OPINION: Idiagbon, Still Unique. By Ayinde Oyepitan

Date: 1997-09-22

Two Sundays ago, General Babatunde Idiagbon (rtd) clocked 53 years. As  a former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, he played   significant  roles in the administration of General Muhammadu Buhari which lasted  between December 1983 and August 1985. AYINDE OYEPITAN, in this piece,  puts together those key actions that no doubt made the man unique.

THE actions of General Babatunde Idiagbon will no doubt strike familiar  chord in your memory if you sojourned in Nigeria between December 31, 1983  and August 26, 1985. The personality was the number two citizen of the  country when the nation was the pride of her citizens and the envy of the  entire world. The then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters under General Muhammadu Buhari-led- administration blazed trails fearlessly.

As expected, Nigerians received this change of leadership that brought  that government to power with a mixed reaction. While some applauded it  and felt the change of leadership baton was long overdue because of the financial recklessness and indiscipline of the Second Republic leaders,  others felt there was no immediate justification for the coup. Their  reason was based on the theory that the worst civilian government like  the nation had then was in a million times better than the best military  regimes and that military regimes the world over are not fashionable. What was, however, paramount in the minds of the new leaders was the total  overhaul of the decayed system and the rebirth of a new nation where  discipline, law and order would reign supreme and the hitherto corruption, favouritism, tribalism, nepotism political thuggery and other forms of injustice that their predecessor had entrenched be wiped out from our body politic once and for all.

Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was born September 14, 1943 in Ilorin, Kwara  State. He attended United School education, Ilorin, between 1950-52 and  later had his senior primary school education at Okesuna, also in Ilorin  from 1953-57. The General, early in life had a clear-cut vision of what he wanted to become thereby enlisting in the Nigerian Military School, Zaria 1958-62, and later proceeded to Pakistan Military Academy, Kabul, Pakistan, 1962-65. On his return from Pakistan, the Nigerian Army wasted no time to  see that this brilliant officer continued his military education and in  1965 he was back at the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna till  1966. At the completion of his training he was again back for another  officer's course this time at the Command and Staff College, Quatar  Pakistan 1976 and  in 1981, General Idiagbon attended the National  Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos. The general  did not end his academic pursuit at Kuru he later attended International  Defence Management Course, Naval Postgraduate School, United States of  America in 1982.

Enlisted as officer cadet, Nigerian Army, 1962, commissioned second  lieutenant 1965. Promoted lieutenant, Nigerian Army,  1966, Captain 1968, promoted Major, 1970, Lieutenant Colonel, 1974, Colonel 1978 and Brigadier, 1980, he was a Company Commander,  Four Battalion,  1965-66 and military administrator, Borno State, 1978-79. He was appointed Military Secretary  (Army), Army Headquarters, Lagos, 1981-1983, and became Chief of Staff,  Supreme Headquarters and member, defunct Supreme Military Council (SMC),  January 1984 - August 1985, promoted Major-General Nigerian Army, 1985.

Buhari-Idiagbon regime as it was christened,  had a mission before taking  over the reigns of power. The no-nonsense, disciplined General Tunde  Idiagbon was made the spokesman of the new government and the chairman of  the police affairs. He was the most visible member of the regime, so much  so that people wondered if actually General Muhammadu Buhari was the head  of state and chairman of the Supreme Military Council (the highest ruling  body of government then. Idiagbon started this noble mission by first  hauling all the politicians whose hands were soiled into the confines of Kirikiri and other prisons scattered around the country. He did not just  detain them for the fun of it, but they were made to cough out their loots.  This cleaning exercise redeemed several millions of Naira from the erstwhile sacred cows of the Second Republic.

After settling  with corrupt politicians, the administration extended the house-cleaning exercise to the public service which was already bastardised  and politicised by the deposed government. General Idiagbon made sure lazy, indolent and corrupt officers were totally done with in the public service. "Under the new dispensation there would be no place for unproductive dead- woods nor for mindless plunderers of our national resources." General  Idiagbon urged Nigerians to realise that it was unpatriotic to embezzle public fund and plunder national resources. For the less than two years  that he ruled, he  more or less called the shots, redundant civil servants  were shown the way out.

The introduction of War Against Indiscipline was a tonic needed for the  already rotten society. Lateness, complete absenteeism from work which  Nigeria public servants were known for, became a thing of the past.  General Idiagbon ruled by example, he was punctual at work and state  functions. The queuing culture was introduced to replace the disorderly  way Nigerian were accustomed to and the monthly cleaning exercise still  observed till date is a legacy left behind by this distinguished General  of the Nigerian Army.

In the economic front, General Idiagbon became the magician needed to  improve the already prostrate economy. The staggering foreign and internal  debts inherited from the defunct government were drastically reduced to the bearest minimum. General Idiagbon believed that if we maximally tap the  abundant natural resources bestowed the nation, we would in a no distant  future became a creditor and not debtor nation. That was what prompted him  to make this historic remark at the Africa Regional Conference of the International Bar Association in Lagos where he said, "International  Monetary Fund (IMF) cures no sick state, in most cases, they worsen the ailment", for this reason, he urged the conference to address itself  to alternative development and investment option, and strategies for  developing countries endeavouring to revive their economy.

The cost of living was drastically reduced to the barest minimum thereby  raising the standard of living of the populace with conducive atmosphere  created for investors to invest their money without the fear entertained  during the politics of the Second Republic.

The hopeless state of agriculture made him make this historic statement  during a courtesy visit by the Deputy Premier of the Democratic People's Republic of China. "If China can feed herself in spite of her large  population, there is no reason why Nigeria cannot be self reliant."

The General was of the opinion that a nation naturally endowed with  expansive fertile land and abundant human resources must take the  advantage of the endowment to grow sufficient food and raw materials for  our industries.

General Idiagbon fully understood that for Nigeria to attain rapid  industrial growth and economic development, the onus was on her citizens  to be educated. So, little wonder that he concentrated a lot of attention  to primary education. During the Second Republic many states of the  federation could not pay teachers salaries promptly. Teaching aid and infrastructures in most cases were non-existent. Morale of the teachers  was low, with general apathy,  strikes in public schools were the other  of the day. Teachers took their flight in droves for better employment out  of their profession. Reacting to critics over the incarceration of the  Second Republic politicians, he justified it this way, "All these  criminal racketeering and swindling went on while the salaries of local government employees and teachers were left unpaid for months.

The Buhari-Idiagbon regime made a review of the local government  administration. A national committee chaired by Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki,   the dethroned Sultan of Sokoto,  was made to look into the knotty issue and recommend appropriate step(s) to be taken to the government. Receiving  the report of the committee, General Idiagbon said the move was to wipe  out the lapses that had rendered the system inefficient during the past administration. According to him, the system had suffered a serious  whittling down of its powers in the First Republic while "their  unbridled proliferation in the Second Republic led to their total ineffectiveness." The proliferated councils were merged for effective management and economic viability.

The drug issue in which Nigeria's image had received serious blow during  the past years was given considerable attention. A decree was promulgated  that spelt out the death sentence to peddlers and users of this deadly  drug if apprehended. Nigerians known for breaking laws thought the no- nonsense general was out for fun. The long arm of the law eventually  caught three Nigerians who were about to export this drug to Europe and  America. And so in early April, 1985, the three peddlers were summarily  executed to serve as a deterrent to others. Reacting to criticisms over  the executions of the drug peddlers, General Idiagbon was quoted as saying  that "a uniquely Nigeria solution is necessary to curtail the get-rich- quick mania that encourages serious crime."

The Nigerian press known for its vibrancy and daring nature of its  practitioners received a devastating blow from General Tunde Idiagbon's government. An obnoxious decree had earlier been promulgated by the  government meant to protect public officers from press bashing. Two  reporters of the Guardian newspapers, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor  cooled their feet in prison custody for a period of one year for not  disclosing the source of their information which General Idiagbon felt embarrassed.

As regards foreign policy, Idiagbon's government did not deviate sharply  from the traditional foreign policy of General Murtala Muhammed. Africa  remained the centre piece of Nigeria's foreign policy but it should be  noted that retaliatory policy was introduced to the system.

A case in point was the detention of Nigeria Airways cargo plane  purposefully meant to carry the crate containing the kidnapped Second  Republic transport minister, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, back to Nigeria. He was the most wanted person on Idiagbon's government list of Nigerian fugitives abroad.

The British government felt slighted and ridiculed about this development,  they felt the Nigerian government was instrumental to the abortive  deportation bid and went on to detain the plane and its crew members.  General Idiagbon denied the government involvement in the human crate  episode, and in turn, retaliated the gesture by detaining at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, a British Airways passenger plane  that was on routine flight to London. The retaliatory measure employed by  the government was generally condemned by experts on international relations  who preferred dialogue in resolving such issues.

Deportation of aliens was another diplomatic move he made that earned him unpleasant remarks from his colleagues in the West Africa sub-region. Though  he made them realise that those with valid documents were not tampered  with,  but those illegally living in the country were affected.

General Idiagbon, like most African leaders, did not hide his disdain for  the apartheid regime of South Africa and the emancipation of the yet to be independent Namibia at that time was uppermost in his heart. Today, Namibia  is an independent nation and apartheid has since crumbled in South Africa.

General Tunde Idiagbon means different things to different people. To most Nigerians, he was a leader whose sense of patriotism is second to none.  Full of vision, dynamism, forthrightness, a man who expressly identifies  with the masses, he strived to elevate them from economic doldrums. He  frowns at injustice in all its ramifications.

Others say that  he was unnecessarily rigid. Somebody  like  Sule Katagum, former chairman of public service commission for 15 years, who himself had  a feel of detention for four weeks, said Idiagbon is arrogant and worsened  it by allowing power to get into his head.

General Tunde Idiagbon has penchant for writing, his publication include "Strategies for Liberating Southern Africa," a paper. He was said to have completed writing manuscripts of a book which those who have gone through described as thrilling. His hobbies include reading and squash.

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