By Shola Oshunkeye
The hilltop mansion of former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida in Minna, the Niger State capital, was a Mecca of sort on Saturday as eminent Nigerians converged on the expansive residence to felicitate with him on the occasion of his 78th birthday.
But there were no wild party celebrations nor loud celebrations.
Rather, the event was in a spiritual mode. The Chief Imam of Minna Central Mosque, Sheikh Ibrahim Fari, the Chief Imam of Wushishi Central Mosque, Sheikh Habibu Wushishi, and a pastor, led the audience in prayers for the General who ruled Nigeria between August 27, 1985 and August 26, 1993.
The spiritual leaders prayed for Babangida’s wellness, preservation and protection of his family, Nigeria’s peace and progress. They also prayed for the Buhari Administration for God to order its steps and do things that would make life abundant for Nigerians.
After the prayers, dignitaries took turns to felicitate with the former Nigerian leader, to the admiration of his age-long friend, Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore, a world acclaimed jurist and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, who sat with the birthday boy all through the event.
Babangida was calm and in meditative mode for most of the prayer session. But he broke the mode, occasionally, to share jokes with friends and well-wishers.
Speaking after the event, ex-President Babangida appraised his 78 years on earth and thanked God profusely for his mercies over him and family.
“I thank God for life,” he said. “I thank God for keeping us safe and alive. I thank God for Nigeria and I urge all Nigerians to continue to work and pray towards the peace and unity of Nigeria.”
Although Babangida bluntly refused to be dragged into politics, or the state of the nation, he, however, urged the federal government to do more in the area of youth employment, even as he advised the youth to run away from crime, drugs and other vices that could preventing them from achieving their life’s goal.
Professor Jonathan Osman Ndagi, founding Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna, and former Nigeria’s High Commission to Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, was Babangida’s teacher at the Provincial Secondary School, Bida. He also taught another former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, as well as Generals Wushishi and Gado Nasco, among others.
Prof. Ndagi, who is IBB’s next door neighbour in Minna, smiled warmly as he described the Babangida he knew and taught to The Crest.
“What he is now tells you what he was,” the professor said. “He’s is an open book. What I know about him, you also know. He has nothing to be afraid of. He is plain. He has nothing to hide. Certainly, he has nothing to be ashamed of.
“The story of his life is not just that he is happy. What is more important is that people who have come into contact with him have been happy because of him. Period.”
On what manner of student IBB was, Professor Ndagi said: “He was a student like any other student. As a student, he showed leadership. He was very accommodating and compassionate. The other side? I won’t tell you. But, boys must be boys.”
He laughed and effectively ended the short interview.
Among dignitaries that attended the birthday prayers are: Justice Alfa Belgore, Supreme Court Justice Musa Dattijo, Colonel Aminu Isa Kontagora, Colonel Abdulmumuni Aminu, Colonel Habibu Shuaibu, former Governor of Niger State, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu and Senator Sani Musa. Others are: Alhaji Mahmoud Ndayako, Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmad and Alhaji Aliyu Bamali
General Babangida’s first son, Mohammed, and his siblings-Aminu, Aisha, and Halima Babangida were on hand to give their father a low-key, yet memorable birthday celebration.
(More reports later)