Omololu Ogunmade writes on the life and times of Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, a former presidential aspirant and ex-head of the nation’s intelligence agency, who died last week in London
His death last Wednesday, shattered the serene festive atmosphere of Shinkafi village in Zamfara State. Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, a notable Nigerian politician and security expert, gave up the ghost at Harefield Hospital, Middlesex in the United Kingdom on July 6, 2016 after a protracted illness. He was 79.
Shinkafi, one of the finest Nigerian politicians of the Northern extraction, served Nigeria in various capacities as a top ranking police officer; Federal Commissioner for Internal Affairs and later as Director General of the then National Security Organisation (NSO) before his voyage into politics.
Well-educated, Shinkafi obtained a degree in Law at the University of Lagos and was called to the bar in 1974. He was a major player in the truncated Third Republic midwifed by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Before Babangida banned over 40 political parties which emerged at the commencement of the transition towards the Third Republic, Shinkafi was one of the promoters of the Nigerian National Congress (NNC) in 1989.
Following the decision of Babangida’s regime to register only two political parties – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC), Shinkafi’s NNC dissolved into NRC where he became a major political force and a leading presidential aspirant.
Shinkafi’s political movement during the 1992 presidential campaign began to advance with the creation of a choice ‘92 campaign group, a platform he used to champion his presidential ambition. With the campaign group, he had planned to have a canvasser in every ward of the federation. His major competitor in the keenly contested race was Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, a former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
However, his bright presidential ambition suffered a major setback following the decision of Babangida to annul the presidential primaries of both the SDP and NRC and simultaneously banning all politicians who had participated in the 1992 primaries.
Following the annulment of the primaries and the banning of 1992 presidential aspirants, new primaries were slated to be conducted with Option A4 electoral system which was approved by Babangida. Shinkafi then opted to throw his weight behind a Kano-born politician, Bashir Tofa, who eventually emerged as NRC presidential candidate at the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
The leadership of NRC had at the time witnessed a change of baton from its pioneer chairman, Chief Tom Ikimi, to Hamed Kusamotu who led the party to June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by SDP candidate, Chief MKO Abiola, but was annulled by Babangida for flimsy reasons.
Until his passage, Shinkafi as the ex-Director-General of NSO, was celebrated as a skilful intelligence officer who foresaw the December 31, 1983 military coup d’etat led by incumbent Nigerian President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) and the late Brigadier General Tunde Idiagbon. The coup truncated the Second Republic and returned Nigeria to military rule which lasted for 14 years.
A former military administration headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo had handed over to Alhaji Aliyu Usman Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) on October 1, 1979. Shagari shortly after taking the oath of office appointed Shinkafi as the Director General of NSO, the nation’s secret intelligence outfit that is currently known as the Department of State Security (DSS). Shinkafi had prior to the appointment, served as the Federal Commissioner for Internal Affairs in the military administration of Obasanjo from 1975 to 1979.
In August, 1979 Shagari was re-elected and was consequently sworn in for a second term in office on October 1, 1983. But following Shagari’s declaration as the winner of the August 1983 presidential election by the then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) chaired by Chief Michael Ani, opposition parties and some notable members of NPN such as Chief MKO Abiola cried wolf as a result of irregularities which accompanied the election.
Abiola who had prior to the election aspired for presidency on the platform of NPN did not mince words to say that what NPN achieved at the 1983 general election “was not victory but conquest.” The condemnations which accompanied the outcome of the poll threatened the political landscape and unsettled the polity.
It was against this background that Shinkafi vehemently warned Shagari of a coup plot by senior military officers notably Buhari but Shagari undermined the warning of Shinkafi which eventually came into effect on December 31, 1983 when the military struck again and ended four years of civil rule. The aborted civil rule had returned in 1979 after 13 years of military interregnum which began with the January 15, 1966 coup which truncated the First Republic.
Shinkafi looked so sure about his warning on the planned coup, that out of frustration caused by Shagari’s failure to act on his intelligence, he resigned his appointment as the DG of NSO, claiming that he needed to attend to his “health.” Shinkafi was replaced by Mohammed Rafindadi, a career diplomat.
There were reports that Shinkafi was forced to make the information about the coup public following persistent allegations by the then Minister of Transport, Umaru Dikko, that Shinkafi “conspired” with the coup plotters to oust Shagari.
But Shinkafi was later vindicated by Shagari himself when he admitted in his book, “Beckoned to Serve,” that he was duly informed that some military officers were planning to overthrow his government.
It is also on record that the NSO under the headship of Shinkafi, made public an “intelligence report” which led to the deportation of Hon. Abdurrahman Shugaba Darman, the then Majority Leader in Borno State House of Assembly on the platform of Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) to Chad on January 24, 1980. The “intelligence” described Darman, a vocal critic of Shagari’s government, as a “prohibited alien.” Darman was deported on the ground that he was not a Nigerian because his father was from Chad. But his mother was a Nigerian.
Darman however, filed a suit in court which he won up to the Supreme Court in view of a provision of the 1979 Constitution that someone could also be a Nigerian citizen by birth if one of his parents is a Nigerian.
Shinkafi was a strategic politician. He did not allow the ban imposed on him by Babangida in 1992 to drown his political aspiration as he soon relaunched his political ambition upon the commencement of Nigeria’s next transition to civil government in 1998.
Thus, Shinkafi was one of the founding fathers of All Peoples Party (APP) in 1998. Following the pact formed by the Alliance for Democracy (AD) with APP towards the February 1999 presidential election, Shinkafi emerged as running mate to Chief Olu Falae who was the presidential candidate in the AD-APP alliance. But Falae lost to Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Born in Shinkafi village in the present day Zamfara State in 1937, although his father, Ali Bisije, was said to have hailed from Gashua in Yobe State, he preferred to identify with Shinkafi as his hometown.
He attended Sokoto Middle School, and later Barewa College, Zaria, before joining the Nigeria Police in 1953. He rose through the rank to become a Commissioner of Police in old Oyo State. While in service, he proceeded to the University of Lagos to study Law and obtained LLB in 1973. He thereafter proceeded to the Nigeria Law School and was called to the bar in 1974. He held a notable chieftaincy title, Marafan Sokoto.
Since his passage, encomiums and eulogies have continued to pour in for the late police officer turned politician. Prominent among them came from President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
Buhari in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, described Shinkafi as an expert whose contributions to the development of the security architecture of Nigeria remained indelible
He recalled his roles as the former Federal Commissioner for Internal Affairs and the head of the NSO and other notable activities leading to the eventual return and enthronement of democracy in the country.
Buhari called on family members, friends and associates of the deceased to take solace in the fact that he played the roles assigned to him diligently, conscientiously and patriotically as he enjoined them to emulate the good virtues that he left behind. He prayed God to grant the soul of the departed eternal rest.
In the same vein, Senate President Bukola Saraki lamented the passage of Shinkafi, saying he died at the time his experience, frank disposition, wise counsel and political sagacity were most needed by a nation faced with several challenges.
Saraki in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, described the late Marafan Sokoto, as an accomplished public servant being a top ranking policeman, a leading political light who contributed so much to the political programmes that led to the birth of the present republic, a professional who did well as a legal practitioner and a former Minister of Internal Affairs and head of the nation’s former secret service, then known as NSO.
“The Marafan Sokoto was a consummate politician who had large followership across the country. He was a bridge builder.
He was revered by his supporters and opponents. A man who will always say the truth at every point. He helped in mentoring many political office holders now occupying top positions in government at various levels. He was also a man who embodied the tradition of his people and that is why he held the important title of Marafa in the Sultan’s council.
“With his diverse and extensive experience in the area of security, his advice would have been useful in tackling the different security issues confronting our country at this point. Incidentally, Alhaji Shinkafi was not a man who shied away from contributing to issues of national development.
“His absence will be sorely missed by all and sundry. I pray that Almighty Allah grant him a place among the righteous ones in Aljannah Firdaus. May Allah also grant members of his immediate family, his political family, the people and government of Zamfara and Sokoto States the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss,” Saraki stated.