For his uncompromising stance against indiscipline, incorrigible fight against corruption and dying at a relatively young age under a most mysterious circumstance, Major General BABATUNDE ABDULBAKI ‘Tunde’ IDIAGBON has become a legend of sorts and some will say, a martyr and true hero. But who was this stern-looking, Ilorin-born General many said never smiled? Was it true he never smiled? No. He did smile. But why was he feared that much? A lot of Nigerians hate him because he wanted them to be more responsible, more disciplined and more useful. Many soldiers were totally terrified of him. Some others were so petrified at his mere presence that even Babangida, Abacha and his fellow coup plotters could not execute a coup with Idiagbon on Nigerian soil. They had to wait for him to leave the country. Idiagbon was too disciplined, too straight and too honest for corrupt individuals. Today, the society has gone to the dogs and it seems Nigerians are somewhat comfortable with or adapting to, the rot in the society. Or both. The story has started and it was all about 30 years ago
An extremely courageous man, Idiagbon did the unthinkable: he came right back to the country even when he knew clearly that his Commander-in-Chief, Buhari had been deposed, and guns, tanks and battle-ready soldiers would be waiting for him at the airport. Against all advice, he came back to Nigeria, not even an offer of living in a palatial mansion for life of retirement in comfort by the King of Saudi Arabia, Fahd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa‘ūd, could make him stay. He returned to face his enemies (even Gowon did not come back to challenge his foes). Idiagbon was a true General, a no-nonsense one at that. A most loyal friend who made many enemies. He said it would be a honour for him to die beside Buhari, his boss, who saved his life during the civil war. A most caring father. Principled soldier. One never to abandon the warfront in the heat of the battle. He loved Nigeria, fought for Nigeria and today, he may become unsung in the same nation he might have paid the ultimate sacrifice for. Like everyone of us, Idiagbon had his flaws and made his mistakes but that he wanted to make Nigeria a better place is what no one will deny. Not even his sworn enemies. Are you ready to learn more about this gallant soldier and unsung hero of Nigeria? Let’s go!
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
He was born on the 14th of September, 1942 into a very modest Muslim home in Ilorin, Kwara State. His father was Alhaji Hassan Dogo (now of blessed memory) and his mother was Alhaja Ayisatu (Aishat) Iyabeji Hassan Idiagbon.
GROWING UP AND EDUCATION
He attended United School, Ilorin (1950-1952) and later proceeded to Okesuna Senior Primary School, also in Ilorin between the years 1953 and 1957.
APPOINTMENTS AND MILITARY CAREER
In the year 1958, he launched his career in the military when he was admitted into the Nigerian Military School, NMS,, Zaria. Later, he attended the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul (PMA Kakul) in Abbottabad, Pakistan from 1962-1965. PMA Kakul is a two-year accredited federal service military academy that provides for officers of the Pakistan Army and allied nations. Upon finishing, he went for a junior commander course at the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna in 1966. From there, he went thus:
-Junior Staff Course, Nigerian Army Brigade.
-Command and Staff College, Quetta, Pakistan, 1976.
-National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, 1981.
-International Defence Management Course, Naval Postgraduate School, USA, 1982
A well-educated man who spoke refined English, he also bagged a bachelors degree in Economics from the Pakistani Military Academy. In addition to this, he was an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Management and also had a diploma in Senior International Defence Management.
Although Idiagbon came to the height of national prominence when Buhari became head of state, he had actually being a member of military governments (the regimes of Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo). Under General Obasanjo, Idiagbon was appointed as the Military Administrator of Borno State. His rise through the ranks in the military was as follows:
-Enlisted as Officer Cadet, 1962
-Commissioned Second Lieutenant, April 1965
-Major, 1970 (at the end of the Nigerian Civil War)
-Lieutenant Colonel, 1974
-Colonel, July 1978
-Brigadier, May 1980
-Company Commander, 4 Battalion (August 1965-February 1966)
-Intelligence Officer, 4 Battalion
-General Staff Officer, 3 Intelligence, 1 Sector
-Commanding Officer, 20 Battalion (October 1967-February 1968)
-Commanding Officer, 125 Battalion, 1968-1970
-Brigade Major and Deputy Commander, 33 Brigade (March 1970 – March 1971)
-Commander, 29 Brigade (March 1971 – December 1972)
-General Staff Officer, Grade 1 & later, Principal Staff Officer (PSO), Supreme Headquarters (January 1973 – August 1975)
-Brigade Commander, 31 and 15 Brigades (August 1975 – August 1978). As the Commander of the 15 Brigade, he was also a Member of the Governing Council, University of Jos (UNIJOS), Plateau State.
Idiagbon during the swearing-in of Shehu Musa Yaradua.
-Appointed Military Governor of Borno State, August 1978 – 1st October 1979 (during the same period, he was also the Commander of the 33 Brigade and Member of the National Council of State under the Obasanjo junta).
Idiagbon as the military governor of Borno State. Image credits: Nigerian Nostalgia Project.
-Director of Manpower (Manning) and Planning, Army Headquarters, October 1979 – February 1981
-Military Secretary, Nigerian Army, 1981-1983
-Appointed Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters (de facto Vice President), 31st December, 1983 – August 27th, 1985.
RULING NIGERIA WITH BUHARI
Following the ouster of the Alhaji Shehu Shagari government on the 31stDecember, 1983, Idiagbon rose to the post of the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and the defacto Vice President (arguably, he held more power and commanded more authority than any other deputy in the history of Nigeria). He was responsible for enforcing many of the government policies and spearheaded the national campaign called the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), with WAI brigades all over the country. Under his leadership, Nigerians were forced to form queue at bus stops, clean and maintain tidy environments, ensure public decorum and exhibit various forms of discipline, even if many of us still grumble at the policies today, Idiagbon showed that with a strong and decisive leader in charge, Nigerians will surely fall in line. Under WAI, there was the Environmental Sanitation Exercise, and on the last Saturday of each month, you see cities competing to do ‘environmental’ and get Idiagbon’s commendations.
NIGERIA’S NO-NONSENSE VICE PRESIDENT
As the de facto Vice President of Nigeria, Idiagbon spearheaded some policies that many Nigerians have translated as some of the most extreme and stringent in the nation’s history. And they have their reasons. Idiagbon pursued the policy of War Against Indiscipline with a ruthless zeal and determination that will put Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov to shame. Civil servants must be punctual, arriving work at the strike of the clock and for those who were unfortunate enough to arrive late, they were made to do frog jumps by soldiers wielding kobokos (horsewhips). He also led by example by being very punctual in office. Not a few civil servants fainted, some out of sheer exhaustion while others succumbed to the sheer fear and terror of Idiagbon’s goons. It did not end there. If you cheated in exams or cut power cables and you were caught, consider yourself corned beef. Under him, the law respected no one. When Fela was caught at the airport with more foreign cash than was stipulated by law, he was promptly arrested and made to face the music, just that it was not Afrobeat.
The military also decreed that any Nigerian that was caught wandering could be thrown into jail for one harrowing year. Nigerians were cowed into meek surrender but can now ‘make mouth’ on social media…lol! Na joke I dey joke o but you no fit try abuse the military rulers that time. Today, the Internet has changed everything and Nigerians say their minds on the cyberspace even if some citizens are yet to understand the freedom that comes with this information superhighway, they believe that Nigerian leaders have to be worshipped like a Kim Il-Sung, that is the havoc wreaked upon the psyche of a nation by years of perennial militarization. But as I have said, the Internet is changing the whole world and dictators are becoming endangered species. Even Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is having a hard time controlling his frenzied citizens from blasting him and his party online. Enough distraction, let’s continue.
Nigerian market women who did not use the dustbin or refuse dumps were automatically ordered to do frog jumps or received lashes in public. If you also failed to queue up at the bus stops, be ready to face the wrath of Nigerian soldiers. Many were fired from their jobs because they could not recite the Nigerian National Anthem and National Pledge. It was as if the army generals were on steroids and many Nigerians could not believe their own version of government.
As expected, some of those that bore the biggest brunt of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime were politicians deemed corrupt. Many of them were governors of the ousted Shagari regime. Special military tribunals were set up to try these politicians and at the end, they were handed some really incredible jail sentences. For instance, the late Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, who had been elected the Governor of Kano State, could not help burst out laughing when the military tribunal sent him to 250 years in prison. He laughed really hard at the idea that he would be leaving prison in 2234. Many thought Idiagbon was joking but he was dead serious.
Idiagbon would blast corrupt politicians on radio and promised to smoke them out of their holes and make them face justice. Little wonder he made so many powerful enemies. On Radio Nigeria, he addressed the nation in a programme called Military In Action. Many of the indicted politicians were banned from holding public offices for life.
Idiagbon was the most visible figure of the Supreme Military Council. When the Detention of Persons Decree Number 2 of 1984 came up, Idiagbon was the only person who appended his signature. He was dreaded by many and it was so serious that the Nigerian Bar Association issued a communiqué on the 13th of August, 1984 stating that the Supreme Military Council may very well take over the jurisdiction of the courts with the way it was just firing decrees upon decrees.
Idiagbon believed that Nigeria was strong enough to develop from within and he believed strongly that should Nigeria be focused, the world’s most populous black nation would become a creditor nation. At an African Regional Conference of the International Bar Association in Lagos, he blasted the International Monetary Fund when he said: “International Monetary Fund (IMF) cures no sick state, in most cases, they worsen the ailment.” He was so sure and confident of Nigeria’s inherent greatness that when the Deputy Premier of the Democratic People’s Republic of China paid him a courtesy visit, Idiagbon declared: If China can feed herself in spite of her large population, there is no reason why Nigeria cannot be self reliant.”
When critics fired at him for jailing corrupt Second Republic politicians, Idiagbon fired back: “All these criminal racketeering and swindling went on while the salaries of local government employees and teachers were left unpaid for months.’’ When he was also criticized for the execution of the drug traffickers in April 1985, he told the nation that “a uniquely Nigeria solution is necessary to curtail the get-rich-quick mania that encourages serious crime.”
During the Alhaji Umaru Dikko affair in which the Buhari-Idiagbon junta unsuccessfully tried to smuggle Dikko out of Britain to come and account for the billions of dollars missing, Idiagbon was angry that the British government foiled the plan (the Nigerian government officially denied involvement) and he stated that Nigeria was not going to ask for restoring relations with Britain, and that if anyone was to ask for forgiveness, it should be Britain. When Britain detained the Nigerian Airways plane sent to bring Dikko with its crew, Idiagbon retaliated by detaining a British Airways passenger plane at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The aircraft was on routine flight to London. Another decision that made many to hurl vituperations at him was the expulsion of illegal aliens and immigrants in the country even if Idiagbon repeatedly made it abundantly clear that those who had the valid papers were not disturbed. He clearly tried his best to bring some sanity into the system. On foreign policy, he adopted the pan-African legacy of the Murtala regime and was opposed to the South African apartheid government while also supporting Namibia, which was not yet an independent nation.
THE WAR AGAINST INDISCIPLINE
On the 20th of March, 1984, Idiagbon launched what many has correctly termed his pet project, War Against Indiscipline (WAI). It was launched with a lot of fanfare and the policy was aggressively pursued with teams sent out to various parts of the country to educate the people. The programme was launched in five phases and was directly supervised by Idiagbon while the day-to-day running of the policy was the responsibility of the Information Minister. An array of measures were rolled out and drummed into the people’s ears. Any form of indiscipline would not be tolerated by the new regime. As a matter of fact, as far as Idiagbon was concerned, one of the greatest forms of indiscipline was ‘cartooning of the head of state’. Artists flatly disagreed but there was little they could do.
-CLOSING DOWN STATIONS
In October 1984, he set up a committee that rationalized the services of the Nigerian Television Authority. This was in relation to the duties of NTA as stated in the Decree of 1977 that established the authority. He announced that the various ‘mushroom’ radio stations of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) will be closed down and in addition to that, the radio stations located at the Kaduna, Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu and the new Federal Capital Territory would be provided with new equipment so as to be able to provide better services for the nation. He observed that:
‘…in the prevailing madness, the basic patriotic objectives of setting up stations to inform, entertain and educate were lost as the various political parties ensured that the government under their control engaged in the proliferation of television and radio stations throughout the country. The stations, without exception, became megaphones of political parties in power, suppressing or grossly distorting information to suit the whims and caprices of politicians and consequently fanning the embers of disunity, disaffection and disorder. They succeeded to such an extent that law and order broke down in many states of the federation. The present administration owed it a duty to provide a virile, functional and effective broadcasting system to the nation and could not sit idly and watch the sector decay.’
Just two months after this speech, FRCN stations in places like Ilorin, Calabar, Akure, Ibadan, Calabar and many others were closed down. About 2,000 people lost their jobs in one fell swoop and to forestall any riot, looting, sabotage or protests, armed policemen were drafted to the concerned stations.
OVERTHROW AND ARREST
As hinted earlier on, Idiagbon’s style of leadership earned him a long line of powerful enemies and they devised a way to get rid of him. However, they knew that the combination of Buhari and Idiagbon would be very difficult to dislodge. To neutralize the regime, Idiagbon had to be removed from the scene first before any attempt can be made to topple Buhari. So in 1985 the plan was hatched by Babangida, MKO Abiola and his ilk to lure Idiagbon to travel out of Nigeria to attend the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Abiola also gladly provided the money for the coup. But wetin be Abiola own? The Buhari/Idiagbon regime had seized a huge consignment of Abiola’s imported newsprint, which was on the government contraband list and they refused to release it to the Ogun State business mogul. Idiagbon had barely started his rites in the oil-rich desert kingdom when news reached him that his boss had been overthrown and detained. He was given clear warnings to stay away from the country or he would be dealt with.
At that point, the billionaire Saudi monarch, the late King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud called Idiagbon and made an offer. The Saudi King told Idiagbon that he would get a palatial mansion and stay for his retirement for life and forget about the idea of returning to Nigeria. Idiagbon politely declined the offer and told King Fahd that he had to return to Nigeria for two good reasons, one of which was to make a statement that he was not a coward so his family will later walk proud and that it would also be a great honour for him to die beside his boss, General Buhari, who saved his life during the Nigerian Civil War. Few days later, he entered the Nigerian airspace. Armed soldiers and all kinds of weapons waited for him at the airport but he did not budge.
For daring to enter the Nigerian territory and having the guts to challenge a corrupt system, Idiagbon was placed under house arrest in Benin City and Bauchi State. He was locked up with his boss for 40 horrible months. He and Buhari had ruled Nigeria for 20 months before IBB and his boys came in and embarked on their coup. When IBB overthrew his boss, he lashed out at their regime for being ‘rigid and uncompromising’. Special venom was reserved by IBB for Idiagbon as he descended on him with scathing criticism (IBB was later accused of mischievously carving out parts of Kwara State like Kainji and adding to his own Niger State out of his disdain for Idiagbon). When Idiagbon returned, he was put under house arrest by the IBB regime for three years. When he was released, he returned as a civilian to his hometown of Ilorin where he was received and hailed as a hero.
After his release, he took to farming and almost completely slipped out of public glare. He refused to speak to any journalist or reporter, even on very crucial national issues. Even when General Sani Abacha invited him to head the Failed Contracts Tribunal, he simply refused and brushed aside the Khalifa’s invitation. For almost 15 years, he did not talk to the public and faced his business. It was only on very rare occasions that he attended public events, like that of the coronation of his good friend, Major-General Mohammed Sani Sami (rtd) (Sani Gomo II) as the Emir of Zuru, Kebbi State in 1996 (Sami was the Bauchi State (now Bauchi and Gombe States) Governor under Buhari). It was not until after Abacha’s sudden demise in June 1998 that Idiagbon decided to embrace the limelight once again and contribute his own quota to national development. Interestingly, he was dead 10 months later.
PERSONAL STYLE AND INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT HIM
-He is best remembered as Nigeria’s author of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) programme.
-His simple and humble lifestyle reflected in all he did. Even when he could have easily sent a junior officer, General Idiagbon would drive himself all the way to his children’s school to pick them up after lectures. He was also principled, almost to a fault. There was a time when a guest came visiting the Idiagbons and upon seeing Kunle, his son, the guest was so excited that he had grown so big, and like it’s the ‘tradition’ in many parts of Nigeria, the guest gifted Kunle with some substantial amount of money, and the little dude was elated. The guest left, only for Idiagbon to burst the child’s bubble. He called Kunle and told him that he should use the money to pay his school fees, and that was it…lol!
-The late General Idiagbon is one of the painfully few Nigerians that can be truly described as incorruptible. Even while an army general and the number two man in the world’s most populous black nation in the 1980s, his wife, Biodun, maintained a small ice cream shop at his Ilorin residence (interestingly Dame Patience Jonathan too was once into the sale of ice cream before her husband hit it big in national politics. Then, she had a rather ‘enchanting’ nickname: Mama Ice Cream). Idiagbon had no millions of dollars, eye-popping mansions, private jets or mind-blowing automobiles even if he had the opportunity to the steal the nation blind. Even his home today at Ilorin is an attestation to his high moral standards. That stands out him in a nation that has become one vast Pacific Ocean of corruption and filthy lucre. Many Nigerians accuse him of being too strict, unnecessarily iron-fisted but definitely not corrupt.
-When he was in power, Idiagbon put everybody in their place. He did not patronize anyone and he did not allow anyone to patronize him. For many northern traditional rulers who felt two Muslims of northern extraction were in power and it was time for them to jolly like ants inside a pack of St.Louis, they met the shock of their robed lives. Anytime a northern emir or traditional ruler approached Buhari for any favour or ‘connection’, Buhari always directed them to his trusted deputy, Idiagbon. Upon getting to Idiagbon, the answer was always a very cold no, and the monarchs knew better not to press further because it will not be funny for a revered monarch to be koboko-ed. It was so serious that even when the monarch of Buhari’s own hometown, Alhaji Muhammed Bashaar, the Emir of Daura approached Buhari to see if there was any possibility of ‘connection’, he was promptly rebuffed. Embarrassed and disappointed by the rigid stance of Idiagbon and his equally strict boss, the emirs headed back to the north, full of fury and anger. They then rallied round the religious leaders and the masses and narrated the ‘hell’ they went through in the hands of the Buhari and his unappeasable deputy. Before you could spell Nigeria, Islamic clerics all across the north, especially in Sokoto, Kano and Kaduna prayed to Allah during congregational prayers to catalyze the removal of Buhari and Idiagbon, both of whom they referred to as ruthless tyrants.
Allah would later answer their prayers in a most spectacular manner with a gap-toothed dude called Babangida who fried the nation for almost a decade. It must be noted that the Buhari/Idiagbon regime thoroughly ‘showed pepper’ to the traditional rulers, many of whom they saw as equally corrupt like the detained politicians. The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Dr. Ado Bayero, and his bestie of life, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II, were handed suspension letters and also told not to make the mistake of venturing out of their respective domains. Why? Their crime was that they had travelled to Israel without obtaining government approvals. Nigeria did not have any diplomatic ties with Israel during that period. General Ahmed Gusau was also said to have been penned down for investigation over his alleged involvement in a drug scandal. Day by day, the list of Idiagbon’s enemies kept growing. Idiagbon was in his early 40s at that time but he was already terror to many of the most influential figures in Nigeria.
-One other thing about him was that he maintained a very strong sense of independence and no one could buy him over. For example, after his release and upon his retirement quietly to his Ilorin hometown, none of the subsequent governments (IBB, Shonekan, Abacha and Abubakar) were successful in baiting him with government appointments (not even when his boss, Buhari agreed to serve under an Abacha junta as the Petroleum Special Trust Fund chairman, even if he did so with a stellar performance). Yes, he was that principled. You will appreciate that better when you realize the fact that many Nigerians will not think twice if the Presidency should dangle a government appointment before their very eyes.
-His fearlessness was also legendary. He had no qualms in flinging to into jails anyone found guilty of embezzlement of public funds, financial misappropriation and other corrupt practices.
-Like every man, he had his soft side too. He was a wonderful father to his children and a very caring husband. He was said to be a fan of jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock and of course, Miles Davis, both black Americans and leading voices in the jazz world.
-He was disappointed at the manner at which they lost power and he was even further embittered by the fact that those that came after him messed up the entire system.
-In October 1998, he set the Gateway Stadium, Abeokuta, Ogun State ablaze with excitement when he and former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo arrived to watch the South Africa – Ghana match at the African Women Soccer Championships. The Ghanaians thrashed their South African mates 4-0.
-In 1998, when General Olusegun Obasanjo finally decided after dodging the question that he would actually be running for the presidential elections, Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was one of the retired army generals that were reported to have supported him. Others that also gave Obasanjo his support included former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, former military president General Lieutenant General Aliyu Gusau (now Nigeria’s minister of defence), Major-General Mohammed Magoro (Buhari’s internal minister and now a Senator representing Kebbi State), Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Mukhtar (one of Buhari’s generals that flung politicians into long-term prisons), Lieutenant General Domkat Bali (former Minister of Defence and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff during Babangida’s regime), Lieutenant General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi (former Chief of Army Staff), Lieutenant General Garba Duba and many others. Some other generals did not want their name mentioned and preferred to work in the background.
-In November 1998, there were reports that Idiagbon would declare for the All People’s Party (APP) and gun for the presidency. Idiagbon’s membership was expected to boost the chances of the party, face Obasanjo, who was set to be anointed as the candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and at the same time brighten the profile of a party that had already been derided as ‘Abacha People’s Party’. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu said that time that Idiagbon’s decision to join any political party was his personal decision and that they were not threatened at the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Idiagbon’s decision to join the party was confirmed by his Special Assistant, Alhaji Ameen A. Akoshile. Some analysts say that although General Buhari loved and respected Obasanjo, he never trusted Babangida’s involvement in the whole affair and might have even encouraged his former deputy to join an opposition party. However, there was something really exciting at that time because another Ilorin strongman and politician, the late Olusola Saraki, was already in the APP and it was expected that should Idiagbon join the APP to pursue his political ambitions, it would be an inevitable clash of titans. Both Ilorin strongmen are now dead but they are still highly venerated in the Kwara State capital. However, it must be stated that some other observers reported that it was all rumours as Idiagbon remained as uninterested in politics as ever. He himself would later say that no one had approached him with such an idea.
-He was reported to have died at the intensive care unit (ICU) of the UITH which was funded by the Petroleum Trust Fund headed by his boss, Buhari.
-General Idiagbon also said his mind no matter whose ox was gored. In February 1999, before the presidential elections, at a book launch (the book was on General Buhari and was titled ‘Buhari: The PTF Years’), he called on the military government led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar to carry out a genuine transition to democracy and advised Nigerians to vote for a true democrat, a direct tackle against many of his corrupt former military colleagues (you know them na…lol!) were bent on hijacking the entire democratic process (we now know whatsup…lol!). The next month, he was dead.
LOVE, ROMANCE AND MARRIAGE
He was married to Mrs. Biodun Idiagbon in August 1970 and their marriage produced five children (two boys and three girls). His wife is a Christian and member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Following his death, there was some fracas when in April 1999, Dr. Najimdeen Ishola Raji, the deputy imam at the University of Ilorin Mini Campus said she could not inherit any of her husband’s property because of her religious affiliation.
FAMILY AND CHILDREN
General Tunde Idiagbon left behind five children who took after him, as far as discipline, reclusiveness and humility are concerned. His children include:
-KUNLE MOHAMMED IDIAGBON: He attended the Nigerian Military School, Zaria and studied English at the University of Ilorin.
-RONKE IDIAGBON, was an MBA student in Cardiff, Wales as at the time he died.
-NADIAT MOPELOLA IDIAGBON: She got married in September 1997 to Alhaji Sani Mohammed of the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Project (NLNG), and even at the occasion, Idiagbon reportedly did not smile.
-For his unbridled manner of clamping down on press freedom, Idiagbon was widely vilified by many Nigerian journalists. The government had the Public Officers (Protection) Against False Accusation Decree which stipulated some really unpleasant penalties for Nigerian reporters who wrote articles or press reports that cast aspersions on the integrity on members of the military junta. Idiagbon did not blink twice before approving the detention of members of the pen-wielding and ever-effervescent Nigerian mass media. Two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, both of The Guardian witnessed the seriousness of Idiagbon first hand when they were detained for one year for publishing a story that the regime saw as ‘embarrassing’.
-The retroactive application of the death penalty on drug traffickers was also seen as one of the most detestable acts of the Idiagbon regime. Armed robbers were also executed.
-In 1981, when he was still a brigadier, he wrote a book titled ‘Strategies for Liberating Southern Africa’ and he was also a member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, near Jos in Plateau State. He loved writing and he finished a manuscript of book that those who read it described as very enchanting. He also loved reading and playing squash. What is it with Nigerian leaders and this squash sef? Abacha. Squash. Yar’adua. Squash. Idiagbon. Squash. Obasanjo. Squash. Abdulsalam. Squash. Anyways, the economy is still squashing us.
-For a man like Idiagbon living a corruption-infested nation like Nigeria, it is quite understandable that he made enemies, lots of them, and very powerful ones too. Idiagbon and his boss, Buhari remain mainly criticized not because they embezzled billions of naira but because of the iron-fisted and dictatorial nature of their authoritarian regime under which punishments such as long-term imprisonment, death penalty for drug trafficking and other methods were instituted and codified in military edicts. For many Nigerians, this seems to be the only, or main grouse they have against the late general. Then there was the repression and oppression of the media, with journalists and press houses bearing a big part of the military brunt.
-During their regime, some of the governors jailed died in detention, and these included Professor Ambrose Alli of Bendel State, Aper Aku of Benue State, Alhaji Busari Adelakun, Tatari Ali and Zabo Barkin Zuwo. Olabisi Onabanjo, former Governor of Ogun State, was also jailed in May 1984 for corruptly enriching his party, the UPN, until IBB pardoned him. Sule Katagum, a former chairman of public service commission for 15 years who had the ‘grace’ of spending one month in Idiagbon’s detention dismissed him as an arrogant man who let power enter his head.
-Vituperations and caustic attacks have been directed the late Idiagbon for taking his 14-year-old son, Kunle, on holy pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 1985. He was accused of flouting the same laws that his were enacted by his own government.
-Idiagbon was also criticized that it was under his government that 53 suitcases were smuggled inside the country unchecked.
-In July 1997, Ibrahim Salman had helped Comfort Obi of Lagos-basedThe Source magazine to gain access to Idiagbon’s Ilorin residence for a very rare interview which turned out to be very refreshing. However, after the journalist was gone and the interview published, Salman was reportedly lured into Idiagbon’s GRA residence and mercilessly beaten by irate soldiers who kept shouting na you bring reporter come dey disturb and snap Oga ba. When Comfort Obi tried to get Idiagbon’s side of the story and why he did not call his soldiers to order, he neither confirmed nor denied the fracas. He was silent.
-It was not too clear whether Idiagbon later made up with those who overthrew him before his death, like his boss, Buhari, did. What was known was that he fiercely maintained his independence and aloofness.
-He was also criticized for not saying a word during the whole Abacha junta. Akin Adebisi, a former student union leader said in 1998 when reports were flying around of an Idiagbon presidency: “Let us even start from the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, the whole rot Abacha unleashed on this country, the eventual death of Abiola in jail. So many things have happened and all these while somebody like Idiagbon sat cowardly in Ilorin and did nothing. He should not just bother to leave Ilorin because Nigerians will stone him.” Some even criticized making allegations that some members of his family benefitted from massive Petroleum Trust Fund contracts even if he personally distanced himself from plum government contracts.
-Idiagbon was criticized that as the number two man in Nigeria, his regime was not too accommodating of criticism or calls for correction. When the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) launched protests against the planned hike in tuition fees, they were jailed and same with the members of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) when they demanded better welfare packages (and I don’t mean special number plates…lol! Na joke o!).
-When Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, a pro-democracy activist was asked to assess Idiagbon following the announcement of his death, Beko stated thathe is a very useless man, he was a terrible man who visited a lot of hardship on many people but that has nothing to do with his death because we are all going to die. But he was a harsh and terrible being who was almost the equivalent to Abacha, they are all terrible people. Beko had just been released from prison when PM News reached him on phone for his comments on Idiagbon’s demise.
DEATH & BURIAL
Idiagbon’s death was dramatic, sudden and utterly shocking. Many of his hometown folks still shiver today any time they remember the late general. The brief illness that later took his life started on Sunday, the 21stof March but he braved it and travelled to Abuja on Monday, 22nd March. By the time he returned to Ilorin on Tuesday, the stomach upset was still there. On the evening of Tuesday 23rd of March, 1999, the stomach upset became so severe that he could not hold it anymore even after taking some medications. He was prostrate and could not breath properly, covered with sweat, the agony was visible. Alarmed family members rushed him to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (then located at the University Mini Campus site) and doctors flew into action, battling to save the general’s life (an emergency surgery was said to have been carried out at first). But all efforts to save him were in vain.
By 4.35 pm the next day, Wednesday, he was gone after bouts of convulsion. He had been admitted at the hospital for just 18 hours and as at the time he died, the doctors were making plans to operate him. The surgical operation had been approved by Lt. Colonel Rasheed Shekoni, the Military Administrator of Kwara State but before any scalpel could be used, Idiagbon was dead. Ilorin was thrown into mourning like no other with wailings echoing from Adangba to Abayawo. According to the Chief Medical Director of the teaching hospital, Rotimi Fakeye, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Idiagbon’s condition was very serious as at the time he was brought to the hospital. Another son of the soil, the late Major-General Abdulkarim Adisa, the Kwara State Government and the Christian Association of Nigeria mourned him. Tears flowed freely at his Idiagbon family compound and his kinsmen were inconsolable. His 90-year-old mother, Alhaja Ayisat said:
“What is life to me now without Tunde? Who have I offended that could not have taken me away instead of my son? God, this is a great burden and sorrow for me at my old age to bear.”
To them, their pillar of support and source of pride was gone, all too soon. Adisa, who had just been released from Abacha’s Guantanamo Bay less than a month earlier was totally devastated. He said: His death is a big loss to Ilorin people especially those of us close to him and as a former number two he had achieved a lot. He wanted Nigeria to be a better place to live in” Idiagbon’s last public outing was a special prayer session on 14thMarch that was held to mark Adisa’s release from Nigeria’s Gitmo.
On the 24th of March, 1999, death came calling. But what killed him? Doctors said that he might have died from complications of gastroenteritis caused by cholera (from contaminated food or water). He showed the symptoms such as stooling and vomiting. Unsubstantiated claims of poisoning have trailed his death (like that of Tafawa Balewa too, circumstances around the death of Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister remain unsolved) but you know, Nigeria is a very peculiar place, forensic medicine is next to nothing, that’s one and we do not bother to investigate the deaths or killings of our leaders. Two, the Muslim burial rites leave little or no time for any useful autopsy or any relevant forensic examination, even if toxicologists were to be present. We need to work on stuffs like these, so many unresolved murders, deaths and assassinations in our nation.
The burial prayers for the late General Idiagbon were held at the Main Bowl of the Kwara State Stadium and those in attendance were former military rulers Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida, Vice Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe (now late), the Chief of General Staff of the Abubakar regime, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, the Emir of Ilorin, Lt. Col. Rasheed Shekoni, the Military Governor of Kwara State, Major-General Mohammadu Magoro, Major-General Abdullahi Mohammed and Chief Olusegun Osoba, former Ogun State Governor who could not control his tears. His body, still wrapped in a white UITH fabric and strapped onto a stretcher was conveyed to the venue in a white Peugeot 504 Estate (Station Wagon). The body was removed from the vehicle and a team of security officials and Islamic clerics unclasped the belt clamped over his corpse.
Placed on the ground, the body was then turned on its right side to the face the East. After the prayers, his body was transported to his residence. At 11.10am, the chief cleric started the funeral prayers (called janazah in Islam) which took just 10 minutes. The body was then lifted and placed into the vehicle which drove off. The prayers had ended when General Babangida walked into the stadium and he took turn to shake hands with the seated guests. Vice Admiral Akhigbe (led the Federal Government delegation as the CGS) stood up to salute him. Buhari stayed glued to his seat and reluctantly shook IBB’s hand. By 11.45, Idiagbon’s body had reached his GRA residence for the very final burial rites with the prayers led by Imam Isale Imale, Alhaji Abdulhameed Abdulahi.
Six smartly-dressed soldiers standing at attention mounted a short parade of honour for the late general. As the body was driven out of the stadium, two shots were fired by the soldiers and at his GRA residence. Men and officers from the 4th Mechanized Brigade, Sobi, Ilorin had a march past for him. Another short prayer was offered as the body was taken out of the car.
General Idiagbon was buried on Thursday, 25th March, 1999 at his No. 5, Aderemi Adeleye residence, GRA, Ilorin. Burial was swift. He was interred at about 12.00 noon. His wife was clad in black and she wept profusely. General Buhari could not hold back his tears. When a journalist asked the devastated Buhari to comment, he said:
‘I can’t say anything. What can I say?’
On his demise, former Nigerian aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode has some interesting things to say:
General Tunde Idiagbon was to be appointed Chief of Staff in the Presidency in President Obasanjo’s government. He was invited to Abuja by the President, offered the job and he accepted it. He went back to his hotel on the night he was made that offer after seeing the President, had some food and some ”Abuja tea” and he immediately fell gravely ill. He never recovered from that illness and he in fact died from it. He was not suffering from any known illness prior to taking the tea. Up until that time he had enjoyed excellent health and I was reliably informed that he was in very high spirits after leaving the Presidential villa that night. As a matter of fact Obasanjo was looking forward to working closely with him. The fact that the man died in such a mysterious way is yet another inexplicable tragedy in our history. General Abacha also drank some Abuja tea and he died in the same mysterious way (though he did suffer from ill health prior to that).
The same thing happened to Chief Moshood Abiola and in his case the tead was prepared for him during a meeting with Susan Rice (who was then the American Undersecretary of State for Africa) and a few other American officials including Carrington the then American Ambassador. The irony is that there are some poisons and toxins that the CIA, MOSSAD and other intelligence agencies have always used that cannot be detected by even the most sophisticated autopsies. So I guess that even an autopsy could not have really told us much (as was shown after the autopsy that was done on Abiola after he perished). I pray that one day we will get to know the truth about what really happened to this great man called General Tunde Idiagbon, who killed him (assuming that he was in fact killed), why they did so and just how it was done. –April 23, 2011.
HONOURS, AWARDS AND LEGACIES
Although his reign was a short one, he left behind a legacy of discipline (which is totally lacking in the Nigerian society today). Great historians like Max Siollun (a legendary authority on Nigeria’s military politics) consider the Buhari-Idiagbon era as a lost opportunity to be on the path to greatness. Analysts like Chido Nwangwu, the Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com imagine what would have happened to Nigeria if they were allowed to rule for a longer period (even if some people felt they would turn Nigeria into a North Korea…lol!). Upon his death, the Ilorin Descendant Progressive Union (IDPU) submitted a proposal to Lt. Col. Shekoni that the state stadium be named after him but that plan never materialized. Recently, there have been calls that the name of the Kwara State University be changed to Babatunde Idiagbon University. Although he spent decades in government, at various levels, the late General Tunde Idiagbon cannot be accused of stealing a single kobo, and that in itself, in my opinion, is a wonderful legacy and a towering achievement not easily matched by other mortals.
“As Nigerians decide who is to be their president in the next republic, they need to produce an honest leadership willing to champion and govern the nation with accountability as its watchword.”
“Under the new dispensation there would be no place for unproductive dead-woods nor for mindless plunderers of our national resources.”
‘…the need to emphasize self-discipline and leadership by good example. Again, by drawing public attention to little but important manifestations of indiscipline such as rushing into buses, driving on the wrong side of the road, littering the streets, parks and dwelling compounds, cheating, taking undue advantage of scarcity to inflate prices for quick monetary gains, constituting ourselves into public nuisances, working without commitment, and devoting little or no time to the upbringing of our children. Up till this moment, there has been no formal declaration of war against indiscipline. It is my pleasure therefore to declare today the launching day of the war against indiscipline…’
WHAT OTHERS SAID ABOUT HIM
Let’s place the man within a historical context to achieve a better meaning regarding what I believe was a very remarkable and consequential life. First, Idiagbon, famous for his stern attitude, morose demeanor and iron-fist approach to governing had a love-hate relationship with his countrymen. Initially, many felt he was too dictatorial and left no room for compassion for errant fellows. Some, at the time, also felt his approach was right for Nigerians, an unusually boisterous group of people in their country.
Second, I believe that Nigeria benefitted and learned major lessons from the firm hands and watchful eyes of Idiagbon. Why? However shortlived, he contributed immensely to clean the mess and stinking indiscipline which continues to eat deep like a cancerous growth in the country’s social, organizational, governmental and individual fabric…..
Third, his efforts imposed some sense of orderliness to most aspects of public life in Nigeria. In many ways, he improved Nigerians’ attitude to work, sanitation and ethics. He led the national campaign known as War Against Indiscipline, WAI. Streets, public and private buildings and other dirty areas and corners of every major city started to shine in the wake of WAI. WAI’s mechanism rested on command, threat and actual use of force and sanctions by Idiagbon’s team. With WAI under his watch, Nigeria was cleaner, although some buildings owned by many poor folks were callously smashed by bulldozers. After less than 5 months of being replaced by Babangida, Nigeria relapsed to dirt as usual. Ever since, mountains of rubbish struggle for attention with imported vehicles….
-Chido Nwangwu, Founder & Publisher, USAfricaonline
‘Tunde, no doubt, meant well for Nigeria but conquered by the fate of the inevitable and supremacy of the new order.
Exactly six years after his death, the man has been accorded by the nation he served well with stoic capacity in a logic force with the contradictions of silence. There is hardly any remembrance moment and national edifice conscripted to show that General Idiagbon ever sojourned in the Nigerian world. This shows that either the Nation in its grotto interpretations felt insecure with the ailing native tinkering of the likes of ‘Tunde Idiagbon or that the General was mistakenly sent with grotesque deal of misunderstanding minds contrived and conjured as a nation to channel a new course in a time begging for radical changes. I am tempted to believe that the former had been responsible for Idiagbon’s lack of immortalization. Astonishingly, persons at low leadership position that assisted in the wreck of the nation’s resources and posterity are remembered yearly on Newspaper pages or with monumental edifices but not General ‘Tunde Idiagbon of the worthy legacy that exhibited loyalty to the cause of his fatherland and portrayed a zeal to positive changes at the nation’s horizon.
A man that had an option to stay back in Saudi Arabia when General Muhammadu Buhari-led regime was overthrown in which he was the Second-in-command but to show loyalty to his erstwhile Commander-in-Chief by volunteering for surrender along with General Buhari. General ‘Tunde Idiagbon was a role model not highly appreciated in a parochialist-nation like Nigeria. This is Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon of blessed memory.
-Paul Mamza, Columnist, Leadership Newspapers, July 30, 2005.
I remember meeting him once at my father’s office (GHQ) and he said to me “Young man, remain steadfast in your faith in God. Be disciplined and accommodating with others, accept your interactions (good or bad) with others as lessons and work hard at everything you do. These are the true meanings of living. We’ll pray your life will be blessed.” –Abubakar Jimeta.
I recall my dad driving along the street the General lives when one of his dogs ran across the road and was unfortunately hit and killed. We were quite frightened of what his reactions might be, but to our surprise, he met with us, accepted our version of the incident and even chided his security system which might have allowed the dog to be on the road, he was very calm and respectful of our concern over the incident. the incident reaffirmed my respect for him as a leader and his military might instead of making him a stiff-necked fool I think made him a very very the General who we all know him to be. R.I.P General Babatunde Idiagbon. –Olatunde Akanbi, March 2011.
The disciplinarian stance of the government at that time won for it accolades and Idiagbon was indeed the power behind the throne,the conductor that led the orchestra the one who earned tons of credibility for the administration by virtue of his unsmiling and calculating mien. He typified the nationalist in military uniform who was genuinely convinced that a recourse to discipline will go a long way in solving many of the problems plaguing the Nigerian nation at the time. – Babajide Kolade-Otitoju, Nigerian journalist upon Idiagbon’s death.
‘An illustrious and highly principled patriot. An epitome of discipline has gone into glory.’ –Former Chief Judge of Kwara State, Justice Timothy Oyeyipo, in the condolence register.
‘…He was a great officer, a gentleman officer, a man who led by example, a man who believed in whatever he preached, a first class officer. He, together with General Buhari created a new Nigeria for us. At that time we were proud to be Nigerians. He was a very likeable person.’ –Chief Olusegun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State.
Idiagbon was a statesman, a disciplined man who will surely be missed by Nigerians. –Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe, in his condolence register.
Femi Fani-Kayode: General Tunde Idiagbon was to be appointed Chief of Staff in the Presidency in President Obasanjo’s government. He was invited to Abuja by the President, offered the job and he accepted it. He went back to his hotel on the night he was made that offer after seeing the President, had some food and some ”Abuja tea” and he immediately fell gravely ill. He never recovered from that illness and he in fact died from it. He was not suffering from any known illness prior to taking the tea. Up until that time he had enjoyed excellent health and I was reliably informed that he was in very high spirits after leaving the Presidential villa that night. As a matter of fact Obasanjo was looking forward to working closely with him. The fact that the man died in such a mysterious way is yet another inexplicable tragedy in our history. General Abacha also drank some Abuja tea and he died in the same mysterious way (though he did suffer from ill health prior to that). The same thing happened to Chief Moshood Abiola and in his case the tead was prepared for him during a meeting with Susan Rice (who was then the American Undersecretary of State for Africa) and a few other American officials including Carrington the then American Ambassador. The irony is that there are some poisons and toxins that the CIA, MOSSAD and other intelligence agencies have always used that cannot be detected by even the most sophisticated autopsies. So I guess that even an autopsy could not have really told us much (as was shown after the autopsy that was done on Abiola after he perished). I pray that one day we will get to know the truth about what really happened to this great man called General Tunde Idiagbon, who killed him (assuming that he was in fact killed), why they did so and just how it was done.