By OLUSESAN LAOYE
There is no other word to describe the man, Col. Abubakar Gangiwa Umar, at this point than the conscience of a fragmented nation, called Nigeria. His recent intervention in the threatening implosion of this nation imposed on it by the government of President Buhari appears as a tiny silver lining and glimmer of hope in a dark tunnel.
A man that has cut an image for himself as an officer with his mind, he baulked tradition when he disagreed with the prevailing sentiments in the military government in which he was a notable architect by opting to retire than accept the self-perpetuating political programme of the military government during the June 12 crisis. Since retirement to ostrich farming, he has remained aloof to politics only intervening at critical times such as this.
He is a man, who hardly talks or grants interviews, but when he chooses to say anything, the country shakes because he would hit the nail on the head and without minding about whose ox is gored.
The retired Colonel has been a brave fearless man who always shunned any official retribution of position in pursuit of what he believes in. Right from his military days, he has been tackling governments, injustices, especially the way Nigeria is governed by leaders, he has always described as self-centred.
His open letter to President Buhari on the confirmation, Justice Monica Dongban Mensem, a northern Christian, is a hot potato few people would have touch; only a man in his mould and character could speak so bold and truthfully to authority based on justice, equity and national unity. A Fulani from the northwest region of the country like the president, Umar did punches on the discriminatory policies of the government especially in appointments based on religion and ethnicity; insisting it was a recipe and foundation for the disintegration of the country.
His recent stance against the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he gave a strong knock, on the way he is governing Nigeria, which many believe is the bitter truth about the present government, but feared that it could heat the already tensed polity and agitations against Buhari over lopsidedness in his top political appointments is not only timely but patriotic. From most indications, the country has been driven to a precipice by this government with its fault lines gapping wider with every passing moment.
In the letter, Umar told Buhari point-blank that his attitude of nepotism is a source of concern and as well as capable of disintegrating Nigeria, and called for redress. The letter speaks volumes and he did not mince words, as he declared “Mr President, I regret that there are no kind or gentle words to tell you that your skewed appointments into the offices of the federal government, favouring some and frustrating others, shall bring ruin and destruction to this nation: Mr President; Please Belong To All Of Us”, he declared.
The open letter was ostensibly motivated by the non-confirmation to the ranking Judge of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Mensem as the substantive President of the court having completed six months in the position in an acting capacity. Like in the case of former Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, who was later removed by the president, Buhari had refused to confirm him as Chief Justice after six months raising outcry among Nigerians based on his rejection.
Nigerians are already alleging religious and ethnic motives in the continuing pendency of her confirmation, even though she is northern. But although she is a northerner, she is a Christian and Hausa. At present all the three arms of government – executive, legislature and judiciary -are headed by Muslim-Fulani. It is being alleged that the president wants her to be moved to the apex court or retire on the acting capacity to make way for a northern Muslim.
“May I also invite the attention of Mr President to the pending matter of appointment of a Chief Judge of the Nigerian Court of Appeal which appears to be generating public interest. As it is, the most senior Judge, Justice Monica Dongban Mensem, a northern Christian, is serving out her second three-month term as acting Chief Judge without firm prospects that she will be confirmed substantive head. I do not know Justice Mensem but those who do attest to her competence, honesty and humility.
“She appears eminently qualified for appointment as the substantive President of the Court of Appeal as she is also said to be highly recommended by the National Judicial Council. If she is not and is bypassed in favour of the next in line who happens to be another northern Muslim, that would be truly odd. In which case, even the largest contingent of PR gurus would struggle to rebut the charges that you, Mr President, is either unwilling or incapable of acting on your pledge to belong to everyone — and to no one. I hope you would see your way into pausing and reflecting on the very grave consequences of such failure not just to your legacy but to the future of our great country”.
“You may wish to recall that I had cause to appeal to you, to confirm Justice Onnoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria a few days before the expiration of his three months tenure of acting appointment to be replaced by a Muslim Northerner. We were saved that embarrassment when his nomination was sent to the senate by the then acting President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo. When he was finally confirmed a few days to the end of his tenure, he was removed after a few months and replaced by Justice Muhammed, a Muslim from the North.
Quoting the great Fulani leader Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio who said, “One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom is to give preference of one particular tribe over another or show favour to one group of people rather than another. And to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those who should be drawn near”.
He pointed out that he was prompted to write “this open letter, Mr President, by the loud sounds of drums, singing and dancing that erupted within many groups in the last few days because you attained the fifth year in office as President of Nigeria. It comes as no surprise that enthusiasm for the celebration is not shared equally by segments of the public. While your admirers and supporters believe you have performed well, many others believe the five years you have been in office as our President has not met the yearnings, expectations and change promised Nigerians.”
“Mr President, you know me well enough and my position on issues to realize that I can be neither a rabid supporter nor a fanatical opponent of yours. I believe being a responsible citizen is enough reason to wish you well and to work for your success. As we have seen all too these past few years, your success is ours as is your failure. We swim or sink with you!”
Umar added “you might wish to recall that after the results of the 23rd of February 2019 presidential elections were announced, giving you victory, I addressed a press conference during which I urged the runner-up, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, to concede defeat. The reason was clear: tensions were running high and little missteps by the leaders might ignite violence, as often happened after major elections. Some supporters of Abubakar Atiku disagreed with me and told me off. As it happened, Alhaji Atiku went ahead to mount a legal challenge to the outcome of the elections up to the Supreme Court. Mercifully, his actions did not result in an outbreak of violence as we feared.”
“At the same occasion, I counselled the declared winner, your good self, to use the opportunity of your second term to redeem your pledge of being a leader and president of all Nigerians.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of your second four-year term, I feel there is an urgent need to revisit this subject matter.”
“Mr President, you have often expressed the hope that history will be kind to you. It is within your competence to write that history. But you have less than three years in which to do it. You may wish to note that any authentic history must be devoid of myth. It will be a true, factual rendition of the record of your performance.
“At this time and in the light of all that has happened since you took office, any conversation with you Mr President cannot gloss over the chaos that has overtaken appointments into government offices in your administration. All those who wish you and the country well must mince no words in warning you that Nigeria has become dangerously polarized and risk sliding into crisis on account of your administration’s lopsided appointments which continues to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others.
Nowhere is this more glaring than in the leadership cadre of our security services. All the top security positions in the country – 23 in all – except two are controlled by Muslim Fulani north; which implies that the Security Council meeting of the country can hold with the presence and attendance of a southerner. This has never happened before.
Again all the top federal agencies in the country including now those formerly held by southerners in his first term, such as FIRS and Nimasa, are occupied by northern Muslims. A recent appointment in the NNPC raised an uproar prompting strong reactions from some other regions. For instance, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, criticized the president and called for urgent review.
PANDEF listed 20 management positions held by northerners in NNPC to include Group Managing Director (GMD), Mele Kyari; Chief Finance Officer, Finance and Accounts, Umar Ajiya; Chief Operating Officer, Gas and Power, Yusuf Usman; Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Services, Farouk Garba Sa’id; Chief Operating Officer, Refining and Petrochemicals, Mustapha Yakubu; Corporate Secretary/Legal Adviser to the Corporation, Hadiza Coomassie; GGM, International Energy Relations, IER, Omar Ibrahim; GGM, Renewable Energy, Kallamu Abdullahi; GGM, Governance Risk and Compliance, Ibrahim Birma; and GGM, NAPIMS, Bala Want.
Others are MD, NNPC Shipping, Inuwa Waya; MD, Pipelines and Product Marketing, PPMC, Musa Lawan; MD, Nigeria Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, Mansur Sambo; MD, Duke Oil/NNPC Trading Company, Lawal Sade; MD, Port Harcourt Refining Company, Malami Shehu; MD, Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company, Muhammed Abah; MD, Nigeria Gas Marketing Company, Abdulkadir Ahmed; MD, Nigeria Gas and Power Investment Company Limited, Salihu Jamari; MD, NNPC Medical Services, Mohammed Zango; and Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Sarki Auwalu.
All these formed the background to the unfolding event in the Court of Appeal and the subject of the letter by Umar. “I need not remind you, Mr President, that our political history is replete with great acts of exemplary leadership which, at critical moments, managed to pull this nation back from the precipice and assured its continued existence”, he said.
Umar was one of the military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s ‘boys’ in the military, who toppled Buhari as head of state, and remained a member of the caucus until he fell out with them over the issue of equity, justice and fair play in respect of June 12, 1993, presidential election, won by the late business mogul, Chief MKO. Abiola went against the man, who so much trusted him because of the plot to annul the election.