Today, former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, turns 75. To mark his birthday, he granted press interview where he talked about his experiences, family and military career, among others. He, however, refused to talk about contemporary politics.
You have been a military officer and a military president. Which one was more challenging?
Being a military officer was more challenging than being a military president. Being a military officer, you are leading men into danger; your life and their lives very much depend on you as the Commander. I see it as more challenging than being the president. As a military president, you still have to seek people’s advice; you interact; you discuss based on the prevailing situation you find yourself, but being the military officer, 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.
You experienced the civil war? What experience at that time would you describe as your toughest?
I think it was the movement from Enugu to Umuahia. It was very tough and challenging; you need to be physically fit to be able to undertake such thing because we were moving on our feet and we had to go through the jungle, mountains, hills and so on. It was the toughest experience I’ve ever had.
It has been a while since your wife died. How have you been coping?
It has not been easy, but I thank God that I have children who show remarkable understanding and have been doing their best by trying to do what their mother was doing. I also have a lot of grandchildren and they take most of my time.
From your heart of hearts, how do you feel being 75?
I feel old because what I was able to do 25 years ago, I am not able to do it physically now; but I thank God that He has spared my life to reach this golden age.
What advice do you have for the younger generation?
I only have one piece of advice for them: Play hard and pray hard.
What advice do you have for the younger ones, who want to the join the army, especially owing to the prevailing security situation?
The basic elements still remain the same up to now despite what we are going through. We joined the army for the purpose of being in the force to protect this country; that hasn’t changed. They also have to submit themselves to a constituted authority and they will have to undertake task or job assigned to them by the government and they should be expected 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.
You said recently that you would be giving advice to leaders and the younger generation. How does it feel being an elder statesman advising leaders?
You feel good because you are not at the receiving end. Based on your experience of the past, you will now be able to offer advice because you might have come across a similar situation during the course of your time.
What way have you been misinterpreted in the past and you wish you were not misconstrued that way?
I am not the evil that quite a lot of people consider that I am. By virtue of the job I was doing, I was bound to be misconstrued and people would take it like that; but I consider it as an opinion as long as I am not what you think I am. I feel satisfied. I read somewhere sometime ago that they said I stole N12.8 billion and I said if I stole such money, I had no business staying in the country; but those are the type of things that one has to live with. I hope the younger generation will carry out a research about leadership, people, individual and what role they play in the development of the nation and they come up with a different conclusion from what is on ground now.
How did you feel when death rumours started flying about you?
It is not new; they had done it to Zik, Shehu Shagari and other statesmen. It is not new. Whether I like it or not, I will still die; they are only stating the obvious. The only thing we do not know about death is that we don’t know the cause, time or the place.
What do you wish you would do differently if you had the chance, either in your public or private life?
During my public life, there were a number of decisions we took, as a military officer or as a political officer that if I had the chance again, I would have done it differently. For example, in 1989, we proposed that the National Assembly should be optional, that is part-time. I still believe that if I had the opportunity, I would make the National Assembly part-time. I believe in that very strongly. It’s all in an effort to cut down the cost of governance.
When you were young, you must have been very handsome. Looking back, how were you able to convince your late wife to marry you?
While we were courting, there was one aspect that she did not believe me. The first one, she did not believe that I was serious because of the reputation I had as a playboy, but I assured her that it wouldn’t be a problem, that I would be a changed person completely and I am glad I was. I had no problem solidifying the relationship because I knew her and I knew everyone in her family.
How did you ask her to marry you?
I was straight to the point. I told her bluntly that I wanted to marry her.
Was going into the army the only option you had in your choice of career?
When I was young, my principal wanted me to go into administration. I personally wanted to go for engineering. Then politics came. The Minister for Army at that time, one Tanko Galadima from Bida, came on a recruitment drive to my school. He wanted people from this part of the country to enlist into the Nigeria Army because there weren’t many of them at that time. Then he asked how many of us were interested and a lot of hands went up, thinking it was a joke. Our names were taken down and within a week, enlistment forms into the army were brought. We sat for the exam. We deliberately decided to pass the examination because we didn’t want people to say we failed. So, we passed the examination, interview, medical test and aptitude test. We decided to go into the army because we had a strong backer in the minister in charge of the army.
NEMA have warned communities along River Niger of eminent flood. What is your advice to the people living along this part of which Niger State is among?
There has always been the problem of flood in Niger State during the rainy season. Lots of people lose their homes and property during this period. That was why I made a very good drainage system around the state. I made Minna one of the best drainage cities you can find in the nation.
My advice is that government should look at those areas prone to flood and start putting measures in place to avoid losses of lives and properties. The warning from NEMA is coming at a very good time and I hope the government and people will take caution.