I was among some ordinary Nigerians whose sensibilities were assaulted by the recent public squabbles between two of our nation’s top spoilt brats. While one represents the military power brokers, the other stands for the politicians. First, it was Colonel Umar (rtd.) who started with his open letter to the president in which he “analyzed” the state of the nation. Then came the rejoinder from Mr. Fani-Kayode, acting in his capacity as the public affairs adviser to the president.
Umar’s comments could easily pass for an exercise of his rights, more so, under a democratic dispensation. The response of Fani-Kayode however was not only childish but also grossly amateurish. It’s a shame that the president could not appoint a public affairs adviser from among the thousands of seasoned professionals in our nation’s vibrant public relations industry.
But the subsequent epistle from Umar was a different kettle of fish altogether. The man must have been waiting for the slightest opportunity to publicly tell that “exotic” story. The unnecessary outbursts from the so-called public affairs adviser only served as the much-awaited opportunity. The objective of this article, in essence, is to discuss precisely what Umar hoped to achieve with his story and “qui bono”, for whose benefit? Obviously, the man appeared to have come to equity, but did he come with clean hands? It certainly will not hurt therefore to take a peep into his antecedents. And while many fans of the retired Colonel may not like this exercise, they have to realize that it’s not all Nigerians that are hoodwinked by the man’s history of “radicalism” and grandstanding.
The young 2nd lieutenant Abubakar Dangiwa Umar thrust himself into military politics right out of the NDA, having been earlier “discovered” by IBB. To this end, someone like him did not have to stress or sweat before or during any promotion exercise in his entire military career. It was however a different story for many other officers. An example was the case of Major Gideon Orkar who, in spite of his acknowledged brilliance and great leadership skills, was frustrated into “waging war” with his oppressors.
In December 1983, the then Major Umar was among the brats of military politics that participated in the termination of the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. And for reward, he was appointed as the Sole Administrator of the money-spinning Federal Housing Authority. It’s pertinent to state here that while the young Major was occupying this sensitive position, there were many brilliant “red necks” (Colonels and above) who were merely marking time on some moribund military postings.
DISCONTENT IN THE MILITARY
There had never been so much massive discontent in the military as witnessed in the IBB era. This was the period when some Captains and Majors were cruising about town in “baby Benz” while their superior officers were riding in “Beetles”. The ugly situation came to a head when IBB appointed Umar and some other Majors as State governors in recompense for their roles in humiliating Gen. Buhari out of office. And as appointment is superior to rank, senior military officers were made to stoop low in paying compliments to those subordinates who had been made governors. Worse still, while the likes of Umar were enjoying the spoils of political offices, their hapless colleagues and superiors were being shipped out to fight as ECOMOG soldiers.
The career paths of Umar and his fellow military politicians were definitely not a good example for young, up and coming officers to emulate. The acquired wealth, power and flamboyance could be very tempting. But many of the officers who had tried to follow in their footsteps are either dead (via a firing squad) or serving jail terms. Those who merely got dismissed were the lucky ones.
THE JUNE 12 PALAVER
It was quite interesting to note the manner by which the Colonel freely splashed the names of fellow officers and superiors who were involved in some other mundane incidents on the pages of his epistle. Yet, he conveniently “forgot” to provide names (not even one name) of the so-called clique members who were alleged to be opposed to an Abiola presidency.
For those who know our military so well, only an “untouchable” such as Umar could perform the stunt of “resigning” his commission as he purportedly did during the June 12 saga. But in reality no one, except a short service non-combatant officer, dares wake up one day to resign his commission. Unwittingly, Umar himself confirmed how silly the charade was when he wrote about the subsequent events. According to him, IBB granted him audience (after such a flagrant display of disloyalty?) and did have “mercy” on him, without even a slap on the wrist.
Incidentally, this matter took place at a time almost all officers with the slightest sympathy for Abiola or democracy were not only hounded out of service after being branded as NADECO officers but were also implicated in phantom coups. Ask Col. Ajayi (rtd.) whose boss at the Bonny Camp, Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, falsely included his name among coup plotters. All he did was to privately express his feeling about the June 12 palaver to the General.
And talking of coups, Umar went into great detail to impress his readers about the “efforts” he made by joining forces with the then Minister of Defence, Gen. Abacha in a plot to topple IBB. Here, it’s important to state that Gen. Halilu Akilu and the DMI boys were never as busy snooping around every officer as they did during the June 12 brouhaha. How therefore could the “coup plot” of highly visible officers such as Umar and Abacha ever have eluded the eagle-eyed officers of the DMI?
IBB AS A MASTER STRATEGIST
The fact of the matter was that there were loyalists such as Umar who were assigned the role of baiting and exposing potential coup plotters all through the regime of IBB. It therefore didn’t come as a surprise when, according to Umar, Abacha and the other top shots in the alleged plot did not turn up at the designated rendezvous. Moreover, the “evil genius” as a master strategist, knew that neither a president Abiola nor an IBB in retirement would be safe in the hands of the overtly ambitious young Turks such as Umar. So many of these officers were only waiting in the wings for a vulnerable Abiola to be sworn into office.
This must have informed IBB’s refusal, much against the advise of the younger officers, to retire Abacha and the other Generals while he prepared to step aside. Without these older, matured officers around, even IBB knew that several middle level officers would have collided at the Radio Nigeria with different coup broadcasts. One could imagine the ensuing political chaos that would have enveloped the nation. The basis of IBB’s annulment of the election and his seemingly ironic interest in the nation’s stability therefore could only have stemmed from his desire to live happily ever after (in retirement). As for Umar and his group of young Turks however, they realized the IBB’s game plan with the older Generals rather too late. Therefore, as soon as Abacha took over, many of these spoilt officers were retired while some others (such as David Mark) had to run into exile.
PASSING THE BUCK ON JUNE 12
As far as the June 12 crisis was concerned, the buck should end on IBB’s table and even the “evil genius” admitted this much. Umar however would rather have the entire blame be heaped on president Obasanjo just because the latter once said that Abiola was not the expected messiah. This was like blaming Abiola for Chief Awolowo’s electoral defeat in the 1979 presidential election all because Abiola set up the Concord newspapers. At least, some politicians did try to smear Abiola’s image with such balderdash while campaigning for Abacha’s presidency.
THE NATION’S ECONOMIC DECAY
It was a good thing that Umar complained about the nation’s economic decay. But has he forgotten the role of the military in the creation of that decay? And was he not party to the imposition of the military on the nation? It was true that IBB tried to restructure the economy but he also initiated the massive corruption and financial indiscipline that characterized his government. Corruption under IBB was so enormous that it was institutionalized. Almost every critic, from socio-political activists to professors and others were compromised. Here also was one period in our national life when freshly assembled Peugeot cars were carted away from PAN and distributed to “loyal” officers. In the same period, NEPA, NITEL, NNPC and other corporations were turned into cows that were being milked by a select few.
UMAR IS ANGRY
Personally, one thing I appreciate in Umar’s epistle is his admission that he is angry. He might not say so but he is also aggrieved. Let’s face it, Umar was once a powerful man in the nation’s political history. This was a Colonel who, without prior appointment, would walk over his superiors into the office of the Chief of Army Staff and still be granted an immediate audience. This was the same officer who would kit up the men in his command without recourse to his superiors in the Headquarters. And lest we forget, here was an officer who had so richly benefited from military politics as to own a 400-acre farm that was later sold for a “mere” N10 million.
Such a man therefore would expect to be consulted on all State matters while expecting his private business interests to be considered in every policy formulation. Incidentally, Obasanjo has chosen to ignore this man and other such individuals in powerful interest groups. Consequently, the president has not only been dubbed as “arrogant” but his government has also been dogged by several socio-ethnic crisis which were artificially engineered.
That Umar is now angry and aggrieved therefore does not come as a surprise. After all, how many retired Colonels are so rich and powerful enough to have their tender toes stepped upon by the nation’s president? And how many of them could be diagnosed with a savior mentality? Rather, it was the reasons adduced for his anger that one found disturbing. Hear the retired colonel: “Democracy has not made it possible for the citizens of this country to live in unity and harmony…” He went further to write that “This system has not promoted good governance and the welfare of all persons…” Now, what’s his grouse against democracy and the presidential system? Would he rather have the nation returned to military rule?
Finally, the retired Colonel admitted that the policies of the Obasanjo government “are forcing me to sit and vegetate while I receive commandments from its overloads (overlords?) whose economic and political tentacles circumscribe every aspect of my material existence that encompass my entire life…” These therefore are answers to the question that, for whose benefits did Umar write his epistle? For his benefit, of course!
The best Umar could do now is join his fellow brats of the military politics such as Tunde Ogbeha, David Mark and others (who have since become senators, governors etc.) in practically “nurturing” our nascent democracy. At least, the hitherto “untouchables” can now redeem themselves by participating in mending the nation’s democratic structures to which they had devoted the whole of their military careers in dismantling.