The former self-styled military president of Nigeria, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida Friday spoke exclusively to ARISE News on a range of worrisome issues impacting the Nigerian state.
In specifics, he touched on circumstances surrounding the annulled June 12 election, the level of pervasive corruption bedeviling Africa’s largest economy, and the profile of the person he believes should lead the world’s most populous Black nation as the race for the 2023 presidential elections beckons.
IBB said one of the reasons Nigeria has refused to progress and achieve the dreams of the founding fathers was because Nigerians no longer believed in the future of their own country.
Responding to question on whether or not he still believed in the future of Nigeria, IBB who turns 80 on August 17, 2021, said: “I do believe in the future of Nigeria, but Nigerians don’t believe in the future of their country. They created and they destroyed.”
The former leader accused the Nigerian people of creating and at the same time, destroying their own country however identified bad leadership as yet a major reason for the socio-economic challenges facing Nigeria.
Reiterating his belief in the future of Nigeria and urging Nigerians to remain patriotic, Babangida, who claimed to feeling good as he was about to turn 80 years, advised Nigerians to go for the person that has what it takes to transform the country when the time comes.
And specifically on the importance of leadership in nation-building he said: “If you get a good leadership that links with the people and tries to talk with the people; not talking on top of the people, then we would be okay”.
Babangida was confident that the nation is endowed with both human and natural resources, hinted at a few individuals, whom he said were in their 60s and has the capacity to become president that could effectively run the country.
“I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader. That is, a person, who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person that he can communicate with.
“That is a person, who is very verse in economics and is also a good politician who should be able to talk to Nigerians and so on. I have seen one, or two or three of such persons already in his sixties.”
But when asked if the person could emerge victorious in the 2023 presidential election, the Minna-born former military and political leader said, “I believe so if we can get him.”
The retired General though did not in any way mention names as ineligible for the nation’s number one seat, his suggestion however may have ruled out two leading contenders, a former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, from the 2023 presidential race because they would be in their 70s by the next election circle.
The former Nigerian leader said the depth of corruption under Nigeria’s democratic dispensation is such that his regime will be seen as saints. He said corruption during his regime cannot be compared with “facts on ground now.”
And fielding question on the annulled June 12 presidential election, IBB said there would have been a violent coup if the 1993 June 12 elections weren’t annulled. “if it had materialised, there would have been a coup d’état which could have been violent,” he said.
According to the former military dictator, the coup would have given room for more instability in the country, but noted that the overthrow did not happen due to the “Maradonic way we handled you guys in the society.”
Nigerians especially of the older generation reference him as “evil genius” and “Maradona apparently because of his maverick and midas touch to governance at the time. He said the appellations were contraptions of the media wondering though the inherent contrast in the compound word ‘evil genius’
IBB served as head of state between 1985 and 1993. Born in Niger State and received military training in Nigeria, India, Great Britain, and the United States.
He rose through the ranks and was known for his courage among others, having played a major role in suppressing an attempted coup in 1976 when he walked into a rebel-held radio station unarmed.
After Murtala Mohammed became the military head of state in 1975, Babangida joined his Supreme Military Council, and as military president after taking over power on August 27, 1985, introduced economic policies such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which altered the course of the nation and liberalised the economy.
The soon to be octogenarian is one of the leaders in the mold of Muhammadu Buhari and Olusegun Obasanjo that have dominated Nigeria’s political space since 1966.