By Dapo Akinrefon
THERE is no gainsaying the fact that the name of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) will not be forgotten in a hurry, when Nigeria’s history is written. What comes to mind when Abubakar’s name is mentioned is his ability to calm frayed nerves when it was thought the nation may not return to democratic rule.
The demise of former military Head of State, the late Sani Abacha, afforded Abubakar the opportunity to write his name in gold. He became a stabilising figure when the nation’s socio-political atmosphere was gloomy.
Indeed, when his colleagues chose him to pilot the affairs of the state, it was call to duty at a time of national distress.
Also, upon Abacha’s death, many had thought he would perpetuate himself in office as is customary with the military junta.
But he let doomsayers down because a few days after assuming office, Abubakar promised to conduct elections within a year and transfer power to an elected president. As a means of actualising this feat, the former General established the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and thereafter appointed former Supreme Court Justice, Ephraim Akpata as chairman.
Sensing the herculean task before it, the Akpata-led INEC held series of elections first for Local Government Areas in December 1998. Thereafter, he conducted State Assemblies and Governors, National Assemblies and finally Presidential elections on February 27, 1999. At the end of the day, Abubakar kept his word and transferred power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected president on May 29, 1999.
Having left power in 1999, he has played prominent roles at the United Nations and the African Union as he was a well-sought troubleshooter. Instructively, Abubakar helped in the Liberian peace movement as he presided over the 2003 peace talks between Charles Taylor and the opposing rebels. His role in the 2015 Presidential elections will not be forgotten in a hurry.
As chairman of the Peace Accord Committee, his choice was, however, primarily fitting. He, alongside other committee members, helped douse tension that almost saw the country on the brink of war. The former military head of state, who will be honoured with the Vanguard Lifetime Achievement Award was born on June 13, 1942, to Abubakar Jibrin and Fatikande Mohammed in Minna, Niger State.
Between 1950 and 1956, he attended Minna Native Authority Primary School and from 1957-1962, he had his secondary school education at Government College, Bida, Niger State. From January to October 1963, he studied at Kaduna Technical College. Having left the college, he felt the urge to join the armed forces and in doing this, he joined the Airforce.
It is apt to state here not many people are aware that Abubakar is a member of the pioneering sets of Officer Cadets, who enlisted in the Nigerian Air Force on October 3, 1963. He was, however, flown to Uetersen in Germany with a team of officer cadets, for Basic and Advance Military Training between 1964 and 1966.
Upon his return to Nigeria in 1966, he was seconded to the Nigeria Army where he steadily rose through the ranks. After joining the army in 1966 as an officer cadet, the young Abubakar attended the Emergency Combatant Short Service Course II. In October 1967, Abubakar was commissioned Second Lieutenant, Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army.
From 1967-1968, Abubakar was General Staff Officer II, Second Garrison, and Commanding Officer, 92 Infantry Battalion from 1969-1974. Between 1974 and 1975, he was made Brigade Major, 7th Infantry Brigade. In 1975, he served as Commanding Officer, 84 Infantry Battalion. In 1978-1979, Abubakar was Commanding Officer of the 145 Infantry Battalion (NIBATT II), United Nations Interim Force, Lebanon.
In 1979, he was made Assistant Adjutant General 3rd Infantry Division, Nigeria. From 1980-1982, Abubakar was a chief instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy. He was, however, appointed as the Colonel of Administration and Quartering, 1st Mechanised Division in 1982, a position he held up until 1984.
From 1985-1986, the former army general was in charge of the 3rd Mechanised Brigade. Having served as Commander of the Brigade, he was appointed the Military Secretary of the Army from 1986 to 1988. Also, between 1990 and 1991, he was made General Officer Commanding, GOC, 1st Mechanised Division. Again, from 1991-1993, he was the Principal Staff Officer, as the Army Chief of Plan and Policy, Defence Headquarters.
When the late Sani Abacha took over the reins of power in 1993, Abubakar was appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff, Defence Headquarters, a position he held till June 8, 1998. Upon Abacha’s death, he took power as the country’s Military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on June 9, 1998. Having handed over to a democratically elected president, the four-star general retired from the Army and remains a quintessential general.