On 17th August 2020, a day before a 37-year old military Colonel, Assimi Goita, the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, a military junta that seized power from former President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, IBB marked his 78th birthday on a very low key.
IBB is one of former Nigerian dictators still around. From 1966 to 1999, Nigeria was ruled by different dictators and juntas and IBB was one of them. IBB was just not only a strong leader, but he also created “boys”, loyalists and lieutenants that he equally empowered and strategically positioned.
IBB came to power in a 1985 Palace Coup. When the military took power on 31st December, 1983, truncating the second term of the then president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, many people, perhaps including General Mohammadu Buhari, who emerged as Head of state , didn’t know that the event was not an end but just a springboard for the rise of other ambitious officers .
Through hindsight, we could say, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and his group had been planning for their big day for years.
For years, General Ibrahim Babangida had set a lot of events in motion; overtly or covertly, intentionally or unintentionally, to rule Nigeria. So to his core group; some who were his boys and others who were his trusted friends and allies, it was just a matter of time – and when the right time presented itself in 1985 , they activated their cells and took over power.
A background knowledge of the palace coup that brought IBB to power , is important to understanding the modus operandi of its actors.
At independence in 1960, Nigerian army was not designed to play any roles in politics. But sooner had the nation started off than tribalism and corruption in the First Republic, made gullible politicians to drag the military into politics.
At the beginning, most of the top officers in Nigerian Army were of the Igbo and Yoruba tribes, with northerners who were disadvantaged by education coming behind. Sensing trouble, northern politicians, under their charismatic leader, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello brought up a plan to close the number gap. One of the ways used was to lower the bar of educational qualification into the army.
Another way was that, neatly dressed young officers were, in some cases , taken to the government secondary schools in the north to bait unsuspecting intelligent teenagers or adventurous ones. That was how, Yakubu Jack Gowon, was used to attract the likes of Babangida to join the army.
The politics of the 1960s and the politicisation of Nigerian army would give rise to series of events. One of the major issues was the 1966 coup d’état, both the Kaduna Nzeogwu’s coup and the counter coup. Following immediately at its heels was the Nigerian Civil War, that lasted from 1967 to 1970.
These events were enough for the then ambitious Major, Babangida who was seeing these changes and had also participated in the war and even sustained injuries, to start a deliberate policy, to take advantage of these events and be relevant in the scheme of things.
Between 1970 and 1972 when then a Major Babangida, having recovered from war injuries, was made an Instructor and Company Commander in the Short Service Wing of Nigerian Defence Academy, some of the young army officers who came under his influence where most of those who became his boys many years after, for example one of them was a 22- year old boy, Bonaventure Alechenu David Mark. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1970.
Although Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, the man who played an important role in moulding David Mark into a significant mark on the polity, participated in the 1966 counter coup that brought Yakubu Gowon to power and the Nigerian Civil war of 1967 to 1970, it was the Brigadier Mohammed Murtala Coup of 1975 and the role he played in stopping the Bukka Dimka coup of 1976 , that established him as a force in the military . It would be from such a vantage position that IBB would launch himself and his boys like plqa in the early 1980s.
According to Max Siollun in his book, “Oil, Politics and violence: Nigeria’s Military coup culture 1966 -1976”, published in 2009, the July 1975 coup was a watershed in the history of mutiny in Nigeria in that it was the first time in Nigeria’s history that the executioners of a coup apportioned political appointments between themselves.
The two coups of 1966 were carried out by officers with real and perceived political and military grievances, but Siollun observed that despite their murderous intent, they had no interest in personally participating in political activity and most of the key figures in the 1966 coups didn’t participate in the new government established by their revolts.
While the most perpetrators of the two coups of 1966 were not appointed to political positions, the inner circle of the 1975 coup plotters were appointed military governors and Supreme Military Council , SMC, Members.
While the plotters could not reasonably be expected to risk their lives for the benefit of other officials , the 1975 coup seem to have made coup plotting fashionable. Prior to then, staging a coup had been considered a dishonorable conduct.
The two 1966 coups were regarded as isolated cataclysmic events, but the clean , precise and surgical success of the 1975 coup carried the hidden danger that one day, a different faction of the army would try to emulate it. The coup plotters became famous and household names , moved in to plush government offices and became wealthy , thus motivating other officers to try to emulate then.
Most members of the army of this group who before now had only to their credit , the pride that they , as professionals, had fought to unite and keep the country one , rose up suddenly to become rich and men of influence in the polity, and of course their “sons” like the IBB boys . Most of them who are alive today have retained much of their influence and wealth.
Some of the key players of the regime were Murtala who was head of state, Brigadier Obasanjo who was chief of staff, Brigadier Theophilus Danjuma, chief of army staff, Lt Colonel Babangida, Commander, Nigerian army armored cops, and Lt Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was made commissioner of transport. These were some of the members of the SMC .
Those who were appointed as governors in the then 7 states were amongst others , Lt Colonel Muhamadu Buhari, governor , North-East, Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed, governor Benue Plateau and Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo, governor of Kwara.
On 13th February 1976 ,Murtala was killed by Lt Colonel B. S Dimka. Although head of a military government, the people loved the Murtala regime, moreso, no sooner had he taken over power than he had set in motion a transition programme to hand over power back to civilians on 1st October, 1979. So when he was killed , the people revolted and the bravery of dedicated and faithful officers like Danjuma and IBB saved the day.
When IBB was appointed as commander, armored corps in the Murtala government, most of his friends and colleagues were not happy. They said , he was not qualified, but he was to use the coup to save his name during the counter moves against the Dimka coup when he went to negotiate with Dimka who had taken over NBC Radio station. IBB went alone , came back unhurt and mobilized to relaunch an attack that finally quelled the coup and took over the air ways .
Although he played the most important role in the coup, it was Shehu Yar’Adua who benefited most. He was elevated to the second in command. But most importantly, IBB established himself and saved his name amongst those who thought he was not fit for his appointment. The man who took over as head of state, Obasanjo kept to the transition programme that Murtala had set in motion and handed over power to the civilians on 1st October 1979.
At this point they were handing power, most men like Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Danjuma and others had made money, had fame and tested power at the highest level so they left the stage into their cocoons after handing over power.
When they made their money, it appears their lone critic was a rebellious dare devil hemp smoking Lagos based musician, Fela Kuti. He spoke against military corrupt practices in most of his songs , the classical of these is his 1976 hit , “Army Arrangement.”
Others like IBB who now had money, had put in place structures but had not tested power, also left the stage grudgingly, but just back to the barracks to re-strategize and get power.
To me, although politicians who were in power between 1st October 1979 to 31st December 1983 might have given the army guys excuses here and there ,but I believe, it was for the inordinate ambitions of people like IBB that 1983 and 1985 coups took place . It is therefore not coincidental that IBB, his friends and boys emerged as the highest beneficiaries of the era.
Actually, the IBB days began when he used his structures to topple the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1983. When it was time to make appointments, he placed his boys in strategic positions . For the first time, his boys who he used in executing the coup came on the stage, one of them who became visible was his former student at NDA in 1971, David Mark.
In 1984 at the age of 36, IBB influenced the appointment of Mark as governor of IBB’s state of origin, Niger State. After his palace coup in 1985, IBB still allowed Mark to continue as governor till 1986 when Mark was made a federal minister in charge of communications.
In 1993 when IBB left the stage, it was in the hands of his friends and allies like General SaniAbacha and his boys that he left the power to.
For people like Mark, danger only started when Abacha began to build his structures to take over power. Abacha was although a long standing colleague and friend to IBB, but he didn’t trust any of the core IBB boys like Mark around him. Mark too being a student of power left the stage and ran into exile.
When Abacha died and a new dispensation was set in motion, some of the Abacha boys like David Mark and TundeOgbeha , presented presented themselves for election in 1999.
In 2007, David Mark man standing of the renowned IBB boys who had risen so tall in the political structure that had emerged. He was made the Senate President in 2007 and on whole he was in the Senate from 1999- 2019. Unarguably, the era of the IBB boys has waned .
There is no clear message to help the Malian junta think clearer as they attempt to sort out issues in their country, than the transient nature of power and influence as shown by the life of IBB and his boys.