Babatunde Idiagbon: Patriotism in discourse, By Issa Aremu




Saturday, 24 March 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Major General  Babatunde  Abdulbaki Idiagbon. He was the 6th Chief of Staff at the Supreme Headquarters of the military regime headed by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (1983 to 1985). 

He was de facto Vice President, albeit under the military regime. Given the nationally acknowledged comradeship between him and his Commander-in-Chief, Major General Idiagbon passed for “a co-Commander-in-Chief” for the two years the regime lasted. One notable feature of Military regimes is strong totalitarian single leadership.

Buhari-Idiagbon (as the regime was so-called!) proved a remarkable exception with robust uncommon complementarity of the two strong but agreeable leaders.  Yours comradely loathes military dictatorships. Indeed together with many of my comrades, we spent better part of our undergraduate days in the 70s and 80s confronting military regimes with documented enormous sacrifices. But notwithstanding our passion for democracy, quest for good governance and nation-building, some military leaders (not necessarily military regimes!) captured national imagination in terms of their patriotic and selfless programs. 

Reading late Thomas Sankara of Bokina Faso on pan Africanism any day is spiritually uplifting for any African. I have read umpteenth times, Murtala Muhammad’s speech Africa Has Come of Age.   Delivered On the 11th of January, 1976 at an extra-ordinary meeting, Murtala Mohammed’s Speech decisively recognized thePeople’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, (Labour Party MPLA), damned America’s President General Ford’s preference of racist South African backed UNITA rebels.

The speech heralded historic events that led to the end of colonialism in Angola. Buhari/Idiagbon regime was referred to as “an offshoot” of Murtala Muhammed regime in terms of its dazzling leadership-by-example, audacious head on fight against corruption, indiscipline, insistence on probity and accountability, defense of national interests against Western imperialism, colonialism and  racist  apartheid regime in Southern Africa. In remembering Idiagbon, we are certainly hunted by the same spectre of leadership  question. It’s a worthy national enterprise to keep searching for ideal leadership. But the point cannot be overstated that Nigeria has produced a number of both great civilian and military leaders. It’s time we contextualized national leadership discourse, recognized good leaders for who they are: good leaders.

The founding fathers and mothers regardless of their partisan differences fought British colonialism and extracted independence through principled negotiations. They successfully lowered  the Union Jack and the hoisted Nigeria’s Flag – Green-White Green in 1960. That was Patriotism. A group of military officers rose to defend Nigeria’s  unity during an unfortunate and avoidable civil war which claimed millions. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo offered leadership by quitting the Gowon’s war-cabinet when General Yakubu Gowon (after commendably leading the unity war), reneged on  the promise to return Nigeria to civil rule in mid- 70s.  

That singular civilian leadership set the stage for a national  pressure for democratization. General Murtala Muhammed rose to the occasion to offer a decisive leadership. He commendably announced an unprecedented comprehensive political programme aimed at returning Nigeria to civil rule. General Olusegun Obasanjo commendably kept to the date in October 1979. General Tunde Idiagbon was  a key member of Nigeria’s military governments in  that decade of national turmoils of coups, counter-coups, civil war and demoralization (1966 and 1979). He served as a military administrator of the old Borno state.

However his visibility and prominence in  Buhari’s military government remain the reference point. President Muhammadu Buhari recently posthumously hailed General Idiagbon  for his remarkable loyalty and exemplary courage. The acclaimed and celebrated policies and initiatives of that regime bore his authority in implementation as much as in  articulation. He was credited with star policies of the regime that included: War Against Indiscipline (WAI) which manifested in Phase One – Queuing, launched on 20 March 1984, Phase Two – Work Ethics, launched on 1 May 1984, Phase Three – Nationalism and Patriotism, launched on 21 August 1984,  Four – Anti-Corruption and Economic Sabotage, launched on 14 May 1985, Phase Five – Environmental Sanitation, launched on 29 July 1985.

Currency change and currency exchange rate policy. The most significant was the aggressive Import substitution industrialisation policy. In 1984, the regime  implemented the military government’s import substitution industrialisation policy based on the use of local materials. The aim was to ensure the growth of local industries. He also launched Go- Back-to -Land Programme. Nigeria must revisit some of these socio economic initiatives within the context of the present national and global reality. General Idiagbon just like President Muhammed Buhari had shown that integrity really counts in private and public life. Some 35 years he left public office, no single case of corruption has been linked to him at the time many living public officers are in accountability crisis of varying dimensions.

Looking at his pedigree, it is clear that the late General was prepared and trained for public service. He was born in the fullest of time on 14 September 1943 in Ilorin. It  was the decade of decolonization and nation building. Idiagbon was a product of emerging new Nigeria from the ashes of colonialism. Which might explain some of the patriotic dispositions of him and his colleagues. There was once a Nigeria which  impounded British plane in response to British government  seizure of Nigeria Airways plane in 1984!  General Idiagbon was at the centre of it all. Following the notorious Umar Dilkko affairs, British government detained a Nigeria Airways Boeing 707 cargo plane. In retaliation, Nigeria detained a  British Caledonian Airways Boeing 747 passenger plane. The two day diplomatic row was eventually resolved amicably. Late General was truly home grown.

He attended  Ilorin United School, an institution founded by the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, for his primary education between 1950 and 1952. In 1953, General Idiagbon proceeded to  Okesuna Senior Primary School, Ilorin, from where he finished his primary education in 1957. He attended Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), attaining all ranks from a cadet to a General. He also bagged a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics among the few “officers who obtained a University degree while in the military service”. He attended  Pakistan Command and Staff College. He was a member of National Institute, Kuru Jos, of Senior Executive Course 3 in 1981. He  valued dignity of labour, hard and smart work which singled him out as an outstanding gallant soldier who held various command posts.

He received such valued medals as Defence Service Medal (DSM), Forces Service Star (FSS) General Service Medal (GSM) and National Service Medal (NSM). General Idiagbon also showed that there is virtue in keeping quite as a statesman. Almost 15 years he left public life before his death, he granted no interview nor made any pronouncement about his public tenure. He demonstrated (without saying so!) that a “quite temperament is a hidden super power” as articulated by  Susan Cain (2016) in her book entitled QUITE POWER. General Idiagbon died on 24 March 1999 in Ilorin, Kwara state at the age of 56 years.

May Allah grant him eternal rest.

Issa Aremu mni




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