Idiagbon: Reminiscences on an Exceptional Hero

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“General Idiagbon was a man who not only chorused discipline, he lived it throughout his career and life. He was a man who utilized the privileges of several offices he held to promote nation-building and national development. He demonstrated absolute honesty,loyalty and comradeship to the extent that 35 years after he left public service and two decades after his death, no one has accused him of any form of moral or financial corruption. He was, in fact, and in deed, an epitome of transparency, honesty and incorruptability”


By Abubakar S. Imam

Sunday (March 24, 2019) marked exactly two decades since the nation lost one of her foremost heroic figures, the late Major-General AbdulBaki Babatunde Idiagbon, to the cold hands of death at the age of 56.

General Tunde Idiagbon,as he was simply known,was a celebrated soldier,an accomplished statesman and a remarkable “political figure” who served as the Chief of Staff,Supreme Headquarters(de facto Vice-President)of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 31st December,1983 and 27th August,1985, during which he was an effective Second-in-Command to his alter-ego,Major-General Muhammadu Buhari CFR,GCFR.

General Idiagbon,who was of Fulani ancentry,was born in Ilorin,the Kwara State capital,on the 14th September,1943.His father was the late Alhaji Hassan Dogo who died in 1978.Before returning home after retirement,Alhaji Hassan Dogo was a cattle merchant who was based in the Oro-Ago axis of the present day Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State.His mother was the late Alhaja Aishat Dogo from the Bolanta Area of the ancient city of Ilorin.

He started life as a boy-herder who assisted his father in tending cattle. As a young boy following cattle about and around several igbomina settlements,he was very famous at Oro Ago and environs as Baba Idiagbon.‎

Just like most of his predecessors and contemporaries in Ilorin and the rest of the Northern Nigeria,the late no-nonsense military tactician adopted the name of his ancestral family compound as his official surname,which he bore with total respect and pride throughout his eventful sojourn on earth.That singular act of name bearing not only explained his respect and affinity for his roots, but also won for his illustrious forebears and their descendants, veneration of imaginable magnitude, till date.

General Idiagbon did not just embrace stardom or got connected to immortality,he worked for the two by struggling to be educated, building a worthy personality and believing so much in dignity of labour.

Whenever he was on holiday in Ilorin,Idiagbon hawked water across the city before graduating to become a newspaper vendor under the then doyen of journalism in Ilorin,who later served as the National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists,Chief Micheal Bolorunduro Asaju, of blessed memory.

The late General attended the Ilorin United School,an institution founded by the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, for his primary education between 1950 and 1952.In 1953,General Idiagbon proceeded to the Okesuna Senior Primary School,Ilorin,from where he finished his primary education in 1957.Among his mates there were Alhaji Yinusa,a one-time Commissioner for Agriculture in Kwara State and erstwhile National President of the IEDPU as well as his younger sister,Hajiya Maimunat Oniyangi,the wife of Dr.A.S.Oniyangi,a former Secretary to the Military Government of Kwara State and erstwhile National Commissioner of INEC.

This man of illustrious personality was probably among the first set of indigenes of Ilorin Emirate who enrolled into the Nigerian Military School, Zaria,which he attended between 1958 and 1962. He was, thereafter,enlisted as an Officer into the Nigerian Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1965 after successfully completing a training at the Pakistani Military Academy,Kakul,from where he also bagged a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics.He was,by that,one of the first officers who obtained a University degree while in the military service.

In 1976,General Idiagbon went back to Pakistan where he attended the country’s Command and Staff College.He also attended the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies,Kuru,near Jos in 1981.In 1982,he was at the Naval Post Graduate School in the United States of America from where he obtained an International Defence Management Diploma.He was also a distinguished Member of the Nigerian Institute of Management.

As an industrious,brave and gallant soldier,Idiagbon never missed any promotion.He became a Captain in 1968 during the bloody Nigerian Civil War.In 1971,he was promoted to the rank of Major and in 1974,he became a Lt.Colonel.He was decorated with the rank of a full Colonel in July,1978.In May, 1980,this enviable son of Ilorin was elevated to the rank of a Brigadier-General.He was eventually promoted to the rank of Major-General in 1984.

In the course of his outstanding military services,this gallant soldier held various command posts .He was the Commander,4th Battalion of the Nigerian Army from August,1965 to February,1966.He was the Sector Commanding Officer,20 Battalion from October,1967 to February,1968.He also served in the same capacity at the 125 Battalion from 1968 to 1970.

This remarkable apostle of discipline was the Brigade-Major and Deputy Commander,33 Brigade between March,1970 and March,1971.He served as the Commander,29 Brigade from March,1971 to December,1972.

As a result of the military involvement in political administration of Nigeria, coupled with his glittering erudition and alluring leadership skills,the late General Idiagbon was a star in the succeeding military regimes which ruled the country from the end of the Civil War to 1979 and between December 31,1983 and August 27,1985.

He was appointed the General Staff Officer,Grade 1 and later Principal Staff Officer,Supreme Headquarters from January,1973 to August,1975 .He also served as a Member of the Governing Council of the University of Jos,Plateau State.

General Idiagbon’s direct political appointment,however,began in August,1978 when he was made the Military Admlnistrator of the old Borno State.He was at the same time the Commander,33 Brigade of the Nigerian Army,Maiduguri as well as a Member of the National Council of States till 1st October,1979 when he handed-over the administration of the then Borno State, which included the present day Yobe State to Alhaji Mohammad Goni.Alhaji Goni had been elected on the platform of the Great Nigerian Peoples Party(GNPP) which ruled the State till 1983.

From October,1979 General Babatunde Idiagbon was the Director of Manpower and Planning,Army Headquarters till February,1981. Between 1981 and 1983,he was the Military Secretary(Army).He was on that position when he and his colleaques overthrew the government of Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari GCFR(1925-2018),on the allegation of mismanagement of resources.

While Idiagbon was,no doubt, the engine-room,the brain-box and the star boy of the military regime headed by General Muhammadu Buhari,the story of how he emerged as the Deputy Head of that corrective government needed to be shared for us to have an insight into that unique “leadership partnership”he built with his lanky boss and friend.

It was, indeed,very clear that neither Buhari nor Idiagbon was the initiator of the coup that toppled Shagari. They were,however,the greatest beneficiaries of the plot courtesy of their integrity and decency. Buhari was said to have been invited to head the government as a way of adding the much-needed legitimacy to the desire of the military adventurists in power who initiated and executed the coup.

General Buhari’s
invitation was premised on his profound administrative experiences and infectious integrity,which characterized his career as the Military Governor in-charge of the present day North-Eastern geopolitical region as well as being the Honourable Minister of Petroleum and Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(N.N.P.C) .

General Buhari was said to have accepted to lead the government only on the condition that he would be given the absolute liberty to select his Deputy.Because Buhari was so needed,he was allowed to make his choice and the lot fell on Idiagbon because of their apparent compatibility in the realm of background,career path,integrity, personality and political philosophy.

It was,therefore, not surprising that the duo not only worked seamlessly throughout, but the latter was given free hand to operate. That alluring working relationship saw him dominating the government so well that for the first and only time in the political history of Nigeria, the names of the Head and the Deputy were used to “nomenclate” the administration as the Buhari/Idiagbon Regime, even when the Head of State did not pass on while in office.

Adding credence to that assertion,General Buhari had said in an interview granted a news magazine in 1993, that General Idiagbon was among the three Nigerian military officers he trusted and respected most .He added that the case of General Idiagbon was even unique among the trio because providence had always made Idiagbon to either serve under him or take-over offices he had previously occupied, and he always left those places better off.

For instance,the two at various times were sent for training at the Indo-Pakistani region, served as the Chief Executive of the Northern State of Borno and Idiagbon also took-over from Buhari as the Military Secretary.

General Idiagbon was a man who not only chorused discipline, he lived it throughout his career and life. He was a man who utilized the privileges of several offices he held to promote nation-building and national development. He demonstrated absolute honesty,loyalty and comradeship to the extent that 35 years after he left public service and two decades after his death, no one has accused him of any form of moral or financial corruption. He was, in fact, and in deed, an epitome of transparency, honesty and incorruptability.

While he wished and worked for the unity and greatness of Nigeria,he also posted several patriotic contributions to his beloved Ilorin Emirate.He was among those outstanding patriots who assisted in placing the Emirate in the commanding position of the political configuration of Kwara State.He did this by teaming-up with like-minds from across the then Kwara State and beyond led by the late Alhaji Yusuf Amuda Gobir OFR(1934-1975) to entrust the political leadership of the Emirate and that of the State on the late 3rd Waziri of Ilorin and the Second Republic Senate Leader,Dr.Abubakar Olusola Saraki(1933-2012).The then Lt.Colonel Idiagbon served as a Member of the Main Committee, which organized the inauguration of the highly-resourceful Dr.Saraki as the political leader of the Emirate and Kwara State through his investiture as the 2nd Turaki of Ilorin on April 12,1974.

His love for Kwara State can also be appreciated in how he encouraged the Kwara State Government under the leadership of Group Captain Salaudeen Adebola Latinwo to initiate and launch the Kwara State Industrial Development Fund targeted at promoting the industrialization of the State.

Beside the above, General Idiagbon was also a silent community leader who influenced many of the developmental agenda of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union(IEDPU) prior to ,while he was in, and even after leaving office as the nation’s number two citizen.

Apart from influencing the appointments of many of his compatriots into position of authority in order to help others,he was always affording the IEDPU necessary and periodic advice on how the interests of indigenes of the Emirate could be propelled and sustained for community development.

No one is too good not to have his fault.One of the weaknesses associated with the late Idiagbon was his extreme taciturn nature, which brought him so many misrepresentations. Perhaps, particular experiences are responsible for his reluctance to open-up on issues and experiences that shaped his life. After his displacement from office and unlike his boss,he neither granted any press interview nor made any public statement for people to know where he stood on issues.His lack of will to put the account of his life and times, directly or through someone else, into writing has surely foreclosed for his country men and women, the privilege of learning one or two factors that accounted for his unique personality and statesmanship .

I also believe that his involvement in the military politics was also a mistake. Politics of whatever nature is too dirty for a man who believed and expected loyalty and who could neither lie nor withstand betrayal.He should have refused every effort to bring him into it and that would have made him a professional soldier to the core and saved him from the disappointment he eventually suffered from his colleagues.

But having said these,I share the view of many others that the late General Idiagbon was an uncommon human and humane phenomenon who contributed a lot to the evolution and development of this country as a citizen and leader.

I,therefore,suggest that for his heroic labour not to be in vain, the present and future crop of the nation’s leadership should endeavour to emulate his discipline,patriotism,seriousness,loyalty and civility .The present government should also go a step further by renaming national monuments after him.

While I urge the Kwara State Government to rename the Metropolitan Square,Ilorin, after him,I think it will also be appropriate to ask the Federal Government,led by his unassuming principal,friend,soulmate and comrade-in-arm, President Muhammadu Buhari, to confer an appropriate post-humous national honours award on him as he did to the late Chief M.K.O.Abiola and Chief Gani Fawenhimi last year.That will go a long way in appreciating his services and stimulating the interest of the present and future generations in patriotism and national development.

Imam,is the Deputy Editor of Unilorin Bullentin and the National Publicity Secretary,Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union(IEDPU).‎

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