Would MKO #Abiola Have Been a Good President?


On the 25th anniversary of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election approaches, I ask a question that Nigerians rarely ask, and will never know the answer to.

The facts of the annulment are well known. After the painstaking eight year conduct of a “transition programme” to return Nigeria to civilian democratic rule after 9 years of military rule, the then military government led by General Ibrahim Babangida voided the results of the June 12, 1993 election that was supposed to herald the return of democracy. That act added the word “annulment” to the standard Nigerian vocabulary. Although the full election results were never disclosed, everyone knows that Moshood Abiola won. However, given his antecedents, background and temperament, would Abiola have been a beneficial President for Nigeria?

The story of Abiola’s life is a classic rags to riches story that could be a Hollywood film. He was born into poverty in a large family. His birth came after a series of failed pregnancies, still born children and infant deaths in his family. He eventually attended the famous Baptist Boys High School in his home town of Abeokuta, in Ogun State. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is another alumnus of that school. Afterward he studied accountancy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He then worked with the multi-national pharmaceutical company Pfizer. However Abiola made his name and riches when he joined the telecommunications company International Telegraph and Telephone (ITT). Abiola eventually became the chairman of ITT and via series of cordial relations with key army officers, Abiola amassed so much wealth, influence and fame that he once boasted of being the richest African on Earth.

Two of Abiola’s closest military friends were then Minister of Communications Brigadier Murtala Muhammed and Lt-Col Ibrahim Babangida. Abiola met Babangida in 1974 when Abiola was selling radio systems to the military. Babangida was sent to evaluate the quality of devices being sold by Abiola. According to Babangida “From that time the relationship developed and he was always around”.

Abiola also met Brigadier Muhammed after bravely confronting Muhammed over a series of debts owed to Abiola’s company by Muhammed’s Communications Ministry. The normally fearsome and ruthless Muhammed was impressed by Abiola’s courage and the two struck up a friendship. With Babangida and Muhammed eventually becoming Heads of State, Abiola exploited his relationship with them to secure extensive patronage via contracts with the government and became spectacularly rich in the process. His business empire grew massively as did his bank account balance, number of wives, concubines and children.

With his perpetual wealth ensured, Abiola turned to politics and joined the ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The NPN had an elaborate zoning system for the distribution of government portfolios – including the presidency. Since the presidency had been zoned to President Shagari (from the north), Abiola assumed that when President Shagari’s term of office expired, the NPN would zone the presidency to the south, and he would be allowed to run for President. He was wrong. His presidential ambition was rebuffed by the powerful Minister of Transport Umaru Dikko who told him that “the presidency is not for sale to the highest bidder”. Abiola “retired” from politics soon after – totally exasperated with the NPN. He would have his revenge. President Shagari reported that several frustrated politicians engaged in what he termed “coup baiting” against his government. Abiola had a massive publishing empire was used to launch frequent vitriolic attacks on President Shagari’s government with the intention of discrediting it sufficiently to psychologically prepare the public for its replacement by a military regime. In his memoirs (“Beckoned to Serve”), President Shagari later obliquely referred to the financing and support given to military conspirators by an unnamed “well known business tycoon”. Although he declined to name this tycoon, contextually it was an obvious reference to Abiola. Babangida went further in unequivocally confirming Abiola’s role in financing a coup plot against Shagari and using his influence to destabilise Shagari’s government. He later revealed that Abiola:

“was also very good in trying to mould the thinking of the media. We relied on him a lot for that. So there was both the media support and the financial support.” (Karl Maier – Midnight in Nigeria)

President Shagari was overthrown in a military coup on December 31, 1983 and replaced by a military government in which Abiola’s friend Babangida was Chief of Army Staff (number 3 in the regime). Less than two years later Abiola was at it again and financed another military coup which eventually led to his friend Babangida becoming Head of State. Abiola’s wife Simbiat was opposed to his involvement in politics. However after she died in 1992 Abiola returned to politics and ran for President in an election stage managed by his bosom friend Babangida. As a southern Muslim (the religion of the north) and who was a close friend of the Head of State, an Abiola presidency seemed a virtual certainty. As results began trickling in, it became obvious that Abiola was headed for a landslide victory. He even defeated his opponent Bashir Tofa in Tofa’s home state of Kano. For the first time Nigerians voted across ethnic and religious lines as Christians voted for a Muslim, and northerners voted for a southerner. However something went very wrong. On June 23, 1993 the election was annulled and Abiola was denied the presidency. Five years later Abiola was dead, having been incarcerated for treason for declaring himself the rightful president.

So what would have happened had the election not been annulled and had Abiola ruled? A powerful hard line faction in the military bitterly opposed his candidacy. Babangida later said that had Abiola become President, he would have been overthrown in a violent military coup within six months. The then Director-General of military intelligence Brigadier Halilu Akilu was quoted as saying that “Abiola will be President over my dead body”. Other officers in the regime such as General Sani Abacha and Brigadier David Mark (current Senate President) promised to overthrow or even kill Abiola if he became President. With such opposition to him in the army, an Abiola presidency would almost certainly have led to new round of bloody coups and counter-coups that would have given the military a pretext to retain power. Nigeria might even have still been under military rule today.

But what if the military had supported Abiola? Would an Abiola presidency have been good for Nigeria? Abiola did not win the June 12, 1993 election because he was a massively popular candidate. He won and was adopted as an unlikely symbol of democracy by a public that was desperate to rid Nigeria of increasingly corrupt and authoritarian military rule. To the public, any candidate was better than the military.

Olusegun Obasanjo warned that“Abiola is “not the Messiah that Nigerians are looking for”.

How (in)accurate was Obasanjo’s assessment of Abiola?

Having come from a poor background Abiola was extremely generous to the poor and made grandiose charitable donations. These took the form of bulk buys of rice and tinned milk, to constructing new wings in new universities. He also awarded several hundred scholarships from his own personal fortune. Abiola made such gestures country-wide and did not limit them to his own ethnic or geographic group. He had contacts and friends across all ethnicities and regions of the country. It was also hoped that Abiola’s stupendous wealth meant that he was rich enough not to be tempted to loot the state treasury. A rich multi-billionaire southern businessman from the south, who adopted the religion of the north and had extensive local and international contacts, the perception was that if Abiola could not govern, no one could.

However Abiola had many weaknesses which might have proved his undoing had he become President. His first and foremost weakness was for female flesh. His appetite for women was such that a decade after his death, not even his own family is aware of how many wives and children he had. Educated estimates put the number of his wives somewhere between 25 and 40, and children anywhere between 60 and 120. He also had a number of concubines. Such a complicated personal life could have proved embarrassing and destabilising for a President in the public eye and would probably have occupied several column inches for gleeful tabloids.

Although from humble origins, in adulthood Abiola was no firebrand political reformer and he was unlikely to rock the boat or risk physical challenge. In many ways he was part of Nigeria’s corrupt elite and a government led by him would have continued with business and corrupt dealings as usual. His emergence as a presidential candidate was predicated on his membership of that corrupt elite. In the end the same military Leviathan which Abiola sponsored and supported ended up devouring him.

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What Really Happened to #Abacha and #Abiola?


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This month marks 20 years since the deaths of General Sani Abacha and Moshood Abiola in 1998. Just before their deaths, Nigeria’s situation was as follows:

  • Nigeria was being ruled by a reclusive military dictator called General Sani Abacha
  • General Olusegun Obasanjo and over 50 other army officers were in jail on trumped up charges of coup plotting.
  • Nigeria had become a pariah nation after being expelled from the Commonwealth for executing Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists who were campaigning for a fairer share of Nigerian oil revenues and against the environmental damage caused to their lands by the drilling and spills of big oil companies.
  • Lt-General Oladipo Diya, Major-Generals Abdulkareem Adisa and Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and several other officers were on death row awaiting execution for their role in another coup plot.
  • The winner of the acclaimed June 12 1993 election Chief MKO Abiola had been in jail for 4 years, kept incommunicado from the outside world.
  • General Abacha was on the verge of transforming himself from a military ruler to civilian President having strong armed all the 5 political parties (“five fingers of the same leprous hand”) into adopting him as their presidential candidate.
  • Genuine democracy seemed far, far away.

Plus a lot of the “pro democracy” activists shamelessly abandoned Abiola to join Abacha (Olu Onagoruwa, Baba Gana Kingibe). Even ministers in Abacha’s regime were not safe. The Guardian Newspapers (owned by Abacha’s minister Ibru) was proscribed by a newspaper proscription Decree and shut down after it criticised the government. It was the paper’s continual criticism of Abacha’s regime that led to the near fatal assassination attempt on Ibru.

The Abacha -v- Abiola power struggle was holding the entire country hostage. Abacha’s thirst for power and Abiola’s unrealised mandate. Even if Abacha is removed, what to do about Abiola who won a credible election? Then the following cataclysmic events happened in the space of 30 days:

On June 8 1998 Abacha dies of a heart attack and is hurriedly buried without an autopsy by the time the news filters through to most Nigerians. Nigerians publicly celebrate the death of a reviled leader with wild jubilation. General Abdulsalam Abubakar quickly replaces Abacha and announces that Abiola will be released but that he had to realise that his mandate had expired. A lot of chicanery was used to get Abiola to renounce but he refused. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sent to talk to him and explain that his “term of office” had expired since 5 years had passed since the June 12 1993 election. All to no avail. Exactly one month after the death of Abacha, Abiola suddenly dies of a heart attack on July 7 1998.

With Abacha, Abiola and the June 12 issue out of the way, General Abubakar announces a swift 10 month programme for a return to civilian democratic rule. Just 10 months after Nigeria seemed doomed to perpetual military rule under General Abacha, the military steps down and a new democratic government is elected under President Obasanjo. The speed with which Abacha’s infrastructure was dismantled just seemed too contrived. With Abacha alive and Abiola incarcerated, most people thought democracy was years away in Nigeria. Just 10 months after his death everything he did was undone: his killer squad was dismantled, coup convicts and pro democracy activists released, Nigeria back in the Commonwealth, democracy restored, and the army back in the barracks. Note that a lot of Abacha’s cronies survived in office and resurfaced in subsequent dispensations (Sarki Mukhtar – NSA, Jerry Gana etc).

Somehow exactly 30 days apart, both men die of heart attacks. Abacha is prevented from becoming a civilian ruler, from executing the condemned men like Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju, and a recalcitrant Abiola (who refuses to renounce his mandate) also dies. Problem gone, debate over, fresh start. All rather convenient isn’t it?…. How easily we forget….

When #Trump Met #Buhari – Toys for the Boys @ForeignPolicy @TyMcCormick @sasha_p_s ‏


http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/11/an-arms-deal-wont-heal-what-ails-muhammadu-buhari/

An Arms Deal Won’t Heal What Ails Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria’s president is trying to prove he can get from Washington what his predecessor couldn’t, but it might not be enough to get him re-elected.

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By Max Siollun

| May 11, 2018, 7:04 AM

U.S. President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrive for a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The septuagenarian presidents of Nigeria and the United States held a much-publicized meeting at the White House on April 30. The two countries are trying to patch things up after their biggest ever row. During the tenure of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, relations deteriorated to their lowest level ever, culminating with the U.S. refusal to sell Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria in 2015 to aid the country’s fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram. The spat, which arose due to U.S. concerns about alleged human rights abuses by the Nigerian army, prompted Nigerian accusations that the United States was a false friend that had failed to help Nigeria in its moment of crisis.

But personal priorities have driven the most recent round of diplomacy. For Nigeria’s embattled president, Muhammadu Buhari, it was an opportunity to escape domestic criticism and pressure and demonstrate to voters that he has kept Nigeria’s partnership with the United States intact. For U.S. President Donald Trump, meeting with the president of Africa’s most populous country was an excellent chance for him to contain the furor after his infamous comments referring to African nations as “shithole countries” and to counter accusations that he does not care about the continent.

Buhari defeated Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election based on his image as a military “ironman” who could simultaneously fight corruption and security threats. But Buhari’s claim in December 2015 that “technically we have won the war” against Boko Haram has repeatedly come back to haunt him.

Buhari’s claim in December 2015 that “technically we have won the war” against Boko Haram has repeatedly come back to haunt him.

Nearly two and a half years after Buhari’s “mission accomplished” moment, the Islamist terrorist group still carries out suicide bombings, ambushes army convoys, and kidnaps schoolgirls. The threat from Boko Haram and other sources of communal violence has become so widespread that the Nigerian chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, admitted that the army is deployed on various security operations in 32 of Nigeria’s 36 states.

Buhari’s popularity has plummeted, and his critics have gotten tougher. In January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a public letter in which he urged Buhari to “dismount from the horse” and retire from office. With Nigeria’s next presidential election less than a year away, the vultures are circling around Buhari. The biggest danger to Buhari’s re-election bid may ironically lie within his own party.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a key financier of Buhari’s 2015 campaign, has defected to the opposition People’s Democratic Party. Additionally, both Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara have bad blood with the leadership of Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Many APC members view Saraki and Dogara as a fifth column inside the party. Opponents have also questioned whether a man of Buhari’s age (he is 75) and with his poor health record is strong enough to be the president of a tumultuous country like Nigeria. On his way back from Washington, he made a “technical stopover” in London and met with his medical doctor there. Last year, Buhari spent three months abroad in London for treatment for an illness he has refused to disclose.

Buhari needs a political boost if he is going to have a shot at re-election. The meeting with Trump, and the United States’ recent decision to sell Super Tucano fighter jets to Nigeria, allows Buhari to show voters at home that he has repaired a broken relationship

The meeting with Trump, and the United States’ recent decision to sell Super Tucano fighter jets to Nigeria, allows Buhari to show voters at home that he has repaired a broken relationship

and that his own skills have achieved deals with Washington that his predecessor couldn’t produce.

Yet Buhari needs the Tucano deal more than his country does. This deal amounts to toys for the boys, bolstering Buhari’s image, rather than being a gamechanger in the war against Boko Haram. Indeed, Nigeria is getting the right equipment but at the wrong time.

Tucano jets would have had more impact four years ago, when Boko Haram was attacking and occupying Nigerian territory like a conventional army, rather than today, when its preferred method of attack is to send little girls into mosques and crowded markets on suicide bombing missions. The Tucanos will not stop suicide bombings, nor will they stop the clashes between farmers and herdsmen that are Nigeria’s next security headache.

Apart from the personal victories, the reset in U.S.-Nigerian relations also demonstrates how much the relationship between the two nations has changed over the past decade. Oil was the traditional sweetener of choice in Nigeria’s business deals. Nigeria used to export 1.31 million barrels of crude oil per day to the United States in 2006. By February of this year, its oil exports to the United States had plummeted by 71 percent to just 369,000 barrels per day as America has become reliant on its own oil production and less dependent on oil imports from abroad. Nigerian Oil Minister Ibe Kachikwu publicly admitted that the era when the United States was a primary export market for Nigeria “is gone.”

Although their relationship is no longer about oil, the United States and Nigeria still need each other.

Although their relationship is no longer about oil, the United States and Nigeria still need each other.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy and population. Trump wants Nigeria to remove trade barriers and give U.S. companies greater access to Nigeria’s large, young population of almost 200 million, many of whom love foreign goods and more than half of whom are under 30. While the United States erected red tape around deals thanks to the Nigerian army’s alleged human rights abuses, Chinese companies — with no such scruples — have been busy investing and building roads and train lines in Nigeria.

Members of Buhari’s delegation met with large U.S. companies, including Boeing and General Electric, during the Washington trip. Boeing is interested in Nigeria’s plans to resuscitate its national airline, and GE is part of a consortium that agreed to a $2 billion railway development project in Nigeria. These meetings are a chance for U.S. companies to avoid ceding further ground to China.

But the relationship, always unsteady, is not out of the woods. And even Buhari’s much-touted arms deal is causing friction. Nigeria’s minister of defense, retired Army Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali, protested the stringent conditions that Washington attached to the sale of the Tucano jets. The jets will not be delivered until 2020, and Nigerian officers will be barred from maintaining them, examining their architecture, or from being trained by U.S. personnel.

Dan-Ali was so outraged by these conditions that he vowed not to pay for the jets unless the U.S. conditions are relaxed. The inexplicably high cost of the Tucano jets (almost $500 million), and the fact that Buhari agreed to their purchase without approval from the National Assembly, also led some senators to call for his impeachment. With the deal under such close scrutiny, what seemed like a much-needed Band-Aid for U.S.-Nigerian relations could prove painful if it gets torn off.

#Lagos – Home of #Nigeria’s Champagne Culture –


This is an interesting article in Forbes Africa, about Nigeria’s biggest city of Lagos which it describes as “one of the world’s greatest party capitals” where people do not blink at spending $50,000 (US!) on a night out on the town.

Contrary to images of poverty and insurgency in Nigeria’s northwest, Lagos feels like a different planet. The wealth in Lagos is eye popping and the city is well known for its non-stop party scene. It is well known that Nigeria has the second fastest growing rate of champagne consumption in the world (second only to #France).

Feel free to read for an alternative view of Africa.

42nd Anniversary of Murtala Muhammed’s Assasination – #Nigeria


Today is the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Nigeria’s former military head of state General Murtala Muhammed. He was assassinated on February 13, 1976, on his way to work during an abortive coup. Full details of Murtala’s life and the events that led to his death are in my book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture.

Murtala’s car was ambushed by a group of soldiers in Lagos and he was shot to death. Above is a photo of the bullet riddled car in which he was killed. Note the bullet holes in the windscreen.

US State Department Report on Murtala Muhammed: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/us-state-department-report-on-murtala-muhammed/

Murtala Muhammed’s speech on Nigerian democracy: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1851800698475/

The assassination of Murtala Muhammed:
https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/the-assasination-of-murtala-muhammed/

https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/february-13-1976-the-death-of-murtala-muhammed/

Brigadier Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Speaks to the press about Coup Plot: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1849886570623/

Lt-Colonel Dimka speaks to the press: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1851800698475/

Lt-General Obasanjo announces execution of coup convicts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjEA83pgstg&list=PLTCNM3JtW0UlisCGV98STnBtiGoS7YTaZ&index=3

Max Siollun (@maxsiollun) | Twitter

Discussion and Review of Oil, Politics, and Violence Book on #Nigeria


A Lagos book club in Nigeria discussed and reviewed my book Oil, Politics, and Violence at their book club meeting last weekend. Luckily they streamed their meeting via Facebook Live.

You can view their book discussion here.

By 2050, 1 in Every 13 Births Will be in #Nigeria


By 2050, 1 in every 13 births will take place in #Nigeria.

 

 

#Nigeria’s Educational System


10.5 million Nigerian children are not attending school. These BBC reports discuss the reasons why. Some of the reasons   Education officials have blamed cultural factors, nomadic communities and the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency; but critics point to a lack of funding.

There is a cultural/geographic dimension to the education issue as well. 60% of the out of school children are in northern Nigeria.

 

Celebrating #Nigeria’s Female Military Officers


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I often post abut the exploits of Nigeria’s military. Most of those posts are about military men. So today, I decided to give credit to some of the gallant women of the Nigerian military who have not received as much coverage.

Probably the most celebrated female officer in Nigerian military history is Major-General Aderonke “Ronke” Kale who in 1994, became the first woman to become a major-general (two star general ) in the history of the Nigerian military. She was promoted to major-general along with other officers that later came to prominence such as Ishaya and Musa Bamaiyi.

Kale was a psychiatrist by training who joined the army, became head of the army medical corps, and survived and rose up the ranks in the cut-throat era of 1990s military shenanigans during which the military consumed itself with politics and Machiavellian coup plots.

You can read more about Major-General Kale here and here.

Major-General Abimbola Amusu

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Recently Kale’s feat was equaled when Major-General Abimbola Amusu became only the second female major-general in the army (after Kale). Amusu is currently the commander of the Nigerian army medical corps, and is currently the only female major-general serving in the entire Nigerian army. In a nice emotive touch, the retired Kale attended the ceremony at which Amusu was appointed the medical corps commander.

 

Blessing Liman: Nigeria’s first female fighter pilot:

 

Captain Chinyere Kalu: Nigeria’s first female professional pilot:

 

Rear-Admiral Itunu Hotonu

Another record breaking female officer is Rear-Admiral Itunu Hotonu who in 2012, became the first female rear-admiral in the history of the navy.

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Incidentally Kale, Amusu, and Hotonu are Yoruba.

 

#Nigerian Army Chief Speaks About #BokoHaram and Corruption


 

Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai  had a BBC Hardtalk interview this week with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. Sackur gave Buratai a very serious Jerexy Paxman style grilling on varied issues such as alleged human rights issues by the Nigerian army, corruption, the Nigerian army’s ongoing fight against Boko Haram, and allegations that Buratai owns properties in Dubai.

It was quite an uncomfortable interview and it got sticky and awkward for Buaratai and several points.