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IBB, A Profile of Success

Posted by By Stanley Udofia on 2004/08/23 | Views: 1786 |

IBB, A Profile of Success


It is not an overstatement to describe the Babangida years as the golden age of Nigerian politics and diplomacy. It was also a period when Nigerians were encouraged to contribute through unfettered debates to the formulation and execution of policies affecting them.

It is not an overstatement to describe the Babangida years as the golden age of Nigerian politics and diplomacy. It was also a period when Nigerians were encouraged to contribute through unfettered debates to the formulation and execution of policies affecting them.

Enigmatic. That is how best to describe General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Nigeria's former presdident who turns 63, August 7, 2004. And as his friends and political associates roll out the drums to celebrate the life of one of Nigeria's most celebrated leaders,attention would be focused on his eight years in the saddle as military president.

As has been the case since he 'stepped aside' from Aso Rock about eleven years ago, there are many Nigerians who will see and judge his tenure only in the light of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. From the results of that election which had been officially released, M.K.O. Abiola, presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, was cruising towards an emphatic victory before the election was annuled. It is a fact of history that the Babangida administration would have been the best Nigeria ever had if it had successfully handed over power to a democratically-elected civilian president in 1993. There is no doubt whatsoever that the annulment of the presidential election of 1993, generally acclaimed to be free and fair, was a big political miscalculation on the part of the former military president. He has since acknowledged that mistake and accepted responsibility for it. That is the mark of a good leader.

But should that singular mistake wipe off all the good things he did in eight years? It is surprising that because of the circumstances in which Babangida, stepped aside, in 1993, successive governments have tried their utmost to discredit that administration by throwing overboard almost all the revolutionary changes he introduced into governance aimed at uplifting the political, economic and social fabric of the nation. It is never in dispute that the Babangida administration was very revolutionary in nature and that change, vision, courage and decisiveness were its hallmarks. These were the legacies he left behind for future leaders.

From all indications, it is very clear that Babangida was fully prepared for the challenges of leadership. In his maiden broadcast to the nation as military president, he has said: "This country has had, since independence, a history mixed with turbulence and fortune. We have witnessed our rise to greatness, followed with a decline to the state of a bewildered nation. Our human potentials have been neglected, our natural resources have been put to waste...My colleagues and I are determined to change this course of action."

He knew the problems of Nigeria very well and had them in his fingertips. One such problem was the imbalance in the political structure of Nigeria. He knew very well that the fear of northern domination in the south was a serious threat to the future survival of a united Nigeria. This explains why political restructuring of the federation occupied the front seat in the programmes of his administration. The creation of eleven new states namely Akwa Ibom, Katsina (1987), Abia, Enugu, Taraba, Yobe, Delta, Osun, Kogi, Jigawa, and Kebbi (1991) and more than 200 local government areas by that administration must be seen in the light of Babangida's resolve to give Nigeria a balanced federation and ultimately eliminate the fear of political domination in Nigeria.

After restructuring the federation, Babangida turned his attention to another equally problematic issue, the issue of tribal politics. Part of his desire to eliminate that hydra-headed monster was the introduction of the two-party system in the country. That led to the establishment of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the National Republican Convention, NRC, in 1987. By this arrangement, the administration had done what none before it had done. It involved the building of party offices at local, state and federal levels as well as funding the parties from scratch to maturity.

The advantages that arrangement brought into Nigerian politics were numerous. First, it provided a grassroots basis for the emergence of political parties at local, state and federal levels as well as a platform for the emergence of new political leadership. Unlike what obtains in our present multi-party system, a government-sponsored two-party arrangement provided every Nigerian equal opportunities and rights to participate in the political process irrespective of his or her financial status, religious or geo-political background, professional endeavor or calling. Babangida's two-party system also de-emphasised the role of money and influence of godfathers in politics. But today these twin evils are threatening our young democracy. The two party system also reduced cases of political violence and party indiscipline,political prostitution and made possible a viable opposition. Today, Nigeria has no viable opposition party at all levels of government in the current multi-party arrangement because most of the existing 30 political parties are themselves unviable. They exist only in name and have no representatives in many local government councils, state houses of assembly or even in the National Assembly. Consequently, the political field is left entirely for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and to some extent, the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), to do as they please wherever they are in control. Nigeria had therefore lost a golden opportunity to strengthen its democracy with the abolition of a two-party system which is in vogue in most advanced democracies of the world.

Another major obstacle to the survival of democracy in Nigeria is our penchant for electoral malpractices. This tendency contributed to the collapse of the First and Second republics. Babangida was determined to confront this problem frontally through an innovative electoral system known as "Open Ballot System". In this system, voters lined up behind the candidates of their choice in an election at the polling centers. Counting and recording of votes scored by candidates were done in public to eliminate any form of electoral malpractices. The gains of the system translated into big losses for opponents of free and fair elections in Nigeria. It is not surprising that they were in the forefront campaigning for the discontinuance of the open ballot system which they variously described as primitive and crude. The strident criticisms prompted a modification of the system. It combined the features of the open and secret ballot systems to produce a hybrid system known as the "Open-Secret Ballot System". The open- secret ballot system that is still the prevailing electoral system in Nigeria is one of the legacies of the Babangida administration.

The introduction of Option A4 into the nation's electoral system by the Babangida administration was another administrative and revolutionary reform designed to give democracy root in Nigeria. Indeed, Option A4 revolutionised the process of recruitment of political leadership that had to start from the grassroots, that is, the ward. From the wards, the journey moved to the local government level, then to state level and finally to the federal level. The beauty of this method was that it exposed politicians who were parading themselves nationally as heavyweights when, in actual fact, they had little or no weight at all in their constituencies. It is regrettable that this innovative method of recruiting political leadership was abandoned in favour of the present chaotic system whereby money decides who a political leader should be whether or not he has grassroots support. For democracy to survive in this country the present system must give way to Option A4 . The former president who is angling for another shot at the presidency has indicated his intention to reintroduce Option A4 system should he get the nod to rule again.

The establishment of the Center for Democratic Studies by Babangida was a well-thought out innovation to change the poor democratic attitudes and culture of Nigerians. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, a center was established to undertake the formal training of party leaders and officials at all levels, legislators and appointees in the executive arm of government at all levels. Besides training, the mandate of the center also covered organisation of research to identify sources of anti-democratic attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of Nigerians with a view to devising measures to correct them through educational, bureaucratic and political institutions. The center was a visionary design to prepare the citizens for the demands of a sustained democratic culture and new socio-political order. Again, it is regrettable that the usual Nigerian factor and penchant for discontinuity of policies by successor government killed that dream. Only Babangida can bring it back.

Whenever the history of local government administration in Nigeria is written, the eight-year tenure of President Babaginda deserves a generous chapter. It was during his time that the practice of executive presidency was extended to the local government councils. In the resultant reform process, local government councils enjoyed greater financial autonomy through direct payment to them of statutory allocations from the federation account. During this time, the share of statutory allocations going to the local government councils also increased in proportion to their responsibilities that included primary school education and primary healthcare. Perhaps, the biggest feather in the cap of the administration was its ability to organise a successful population head count in 1991 and which result was less controversial and generally acceptable by Nigerians. Hitherto, population census had been a highly contentious political issue that threatened Nigerian unity.

The administration also took credit for giving Nigeria a dynamic foreign policy. It was Babangida who introduced the concepts of economic diplomacy and consort of medium power into the nation's foreign policy management. For the first time, Nigeria tied her economic and political interests to the country's foreign policy. It was also during the Babangida era that Nigeria became alive to her responsibilities and assumed the role of a regional power in the West African Sub-region. In this respect, she led the way in the efforts to restore peace to war-torn Liberia. Ever since, it had not looked back. The trend has continued in Sierra Leone and lately in Ivory Coast.

It is not a secret that Babangida took over the mantle of leadership at a most trying time in the history of Nigeria. At this time, the political crisis generated by the electoral frauds of 1983 was still very much evident in the country. Besides, the economy was in dire strait. There was an acute foreign exchange crunch which almost shattered the nation's hope of survival. Industrial factories were brought to a standstill because of lack of credit facilities for further importation of essential raw materials. It was, indeed, a time that tried men's souls.

Although Babangida and his team had already made up their mind on how to restructure the economy, he wanted the eventual choice of structural adjustment programme (SAP), to be a collective decision by encouraging a public debate on the desirability of accepting a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to revamp the ailing economy. He made it clear to Nigerians that an outright public rejection of the IMF loan amounted to an endorsement of its alternative which was SAP. The introduction of SAP was therefore a revolutionary reform in the management of the national economy. Essentially, it sought to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks and correct the economic and social imbalance, which not only retarded the country's growth and development, but also promoted extreme inequalities in the distribution of national wealth. It also aimed at a rational allocation of foreign exchange and the stimulation of greater recourse to the use of local raw materials by industrial organisations as well as a restoration of confidence in the economy. Above all, SAP aimed at encouraging diversification of the economy by promoting non-oil exports.

One important element of SAP was the introduction of the second tier foreign exchange market (SFEM), in which the exchange rate of the Naira was determined by an interplay of market forces. The net effect of that new policy translated into a drastic drop in the value of the Naira vis--vis other hard currencies. The introduction of SFEM led to the scrapping of import license system in the economy and its replacement by a weekly auction of available foreign exchange by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The Structural Adjustment Programme called for a number of tough economic measures, which only a courageous leader like Babangida could take. Government had to withdraw 80 percent from petroleum subsidy as well as introduce a wage freeze, a 30 percent economic levy on imports and a 20 percent economic recovery levy on workers. In addition, the administration banned the importation, into the country, of wheat, malted barley, rice and maize. Industrial organisations were encouraged to embrace government policy of backward integration. This policy made it mandatory for them to produce the raw materials needed for their operations locally and to cut down on imports. Expectedly, the tough measures taken by the government to put the economy back on track were greeted with stiff resistance resulting in violent protests in some parts of the country. As a courageous and well-focused leader, Babangida refused to be intimidated by the adverse public reactions and repeatedly warned that "unless we take courageous decisions now to correct the distortions in the economy, future generations will blame the present leaders".

Despite his resolute stand on SAP, Babangida did not lose sight of the social effects of the reform measures. He promptly responded to the changing situations with a package of incentives known as SAP relief measures. He also put in place a number if innovative programmes to ensure sustained economic development of the country. One of such programmes was the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI). The programme was principally designed to bridge the rural-urban gap. Through DFRRI, it was possible for the government to provide rural infrastructure such as roads, water, housing and electricity as well as job opportunities to the rural dwellers to stem the tide of rural-urban drift. When DFRRI was inaugurated on February 7, 1986, its mandate was to co-operate with all agencies of the federal, state and local governments, the organised private sector, the informal economic sector and all Nigerian communities both rural and urban in transforming their productive conditions. Before the Directorate was scrapped later, it had succeeded in constructing thousands of kilometers of rural feeder-roads, providing potable water to numerous rural communities, installing rural electricity in many communities as well as initiating new farming techniques and improved rural housing.

The Directorate of Employment ,NDE, was another innovative programme Babangida initiated. Despite some lapses in its implementation, the Directorate succeeded in creating millions of job opportunities for Nigerians while several thousands got soft loans to establish their businesses. Apart from the NDE, the People's Bank, Community Banks and Better Life Programme were initiated during the life of the administration as part of its job-creation and self-employment programmes. The aim and focus of all these programmes were primarily to achieve a common objective of bringing development closer to the people especially those living in the rural areas. That, perhaps, explained why most of the socio-political-economic programmes of the Babangida administration chose the local government areas as their pivot.

There was also the National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND) which was set up to complement the functions of the People's Bank, the Community Banks, the NDE and the Better Life Programme (a programme initiated by Maryam Babangida). NERFUND'S primary responsibility was to encourage the establishment of and growth of small and medium-scale enterprises to boost the productive sector of the national economy. In the agricultural sector, the administration was not found wanting. DFRRI'S mandate covered investment in all aspects of agricultural production such as cash and tree-crop production, fishery, poultry, rabbitry and livestock. Its efforts in this direction were designed to complement those of the ministries of agriculture and other relevant government agencies. Babangida, however, realised that land development constituted a big obstacle to increased food production because of the prohibitive costs involved. To confront this problem, he set up the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA). Its mandate was to execute a national land development project with funding from the local communities, local, state and federal governments. This was to help those who chose to go into food and tree-crop production but had no funds for land development. Universities of agriculture came into being during the Babangida era as part of the administration's design to make agriculture a key factor in national economic recovery. Part of their mandate was to frontally tackle the problem of low production in agriculture through research. They were also to establish the linkage between the research and extension services.

Another innovative scheme for which the Babangida administration will continue to be remembered was its Urban Mass Transit Scheme initiated to tackle the perpetual problem of urban transportation. Under this scheme, federal, state and local governments were obliged to set up agencies to run intra and inter-state transport services in order to tackle the progressive high transport fares occasioned by the withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products. In addition, the federal military government established a revolving loan scheme to assist private individuals and trade unions to get revolving loans at concessionary interest rates to run transport services. The Federal Urban Mass Transport Authority operated the scheme. Specifically, the Federal Military government set aside N100 million as loans to trade unions to enable them organise, finance and manage mass transportation for their members. The scheme also addressed the problem of unemployment by creating employment opportunities for the youths.

One area for which Babangida will be eternally remembered is his efforts to restructure the nation's revenue base through the development of the steel, energy and gas sectors. No administration before him has pursued, with such greater vigour and clarity of purpose, the development of the nation's steel and petroleum resource potentials as his. It was during his time that such visionary projects like the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), located at Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, and the Oso Condensate Project were conceived and started. It was during his time that the Ajaokuta rail line, the Osara Dam, the Shiroro Hydro Power Station and Delta 4 Gas Turbine Plant were completed and commissioned.

Perhaps, the greatest testimony of the administration was the active encouragement given to indigenous entrepreneurs to participate in oil exploration and exploitation. For the first time in Nigeria's history, the oil business challenge was thrown to them by the allocation of new acreages to Nigerian entrepreneurs with relatively soft terms in order to foster indigenous participation in the upstream oil sector. This new policy paid off when an indigenous oil company, Consolidated Oil, owned by Michael Adenuga, struck oil in commercial quantity in December 1992.

In the social services sector, Babaginda will be remembered for his primary health programme that laid more emphasis on preventive than curative healthcare delivery services. Under the programme, greater emphasis was given to maternal and child care. The expanded programme on immunisation (EPI), targeted at six major childhood diseases, and the oral re-hydration therapy (ORT), received more attention during the Babangida regime than in any past administration. Nigerian women will also continue to remember that regime for its bold efforts to give the womenfolk a pride of place in the country. Apart from the Better Life Programme put in place for the economic empowerment of women especially the rural dwellers, the administration also created a special commission known as Women's Affairs Commission, to handle women affairs.

The bold efforts of the administration to promote productivity and transparency in the public services are worthy of note. In addition to the civil service reforms which made holders of public offices accountable for their actions several years after leaving office, Babangida set up a National Productivity Center and saddled it with the responsibility of stimulating productivity consciousness in the public services throughout the country. Its charge also covered promotion of improvement in productivity in all sectors of the Nigerian economy. There was also "Operation Excellence in Public Service" designed by government to motivate Nigerians to seek opportunities for great achievements in the face of difficulties. The scheme was also meant to encourage Nigerians to be willing to take courageous but realistic steps to progress. The over all aim of the scheme was to move Nigeria forward in her march towards higher levels of efficiency and productivity in the economy through dedicated and patriotic services. To underscore the importance of the scheme, February 21, of every year was declared "A National Productivity Day".

The achievements of the Babangida administration are by no means exhaustive and therefore all cannot be accommodated in this write-up. But one thing is now very clear. That is, the eight years which the regime lasted was not a wasted period. Babangida had a vision of what he wanted Nigeria to be. That was why he came up with a reform package that was anchored on two pillars. The first pillar was the economy which was concretised on SAP. The second pillar was pursued in the transition to civil rule programme. His dream of giving Nigeria a new social order that was democratic, viable and self-reliant, was aborted by his unceremonious exit from power. It can now be realised in his second coming in 2007.

It is not therefore an overstatement to describe the Babangida years as the golden age of Nigerian politics and diplomacy. It was also a period when Nigerians were encouraged to contribute through unfettered debates to the formulation and execution of policies affecting them. This policy process enhanced the democratisation of the Nigerian society and also guaranteed grassroots participation in governance at all levels. Nigerians look forward to a return of the golden age in 2007 with nostalgia.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.