To fully understand the impact that General Babangida made to my life and that of my children, it is necessary to take you down memory lane.
In 1976, after the death of my late husband, General Muhammed, the Federal Government made a pledge to pay for the upkeep of the family including the children’s education. In the initial years when they were still in Secondary School in Nigeria, there was no problem. In 1979, my first daughter with the Federal Government’s permission went to school abroad to do her ‘A levels’. She was subsequently followed by her siblings. That was when the problems began.
It initially began with the school fees being paid late, after a while, it was clear that there was an actual reluctance to pay the fees. All sorts of obstacles were put forward to make it difficult for us to claim the fees. The children and I spent the better part of their holidays in the Cabinet office, which later became the Presidency, processing fees. Often we had to go from desk to desk justifying why the fees should be paid in the first place. It became so bad that the fees were paid in arrears, which meant I had to pay the fees and be reimbursed a year or two years later.
When I was still running a thriving business this was not so hard. By the time light fittings were banned, after the ban on jewellery, which had been the mainstay of my business, my business collapsed. I had nowhere to go. I mortgaged everything including personal jewellery. Despite this, on two occasions my children almost got thrown out of school. It was on this second occasion that I reluctantly wrote another letter to the Federal government intimating them once more of my children’s plight.
General Babangida had just become the Head of State. He immediately sent General Abacha through whom I sent the letter to send for me and my children. By then life had become so difficult. I had this Volvo that was so old, that those of my friends who saw me in it thought I was practicing “low life.” Indeed! In fact my children disliked driving in it because every time they got to Ojota bus stop to make a turning into Ogudu where we lived, the people at the bus stop thought it as a ‘kabukabu’ and could charge at the car trying to get in.
General Babangida had the children’s school fees paid immediately with all the arrears cleared up. He bought cars for the children. He allocated a house for us in Ikoyi. Most importantly he raised the profile of the family. When I invited him to launch the Murtala Muhammed Memorial Botanical Gardens, he was very happy to do so and gave the gardens an annual subvention. Though it was stopped after he left office, he provided us enough to lay a good foundation for the Botanical Gardens.
We can never thank General Babangida enough. Without his intervention certainly not all of my children would have completed University, as is the case today. Two of them were in fact able to go further and obtain Masters degrees. After he left office, my daughter tried to do a Ph.D. and was declined the opportunity.
Yes there are many who would say he was merely doing his job, but he did his job and he did it very well. Others did not do their job at all. I know of children of other late leaders older than mine who did drop out of school eventually because of the frustrations of non-payment of fees and allowances.
He in fact went beyond the call of duty and was like a father to the children. He gave them confidence and the foundation on which they have built to become successful young people. We heartily congratulate him at 60 and wish him plenty of Allah’s blessings.
Ajoke Murtala Muhammed
For the family