By Tunde Olusunle
Julius Sunday Olakunle Oshanupin, a retired major general of the Nigerian Army and frontline leader of the people of Kogi West, recently called a meeting of select leaders from the senatorial zone in his Abuja residence. Oshanupin was at various times, Commander Brigade of Guards in the Presidential Villa, and General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Third Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army, domiciled in Jos, among other top military positions held in the course of his eventful military career. The meeting was to discuss topical issues affecting the seven local government areas in the zone, particularly the disturbing security situation; the decrepit, even deathly condition of the road network in the area accentuated by erosion, and rising youth unemployment in a sub-nationality which ranks amongst the most literate in the country.
As we settled down for the dialogue in his living area, my eyes roved around the place and rested on this particular photograph in a section of the room. It was the formal decoration of Oshanupin with his rank of major general in 2005 or thereabouts, in the Federal Executive Council Chambers, in the State House. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was to the left of the photograph, wearing the epaulettes of the new rank for Oshanupin. The Vice President at the time, Atiku Abubakar, was doing the same thing, to the right side of the picture. Aide-de-camp (ADC) to Obasanjo, Christopher Adewole Jemitola, then a Colonel, was very visible in the background to Obasanjo’s left. He was clutching the souvenir pack in which Oshanupin’s new rank was kept, before his decoration.
That lone picture immediately struck a chord in the journalist in me. In this singular snapshot of just four persons, four of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones of Nigeria were visibly represented. Jemitola (who would later ascend to the rank of major general before his retirement not too long ago), is from Edo State in Nigeria’s South South; Obasanjo, from Ogun State, is from the South West; Oshanupin, who is from Kogi State, is from the North Central, while Atiku from Adamawa, is from the North East. The ceremony on this particular day of Oshanupin’s decoration was mastered by Stephen Oronsaye, principal secretary to the President and permanent secretary, State House, from Edo State. Oronsaye would go all the way to become Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF).
I should probably refresh our minds, that of the quartet of the topmost presidential minders and administrators in that administration, not one was from Obasanjo’s South West. Abdullahi Mohammed, a retired major general was Chief of Staff (COS) to the President, hails from Kwara; Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, a retired lieutenant general was National Security Adviser (NSA), from Zamfara; Ufot Ekaette (of blessed memory), a tested, thorough-bred senior bureaucrat who retired as a very senior permanent secretary, was Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), from Akwa Ibom; while Abu Obe, the most senior and most experienced civil servant (from Benue State), was appointed Head of the Civil Service.
I should also remind us that the list of military service chiefs appointed by Obasanjo on the day of his inauguration May 29, 1999, had four names from the north and one from the south. Ibrahim Ogohi, admiral and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Kogi State; Samuel Victor Leo Malu, lieutenant general, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Benue State; Victor Karipiri Ombu, vice admiral, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Bayelsa; Isaac Mohammed Alfa, air marshal, Chief of Air Staff (CAS) and vice admiral Joseph Ajayi, Chief of Defence Intelligence, (CDI), both from Kogi.
That was the manner of respect for competence, professionalism and capacity, which guided the intricate balancing, and intentional all-inclusion, which Obasanjo strove to ensure and pursue. This was catalytic in driving the national sociopolitical reengineering process during his stint at the helm of national governance and administration. And this is something that has been very barefacedly abused, crudely tresspassed and indignantly violated in contemporary statecraft, eliciting public indignation, mutual suspicion and deep fissions and lacerations in the fibre of public trust, along ethno-religious, and tugging dangerously at the frail, even fragile underbelly of national unity and togetherness. Jemitola by the way, succeeded another senior military officer, Solomon Giwa-Amu (may his soul rest in peace), who was also from Edo State, while Oshanupin took over from Alexander Mshelbwala, also a major general, from Adamawa State.
Patrick Dele Cole, from Rivers State, scholar and diplomat who contested the February 1999 presidential primaries with Obasanjo, was adviser on foreign affairs, a cover for multipronged duties he handled for the President. One of those the President usually bounced his thoughts and ideas around at gestation stage, Ad’Obe Obe, a former Editor of the London-based West Africa magazine, comes from Benue State. Julius Olukayode Ihonvbere, a professor of political science who was in-charge of presidential monitoring, hails from Edo State. Elsewhere in the personnel setup in the State House, among the principal officers to the President at the time, the Commander, Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), the late Alex Sabundu Badeh, then a group captain, was from Adamawa. He succeeded Paul Dike, from Delta State, who went all the way to become Chief of Air Staff (CAS) and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), respectively. The presidential adviser on aviation, Shehu Usman Iyal, comes from Kaduna State in the North West.
Andy Uba, charged with managing the private affairs of the President, in conjunction with Bodunde Adeyanju, (Ekiti), is from Anambra State in the South East. Handel Okoli, Chief of Staff to former Vice President Alex Ekwueme in the run up to the February 1999 presidential primaries of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), in Jos, which produced Obasanjo as candidate of the party, was adopted as an aide to Obasanjo, as part of a deliberate effort to sustain rapprochement with Ekwueme, who came second, at the Jos primaries. Like Uba, he hails from Anambra State.
At various times, Directors of the Department of State Services (DSS), with concurrent oversight for the presidential villa, included Ekpenyong Ita and Williams Toyin Akanle, from Cross River and Kogi states respectively, while the Chaplain to the President, Yusuf Ameh Obaje, a professor of theology, is an indigene of Kogi State. The Presidential Liaison Officer (PLO), on protocol deployed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve the President beginning from Obasanjo’s electoral victory February 1999, Abdullahi Gwary, now a retired ambassador comes from Yobe State. Obasanjo inherited Inuwa Baba, (from Plateau), an erstwhile aide of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, major general and former Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, from the Yar’Adua political family and designated him his personal assistant on protocol.
The sociocultural hybridity, professional expertise and human resource quality in the presidential wing of the State House, was similarly replicated in the Office of the Vice President, confirming the cosmopolitanism of Atiku, who lived a substantial part of his working life in Lagos. Olusola Akanmode, a tested bureaucrat was COS to the VP and he hails from Kogi State, while the legal adviser Maxwell Gidado, now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and law professor comes from Adamawa.
The crack media team to the VP included Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo of blessed memory (from Kogi); Garba Shehu (Kano) and Deolu Akande, now a professor and Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), from Oyo State.
Abdul Yari, now a police commissioner (from Nasarawa State) was ADC; Chris Mammah (Delta) in-charge of special duties and Chike Okolocha, a professor and speechwriter, was also from Delta. The Office Manager to the VP, Andy Okolie, a doctorate degree holder (Imo State); chief personal physician, Azu Ndukwe (Anambra) and Tokunbo Adeola, (Ogun), coordinated specific parastatals for the VP. Baba Gana Zana, ambassador and seasoned diplomat (Borno) was Director of Protocol (DOP).
In the last few days, a tribute authored by Aliyu Mohammed Gusau who has served Nigeria in several strategic and high profile capacities over the decades, to the memory of South Africa’s last white minority leader, Frederick De Klerk, made the rounds in the media. It was a rare public outing for one of Nigeria’s most respected and most decorated security and intelleligence icons, who is distinguished for his archetypal laconicity, at the very best. Gusau who was serially in the engine room of several regime changes in Nigeria, military and civilian, has functioned variously as Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI); Director-General of the National Security Organisation (DNSO) and Coordinator on National Security (CNS).
It was under his watch that the nation’s security and intelligence sector, was reorganised, between 1986 and 1989. This birthed the tripod of the: State Security Services (SSS); National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). He served as GOC, Second Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army, Ibadan; Chief of Administration, Defence Headquarters and Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). He has also been Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and National Security Adviser (NSA) to three different Nigerian presidents, (Ibrahim Babangida, Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan). He has also served as Minister of Defence.
Gusau’s treatise on De Klerk, has, expectedly, generated public interest, with the insinuation in certain quarters that he was “too nice” to the erstwhile South African President. De Klerk has been severally described as the leader of an opportunistic tendency within the Afrikaner ruling party, which sought and received the support of the West to “program” the transition from White rule, in order to moderate Black governance. It has been proferred that the Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe debacle in the former Rhodesia, taught the White supremacists not to repeat history, in the handling of the South African situation.
This school of thought believes that apartheid was going to end, not because De Klerk suddenly had a “Damascus” experience, but because the liberation campaign ferociously mounted by the African National Congress (ANC), was gathering global traction, which played into the Soviet Union capitalism propaganda. It has been advanced that the De Klerk faction was activated and supported by Western interests to seize control, reach out to the moderate forces among the Blacks and prevent the radical Chris Hani faction and Steve Biko tendency, from seizing power and handing the leaders of the White apartheid, a reenactment of the “Nuremberg” experience.
We will continue our discussion of the De Klerk transition programme which produced the first ever indigenous Black South African government, in another exegesis. My primary interest in this piece, however, is an interesting spinoff from Gusau’s correspondence which I find very interesting and instructive, relative to the issues of meritocracy in the conduct of government business, geo-religious balancing and national cohesion. In the twilight of the apartheid regime, De Klerk had opened discussions with British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher on the plan of his government, to hand over to the majority Blacks in South Africa. Britain was interested in this plan, but desired an African ally to engage with and distill the authenticity, even veracity of De Klerk’s plan. This was to enable world powers galvanise global support for South Africa, to make that long-sought transition to Black rule, a seamless success.
Thatcher enlisted the support of Nigeria, under the rulership of Babangida at the time, owing to the country’s looming profile in diplomatic circles and its sustained commitment to the liberation of the frontline countries, over the decades. Babangida would swiftly assign the responsibility to Gusau, in his position as Coordinator of National Security, (CNS). His task was to kickoff multilevel engagements with the intelligence agencies and political leaders in South Africa to ascertain the preparedness of the country for the impending change of baton. Gusau, pragmatic, visionary and broad-minded, co-opted Kayode Are, a colonel, who was his deputy, to join him on this brief.
Gusau, we’ve earlier noted, is from Zamfara and Are, from Ogun State. Under Gusau’s leadership in the intelligence and security apparachik, were several officers of northern extraction, who could have been drafted into the assignment. But Gusau believed more in Are, who graduated with a first class degree in psychology from the University of Ibadan in 1980, and whose performance was one of the best in the masters class of international law and diplomacy at the University of Lagos in 1987. Are’s subsequent reincarnation in the Obasanjo administration as Director-General of the DSS, was solely the orchestration of Gusau. He equally advised Obasanjo to stagger the date of the inauguration of the National Security Council (NCS), by 24 hours, to enable for the inclusion of the South East in the council, which culminated in the head-hunt and appointment of Uche Okeke, a seasoned diplomat and intelligence chief, as Director General of the NIA.
I have known Gusau for about 25 years now, courtesy of a very good friend of his, one of the five very senior Nigerian journalists who attended the March 31, 1990 Namibian Independence Day celebration, in Windhoek, Onyema Ugochukwu. Ugochukwu who was Editor of the Daily Times in that milieu, is from Abia State. Ugochukwu and his colleagues crossed over to South Africa after the Namibian event and appraised the sociopolitical temperature in the country, preparatory to the looming transfer of the political batons. Gusau confirms in his memorial on De Klerk, that the reports filed by the Nigerian journalists after their visit, was catalytic in reshaping international perception about the improving situation in South Africa. Haroun Adamu, a former university teacher and publisher of The Nigerian Economist magazine was also on the entourage.
I would subsequently interact more frequently and robustly with Gusau in the course of the Obasanjo presidential campaign which commenced in the last quarter of 1998, and thereafter. Gusau it was who proposed Ugochukwu to Obasanjo as the Director of Publicity of the Campaign. I was the very first younger colleague of Ugochukwu whom he drafted into the project. He was at various times Editor, General Manager and Executive Director during his days in the Daily Times, and I served under him. Your worth as a journalist is appraised on the strength of the quality of what you write, what you publish. Over time,
he had identified some bright younger colleagues, both in Daily Times and elsewhere, who fitted his vision of the kind of political communication we were about to undertake. Segun Ayobolu, Reuben Abati, Emeka Nwosu, Chukwuma Nwokoh, (Femi Olatunde, Louis Okoroma, may their souls rest on), were some of the other members of the media team. Beginning our work from Ugochukwu’s living room in his Adeniyi Jones residence in Ikeja, Lagos, the publicity department was later allocated office space at “Oluwalogbon Motors,” Alausa, Ikeja.
On this particular day, I was requested to draft a press release announcing the impending pre-inauguration global tour of President in-waiting Obasanjo, sometime in March 1999, including the delegation list. If I remember correctly, Gusau; Donald Duke, Adamu Muazu (governors-elect of Cross River and Bauchi states); Oyewole Fasawe; Ad’Obe Obe; Ojo Maduekwe; Olusegun Agagu; Abubakar Rimi, (the last three names now deceased, sadly), and a few others were on the tour. I took a critical look at the list and observed that the publicity department was not represented. Who then was going to cover the extended trip? How was the world to know about the coming new dawn in Nigeria?
I got into my car and drove to Abeokuta, to see the president-elect. Obasanjo, Gusau and Carl Masters, an American ally of former United States Secretary of State, Andrew Young, were chatting, just outside the gate of Obasanjo’s old home in city centre, in Ita Eko, when I arrived. The road leading to the house has since been renamed “Obasanjo Way,” as tribute to one of Nigeria’s, even Africa’s iconic leaders. I walked up to them, greeted respectfully and told Obasanjo I needed to draw his attention to an omission on his delegation list. We both held the paper right there in the sun as Obasanjo scanned through the document. Obasanjo then tapped Gusau: “Tunde, media (I travelled with Obasanjo all through the campaign tour which lasted several months as campaign press secretary and we became used to each other), has made an important observation on the entourage of our proposed tour. There is no publicity person.”
Gusau also reviewed the list and then asked me: “Who in your group, would you suggest should go with us?” I didn’t blink one bit before I retorted: “Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Sir. There is no contest about that. He is the boss. We have a hierarchy.” All three men looked at themselves, astounded by my uncharacteristic humility and loyalty, in a milieu of hustling desperados. Ugochukwu, by the way, was totally unaware of my agenda on this trip to Abeokuta. Obasanjo featured more regularly in the Ogun State capital after his victory, than the much more spacious Otta Farm. As a matter of duty, I reported daily to Obasanjo’s operational base, wherever it was. Gusau struck out a name I can’t immediately remember from the tour list and replaced it with Ugochukwu’s.
I’ve gone this length to lay this foundation, as counterpoint to what is largely obtainable today. Crass sectionalism, quantum ethnic chauvinism, aggregate religious demagoguery, preposterous sectionalism, in-your-face shenanigans are hallmarks of contemporary statecraft. The media is regularly awash with information and personnel listings in various departments in the pyramid of administration, which make mincemeat of fairness, equity and justice. The inauguration of ministers in 2019 for instance and their consequent deployment to various schedules, revealed glaring lopsidedness both in numbers and in weight of responsibility, in favour of the North West, abode of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It would seem that other segments of the country either do not have capable human resources or cannot be trusted, with the manner of suspicion and distrust that has been generated in our recent past. To be sure, there are nine substantive ministers, actually 10 ministers from the North West, because the President is the substantive minister for Petroleum. There is not one minister of state, from the zone. And all 10 ministers from the North West are manning what in popular parlance are referred to as “A” list ministries. They include Water resources; Finance; Environment; Agriculture and rural development; Defence; Aviation; Justice; Police affairs and Humanitarian affairs. Conversely, in a classic instance of the miniaturization of some other sections of the country, two ministers from the South are marooned into a tiny ministry like Labour and Employment.
The composition of the National Security Council (NCS), has also been a source of regular discourse in the public sphere. It is totally disrespectful of federal character provisions, in every material particular, as it stands. The preponderance of membership from the northern half of the country, relative to the global south, has been routinely subjected to public mastication, to draw attention to glaring, most probably purposive lopsidedness. Of the 13 statutory members of the Security Council, 10 are from the North, and three from the South. This excludes notable paramilitary agencies such as the Customs, Immigrations, Correctional Services and Civil Defence, which are also all headed by officers from the North.
The discriminatory siting of infrastructure, calculated to privilege certain parts of the country, over others, is equally deserving of scrutiny. Why would the administration prioritise the construction of standard guage rail lines from Katsina to Maradi in Niger Republic, when the Southsouth-Southeast-Northeast rail route is proposed to be built with narrow guage lines? Can the contribution of the oil bearing South South and South East to the national fiscal basket be estimated? What is the situation report on the East-West expressway, which has been ongoing, forever?
A Chief Justice of the Federation, (CJN) from the south is framed, hounded out of office and succeeded by an obviously less qualified colleague, specifically from the north of the country. The home, the hallowed sanctuary of the immediately second name following the incumbent number one law officer in the land, is unlawfully invaded and trespassed by armed security personnel, for no justifiable reason till date. Government officials are ever trying to put a spin around the story, following mass revulsion at the sacrilegious idiocy, by disowning the perpetrators.
Only recently, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), Mohammed Musa Bello, obtained presidential approval for the engagement of Mandate Secretaries, the equivalent of Commissioners assigned to specific schedules, departments and agencies in the states, and into other existing vacancies in the Ministry. The list was so unbelievably skewed that out of 40 appointees, 30 are from the North. Maxwell Opara, an attorney and social crusader has filed a case against Buhari and Bello, at a Federal High Court in Abuja, over the “violation of the Federal Character Act in the appointments of Mandate Secretaries, Personal Aides, Directors and other staffers into the FCTA.”
Most of the challenges bedevilling Nigeria as we speak, derive from the inexplicable privileging of certain sections of the country, over the others, along the lines of religion and ethnicity. And this is an agenda that derives, most unfortunately, from the very top. Nigerians effectively cremated and interred the ogre of divisive religiosity in our national politics way back in 1993. They trooped
out in their millions to various polling units across the country, to vote the muslim-muslim ticket of Moshood Olawale Kasimawo Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe, as president and vice president respectively, in that historic “June 12” election, inexplicably annulled by Babangida. That election still ranks as the most well attended and most transparent in the annals of Nigeria’s electoral history. Sadly, the fossils of that cadaver, have since been deliberately exhumed and planted on the front burner of our national life. It must be exorcised to enable Nigeria return to its promising past.
▪︎ Olusunle, PhD, published poet and scholar, journalist and writer, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)