In the last couple of days, the media have been awash with news of Halima Babangida’s wedding to her heartthrob, Alhaji Auwal Lawal, in Minna, Niger State.
Ever conscious of the selling streak in any event, the media rather than captured the details of the ceremony, latched onto the flipside of the ceremonies in general; the number of private and chartered jets that touched down at Minna Airport on that momentous Friday, May 12, 2017, and those who are perceived as political foes fraternizing together.
I was waiting to hear the number of vehicles that plied the roads leading to Minna from all the three to four entrances. I am sure someone is doing that arithmetic and would avail us the information once he computes his data.
Trust Nigerians, they could be very creative with improvised knowledge. The activities marking the wedding were supposed to be low keyed, but IBB as he is fondly called, felt that some of his friends would feel offended if he didn’t invite them or notified them of the ceremony knowing full well the premium Islam places on marriage. Given the fact that he is presently managing the pains of his hurtful leg, some of us had prevailed on him to make the event as quiet as possible.
But anything IBB cannot be quiet, not with a name that has assumed such towering height in the politics of the nation, a name that strikes a chord once it is echoed in public circles.
IBB has enjoyed the public space for long, dominated the political arena and dictated the oscillation of political pendulum for such a long, long time. Even those who do not believe in his political philosophy still find their way to him when ambition knocks at their doors.
He has one role or the other to play for everyone. IBB is a man of many parts. You either love him passionately or hate him intensely; he is certainly not the road of the middleman.
Those who love him do so without equivocation while those who hate him do so with avouched commitment, but each time they encounter him, the story is always different. IBB has this warmth and unusual charm that surrounds his ambience when he interacts with anyone.
He has this disarming countenance and infectious smile that can easily undo his haters.
He interacts freely without any air of authority or dominance. You don’t see gun-wielding, overzealous security aides around him. Though a retired General, he lives the life of an ordinary citizen.
He feels at home with all categories of persons irrespective of their statuses.
He chooses his words with ease, releasing them in measured tones to make his guests feel at home. He dabbles into different subject areas trying to weigh your intellect and how much of contemporary issues one is at home with.
His home is a leveller for all. Once you gain access to his home, no matter how highly and lowly placed, IBB will find a space for you irrespective of his crowded schedules. He still runs his office daily, attends to visitors whether on appointment or not, responds to mails and return calls to a deluge of callers on a daily basis. His public relation comes with an élan that is peculiarly IBB.
Among his coterie of close aides are Nigerians drawn from different parts of the country that are also sworn to different religious beliefs system and orientation; Christians, Muslims, free thinkers, etc. Y
ou have Igbo, Yoruba, Igbira, Efik, Hausa, Fulani, Igala and a host of other tribes amongst his staff.
Many of his domestic staff are individuals who have been with him for ages, nurturing families and becoming grandfathers in their own right.
They have exhibited loyalty to a man they are easily fond of. He doesn’t discriminate against anyone on account of where you come from or the religion you profess. He deals with everyone on his own merit. He has an uncommon gift that entices him to people. He has a way of recalling people by their faces and first names even when he had encountered you once.
He recollects faces with perfunctory ease. He asks after the welfare of your loved ones. He has your birthday date and places a surprise call to you in the early hours of the morning to wish you happy birthday. He calls and directs you hand over the phone to your wife to extend his pleasantries.
He wants to know how you are faring at all times. Every day he treats his guests and visitors to sumptuous lunch often bedecked with interesting stories of contemporary issues in the polity or someone sharing an interesting experience. It is often laughter galore.
He comes down to the level of every one. The earliest he goes to bed is 1a.m. having been treated to several anecdotes shared by his friends and associates with whom he grew up.
He provides the shoulder with which a lot of people cry on. Given these instances of General Babangida’s conduct, friends and associates would easily buy time for any of his events; be it birthday or wedding of any of his children.
Little wonder therefore that Minna became a Mecca of some sorts on Friday, May 12 when he gave out his last daughter’s hand in marriage. The wedding was not only symbolic; it made a loud statement about IBB’s network of friends across the geopolitical divide.
It was easier to know those who didn’t come than trying to take stock of those who actually came. I later saw some persons who came through photographs published in some newspapers.
Babangida is not just a bridge builder who understands the dynamics of the country; he is one Nigerian who is essentially detribalised and pan-Nigeria both in orientation and conduct. In fact, his staying power resides in his many friends and associates. He takes the country as his constituency.
He believes so much in the unity of the country and often counselled me about the need to avoid civil war or civil unrest because of our past unpalatable civil war experience.
“Prince, your generation must wake up and take the country as a whole and stop gluing yourself to your zone. This is a digital age different from ours.
We need truly Nigerian brilliant minds that can interrogate issues without sentiments and parochial considerations. Our time is up; all we need to do is to provide the guidance for you people.
“Some of us who fought in the civil war usually count ourselves lucky that we were not killed.
Even though I am still carrying shrapnel in my lungs and suffering from injuries I received during the war, I still believe that this country can attain greatness if we continue to see ourselves as one,” he said.
The Minna gathering was a veritable platform to showcase our capacity to co-habit together.
It was a reunion of some sort where Ali Modu Sheriff hugged Ahmed Makarfi, where Senator Shehu Sani shook hands with Governor Nasir El-Rufai, where former President Goodluck Jonathan shook hands and exchanged banters with supposedly political foes.
It was a moral armament that reinforces my belief that Nigeria can truly achieve greatness if we dwell less on those things that tend to separate us and dwell much more on those things that strengthen and unite us. This country is great with wonderful people and creative minds that can translate our unbridled energies into synergy for exploring our potentials.
We need more of the IBBs of this world to provide us the breeding ground for politics without bitterness. And to Halima, the baby of the house, I say congratulations on a successful ceremony. Happy married life.