I begin with the expression of profound congratulations on behalf of my wife, myself and all my children to IBB – the quintessential acronym for General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida – on the occasion of the celebration of his 60th birthday. This man is the epitome of abiding friendship, consisting of love, exemplary concern for others and self-fulfilment for persons known and unknown to him, to communities both near and wide, to the Nigerian people and to the Black race and humanity. Deeply religious and non-bigoted, and extremely personable and affectionate, he possesses a unique attribute of attracting persons unknown to him into abiding faith in the value of friendship.
My pleasure and satisfaction of closely knowing the IBB dates back to the 1960s, particularly in the years of the national crises, in which the Nigerian armed forces proved beyond all doubt that they were committed to the preservation of national unity through defence of the existence of the Nigerian state and the Nigerian nation. My early contact of memorable value began at the meetings of the Joint Services of middle-rank officers in the course of normal professional duties. These meetings were generally held at the Defence Headquarters and dealt with the strategies, tactics, logistics and operations of the armed forces in the aftermath of the Civil War. IBB was then in charge of Operations and Training in the army and I was in charge of Personnel and Training in the navy. IBB’s social and professional bearings were jealously infectious. One profound experience of God-given love for both of us occurred during the first half of 1980. There was a professional call to duty for a joint diplomatic mission of military and foreign affairs officers to deal with issues pertaining to the relationship between Nigeria and the islands of Cape Verde and Principe. The Nigerian team was billed to travel to Sao Tome. Incidentally, IBB was to lead the army side and I was to lead the navy side; but by a stroke of good luck, as it were, I had another pressing professional assignment and the late Navy Commander Salubi replaced me for the mission. Coincidentally, IBB himself had sudden approval to travel to the United States for professional training, and in his place a professional friend and former military administrator of the old Sokoto state, Brigadier-General Umaru Mohammed, replaced him. The military documentation for this trip was done in the name of IBB and myself. The trip turned out to be a colossal tragedy as the aircraft crashed and not one person survived. If both of us or either one of us had been on that badly fated mission, we would not now be talking of the 60th birthday of IBB or me paying this tribute to him. The bountiful blessing for our lives obviously came from the Almighty God. I, however, also recall our collective deep sorrow in the loss of our colleagues who perished on that mission.
Our relationship blossomed from that period onward in the context of our professional duties. After the civil war and within the Yakubu Gowon regime, when the initial policies and programmes of reorganizing the armed forces began to unfold, IBB and I interacted a great deal and shared professional knowledge and experience together in executing agreed policies for re-organising the Nigerian army on the one hand and the Nigerian navy on the other hand.
The most intimate and mutually beneficial meetings between IBB and myself as professional colleagues, friends and confidantes began with the inception of the Great Muhammed Buhari regime following the collapse of the Second Republic and the overthrown of the disastrous politics and governance of that period. As a consequence, the structure of the succeeding administration made it possible for me and IBB to become much closer. He was the Chief of the Army Staff and I was the Chief of Naval Staff, and we were both members of the Supreme Military Council, in which capacity we shared a lot of mutual confidence, respectability and comradeship. A close working relationship between us resulted in tremendous confidence building, which has lasted through the more complex and enduring experiences in subsequent regime management until today. I pray that the good Lord will continue to steer our relationship for many more years ahead of IBB at 60.
One example, among many, of the mutual trust between IBB and myself was anchored on the composition of his regime in August 1985. IBB potentially told me of his confidence in me when I called on him on his assumption of office as President; he re-affirmed my appointment of Chief of Naval Staff along with Chief Etim Inyang as the Inspector General of Police and the late Air Marshal Ibrahim Alfa as the Chief of Air Staff. All of this further cemented my enormous respect for IBB, unwavering loyalty to a good friend, and trust for his person and his professional military bearings as a gentleman-officer. These factors of our relationship were further deepened by the philosophy, policies and programmes of the IBB regime from 1985 to 1993, in which I participated naturally as the regime’s number two office holder.
Finally, IBB built tremendously enduring and durable social bridges across the nation. I know communities that, before IBB, had never before had their sons and daughters appointed into prominent public offices and positions. IBB did so with admiration and acclamation between 1985 and 1993. He is undeniably a great statesman, with social justice and equity as his instruments of good governance. I daresay that IBB’s importance to the Nigerian state and the Nigerian nation are far greater than to his immediate family, his immediate community, to Niger State, his ‘HOME STATE’, to his friends across the length and breadth of the country and indeed to his country and the African continent.
As for the future, I cannot agree more with the view, which is increasingly gaining ground, that Nigeria has not heard the last of IBB. It is on that note that once again, on behalf of myself, my immediate family, and the good spectrum of many reliable friends of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida wish him many more years of continuing service to the nation as a statesman. He is a great man and a great friend of the Nigerian people.
Augustus A. Alkhomu, GCCON, MNI, FNIM
Admiral (Nigerian Navy)
Former Vice-President of Nigeria
17 August 2001
TRIBUTE TO A FORMIDABLE STATESMAN, A TRUSTWORTHY AND AMIABLE FIREND, AND AN UPRIGHT GENTLEMAN, COLLEAGUE AND BOSS