LAST weekend, former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida turned 72. There was an effusive outpouring of birthday messages, with Nigerian newspapers raking in a tidy profit from advertisements from friends and associates of the former president, including even, state governments.
It is indicative of IBB’s staying power in the Nigerian public space, that twenty years after “stepping aside”, he has continued to generate deep emotions, both positive and negative, depending on where the individual stands in respect of Babangida’s place in Nigerian history.
I have come to know IBB very closely in the years since I was appointed Editor of DAILY TRUST, in 2002. We held several hours of interview with him that graced our papers; he had been invited to be guest at the Annual Dialogue which the paper holds; and last year, he was the Special Guest at the public presentation of BLUEPRINT newspaper in Abuja.
At a more personal level, I have also had the privilege of holding even longer hours of very wide-ranging discussions with IBB, on several issues that became central to his years in power. As I stated at the BLUEPRINT event last year, with IBB, one cannot seem to be “neutral” in attitude towards the man. People seem to either dislike the man passionately or admire him intensely.
In my view, if one holds a passionate dislike for the man, the best thing is not to meet him, because you’re more likely to begin to re-assess your feeling towards the man, with a close encounter. I also know that it is how a public official has impacted on the social space that must be the basis of our assessment of his place in history.
It is part of IBB’s legacy that Nigerians continue to judge him largely on the annulment of the June 12 elections and its aftermath. On that score, I think IBB failed very significantly and why he has offered apologies and explanations, he has been unable to escape the censure of history on that significant, historical score.
Yet, as the years have rolled by, many Nigerians have also come to appreciate the man even more and because of the poverty of governance in Nigeria today, his years are more positively remembered in many quarters. What no one can take away from IBB is his infectious charm; his magnetic personality and that remarkable ability to make people welcome.
I have seen that severally in the many times that I have encountered him. I have not failed to notice how advancing years have caught up with the man, as it does all mortals, and how twenty years down the line, the aura of power has gradually given way to soberness, a more religious introspection and a general physical slowing down.
Indeed nothing lasts forever! But there is no gainsaying the fact, that General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida will remain a very important and controversial historical personality in Nigeria’s public space.
I have often wondered what he would have done differently, given a different context and with the benefit of the wisdom of hindsight. I will take that up with him before long as much as also interrogating his views of his own place in history. Happy Birthday IBB!
The journalist and peer recognition
AS you read these lines, I should have arrived in Asaba, the Delta state capital, to attend the 9th All Nigerian Editors Conference. It is a gathering which brings Nigerian editors to brainstorm on the place of the media in Nigeria’s development.
This year, I have been nominated as a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the induction ceremony will hold on Saturday, August 24th. I have never been given to awards or coveting them.
But this is a very significant recognition by professional peers and an acceptance that I have made a modest contribution to our profession, after 36 years of life in broadcasting and journalism. It has been one long, often tortuous journey, but one that I will not trade for any other.
I have been very lucky to be born at a remarkable conjuncture in history, with all the privileges that our country so generously gave me!
That I have been considered a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors is recognition of the journey through the social and historical space by this broadcaster/journalist.
I am very grateful to my peers in the Guild and to all Nigerians for the privileges that I have so generously received from our country. For me, the central issue has always been to use the gifts of broadcasting and journalism for the betterment of our country and of humanity. That has been my mission in the past 36 years and I can only pledge to do that even more in the years ahead!