One of the promotional materials reads: “Love IBB or hate him, every Nigerian needs to see Badamasi, portrait of a general, an Obi Emelonye film.”
The face of Nollywood actor Enyinna Nwige glitters on the poster of the biopic on Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Nigeria’s only military ruler who chose to address himself as President. It will hit the cinemas on June 12, the 28th anniversary of the celebrated presidential poll won by the late MKO Abiola, which IBB shamelessly aborted. From the clips I have seen, the biopic traces his beginning, his military training, and his ascension to power. I have also seen a clip showing a protest and bonfire.
IBB, as he is widely known, was and is still beautiful, charismatic, and even friendly, but he personifies the concept of ‘evil genius’. Many coups in the country’s history had this son of Niger playing one major role or the other. IBB was there when Murtala Mohammed overthrew Yakubu Jack Gowon; he backed Muhammadu Buhari to terminate the democratic administration of the late Shehu Shagari; he is also credited with foiling the Dimka coup which killed Murtala Mohammed, and he was not missing in action when Buhari was shown the exit for him to take the crown.
When he came into power, it was like a messiah had come from unexpected quarters. He behaved as if a friend of the common man was finally manning the purse and fairness would dictate the disbursement of its goodies. He started talking about the rule of law, he was talking about ending poverty, he was talking about human rights, and he was talking about a government with a human face- an obvious criticism of the government he overthrew, which had zero respect for human rights, rule of law and many others.
IBB followed up his talks by setting up committees to work out the implementations of his ideas. He attracted some of the best brains from the academia, the Bar, and everywhere else. Many were excited about the turn of events and natural critics of government pleaded for the man to be given a chance. It took time for it to become clear that a political Diego Maradona was in the saddle, and he would dribble Nigeria into a tight corner, which, years after, it would be trying to get itself out of.
One of the populist moves IBB took was to get his Attorney-General, the respected Egba Prince, Bola Ajibola, to assemble a National Committee on Corruption and Other Economic Crimes. It was chaired by the late Justice Kayode Eso. Its task was defined by its name. One of the suggestions the committee made, as Eso recalled in his book, ‘The Mystery Gunman’, was the enactment of rules against living beyond one’s means. It also sought the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which I suspect was the root of the one Olusegun Obasanjo later set up. IBB showered Eso and his committee with encomium when he received their report. He described its recommendations as the real panacea to the ills of the nation and promised to act on them, but the only action he took was to dump the report. If he had not done that, many in his government and his friends would have had their times in jail.
Several other populist moves, including the one which gave the impression he was going to be in power for a short period, went the way of the Eso committee. The Maradona was just playing games. Another game in which he was at his best was to gift us political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC) as though ideology could be decreed. He kept disqualifying candidates until the late Bashorun Abiola decided to be a presidential candidate and went on to win convincingly across the country, even with a Moslem-Moslem ticket. Of course, the Maradona annulled the election and, when the heat was too much for him to deal with, he introduced another lexicon by announcing he was stepping aside. And he completed his assault on our sensibility by installing a civilian, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Whether by omission or commission, the decree IBB rushed in to justify Shonekan’s leadership of the country did the opposite because it had no provision to enable anyone to appoint an Interim National Government, and a Lagos judge declared the government illegal. The late Gen. Sani Abacha, who was like IBB’s right-hand man, ‘slapped’ Shonekan out of the Villa. Evil followed evil after that. It was all IBB’s making.
The country practically went up in flames. There were protests, there were bombings and innocent people were clamped into jail. Amid the discontent in the land, Abacha sponsored groups to campaign for him to become a civilian president. They went by all kinds of names, including the infamous Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) led by Daniel Kanu, who mesmerised with his acquired American accent. To cow the nation, prominent figures were clamped into detention; and a few were lucky to escape abroad. Madam Kudirat Abiola and Pa Alfred Rewane were gunned down. Bagauda Kaltho, who was a correspondent with The News, was bombed. It was a terrible era in the annals of the country. All thanks to IBB’s error of judgment. The heavens eventually intervened and the man who wanted to be a life president became history in circumstances we are yet to fully unravel.
In the run-up to the 2003 elections, and later in the run-up to the 2007 polls, there were signs IBB considered stepping back into power under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but Obasanjo, the man he helped midwife his ascension from prison to power, and others, checkmated him and with time, he gave up the dream. The Maradona finally settled down for full retirement in his sprawling Minna Hilltop mansion. There he receives visitors regularly and appears in the media occasionally. One unforgettable appearance was when he and Obasanjo gleefully described each other as a fool. The hullabaloo blew over and he returned to his quiet moments.
Africa Today publisher Kayode Soyinka, in his ‘Born Into Journalism Memoir of a Newspaper Reporter’, reserved a copious space for the story of the first and only parcel bomb incident in Nigeria’s history. It happened under IBB and killed Dele Giwa, one of the brightest minds in Nigeria’s journalism. Soyinka was with Giwa when the incident happened and survived miraculously.
Recalling the day Giwa was killed, Soyinka writes: “During my time at Newswatch, a horrific incident, unique to Nigeria, occurred on 19 October 1986. It was the gruesome murder of Dele Giwa. I miraculously survived the attack. I was on an official visit to Nigeria from London. As usual, I was staying with Giwa at his Lagos home, which was then on 25 Talabi Street, Ikeja. That was when a parcel bomb was sent to him.
“The deadly package was delivered to him by his unsuspecting son, Billy, in his study, where we were having our breakfast. He took a quick look at the parcel and handed it over to me to see. I held it in my hand, looked at it, and handed it back to him. When he took it back from me, he said: ‘This must be from the president.’ The padded envelope, just slightly bigger than A4 in size, had marks that suggested it had been sent from the ‘Cabinet Office’ in Lagos. It was addressed to ‘Chief Dele Giwa’ – though he was not a chief – and with the instruction printed on it that it must be opened by the addressee only. Dele thought the envelope contained some vital documents which may help Newswatch with some stories. As he readjusted his chair and tried to tear the envelope open from the top left-hand corner, the envelope exploded. It was a huge and horrific explosion. There was a big ball of fire.
“Dele absorbed the shock and most of the impact of the massive explosion on his body, as he was the person who held the envelope and had tried to open it…Dele Giwa was in deep shock. He was still alive, as helpers rushed in and helped to carefully drag him out of the rubbles of the explosion. He was rushed to First Foundation Hospital, in Opebi, owned by a close friend of ours, Dr. Tosin Ajayi. There, he died early afternoon that Sunday.”
The Babangida junta said it had nothing to do with the murder, but it took only feeble steps to find the perpetrators. People formed their opinion anyway and many hold the regime responsible.
My final take: As we throng the cinemas to see the biopic, which features some of Nollywood’s best, we must never forget that IBB is one of the leaders who failed the country, who left the country worse than they met it, who became richer than when they came into power and who deserve nothing but the harsh sides of our tongues. We should never forget.