On the eve of his birthday, I was a part of the team of journalists and well-wishers that visited him to interact with him and listen to his reflections on life, the nation and the world at large on adding another age of wisdom. It was an inspiring and exciting moment, being there and acknowledging his impressive modesty and philosophy of life, the society and politics.
Many times in the past decade, rumours of his death were carried in the media. One may think he was psychologically traumatised by such hoaxes. “It is not new,” he said. “They have done it to Zik, Shehu Shagari, and recently to Maitama and other statesmen. It is not new. Whether I like it or not, I will still die. They are only stating the obvious.” And then, as if to highlight the vulnerability of everyone of us, including the publishers of such false reports, he said, “The only thing we do not know about our death is, we don’t know the cause, time or the place.”
This religious disposition resonated in his recollections of the events of his life and experiences, and in this one may see how his late wife, Hajiya Maryam Babangida of blessed memory, created a vacuum in his heart nobody has been able to fill. “Although my children have individually identified ways over the years to fill this vacuum, which I’m thankful for, my wife had a better part of me.” He mainatained.
He praised her religious activities and philanthropy, and identified her role in the empowerment of women, especially through her remarkably effective pet project, Better Life for Rural Women, which empowered women and provided them with opportunities to learn skills and secure means of pursuing various entrepreneurial ventures and interest. There’s no doubt that Mrs Babangida was a First Lady of a class yet to be imitated by any, and it was sincerely for her true identification with, and passion for, the women.
At 75, IBB remains a model for many men in this part of the world. His marital status has been a topic of special interest and curiosity. He was handsome, charismatic, successful and yet that wasn’t an excuse to practise polygamy as his contemporaries. For a generation of youths who grew up with perception of marriage as adding more wife with every success or even failure, IBB is a lesson to embrace. This, perhaps, only highlighted the virtues of his late wife.
Aside from being a legendary figure in Minna, IBB’s mythical status is actually most referenced and discussed outside his place of residence. It’s easy to see why, as former military President of Nigeria, he’s a subject of endless and polarising debates over two decades after leaving office. His legacy in office is understood differently by those who tracked his career and government.
Growing up in Minna, it’s impossible to miss the former President’s impacts on the state capital and beyond. There were a lot of things that prepared my mind to understanding the national and international perspective of the enigma as I came to properly grasp his life and its essence as a military officer, administrator and politician.
One mistake we make in Nigeria is attributing what we perceive as a leader’s failure to him alone without the recognition of those who contributed to what some considered failed, including the critics themselves. Sometimes this error is out of a personal resolve to embarrass, without critically studying the circumstances.
However, the most charming trait of IBB is his treatment of his critics. He embraced them, even though he could antagonise them. He engaged them, even though, as a military leader, his subordinates would’ve easily moved to eliminate such forces.
The most vehement critics of his policies like the nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, and the foremost journalist-turned-educatinist, Tai Solarin, were appointed to serve in his administration. Soyinka served as Chairman of Federal Road Safety Commission and Solarin was Chairman of The People’s Bank, which was established to provide loans and credit facilities for the poor to start or sustain their businesses.
That visionary thinking was what made IBB different, the fact that he found his critics’ expressed ideals appealing and even gave them a platform to contribute their ideas towards the growth of the nation. Though one may see why he’s blamed for the failings of those he recognised as capable hands to fix the rots of the nation.
As the debate over his stewardship as Nigeria’s most analysed and studied leader continues, here is wishing this phenomenal man Allah’s infinite mercy and benevolence, for Allah is the only impartial Judge of Deeds. Happy Birthday, General!