BY Brady Chijioke Nwosu
Of recent, there has been a raging controversy over the greatest Nigerian leader from independence to date.
The dynamics of Nigerian government and administration in our 53 years of independence produced a variety and diversity of leaders, both civilian and military.
However, each leader was unique in his own style of leadership. To a large extent, Nigerians rate their leaders and take positions based on ethnic and religious jingos.
One thing is certain: Nigeria is replete with mostly ill prepared heads of state. Only very few of them prepared for the task ahead of them and that is the reason most of them failed.
Since independence, we have had Nnamdi Azikiwe who was titular President, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of Western Region, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Region, Dr. M. I. Okpara, premier of Eastern Region.
There was Major Gen. Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the First Military Head of State, thereafter, another Military Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who was succeeded by Gen. Murtala Mohammed. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo assumed power following the assassination of Mohammed. President Shehu Shagari became the first executive president when the country returned to civil rule.
Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari toppled the civilian government and was also ousted in a palace coup by Military President Ibrahim Babangida. Chief Ernest Shonekan was on board during the June 12 imbroglio and was sacked by Gen. Sani Abacha after 83 days in office. General Abdulsalami Abubakar mounted the saddle when Abacha died mysteriously and he handed over to another civilian government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who after completing his second tenure, passed the mantle of leadership to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Yar’Adua died few days to his third year in office and his deputy, President Goodluck mounted the saddle till date.
After analyzing the place of all the leaders in the history of the country, Ibrahim Babangida stands tallest among them all. He has been the issue in Nigerian politics on the positive side since he mounted the saddle and left 20 years ago.
Azikiwe was a ceremonial president and so never had the opportunity of implementing his agenda for the country. He fought for a united Nigeria. That was why he never supported the seccession of Igbos from Nigeria. Balewa never envisaged that he would be a Prime Minister and so had no programme for the country as he never prepared to lead. The government of Balewa seemed to have lent its weight to the pursuit of international agenda to the detriment of the national situation at the home front.
Chief Awolowo was tried and convicted for treason by Tafawa Balewa administration and jailed for ten years. So, the Southwest never saw something good in his government. Awolowo was a regional leader.
He impacted on his people with economic programmes that developed the area. His activities against Easterners during the war made him not to be popular in that region. This made the Easterners not to see him as a national leader.
Ahmadu Bello had the opportunity of being the Prime Minister but he said he would rather be the Premier of Northern Nigeria than the Prime Minister of Nigeria. This confined him to a regional leader. He developed the North and united them. Okpara was also a regional leader. His agricultural revolution in the East transformed the region greatly.
Ironsi, the first Military Head of State was unfortunate. He never prepared for the terrain he navigated. The unitary system of government he was accused of trying to impose was adopted to the letter by successive Northern Military Heads of State and perpetuated.
Then entered Gowon. At that stage, he was still not exposed and never knew his left from right in the governance of a complex nation like Nigeria. Muritala Mohammed came on board, he was carrying on like harmattan fire to sanitize the nation. It was a short-lived dream as he was cut down after six months.
Obasanjo was afraid when he succeeded Murtala. This fear never left him till he handed over to a civilian government. Most of the projects he put in place were in his South West region. Buhari sacked the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari, which was plagued by allegations of corruption, including allegations of electoral fraud in the 1983 elections. Probably, he had good intentions, but the manner he went about it was counter-productive.
He was selective in his trial of Second Republic politicians. These, among others, made Nigerians to shout hurray when Ibrahim Babangida toppled his administration and mounted the saddle. Even though his was a military administration, he carried the civilians along. National issues were thrown open for debate by everybody.
All over the world, a military government is dictatorial but because of his tilt towards subjecting issues to public discourse, Babangida was nicknamed a “benevolent dictator” Most of the programmes that are being executed today were initiated by him – deregulation of telecommunication sector, broadcasting, Peoples Banking, Community Banking, NDE, DFRRI, FRSC etc were his brainchild.
After a careful study of the problem of ethnicity in relation to political development, he came up with two party system, NRC and SPD, which Nigerians are clamouring for again. The merging of opposition into APC and now the ruling PDP is bringing that idea back. He is a man who saw tomorrow
The June 12, 1993 election, which was adjudged by every standard as very credible and transparent was carried out by his administration.The problem came when enemies of change didn’t want it to come to fruition. The same people who are now masquerading as politicians and foremost citizens threatened to kill IBB if the result of that watershed election saw the light of the day.
The options were that if he declared the result, he would be killed and the election would still be annulled or he annulled the election and lives. Any sensible person who faces this ugly ambivalence would choose the second option.
After IBB, was Chief Shonekan, he was neither here nor there. Court later declared the Interim National Government illegal. Abacha sacked the lameduck ING and took over.
The country was at the point of disintegrating but he held it together. He opened the economic doors to Asians to the chagrin of America and Europe. His refusal to take loans from the Paris Club made the Western nations to attack his government. He died unceremoniously. Abubakar took over.
What was paramount to him was handing over to a civilian government. He succeeded by handing over to Obasanjo.
The current President Goodluck Jonathan is being buffeted on all sides because of faulty policies, corruption of all calibre etc. And in the fullness of time, history will judge him. After objective ratiocinations of their policies, programmes and reigns, it is certain that IBB stands tallest among them.
He is one Nigerian leader that has trusted friends across political platforms, religions and ideologies. He tried more than other leaders to weave the threads of the country’s coat of many colours into one fabric.
■Nwosu, National/Diaspora Publicity Secretary of NJIKO IGBO and former 2007/2011 PDP governorship aspirant in Imo State, writes from Okai, Eziama, Isiala Mbano, Imo State.