Since the return of democracy in 1999, three generals have principally been the architects of the secured path to Aso Rock.
In their war room, they have essentially determined who gets to the highest office of the land, when they leave and who succeeds them.
But in 2019, they are in the battle for their lives as this time, they face an unusual foe– a fellow general familiar with the demands of battle.
Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, all former heads of state, have either chosen or blessed whoever eventually emerges Nigeria’s president. One can add a fourth general, TY Danjuma. He may well be described as their pitbull. Since the counter-coup of 1966, Danjuma has been said to be involved in every single coup afterwards, and has, together with the other former heads of state, played a role in succession in the democratic era.
Before Obasanjo joined this exclusive group, he was first a beneficiary of the scheming of the other two generals. After they ensured his release in 1998, they anointed him first president of the Fourth Republic. He would go on to serve for 8 years.
Then followed Umaru Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan, all hand-picked. But in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, a perennial contestant, had all his stars aligned at last. Though not the generals’ natural choice, he nevertheless enjoyed their blessing as he was the enemy of their enemy– Jonathan– and was already almost guaranteed victory without them.
As the generals may have feared, Buhari is not pliable. And now they want him out. But this time is different. Their Plan A already failed. They could not get him to not seek reelection. With only days to the election now, he marches on still, self-assured as always. So what next for the ‘Owners of Nigeria Plc’?
The Good- Abdulsalami Abubakar
It appears the generals have always opted for a carrot and stick approach. While Obasanjo, Babangida and Danjuma have wielded the stick, Abubakar has dangled the carrot.
He has mastered the art of diplomatic-speak. He openly maintains friendly relations with the president in power while also preserving his place in the generals’ exclusive club.
He has even somewhat formalised his diplomatic role through the national peace committee which he chairs. Through this committee, he ensures the presidential gladiators accept the outcome of the election, whichever way it goes.
In 2015, his committee ensured that former president Goodluck Jonathan conceded after his loss, a move that eased tension in the polity and allowed for peaceful transition of power.
Abubakar, whether by strategic design or coincidence, appears to confer on the generals some kind of patriotic supervisory authority. A respectable status. But does his non-partisan public role which is quite at variance with that of his counterparts isolate him from their clear partisan interests, strategy and overall agenda?
It depends on one’s perspective. Some may consider him a bold, patriotic elder statesman acting above the political fray while others may deem him a sly active participant in the scheming of the generals, one who serves as their fallback plan should their open agenda fail– they can use the instrumentality of the peace committee to make a re-entrance into the good graces of the candidate they had so vehemently rejected who nevertheless wins.
Unlike in 2015 when the generals’ choice won, in the event of a Buhari victory, would the Abubakar peace committee pressure Atiku Abubakar, the generals’ choice, to concede? This is the million-dollar question!
The Bad- General Ibrahim Babangida
General Babangida has always been a sly tactician. He is a master of doublespeak. He smiles when his heart boils. He is so rightly branded ‘Maradona’.
But this time, he has been unequivocal in his rejection of President Buhari, a familiar foe. It was he who led a coup against him in 1985 and incarcerated him for over two years. Their relationship, mended after several years, appears to be headed for the rocks again.
As the generals rejected Buhari’s reelection bid, Babangida came out openly, through his henchman, Kazeem Afegbua, to emphatically add his voice to the rejection. Pressed to deny the statement, he insisted. It was clear their minds were set on opposing the president’s reelection.
But Buhari is also a general; a stubborn one at that. He refused to discard his bid. Babangida, alongside the other generals, began their political operation. A faction of the ruling All Progressives Congress, R-APC, emerged. A gale of defections soon followed. Afegbua, his trusted henchman, emerged spokesman for the R-APC, while Buhari’s former close ally, Buba Galadima, emerged chairman. There was no mistaking the connection to the generals or the extent they were willing to go. They had also hit closer home through the conscription of Galadima. If Buhari thought they were not serious, the contrary was becoming unquestionably clear.
But Buhari defied them, having announced his re-election bid, and continued his campaigns with full force. Luckily for him, his core regional alliances remain. His base also remains. This must be a worry for the generals whose preferred candidate, Atiku Abubakar, is by all measure, still not favourite to win the race, less than a month to go.
The seeming apprehension of the generals has now been all but confirmed with Obasanjo’s latest outbursts.
The Ugly- General Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo has been at the forefront of the ‘Buhari must go’ movement. He has been the most vocal of the generals. He it was who first made their position known through his first letter asking Buhari not to contest. That move set off a wave of actions across the political landscape.
He also began a third force movement, struggling not to come out of political retirement or return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which he had resigned from.
But it seemed that once he realised the third force approach could not unseat Buhari, he decided to go against his earlier promises. He decided to reconcile with the PDP, forgive his former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, whom he had written countless pages against, and of whom he had only months before said God would not forgive him if he supported his bid to be president.
Obasanjo’s stunning reversal shocked many. There must be something about Buhari that would have driven a man famed for his unforgiving spirit into reconciliation with his worst enemy.
But Buhari, unlike Goodluck Jonathan who was rattled by Obasanjo’s famous letter to him, seems to have remained unruffled. And also unlike Jonathan, seems to have his base and regional coalition holding firm. This has made Obasanjo frustrated.
The restless general has therefore upped his attacks, releasing different statements, speaking at events, and participating in campaigns against Buhari. His recent 16-page letter read in a state of the nation address reeked of heightened frustration. He likened Buhari to late dictator, General Sani Abacha, who incarcerated him (Obasanjo), and alleged that the 2019 election was going to be rigged.
He sounded like a man who can sense defeat but would not want to go down without fighting. Obasanjo has almost always had his way. Since backing Shehu Shagari’s emergence in 1979, he has been vocal against every head of state or president since then; a habit that has never sat well with the men in the saddle.
“What exactly does he want?” Many have asked; more so since his 8-year tenure as a civilian president was not exactly stellar. Many of the ills he has so self-righteously criticised other leaders for were replete under his leadership.
What would the generals’ next move be to guarantee dislodgment of the Buhari government? For now, it appears more of the same– more attacks! This may explain why their pitbull has been unleashed again.
Their Pitbull- General TY Danjuma
General TY Danjuma is a ruthless general. He is said to have been involved in every coup in the country since the counter-coup of 1966.
As a member of this exclusive club of generals, he has also come out to speak against Buhari’s reelection. But before the others, he had maintained a very critical stance against the Buhari government through his membership of the Northern Elders Christian Forum.
The forum has long alleged an ongoing genocide against Christians by Muslims, mostly Fulani Muslims. Danjuma who is from the ethno-religiously polarised Taraba State, had even at one point called for the Christians in the state to arm themselves against the Fulani Muslims. He has always accused the Buhari administration of backing the killings against Christians.
With or without the other generals, it appears Danjuma would never have supported the re-election of Buhari. How convenient it must be for him that his interests align with those of the generals regarding Buhari!
In his latest attack against the president, he, unsurprisingly, re-echoed the latest allegation of the generals– rigging plot. Danjuma said he had no faith in the electoral body and alleged that Buhari has perfected plans to rig the 2019 election.
His position is unsurprising since it aligns with Obasanjo’s and their allies’, but does it betray something more? Could there be a plan to these lamentations just days to the election? We watch!
Nigerians must be vigilant so that none of the major actors– the leading gladiators, the generals, INEC, security– act in any way as to compromise the polls. The will of the people must prevail.
Where the outcome of the election does not satisfy one of the major contenders, only the courts must be approached for resolution. No one must resort to self-help.
It is also important for the generals and the major contestants to closely watch what they say and do, considering their influence on large sections of the country, to avoid any threat to peace.