Celebrating his 75th birthday in Minna, the capital of Niger State, yesterday, former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, protested an age-long derisive appellation, saying he was not the evil that people ascribe to him.
Interestingly, President Muhammadu Buhari, who Babangida pushed out of power in 1985, paid him glowing tributes yesterday “There is hardly any major episode in Nigeria’s short history where your name and contribution does not feature,” he said in a congratulatory message to his erstwhile adversary.
Widely referred to in the media as an evil genius because of his deft political manoeuvres in his days as military president, Babangida said he was a trustworthy person with an excellent background.
“I am not the evil genuis that a lot of people think I am. I have an excellent background and by my training I am trained to love people,” he told newsmen in Minna at a press briefing held as part of activities to mark his 75th birthday, which comes up today, explaining that he had been largely misunderstood and dubbed evil genuis because of his job.
He said: “I was bound to be misconstrued and people will take it like that but I consider it as opinions as long as I am not what you think I am I feel satisfied.”
Asked what he would have done differently if he had the opportunity, the former military president said he would have made the National Assembly a part-time business as one of the ways to save cost.
According to him, “In 1989 we proposed that the National Assembly should be part-time. I still believe that if I had the opportunity I will make the National Assembly part-time. I believe in that very strongly. It is all in an effort to cut down the cost of governance.”
Babangida said being a military officer was more challenging than being a military president because as the latter, he had to seek people’s advice and discuss based on the prevailing situation. On the contrary, he said, a military officer would act alone and take responsibility for his decisions.
“You are the only one with the troops you are commanding. Their hopes are on you and if you read a situation wrongly you will put everyone in danger,” he explained.
The former military president, who fought in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, relived his battle-front experience, saying the movement of the federal troops from Enugu to Umuahia was his toughest military experience because they (the troops) had to be physically fit to undertake the journey on foot through the jungles and the mountains.
Babangida said it was at this front that he got injured.
He challenged young Nigerians with ambition to join the army to be ready to face the task ahead, adding: “The youth should expect to serve in any situation that they may be called upon to serve. The army is a noble profession and it is a profession that requires a lot of courage.”
Two prominent Nigerians testified to his good character in separate goodwill messages yesterday.
Buhari and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said that Babangida deserved accolades for his contributions to the development of the nation.
The president said: “On behalf of myself, my family, the government and people of Nigeria, I wish to heartily congratulate you on the milestone of attaining 75 years.
“I equally wish to congratulate you on your service to the country, and your commitment to oneness and indivisibility of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“There is hardly any major episode in Nigeria’s short history where your name and contribution does not feature.
“On this special occasion, I pray that Almighty Allah grants you many more years to see Nigeria grow and develop beyond all of our wildest dreams.”
On his part, Atiku said one of the greatest legacies of Babangida was two-party system which made the political process more manageable.
Atiku, who spoke through a statement by his Head of Media, Paul Ibe, in Abuja yesterday said Babangida reduced the wastage of resources through the financial support the political parties got from the country’s electoral commission.
He noted that the former military president facilitated the development of the Federal Capital Territory, conceived by a former Head of State, late Gen. Murtala Mohammed.
“The virtues of forgiveness and the magnanimous spirit of the former president is one of the magnetic and endearing features of his character. It is impossible to encounter IBB without being moved by his humility towards people, regardless of their social status in life,” Atiku said, adding: “His detribalised nature and passion about Nigeria’s oneness are virtues worthy of emulation.”
He prayed that God grants the former military president many more years in good health so that the country could continue to drink from his fountain of wisdom.