Abdulsalami: True commander, peace builder

Every day is a milestone: which typifies our being alive; from our humble beginning under the mango trees, blazing through the walls of Minna from Bida, down to Military School, combing the forest of war in the South-east with bullet wounds, to keep Nigeria one. 

Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar played significant role as head of state whose administration midwifed the birth of the current democratic dispensation, in addition to the various interventions in peace process in Nigeria; Africa and the world. This has distinguished him as an elder statesman who always works for a better Nigeria, conflict-free Africa and a more tolerable world. 

Abdulsalami is no doubt a quintessential statesman, ambassador of peace and a polished soldier, who sacrificed all to ensure that democracy thrives in this country, and Nigerians owe him a lot of gratitude in laying a solid foundation for democracy, he had lived a life of selfless service to his country and humanity and is still living by the grace of God a life of selfless service to his country and humanity and is rewarded with all round success both in the military, his chosen career where he rose to the peak, as statesman where he is globally recognised, as a committed servant of God and as an accomplished family man.                                

Eminent Nigerians have in one way or the other, made efforts at describing the General that is a blessing not only to Africa, but the entire world. 

But within our context, Abdulsalami is quintessential: he is a brave, astounding and gentleman soldier, a respected statesman, an indefatigable crusader for democracy and a global peace icon. He is a living legend in his time because in the cluttered world of Nigeria, he seems an enigma, a distinguished man that is respected by the high and the lowly. Quite unusual.

Abdulsalami is generally known, or reputed to be, a man of his words. Whether as a military officer, a friend, an acquaintance or peace maker, he is trusted as someone who keeps his words no matter the situation or circumstance. And that probably explains why he is trusted even by Nigerian politicians who are notorious when it comes to keeping promises.

In his maiden address to the nation, the former head of state said, “Promises un-kept 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 of such leaders.”

Few Nigerians were surprised when Abdulsalami kept his promise to hand over power to an elected civilian administration within a year of assuming office.

Born June 13, 1942 in Minna, the Niger state capital, he attended Native Authority Primary School, Minna and Provincial Secondary school, Bida (1957-1962) before heading to Kaduna where he was enrolled at Technical Institute.

Abubakar was a workaholic as much as he was an astute officer. He rose through the ranks before becoming head of state following the sudden death of his predecessor, Gen. Sani Abacha in 1998. After training, he commanded a platoon, a company and battalion before his promotion to Brigade Commander, 3rd Mechanised Brigade, Kano and GOC, 1 Mechanized Division, Kaduna. As he proved his mettle, he was appointed member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) when the military took over power. In 1986-1988, he was appointed Military Secretary before crowning a glorious career ascending to the position of Commander, National War College and Chief of Army Staff (1993-1998). On June 9, 1998, he became the eight military head of state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 History tells us that Africa has a poor record when it comes to democracy. It’s often contemplated whether Africans like or are averse to democracy. When it comes to the military’s track record, when it comes to incursion in governance it is even more tragic and apathetic. From Johannesburg through Nairobi to Cairo; from Lagos through Accra, Conakry and so on. It’s a sad commentary of Africa’s military incursion in politics which has had devastating consequences, e.g. the recent coup in Sudan and Mali.

Somehow, and surprisingly so, here was an exception Abdulsalami. Here was a military general who did the unusual; midwifing democracy in a country that had a horrible reputation in coup making and military dictatorship.

Abdulsalami’s place in Nigeria’s political history is cemented with gold. Apart from General Olusegun Obasanjo, no military head of state has gladly and willingly handed over power to a democratically elected civilian government thereby ensuring an orderly transition of power.

Interestingly, Abdulsalami not only ensured a return to civilian democratic rule, he made sure that the trajectory was smooth and the political players abided by the rule. It is a glowing tribute to him that several years after leaving office he has continued to play the role of a cheerleader for Nigeria’s nascent democracy despite huge odds and the tenacity of the civilian political class not to play according to the rule. In all elections that have taken place in Nigeria since he left office, Abdulsalami, together with notable patriotic Nigerians like Bishop Matthew Kukah; His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar (CFR), the Sultan of Sokoto; His Eminence John Cardinal Onayikon, Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Abuja; Ex Common Wealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku etc, has played the critical role of peace maker and contributed to peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections and smooth handing over processes.

Participated in many UN, AU and ECOWAS peacekeeping missions in different parts of the world including Lebanon. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Observers Group to Parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000, and also chaired the Military Sub-committee for the Inter-Congolese Political Dialogue of 2001.

Similarly, in 2004, General Abdulsalami was appointed special Envoy of the Chairman of AU to Tchad and Sudan, as well as Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Republic of the Gambia (2005). The former head of state was appointed ECOWAS Chief Mediator to the Crisis in Niger as well as facilitated the peace process in Liberia.

For his dexterity and leadership qualities, patience, commitment to peace and democracy around the world, Abdulsalami has been appreciated across the world. In fact, to attempt to mention all the awards he has been honoured with will amount to an effort in futility. There have been honorary degrees in diverse fields and institutions/universities in Nigeria, Africa and world over decorations and national awards. The awards are just too diverse and numerous to mention.

However, for record purposes a few national awards will suffice. These include the ECOWAS International Gold Medal, Companion of the Order of the star of Ghana (CSG), Grand Maitre des Ordres Nationaux of the Republic of Niger, Medal of Grand Officer (MGO) France, Grand Order of Monor of Togo (GOMT) and National Distinction in the Order the Pioneers of the Republic of Liberia and the Rainbow/ PUSH Coalition Peace Prize (USA) and the International Globalist Award USA, Grand Maitre des Orders Nationaux of the Republic of Niger (Grand CRDIX) among many others.

In conclusion, as the General is within the region of octogenarian age any moment soon by the special grace of God, we wish him a happy, peaceful, healthy, blissful life and many more returns of service to God and humanity. We wish him and his family long life and prosperity, brighter future and good ending.

Kubau writes from Kaduna