Nigeria’s former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) has revealed an ugly encounter with Biafran troops that almost claimed his life during the civil war.
Speaking in an interview with Trust Television, IBB explained the circumstances that brought General Sani Abacha to power, adding that the late military leader outsmarted many prominent Nigerians to take over power from the Ernest Shonekan led interim government.
On the encounter with the separatists Biafran soldiers, he said:
“It happened in 1969. We were moving to Umuahia and we came under fire at a place called Uzokoli and that was how I got shrapnel that got into my chest on the right hand side, it almost affected my lung or it did and that is where the wound started.
“At that time I had to make a decision. The doctors said they can remove it but I could leave it but when I become older I may have a problem with it and I decided to allow it to remain comfortable in my lung until I become older.
“That was not really a problem but the process as you get older, you feel it. The fact that you are aware that there is something in you is traumatic enough.”
Asked if the wound influenced his decision to get married on time. Babangida said: “I got admitted into Lagos University Teaching Hospital about April 69 and I think I was in the hospital bed when General Gowon got married and what quickly came to my mind was: ‘bloody hell I could have been dead and I will miss this opportunity of getting married’. So the moment I was discharged from the hospital, my first priority before going back was to go and get married which I did.”
On his involvement in several military coups, IBB said such participation was calculative.
“When we stage coup, we plan, this is something that not many people seem to know but there is a lot of planning that went into it; logistics, intelligence, what to do with it, how to get the troops, how to make them participate and so on, what to tell them to convince them to do the right thing.
“So when we are planning we try to work out who are the people who are going to be in charge are and we easily agree on particular persons. When in 1975, there was an agreement by all the participants of the coup that Murtala Mohammed must be the president, so was it when the coup succeeded. And there was also unanimous consensus that Obasanjo should be the person to take over from Murtala after his death.
“So there is always an agreement by the coupists that this is the person who should lead us. We knew the environment then very well, we knew what the public was complaining about, we knew what the public wanted to see and in 1984, we found that Buhari was the right person for that job.”
On the alleged involvement of MKO Abiola in the coup that overthrew President Shehu Shagari, Babangida said: “That is not fair. I must say that MKO was a very popular person or popular individual amongst us in the military, we all knew him. He was our friend, he knew us very well and the relationship was so good, he was very friendly with a lot of officers, he knew them, he talked to them and he was very generous, and very kind. So, it was not difficult to get to know him.
“It is also easy for people to input that he probably knew about it or he probably was involved, otherwise he lived a very healthy relationship with us.
“I think at that time, quite easily you could see him as somebody with all it takes to be a politician and a president. He was known throughout the country and by his antecedence you can easily conclude that he wanted to be in politics.
“He was very kind, he was well travelled, he was not tribalistic at that time, he was free with virtually everybody both in the North and in the South, everybody knew him and he was also there to assist people who were in need all the time. He was an extraordinarily generous person and that attracted people towards him quite easily.”
IBB, who said he took responsibility for the annulment of the election won by MKO Abiola, explained the decision that brought in interim government and how Abacha capitalised on its weakness to stage a coup.
” When we came up with the idea of an interim government, Nigerians said they were tired of anything or the media phrase was “that contraption called interim government”.
“What we did, the interim government, we gave it life, we gave it tenure, we had a date for another election but we were told “forget it, no election; Nigerians are weary of election, just pack and go”.
“We managed to set it up, we gave it six months so that by February of 199…I can’t remember now, we could have held another election, so that we can hand it over to a democratically elected government.
“Now one of the fears is that we couldn’t come openly and tell you people that this is what we fear or this is what we are going to do, somebody is going to do A,B,C,D,E,F. The life of that interim government was cut short by coup d’etat, change of government.
“And the Abacha’s government was very smart. They knew who were the most vociferous discussants about election, about coup, about June 12 and so on, they started talking to them and sold a dummy to them, they encourage them to get rid of the interim government; “when we get rid of the interim government we will bring you back to come and take over your democracy so that a civilian government would be installed”.
“They sold that dummy to the public and to some prominent persons within the society and when Abacha stepped in, there were drumming and sighs; “Good thing! Next thing is going to be a democratically elected government”. I knew, we knew, that it wouldn’t be because the argument was: “Why should I risk my life only to come and hand over power to you?”, that was what happened.
‘The idea (of having Abacha around) was to give the interim government confidence that there is somebody, a military man, who is well known, who can be accepted, who can provide strength to the interim government up to the time it hands over to a democratically elected government and he was the only most senior one, who had the name and had the experience, to help in protecting that government.”