By Chris Otaigbe
Inside the perforated body polity of the Nigerian nation exist holes of unanswered questions arising from the policy decisions made by gap-toothed retired General, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida during his heated years as military Head of State. And so, as he celebrates his 79th birthday, August 17, 2020, the unfilled void left as his legacies, concerning the consequential impact on the country, continue to hound him.
But for the Covid-19 protocol of social distancing, which forbids social gatherings of a particular magnitude, Nigerians who have benefitted from his usual person to person, generosity would be throwing mass parties to celebrate their controversial benefactor.
Other Nigerians, however, (and they are in the majority) believe IBB triggered the woes of the country and was, indeed, deliberately engineered by him, to plant and entrench his personal agenda that has grown the country into a corruption republic, many say it has become today.
Scary is the phenomenon creeping in on the Nigerian society today and that is the fact that post-IBB generation of Nigerians have embraced evil ways and corruption as a way of life, as long as they are not caught.
This state of affairs in the nation’s social milieu, thus become annoying when Nigerians recall that Babangida took over from a government that was instilling discipline on the nation’s socio-political and socio-economic fibre. While his part in Nigeria’s endless economic tragedy may not be too clear to the nation’s millennials, June 12 yearly commemoration has served as the only aperture they have into the IBB years and their impact on the country they have grown up to meet.
Yet, with his unrivalled charisma and disarming charm, Babangida had all the opportunities to steer the ship of the Nigerian State to a prosperous Canaan of endless possibilities and opportunities. Although, his allies have tried hard to explain that his desperate, but failed come-back bid to be President in a democratic Nigeria, was his way to make good and redeem himself of his many sins against Nigeria, his rejection, however, at each turn, was Nigerians telling him they are not convinced that his leopard would change its spots.
Shortly after he gained power in 1985, Babangida’s administration initially differed greatly from General Muhammadu Buhari’s in terms of human rights, releasing journalists and political prisoners. In 1986, Dele Giwa, a magazine editor critical of Babangida’s administration, was killed by a letter bomb at his Lagos home. In 1986, Babangida was believed to have ordered the assassination.
Giwa met his demise after two men dropped the parcel with the inscription “From the office of the C-in-C” and were marked “secret and confidential”. Opening the piece, an explosion occurred and Giwa was subsequently killed. Investigations were conducted into the assassination but the murder remains unsolved.
Most of his other misdeeds are captured in Femi Falana’s piece published in the January 8, 2015 edition of Premium Times.
Falana, who has become Babangida’s living nemesis, stated that the retired General denied involvement in the looting spree that characterized his 8-year misrule. Unfortunately for the former dictator, he ended up confirming himself as an embodiment of official corruption.
For instance, when asked to justify the enormous cost of his 50-room mansion at Minna, Niger State, General Babangida claimed that “I cannot estimate because it has appreciated. I know what my friends spent. No, my friends contributed.” Falana stated that the former military Head of State’s claim is not true that the general’s friends contributed a dime, as the palace was built and donated ex gratis by the leading government’s contractor in the country.
“That was in utter breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Decree signed by IBB in 1989,” Falana stated. He disapproved IBB’s claim to EFCC’s Zero Tolerance magazine that he made his stupendous wealth from his share is in an unnamed bank.
“I have it on good authority that there is no ‘major shareholder’ in any of the local banks who is not a billionaire. However, the retired General did not disclose if he invested in a particular bank with the proceeds of his gratuity and pension. Certainly, he did not set up a university and other businesses from his retirement benefits. Or did he, like one of his predecessors, engage in the primitive accumulation of public properties and assets through ‘blind trust’ when he was in power?” he stated.
His denial that the sum of $12.4 billion was stolen by his regime was also debunked by the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and the Late Gani Fawehinmi protégés. IBB had insisted that there was no way such a huge sum could be amassed in the three months the Gulf war lasted.
“Of course, the money was not made in three months but in six years. The fact, which the former military president did not disclose was that he opened and maintained some dedicated and stabilization accounts at the central bank into which the sum of $12.4 billion was paid from 1988-1992 from the proceeds of crude oil. The accounts were operated outside the Federation Account,” Stated Falana.
Out of the said sum of $12.4 billion, according to Falana, the Pius Okigbo Panel found that the dictator could not account for $12.2 billion withdrawn from the accounts. In a dubious rationalization of the criminal enterprise, the General claimed that the huge fund was spent on developing Abuja, the Third Mainland Bridge and the Kaduna-Kano dual carriageway. Contrary to such misleading claim, Falana informed that the projects listed by the ex-military president were budgeted for by his regime whereas the Okigbo panel found that the $12.4 billion was not captured in any of the budgets of the country at the material time.
“In fact, in the historic report of the panel, the few projects accounted for by the IBB junta include a documentary film on Nigeria, purchase of TV/Video for the Presidency, TV equipment for ABU, Ceremonial Uniform for the army etc. whose total value was less than $400 million. On how the huge fund was stolen, the Okigbo panel stated that in a number of cases, there were significant variations between the amounts approved and the actual disbursements made, without any further explanations from the documents supplied,” clarified Falana.
On the monumental damage done to the economy by the criminal diversion of the money, the SAN said the panel was compelled to conclude that if the funds had been counted as part of the external reserves and had been held as such, the impact on the exchange rate in the years under review would have been stronger in 1994, in relation to the dollar, than it was in 1985 when it stood at N1 to $1.004.
He then summed that it was evident, therefore, that the burden of external debt to the Paris and London Clubs and the pressure on the exchange rate would have been substantially mitigated if not completely eliminated.
“As if that was not enough, the junta defaulted in the payment and servicing of the nation’ external debts. Even though Nigerians rejected the dangerous conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund, the junta imposed the imperialist-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme on the nation. The implementation of the neo-colonial capitalist agenda led to the reckless devaluation of the national currency, retrenchment of workers, privatization of public assets, trade liberalization, which destroyed local industries. National morality was debased as 419 kingpins, drug barons and other economic saboteurs were given protection by the police while some of them were given national honours,” Falana lamented.
According to him, civil servants and other public officers who engaged in official corruption were not sanctioned. To the detriment of the rule of law and national integrity, he said Babangida’s junta provided a congenial atmosphere for extra-judicial killings, examination malpractice and the emergence of illegal educational institutions and fake banks.
“Under the Babangida junta, it was common knowledge that official corruption was made the directive principle of State policy. Hence, military officers who were accused of corruption were promoted while patriots who challenged them were detained without trial under the obnoxious Decree No 2 of 1984. A foreign journalist, William Keeling, who alerted Nigerians of the unprecedented looting of the treasury by the head of the junta was deported from the country. Apart from Professor Tam David-west who was illegally jailed for allegedly taking a cup of tea, no public officer was brought to book for official corruption,” stated Falana.
To prove that everyone had a prize, Falana stated that many credible Nigerian citizens and reputable organizations were corrupted and destroyed, while those who rejected the juicy offers of the junta were subjected to harassment and intimidation.
“For refusing to be compromised, some of us were routinely arrested and detained. Four of my comrades and I were even charged with a treasonable felony by the junta. It was during the dark era that Dele Giwa, a prominent journalist, was parcel bombed in Lagos. The terrorist attack was officially covered up. Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN, who demanded that the culprits be fished out and prosecuted, was almost killed by the junta. To silence other journalists and prevent them from exposing corruption, some media houses were shut down. Cultist groups were funded on the campuses and unleashed on progressive lecturers and students. Radical lecturers were sacked for teaching what they were not paid to teach,” He revealed.
In fairness to General Babangida, Falana claimed he did not deny the fact that corruption was the directive principle of State policy under his regime.
Indeed, while admitting that the junta led by him was corrupt, he only expressed dismay because the menace of official corruption has since assumed a dangerous dimension under the current political dispensation. “I don’t have the facts but if what I read in the newspapers is currently what is happening then I think we were angels,” Falana quoted IBB as saying.
In other words, weighed against his regime’s, Babangida was inferring that the kind of looting that has been taking place from Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and now Muhammadu Buhari’s administrations make his own government a saint compared to the monstrous looters under these civilian governments.
Explaining his brutal murder of Major-General Mamman Vatsa, the former military ruler claimed he was constrained by the law. “Which law? According to him (IBB), the only change in that law was introduced by us to give room for appeal. This is an after-thought, which flies in the face of the record of proceedings of the case. In the first place, the alleged coup suspects were arrested on December 17, 1985. As their conviction could not be secured under the Criminal Code Act, the existing law at the time, the Treason and Other Offences Decree No 1 of 1986 was hurriedly but belatedly promulgated by the dictator in January 1986,” explained Falana.
That was how General Vatsa & co were tried and convicted under a law that was enacted after the alleged coup. For Falana, it was a clear case of premeditated cold murder. “Secondly, the convicted coupists were not given the opportunity to file an appeal against the illegal verdict. It is on record that the trio of Professors Wole Soyinka, J.P Clark and Chinua Achebe, who pleaded that justice is tempered with mercy, was assured by the dictator that the lives of the convicts would be spared. But a few minutes later, the nation was rudely informed that the convicts had been executed by firing squad!” he stated.
Over 90% of Nigerians believe Babangida is the godfather of modern corruption in government. They accuse him of institutionalizing the culture of “settlement” where every opposition to him or his policies were bought with state money or government position while he and his minions strip the nation bare.
In his alleged looting concept, IBB developed some sense of loot deregulation, flavoured with a cool sprinkling of the nation’s national character system. In his usual dodgy manner, it seems rather than put most of his stolen cash in banks as the Late Sani Abacha must have done, IBB invested in, bought, created and acquired as many businesses across the nation and national economic spectrum and planted Nigerians from all backgrounds, ethnic and religious. Over thirty years down the line, however, those businesses and individuals have become so successful that their wealth and influence virtually control Nigeria and Nigerians today.
Their stranglehold on the Nigerian economy has earned them the name, the ‘cabal’. One of IBB’s companies, which to a great extent captures the Minna General’s mode of hiding his heists, was investigated by Sahara Reporters.
Published in its August 26, 2006 edition, in explaining former President Obasanjo’s sudden hostile policies towards IBB, as President, revealed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested Mohammed Babangida (IBB’s eldest son) on the rumoured charge that he owns 24% of Globacom, Nigeria’s biggest telecommunications company.
The publication’s investigations began with a company known as Fruitex International London Limited, incorporated in the UK on May 14, 2001 (Company Number 04216189) with a share capital of £100,000 (£1 per share capital) paid in cash by its sole Director, Mohammed Babangida (Aminu Babangida, another of IBB’s son joined as a Director last year). The company’s nature of business is recorded as “Agents in the sale of a variety of goods” and “Services to oil and gas extraction”.
Though it lists one Susan Scott (a British citizen) as a Director, she is indeed the Company Secretary. Every effort, by the magazine, to trace the said Susan Scott proved abortive. Sahara Reporters then got in touch with one Rod Johnson who claims to be the US representative of the company. Mr. Johnson operates from Texas, but from the word go, his modus operandi raises questions about his willingness to answer legitimate questions of public interest put to him with regard to his relationship with Fruitex International London Limited.
Further investigations by the publication revealed a list of twelve Nigerian-based companies affiliated to Fruitex Exploration and Production limited through “a common principal”. These are ORDREC SHIPPING SERVICES LIMITED, ORDREC PETROLEUM LIMITED, ABBEYCOURT ENERGY SERVICES LIMITED, FIRST ARIES PETROLEUM LIMITED (which owns OPL License 235), ZEBBRA ENERGY LIMITED, ODFJELL INTERNATIONAL LIMITED, SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION LIMITED, HELKO MARINE SERVICES LIMITED, REBS MEMORIAL SPECIALIST HOSPITAL, AMACH SECURITY SERVICES LIMITED, BERWICK NIGERIA LIMITED and HELKO NIGERIA LIMITED.
SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION LIMITED is representative of the very many tributaries of the Babangida family operations. Formed in 2001, it is listed as one of the winners of the 2005 oil block-licensing round.
“It is the operator of the Oil Mining License 108 offshore Nigeria and was recently awarded 75% of OPL 280 Nigeria and had indeed paid $21 million signature bonus – money they purchased through the CBN Dutch auction in December 2005. Documents obtained by Sahara Reporters indicate that the SHEBAH EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION, which only has a record of three administrative staff as total employees wouldn’t disclose its share capital or shareholders”. It also “declined to give any financial, general background or antecedent information or to reveal the extent of the company’s operations”. It “declined also to name its principal bankers and its trade risk is recorded as ‘High’. In short, every kind of information that should be assessed by the public with regard to the company is simply not given,” the report revealed.
Born on 17 August 1941 in Minna to Muhammad Babangida, his father, and his mother, Aisha Babangida, Ibrahim Babangida received early Islamic education, before attending primary school from 1950 to 1956. From 1957 to 1962, Babangida attended Government College, Bida, together with classmates, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Mamman Vatsa, Mohammed Magoro, Sani Bello, Garba Duba, Gado Nasko and Mohammed Sani Sami.
Babangida joined the Nigerian Army on 10 December 1962, when he attended the Nigerian Military Training College (now Nigerian Defense Academy) in Kaduna. Babangida received his commission as a second lieutenant as a regular combatant officer in the Royal Nigerian Army (a month before it became the Nigerian Army) with the personal army number N/438 from the Indian Military Academy on 26 September 1963. Babangida attended the Indian Military Academy from April to September 1963. From January 1966 to April 1966, Babangida attended the Younger Officers Course at the Royal Armored Centre in the United Kingdom – where he received instruction in gunnery and the Saladin armoured car.
Following the outbreak of the civil war, Babangida was recalled and posted to the 1st Division under the command of General Mohammed Shuwa. In 1968, he became commander of the 44 Infantry Battalion, which was involved in heavy fighting within the Biafran territory. In 1969, during a reconnaissance operation from Enugu to Umuahia, the battalion came under heavy enemy fire and Babangida was shot on the right side of his chest. He was then hospitalized in Lagos and was given the option of removing the bullet shrapnel, which he refused and still carries with him. Away and recovering from his wounds, Babangida married Maryam King on 6 September 1969. He returned to the war front in December 1969, commanding a battalion. In January 1970, Babangida was informed by his sectional commander, General Theophilus Danjuma, of the capitulation of the Biafran Army to the federal military government in Lagos, signalling the end of the war.
In 1970, following the war, Babangida was promoted twice and posted to the Nigerian Defense Academy as an instructor. In 1973, he was made commander of the 4 Reconnaissance Regiment. In 1975, he became the commander of the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps. Babangida attended several defence and strategy courses. From August 1972 to June 1973, he attended the Advanced Armored Officers Course at the United States Army Armor School. From January 1977 to July 1977, he attended the Senior Officers Course at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji. From 1979 to 1980, he attended the Senior Executive Course at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies. In 1981, he became the Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans.
The military career of Babangida was marked by involvement in all the military coups in Nigeria (a feat later surpassed by General Sani Abacha). Lieutenant Babangida was posted with the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron in Kaduna and witnessed the events of the bloody 1966 Nigerian coup d’état, which resulted in the death of Premier Ahmadu Bello. Alongside several young officers from Northern Nigeria, he took part in the July counter-coup, which ousted General Aguiyi Ironsi, replacing him with General Yakubu Gowon.
In 1975, Colonel Babangida as Commander of the Armoured Corps was a key participant in the 1975 military coup d’état that brought General Murtala Mohammed to power. He was later appointed as one of the youngest members of the Supreme Military Council from 1 August 1975 to October 1979.
Following the 1976 military coup d’état attempt that resulted in the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed, Colonel Babangida crushed the coup attempt almost single-handedly by taking back control of the Radio Nigeria station from the main perpetrator, Lieutenant Colonel Buka Suka Dimka (a close friend of his), to prevent him making further announcements over the airwaves. Dimka later escaped and was arrested in Eastern Nigeria and later publicly executed in May 1976.
In 1983, Brigadier General Babangida as Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans plotted the 1983 military coup d’ètat which overthrew the Second Nigerian Republic, with financial backing from a businessman, Moshood Abiola. Babangida alongside his other co-conspirators later appointed the most senior serving officer at the time, General Muhammadu Buhari, as military head of state from 1983 to 1985, and Babangida was promoted and appointed as Chief of Army Staff.
Unfortunately for the retired General and former Head of State, while other Nigerians, including those he made stupendously rich, may have celebrated their birthdays, in relative peace devoid of anger and acrimony against their persons, his rights to such simple pleasures of the soul have been mortgaged by his perceived evil deeds against the soul of Nigeria.
Just as the nation, yearly performs elaborate commemorative ceremonies of the life his actions as military head of State caused the people and the country, so would his birthdays be subjected to the supposed eternal bitter legacies left by the negative impact of the state policies he used to wreck the moral construct and foundation of the Nigerian nation.