“It is a pity that Tunde Idiagbon’s regime was destined to collapse, in spite of all its patriotic zeal and vigour, in words and action” – Major General Christ Ali (Rtd)
The above is from a brilliant and intelligent officer of the Nigerian Army who retired as Chief of Army Staff and presently is the Administrator of Plateau State. It is quoted from his best selling book on military coups and incursion into Nigeria’s politics with the title “The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army: The Siege of a Nation”
The dilemma of any public commentator, especially our editors, is the fear that some opinion or commentary on a topical issue may be misconstrued and linked to our electoral process. But luckily enough this piece is not on a gladiator still alive but in memory of late Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, the former Chief of General Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Deputy to Former Head of State General Mohammad Buhari. The almost forgotten disciplined and patriotic Nigerian military officer whose quest to salvage the nation from perpetual negativities was truncated for no just cause and died some years ago unsung.
With his close relationship and having worked directly under Obasanjo and Buhari one may wonder whom between the two he would have supported in the last election. It should be recollected that the trio participated actively in the Otta Farm Forum, where issues of national and international importance dominated their discourse. In fact there were speculations that Obasanjo would have brought in Idiagbon to his government immediately after the 1999 election but for the unnatural death that began from a sickness in Abuja on his way back to Ilorin his hometown. He was born on September 14, 1942. He would have clocked 62 years this year if not for the death that took his life on March 24, 1999 just two month to the swearing in of the President Obasanjo into the first tenure as democratic president.
Though no one would wish to publicly admit the positive side of military government especially when one savours the beauty of democracy, the regime under which Idiagbon served at the topmost level still remains the most principled, disciplined, corrupt free and agrarian period of our nationhood. As a brave and courageous soldier who had nothing to hide, he insisted on coming back home from Saudi Arabia where he was on pilgrimage immediately after the Coup, not minding whatever the new Junta wished to do with him. But the scared plotters refused to grant his request until some days later.
Even after some years in detention, he could not be pinned downed for committing any offence or crime against the state. His unconditional release after years in detention was not surprising. He remained reserved and close to God rather than dabbling into State matters until he died suddenly.
Just as his stern visage would not admit of smiles, so was his administration’s dogged refusal to tolerate corruption, indiscipline, dishonesty, disloyalty and unpatriotic tendencies. The major victims of that regime were not the ordinary and innocent masses, whose rights we were told were trampled upon, but the shylock businessmen, drug pushers, armed robbers and corrupt politicians of the preceding political era.
Of all coups in Nigeria, the Buhari/Idiagbon coup had clear persuasive and convincing justification even though it were a little exaggerated but the removal of the regime was without any reasonable justification apart from the claim that they were stubbornly principled which in every sense meant the duo refused to allow others the chance to come and chop the national cake.
Within just One and Half year, the regime in which Tunde Idiagbon was given a free hand to change the way we think, got Nigerians to appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the meaning of discipline and honesty in the polity through the War Against Indiscipline campaign. He was able to instill discipline making for orderly queuing, environmental sanitation, appropriate market price for goods and pride in our nation through campaigns on Nationalism and patriotism.
The formulation of policies and promulgation of decrees to fight some of the cankerworms like the Miscellaneous Offence Decree No 20 of 1984 that clamped down on economic saboteurs; the adoption of stricter austerity measures to further revamp the economy; the deportation of illegal aliens who constituted major criminals and prostitutes in rural and urban areas; the tackling of smugglers and bunkerers with heavy penalty and confiscation of such goods; the increase in Nigeria’s oil production quota through a major concession from OPEC; the discipline of untouchable personalities including politicians, businessmen and traditional rulers for breaking the laws of the land; the growth of local industries through the policy of substitution of imported raw materials with local raw materials; the back to farm policy that encouraged massive agricultural food production; change of the colour of the Nigerian currency that curtailed money laundering, inflation and volume of currency in circulation; the public execution of armed robbers and drug barons which reduced crime rate to the lowest in the countries history and above all the reorientation of Nigerians to love their country through practical steps and leadership by example. These were what stood that regime out and constitute a record no one has matched especially with the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign.
Today, years after his demise, nobody, no institution, no government and no group has come out to immortalize his name for his contributions to our dear nation not even through a brief annual lecture. I learnt that a patriotic group by name Third Estate is planning to have a programme to commemorate the death of this enviable patriotic Nigerian but they nurse a fear that the programme may be given a different political coloration.
Nigerians would not bother whatever interpretation it may be given. Let Nigerians, true Nigerians, come out and identify with the exemplary role played by this illustrious son of ours. Let the Federal Government do something to immortalize his name, at least we have seen centres and institutions built to immortalize some of our leaders dead and alive. Let his state do the same. Let’s have an Idiagbon Centre for Discipline and Patriotism. Let us borrow a leaf from the decisive ways and manner they fought corruption; let’s lead by example and propagate the campaign of loving and staying in our nation by not jetting out the Andrew’s way; let’s put politics aside and give Idiagbon his due; let’s also put envy aside, after all even if he were alive he may not have scuttled the aspirations of anyone as he was never interested in partisanship. The proof is there.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in New Nigerian Sept. 24, Vanguard Oct. 6, Daily Trust Oct. 6, Nigerian Tribune Oct.8, The Punch Nov 16, 2004