#OneNGWeekly (episode 18): Life History Of Tunde Idiagbon

Tunde Idiagbon
Tunde Idiagbon
Babatunde "Tunde" Abdulbaki Idiagbon  was born on 14 September 1943, He was a Nigerian Army major general who served as chief of staff at Supreme Headquarters (de facto vice president) under the military regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari from 1983 to 1985. He was also a key member of the Nigeria's military governments between 1966 and 1979, serving as a military administrator of Borno State under General Olusegun Obasanjo's military government. Idiagbon was one of Nigeria's egalitarian military leaders. He attended United School, Ilorin (1950-1952) and later proceeded to Okesuna Senior Primary School, also in Ilorin between the years 1953 and 1957.

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
-Lieutenant, 1966
-Captain, 1968
-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.
-Appointed Military Governor of Borno State, August 1978 – 1stOctober 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).
-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

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.

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.  

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.
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 21st of 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.


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