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How ex-governors seized political affairs from retired generals

Since 1991 when the struggle to restore civilian rule started manifesting, retired generals had been at the centre of power politics, particularly led by the…

Since 1991 when the struggle to restore civilian rule started manifesting, retired generals had been at the centre of power politics, particularly led by the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. In subsequent years, the influence exhibited by ex-military personnel, mostly generals, was so glaring, especially when the political embargo was lifted in 1998. They continued clinging to power-play and installed one of theirs, Olusegun Obasanjo, who took over from General AbdulSalami Abubakar in 1999 as President of Nigeria.

The generals are believed to have entrenched godfatherism in politics at the return to democratic rule in 1999, by putting forward their candidates for elective and non-elective political offices.

The residences of former heads of state, Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, and a former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Minister of Defence, General TY Danjuma, among others, had continued to be pilgrimage grounds for politicians aspiring to run for office.

The trend was that any aspirant who wanted to win an election must pay allegiance to the ex-generals and seek their blessing.

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However, it now seems that only General Danjuma wields such political power in deciding who will be the Governor of Taraba State or who will be a member in the federal cabinet from the state.

In the past, particularly from 2015, it could be said that the power of the ex-generals started to slacken, as former governors who ruled states from 1999 to 2023 have started to wipe off the influence of the generals, politically.

The former governors started to establish their political empires on the eve of the 2003 general elections when then President Obasanjo contested for a second term. His Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, tested the waters and tried to fight him, which led to a stalemate between them to the extent that some governors asked Atiku to dare Obasanjo.

When the governors came to realise the political influence at their disposal, any politician who was seeking political power or political office must root for their endorsement.

When most of the 1999 governors left office in 2007, they installed their candidates as their successors and became political godfathers in their states.

In a chat with Daily Trust Saturday, a political science don at the Bayero University Kano (BUK), Dr Sa’id Ahmad Dukawa, explained that three things gave the former military officers such political power and influence for a long time.

He said, “First of all, when these ex-military officers were in power, they appointed people to different government positions. Second, they gave contracts to businessmen who made a lot of fortunes out of the lucrative contracts.

“Third, they had a strong bond with each other. That tells you that everywhere in this country they need something; they have someone they know out there, either a friend, a businessman or a public servant who was part of their government. Ditto to their junior colleagues, because they were being elevated to higher positions by the senior officers so they would regard the seniors as their bosses; that is why they always consult them in their affairs. Or if you want them to do something, they take orders.”

Dr Dukawa explained that the reason why the former governors are now uprooting that power from the former generals should be the longer period that the democratic government had remained in the country uninterrupted.

He said, “Now, because of the more than 20 years of democratic governance, the former governors have gradually overtaken the ex-military officers. They usually influence who becomes what or otherwise not only in their states, but also at the federal level. If the government at the centre is going to make an appointment like that of a minister, they insist that the one they mention should be considered.

“In the same way, if the heads of MDAs are to be appointed, they insist that only their nominees should be considered. When projects are to be done in their states, they try very hard to see that the contractors are given the contracts.

“These are the things that embolden their spirit. These things muster their ego and that is why even the president has no option when the governors unanimously say this is what they want rather than to do as he pleases. If not, they can be a clog in the wheel of his government.

“They have also augmented their strength by establishing several groups of governors of regions and the governors of the country as a whole. Again, they have created strong friendships with one another so that whatever they want, whether it is in their states or not, they get it. A governor can get a contract in another state or hire someone close to him, to the extent that the governors are named after projects in other states.”

Dr Dukawa, however, noted that the ex-military officers still wielded little influence and had a role to play in the nation’s politics. He said, “One cannot say that the retired generals are outright stripped of such political influence because they’re benefactors to some politicians and they can still ask for favours from politicians.

“In the same way, politicians pay homage to them seeking their blessing for their political interests, especially elections.”

He noted that, “The former governors can use that opportunity to further improve Nigeria’s politics. It should be that whenever the federal government fails to meet its responsibilities, the governors should pressure the central government until it does the right thing the same way they put pressure on whoever they want as a party chairperson or candidate and so on: example, installing a person to a certain position willy-nilly and insisting on fielding an unpopular candidate in the party to contest. Or the cost of governance that is being complained about and the extravagance, they can decide that these are the things that swell the cost of governance; so let’s trim them down.

“Also, moving in a large convoy; when a leader will travel with 20 or more vehicles. Even when they are going abroad, almost half of the jet will be filled with their companions or they will take the whole plane for their families, and the kind of estacodes they give themselves while they are travelling abroad. They should say that this should stop and that money should be channeled to work for the poor. If the governors do that in their states, there will be a change in the whole country.”

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