An unprecedented number of retired top military officers swarm the political terrain, seeking elective offices. The Generals are back! And they are fizzing with political intent, duelling with politicians without military backgrounds for various positions in 2007 elections. Though not exactly new, the development divides the nation's political class into two clear categories. What does the preponderance of ex-soldiers portend for Nigeria's democracy? Senator-General David Mark said only soldiers have the discipline to nurture the nation's fledging democracy. Is this democracy or a reformed military rule?

Prominent among retired military top guns who have expressed interest in seeking elective offices are former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida; General Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state; Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe and Vice Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe, both former Chiefs of General Staff; former Minister of Works and Housing, Major-General Mamman Kontagora; Lt.General Aliyu Gusau, former National Security Adviser; and Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, former Lagos State Military Administrator.

Last Wednesday, Babangida picked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nomination form for the 2007 presidential election. IBB, who was accompanied by his wife, children and Governor Abdulkadir Kure of Niger State, obtained the form from the office of Senator Ahmadu Ali, a retired military officer and PDP National Chairman. Babangida was received by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, PDP National Secretary; Alhaji Ibrahim Shema, National Deputy Chairman (North), and John Odey, National Publicity Secretary. Giving reasons for joining the presidential race, Babangida said: “My decision to seek this office is not based on any desire to change the direction of Nigeria, but to expand the frontiers of reforms that are designed towards building a better society. If I say I would copy President Obasanjo, this would be unfair because he has always expected his officers to be innovative and imaginative. This is what I plan to do.”

Ali praised IBB for picking the form and expressed confidence that his party will trounce the opposition come 2007. As Babangida and his entourage left Ali’s office, a crowd of party supporters besieged the secretariat to catch a glimpse of IBB, who was the 15th aspirant to pick a nomination form. The surging crowd blocked the road linking the secretariat with Michael Okpara Road, forcing the Federal Capital Territory Police Commissioner, Mr. Lawrence Alobi, to deploy fierce-looking mobile policemen to the area. But can the tumultous ovation translate to victory for Babangida? A group of placard-carrying youths stormed the secretariat to protest the sale of form to IBB. Some of the placards read: “We Don’t Want IBB”; “Who Killed Dele Giwa?” and “IBB Must Apologise To Nigerians.”

But the IBB camp appeared unaffected by the protest. Godwin Daboh Adzuana, Chairman, Concerned Nigerians For IBB, said only God can stop IBB. Describing the protesting youths as a “rented crowd,” Daboh said IBB has already atoned for the annulment of 1993 election by facilitating the election of President Obasanjo. Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, Babangida’s deputy, supported Daboh’s view. Aikhomu, who accompanied IBB to the party’s secretariat, told newsmen that no Nigerian enjoys the confidence of Nigerians like his former boss. He, therefore, advised those who are pained by the annulment of Abiola’s victory to see Obasanjo as “an appeasement of the Yorubas over June 12.”

But the protesters are not the only people irked by Babangida’s presidential ambition. Mrs. Hafsat Abiola-Costello, daughter of the late Chief MKO Abiola, acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election which was annulled by Babangida, said it would be difficult for the former military president to return to power. “There is no way Babangida will win a free and fair election in Nigeria except there is hidden agenda that we don’t know of. Having annulled the freest and fairest election in Nigeria, no right-thinking Nigerian will support the ambition of the Minna-born General,” she said.

TheNEWS checks show that even if the South-West forgives Babangida for the annulment, he has a mountain to climb in the PDP presidential primaries scheduled for December. Sources told TheNEWS that Babangida does not enjoy the support of President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose hold on the party machinery is enormous. This, sources reckon, could mortally hurt Babangida’s chances at the primaries. Besides, it is believed in many quarters that IBB is not in the good books of many of the PDP governors who, along with numerous delegates loyal to them, are expected to vote at the convention. The permutation is that the governors, some of whom are presidential aspirants, are likely to instruct their contingents to vote against IBB. Already, TheNEWS learnt, the IBB camp has mandated Governor Abdulkadir Kure of Niger State, a major financier of the IBB campaign, to woo more governors to the fold.

To this end, it did not exactly surprise many political analysts that Kure was sighted last week in Osun and Enugu government houses. Before this move, IBB in the company of Kure and Governor Attahiru Bafarawa of Sokoto State, was in Makurdi, apparently to drum up support for the IBB project. Though IBB was in Makurdi on the invitation of Governor Akume, whose nephew was having a wedding ceremony, TheNEWS gathered that the sole purpose of the visit was to woo Akume, a loyalist of Vice President Atiku Abubakar. IBB’s overtures, this magazine learnt, may have begun yielding dividends as many of the governors in the VP’s column are considering shifting loyalty to the former dictator. The temptation to ditch Atiku is thought to be a spin-off of the Vice President’s indictment by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Administrative Panel of Inquiry, for allegedly misappropriating funds of the Petroleum Development Trust Fund (PTDF).

Abubakar is challenging his indictment in court. But the Federal Executive Council, in an apparent move to stop him from contesting the presidential election, has gazetted the panel’s report. This, analysts say, was to alert the judiciary that the VP is ineligible for the election. The Presidency’s position is strengthened by Section 137 (i) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that once a person has been indicted for fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or Administrative Panel of Inquiry, such a person stands disqualified from aspiring to political office. The court, however, can reverse the indictment. And to compound Atiku’s problems, his party slammed a three-month suspension on him in the first instance. The suspension effectively freezes him out of the party’s convention. Though he is also challenging his suspension in the court, many governors believe that even if he gets a ruling in his favour, the PDP may not obey it.

With Atiku’s ambition on shaky grounds, many governors now see Babangida as alternative. The former president is said to be holding talks with the embattled VP. A governor in the North Central geo-political zone put it more bluntly: “In the absence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from the race, we shall go for Babangida because outside the Turaki Adamawa, only the General has a solid network across the length and breadth of Nigeria to be president in 2007.” When asked whether the Governors Forum would adopt one of the many aspirants from their fold, the governor maintained that none of his colleagues has the clout to coast to Aso Rock in 2007. Outside Atiku’s misfortune, IBB is also banking on his wealthy supporters. One of them Governor Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa who recently founded the Democratic People’s Party, DPP. Bafarawa reportedly boasted that he would rally his friends to bankroll IBB’s campaign.

The military arm of the political elite is said to be disposed to an IBB presidency. Led by Major-General Chris Garba, former Military Governor of Bauchi State, and General Gado Nasko, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, the retired officers are said to be willing to open the fat wallets for Babangida. “All is set for IBB. We are pooling our resources together for IBB’s election as the third executive president of Nigeria. We are serious about this campaign because General Babangida’s government empowered all Nigerians and the same Nigerians are urging him to lead them again. Mark it, in 2007 it is IBB or no one else,” Garba boasted to TheNEWS.

Aside Garba and Nasko, other retired military men spending their resources for Babangida are Admiral Aikhomu, General Aliyu Gusau, General Jerry Useni, General Joshua Dogonyaro, Colonel John Shagaya, Major-General Victor Malu, Brigadier-General David Mark, Brigadier-General Tunde Ogbeha, Brigadier- General Haliru Akilu and a host of others. Though the masses (talakawa) in the far North prefer Buhari to him, IBB’s backers are hoping that the traditional rulers can help melt the resistance to his candidature since they shape the course of events in their domains. The emirs’ love for IBB dates back to his days as military president when he was reputed to have “spoilt” the monarchs with contracts and gifts,” a gesture denied them in the current dispensation.

Next to IBB at the visibility stakes is Buhari, a presidential front-runner on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). On account of his reputation as the patent holder for honesty in politics, he is widely called ma gaskia (meaning honest man) in the North. If his presumed honesty has endeared him to the masses, the same has hampered his chances in his party. The evidence of this was provided at the ANPP National Convention last September, where the governors teamed up to floor all the candidates sponsored by Buhari. Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, Second Republic Speaker of the House of Representatives, with the backing of the governors, was elected National Chairman of the party. He defeated Mike Ahamba, Buhari’s candidate and lead counsel in the court cases instituted by the ANPP and the Buhari Campaign Organisation against President Obasanjo and the PDP over the 2003 presidential election.

Saidu Kumo, a former senator, emerged National Secretary. He defeated Buba Galadima, who like Ahamba, is a die-hard supporter of Buhari. Gambo Magaji, a major Buhari critic, emerged the Chairman, Board of Trustees. With all the 18 offices contested filled by the governors’ candidates, Buhari’s chances of flying the party’s flag in 2007 have receded almost without trace. Buhari himself alluded to this when he protested the outcome of the convention. He told the BBC that the election was “massively rigged by governors” to plant their surrogates in the party’s leadership ahead of the ANPP presidential primary election. “There was rigging. The delegates were not only given ballot papers that were already marked to go and put in the ballot box…. What they did is a betrayal of democracy,” Buhari complained.

Already, two of the governors have picked nomination forms for the party’s presidential ticket. They are Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara State and his Yobe State counterpart, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim. Before the caging of Buhari at the Abuja convention, the governors allegedly installed their supporters at the ward, local government and state congresses. The aim, say pundits, was to enable governors decide their successors, while those seeking re-election plant their loyalists in strategic positions to guarantee their victory at the polls. The rout of Buhari at the party’s convention did not surprise many political observers. While Buhari challenged Obasanjo’s victory at the Supreme Court, the ANPP governors gave him a wide berth. Indeed, only Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State openly showed solidarity by accompanying Buhari to court.

Even at that, Buhari’s staunch supporters believe the Kano helmsman was only paying back for galvanising support for his victory in 2003. “Buhari brought his reputation of honesty and credibility into the party that was almost dying. Overnight, he rekindled the people’s interest and hope, especially in the North. In Kano, he mobilised the people to vote out the ruling PDP government led by Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso,” argued Ujudud Shariff, a socio-political commentator. But the two politicians have since parted ways. Another factor militating against Buhari’s ambition is money. Unlike IBB, Buhari is said to rely on the generosity of well-wishers. And with the monetisation of politics, many analysts believe it will take a near-miracle for Buhari to emerge the ANPP standard bearer in 2007.

Brigadier-General Buba Marwa is another presidential hopeful. Though the Michika-born politician has bought the notification of intent form, many observers believe he is a rank underdog. In fact, in Adamawa, his home state, he is variously regarded as being encouraged by Obasanjo or Babangida to weaken the hold of Atiku on Adamawa State and the North-East geo-political zone. Marwa seems to have done well in his presumed assignment, first by being part of the plot to get Atiku suspended by the state chapter of the PDP and then stopping the party from revalidating his membership of the party. Marwa’s biggest handicap is the dearth of heavyweight loyalists. Again, he is regarded in the North as a cub politician who cannot be identified with any ideological leaning. Besides, many PDP governors don’t identify with him, a situation that may make it difficult for him to make any impact at the PDP primaries.

TheNEWS learnt that even if he makes up with the governors, Marwa has another baggage in the shape of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The commission is still investigating his role in a case of money laundering on behalf of the late General Sani Abacha. Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe, Chief of General Staff under Babangida, has also signified interest in the presidency. A no-frills figure in office, Ukiwe picked the PDP nomination form without funfare. Like Marwa, Ukiwe is viewed as a newcomer in the party, robbing him of a decent hold on the party machinery. This deficit, observers say, may thwart his ambition at the convention. Aside this, Ukiwe is not known to be rich. And with the PDP crawling with money bags like Governor Peter Odili and IBB, the odds against Ukiwe are a mile-high.

But the former Chief of General Staff is widely believed to be a courageous, disciplined and upright man. He acquired the reputation when he resigned from Babangida’s government. One of the issues at that time was his disagreement with Babangida’s subterranean plot to drag Nigeria to the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). If the PDP yields to the clamour for a President of Southern extraction, then Ukiwe may fit into the permutation. He may be banking on that. “I don’t believe in rotational presidency because it is antithetical to democracy. But since zoning has proven to be the needed antidote for peace, I can certainly act as the bridge between North and South,” he said.

Vice Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe, also a former Chief of General Staff in the brief regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, is another entrant into the race. Though he has obtained the PDP nomination form, observers believe he is a neophyte in the game. But Akhigbe thinks otherwise. “In the last 21 years, I have been involved in the political process but before then, I had spent most of my time training and serving in a very high technology environment” he told TheNEWS. Maybe. But not many people take him seriously. In fact, some PDP stalwarts believe he is fronting for someone and that he may yet stand down for him.

Akhigbe is also likely to be inhibited by the lack of a stronghold on party affairs in Edo, his home state, and the national level. Yet another new comer is Major-General Mamman Kontagora, former Works and Housing Minister, who has boasted that he would trounce all the aspirants at the PDP convention. But his boast may be busted by his lack of reach and efficient campaign machinery. He is also thought to be a Babangida decoy. Both men have been close for ages and hail from Niger State. He was also one of the longest serving ministers in Babangida’s government.

However, some believe that Kontagora is hoping to use the nomination form as a bargaining chip for a cabinet position. Before IBB picked the PDP form, the former National Security Adviser to President Obasanjo, General Aliyu Gusau’s name was touted as a presidential hopeful. But that seems to have changed as he has tactically withdrawn from the race to drum up support for Babangida, his mentor. He is expected to be visible on the Babangida campaign train in the coming weeks. The contest for seats in the National Assembly will also feature many retired military officers. While some will seek re-election, others are freshers. In this category are Brigadier-General David Mark and Tunde Ogbeha, both serving senators. Tunde Akogun, a retired colonel, is seeking a return into the House of Representatives. The three legislators were supporters of the failed third term bid of President Obasanjo, a status that may grant them automatic return to their positions.

At the state level, Brigadier-General Oyinlola is seeking re-election as Osun State governor. In Oyo State, Brigadier-General Raji Rasaki, former Lagos State governor, is angling to be governor of Oyo State, while Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade, former Military Administrator of Bayelsa State, is running for governorship in Ekiti State. In Kwara State, Theophilus Bamigboye, former administrator of Bauchi and Osun states, is determined to be the next governor of the state. In crisis-ridden Plateau State, Air Commodore Jonah Jang, former Military Governor of Old Benue State, has vowed to succeed Governor Joshua Dariye. Jang is likely to lock horns with Colonel J.D. Dungs.

What does the preponderance of ex-soldiers portend for Nigeria’s democracy? Senator David Mark said only soldiers have the discipline to nurture the nation’s fledging democracy. While describing the core civilians as lazy and dull, Mark said an army staff sergeant is more intelligent than a university graduate. Coarse as his submission is, the influence of ex-military officers on all aspects of national life is becoming really tangible.

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