FEATURE ARTICLE


Dr. Wumi AkintideMonday, June 23, 2003
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Wumione@AOL.com
New York, NY, USA


''TWO OF A KIND''
A SNIPPET ON IBRAHIM BABANGIDA AND RICHARD NIXON AT SOME POINTS IN THEIR LIFE


will admit it is a tough job trying to summarize in one article, a subject on which several books have been written. Why? Because the two characters named above are not just controversial leaders in their own right, they have been rated among the best and the worst among their peers in their two countries and around the world. Only Charles Dickens in his tale of two cities could have come any where near the perfect description for these two polarizing leaders who have undoubtedly made history, by riding on the back of a tiger, so to speak, in the way and manner they have governed their two countries. They both almost ended up in the stomach of the tiger. They were adored and hated by many at the same time. They were disgraced out of office, but had found some ways to partially redeem or rehabilitate themselves in the fullness of time and in the court of public opinion. They were two dogged fighters ruthlessly ambitious and smart No two politicians could be more different in their persona, but they shared the same innate character that defines their presidency in very profound ways.

The two characters have come to power in their countries by going through some long term strategic planning and calculation that took years to materialize. IBB is a survivor who has had a lifetime career planning to one day lead Nigeria. He has been involved one way or another in every coup that Nigeria has known. I guess you could say the same of Richard Nixon who narrowly lost to JFK in 1962, but found his way back to power taking over from Lyndon B. Johnson. You don’t talk of coups in America, but any politician who would become President in America going though the laid down twists and turns of the constitutional road map, can rightly be called a survival, if you understand what I mean. IBB was named "Maradona and evil genius" by acclamation. Richard Nixon's nick name as President was "tricky Dicky" They have both succeeded in changing the political landscapes of their two countries in ways that many would have considered impossible before they came around. They were achievers in their own right, but were also so ruthless and diabolical, even Machiavellian in their approach to power, believing that the end justifies the means. IBB is doing today precisely what Nixon had attempted to do before he was snatched away by death. Richard Nixon was on his way to full or partial redemption in the court of public opinion in much the same way like IBB is doing today with some measure of success, if you really think about it.

I hate to say this because I am one Nigerian who may never completely forgive IBB for his involvement in the death of Dele Giwa and his annulment of the June 12th, 1993 Election. IBB has gone as far as claiming that certain forces, beyond his control had made him annul the Election because there was no way he could deny making the announcement because we all saw him do it on television. He was caught on that with his hand in the cookie jar. So his excuse that it was the devil that made him do it should be seen as a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. If you believe in that crap, you will believe anything The murder of Dele Giwa, on the other hand, was, however, more surreptitious because assassination thru a letter bomb, a first in Nigerian political lexicon at the time, clearly bore IBB’s stamp of approval, even if it was improvised or forged. It was a clear case of the witch coming by yesterday night, and the baby dying today as the Yorubas would say. The third grouse I had against IBB is personal, and I have had cause to overlook it, and to move on with my life, because IBB was not personally responsible for the misstep but his Regime bore a vicarious responsibility for what happened to me on that occasion. It is only relevant here because the brain drain that has caused our country so much in manpower was actually set in motion by the story I am about to share with you now. Nigerians are ever where contributing to the greatness of other developed nations in foreign lands because they are discriminated against in their own country. As we speak Egyptians, Indians and Pakistanis stand a better chance to get jobs in much of Northern Nigeria than you and me who come from the South. If you are lucky to get hired, the best you can get, if at all, is getting hired on contract in your own country. How about that for justice and fair play? Why would qualified Nigerians not "check out" of Nigeria, if they need to? You will never know how many Nigerians have been forced to consider such an option because Nigeria was just too hostile to them....

I was robbed of my chance to be appointed on merit, the Deputy General Manager of Aladja Steel Complex near Warri in 1986, because the Presidency under IBB which had to give final approval to the interview merit list that had placed me first with a score of 78% and the next candidate with 62% and the third candidate with 56% out of ten candidates short-listed, had refused to let justice have the last word. The recommendation of the interview panel was set aside or ignored only for the Presidency to appoint a northerner from Kano who did not even apply not to talk of coming for interview. His greatest qualification was BINN (born in Northern Nigeria) because Nigerians including me love titles. I once met a Nigerian with these two titles conspicuously displayed after his name The two titles were JP and SHWP. I was wondering what that could mean until the gentleman told me JP simply means Jerusalem Pilgrim not Justice of the Peace which you can buy now from Oyingbo market in Lagos, or the popular Onitsha market. SHWP on the other hand simply means "Shook hands with the Pope" Can you imagine that? The guy with BINN got the job without even applying The interview had turned out to be a charade designed to deceive the public. My only disqualification was my name, a Yoruba name from Ondo State. Professor Tam David West was the then Federal Commissioner for Steel, Mines and Power, and Chief Oluyemi Falae was the then Secretary to the Federal Military Government. One ambassador E. M. Adegbulu now retired, and the Director of the Lagos Stock Exchange Dr Chris Alile were all members of the Board and members of the interview panel. Alile who could not make it to Aladja where the interview was held was represented by his immediate Deputy, one Luyi Rotimi of the Stock Exchange. One Mr Jooji was General Manager. I am mentioning them by name for any of them to issue a rebuttal, if they think I am lying.

I am mentioning the incident today without bitterness because the incident was the major reason, I got so pissed off, and I decided to check out of Nigeria, like several Nigerians before and after me who could not stand the tribal bigotry and frustration by their own country and Government. I decided to find my way to the United States where I believe I could get a more humane treatment than the one I got from the only country I could really call my own. As far as I am concerned, the first two transgressions were the worst of IBB’s sins against Nigeria. The one against me has since been forgiven, because his regime had actually done me a favor by forcing me to leave at the time I did, and not having Aladja. Steel Company to appear on my resume. The man who had the job reserved for him was like giving a carpenter the job of a plumber. Of course he had to fail, because all he had gone there to do was to be errand boy for the cabal that had put him there. The Aladja Steel Complex was doomed to fail. Once Engineer Fred Brume was let go to give room to political stoogies and charlatans to take over the edifice, forget it. My not getting the job had turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. Unto God be the glory. I am only recalling it here because there are vital lessons to learn from the episode. We human beings sometimes look for some jobs we don’t need, and we blame God for not giving them to us because we often cannot see beyond our nose.

Even if IBB stands trial for the first two offenses, and he is absolved by a Court of Law which is quite possible in our "political justice" system in Nigeria as defined by Professor Omo Omoruyi. I would still presume IBB guilty by association, and guilty in the court of public opinion. I know many Nigerians who are pissed off by the fact that anyone would even be saying, at this point in time, that IBB is not just a force to reckon with in our country, but that IBB, as passionately hated by a cross section of our people today, is still one leader who cannot be totally ruled out from our future, if the truth must be told. Just like he is passionately hated by some, you can take it from me, that the same man is passionately loved by many who will massively vote for him tomorrow, if he decides to run. I know friends who will never talk to me again for saying this. Of course my good old friends the E-mail tigers would be all over me tomorrow and thereafter accusing me of being a sellout to IBB, and even swearing with the Bible I may have taken some bribes from the filthy rich General who is clearly the richest Nigerian alive today. IBB is probably richer than the whole country taken together when you factor in the country's assets and liabilities. If you just look at deficits left behind by outgoing Governors of the South West alone, you have to wonder, if Nigeria's liability is not double or triple her assets. We are not talking of the Local Governments’ liabilities here not to talk of liabilities from the Federal. I cannot but wonder what would have been the fate of our country if the black gold (Petroleum) was not found in our territory! Because we spent too much money running our three tiers of Government, there is nothing left to care for the masses. I hear one of our newly appointed Ministers from the World Bank is going to be earning the same salary that he was making as Vice President in the World Bank, all in hard currency. If that is true she would probably be earning a lot more than her President. Where then is the sacrifice so much talked about. Dick Cheney had given up a job at Halliburton where he was making millions only to take up a job as Vice President where he would be making peanuts. Our leaders don’t do that in Nigeria.our own political leaders in Nigeria are not out to serve, but to make money, and to feed fat on Government subsidy and allowances. The last time I checked Wilberforce Chuba Okadigbo had 62 cars assigned to him as Senate President. We were lucky he was not elected Vice President,. May be a hundred or more would have sufficed.

I am, therefore, fully aware of the risk I am taking by writing on IBB or attempting to reinvent the wheel as some people would like to put it. I submit that Democracy is all about freedom of expression. If you and I feel convinced within us that we need to say something about any Nigerian leader, we should reserve the right to say it regardless of whether it is popular or not. I am not writing to earn anybody's encomiums, I am writing to lay it all out for people who may want to know, and my target population are young Nigerians born within or outside Nigeria, who are anxious and willing to learn about our leaders and contemporary events in our country. I count myself fulfilled if I am only able to reach out to just one or two of such Nigerians around the world. I welcome any criticism from E-mail tigers, and would join issues with them, if I consider their criticism reasonable and constructive. I am also willing to learn from people with far more superior arguments like Pa Awolowo used to say. Those who had said that Papa Awo was rigid probably did not know the man. He was principled, yes, but not rigid as rumored by many. I served under Awo for a little while when he was made chairman of the Task Force on Student Financing in Nigeria and I was the Secretary. Awo was a great believer in the power of debate. That was something I learnt from him. It was the most rewarding experience of my life. This article on IBB is clearly a byproduct of that experience, and conviction.

I must also make a confession here. I have been reading lately so many of the books and stuff put out there by Professor Omoruyi quite apart from the stuff gathered from my 22 years as an administrator in the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria. I was specially blessed to have had my pupilage under some of the best Public Servants our Nation has produced. They include the late Abdul Aziz Atta, Grey Eronmosele Longe, Ahmed Joda, Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel, Abubakar Alhaji Alhaji, Ogbuefi GPO Chikelu, Chief Oluyemi Falae, and the last and not the least one S.A. Ogunleye and one Mr M.A. Soneye just to mention a few. I have been following IBB for quite a long time. So I am not taking hook, line, and sinker everything that Professor Omoruyi may have said about IBB and his place in our body politics. Of course, I do not agree with everything the Prof says, or writes, but the man called Omoruyi is, without any question, an encyclopedia of sorts on the military and the post military era. He is very well informed and loaded on Nigerian politics starting from his days in the Constituent Assembly to his days in the Center for Democratic Studies in Abuja, and even up until now.

He was a very powerful insider during the eight to nine years of IBB and for part of the five years of Abacha. I encourage as many of my readers to get themselves a copy of "the Tale of June 12th otherwise called the Betrayal of the Democratic Rights of Nigerians (1993) It is an eye witness account devoid of personal bias as much a humanly possible. Calling the book a tale and not a history of June 12th is. to me, an exercise in intellectual modesty on the part of the Professor. I have read other books on MKO Abiola and other write ups on the Nigerian military, including the recent one by Moshood Fayemiwo. I have found some striking correlation between Omoruyi’s account and the versions rendered in those books. I am persuaded all of those sources have lent more veracity and validity to the Omoruyi’s account. If you assimilate all of the points made in all those sources, it will become clear to you why IBB may have become an albatross on the back of Nigeria. and the qualities and the assets that IBB still brings to the table that might see him ruling this country one more time, regardless of what you and I may think.

I certainly know, with some help from the Ikemba, who the best President that Nigeria never had, could possibly be. The last time I checked that individual was Obafemi Awolowo. Very few Nigerians would deny that characterization of Awo. But the jury is still out on which of the few Presidents we have had, so far in Nigeria, could be described as the best. If you ask me, though, IBB, in spite, of his many transgressions would probably still feature very prominently in my answer to you for reasons I can no longer conceal. I said at the beginning of this article that if you discount the maradona and the evil genius stigma, that IBB would, most certainly, be the undisputed winner of that trophy. But if you take out the maradona and the evil genius streak in IBB, the immediate question you cannot afford to gloss over, is what is left out of the enigma called IBB. Without those attributes IBB would still be a person, but a heavy dose of what makes him tick would have been gone and gone for good, and his personality or character would have been terribly diminished. In other words, I am saying there is still something positive to say about IBB the man as opposed to IBB, the maradona and the self acclaimed evil genius.

IBB THE MAN AND WHAT DRIVES HIM?

IBB’s leadership quality is strikingly evident in most of his actions and behavior as a man. He clearly knows what he wants and how to get it by simply mobilizing others to accomplish his goal. He knows the most auspicious time to make his move, and good timing is one of the hallmarks of good leadership. By the time he had orchestrated the coup that brought him to power following the overthrow of Buhari’s regime in 1985, his name was definitely top of the list of officers to be retired by Idiagbon and Buhari. Had he failed to act sooner, he would have been history. He acted at the nick of time. One of his first act as Head of State was to assume the title of President as opposed to the term Head of State which was the title adopted by all his predecessors including the best of them, Murtala Mohammed. His taking the title of President not only drastically influenced the way his regime was perceived at home, it also gave him an aura of power and legitimacy never before accorded his predecessors by the international community. It will be recalled that when Sani Abacha first made his announcement on the coup, it was not clear from his atatement who the new leader was going to be until Babangida finally showed up on television a few hours later, making him appear as if he was actually invited to assume leadership by his colleagues. The whole drama was choreographed to appear that way it did for tactical reasons. The man who was flown from Minna to Lagos that day was the LiveWire and the sparking plug that made the coup possible, to begin with, through very careful planning. IBB could be clever by half quite often, but you still have to agree he is one hell of a leader who knows Nigerians very well, and how to get their attention. I don’t care how you cut it, that kind of leader is the type we need. If you are too predictable, you may not survive in Nigeria as a leader. Papa Iyabo is a good example. He looks and sometimes sounds like Baba Mero, but please don’t count on it. He is easily the most underrated leader in the world today. If the word evil genius is not already overused in our country, OBJ’s middle name could be that as well.

IBB, A HUMAN RELATIONS GENIUS

IBB’s human relations was first class. He understands perhaps better than any of our leaders dead or alive that human relations can make or break a leader. IBB understands that all organizations including the military are built around people, and when you build healthy relationships with the rank and file, you open doors that would otherwise be closed. He understands that people, if they want to, can put up road blocks at every corner. Whether you accept it or not, the rank and file and the way and manner you relate to them, will, most certainly, control your job future, and the better relations you build with them, the better things will be for you. IBB understands that Human relations is much more than behaving courteously so that people will like him. He is an expert at handling difficult problems when they arise. He understands how to work well under demanding and sometimes unfair superiors, and dealing effectively with conflict as they arise. He thoroughly understands himself, and how he communicates with others. He knows how to build and to maintain long term relationships with family, friends and military colleagues both junior and senior. He is very good at how to restore a working relationship that has deteriorated. He is good at living with his frustrations without hurting others or jeopardizing his own career. IBB meets you once, he remembers and call you by your first name, if he meets with you again two or three years later. The words "Shut up" will never come out of the mouth of IBB, no matter the circumstance. He lets you know he empathizes and feels your pains, and would go to great length to demonstrate that at every opportunity. That is why the rank and file of the military in Nigeria is so loyal to him because they know his policy is "live and let live" Nobody does it better than IBB. Believe me. He knows what poverty can do to people, and he is clearly one of the most generous leaders our country has ever known. Has he stolen our money at any point in his career? I guess you have to say yes because even if he was born a General, he could never have made as much money as he now has today? Would he allow that money or a little portion of it to go around to the masses, and more so to his loyalists? You bet he will. I once served as the Ondo State pioneer Director at DIFFRI (Directorate of Foods, Roads, and Rural Infrastructures created by IBB, and I can tell you, that program, as desirable as it was, was later to become a conduit pipe for State Military Governors to share out of the national pie as conceived by IBB. You can quote me on that. IBB is an expert on spreading the Federal largesse around. He sure stole, but had also allowed others a free hand to do the same. He understood money to be the root of all good in politics, and that is why he had a lot more than he would ever need to run again, if it ever comes to that.

He had used his human relations genius to quickly win over Obafemi Awolowo, one of the most principled southern politicians of out time whose temperament did not suffer fools gladly, and who was the most difficult politician to please or to appease because he was a no nonsense leader himself. He was a workaholic who had driven himself twice as hard as he drove others. Awolowo had no soft spot for despots in uniform, and he said so loud and clear, but he got along fairly well with IBB. IBB’s Dodan Barracks was the last place Awolowo had visited to specially thank IBB for being so supportive of him in his last Birthday celebration on Earth. Being good to people is natural with IBB. He does not have to work hard at it like others have to specially do. He is a natural image maker per excellence who values loyalty and rewards it without fail. That is why those who love him, love him passionately. He is never an intimidating figure, and he appreciates intellect probably as much as Awolowo did. That is why he was able to get so many intellectuals who are ever so willing to work for him. He is very good at picking peoples’ brain which is really what leadership is all about.

As difficult and as ideologically driven as Tai Solarin and Wole Soyinka and so many others were, IBB was able to earn their respect, at some point, in his tenure of office as President. They were willing to work for him because they were persuaded he meant well for our country because he made such unforgettable impressions on them. I recall his decision to bring back Chief Oluyemi Falae from his high paying job as Managing Director at the Nigerian Merchant Bank, to make him the Secretary to his Government. The way he want about it was vintage IBB. Appointing someone from Ondo State to fill a slot in his Government was designed to be a kind of appeasement for a terrible blunder on the part of the Regime. The new President had filled all vacancies left in his Cabinet before it occurred to somebody close to him that Ondo State was completely left out in the exercise. All other states had positions reserved for them except Ondo State which had never been known to be in the good book of any Federal Government in Nigeria, be it civilian or military, because Ondo State was a "no go area" because of too much addiction or loyalty to Awo and following the 1983 rejection of Omoboriowo's attempt to steal Pa Ajasin’s mandate with the tacit support of the NPN.

The Regime was only lucky that the only position still left unfilled at the time, was that of the Secretary to the Government, and it made sense to offer it to appease Ondo State. Alhaji Alhaji the super Permanent Secretary who had the ears of the President was contacted, and it was his effort and contact with the late Asabia of Upele and Professor Sam Aluko of Ode Ekiti in Ondo State that eventually ended up with three candidates, namely the late Theophillus Iwajomo, Augustus Adebayo and Oluyemi Falae who was, earlier on, frustrated out of the Federal Service to become the Managing Director of the Nigerian Merchant. Given the credentials the Regime was looking for in a candidate, Oluyemi Falae coming now from the Private Sector and having served as a Federal Permanent Secretary and a former Director of Central Planning at the Federal, had ended up getting the position on a platter of gold so to speak. It was not the fact that he got the job that was noteworthy, it was the way the offer was made to him and the personal concessions offered him by IBB that got my attention. IBB is a genius without any question, and he sure got the best out of Oluyemi Falae who I know very well because I served under him as Secretary, Staff Development in the Manpower Department before he got the job at the Merchant Bank. If two thousand experts are looking at an issue, and you invite Olu Falae to take a look at the same issue, you can be sure Olu Falae, nine chances out of ten, would come away with something uniquely and positively different from the conclusions drawn by the other experts combined. He is that good, believe me. I deeply regret that man was never allowed to rule Nigeria.

IBB has a unique understanding of the mentality of Nigerians, and the behavior of the three predominant tribes of Nigeria namely the Hausa/Fulani, the Yorubas and Ndigbos, and of course, the minorities of the North and South of Nigeria, and he knows how to get the best out of them in ways few other Nigerians can match or replicate. His political instincts are positively intimidating, and he knows how to play his card in a way that he would for ever remain the center of gravity. You don’t count out IBB or get into the business of writing his obituary before he is buried. He is that good. He single-handedly led the crusade to appease the South West by picking and bankrolling Obasanjo as the man who can do it. He did it in a way that made him the common denominator in the carefully orchestrated plan to make Obasanjo the vital bridge between the Military and the civilian. He did it to have him pave the way for him to return as an extension of that bridge when the rubber meets the road. He had done it in a way that makes it impossible for Obasanjo to jettison him down the road or to bring him to trial for the two major transgressions mentioned earlier on in this write-up which I would return to before I end this article.

IBB has already begun to refurbish his image with the Yorubas the most dangerous tribe that is capable of holding his feet to the fire on the two transgressions, and possibly permanently blocking his way to eventual redemption politically. The image making has already begun big time and the new PDP Governor of Oyo State Ladoja and the strong man of Ibadan, Alhaji Adedibu has already opened a wonderful window of opportunity for IBB who will catch in on it, and get the greatest mileage out of it without appearing to do so. I thought Governor Ladoja of Oyo had made the greatest mistake of his political life by allowing Adedibu to do what he did to the statute of the most important Yoruba icon second only to Oduduwa in the psyche of the Yorubas at home and abroad. I can tell you here and now that if that is the way the new PDP steamroller in the South West wants to conduct their business, they can begin to sing their "Nunc Dimitis," come the Year 2007, and the major beneficiary of that suicide would be no one but IBB and whatever party he might belong to in 2007. Why? Because IBB, like Bill Clinton, knows better than any politician that I know in Nigeria about how to feel our pains, and how best to defer to our sensitivity as a people.

IBB’s recent comments on the desecration of Awolowo’s statute at Ibadan covered by BBC relayed to the world by African Independent Television, the African CNN was the most touching condemnation of the savagery done to Awolowo’s name and legacy at Ibadan. One would have expected such a statement to be coming from Obasanjo himself, if he truly understood what Awolowo had meant to our collective psyche as a people. Obasanjo and the PDP may have won elections in the old West, they are a long way from winning the hearts of our people at home and abroad in the same way that Awo had done. Awo in his grave is still far more powerful than OBJ and all his Governors combined. That is the bitter truth. IBB definitely understood those sentiments, and he had articulated it in ways that none of our leaders has done hitherto. And I believe he meant every word of it. I can tell you that "Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven" You can take it from me that IBB is right on his way to full redemption in the West by his expression of solidarity with all of us who are terribly upset with what Ladoja and Adedibu may have done to our leader‘s statue at Ibadan.

The June 12th horrendous mistake in Nigeria was alleviated in some profound ways by the second and third coming of OBJ, the major beneficiary of the June 12th struggle to restore and consolidate Democracy in our country. IBB is on way to full redemption in the West. The Dele Giwa saga was a national tragedy that the whole nation and not the West alone must attempt to avenge. Many of us are still mad as hell about it, but the advent of Abacha and his Gulag had proved to the whole nation that IBB who we thought was probably a monster, was more of a Saint when compared to Abacha, the worst leader Nigeria has ever had. It is my prayer that Obasanjo does not fumble any more than he had done in his first term as a democratic President. If he does, we may yet find Buhari telling us I told you so, and that would be a great pity indeed. Such a development could also create a craving for the evil genius to return

My point is that the two horrendous transgressions for which IBB was to be guillotined alive, may well have lost their sting in the fullness of time, and many more people except the most vindictive among us like me may well be ready to forgive and forget as IBB begins his journey to full or partial redemption. In Politics you do not talk of permanent enemies and permanent friends, you only talk of permanent interest, and time the great healer may well have started to heal the wounds for IBB who may begin to loom larger than life as we begin to compare him and his record with those who have gone before him and those who have come after him. The Yorubas often say "until you compare and weigh a bag of result and a tin of palm oil, you are often not in a position to say which one is heavier. That may yet be the case with IBB who could possibly have been our greatest leader today, had he allowed Abiola to savor and enjoy his well deserved victory at the Polls in the most fair and free election ever conducted in Nigeria To IBB and to any of his fanatical supporters in the North and the South who may want to lynch me for speaking up I say "Ranka Dede Yau Kuri, Allah bamsa" Don’t worry about my poor Hausa. I learnt the few Hausa words I know thru Wasobia. What do you expect?

I rest my case.