‘The Trouble with Nigeria’

by Olu Ojedokun

In my later years at King’s College I developed a fascination for Ikoyi and Lagos Island and I spent a few of my holidays at the home of my uncle Dr. Adigun on Saka Jojo Street, Victoria Island. From there I could link up with ’Bayo Oyesanya and other school mates. It was here that we heard about a senior ranking officer in the Army, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. We had heard of the myth built around his foiling of the Dimka coup, his identification with the left and his radical tendencies. However, this never seemed to marry with the array of cars that littered his compound at the time. He seemed to be very wealthy and I could not square this up with the image I cultivated of a clean living army officer.

Once while at Ikoyi, visiting a Falomo barbing saloon with my friend and schoolmate Ogenof, Babangida, a newly promoted Major General walked in and began exchanging greetings in Yoruba with all those in sight. He was very much at ease, accessible and confounded me with his easy style. As suddenly as he emerged he disappeared into the shadows as we sought him out. This intensified my love affair with his image. It was this man that became the Army Chief after the military truncated the civilian administration of President Sheu Shagari. I secretly harboured the desire that Babangida now a Major General would one day take over the reins of power. My wish was granted when in August 1985 who overthrew his colleague Muhammadu Buhari and became the ‘President’, the title a potent to his ambitions to transform into a civilian ruler. Later on when he was Nigerian President during my Law School year I caught a glimpse of him as he casually drove around Lady Oyinkan Abayomi Road in a Santana Volkswagen car.

I now believe that Nigeria made an error of monumental proportions by allowing the man called ‘IBB’ to take over the reins of power. I believe the beginning of his administration began the irretrievable spiral downwards. A regime that was meant to be corrective became destructive of all of the basic Nigerian values. Corruption became a byword and a fundamental objective of state policy. The blur became public funds and personal funds assumed a new dimension.

According to ’Tolu Ogunlesi by 1985, Nigeria’s foreign debt had ballooned to $18 billion, up from $3.4 billion in 1980 (it would rise beyond $30 billion by the end of the 80s), and external reserves had dwindled to less than $2 billion . Oil prices had been in free fall for three years running, and in January 1986 they finally fell to less than $20 per barrel, a record low since the start of the decade. It is suggested that to his credit Babangida made all the right noises about revamping the economy. In his Independence Day 1985 speech, barely two months old in office, he declared a state of economic emergency for the next 15 months. That speech went on to lay down a comprehensive plan for economic reconstruction. The plan included a moratorium on new foreign debt, promotion of agriculture and industrial development, restriction of importation to essential commodities, financial sector reform and privatisation.
IBB appeared to be a master of the populist move and led an activist government, dancing from left to right and never sitting still – ambitious government programs targeted at tackling poverty, and empowering rural dwellers. His government churned out program after program, in a bid to actualize his promises to run an inclusive, people-facing government. In 1986, Babangida launched the Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER).

In 1987, the Directorate of Food and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI) was launched to promote agriculture and transform Nigeria’s rural landscape by providing modern infrastructure. Other Babangida creations include the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND), Peoples Bank of Nigeria (PBN), National Board for Community Banks (NBCB), Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), National Planning Commission (NPC), and the Urban Development Bank.

No other Nigerian government presided over such substantial expansion of government bureaucracy as the Babangida administration. In time, the fiscal prudence that Babangida espoused vanished: billions of naira were sunk into an endless transition programme, and in the early 90s, 12 billion dollars worth of windfall crude oil revenue (courtesy of the rise in the oil prices due to the Gulf War) could not be accounted for. General Babangida also came to perfect the art of dispensing patronage through political appointments (mostly targeted at leading members of the opposition) and a far-from-transparent allocation of lucrative oil blocks.

He devised a maddeningly convoluted transition programme, whose terminal date soon became a mirage, with no ending in sight – first 1990, then 1992, and then 1993 – is one of the most significant things Babangida will be remembered for. Early on in his administration, Mr. Babangida inaugurated a Political Bureau to kick off, as it were, the national debate on a viable future political ethos and structure for our dear country. The political bureau was soon followed by a Constituent Assembly, which in 1989 fashioned a new constitution for the country.

Also, in 1989, he created, by presidential fiat, two political parties, the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention. Then in 1991, he released a controversial list of prominent politicians whom he said were banned from participating in the transition programme.

In October 1992, he cancelled the results of the parties presidential primaries, causing new primaries to be held in March 1993. And then in June 1993 he annulled the results of the presidential elections, presumed to have been won by billionaire businessman MKO Abiola. By this time, Nigerians had finally had enough of his shenanigans, and violent protests forced him to step aside on August 27, 1993:

“My colleagues and I are determined to change the course of history.”

General Babangida told Nigerians in his maiden speech as Head of State, on August 27, 1985. By the time he reluctantly relinquished power exactly eight years later, he had achieved that goal, far more successfully than he, or anyone else, could ever have imagined.

By the time the general left office unceremoniously, he had bequeathed the collapse of the Nigerian economy and the mass exodus of Nigerian professionals: It is suggested that the confounding corruption, failed policies and the eventual collapse of 
Nigeria’s economy profoundly diminished people’s living standards. He inherited a fairly strong economy that was on the path of recovery. The Naira was basically at par with the United States dollar but by the time he left, the Naira had plunged to an all-time low,
 exchanging for 44 Naira to the dollar. This nearly 50-fold (or nearly 5000%) drop eroded the purchasing power of Nigerians. A Nigerian worker who made 50 Naira per day before Babangida’s era could purchase a 250-dollar refrigerator with a week’s wage. If the same worker made 4 times that amount (i.e. 200 Naira per day) during Babangida’s era, his daily wage would be 4.5 dollars per day, or 22.7 dollars per week. This worker required 12 weeks wage to purchase the same refrigerator. That was a 1200% fall in living standards of living. By the time Babangida left office, the economy had completely collapsed like a pack of cards.

Here exist a man to whom much hope was given and invested and proceeded to squander it playing games, indulging in trickery and unleashing corrupt machinations. It is suggested that by the time he left office is name had become synonymous with corruption. The irony is that IBB might have become a synonym, the present crop of rulers have come corruption itself, supprassing him in all facets and confounding all.

1: Ogunl

esi, Tolu (2010) The Babangida Years, 17th April 2010. Accessed from [http://www.nairaland.com/522441/babangida-years-facts-may-want]

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