He is strategic and methodical. His disciplined lifestyle, shaped by his military background, has explicably morphed into a life of deliberateness, of intentional interventions and solemn engagements in Nigeria’s socioeconomic and political space. He has, in so doing, carved a niche for himself in the twilight of his eon as a consequential Nigerian statesman. For instance, when it mattered most at a critical intersection in the governance of Nigeria twenty-four years ago, his decision to calmly, even if hurriedly, ensure a peaceful regime change in the land, by emplacing an eleven-month programme of transition to civil rule, was profoundly remarkable.
He deflated the bubbles of crises in the land; he cleared the doubts that had understandably gathered over the polity, harboured and nurtured by politicians in particular and the other publics, and proceeded in a soldierly fashion to upend the seemingly unending and convoluted programme of transition from military to civilian government of his predecessors by setting a significant short timetable and keeping fidelity to it. The shortness of time was necessary to reassure the impatient political class that it was business unusual. And, he kept faith with that mandate deliverable.
Indeed, Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar (AAA)- obviously triple “A”, a retired General of the Nigerian Army, deconstructed the allure of power and demystified the tendentious disposition by heads of juntas in Nigeria to perpetuate themselves in office in a manner that was never before then contemplated and demonstrated. He redirected the nation to the path of egalitarianism and ensured the right of Nigerians to choose their leaders at the different levels of representation in a liberalized democratic space.
AAA’s approach was the elixir that Nigeria needed in 1998, after stepping in the saddle following the sudden death of General Sani Abacha. Having chosen the path of statesmanship, nationalism and love of country, he unlocked the full political potentialities of Nigeria and Nigerians to embrace civil/democratic rule; and for which reason Nigeria can today dare to celebrate, sing and dance, in commemoration of a Democracy Day. Although, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration had first set aside May 29 as Democracy Day to be celebrated yearly, President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2018 revisited the policy, proclaiming June 12 as the new Democracy Day in honour of the late MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll that was annulled by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s junta.
Since handing over power to a democratically-elected President Obasanjo on May 29,1999, General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, who turns 80 today (June 13), has become a respectable symbol of support for and acquiescence in the promotion of democratic ideals. He continues to serve the nation in the capacities of special envoys on international assignments, deploying the magnitude of his leadership qualities, voice and weight in accomplishing those tasks. On the political score, he plays a critical role as Chairman of the National Peace Committee, together with Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and others as members. The committee’s interventions preponderate electoral and elections issues both at the national and subnational levels. AAA’s voice, whether singly, or on the platform of the Peace Committee, has been stentorian even as it is well respected. Without a doubt, the Committee has achieved remarkable successes.
At the level of social interactions, General Abdusalami Alhaji Abubakar connects and mixes very well with his group of friends. The first time I met with him in 2008, in the company of some journalist colleagues, was in the Apo Legislative Quarters’ residence of his bosom friend, the late Senator Usman Al-Bishir, the wealthy politician cum businessman from Yobe State. We had just rounded off interacting with Al-Bishir when General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar breezed in. Al-Bishir introduced the team of journalists to him, and one after the other, he pumped hands with everybody. I went away with an impression of a man who is amiable; whose bank of social capital is perhaps very solid.
Subsequently, I realized he has the ability to reach out in furtherance of loyalty to friendship. I could recollect three of such instances while I was media assistant to the late Chief Tony Anenih: realizing that I was Chief Anenih’s media aide, he had always called me up on phone to get required information or seek clarifications about whatever he wanted to do for Chief Anenih. As I said earlier, AAA was methodical: how did he get my telephone number? I remember there was a time that Chief Anenih asked me to compose a message of appreciation and have it sent to his friends who sent him goodwill messages on one of his birthday celebrations. I did that with my phone and signed off as Media Assistant to Chief Tony Anenih. It was a mark of AAA’s orderliness, that he quickly saved my number for further subsequent connections and this came in handy for him on three occasions.
First, when he was putting together his speech as chairman of the public presentation of Anenih’s autobiography, he had called me to seek clarifications and information. Such closely-related interventions happened on two occasions. The third occasion was when Chief Anenih passed on October 28, 2018, it was apparent that he only had the number of Chief Anenih and mine. AAA called to commiserate with me and to ask how he could get across to Tony Anenih, Jnr, who incidentally was some feet away from where I was in Chief Anenih’s house when the call came. I simply told him to hold on for Tony Anenih, Jnr, with whom he spoke for some minutes.
Indeed, the late Anenih was very fond of AAA. He gave me a standing instruction to ensure that I prepared birthday messages yearly for publication in at least three national newspapers to commemorate the persona and the solid contribution of the former Head of State to the evolution of the Fourth Republic democratic dispensation. It is to the eternal credit of AAA that since leaving office, he has demonstrated a deep sense of equanimity by his measured interventions in governance issues. His activities have been salutary and very far from being negatively disruptive to the political ecosystem.
It is also to AAA’s credit that the National Peace Committee’s successful role in ensuring that the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan who was presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Muhammadu Buhari, who was candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, commit (themselves) to peaceful, orderly presidential 2015 poll devoid of the kind of bloody reactions to the outcome of the 2011 poll, proved to be positively disruptive as an incumbent government, for the first time in Nigeria, suffered electoral defeat and Jonathan, who was the beneficiary of the presidential seat, did not find it difficult to accept defeat and to quickly congratulate Buhari even before the final tally was concluded and announced.
It is against the backdrop of the portrait of a statesman and nationalist painted supra that I have deployed this medium in joining family members, friends and well-wishers in paying tributes to a man of exceptionally good character, a gentleman officer, an inimitable pathfinder, General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar of the Hausa ethnic extraction, and who was born on 13 June 1942 to his Abubakar Jibrin (father) and Fatikande Mohammed (mother), in Minna, Niger State, a happy birthday and many happy returns as he savours his octogenarian status through the next decade.
● Sufuyan Ojeifo contributed this piece via [email protected]