THE MARYAM SPECTACLE: How Maryam Babangida Became a “Military Commander” and Sambo Dasuki Escaped Death by Ajiroba Yemi Kotun
by Ajiroba Yemi Kotun
“If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power… If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.” – Timothy Snyder
Did you know that the countless slips, gaffes or bloopers of the self-acclaimed “Evil genius”, former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (b. 1941), usually called IBB and nicknamed “Maradona” after Argentine footballer, Diego Armando Maradona Franco, while in office may not have been that numerous but for the scheming role played by Her Excellency, (Dr) Mrs Maryam Babangida (1948-2009), his wife of 40 years? Not a few thus hold the Wushishi, Niger State-born Armoured general, the only military president (1985-1993) in Nigeria’s history (“…he used his red pen to strike out the traditional “Head of State title and inserted the word “President.”), exceptionally blameable for the quagmire which darkened his government apart from annulling the June 12 mandate of Chief Moshood Abiola (1937-1998), given that Maryam’s proclivity for getting involved with the whole shebang, while it lasted, merely worsened the misery and despair, which essentially made IBB the piece of criticism for the widespread sleaze observed throughout his administration. Adeola Aderounmu reproves in his vastly biting piece, Maryam Babangida, The End of a Chapter of Sunday, December 27, 2009:
“Babangida is reputed to have institutionalised corruption in Nigeria. His greatest evil against Nigeria and Nigerians was that he oversaw the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections. That election remained the only peaceful, free and fair election in the history of Nigeria.”
In How Babangida killed Maryam posted in the Sahara Reporters of the following day, Monday December 28 2009, the reader gets to read about how the former first lady existed as a loving and comforting pillar of support to her husband, how she saw nothing wrong with everything done by the Babangida regime and how she exploited his presidency to her maximum advantage:
“When Babangida annulled a free and fair election in 1993 and was given the boot, he found comfort in his wife. She was never known to have failed to render him unconditional love and support. Even when Babangida’s character as a ruthless dictator was in play, Maryam never spoke badly about anything her husband did. Contrarily, she used her husband’s position to her greatest benefit.”
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, and by and by, IBB’s powerlessness to control his spouse (perhaps she was a spectacle too much for one man to control) rapidly developed into an auxiliary drain on the man who was once hailed for his courageous role in supressing the Friday, February 13, 1976 abortive coup led by his close friend, Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka (1943-1976) whom he practically drove out of the Federal Radio Corporations of Nigeria (FRCN) premises and as a result prevented further embarrassing broadcasts by the coupists. Babangida, who valued being seen as the leading character in his setting, went on to serve as a member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) from Friday, August 1, 1975 to Monday, October 1, 1979.
Even if the towering and assertive Mrs Babangida’s ground-breaking knowledge or her being conversant and up to date with government activities and undertakings as a result of her being the first lady (an office created by her and literally made her own) could be endured or tolerated, her endless prying, meddling and fiddling with government businesses and matters, which many correctly detested, could not be categorically excused in any way. Expectedly, this clearly got several government officials, bureaucrats, executives, spokespersons, politicians and even soldiers into trouble. Many of them were punished with downright removal or reassignment to murky stations and offices, while others worse on luck bagged “compulsory retirements”, a phrase said to be obliquely and genteelly bandied as “services no longer required”. In fact, woe betide anyone who declined or failed to kowtow, genuflect or ‘salaam’ to Her Excellency Mrs Maryam Babangida, a woman who certainly dominated her surroundings with those eyeballs of hers that can soften a stony heart. Judith Ufford, Vanguard’s Features Editor, states in How Maryam Empowered Women of December 28, 2009:
“Maryam it was who glamourized the office of the First Lady. With that position came her style and fashion. Added to this was the Better Life for Rural Women programme (sic) which many tried to corrupt by renaming it Better Life for Urban women.”
The shenanigan began immediately after Mrs Babangida’s gap-toothed husband came to office as president on Tuesday, August 27, 1985 following the palace coup that cracked down Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s “evil empire”, which was how IBB’s proponents labelled the Buhari dictatorship of the period. In those early days, even Goethe would have been incredibly green to see and describe Nigeria’s first couple as certainly a spectacle for the gods. No doubt, Babangida had performed remarkably as Commander of the Armoured Corps and acted commendably as a principal staff officer added to his friendliness and cordiality towards persons of different ethnic groups which accompanied him to his office as Chief of Army Staff (1984-1985). Also, he had topped off his wolf-in-sheep’s apparel character and polished his knack towards manipulating others which combined to spring him some invincibility to become, perhaps, the smartest aspiring forerunner the country had ever known.
IBB seemed every step of the way to have given almost everyone the impression that he exerted the capacity to be the perfect military leader, and many of his colleagues truly believed so. Even the exceptional open praise for the new administration was mainly for him because the citizenry somehow came to perceive him as the best choice that can change the Armed Forces towards a different course and seize control of the country from the grasps of a small number of powerful Nigerians.
But his wife’s gluttony, piggishness or gourmandising to carve out for herself a single realm, different and detached from that of her husband, soon assumed a life of its own and put paid to those widespread expectations or prospects. Inevitably, this niftily sparked off the unyielding “Maryam Spectacle” that even Julius Berger, the construction giant that was charged with expanding projects inside the presidential villa then at Dodan Barracks, Lagos, was promptly instructed to accommodate in its work plan a suitable office for the first lady, a setting of grandeur and magnificence; fated and ordained by the president’s wife herself. In truth, it was virtually difficult to overstate the sheer spectacle of the office that will soon deliver the stimulus for Mrs Babangida’s trailblazing power and influence.
With that in the bag, the Asaba, Delta State-born former Mary King Okogwu hurriedly went to work, as she busied herself with unique, well-thought out starring roles in communal concerns such as women’s stuffs, health overhauls, and youth packages. The President’s Aide-de-camp, the Principal Secretary and the General Services Administration – all rushed to self-effacingly offer this graduate of Computer Science their helping hands. It was not long at all before the mother-of-three arose to emerge a star as well as a doppelgänger of splendour, chic and panache.
As what jerked off as plain innovative public advents developed into attention-grabbing podia, so also did Mrs Babangida’s desire and hankering for uncontrolled, unchecked and self-indulgent influence begin to upsurge in full swing. Her first stride was to retain a civil servant of the rank of Assistant Permanent Secretary –as Chief of Staff- (in charge of the regime’s staffs) to run her sprawling office. She then got her husband to ascribe the State Security Service (SSS) and the Military Police (MP) which included sharpshooting girlish minders to guard and keep watch over her 24/7. It was ingenious of her to arrange her office so precisely, which marked how she increasingly activated the spreading out of her power base; such that all sections, formations and units in General Headquarters (GHQ) or elsewhere, fleetingly came to be under her beck and call.
Primarily, the GHQ protocol department was Mrs Babangida’s immediate point of call as she whittled out those officials who failed to impress her and switched them with those she evidently favoured or preferred. She was effectively in everybody’s way like the toll-gate, with no one wise enough to ask questions or clash with her. As a result, she had a field day, becoming steadily creative and throwing up in the process a new concept in her ambition to increase and grow her power. She soon gathered the wives of public figures such as Mrs Rebecca Aikhomu, Mrs Josephine Akhigbe, Mrs Laraba Alfa, and Mrs Muhammadu Gambo as well as selected certain women who were free-standing from the administration like Mrs Margaret Shonekan and the late Mrs Eno Irukwu and co into a group that she unpretentiously recognised simply as the “M” Team (Maryam Team). Although the Better Life Programme (BLP) enterprise amongst others overtly developed from the exertion of the Team, the group’s real job was to take covert action to promote and expedite the smooth administration of the Babangida regime by means of cautiously amassing gens and trading-off memos.
However, to inspire some modicum of credibility for the “M” Team given the quality or otherwise of the women she literally ‘conscripted’ for the task, Maryam’s action was noticeably marked by speed as she straightforwardly tapped from President Babangida’s legendary ‘bag of tricks’ by dint of attracting and co-opting a horde of the finest, preeminent and qualified female impresarios and businesspersons around, women who had made their mark in both the private and public sectors, into the team. But then, as definite as rain in a wet season, the team ran into glitches before long when the first lady’s wolf was momentarily spied out of the sheepskin of the team’s aim and purpose; being one designed for snooping, strong-arming and hounding strategic captains of the regime, including observing, shadowing and staking out their actions as well as undertakings even after official hours. Put disparately, members of the team (an all-woman thing) purely carried out analogous acts of espionage and reconnaissance based on sheer tales and blethers on behalf of the overbearing, bossy and imperious first lady.
As one would expect, the “M” Team did not relent in its efforts for it continued diligently to enlist new members into its fold week in-week out; even the other halves of serving soldiers of rank were not spared. Unrestrainedly, the team grew, stretching its tentacles brazenly into the family concerns, dealings and relationships of army officers and, in the course, victimised, persecuted and harassed them riotously. Everything was arranged in such a manner that only the first lady herself (and no one else) knew at any given time who was apportioned to do what task. It was this choosy or discreet mode of manoeuvres that probably got tongues wagging and made the entire gambit most uncommon, even strange.
The situation, however, worsened when Mrs Babangida insisted she must sanction every matter which meant that nothing happened in the team unless with her ‘say so’. She finally dove for the ball when she began to hearten her ‘mole-women’ to even try to secretly get her information against one another, and to scold freely and openly any hanger-on or devotee who seemed to have ‘gone astray’. Invariably, this reduced her liaison with both cohorts and admirers rendering it to be so puzzling and confusing to the extent that it was tough to disentangle scorn from respect for the first lady whose posture alone ought to have normally exuded power and authority.
Detecting Mrs Babangida’s egotistical goal, which was to create an empire of her own to dominate, rule and exploit, finally made the gusto of the patriotic founding members of the regime to slowly evaporate. Regrettably, in a government where the first lady had become the ‘all-in-all’ who must be worshipped, idolised and obeyed, the experts, mavens and aficionados on her payroll learned it was now a little latish for them to choose not to participate in the project anymore, but were no less minded of the dangerous imports of such a tactless, indiscreet or out rightly gauche action.
Mrs Babangida, whose 74 page-book, The Home Front: Nigeria Army Officers and their Wives (Fountain Productions, ISBN 978-2679-48-8, 1988), which a number of feminists criticised, was assumed to have been authored by her former Press Secretary, Greg Obong-Oshotse, stood gifted to ride roughshod over everyone this easily because of her lofty position as the president’s wife, and as a result by tradition came to inherit the grand headship of numerous women’s bodies, associations and groups. But, in her undue and excessive pursuit of total power, she prospered in shattering and splitting the administration by again dipping her hands into her husband’s infamous ‘bag of tricks’ and clutching to boot the time-tested “divide and rule” recipe.
Mrs Babangida’s dogged labours to exceptionally and jealously occupy the core of national attention, got underway through her first advent as the patron of the National Council of Women’s Societies which was founded in Lagos in 1959. These her toils eventually paid off, even as she strained to finagle her schema on the society that was then headed by Lady Hilda Adefarasin (b.1925), a women’s right activist who left her nursing profession in 1969 to focus on the professional actions of the NCWS, first as its Treasurer (1971-1980) and then as its president (1984-1988), succeeding the late Justice Ifeyinwa Cecilia Nzeako (1980-1984), who later became a co-founder of the Society for Family Health (SFH).
Adefarasin, a founding member and secretary of the Professional Association of Trained Nurses of Nigeria as well as (mother of Pastors Wale, Yemi and Paul Adefarasin and two others), would go on to serve in the 17-member Nigerian Political Bureau of 1986 headed by Dr Samuel Joseph Cookey (b. 1918), an educator who served as a Nigerian representative to UNESCO during much of the 1960s, following her nomination (one out of two women to be so nominated) by President Babangida after the country’s seeming revert to despotism during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. However, Adefarasin and other officers of the NCWS tried in vain to curtail the power of their patron as well as failed to successfully clip the wings of a woman who not only refused to take ‘’No’’ for an answer, but also surreptitiously instigated rebellious elements within the society, messed up the group’s events, and kick-started its steady fragmentation.
The demeaning struggle rapidly worsened leading ultimately to serious disagreement and confrontation between the NCWS’ voted leadership and Mrs Babangida’s sponsored bootlickers. After emerging as the ‘foremost character’ in the scandalous clash (that in time blemished the “public service roles” of the organisation), the first lady almost immediately engaged force and treachery to embolden her cronies to displace the body’s constituted authority. Appeals and entreaties for government intervention in the matter by good-hearted Nigerians (who could no longer twiddle their thumbs and allow the rancorous power struggle to consume the NCWS) were completely ignored; but many were fully convinced that Maryam Babangida had a suspect odour all over her as to why her husband’s administration had turned a deaf ear to their cries.
The Maryam Spectacle also consisted of a small number of women, above and beyond professionals, inside the loop of Mrs Babangida, who would on their own make the grade of top dogs but they must safeguard they remained under the pervasive and dominant influence of the first lady who regularly cast a long, nosey shadow over their lives.
Presidency account also has it that the first lady’s intellect always squared with her nous of prestige and exclusivity and out dressing Mrs Babangida, a killjoy or spoil-sport who carped those that copied or imitated her sense of taste for fashions which designs she had painstakingly sketched on paper herself before tutoring her tailor about how to bring them life, was perhaps the pettiest but gravest ‘crime’ her underlings could be justly chargeable with or responsible for – and such ‘inferiors’ usually ended up with a verdict of “guilty as charged”. In fact, no one got into trouble more with Mrs Babangida on this account than her own tailor who had to be formally authorised by her before she can sow undistinguishable or matching attires or wears for other people.
After feeling lost in the presidency which was clearly bigger than her or anyone for that matter and having intrinsically transmuted herself into another “military commander” so quickly, the pretty, darky first lady’s self-importance or big-headedness stayed renowned as it remained unequalled. This included her obsession with queenly handling from her admirers and hangers-on, who were projected to stoop, lower themselves or completely go down on their knees to greet her. Stooping, genuflecting, kowtowing or curtsying (an enduring national custom) is a sign of tractability, obedience and deference for the elderly, aged or more matured folks by the fledgling, inexperienced or young ones regardless of rank, position or standing and it is mostly measured as unthinkable, distasteful and even abominable for an elder to respond likewise, similarly or correspondingly. Only royalty, as in kings and queens, princes and princesses, is barred, excluded and left out, as everyone else (notwithstanding oldness or status) is actually schemed or machinated to ‘bath’ royalty with ditto respect, worship and veneration. But characteristic of Maryam Babangida, in the face of her emotional immaturity coupled with her fairly young age, she was not only delighted by suchlike treatment from her seniors and elders (as she was not even oblivious of its repugnancy as a social off-limits), she also demanded it palatably. So, knowing the first lady to be always emphatic, firm or resolute about something she demanded, intended or required, quite a few people (many years her senior) who pursued favouritisms, string-pulling or special treatment from her gladly tossed this prised custom aside and knelt on the floor in salutation to her. Even senior Army officers were known to pressurise their wives to obey her without questioning so as to protect their own careers.
On the other hand, Mrs Aderoju Koshoni, an experienced Administrator and the philanthropist wife of the Chief of Naval Staff (1986-1990), Rear later Vice Admiral Patrick Koshoni (b. 1943), who was at different times Minister of Health (1983-1985) and Minister of Employment, Labour and Productivity (1985-1986) under Generals Muhammadu Buhari (b. 1942) and Ibrahim Babangida respectively, happened to be one of the exceptional women with the pluck to express their annoyance publicly against such condescending treatment. Her rebuff to “salaam” to Mrs Babangida like everyone else was perhaps dually rooted or double-barrelled, to say the least. Aside being a few years older than Mrs Babangida and married to a senior ranking officer in the administration, Mrs Koshoni, who would go on to put in over 30 years’ service in the oil and gas sector as well as the diplomatic and foreign missions section of the country, also belonged to the nobility. This former Board Chairperson of LASACO Assurance Plc. and a Non-Executive Director of GEC Group, a petroleum development company, is a princess of a prominent Lagos royal family, and as a result, her Yoruba belief or way of life automatically barred her from kneeling down to a commoner like Maryam Babangida.
The face-off between the two women soon spiralled into an uncluttered dispute providing further fuel to the conjecture that Princess Aderoju’s unyieldingness might fetch her admiral-husband some disciplinary action. But the embarrassing donnybrook aroused much controversy in the public space that unquestionably made IBB, who had started to act like a politician, to look the other way. The president’s overall circumspection or guardedness in the matter largely counterpoised the impending damage of the affray to his government.
The wife of Brigadier Sani Abacha (1943-1998), the then Chief of Army Staff (1985-1990), Maryam Abacha (b. 1945), who was three years older and less showy or glitzy than Maryam Babangida, was the other woman who also rebuffed the first lady. Mrs Babangida reportedly not only successively clashed with Mrs Abacha, whose legacy include founding the National Hospital Abuja (for women and children), she also refused to relinquish the NAOWA leadership to the mother of eleven when her husband moved up as the new COAS in August 1985. In fact, both women, unlike their hubbies, whose dealings outwardly enjoyed mutual trust and respect, were hardly ever ready or willing to agree on pretty much anything and seemed to have terribly hated each other’s guts. Their husbands only tried to pay no attention to them and refused to get involved in their ‘women’s trouble’. The Other Side of Maryam Babangida by Anonymous Villager (a new member) posted in Nigeria Village Square reads. Maryam Babangida:
“Had a running battle with Maryam Abacha over seniority. She was First Lady, Maryam Abacha was wife of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and was supposed to head the NAOWA (Nigeria Army Officers Wives Association). She made life miserable for Maryam Abacha during her tenure, refusing to cede the leadership of NAOWA to her and marginalizing her.”
Unlike the high and dry Mrs Aisha Buhari, who definitely is not a spectacle the way IBB’s wife was a spectacle and to whom presidency cabals have proven to be a major frustration, once Mrs Babangida progressively discovered the amount of power at her fingertips, she made sure that the so-called cabals or cliques who populated IBB’s “kitchen cabinet” savoured no special protection from her power show. To get down to business with her without any fuss, one must act and address her properly and correctly. And with Mrs Babangida, loyalty often brought its own rewards for she freely gave in return for ‘good’ or ‘evil’ done for her, and on her behalf. She was regularly doling out gifts and big-heartedly so such as exclusive sartorial fabrics and disposables for partners of presidency courtiers and the regime’s top guns. If she placed reliance or trust on anyone and elected to, she could deploy her controlling influence or clout to assist or support such a person at whatever time she sensed it.
It was purely natural that the first couple intermittently experienced their own portion of home snags which commonly exposed their inability to disguise or conceal these malfunctions. As a result, difficult or unpleasant situations sometimes broke out between them unknown to the public. It was Maryam’s sense of tactless presumptuousness, hurting suspiciousness and broken-hearted mistrustfulness imbedded in her boundless and limitless doubts and misgivings of IBB’s unproven conjugal recklessness and incautions that repeatedly sparked off such acrimony.
Poignantly, it could be wagered without harm that the first lady’s uncertainties of her husband’s moves and escapades forever remained uncertainties notwithstanding Maradona’s own faults, weaknesses or shortcomings in that respect, for the toothy-smiley general permanently had a clear lead over her. Perhaps, the only time President Babangida was severely held ‘liable’ by Mrs Babangida, merely the crescendo of a long period of marital distrust and suspicion, according to retired Major Adebowale (Debo) Basorun (b. 1943), who fled Nigeria through ‘’NADECO route’’ in April 1989 to save his life during the tyrant’s rule as told in his 360-page-book – Honour For Sale: An Inside Account of the Murder of Dele Giwa (Bookcraft, 2013. ISBN: 978-978-51622-1-9), pages 221 & 222, transpired during an official visit to France in the course of which the president nearly suffered a heart attack for suspected adultery in the hands of his jealous wife who not only accompanied him on the journey, but had regularly badgered the men still encircling her husband at night time to go home to their wives and enjoy quality family time with them.
On the fateful day, President Babangida, whose most joyful moments were the days he wedded his beautiful wife in September 1969 and emerged Nigeria’s military president in August 1985, had graced a night-time summit in company with Nigeria’s Defence Adviser to Europe and Military Governor of Kwara State (July 1978-October 1979), Brigadier Sunday Orinya Ifere (b. 1943), who as a lieutenant fought in Kaduna and served in the same squadron as IBB during the Payback Coup of 1966. The said summit lasted close to daybreak and upon the president’s return, Mrs Babangida was said to have apparently smelled a different perfume on her man and as the fragrance filled the room, she suspected and blamed him of cheating on her. An angry fight soon resulted between them and the first lady physically attacked the president, who was completely unprepared for any public spectacle his private life could become, and apparently loathed it. She raged uncontrollably and screamed her head off enough to disturb everyone else within hearing distance. The Major-author, who joined the Nigerian Army at the eruption of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War (1967-1970) and unsuspectingly nurtured Mrs Babangida from her preliminary disinclinations and hesitancies to her avid and unquenchable appetite for power when he encouraged her to reactivate the waning Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives Association (NAOWA), which had become dormant since the days of Mrs Wushishi just to help her deal with the drain of sitting at home and doing nothing all day, couldn’t but let slip, ibid:
“It was my first time experiencing what some other aides of the president’s had known all along. At first, I was torn between going over to intervene and ignoring them but the intensity of the struggle soon compelled me to intervene being the closest neighbour. My entreaties were promptly rebuffed by the lady and the fighting continued. Realising that we could be late for the day’s itinerary which was to commence at a city about a hundred kilometres away, I quickly went over to inform Brigadier Gado Nasko who was also in the entourage and his intervention ultimately diffused the tension. After persistent knocks, the woman finally opened the door and what we saw was beyond comprehension. There he was – Nigeria’s military top dog – panting and sweating profusely in his roughened service dress with some buttons already ripped off. Ifere’s early call for the day’s itinerary gave him a taste of Mrs Babangida’s often violent temper. Obviously convinced that Ifere was the architect of the alleged tryst, the officer narrowly escaped injury when the door was angrily slammed shut against his face, sending him into retreat. We eventually left but arrived late for that morning’s appointment.”
Typically, IBB’s output at work was always the first to suffer due to his wife’s infrequent quarrels with him; after all such a susceptibility is very human. How his days turned out mostly had to do with such occurrences, besides only trusted personal assistants and advisers to the couple may well conjecture possible grounds. However, President Babangida’s fondness to hide these spousal drawbacks and try to present the façade of a happy marriage all the time became unmanageable given that Maryam had no innate inhibitions which made it quite easy for her to pour out her heart to whoever cared to listen, even if audaciously.
From time to time, a few presidential operates (aside relatives and family members) had had to intervene as well as settle their quarrels for them. Also, associates and friends of the president, especially those Mrs Babangida loathed, and the reasons varied as they arose, occasionally got to either perceive, experience, or taste her frustration and belligerence. Ditto for some sycophants, flatterers and leeches who worked as domestic staff in the State House, and whom she treated sourly depending on her frame of mind which fluctuated on a regular basis. It worsened to the extent that some of them (but for the greed of the others who came in droves to pledge their allegiance to Mrs Babangida, some even spoke ill of their co-workers to ingratiate themselves with the first lady) began to wonder if it would not be in their best interest to simply seek transfer from the seat of power. Yet, other people pushing for contracts (including those who had picked up mouth-watering contracts already) continued to put up with her overbearing personality. At a point, too many mouths flapped (about the State House’s waning respect) owing to the stream of gracefully dressed civilians who converged in Mrs Babangida’s office daily. This view matured dangerously because of the diverse understandings based on the myths about Dodan Barracks that these visitors (who prided themselves with knowing the inner workings of the seat of power) tossed around. Consequently, the pervasive panic, which gripped every Tom, Dick, and Harry who treasured his or her job, effectively spun all into pretenders before long.
Maryam’s rigid penchants did not seriously discriminate between bloody civilians and military officers since she expected both to offer themselves to her in a spirit of deference or submission if they wanted to keep their duties, tasks, or functions. To this end, she openly ordered high-ranking military officers unimportantly and without regard to protocol, and many fearfully rushed to answer this “military commander.” Precisely few could say “No”.
But, Brigadier Mamman Kontagora (1944-2013), the powerful Minister of Works and Housing during the Babangida military regime and later Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory during the transitional regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar (1998-1999), also a childhood pal of Babangida, was an exception aside the service chiefs. Again, Major Basorun, the first and only Public Relations Officer to serve Generals Wushishi and Babangida (two successive Nigerian Chiefs of Army Staff) thereby thrashing an unwritten convention that compelled a new government pursuing the necessary “peace of mind” to dislodge officers who served in a toppled regime and change them with its own supporters, attempted to shed some light on the problem in the said book. The Ilugun, Isale-Ogun-born Major Basorun, whose relationship with Babangida was helped by the routine of his official responsibilities, which did not require a 24-hour bodily attendance like the ADC’s, provides:
“During official hours, Kontagora’s “Yes, Sir,” “No, Sir” obeisance to the president was never found lacking but as soon as the uniform had been pulled, Mamman’s penchant for calling the president by his first name “Ibrahim” never went well with Mrs Babangida who disliked him for daring to call her husband by name. And as for the brigadier, he was not the type that would be intimidated by the aura of the presidency. Being an upright person, he was one of the few Army officers whose integrity could not be impeached. As a result, Mrs Babangida’s ranting was usually of no consequence to him and the president did not have the temerity to compel his friend to “worship” him after office hours.”
Like the sport of skydiving, the military profession was one that tended to attract fearless types. Kontagora, a former Commander of Army Engineers, was fearless, great-hearted and manful. Although he was not rude, ungracious, or discourteous, circumstances continually cropped up that suggested the man’s courage was no respecter of person or office, because he actually believed it took courage to stand up to one’s rights. The uncompromising Kontagora, one of the first intakes of officers when the Nigerian Defence Academy opened in 1964, was even known to have sometimes ignored the orders of the dreaded General Sani Abacha (1943-1998), then Chief of Army Staff (1985-1990) regarding who got what contracts. This insolence often led to standoffs between both senior officers that frequently needed presidential mediation to resolve, which surprisingly did not deter the Abacha government (1993-1998) from hiring Kontagora as the Sole Administrator of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1995 when a major conflict broke out there. Mrs Babangida somewhat became discouraged by her repeated failure to get her husband to reprimand his longstanding friend, Kontagora. Unlike when she had been flushed with pride earlier about her ‘victory’ over Brigadier General Nassarawa, then Adjutant General (AG) who had oversight responsibility of all groups in the Nigerian Army and who dared to resist, confront and monitor the disbursement of funds to Mrs Babangida’s NAOWA group. The AG, a good officer whom many saw as exemplifying an unconquerable inner self, was simply booted out, to warn others to stop poking their noses where they didn’t belong.
Added to Mrs Babangida’s list of conquest was the extended family of her husband with whom she had a dismal connexion. In turn, the in-laws too assumed that by distancing herself and the children from their ethos and customs, she was scornful of their culture and tradition. There were bound to be fallouts, and one corollary of this was their retaliatory exclusion of the first lady which hindered her full absorption into the Babangida family. Also, these in-laws declared her a persona non grata in Wushishi, IBB’s birthplace, a male-dominated setting that was devoutly engrained in its Islamic beliefs, with a sweeping dislike for prominent women whose predilection was to pompously parade Western ideals. This explained her rare visits to the place.
Again, what seemed to have bewildered watchers of Dodan Barracks despite Mrs Babangida’s nerve-wracking power in the place was the threatening face-off between her and President Babangida’s new ADC, Major Sambo Dasuki (b. 1954), who understood that he was untouchable being the son of the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki (1923-2016), and as such not subject to the same laws as the rest of the presidential staffers. As a matter of fact, Sambo had relished the rare privilege (during his army cadet days at the Nigerian Defence Academy) as the only student permitted to park his motor vehicle on the school’s turf. Also, the records indicated that he never worked for a single day in the field after his commission as a second lieutenant into the Artillery Corps. Lacking a certified military posting to the office of ADC, this same officer-prince was brought precipitously to succeed the little-known ADC to the president, Captain Femi Mepaiyeda, of the Armoured Headquarters unit, Bonny Camp. Like an officer who refused to ditch a presidency that had already abandoned him, the youthful Mepaiyeda was rudely removed and left to loiter without a definite order on his next stationing. Interestingly, ADC Dasuki – a good mixer – and his boss got along fine, leading to the beehive of activities in Dodan Barracks as business people –entrepreneurs and manufacturers alike – strained to outflank each other and latch onto IBB’s favours or to just gain his prompt attention. Others modestly pursued friendly relations with the blue-blooded ADC.
Although the obvious busybody, Mrs Babangida’s disagreements with Sambo Dasuki certainly proved a decisive showdown which bearing wholly revealed President Babangida’s fragility or breakability as a leader who lacked the spine to do the needful because an influential clique whispered to be headed by Sultan Dasuki, his ADC’s father, unrelentingly held him down. The twosome’s fights broke out from a build-up of trials and finally grew into a vicious supremacy tussle between them as the first lady became more antagonistically entangled with the everyday supervision of the regime which the new ADC constantly opposed. As Mrs Babangida majestically perambulated the seat of power (stepping arrogantly on everyone’s corns and bunions in the process), Prince Dasuki– the North formation’s ward and lad of the Caliphate’s highest ranking monarch, emerged as the man to call her bluff when others could not for fear of reprisal.
Unlike ethos everywhere, which have their own customs of dramatic struggles that grew from their specific behaviours of pretentious bellicosities or hostilities that are packaged and exhibited as spectacles, the young Dasuki, who entered the Nigerian Defence Academy in 1972 and was course mate with retired Colonel Lateef Kayode Are, Director General of the Nigerian State Security Service (1999-2007) and National Security Adviser (2010), Admiral Ganiyu Adekeye, Chief of Naval Staff (2005-2008) and General Owoye Andrew Azazi (1952-2012), chief of Army Staff (2006-2007) and Chief of Defence Staff (2007-2008), whom he later succeeded as the National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on Friday, June 22 2012, truly respected the first lady generally which many enthusiastically bore out, but never delayed to restrain her where official matters were concerned; strongly differentiating her roles as Mrs Babangida from her parts in official issues. In an interview with Niyi Odebode titled Azazi was a victim of ‘rule at all cost’ mentality of Saturday, July 14 2012, posted online by the NBF General Topics, Basorun questions the correctness of retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki’s appointment as the NSA thus:
“The appointment of Sambo in replacement for General Owoye Azazi as the NSA is an unambiguous statement by the Jonathan Administration that the duties of that office were in want of a more satisfactory discharge. To that extent, it affirmed the prerogative of the C-in-C to appoint persons, who, in his reckoning, would make him succeed. However, Sambo’s appointment has thrown up a lot of questions as to what relevant professional training, experience and skills he possesses that gave him the edge over others in the selection process aimed at finding solutions to the country’s current security challenges. Was any consideration, for example, given as to whether or not his military records were outstanding enough to warrant his appointment? Sambo was throughout his career an Artillery Officer although he reportedly holds a degree [MA in Security Policy Studies] in security studies. If, therefore, the latter is the sole criterion used in his selection, then about one-fifth of retired army officers would qualify because of their exposure to one intelligence course or the other during their service. Apart from that, he has been detached from military duties for 20-something years when he was retired by the Abacha regime. Short of the questionable political consideration in which the appointment is wrapped, there are a lot of retired senior officers versed in intelligence and security matters, who would have been a perfect fit for the position of NSA.”
And like Nostradamus (1503-1566), the reputed French apothecary who saw tomorrow, Basorun adds rather clairvoyantly, ibid:
“Without any iota of doubt, Jonathan’s choice [Dasuki] for that position would eventually turn out to be his Achilles’ heel in his bid for re-election…one would want to say that Jonathan had not only shot himself in the foot, but in the mouth. Handing over the security of his Presidency to Dasuki goes with the implication that the President has succumbed to the threats and intimidation of some northern leaders, who swore at the inception of his administration that they would make the country ungovernable for him. Are you going to completely divorce those threats from the Boko Haram insurgency? …Don’t you find it a curious coincidence that 48 hours after Babangida’s declaration that a dialogue with the extremists was the only panacea for peace, the new NSA [Babangida’s former ADC] echoed the same sentiment?”
The aloof and unbendingly fair Dasuki, who would be arrested by the State Security Service (SSS) on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 for purportedly pocketing $2bn and suspected of ghost deals to purchase 12 jets, 4 fighter planes, and missiles intended for Nigeria’s military operations against the Boko Haram guerrillas, neither faltered to pull-rank the first lady’s instructions measured as interfering or pushy nor recoiled from censuring “Her Lordship”, Maryam Babangida, when necessary. It was this self-determining conviction that recurrently set him into a state of quarrelsome disagreement with a woman whose demands, hassles, and orders must never be denied, challenged, or disobeyed for any reason.
In actual fact, several vital decisions, as a result of this supremacy ‘war’ between the two, had from time to time been deferred pending the president’s intervention. Increasingly, the regularity of these disparities ripened into a ceaseless personality conflict that many even felt sorry for IBB as he maddeningly strained to broker peace given that his wife was regularly the troublemaker, thus making it difficult for him to reprimand his ADC, even if he had so wished.
As the enmity climaxed, the deferment, rescheduling, or execution of decisions, orders or commands in the logical course of events instigated its due on the few operational units of the government. And IBB’s inexcusable ineptness to clearly mark out the strokes of duty concerning these ‘warring rivals’ additionally provoked a total collapse of their liaison, as ADC Dasuki, a former military assistant to Lt. General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi (b. 1940), Babangida’s predecessor as Chief of Army Staff (1981-1983), revoltingly tendered his notification to give up his coveted position. In his resignation letter, he requested Major General Abacha, the Chief of Army Staff, to immediately relief him of his job with President Babangida. It was easy then for many to say that ADC Dasuki was wrong, but there is now the advantage of hindsight, such that it would seem the officer-prince in all probability had the feeling that something unpleasant was going to happen that can neither be changed nor stopped.
However, Dasuki’s unforeseen, ‘cheeky action’ was said to have reciprocally dumbfounded both Abacha and Babangida who had been completely clueless about what the Sokoto prince had wanted or how far he would have gone, which stymied their response to it perhaps because of the major’s presumed ‘anointment’. So, rather than discipline his unprofessional and insubordinate behaviour, because standard military measures required Dasuki to first discuss the problem with his principal who had the final say but which he failed to do, the two top brasses chose to expediently look the other way.
In the end, a tactical and dignified strategy was quickly invented by them to cover the affront after the embattled ADC repeatedly put down his foot and refused to pull in his tenaciousness. Consequently, President Babangida was transitorily humbled (his power of independence defeated, prestige diminished) over the excesses of his power drunk first lady and his string-pulling godfather, Sultan Dasuki. For weeks, hushed ploys followed and eventually Sambo was spoiled with a cruise of the United States of America that was dressed up as a hastily-sanctioned course. A subsisting order against all foreign military courses at the time due to so-called scarcity of resources no longer counted. In 1985 Coup: Dasuki Denies Arresting Buhari, posted in The Nation online edition of Thursday, July 23 2015, the former managing director of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company Limited (NSPMC), conveys to Yusuf Alli:
“I always respect and dignify my seniors and those in positions of authority, whether in service or after. Though as a young officer, I was reluctant to be among those that arrested him [Buhari]. And I was not.
“I only met him afterward at Bonny Camp with Lawal Rafindadi. There is no way I could have maltreated him as being alleged in some quarters. I am glad most of the actors are still alive.”
With Sambo Dasuki who would be censured for the growing mix-up and anxiety that convoyed the country’s watershed general elections of 2015 which was postponed for six weeks gone from Dodan Barracks, the funny and docile Major Mahmoud Santuraki, a former Intelligence Officer whose friendly and introverted moods occasionally did battle and who had served under Babangida during his COAS days, stepped in provisionally as the new ADC to the president. “Provisionally” because he was not ‘favoured’ by the same dominant cabal that had sponsored Sambo Dasuki and was also not fully assisted by his boss, the Chief of Defence Intelligence Agency (1985-1986 and in 1990), Colonel Haliru Akilu (b. 1954), who was the Commanding Officer of the Nigerian Army’s 146th Infantry Battalion that fused with the 202nd Armoured Battalion to crush the inglorious 1980-1985 Maitatsine riots, a chains of fierce revolts activated by Islamist militants in northern Nigeria’s first main groundswell of religiously-stirred violence and led by the infamous Cameroonian cleric, Muhammadu Marwa (d. 1980).
As a member of the Nigerian Defence Academy’s 3rd Regular Combat Course, Akilu, son of Ali Akilu – former Secretary to the military Government of Northern Nigeria, graduated from the NDA in 1970 along with such officers as Brigadier General (later Senate President) David Mark (b. 1948), General Tunde Ogbeha (b. 1947), Military Governor of Bendel State (1987-1990) and Senator representing Kogi West (1999-2007), General Chris Garuba (b. 1948), Military Governor of Bauchi State (1985-1987), General Alwali Kazir (b. 1947), Military Governor of Kwara State (1989- 1992), General Raji Rasaki (b. 1947), Military Governor of Ogun, Ondo and Lagos States between 1986 and 1991, General Tunji Olurin (b. 1944), Military Governor of Oyo State (1985-1988), Field Commander of ECOMOG Peacekeeping Force (1992-1993) and Administrator of Ekiti State (2006-2007), Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe (1946-2013), Military Governor of Ondo State (1985-1986) and Lagos State (1986-1988) and Chief of General Staff (1998-1999) and General Abdulkareem Adisa (d. 2005), Military Governor of Oyo State (1990-1992).
The same Akilu was assumed to have been cleverly lodged as a spy in the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) to offset Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi (1934-2007) – the 3rd and last Director-General of the Nigerian Security Organisation (1984-1985) and a Buhari loyalist. That was how the fate of Santuraki, a Fulani of the Old Gongola State axis, dangled precariously despite his irresistible credentials. Resultantly, the powers that be almost immediately approved and sustained the hunt for an enduring successor until the brave and fearless “UK Bello”, Major Usman Kakanda (or Kalabo) Bello (1952-1990), the Commanding Officer (CO) Tank Battalion, Kaduna, who played more than a noticeable part in the coup that swept IBB to office as president, was finally signed up. Notably, apart from belonging to the same armoured corps and having hailed from the same Gbayi (Gwari) ethnic group like IBB, UK Bello’s battalion supplied the most troops and equipment expended on the coup in the North. Also massively in his support, the ‘’power brokers’’ gave their nod and Mrs Babangida’s seal of endorsement was handy to authenticate and secure his appointment totally.
And so, the entire ‘travesty’ turned out to be a case of she who paid the piper dictated the tune, because Bello’s cooperative and submissive empathy towards Mrs Babangida ensured that the first lady got everything she constantly wanted which correspondingly cast-ironed his position as the president’s ADC to be never endangered or threatened. A sharp contrast to Sambo Dasuki who exhibited adept ripeness and administrative know-how while in the saddle thereby winning his principal’s trust and confidence, Bello’s weakness to flexibly ponder military round-the-clock given the same partisan scenery solely placed obstacles, hold-ups and impediments in the way of running the presidency efficiently, which usually caused him severe and vexing humiliation before the president.
Equally, the new ADC’s rather programmed and mindless authorisation of all monetary needs or demands by the first lady without questioning such needs or demands, usually triggered an enormous fiscal revulsion in the officials of the twin departments of the Principal Secretary and the General Secretary Administration, who couldn’t deny such numerous needs or demands for cash to implement her programme. Likewise, UK Bello’s “Yes, Madam First Lady” flair continuously troubled the nuts of these departments who, like a bunch of neutered officers, had become ordinary “whisperers of complaints”, with no vertebrae to assert the General Orders (G.O) or flout the ostensible “orders from above” save they coveted facing the already jam-packed unemployment market.
ADC Bello, the Paiko prince, who wielded power around President Babangida between 1985 and 1990, would be killed on Sunday, April 22, 1990 when coup plotters led by Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar (1952-1990) arrived the Dodan Barracks, Lagos, then seat of power and official residence of the country’s military president around 1:40 am and bulldozed their way into the most guarded complex in Nigeria. Bello lost his life in the brutal attack when he returned to dislodge the coupists after effectively removing President Babangida, the frightened Mrs Babangida (who later voted the day her most traumatic day) and the first children through a back route to a safe place. Among other things, Orkar, who worked in various units including the Recce at Kaduna, 82 Division, Enugu and Armoured School, Bauchi with his last posting as a member of the Directing staff of the Command Staff College, Jaji, among others called in his coup speech to the so-called “Fellow Nigerian Citizens” for the excision of five northern states, saying:
“In the light of the above and in recognition of the negativeness of the aforementioned aristocratic factor, the overall progress of the Nigerian state, a temporary decision to excise the following states namely, Sokoto, Bornu, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria comes into effect immediately until… ”
That was how the two former ADCs – the bold and courageous Sambo Dasuki and the gentle and warm Mahmoud Santuraki – escaped death. A new ADC to President Babangida in the person of Major Nuhu Bamalli (1954-2006) was later appointed on Wednesday, August 22, 1990 to replace the slain Lieutenant Colonel UK Bello. Bamalli, who held this position until IBB “stepped-aside” on Thursday, August 26, 1993 was later appointed Deputy Director Operations at the Defence HQ in September 2001, and later died on Monday, September 18, 2006 in the doomed Dornier 228 Air Force plane that crashed at Titambaertera, near Vandekiya, Benue state. Major General Bamalli, the General Officer Commanding the 2 Division of the Nigerian Army, perished together with 17 other influential soldiers en route the Obudu cattle ranch resort for a retreat.
Nothing ever came close to placing a discouragement on Mrs Babangida’s enthusiastic craving for more control and influence as she recurrently augmented her self-styled roles in public activities which always obligated her to request for more funds. A very creative person, the first lady always came up with some ingenious new ways to make money especially when it dawned on her that certain capacities of government reserves were waiting to be taken advantage of in a rare and often fraudulent way. At the outset, the sections she had her eyes on were grudgingly obliging only to become loud grumblers the moment her loads of demand developed into something else. In due course, the scandalous complaining and soft remonstrations reached her husband whose real “colour” had started to surface. The president, who attended the Indian Military Academy from April to September 1963 along with Major General Mohammed Magoro (b. 1941), a two-time cabinet minister under Generals Olusegun Obasanjo (b. 1937) and Muhammadu Buhari and an elected Senator (2011-2015) for the Kebbi South constituency of Kebbi State, Nigeria, hurriedly fashioned a new contrivance to finance his wife’s avid needs and demands with the aim of side-stepping another mouldering trouble.
Reclining in the same peaceable spirit as the president, Mrs Babangida, who seemed genuinely drained from her numerous brushes with practically everyone and wanted to avoid more fighting and disagreeing that yet loomed, not only vowed but took her forceful ‘command’ to her husband that her agenda be made free of directives from any regulatory agency of the administration. She ‘ordered’ that her imposing idea, the Better Life Programme for Rural Women (BLP), should likewise be removed from any official link of any kind with presently recognised mouthpieces for women’s affairs in the country, and still proceeded to recruit skilled and specialised ladies from both the public and private sectors to provide the arrangement some believability; just as she had done when forming the “M” Team.
Surprisingly, this extraordinary basis of financing her pet projects, which shockingly took precedence over the purview of traditional fiscal code of practice, had already been set up for her in the presidency reserve by her agreeably ever smiling husband. Without a doubt, the crucial incongruity of such an idea would have demanded the decreeing of the many duplicities needed to make it happen. For this reason, Mrs Babangida’s prospects instantly became more auspicious, if not heartening, for no sooner had monies begun to reel into her bank accounts from this novel opening than her extravagant way of life started to bounce back to the front pages of national tabloids. She soon designated the wives of military governors, whom she had earlier engaged, as state coordinators of the Better Life Programme that was devised to make rural women become more politically and economically independent, confident and responsive. Although critic Oluwole Aloba faults in her paper, The role of Nigerian Women Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, that the programme targeted more at incorporating women into a prevailing “socio-political system which had little or no respect for their rights” than push them to attain their “pristine socio-political status”, a former First Lady of Kano State (1992-1993), Hajia Aisha Gaya, who enjoyed a cordial bond with Mrs Babangida, celebrates her major triumphs in the course of her synchronising the BLP in Kano to Emameh Gabriel in How Late Mrs Maryam Babangida Inspired Me of Wednesday, August 9, 2017:
“Significantly, I can tell it was the highpoint of the Nigerian woman going
into self-reliance because we were able to champion the campaign for rural woman entrepreneurship. We were going from local government to local government teaching women how to produce some household items such as cream, Vaseline, detergents, liquid soaps and a lot of other things for themselves and even for public consumption. That in turn helped them raised money for them to take care of some of their basic needs without waiting for their husbands to do that for them. It was fulfilling.
“Apart from the skills some of them were taught, others were engaged in farming and within the set of women farmers, some went into animal husbandry. That was what Maryam’s Better Life was doing for the Nigerian women cut across the local governments in the country. I was in all the local governments in Kano State with her coordinators giving out grants and materials during our programmes.”
In return, the governors’ wives acknowledged the first lady’s superiority and showered her with obeisance just as their husbands similarly remained deferent to her own husband-president who lavishly hurled the programme amid splendour and spectacle in September 1987. But, Mrs Babangida will soon be outfoxed, as her hidden drive of using the BLP to spike her own drink came to be seen by these women who strove increasingly through its labyrinths.
The so-called professional women that she had imprudently assigned to several positions that mostly led to nothing more (so masked as to help her have the advantages of two things) quickly became a burden for her. For the reason that a simultaneous discovery or unearthing of Mrs Babangida’s secret plans as well as of the numerous defects and imperfections in the idea by these women (many of them blunt and opinionated), their imagination got swiftly fired. The first lady naturally considered their conduct grossly wrong and vicious and hence punished them with disgrace and condemnation, but compensated her cronies and sycophants among them with incentives which comprised outrageously overblown deals and contracts. The different states’ BLP launching ceremonies and observances immediately developed into jamborees, fêtes and fashion cavalcades, which turned out to be opportunities for pocketing of public funds. The wives of top government officials with little effort perverted all the stages to means of rivalling one another as they meticulously exhibited their overpriced “fashion designer” attires and expensive trinkets, necklaces and bracelets. Not to be outdone, the state governors’ wives, the supposed leaders of the scheme in their respective states, not only dignified the extravagant and wasteful shindigs with their presence, they excessively set themselves as aptly fitting the avant-garde ‘lunacy’. Similarly, while the make-believe continued, they shamefully ‘commanded’ government employees to grace these celebrations and festivities during office hours instead of spending same to realise the public good.
Not to be left out in the corruption narrative, several high-ranking officers too who had instituted fake enterprises or companies, cast-off members of the public as facades to award themselves contracts. The corruption malaise became disquieting as a consequence that even Field-Officers usually ditched their troops starved of headship or control for a long period of time to be able to partake of the corrupt jackpot. Despite the fact that this brazen knavery or sharp practice was mainly accountable for spiralling the nation’s institutions into apathy or dispiritedness, it remained on the other hand one of the many methods through which tainted ‘bread’ could be baked big from the national till.
For instance, the coolest and most stress-free way to embezzle government funds and become super rich meteorically was to gain a document termed “military indent”, comparable only to the civilian “import licence” which the Buhari/Idiagbon military dictatorship (1983-1985) inherited from the Shehu Shagari civilian administration (1979-1983) it overthrew and oddly did nothing about rip-off. Although the Babangida government scrapped the import licence regime upon coming to office, it also weirdly left off the “military indent” to flourish. It didn’t concern the allotting or dispensing authority whether beneficiaries brandished the necessary capacity to deliver the contract or not once they were rightly connected or had greased the officials’ palms sufficiently. The propitious recipients would now vend the indents for extraordinary fees to the utmost buyers with the right proficiency for carrying out the contracts. And pronto, they were made.
In addition to dwindling the ‘army’ of critics led by the fiery Lagos lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi (1938-2009), who resisted her husband’s regime and opposed the introduction of the unconstitutional Office of the First Lady with her profligate BLP, Mrs Babangida guaranteed that colossal resources were released by the regime to charter political ‘contractors’, who in turn prearranged large celebrative crowds of ‘settled’ loyalist and supporters, artisans, partisans, market women leaders and political heavyweights that attended planned meetings, gatherings and rallies to shore up bogus backing for the Babangida government and its various programmes nationwide. That was how the “settlement era”, which at once forced the resistance and opposition to forfeit its poise and sangfroid since it could not match the administration cash for cash and naira for naira, thrived. So, given such appetising or lip-smacking sums of money freely accessible at those sponsored rallies in particular and everywhere in general, it was easy to swap the administration’s waning critics, knockers and detractors for its burgeoning troops of moles, stoolpigeons and squealers.
In conclusion, what sight or scene can be more enriching or more fitting than that of empowerment and realisation, both tilting cooperatively for common and secure sustenance. As was witnessed in 1990 at the festive opening of the week-long Better Life Fair, Maryam Babangida, an unequalled first lady, whose BLP has been termed the most thoughtful shot by anyone in her shoes to unshackle the regular Nigerian women and spring them up as a result, cut the picture of a tsarina on a cathedra throughout, stately and impressive. If Victor Hugo (1802-1885), a French poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic Movement, is to be believed that the sky is one spectacle more impressive than the sea and the soul’s interior more outstanding than the sky, then perhaps Maryam Babangida’s magnetism, charm and pull (as an exemplar who was critically admired by the womenfolk), just might be more imposing than her husband’s as they continue to ring true in her zone of impact even long after President Babangida’s notorious “stepped aside” of Thursday, August 26 1993. As envisioned, that IBB’s shameful exit gave birth to the abnormal “child of necessity”, the Interim National Government (ING), led by the former CEO of the large Nigerian conglomerate, United African Company, Chief Ernest Shonekan (b. 1936), who was within three months kicked out in a palace coup on Wednesday, November 17 1993, by General Abacha. In Maryam Babangida: A First Lady like No Other, carried by the New Telegraph of Friday, November 7 2017, Kassim Afegbua, a Babangida protégé, recently attests to the charity and dominance of Mrs Babangida who died on Sunday, December 27 2009, in an American hospital after a prolonged bout with ovarian cancer:
“I am rest assured that she is residing with angels and saints because her
philanthropy and love for humanity remain essential footprints of a woman who
came, dominated her environment, saw human depravity and conquered.”
Lastly, to rephrase Elif Shafak, a Turkish novelist, columnist and speaker, from her 102 page-novel, The Architect’s Apprentice (ISBN-13: 978-0143108306, 2013), Nigeria remains a spectacle, as first ladies go and come – all posturing by hook or by crook with their actions, either briefly or circuitously but finally disappearing cunningly…deviously, in the same way frustrated, and by the same token gaping for ovation or acclaim.
As they say, the rest is history.