of changing my personal opinion based on my knowledge of the man called IBB.
I am personally and particularly saddened and disappointed at negative comments in the media by some highly respected and notable Nigerians who have decided to take advantage of the freedom of expression rather negatively to advance their argument as to why IBB should be labeled a permanent enemy and unrepentant dictator of all time.
As far as these individuals and groups are concerned and by their unfounded judgment or personal opinion, IBB is the worst leader Nigeria has ever had, but one would be quick to ask, what are his perceived sins that his critics find atrocious and unforgiveable or who amongst his critics without blemish would dare cast the first stone?
What’s worse, the uncensored and free access to the Internet has given rise to an intense campaign of calumny by some faceless and misguided individuals (sadly including youths) in their fruitless journey and attempt to rewrite the history of an individual who had at one point in the history of this great country, captained the ship that has brought us to our present democratic dispensation.
Weather we like it or not, it is a record that can never be erased from the annals of our existence as a nation. Therefore, let me hasten to state that I am not unaware that the controversial issues surrounding IBB’s incursion into the Nigerian polity and indeed his 8 years of reign as a military president is such a broad and sensitive one that can not be exhaustively addressed here given the constraint of time and space.
Consequently, I will only be contended if my cursory examination on the subject matter succeeds in redirecting the unfortunate negative public perception of a selfless, committed and patriotic leader like IBB. Dissenting as my opinion may seem on this matter, “all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God”.
It is certain and even more convincing to take solace in the proverbial saying that goes, “One with God is majority”. Even though I may have respected their opinions and judgments, I certainly may not and in fact do not agree with it. It is simply a reflection that friends, associates and even family members may differ in their evaluation of styles, strategies and opinion about an individual or indeed on any issue.
No doubt, insinuations of financial or material inducement would expectedly be tagged to this piece, but before any one start accusing me of been paid for this effort, let me put it on record that the only thing IBB and I have in common as patriotic citizens of this great country, is our immediate past professional background as Retired Members of Nigerian Armed Forces (RMENAF).
In fact, we didn’t even belong to the same department in the military. While the General was of the men in green (Nigerian Army), I pitched my tent with the men in white (Nigerian Navy). Yet, readers may wish to know that the differences (in age, rank, experience, achievements and positions held) between IBB and I are poles apart like darkness and light.
However, the closest physical contact I have ever had with the General was 28 years ago, 1985 to be precise. I was privileged in the course of my sojourn in the military to have been part of the guards of honor that received the then military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari and the then second in Command, Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters (The WAI Chief Crusader), Late General Babatunde Idiagbon of blessed memory, at the Calabar International Airport, now Margaret Ekpo International Airport Calabar.
Read my piece in THIS DAY newspaper of 5th December 2002. As the then Chief of Army Staff, General Babangida was part of the entourage of most senior officers that cut across the three departments of the military comprising the service Chiefs; GOCs (General Officer Commanding), FOCs (Flag Officer Commanding) and AOCs (Air Officer Commanding), lead by the then Chief of Defense Staff, General Donkat Bali.
For me and the likes of Late Colonel Tam Samuel (of Blessed memory) and Colonel Usman Obere, who until recently was the commanding officer at the Infantry Headquarters in Jaji, now commanding 82 battalion, Jos; As very young soldiers back then, it was a rare privilege to have witnessed the convergence of these great leaders and role models on a single occasion that culminated in the flag off of a joint military operation which was code named “Operation Seadog” in the first quarter of 1985.
Indeed, the Eastern naval command headquarters Calabar where I served at the time, played host to the rank and file of the Nigerian Armed Forces. The occasion was a rare display of military hardware aimed at showcasing the high level preparedness of the Nigerian Armed Forces to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria on land, sea and air space.
For those who follow events, on account of the exercise, it was feared that Nigeria was preparing to go to war with Cameroun over Bakassi, though Operation Seadog was basically centered on sea maneuver with the full participation of the Army, Navy and the Air force.
But let’s get back on track. As history would later have it, IBB that same year was to later become the Head of State in a successful bloodless coup and the rest is history. Having succeeded, IBB ruled this great nation for a solid eight years.
Without mentioning his achievements, he willingly and honorably stepped aside in the overall interest of peace, unity and progress of our country. This action no doubt clearly vindicated General IBB who has been erroneously perceived as a sit–tight dictator and an insensitive leader.
Therefore, in my own theory, first in the line-up of prerequisites for any potential leader is patroitism which IBB undoubtedly exhibited in July 1976 and reenacted in August, 27th 1994, when he stepped aside in the overall interest of peace and unity.
But for the benefit of those who were either too young back in time or were not even born at the time, but has unconsciously been dragged into the unfortunate web of discontentment, suspicion, hate and misinformation about the man IBB, here is an idea of how fate and destiny has brought us to where we are today as a nation.
Amidst chaos, deaths, uncertainty and the ceaseless sounds of the riffle on the 13th of February 1976, no one could have been more patriotically brave than a 34 year old soldier who embarked on a daunting challenge to diplomatically halt further blood shed in a botch coup that had taken the life of the then head of state, Late General Murtala Ramat Muhammad, barely seven months into his regime.
This he did with an uncommon wisdom, by confronting Lieutenant Colonel Buka Suka Dimka, leader of the rebel and principal actor in the bloodiest coup in the history of modern Africa. That soldier was Lieutenant Colonel Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
And that singular act of legendary bravery and uncanny intelligence brought to lime light the unequaled diplomatic prowess of the ever smiling gap-toothed General in what would later become a pointer to the ultimate fulfillment of his ambition in his chosen career.
With that dogged determination, IBB had put his life on the line to save the nation from the brink of collapse and monumental catastrophe. It was therefore not a surprise when in August, 1985 IBB assumed the mantle of leadership through a “bloodless palace coup” to further proof his respect for human lives.
It was perhaps the first bloodless coup since independence and one would expect Nigerians and indeed IBB’s critics to be fair to history. My emphasis here is on the success of the coup without blood letting. This no doubt clearly put him a step ahead of his colleagues and contemporaries as the best among equals in his generation as a soldier and a master of the game.
Let no one be deceived, coup is synonymous with the military. Expectedly, every game has its laid down rules, but in the context of the military, the game happens to be a serious business, it is a matter of live and death. This game is neither for the boys nor for cowards. It is an exclusive preserve for courageously minded individuals with a very articulate and accurately precision mindset.
And what’s more, this game (Coup) unfortunately does not call for impeachment moves/process, neither does it call for voice vote. ‘You succeed, you live’, ‘You fail, you fall’ and this time, six feet down below. Over time, some of us have steadily maintained that the failure and success of IBB or indeed anyone should be fair and objective in its assessment by anyone and should be done holistically without sentiment as no mortal has ever been known to be perfect.
It therefore repulses silence that a bridge builder and principal actor in the process of what has become of the 14 years of our democratic reign, or better put, a man of destiny and honor is being erroneously tarred with an arcade brush of uncomplimentary remarks in both print and electronic media.
No doubt that in the course of time, the gap-toothed General had proved his mettle in positions of command, responsibility and leadership making him worthy of encomium and praises on this occasion of the armed forces remembrance day.
Indeed, IBB is a living hero and not a bad apple For me, and indeed several objectively minded Nigerians, we shall steadily and relentlessly remain on the side of justice, fairness, honesty and history for non other reason than, “The man Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is indeed a child of destiny and a man of honor”.
Durowaiye-Herberts is the President of Retired Members of Nigerian Armed Forces.