An Open Letter to
Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd.)
– Sunday 24th October 2010.
Salam a leikum to you and your family. I hope this letter meets you very well.
I am very sure you do not know me, not even if I trace my family history to the third generation. Suffice it to say that I am a 34 yr old Nigerian that has lived all his life in Nigeria and would just love to bring some things to your notice as you go about your aspiration to become a democratically elected President of this Nigeria that you love so much.
Some people reading this my letter will question my assertion that you love Nigeria. I will not bother to convince them that you do love Nigeria, knowing that we all love Nigeria but only have different ways of showing our love. But that is another matter entirely.
I would like to start by thanking you for the wonderful things you have done for this country, especially during your meritorious military career, serving your fatherland. My late father (he was about your age, but he passed away four years ago) used to regale me with heroic tales of Nigeria’s young officers in the 1960’s, and 70’s. I was fascinated by stories of “the Five Majors” and “why they struck”; the stories of the revenge coup of July ’66, and the war that was fought to keep Nigeria one. My father firmly believed you were a gallant officer in that war. He was briefly in the army but he left early for some personal reasons.
Please bear with me as I bring back to mind the things I heard were your contributions to the governments of Murtala Muhammed, ‘Segun Obasanjo (1). He told me you were instrumental in quelling some coups and in starting some yourself. I remember vividly, him describing your patrolling the Dodan Baracks in 1966, for almost 24 hours, without a break. That was heroic, and tough. The rest of your antics in Nigeria, I followed by myself.
Yes, you recently said the younger generation of 18 to 35 only heard stories, but I will let you know that we saw some of these things with our korokoro eyes, and we heard them live, sometimes on the NTA Network News. I will highlight some of these things. Things I would put in your report card if I were your teacher; the things I will tell my infant son when he is old enough, who will tell his own son, the things that you did when you had the big opportunity to run this your beloved Nigeria. Of course I am referring to 1985 – 1993. God forbid that you get that chance again.
1. Nigeria’s economy: I really wish things were rosy when you were President. Really. For your sake, and my childhood’s sake, I wish they were. My parents were secondary school teachers, both of them belonging to the first generation of university graduates from their respective communities, and they were doing OK. In fact, they got married in 1972, and between 1972 and 1982, they had lived in Zaria, Ibadan, Iwo and Osogbo. They had bought 3 cars (one in 1973, a replacement in 1976 and an additional one in 1982). Brand new cars, actually. Not the tokunbos that we do ‘thanksgiving’ for these days. They had built their own house (a 6-bedroom bungalow) and were doing fine. They continued to cope after you became president, but it dawned on me some weeks ago that the 1982 car was the very last brand new car my father bought in his lifetime. Of course you were not the finance or economics minister that introduced SAP, but the egg-heads that were the ministers of those days tell us that it was not implemented right. Anyway, you have told us that you gladly bear the responsibility of the actions of your government. You however lamented recently at the launch of your campaign that the Naira exchange rate that you left in 1993 was not this ridiculous N150 to $1, but you forgot to mention how much it was in 1985. It was 89kobo to $1, jumping to N2 in 1986, N4 in 1987 and about N22 to $1 when you left. I also need to remind you that since Naira was introduced in Nigeria in 1972 (from the time of Gowon, to Murtala, to Obasanjo 1, to Shagari, to Buhari), it had always hovered at between 50k to $1 and 78kobo to $1, till you came. I think that should be fairly judged as a fail grade. As we say in this generation, you did not try !
2. Corruption: How do I explain this well to you? The government before yours –that of Messrs Buhari and Idiagbon – was extremely hard on the politicians they toppled. Unfortunately, corruption did not start with the Shagari Govt. Corruption was huge in the days of Okotie-Eboh, and even in the decades before, as you well know. All human beings can be corrupt, like an African proverb says “Everyone can steal when there’s nobody at home”. But what works in developed countries and in fact very well in the Middle East where Sharia is practiced is the fear of the law. The people need to fear being caught, and punished. With Idiagbon’s tough stance against indiscipline and corruption, EVERYBODY became sane. We were on our way to building a society where nobody dared embezzle money, collect bribes or jump queues. You reversed all that when you came. We Nigerians had it in us to not be corrupt but before the seeds of that thought could germinate, you dropped all charges against the imprisoned politicians, telling us we could get away with murder, literally.
The brown envelope found its way into Nigeria’s vocabulary. Some people like to say that you institutionalized corruption, I think it’s better to say you set it loose on our streets. During your Presidency, we lost all respect for the law. And for the Police, as a matter of fact. For that, I can confidently say: You did not try.
3. Education: I will say candidly that you did not completely fail in this sector. I personally think the 6-3-3-4 system is a great innovation that should have served us well, but implementation is our huge problem. I entered one of our prestigious unity schools (a Federal Government College) in 1988, and had a great 6 years, with wonderful and dedicated teachers (even though our laboratories and libraries could have been better), but I did not know that I was merely eating ‘saari’ (the early morning meal Muslims take during the Ramadan fast), and my fasting was just postponed for a few years down the line. I left FGC Ilorin in July 1993 (a remarkable leaving, as my uncle and mum who came to pick me from the boarding house had to drive through bon-fires and riots all the way to Osogbo – as a result of your infamous annulment of the June 12 election). I expected to start my university degree in October 1993 but that your unique invention –ASUU strike- did not make this possible till April 1994. Then your friend Sani Abacha added more years and I could not graduate till Feb 2000. Several other students can relate their experiences from the 1992 ASUU strike and so many others, but we know that this instability and total disregard for the Ivory towers and all it stood for, led to the mass exodus of our best lecturers (brain-drain it was called), and these brains that left have not yet drained back to Nigeria since then. Doctors left en-masse to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and so many African countries. You should be ashamed actually, that while your fine son Mohammed and his siblings were schooling in Switzerland and other beautiful places, we were rotting away in Nigerian Universities. And you say we should trust you again?
4. June 12: I’m sorry you CANNOT get away from this sir. Not as long as there are calendars in this world. True, I was sitting for my May/June SSCE Exams in Ilorin when the votes were cast, but we faithfully followed the results being announced state by state by state by state. True, I was too young to vote. I was going to be 17 in November 1993 but the annulment of the obviously free and obviously fair elections was arguably the small fire that led us down the Abacha years. I cannot forget the announcement of the creation of Osun State that you made about 2 years before the June 12 elections. “Osun State, from the old Oyo State, with the headquarters at Osogbo” still rings in my head till today. We were extremely overjoyed in Osogbo but you have erased all that goodwill with the annulment you announced on June 23. The reason why it is very sad is that you had the power to not annul this. You had the power to do what Uncle ‘Sege did in 1979. You even had the benefit of hindsight to put measures in place such that the intervention of Dec 1983 would not have been necessary again.
Yes you did some good things, starting the Federal Road Safety Corps with the indefatigable ‘Wole Soyinka; you started DFFRI, you built the 3rd Mainland bridge in Lagos, and built the FCT in a rush (though we know it was the Orkar coup that really rattled you into that) but the killing of Vatsa, the highly controversial deaths of Dele Giwa and of course that of the officers that died in the crash of September 1992; are ghosts you must be very familiar with right now. I will not bring them up. Besides, these are things I heard about. This letter is about the things I saw.
I think I should stop here. I am not sure you were aware of these very important points before now. I do not see how you could have been aware, and still decide to go ahead to ask for our votes.
My father cannot vote again. He has gone to heaven but I would be a bastard to look at you, with your records of 1985 to 1993, and vote for you. I would also be a really terrible father not to be able to tell my son when he is old enough that I did my best, and convinced everyone I knew, not to vote for you.
I know you will understand.
It is personal.
On behalf of my late father, and my infant son, both of whom cannot vote at this time, I say please go back home to Minna. You could spend some time on a memoir.
God be with you.
God bless Nigeria.
24 October 2010.