Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Olusegun Obasanjo: An Emerging Emperor?
Chike I. Nwosu
November 21, 2005
In trying to choose an appropriate title for this article, two titles came to mind the other being, “Nigeria in Bondage” .I wanted a title that captured the essence of the article and that could attract a large readership, hence Olusegun Obasanjo: an emerging Emperor ?
Most Nigerians do not know what the country is in for – a long ride under the dictatorship of Emperor Olusegun Obasanjo.
There is a cabal of retired Generals that constitute the major power bloc in Nigeria and it is from this that Obasanjo draws his power. This cabal is so powerful because it maintains the military tradition of seniority and discipline. This cabal comprises two, three and four star generals and does not include the one star generals. A significant number of this group in the outer chamber are businessmen and emergency millionaires with minimal political activity.
The Big 5
Within this cabal is an inner chamber known as the ‘Big 5’ and comprises Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdul salami Abubakar. These are Past Grand Masters or Past Presidents of Nigeria.
Gowon is the most senior of the five. However, he was overthrown by Muhammad/Obasanjo and later implicated in the abortive coup of 1976 wherein he was dismissed from the army and declared wanted. Gowon’s rank was later restored and pardoned and this explains his present weakened position within the 5. Because of this, Obasanjo is the de facto leader of the group being the most senior of the rest.
Muhammadu Buhari follows after Obasanjo, but was himself overthrown by Babangida and there is no lost love between the two. The last and most junior of the 5 is Abubakar who has no political ambition but content with his status as an elder statesman with real immunity.
Both Gowon and Buhari were overthrown and this explains why their power and influence is whittled down amongst the 5. Abubakar, the most junior of the five, was responsible for imposing Obasanjo on Nigeria.Abacha had died suddenly and while his CSO Mustapha was contemplating what to do, Abubakar suddenly emerged and thus began the plot to bring in Obasanjo.
Most of his contemporaries are either dead or too old. Robert Adeyinka Adebayo who is the most senior surviving army officer today was never commander-in-chief.None of his mates are in the army today and his influence is minimal.Hassan Katsina is deceased but we have David Ejoor who though was a service chief does not possess the same clout as someone like Danjuma. In effect, Gowon has no political machine or structure and therefore adopts a very low key approach.
The rest of the big 5 are very junior to Obasanjo and served under his government. I have explained Buhari’s position and the next is a group known as IBB boys. These served under Buhari but joined Babangida to overthrow Buhari. Because Babangida served under Obasanjo one can assume that the IBB boys are also loyal to Obasanjo.This is not the case since Babangida is his own man. Obasanjo failed to set up a political structure when he was head of state and that is why we don’t find people like Emmanuel Abisoye, James Oluleye, and Mike Adelanwa etc in his column.Yar Adua when he was living had his own political machine which ironically was inherited by a bloody civilian Abubakar Atiku.
Now, Obasanjo was very smart when he invited his erstwhile colleague and buddy, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma who was compelled to serve as Defense Minister in spite of a then mysterious illness. Danjuma had the task of professionalizing and reforming the military to make a coup extremely impossible. Having accomplished this, he withdrew from Obasanjo’s cabinet.
Obasanjo today has absolute control of the military which is managed by very junior and less experienced officers. He can hire and fire service chiefs at will which is in contrast to the US where similar appointments are subject to senate confirmation.
Buhari understands his position and this explains why it is difficult for him to forgive Babangida for his reign was the shortest. He has no political structure within the military class and his former colleague Babatunde Idiagbon died in mysterious circumstances.
This is the man to watch as he has a wide sphere of influence and his political structure comprising the IBB boys is intact.
Babangida ruled Nigeria for 8 years and still desires to rule a second time and quite natural this could give him a total of 16 years or 14 years depending on if the proposed amendment to the constitution passes. Nigerians would recall the Babangida played a crucial role in crushing Dimka’s coup in 1976.
As mentioned above, he has no political ambition but serves as a moderating influence on any possible rift between Obasanjo/Babangida.
There is a top military officer that plays the role of liaison or bridge builder who though not amongst the Big 5 works for them. He is Aliyu Mohammed who also serves as National Security Adviser. This guy is probably important because of his former role and connection as former intelligence boss. Some argue that this guy has a hidden political agenda which is not clearly manifest at this time. Halilu Akilu was a DMI boss but he is a one star general and his sphere of influence is local – within the IBB group.
Chief of Staff Supreme HQ, Chief of General Staff
A number of officers who held this position were very powerful while in office. They include Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Yar’Adua, Tunde Idiagbon, Ebitu Ukiwe and then Oladipo Diya. Augustus Aikhomu didn’t seem to wield much power and influence after filling the void created by Ukiwe’s exit.
Ukiwe and Diya held the position of Chief of General Staff or Military VP but unfortunately none of them has a political machinery or structure. In the case of Ukiwe, he left the service after the controversies of seniority or succession between him and Sani Abacha. Earlier on I had stated that one star generals are not part of the power structure that control Nigeria today. Unfortunately, the Igbo did not press for Ukiwe to be promoted after retirement to compensate him. There are precedents for this as Domkat Bali was promoted four star general after retirement and the promotion was backdated. Another case is also that of Aliyu Mohammed the present National Security Adviser. Yar Adua was a Lt. Col before he became Chief of Staff SHQ when he was promoted two steps to Brigadier.TY Danjuma was the COAS and Lt. Gen and the kind of Ukiwe-Abacha conflict did not exist or was not apparent.
In the case of Diya, he was arrested on trumped up charges of a phantom coup and he lost his rank. To the best of my knowledge his rank has not been restored. Diya like Ukiwe does not enjoy the political recognition accorded a former VP like the case of Ekwueme. Aikhomu serves in the ANPP as Chairman of the BOT of Buhari’s party and it will be interesting to see his role if there is a direct contest between Buhari and Babangida, Aikhomu’s former boss.
Ojukwu continues to be extremely popular in Igbo land in spite of the conspiracy to steal the elections from the APGA in Igbo states. He is not considered a retired General in the real sense but combines his friendship with Olusegun Obasanjo which dates back to when they were neighbors as junior officers, with his political stature in Igboland.This combination makes him a factor in the political equation even though with very minimal impact.
Squadron Leader D.S.P. Alamaeyeseigha
This man has forgotten so quickly the tradition of discipline and seniority in the institution that made him visible to become what he is today. No retired military officer has ever attacked Obasanjo directly without repercussions. Victor Malu did and we saw his trouble with the army pension’s board. Abubakar Umar is now threading cautiously and it appears Malu and Umar have been cautioned to tone down their rhetoric.
The rank of Squadron leader is the equivalent of an Army Major and by DSP’s rank; he was not even qualified to be Obasanjo’s ADC. For him to be active in Atiku’s camp is his greatest undoing. He is being disciplined the military way and at the end he would have preferred a court martial to his present ordeal. Jumping bail in London is not the end of the matter as the federal government is determined to deal with him.
Olusegun Obasanjo’s ‘intimidating credentials’
The Nigerian press is partly responsible for creating General Obasanjo into a sole administrator of some sorts of Nigeria. What for instance are Obasanjo’s intimidating credentials often referred to by the Nigerian press when compared with other presidential aspirants? Ok after listing his command appointments, we have …. “He is a member of the Eminent Persons Group, Jimmy Carter is his friend and so is Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta” and the resume goes on. Of course he was commander of the army engineers but his qualification is not register able by COREN(council of registered engineers of Nigeria).In the military, the word ‘engineer’ is a very lose term and readers will recall that the DC area sniper was also described as an army engineer in the us army.
Jimmy Carter being his friend makes him different and superior to his colleagues in the big 5? Who amongst them has a former US President as friend?
In the US, retired military officers participate in politics and we are all aware that John Kerry was a Lt and GWB was also a national guard’s officer. Both of them studied at Yale and Harvard after their military service.
How about General Wesley Clark? Former supreme commander of the NATO allied forces and then we hear such things as he went to west point etc. For Secretary Powell, everyone knows his military background, but we are further told he is an MBA. (Master of business administration).
Perhaps, seeing all these, people like Joseph Garba, Abubakar Umar and Buba Marwa went to Harvard to acquire more knowledge and polish their credentials. But why is this not important in Nigeria? Any Nigerian who tries finding out about this ‘eminent persons group’ in the United States will be disappointed several times. What the heck is ‘eminent persons group’?
One thing about Baba is that he is a very smart guy even when he knows his deficiencies. When Olu Falae, a technocrat .and Yale graduate is mentioned. Obasanjo is quick in responding that Falae was one of his Permanent Secretaries. If Ezeife a Harvard PhD is mentioned, Obasanjo also replies, Ezeife was one of his Permanent Secretaries. So it is all about Boss!! Boss!! Boss!! and seniority.
All the civilian political class and the retired generals are individually and collectively intimidated by the Big Boss.
So to fully consolidate as an emperor, the man prefers retired military officers in key positions. Col Ahmadu Ali as party chairman and retired CP Tony Anenih as BOT Chairman all of the PDP. He can bark out orders which must be obeyed. At the beginning, Ekwueme was important because he was a civilian VP while Obasanjo was seen as a military man. Today Obasanjo is two times civilian President and has therefore measured up with and over Ekwueme.
‘Against My Personal Wish And Desire’
Most Nigerians are familiar with this phrase used in his acceptance speech while assuming the Presidency after the assassination of Murtala Ramat Muhammed. In retrospect, was the man Obasanjo then sincere or is there something in the Government house ‘that he forgot’?
The third term project is gaining momemtum and has moved from being a mere speculation to rumor and news of plans for constitutional amendments tends to give credence to the project. What becomes of Nigeria when this project takes off is of great concern to well meaning Nigerians.It will not be a fight for the political group MDD, but a challenge to Nigerians.
Before concluding, it is important to recall how Obasanjo had engineered the removal of several senate presidents within a very short term.
Today, it is reported that Obasanjo is aiming for the soul of the PDP or at least trying to possess it.
BIG QUESTION: If all these civilians and technocrats feel intimidated by General Obasanjo, why should Obasanjo accept the advice of technocrats as superior? Nigeria will have to live with the shortsightedness and limitations of the man, Obasanjo.
This in brief, is how the man emerged as Emperor!
~ Chukwunweike Nwosu writes from Melbourne Australia
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.