Tunde Olusunle reminisces on the wild Adamawa gubernatorial election
It’s truly, very sad to recall that Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s second democratically elected president of the fourth republic, set aside History from the curriculum of second school education, in 2009. The alibi was that students were avoiding the subject because there were few jobs for history graduates, and a concomitant dearth of instructors. He might have been correct about the challenges that graduates of some courses beyond history, encounter in a world gravitating towards science and technology. I was in the university at the same time with two brothers. We all graduated together, completed the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC), same year, and hit the streets job-hunting at the same time. I secured a teaching job after NYSC, fortuitously, because I studied English. One of my kinsfolk got a lecturing job in a polytechnic because he studied nuclear physics. The reality of shrinking opportunities for graduates of “non-core” subjects as they are referred to therefore, has been on for four full decades. But history remains very germane to our growth and progress as a nation. We must be clear about where we are coming from, to chart a path for our future. It is therefore heartwarming that the outgoing administration returned history to the curriculum of education at the lower levels, a few years ago.
Nigerians below the age of 40 will barely recall the botched military coup of April 22, 1990. It is a whopping 33 years ago and not many Nigerians who were seven years old at that time remember this critical highlight of our political odyssey. Definitely not many members of the #EndSARS generation. Not the murderous vagrants unsettling the nation’s south east in the names of the “Eastern Security Network,” (ESN), or the “Indigenous People of Biafra,” (IPOB), and similar nondescript appellations. Yet, that attempted subversion of 1990, should feature prominently in the curriculum of history across levels, as a module on its own. It should be engaging the interest of research work for long essays, dissertations or thesis as the case may be, for historians, political scientists, sociologists, and so on, in our universities and research centres.
Dramas surrounding the recent gubernatorial election and rerun in Adamawa State, easily remind of the failed putsch staged to unseat Nigeria’s former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, Sunday April 22, 1990. Coincidentally, the foiled 1990 episode, and the botched 2023 civilian equivalent calculated to steal the popular reelection of Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, governor of Adamawa State, both occurred in the month of April! Gideon Gwaza Orkar, a Major in the Nigerian Army at the time, and his fellow dissidents, in the morning of Sunday April 22, 1990, seized the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, (FRCN), Lagos. The coast-draped megalopolis, was the administrative headquarters of Nigeria, and the State House, *Dodan Barracks,* was in the upscale Ikoyi part of the city-state. While Orkar was announcing the dethronement of the Babangida government from FRCN, some of his colleagues marched upon the seat of power, ostensibly to arrest or neutralise the president. Aide-de-Camp, (ADC) to Babangida, the loyal-till-death Usman Bello, a Lieutenant Colonel, was taken out as he tried to rally troops to protect his principal.
Amidst the amateurish, slipshod, ragtag coordination of the coup by largely military green horns, Babangida’s Chief of Army Staff, Sani Abacha, a ruthless General, speedily quashed the insurrection. Abacha himself survived assassination in that coup, by a hair’s breath. His official residence was shelled by the coupists while thankfully, he was a few houses away. Orkar and his fellow mutineers, about 40 of them were arrested, tried under martial laws, convicted of treason, and summarily despatched. A shaken Babangida spontaneously accelerated work on the preparation of Abuja for physical occupation. The area had previously been designated the new federal capital by Babangida’s older military predecessor, the enigmatic Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976. Babangida finally relocated to Abuja December 12, 1991 to a brand new *Aso Villa* or *Aso Rock* as the present State House is variously described.
Gideon Orkar who hailed from Benue State which has produced some of Nigeria’s most elite and eminent military officers, was a member of the “Course 12” of the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA). Benue State gave Nigeria, John Atom Kpera, Samuel Victor Leo Malu, John Mark Inienger, David Alechenu Mark, Chris Abutu Garuba, Lawrence Onoja, Sunday Idoko, Charles Offoche, Gabriel Kpamber, Patrick Akem, and a host of other fine officers, and military chiefs. They all made the coveted ranks of General, and excelled in their core military tasks or assigned political responsibilities or international assignments as the case may be.
The political history of the Republic of Liberia for instance will be incomplete without the prominent mention of the exploits of Inienger and Malu. They very ably and professionally led the Economic Community of West African States Military Monitoring Group, (ECOMOG), at the acme of that country’s tribulations, tempests and troubles, in the 1990s. That will be treatise for another day. John Malu, younger brother to Victor Malu, is a two-star General in the army, while the older Malu’s son, Terlumun Malu, is a Colonel. Such is the quality of the professional human resource value which Orkar’s Benue State has continually and consistently gifted Nigeria’s military across time and aeons.
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), a very unpopular institution which handling of recent elections has been anything but “independent,” scheduled the nationwide gubernatorial elections for Saturday March 18, 2023. With an unassailable headwind of over 30,000 votes, it was not *Uhuru* as yet for Adamawa State governor, Umaru Fintiri, who contested to be reelected, on the platform of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP). He would have to go for a supplementary election with his closest opponent, Aisha Dahiru Ahmed, of the All Progressives Congress, (APC). A serving Senator, she is also popularly known by the nickname *Binani.* There were loud insinuations about the complicity of the “APC high command” in concert with a faceless *Aso Villa* enforcers to alter the course of the election. The rumour was that Aisha Buhari, Nigeria’s First Lady, desired to be “honoured and gifted” Adamawa State, by ensuring that a woman emerged victorious in the election. This was presumably to privilege Mrs Buhari an honourable mention in Nigeria’s political documentation, as the lady who produced the very first substantive female governor in Nigeria!
The supplementary poll was scheduled for Saturday April 15, and Mohammed Mele, a revered Professor of English from the University of Maiduguri, was designated as the “State Returning Officer,” (SRO) of the process. Collation of the results was suspended before midnight that Saturday, until 11 am the following day, Sunday April 16, 2023. Two hours before the agreed continuation of the tallying of the results, however, Yunusa Hudu Ari, Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, (REC), breached the collation centre, coup-style. With heads of the security agencies in tow, Ari, against the run of play, in treasonable usurpation of the powers of the SRO, proclaimed Aisha Binani as the winner of the election. Reminds of Orkar and Company of April 22, 1990.
Ari and his co-conspirators never bargained for the backlash of that treacherous indiscretion. Angry youths took over. They pounced on the innocent and hapless SRO, Professor Mele who was described as a former university Vice Chancellor and stripped him almost naked. A short video of the incident which trended within minutes of the incident, showed blood dripping from the grey-haired head of the poor scholar. One of Ari’s allies who would later be described as the Adamawa State Director of the Department of State Services, (DSS), was hurled to the back of a truck and interrogated by his captors. He volunteered that N2Billion was received by Ari, on behalf of the “implementers” of the Binani hoax, by unnamed persons. The ingredients for potential conflagration in the characteristically peaceful savannah land were simmering, awaiting ignition.
The headquarters of INEC spontaneously suspended the collation process and directed its officials in Adamawa State to report to its Abuja headquarters. Ari was restrained from being around Adamawa State in the foreseeable future. Heads of the Adamawa State formations of the Nigerian Police, Mohammed Barde, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, (NSCDC), Mohammed Bello, were immediately summoned to the central controls of their organisations. President Muhammadu Buhari who was away to Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj when the incident played out, immediately ratified the decisions taken by the various institutions against their erring officers upon his return. Striving to salvage a mini quotient of its highly soiled and sullied reputation, INEC rallied its top brass led by Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman of the organisation’s Information and Voter Education Department, stormed Yola Tuesday April 18, to conclude the collation process. Fintiri was declared winner with 430,861 votes, while Binani polled 398,788 votes, a margin of 34,000 votes. *THISDAY,* one of Nigeria’s most vibrant newspapers in its front page headline the day after the conclusion of the election, beamed as follows: *After Foiling A Brazen Electoral Coup, INEC Declares Fintiri Re-elected.*
Eminent elder statesman, former Vice President and flagbearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) in the recent presidential poll, Atiku Abubakar, relocated to Adamawa State, four days before the election. As though clairvoyant about the mischief which will yet be perpetrated by anti-democratic agents, Atiku refused to put a date to his return to Abuja, when I asked him. He has always been a “hands-on” leader and politician, with tremendous grassroots intertwinings and goodwill despite his heights and attainments in life. The gates to his abode, never sleep. He thanked the people of Adamawa State “for resisting coupists and enemies of democracy.”
Atiku noted further that the “lesson from the Adamawa episode and others, is the imperative for Nigerians to be vigilant and never give in to anti-democratic forces.” According to him, their “objective was to grab, snatch, run with and undermine the mandate of the people as freely expressed by their votes,” which has been the style of the ruling party elsewhere. The former Vice President, who is also the *Wazirin Adamawa,* (traditional Prime Minister of Adamawa), noted that there is no resting as yet for the generality of well-meaning Nigerians. According to him: There is one more, very critical mandate stolen from the people of Nigeria and the PDP, which will be wrested from modern day electoral *Ali Babas.*
The Adamawa electoral tragedy truly sends your head spinning about a whole lot of things. How much, for instance, was the presidential election of Saturday February 25, 2023, traded for? If a staggering N2 Billion was invested in the orchestrated theft of the gubernatorial permit of the northernly Adamawa State, how much was ploughed into the robbery of the presidential mandate? Is there some truth in the allegation, that an amount in the neighbourhood of $170 million was placed on the table for the vile, virulent truncation of popular will that Saturday February 25, 2023? Was INEC’s Director of ICT, Chidi Nwafor actually transferred to make room for the electronic manipulation of the results? Why did Mahmood Yakubu, a professor and INEC Chairman choose the early hours, about 4 am of Wednesday March 1, 2023, to hurriedly announce the results of an election which figures were still being summed up? Was this the template adopted by Ari in Adamawa, who sidestepped the pre-scheduled continuation of results’ collation, breaching the venue two hours earlier? Puzzles and more puzzles as Nigerians anticipate adjudication by the courts in the land.
Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)