Thus, 2023 would be the first time in the Fourth Republic that a retired military officer will not be a major contender for the office of Nigeria’s president.
The influence of former military officers in the political process appears to be reducing as Nigeria heads towards its sixth general elections under the Fourth Republic.
Until their return to the barracks in 1999, soldiers exercised political control of the country for 16 years, following a military coup d’etat that ended four years and three months of civil rule under the Second Republic (1979 to 1983).
The Fourth Republic began with a former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, elected as the first president of the dispensation. Eight years after Mr Obasanjo left office after serving the maximum two-term tenure, Nigerians in 2015 elected another former general and former head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, whose second term will run out at the end of May next year. Mr Buhari had also been a major challenger to Mr Obasanjo since 2003.
Aside from the two generals who were elected president, many former soldiers had also been elected governors or senators in many parts of the country.
However, for the 2023 elections, no former military officer secured the presidential ticket of either of the two major political parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Also, none of the two other parties – LP and NNPP – that appear to be gaining momentum among Nigerians has a retired military officer as its presidential candidate.
Thus, 2023 could be the first time in the Fourth Republic that a retired military officer will not be a major contender for the office of Nigeria’s president.
Only one former soldier, Hamza Al Mustapha, a retired army major, secured a presidential party ticket – of the minority Action Alliance (AA). This is a far cry from 2003 when four retired generals, including Messrs Obasanjo and Buhari; Ike Nwachukwu, a former foreign minister in a military government; and Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, a colonel who led the attempted secession of the southeast from Nigeria between 1967 and 1970; all ran in the presidential election.
Military in democracy
“The transition to democratic governance in 1999 is more in theory than in Kefas Agbupractice”, Lancelot Onwubiko, a political data analyst, said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “The military through retired generals have remained in power either in person or by proxy.”
Mr Obasanjo defeated Olu Falae, a former finance minister by almost seven million votes in the 1999 election to become the first president of the Fourth Republic.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who in 2015 became the only incumbent in Nigeria to lose reelection, had risen to the presidency when President Umaru Yar’Adua, a younger brother of a general and deputy head of state, died of an illness in 2010.
Mr Yar’Adua secured 24.6 million votes in the 2007 election to beat Mr Buhari with 6.6 million, mainly because of the enormous support he enjoyed from Mr Obasanjo and other military top brass, although the election was also massively rigged, according to local and international observers.
In the PDP, a group of former generals, including Mr Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Danjuma and Aliyu Mohammed are believed to still play pivotal roles in the nomination of the party’s presidential candidate.
Their covert last-minute endorsement of Atiku Abubakar, Mr Obasanjo’s former vice president, is believed to have helped Mr Abubakar to pick the party’s ticket for the second election running.
Apart from the outsize role the former officers play in the presidential contests, a few of them have also contested and held the senatorial, governorship and other top positions in the Fourth Republic.
A retired naval rear admiral, Mohammed Lawal, who had been a military governor of Ogun State between December 1987 and August 1990, was elected governor of Kwara State in 1999, while Ọlagunsoye Oyinlọla, a retired brigadier-general, was elected governor of Osun State in 2003. He was returned as the winner of the 2007 election but the courts invalidated his return and removed him in 2006.
A retired air commodore of the Nigerian Air Force, Jonah Jang, was elected governor of Plateau State twice in 2007 and 2011, while Murtala Nyako, an admiral and former Chief of Air Staff, was elected governor of Adamawa State in 2007 and 2011.
Another one-star general, Adetunji Olurin, who served as military Governor of Oyo State and interim governor of Ekiti State following the impeachment of Ayodele Fayose in 2006, contested but lost the governorship election in Ogun State in 2015.
Meanwhile, former officers such as David Mark and Tunde Ogbeha, among a few others, were elected senators, with Mr Mark serving for eight years as the President of the Senate.
The implication of military influence
The role the military holds in politics in Nigeria has consequences beyond the positions officers hold and is affecting both how the law is applied and how Nigerians view their own democracy.
Mr Obasanjo routinely instigated impeachments of state governors and supported an attempt to alter the constitution to remove the term bar for president and governors so as to elongate his tenure.
On his own part, incumbent President Buhari, whose deputy is a law professor, has been accused of showing little respect for the rule of law. Under his watch, secret police arrested judges in a midnight raid and detained journalists. In January 2019, the president suspended the chief justice, an unconstitutional move.
“With so many military men with more money than ideas, it was a certainty that they would remain a dominant force in Nigerian politics,” Nosa Igiebor, editor-in-chief of Tell, told The Guardian UK in a 2003 publication. “Since they have more experience of ruling the country than the civilians, their influence will be felt for a long, long time.
“If they really want to have a bigger say in the democratic era, it is the responsibility of the civilian politicians to develop a military-free political culture that will last the test of time.”
Though military influence seems to be dwindling, especially in the two dominant parties, ex-military officers winning some party primaries mean they will still be on the ballots.
PREMIUM TIMES profiles below some ex-military officers running for president and governor in the 2023 elections.
1. Hamza Al Mustapha, a retired major
Mr Al Mustapha, a retired major and former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, Sani Abacha, clinched the presidential ticket of the Action Alliance (AA) for the 2023 general elections.
Mr Al Mustapha scored 506 votes in the primary election to beat his only opponent, Samson Odupitan, who had 216 votes. Recently, the former intelligence officer stunned Nigerians when he said if elected president, he would relocate to Sambisa Forest as part of the measure to end terrorism in the country within six months.
From August 1985 to August 1990, Mr Al-Mustapha was Aide-de-camp (ADC) to the Chief of Army Staff, Mr Abacha. He was trained as a military intelligence operative and held various command posts in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Security Group of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (SG-DMI), 82 Division and Army Headquarters; Ministry of Defence and The Presidency.
2. Sadique Abubakar, ex Airforce chief
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A former Chief of Air Staff and retired Air Marshal, Sadique Abubakar, emerged as the APC governorship candidate for the 2023 general election in Bauchi State.
Mr Abubakar, who was Nigeria’s ambassador to Benin Republic, polled 370 votes to defeat six other aspirants in the primary election.
Mr Abubakar served as Nigeria’s Chief of Air Staff from July 13, 2015, to January 26, 2021.
His previous appointments include Chief of Standards and Evaluation, NAF Headquarters, Chief of Defence Communications and Air Officer Commanding, NAF Training Command. He served as Chief of Administration, NAF Headquarters prior to his appointment as Chief of Air Staff.
3. Aminu Bande, retired Major-General
A retired major general, Aminu Bande, is the PDP governorship candidate in Kebbi State.
Mr Bande, until his retirement in 2021, was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 8 Division, Sokoto.
4. Samuel Abashe, retired Major
Samuel Abashe from Gyang Bere, Jos in Plateau State, is a former Commander at War in Liberia and a retired Major.
He was adopted as the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in Plateau State.
Mr Abashe has hinged his campaign on a promise to fight insecurity in the state.
5. Kefas Agbu, a retired colonel
Kefas Agbu, a retired army colonel and former state chairman of the PDP in Taraba, is the party’s flag bearer for next year’s governorship election.
Mr Kefas, also a former chairman of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), resigned as the state chairman to contest for the ticket. Mr Kefas had contested for the same ticket in 2015.