It is not common in any parts of the world to see that one of a nation’s most prized bachelors is a 78 year old man who in addition to holding the honour of being a former President and Head of State, remains one of the most respected men in his country. It would seem like the sort of stuff that is a mix of the Mills and Boon romance novels of yore and the thrilling, fast paced tomes of Frederick Forsyth. However, this is not fiction and the person in focus exists and is well and truly alive in the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria. He is none other than the indefatigable General, the well-known enigma often popularly addressed by his initials, IBB! Yes, the man in focus is the gap toothed one, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
In the annals of Nigeria’s history, you are unlikely to find a more revered, feared and misunderstood leader than him. His few detractors may try to taint him with hues of the infamous mistake he made of annulling the June 12, 1993 presidential election in Nigeria; a mistake he has since acknowledged and taken steps to remedy. Despite that stain on his toga, almost all are in consonance to the greatness of his person and his uncanny wisdom, foresight and tact in helping steer Nigeria’s ship of state.
From an early age, IBB would go to the village square and mediate to settle disputes between and among elderly people. Way before the concept of emotional intelligence started to gain ground in this part of the world, he had developed a preternatural grasp of it and has over the years displayed excellent human management skills such that even when he was clothed with the garb of a military dictator during his 8 years at Nigeria’s helm, he somehow still remains an iconic, charismatic and esteemed leader. As a Colonel then, while some of his peers were engaged in sporting activities on Wednesday or religious activities on the weekend, IBB would spend several hours at leadership training class, learning and wanting to know more from the likes of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi who eventually served as a minister under IBB. His life embodies many of the strategic skills espoused by Niccolò Machiavelli in his treatise, “The Prince” and even though he is also tagged “Maradona” for his slick and deft maneuvering of tough political situations, you cannot quite correctly figure him out. Influenced by revered historical figures like General Montgomery, General Patton and General Rommel, till this day he is regarded as a true statesman and a man who works assiduously to preserve Nigeria’s democracy and continued unity.
As encomiums and accolades pour in for him on his 78th birthday, many students of political history, government and leadership are keenly looking forward to reading his memoirs since he has hinted that it is in the works.
While we await what will undoubtedly be an explosive and classic tome, many Nigerians continue to pray for the kind of national leader that fits a description that IBB gave some time back: one with the sagacity and eloquence of Nnamdi Azikiwe, combined with the knowledge of Awolowo and the charisma of Sardauna, Tafawa Balewa. May history be kind to him, and may Nigeria fulfill its great but oft-wasted potential