I must give it to the reporter who interviewed IBB on the occasion of his 80th Birthday. Mrs Ngozi Alaegbu went well prepared. She asked the most daring questions, controversial ones, personal ones, and all that any Nigerian would want to ask IBB. She left nothing blank. She coined the most delightful phrases in her course of guiding the interview. She used the term ‘tyranny of the elite’ to describe the bane of the problems of our Nigerian society. She called him an iconic general, and the most urbane president ever, which is quite true! The interviewer and the interviewee made a combination for the most scintillating interview ever, in our political space. IBB is 80, but he spoke with the vigour of a 50 year old, and of course the wisdom of an octogenarian. He was simply intelligent and his responses were very witty. Unlike his acclaimed nickname Maradona, he didn’t dodge a single question, and talked about issues head on. He was quite sincere and brazen, and one could hardly doubt the authenticity of his answers. I was spell bound to the interview from beginning to end. It was truly a brain teasing exercise.
She asked him about the insecurity bedeviling the country and how the army has been overwhelmed. He corrected that insinuation. He remarked that they were stretched and not overwhelmed. They were handling different war fronts at the same time. He praised their gallantry and called for an increased effort in equipping their operations and improving their arsenal. She asked questions about the economy and he was brutal in his response. He says that government has to loosen its grip on a lot of the control it has on economic activity. He said that Nigerians are very innovative and industrious people, and when given the most enabling environment; they will definitely become employers of labour. He emphasised that he was a believer of free market economy. Mrs. Alaegbu was irrepressible. She asked very personal questions like why wasn’t he married? His answer was solemn, sincere and even sweet. He told of his marriage journey and how he lost his dear wife; and that after living for 40 years with someone, losing them and replacing them was not an easy one.
She dared him about the truth of his relationship with PMB. He told her that it was quite close and cordial, and that all of the ill-talk were creations of the media. As if he had pressed a button, she asked him about gagging the press– now and in his time. He told her point blank that you cannot gag the press and the more you tried, the more you did yourself in. He said Nigerians would resist you to a stand still. He reminded her that he liberalised them (the press), and that is why today you have private participation in broadcasting. She spoke to him about the lack of unity and how military interventions had interfered with the nation’s development. He told her that on the contrary, military interventions were part of growth and that right from 1966, Nigeria had shown signs of instability. He reminded her that an Igbo man lives and trades in Baga, Borno state comfortably, and so does a fulani man win an election to become mayor in Enugu; as well as an Igbo man in Lagos. He didn’t shy away from the responsibility of the elite in their role in the breakdown of this culture of unity. He said, “unfortunately, we the elite did not imbibe this culture of unity in our people, and the political class just folded back to the cocoon of their individual cultural identities in their enclaves.”
Then she opened the floor to politics and spoke about zoning and the next elections. He was Frank in his response. We can zone all we want but eventually, we would have to jettison that idea and embrace true democratic ideals as we become more unified as a nation. He spoke explicitly about who he feels should be the leader of the nation. His idea was that of a younger person who was not an octogenarian or a septuagenarian. He would prefer someone in his 60s who first and foremost, believes in the unity of the country. Someone who has friends in every corner of the country and can practically associate with people from different parts of the country– from a political angle. He also spoke about the person having a good grasp of the economy. This vision I must say, forecloses the ambitions of the Atikus and the Tinubus. It however opens up for a generation behind them such as the Sanusi Lamidos, the Ahmed Muazus, the Osinbajos, the Fasholas, the Amaechis, the Donald Dukes, the Fayemis, the Kashim Shettimas, the Akinwunmi Adesinas, and so on.
The interview was as explosive as it was educative and interesting. He exuded a rich grasp of what nation building and crises management entails. I hold him in high esteem as a friend of my father’s, who has stood by me through the most trying times. At one time while I was speaking to him, awed by his presence, I mis-spoke and immediately, he corrected my presentation. I was marveled, and I asked myself, is he a professor or a general? Like we say in younger parlance, that guy is doped man! (I said to myself as I left his presence.) Mrs Alaegbu asked him the secret to his popularity and he said, simple, I never do away with people or shun them. I remain friends for life! IBB has remained friends for life to our family and has treated me as a friend, just the way he treats my late father Dr. Ibrahim Tahir (may Allah bless his soul). In my little way of celebrating you sir, I say Happy Birthday to a brilliant mind Baba.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.