I could be convinced if I were like you. If I could beg others to change their minds, begging would convince me, too. But I’m as immovable as the northern star, whose stable and stationary quality has no equal in the sky. The sky shows countless stars. They’re all made of fire, and each one shines. But only one among all of them remains in a fixed position. So it is on earth. The world is full of men, and men are flesh and blood, and they are capable of reason. Yet out of all of them, I know only one who is unassailable, who never moves from his position. To show you that that’s me, let me prove it a little even in this case. I was firm in ordering that Cimber be banished, and I remain firm in that decision.—Julius Caesar.
WITH the above speech, Julius Caesar seals his fate. After defying three separate warnings that his life would be in danger if he goes to the Senate this day (the ides of March), Caesar sits amid the noblemen (and would-be conspirators) and denies their request to repeal the banishment of Publius Cimber. He will not change his mind. He goes on to compare himself to the brightest star of all. His self-importance grows stronger by the word. Finally he compares himself to an Olympian god, and that is when the attack begins. He is stabbed to death by men who, until that point, were on their knees asking that he repeal the banishment of Cimber.
While these words flow from the ego of Caesar,there is a Nigerian of whom they can freely be written for his constant forthrightness, unassailable integrity and speaking the truth no matter whose ox is gored;his name is Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar. But for his depth of conviction, Umar would have been one of our retired Generals sitting on billions of unearned wealth today given his profile within the army and his blue blood. He remains a farmer living within his means because he places principles above bread and butter.
Umar was born on September 21, 1949 in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State. His father was a school teacher and administrator with the traditional title of Wazirin Gwandu who became a member of the House of Representatives in Lagos (1954 – 1964) and Commissioner for Works in the North-Western State (1968 – 1975). He was educated at Government College, Sokoto (1964 – 1968), Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, (1967 – 1972), Nigeria Army Armoured School, Ibadan, (1972), US Army Administration School, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, USA (1976), Royal Armour School, Kentucky, USA (1977 – 1978), Command and Staff College, Jaji (1978 – 1979 and 1982 – 1983), Bayero University, Kano (1979 – 1981), Harvard University, USA (1988 – 1989).
Umar joined the Nigerian Army in 1967 and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in March 1972. He held various positions, including ADC to Major General Hassan Usman Katsina, Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. Umar was appointed General Staff Officer in the Department of Armour, Army Headquarters. At the time of the coup of August 27, 1985 in which General Ibrahim Babangida assumed power, he was a Major and Chairman of the Federal Housing Authority (1984 -1985). He supported the coup, and after it succeeded he was appointed governor of Kaduna State and promoted a Lt-Col.
Umar was military governor of Kaduna State from September 1985 to June 1988 and had to deal with a serious religious crisis within the state in 1987, without taking sides in the dispute. His words then are immortal.
“If you win a religious war, you cannot win a religious peace. Since the killing started how many Christians have been converted to Islam? How many Muslims have been converted to Christianity? It is an exercise in futility”.
In an interview with Naija in 2013, Col. Umar reminisced on his days as Kaduna governor and the Southern Kaduna crisis and said: “During my administration, I was able to win the minds of the Southern Kaduna indigenes and I made sure we removed discrimination in whatever form. That was exactly my achievement. Peace prevailed.” This is an advance indictment of the situation in that community today.
In 1993, he was Colonel and Commander of the Armoured Corps Centre and School. And it was the year he eked his name in national consciousness and eternal relevance. It was the year his boss, General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the freest and fairest election ever held in Nigeria. Even though he was one of the famous “IBB Boys”, he opposed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, and started looking for support within the army for installing the elected president M.K.O. Abiola. In October of that year, he was detained on suspicion of conspiracy, but was not charged. After being released he resigned his commission.
On the events that led to his exit from the military, these are Umar’s recollections.
June 12 elections
“The election was held, we realised Abiola was going to win, I dashed to Abuja, met with the chairman of the electoral commission. He told me he had received 22 states and it looked like Abiola was coasting home to victory. I pleaded with him to ensure that he announced the results. Abacha invited me. He told me that IBB would not allow the results to be announced. He said we should go ahead, topple him and hand over to the winner. He sent me on a wild goose chase; he said I should get the army boys ready for any eventuality. Of course, I went round the country, we got our boys ready. What was agreed was that the person that would announce the overthrow of Babangida would announce the result of the elections and hand over to the winner. We got all the boys in all the regional headquarters ready. Abacha said he was going to call the GOCs to let them know that the military had decided to let the winner of the June 12 to take over.
On the eve of the coup, we went for a coordinating conference, all the boys were alerted. The conference had current NSA, Col. Dasuki, Col. Gwadabe among other officers to coordinate the last minute of the take-over. Gen. Abacha was to join us later but he failed to appear. An officer asked me which appointment I would like to take in the new government. I replied, ‘Which government? I was told that Abacha had decided to take over power for six months before handing over to Abiola. I told them that was a very dangerous development and that I would not partake in such a plan. We reached a deadlock and I decided to go and confront Gen. Abacha.
“Around nine in the night, I went to Abacha’s house and I met him alone. I asked him why he changed the plan. I told him that the only reason I joined in the plot was to hand over to Abiola immediately. I told him that I knew that any coup against Babangida was like a suicide mission but I decided to join even at the cost of my life because I wanted Nigerians to know I was not part of the annulment that would plunge the country into crisis. I told him we should continue with our earlier plan. He said the problem was that Abiola could not control the country with all the problems. I told him that whatever happened I would not partake in a coup that would bring him to power.
While I was talking with him, Gen. Ahmed Abdulahi appeared. I told him that I was out of the plan. I left and radioed all those we put on the standby and told them that the coup plan had been terminated, that we were not going to continue. I told senior officers that Abacha was only trying to hoodwink us.
When that plot failed, Abacha and some other officers convinced IBB to step aside but that he should leave some trusted officers, to work with an interim government to stabilise the polity. That way, the coast was left free for Abacha.”
Conscience of a frastructured nation: Since his premature exit from the army in 1993, Umar has remained a conscience of this fractured nation who speaks truth to power at all times. His critical voice has been a soothing balm to a country in perpetual crises.
Excesses of this administration
His latest intervention on the controversy over the non-confirmation of the acting CJN falls in place with his usual interventions on the side of the truth,justice and what is right. The straight shooter did not mince words when he declared : “The NJC must not forward any other name nor should the Senate confirm any other nominee. This will serve to check the excesses of this administration and reinforce the unity of the nation which has already been pushed to the precipice by the recruitment and appointment policies of a government which tends to favour the north in violation of the federal character provision of the Constitution.”
When some wayward statesmen ooze odiferous statements ,when the silliness of others drive you mad and when you are about to give up on the entity called Nigeria, the Dangi of the North comes to mind and you hold your peace. May his tribe increase in this troubled land. A sad story his likes from the sons of the North don’t make it to the top.