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Abdulsalami: Rising profile of a retired general

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Abdulsalami  Abubakar  is not run-of-the-mill. He is exceptional. The distinction is critical when discussing the man widely acknowledged as one of Nigeria’s finest elder statesmen and political revolutionaries. His foray  in Nigeria’s civic years emphasizes his value as a representative of new realities and possibilities. Indeed, those remarkable forays have conferred upon him what towering audacity and individuality usually lacks: prudence, superior acumen and irrefutable authority.

Since he voluntarily handed power to a democratically elected government on May 29, 1999, General  Abdulsalami  Abubakar, has been on some other national and international assignments.  He  added  yet  another feather to his cap on Saturday,October  15, 2016,  when he  was  honoured  with  a  honorary degree by the  Crescent University, Abeokuta.  He was  honoured  with the Doctor of Science (HonorisCausa) in Public Administration by the institution.

In his acceptance speech, he promised to assist in lifting the university to the next level.  He also used the occasion to warn political leaders to avoid making frivolous promises to the people in the face of the prevailing difficulties facing the country and for the credibility of our  fledging  democracy.  He noted that promises  unkeptoften act as poisonous seeds that eventually germinate into chronic public frustration, which ultimately destroy the political environment.   He also said that the only solution to the country’s myriad of challenges was Nigerians to unite and pursue collective solution to the challenges confronting the nation.

He said:  “Promises  unkept  often act as poisonous seeds that eventually germinate into chronic public frustration, which ultimately goes to destroy the  political environment.  Keeping of promises by political leaders enhances the credibility of leadership and raises the integrity profile of such leaders.”  He maintained that, in times of difficulty, leaders would be measured by the promise made and kept.

Abubakar  urged Nigerians to be moderate in their expectations, stressing that there could be no quick fixes to all our national challenges.  He pointed out that challenges like these were not strange to the country but noted that our resolve to collectively find solution to them  would see the nation through.  He said:  “We must accept that Nigeria has always had social, economic and political problems and it will continue to have them to varying degrees of intensity; and the real joy lies for us in our determination to pursue them  and solve them as brothers.”

He also called for Federal Government’s continuous monitoring of academic performances of all tertiary institutions, especially the privately-owned ones in order to improve the quality of education and make our certificate competitive on the global scene.

It could never be hyperbolic no doubt, to pay glowing tribute to the statesmanship of  Abdulsalami  Abubakar. The former President and retired Military General’s enviable tact, diplomacy and statecraft is indeed deserving of such fulsome compliments and more. Wrought from an uncommon breed that puts to rest, the politics of traditional public officers,  Abubakar  is abundantly adept in assimilating and perpetuating every detail of the rule book for good governance. He displays very good grasp of citizenry-centred  governance and this is reflective in the way he steered the country away from the brink of violence and destruction and  actualisedNigeria’s transition to democratic civilian rule.

Born June 13, 1942 in  Minna, Niger State, to Hausa parents,  Abubakar  was educated at Native Authority Primary School in  Minna, the Provincial Secondary School in  Bida, and finally the Technical Institute, Kaduna. Afterwards, he joined the military.  Abubakar  led Nigeria’s contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and eventually rose to the position of Chief of  Defence  Staff.

The retired Army General was military  Head of State  of Nigeria from June 9, 1998 until May 29, 1999. He succeeded  Sani  Abacha  upon the latter’s death. It was during  Abubakar’s  leadership that Nigeria adopted its new constitution on May 5, 1999, which provided for multiparty elections.  Abubakar  thus transferred power to president-elect  Olusegun  Obasanjo  on May 29, 1999.

Prior to his emergence as military  Head of State, Nigeria had been ruled by military leaders since  Muhammadu  Buhari  seized power from  Shehu  Shagari  in a 1983 coup. Although democratic elections were held in 1993, they were annulled by General Ibrahim  Babangida. Reported to have had an initial reluctance to accepting the position,  Abubakar  was sworn in as president on June 9, 1998 after the unexpected death of  Abacha. He declared a weeklong period of national mourning.

Abubakar  is indeed, a lucky man; he is one of the few military leaders in the world that ascended to power without a coup. When he was chosen by his military colleagues to step into the shoes of General  Sani  Abacha  who had just died suddenly, he was not exactly a happy man. He thought of turning down the offer but he knew he could not forgive himself nor the nation forgive him. It was a call to national duty at a time of national distress.

Abacha’s  agenda to transmute from military dictator to a civilian president had  polarised  the country and split it down the middle. The country needed a  man of peace, a fence-mender, a man whose ambition was not vaulting, one who would steer Nigeria away from the knife-edge of danger. And that man was  Abubakar.

A few days after assuming office,  Abubakar  promised to hold elections within a year and transfer power to an elected president. He established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), appointing former Supreme Court  Judge,  Justice Ephraim  Akpata  as chairman. The INEC held a series of elections first for Local Government Areas in December 1998, then for State Assemblies and Governors, National Assemblies and finally for the President on February 27, 1999.

It is fate or luck that had taken him to the pinnacle of leadership and  Abubakarknew only too well that if he tempted it, he could  possibly  be taken down to the valley of disrepute. So he said he would quit on May 29, 1999. Cynics may have said, “we  have heard this stuff before.” But  Abubakar  was different. He quit.

Surprising some critics of the country’s military,  Abubakar  kept his word and transferred power to elected  President  Obasanjo  on May 29, 1999. During his administration Nigeria adopted a new constitution on May 5, 1999, which went into effect when  Olusegun  Obasanjo  became president.

The world loves a man of  honour.  For  honouring  his word by returning the country to democratic rule after the military  interregnum,  Abubakar  received multiple  honours, including the Rainbow/Push Coalition Peace Prize, the Economic Community of West African States International Gold Medal, and the Star Award of Ghana.  Apart from these, the retired General has been engaged in many  national and  international assignments in various capacities since he left office in 1999.

His profile is still rising like a meteor. He had the  honour  of being named Chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Observers Mission to the Parliamentary Election in Zimbabwe. Leading a 44-person disparate group from 25 countries,  Abubakar  carried out the assignment with distinction, fairness and a sense of history which earned him showers of praise from the observers.

By his heartfelt deeds,  Abubakar  cuts the perfect picture of an unusual patriot. This is because former military President imbibed the culture of altruism from  an early age; the culture holds that, it is every man’s duty to do all that lay in his power to leave his country and his state better than he had found it. Little wonder he applied himself to the progressive venture of transferring power to a democratic government.

There are no more worlds for  Abubakar  to conquer. His is a life of military excellence and political success and acclaim that offers inspiration for generations of aspiring statesmen and politicians, even as you read.

There is no gainsaying  that  Abubakar  commands the tribute of interminable cheers in the wake of his daring exploits. These days, his exertions on the plains of politics reverberate far and wide, eliciting fervent deference and applause for his extraordinariness and finesse in teaching Nigeria and the  African continent to trust in his depth and citizenship of humanity. And he does not have to force it.

Number two in a polygamous family of 10 children,  Abubakar  is clearly the  most distinguished. But his,  own family is smaller: One wife, six children-evenly distributed between the sexes.

  • DELE AGEKAMEH is a Lagos based public affairs analyst.

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