It is a fact that 26 of the 45 presidents of the United States served in the military, and thousands of others have held many political appointments. This is true across the world. While the driving force may be different from what obtains in Nigeria, Africa and other developing countries, one thing that is clear is that military experience has paved the way for many into political prominence. Herewith, is our line-up of Nigerian top military brass who wield great political influence today.
He is currently Nigeria’s president, since winning the polls in 2015. A retired major-general, Buhari had previously served as military head of state from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985. There are many suggestions that he ventured into politics following intense pressure from friends and close associates, who believe he is the most-qualified for the job, as regards honesty, and incorruptibility. Many still view him as an enigma, whose appeal to the masses especially in northern Nigeria has not waned.
Until recently, Buhari, now 75, had been in the opposition. He contested for the presidency at four different times, and on three different political platforms. In 2003, he contested as the candidate of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and lost to Olusegun Obasanjo. At a time, he lost interest in politics and declared that he would never vie for any office again. But fresh pressure was mounted on him, and around 2013, talks began on a probable merger by some notable political parties. It culminated in the formation of All Progressives Congress (APC), upon which he broke the jinx and defeated an incumbent president in 2015.
Although the general has maintained sealed lips over his 2019 plans, there are strong indications that he might give it another go, as evidenced by a glaringly renewed commitment to party politics.
“After my release from prison, counsel of caution and withdrawal from public life sounded sweet to my ears. Yet there comes a time in the life of a patriot when abdication would amount to a betrayal if not outright treachery.” These were the words of two-term civilian president, and one-time head of state, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in a speech titled ‘Lets Re-Build Together’, after his nomination by the PDP as its presidential candidate, on February 15, 1999.
The statement aptly captured Obasanjo’s foray into active politics, after a number consultations, which according to him, took him to South Africa, with some eminent Nigerians. He emerged the nation’s second civilian president, after Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Providence bestowed on him again, the opportunity to be re-elected for a second term in 2003, after alleged moves by him to extend his tenure. Till date, Obasanjo has never admitted that he actually wanted a third term.
In 2015, Obasanjo, in characteristic dramatic fashion, directed his party’s membership card be torn and announced his decision to quit partisan politics. But only last month, he floated Coalition for Nigerian Movement (CMN), but again made it clear that it has nothing to do with politics. He said: “If the movement decides to go into partisan politics, I will cease to be a member.”
Back in 2003, Obasanjo’s Vice, Atiku Abubakar became his major albatross in his quest to replace him. But Obasanjo’s choice, the late Umaru Yar’adua, was elected, reminding watchers what a deft politician the ex-president is. Also in 2010, former president, and Yar’adua’s deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan got the tacit support of Obasanjo to replace his late boss.
Ahead of 2015, Obasanjo fell out with Jonathan and gave his support to the opposition party. His choice, Muhammadu Buhari, emerged victorious. He visited a popular market in Abeokuta, where he publicly campaigned for his fellow retired general-turned-politician. He had once disclosed there was no crime in being a retired soldier and joining politics. “It would have been a great disservice to the cause of democracy to create the impression among serving officers and men that a future role in politics, as civilians, was foreclosed for them by an argument unsupported by the constitution,” he said.
According to a public commentator, Zayyad I. Muhammad, Obasanjo’s foray into Nigerian politics had been through the bridges built by leaders outside his immediate political constituency, particularly in the North.
Born on 5 March 1937, Obasanjo is now 80, and like Buhari, he too had participated in the Nigerian civil war and at present, is not only involved in Nigerian politics, but actively at the continental level, and perhaps even the world at large. Only time can tell, if exigencies will make Obasanjo return to active politics.
Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida
Born on 17 August 1941, Babangida, a retired Nigerian Army General was military president of Nigeria from 27 August 1985 to 26 August 1993. He previously served as the chief of army staff from January 1984 to August 1985. Though he had long ago said he had exited from partisan politics, the way and manner politicians troop to his house whenever political realignment is in the offing, attests to the fact that his retirement is only limited to the fact that he might not vie for an elective office.
Controversial letters written by Babangida, popularly known as IBB, speak volumes in deep-rooted involvement in party politics. But the, his other nickname is ‘Maradona’, in homage to his twist-and-turn type of politics which have earned him a mythical status. He currently holds court at home, at his hilltop residence in Minna, Niger State.
Some believe that retired Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, present Minister of the Interior, ventured into politics ‘through the back door’, courtesy of his military shared military background with President Buhari, getting deep in the murky waters of politics shortly after retirement from the army. Insiders say having retired under the PDP-led government, he returned to Kano State in an attempt to succeed then-governor Dr. Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso.
Dambazau, now 64, reportedly dropped the idea following advice from friends and close associates. But he was requested to head Buhari’s Security Committee for the 2015 presidential campaign, even though he did not publicly participate in political activities that led to the formation of the ruling APC.
Born in Zaria on 14th March, 1954, Dambazau had served as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) between 2008 and 2010. He was long before then the Aide de Camp to the Chief of Army Staff (1979), commanded military police units, among many other important positions and appointments.
Daily Trust learnt that the minister has an “unalloyed political allegiance” to President Buhari, but insiders lament that he has not been participating in any political activities in Kano.
Ike Umar Sanda Nwachukwu
Not much is being heard of, politically, from the retired general Ike Umar Sanda Nwachukwu upon his return after leading the South East delegation to the National Conference few years ago. Popularly called the ‘Ututu General’ by his kinsmen, being from Abia by paternity, his people always see him as a hero. He was the Military Administrator of Imo State from January 1984 to August 1985, during which he moved the Imo State University, now Abia State University in Uturu, to its permanent site.
From 1986 to 1987 he was Minister of Employment, Labour and Productivity where he founded the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to alleviate the problems of unemployment, especially graduate unemployment. He represented Abia North Senatorial District in the Senate between 1999 and 2003 on the ticket of the PDP.
Nwachukwu, now 76, served as Chairman of two Senate committees, the Senate Committee on Power and Steel and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from December 1987 to December 1989. In September 1990, he was re-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and was replaced in January 1993 during the transition to civilian rule. He was active and effective as Foreign Minister, taking an intellectual approach to diplomacy.
In the conference of 2014, he had canvassed for one six-year term for president, five-year term for governors and one four-year term for local government chairmen; rotation of presidency among the six geo-political zones and that areas that have dominated the office in the past should make sacrifice by allowing other zones to produce the president.
The retired general has also retired from active politics, but aspirants still consult him to get his blessing before contesting.
He is a tireless retired general who wants to be governor again, at 68. Prince Ọlagunsoye hails from a royal family in Okuku, Odo Ọtin Local Government Area of Ọṣun State. He enlisted in the Nigerian Army as a Signals Corps Private in 1969. He attended the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna and was commissioned as an officer in 1971 into the Armoured Corps of the Nigerian Army.
Oyinlola served as the military administrator of Lagos State during the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime, retiring with the rank of Brigadier-General in 1999. When he returned home after that, it was glaring that the retired senior officer was not tired. He joined politics, and was elected governor of Osun State in 2003 under the umbrella of the PDP. He was re-elected governor in 2007 in an election characterised by violence and his victory was upturned by the Court of Appeal, Ibadan on 26 November, 2010 in favour of the incumbent governor in the state, Mr Rauf Aregbesola.
When Oyinlola left the Government House after the Court of Appeal judgement, many people expected that he would retire from politics and enjoy his retirement but it was not so. He became the National Secretary of PDP when Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was the National Chairman of the party. However, the internal political intrigues in the PDP consumed him, and he was removed from office as national secretary.
As a result of the crisis in the PDP, Oyinlola joined the APC and supported Governor Aregbesola to defeat the PDP candidate in 2014. President Buhari appointed him as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) last year, a position he still holds.
Currently, Oyinlola is part of the Coalition for Nigeria movement, spearheaded by former president Olusegun Obasanjo. At the moment, he remains active politically, giving weight yo rumours that he is still nursing governorship ambition. His supporters are insisting that he could contest again since his second term in office was truncated by the Court of Appeal judgement, but he has not openly declared anything.
Muhammad Mansur Dan Ali
A retired Brigadier-General, he hails from Birnin Magaji Local Government Area of Zamfara State, and joined active politics in 2013 shortly after his retirement from the military. He pitched tent with the APC and was appointed member during the National Conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
Dan Ali served as member of the security committee of the conference. He then declared his intention to represent his zone, Zamfara North, in the Senate even though he withdrew his candidature to pave way for the current senator, Tijjani Yahaya Kaura. He was also a member of Buhari Campaign Organization in 2015 and chairman security committee Yari Campaign Organization in 2015.
After the 2015 general elections, President Buhari appointed him Defence Minister, surprising many in Zamfara, considering that his foray into politics is short, even if he was able to make impact at the grassroots within a short time.
Like many of his contemporaries, T.Y Danjuma is a civil war veteran. A 19-year military career saw the Taraba State indigene rise to the rank of Lieutenant General. He has served as Chief of Army Staff before retirement in 1979, at age 40. Now 80, he has been playing active role in political permutations at the national level and in his home state.
In 1999, he was appointed minister of defence by then-president Obasanjo. He has over the decades been as adept a politician as he is also a military strategist. Also famously, with other dogged politicians, Danjuma had practically opposed Obasanjo’s attempts in 2006 to perpetuate himself in office through the aborted third term.
At 75, Senator Jeremiah Timbut Useni, a retired Lieutenant-General, still wants to be governor of Plateau State. In spite of having served as a onetime military governor and minister in the 80s and 90s, and at some point regarded as one of the most powerful Nigerians, it seems he is not ready to quit. His entry into politics since the country’s return to democracy was at the beginning bumpy, but he now sits comfortably at the Senate (Plateau South).
In 2003, he served as the Deputy National Chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), before he later dumped it in 2006 to serve as the chairman of a new party, the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). Despite always being in the opposition, his popularity among very loyal followers still resonates. He had his eyes set on the Senate but lost to Sen. Victor Lar of the then PDP in 2011. He later found his way into the then-ruling PDP in 2014, and thanks to the party, now sits in the Senate. His Abacha days, fraught with drama, have no doubt shaped him to be the politician he is today.