The year was 1987 and I was a 13-year-old in junior secondary school. IBB was president and he had just introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). I wasn’t very keen on politics and current affairs. All I knew was the president had banned the importation of foreign goods, including those nice dresses I got for Christmas and rice!…clean parboiled rice…because it wasn’t grown and packaged in Nigeria.
The idea was to encourage the production and exportation of made-in-Nigeria goods but I guess such a laudable project works only when it happens as a gradual process. Port activities almost came to a standstill, people lost their means of livelihood. The goods that were banned had no immediate local replacement.
Moreover, I was subjected to eat Abakaliki rice. It had sand and stones in it and I was made to spend hours picking and sieving out sand before cooking. The first reason I didn’t like IBB.
Then came the SAP riots of 1987. It happened suddenly with no warning. The all-girls Catholic school I attended in Effurun-Warri, Delta State had just closed for the day and we were pouring out of the gate to return home. The girls from my school were famed to be the most beautiful, chaste and decent…judging from the fact that we were raised by nuns.
The boys in the neighbourhood didn’t like us very much because we didn’t speak pidgin English, we never responded to their love advances and we pretty much looked to them like we were always carrying our noses in the air.
If you were living in Warri on that day, you didn’t want to be a young girl wearing a blue and white pinafore uniform. The area boys came at us with sticks like we were the ones who told the president to introduce SAP. A lot of girls were beaten up and seriously injured, some even rumoured to have been sexually harassed.
I was lucky. My friend’s mother bravely drove through the mob to come get us; but not without a tree branch attached to her car wiper to show solidarity. We must have been up to 10 girls who jumped into that small car as it sped away. The second reason I hated IBB.
Few months later, we were told that our president was visiting Warri to commission some project. We were made to trek from our school in Effurun to the highway where we were to line up and wave at him as he drove pass. I remember we trekked more than four hours to get there. We stood by the highway for another three hours under the smelting tropical heat.
My comfort was that I’ll get to see my president in person. Guess what? When he finally came, IBB drove past in a flash, I could hardly make out his fingers waving back through the tinted car window. I got home and wrapped my feet in ice, swearing never to love the gap-toothed president.
And oh, he ruined New Year’s day of 1985 for me. That was the day he overthrew General Buhari. I was on holiday in Lagos on that day. Don’t forget it was the country’s capital at the time. From the eyes of an 11-year-old, the soldiers I saw in that truck patrolling round Surulere scared the hell out of me. All the adults looked scared and talked in low tones. All I could hear was Coup! Coup!
But today, I look back at all the hardships and near-death experiences from his government through the matured eyes of an adult woman. I see a leader who may not have been perfect but strived to do what was best for our country. I can’t believe that a day would have come where I would celebrate IBB.
I’m happy I didn’t die that day of the SAP riot. I’m happy I lived this long to blog out this feeling. If IBB ever gets to read this, I say Sir, I don’t hate you any more. I celebrate you today and all your milestones. I celebrate your successes and your failures, for they are indeed what makes up a complete man.
Happy birthday to a great leader, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. May you live long and prosper.