Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB): Happy Birthday to a genial genius.

I set out early with my birthday wishes because once it gets to August, there will be a heavy downpour of articles, full page advertorials and many forms of birthday salutations and my humble contribution may not find its way through. For a visionary like IBB, the likes of Femi Afegbua would be there, churning out ‘sparkles’ of write-ups even if perfunctory. I set out early, because I was also inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Happy Birthday to Peter Obi, my dearest big bro’; where she unequivocally expressed her gratitude to Peter Obi, for his kindness to her parents. Unsurprisingly, she referred to his obsession with Malaysia’s GDP. Such obsessions are the talking points of his opponent’s attack dogs, who find holes in figures and other data submitted by him in interviews. She glowingly spoke about how he supported her when she was honored by the United Nations Foundation in New York, and reminded us of his penchant for staying in cheap hotels to save money.

If a famed writer like Adichie could come out of the closet for Peter, why couldn’t I, for IBB? Afterall my benefactor towers a thousands floors over hers! My first contact with IBB was when I accompanied my late father, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi to Dodan Barracks to visit him, back in the Ramadhan of 1987. I was just 10 years old. He asked for my mom by her nickname ‘Anti’ and sent his regards. I got a presidential handshake, which still envelopes my boyhood memories anytime I get nostalgic. I also accompanied him once to visit IBB as an ex head of state at his hilltop residence in Minna. In a subsequent visit after Talba’s (late Tahir) demise, IBB told me that Nigeria could never be able to reward late Tahir for his contributions to the country. He told me that as head of state, he once invited Talba’s contributions to a retreat at NIPPS Kuru. He says it was one of the most intellectually rich contributions he had ever seen.

I set out early, instigated by the intrigues of present day democracy, that have given birth to a presidential nomination under the APC, with a fantabulous combination of Tinubu from the South West, and Kashim from the North East, devoid of religious sentiments. This is an exact replica of the Mko/ Kingibe ticket of the SDP in Hope ’93. This was ofcourse an IBB project, in a visionary move to breaking barriers & borders, hampering nation building & national unity. Today, this combo is celebrated as transcending our religiocultural divides. The blame of Hope 93 was heaped on IBB which he has convincingly carried for decades. But we now know better that Nigeria has cabals and ‘power brokers’. We have national cake bakers and cutters, always lying low, lined up by the table, ready to blow the candles and cut. Once they’re not with you or an idea, just know that it is history. It is becoming clearer why and how ’93 was jettisoned by certain powerful interests at the time. History nominated IBB for that blame, masterfully tweaked by the very powerful South Western media. In next year’s elections, millions of Nigerians will be slugging it out, in support of APC’s candidates, who are an exact replica of IBB’s Hope ’93. Fast forward 2022 and we are now chasing Hope ’23!

I set out early because of Uncle Woye’s timely lessons in history. I must thank Woye, our senior lesson teacher on twitter, who aptly captured one of those visionary and purposeful leadership policies of the IBB era, in the creation of the Nigerdock in 1986, a Nigerian shipyard on Snake Island. It graduated from ship repairing and maintenance, to ship building. It had a small craft boasting of 28 vessels but by 2001, it had successfully repaired over 600 ships of various specifications with over 1500 staff. Visitors could not believe they were in Nigeria. In 2002 it was privatised. Nigeria is now losing no less than 500 million dollars to ships leaving to Ivory Coast for docking facilities. The firm that bought the Dock was supposed to raise the staff strength to 6000, providing employment opportunities to Nigerians. In 2009, a House of Reps inquiry along with a BPE investigation, have reported that Nigerdock privatisation was a failure, vis-a-vis the projected position of the company at that time. The New owners veered off to offshore construction and abandoned real ship building.

If you listen to our frivolous and salacious media, IBB is conscripted to the army of leaders who did not do well. If you decide to be fair, unbiased and objective of your assessment of the crop of leaders we’ve had in Nigeria, you would most likely celebrate him. One could just look at how the current administration is struggling with building infrastructure among other salient security challenges; and be amazed by how the IBBs did it before. Aside an assessment of IBB as a leader or administrator, my informed and up close knowledge and appreciation of the legend IBB, gives me a narrative that either negates what we are made to believe about him, or gives you atleast a fairer insight into his character, personality and capabilities as a human. He calls me Talba, and treats me with the dignity he accords my late father. He has made sure I never lacked, whenever ‘lacking’ comes calling, to the extent that I shy away from seeking his attention, when I am in penury; because he never fails me. He has been my father’s brothers’ keeper and been there for me as a father, ameliorating my pains of living without a father or guardian, coping with the challenges of ascending the title of Talba, which has huge legacies. At avery young age of 31, I became Talba and god oh my, is it challenging. IBB has stepped in one too many times to save the day. If late Tahir were alive, or had a lens from heaven, he would confirm what a great friend he had. By my watch, his best friend ever. A friend in need is a friend indeed. I pen my birthday wishes to a visionary, courageous and witty man. One of the best we’ve had.

Tahir is Talban Bauchi.

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