The story was told at the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1999, about a challenge which confronted the media, as it sought to commence reportage of the new era. President Olusegun Obasanjo immediately he was inaugurated, rolled out a list of top government functionaries who were to serve in his administration. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, Ufot Ekaette, Abdullahi Mohammed, Abu Obe, and a few others, were to serve as National Security Adviser, (NSA); Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF); Chief of Staff to the President, (COS) and Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, (HCSF), respectively. With relative ease, the press sourced the photographs of all the new appointees, except Gusau’s! Some publications resorted to illustrations of their concepts of the man, having exhausted searches and excavations in available libraries and archives.
But Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was no stranger in Nigeria’s sociopolitics, hitherto principally defined and administered by the military. He had functioned at command and leadership levels of a plethora of critical and strategic military subdivisions and security organisations and agencies, through times and seasons. He was a member of the nation’s topmost decision and policy-making organ, the Armed Forces Ruling Council, (AFRC), in the hey-days of the Ibrahim Babangida military presidency. He is easily one of the nation’s most versatile, experienced and decorated patriots, in a most eventful career which began in 1964. He was involved in mutations of governments in Nigeria at various times, including working assiduously to berth our subsisting democracy and stabilising it. By nature, intuition and grooming, however, he had intentionally opted for discernible anonymity.
My first ever encounter with Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was at the instance of the highly respected economist and media practitioner, Onyema Ugochukwu in 1998. Gusau was one of the statesmen who crafted the co-option of Obasanjo into the presidential race that year, in the immediate aftermath of the latter’s release from prison in June. Obasanjo’s jailer and former military helmsman, Sani Abacha, passed on June 8, 1998. He was promptly replaced by Abdulsalami Abubakar, erstwhile Chief of Defence Staff, (CDS). Abubakar committed to the accelerated return of Nigeria to democratic rule. Obasanjo’s liberation threw up conjectures amongst statesmen and the top brass of the military establishment.
The South West of the country remained implacable following the annulment of the “June 12, 1993” presidential election won by the charismatic multibillionaire, Moshood Abiola, by Babangida. Abiola would further pass in very hazy circumstances, while in military incarceration. In Obasanjo, the ruling military found a double-sided brand which fitted into their strategic thinking. Obasanjo is from the same state, in the same very aggrieved South West geopolitical zone. He was military Head of State from February 14, 1976 to October 1, 1979, when he handed over power to a democratically elected President, Shehu Usman Shagari. Throwing Obasanjo into the presidential contest since Abubakar had sworn to a fast tracked transition programme it was believed, would assuage the South West. Consistent with military espirit de corps, it was also presumed Obasanjo will be protective of the martial constituency to which he previously belonged.
Gusau it was who proposed Onyema Ugochukwu as Director of Publicity of the Obasanjo Presidential Campaign Organisation, in the run up to Obasanjo’s formal declaration for the top job, November 1, 1998. Both men had a longstanding relationship preceding the advent of the Babangida milieu during which Gusau featured prominently in multitasking security capacities. The press enjoyed quite some adulation by the reading public and the state, given the media’s role not only in information dissemination but also in the shaping public perception. Ugochukwu had edited various publications within the stable of the Daily Times conglomerate, in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, (UK). He also once served as President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE), which won for him multisectoral bonds and relationships.
I was subsequently drafted into the Obasanjo project by Ugochukwu, as Campaign Press Secretary. I travelled and traversed the country with Obasanjo on his “political consultations” and subsequently, the breathtaking campaigns. Gusau was in the background, ensuring the electioneering proceeded seamlessly. While the Publicity Directorate functioned from Oluwalogbon Motors in Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, Ugochukwu’s earlier official address was at “No 10, Lees Road,” Ikoyi, Lagos. Segun Ayobolu, one of Nigeria’s brightest journalists and political scholars and my respected colleague from the Daily Times of old, worked with Ugochukwu as Resource Person. On one of my visits to Ugochukwu’s Ikoyi office, I got a hint about Gusau’s broadminded generosity.
Gusau owned the office complex and used only one suite. But he availed all the other suites to his friends and associates including Ugochukwu who retired from the Daily Times in 1994. Kayode Are, a retired army Colonel who served as Gusau’s Military Assistant, (MA) when Gusau was in the military, and Funsho Kupolokun, previously controversially retired from the former Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), occupied other sections of the building. Gusau is from Zamfara. Ugochukwu, Are and Kupolokun are from Abia, Ogun and Ondo.
Obasanjo was to undertake a world tour after his election early 1999, to alert the world about the immediate onset of democratic governance and to enlist global support for his forthcoming regime. I was detailed to draft a press release to this effect, for mass dissemination. The delegation included: Gusau, Donald Duke, Ahmed Muazu, Olusegun Agagu, Ojo Maduekwe, Abubakar Rimi, Ad’Obe Obe, Oyewole Fasawe, and a few others. Reading the list over and over, I noticed the absence of a journalist. I thought to myself: Who would report the world tour? Instinctively, I pulled out from our Oluwalogbon office and drove straight to Obasanjo’s Ita Eko home in Abeokuta, where he sometimes stayed after the election, alternating between that and his reputed Otta Farm.
As I approached Obasanjo’s home, I met him standing outside the gate of the place with Gusau, Andrew Young and Carl Masters. I walked briskly to the quartet and greeted them and whipped out the global tour delegation list as I engaged Obasanjo. I made my observation and he studied the list and agreed with me. He immediately called Gusau’s attention to the document. Gusau ran through it and concurred. He then asked me: “Who in your opinion from the Directorate of Publicity should be on the trip?” “Chief Onyema Ugochukwu,” I belched straightaway. “We have a hierarchy in our job, Sir and he’s the boss.” Obasanjo and his guests followed the exchange between Gusau and I, as Gusau whipped out his pen, did some editing on the list and installed Ugochukwu’s name.
As NSA, I continued to encounter Gusau more frequently, since I served within the same system. Talk about ultra-commitment to the national cause and you find it in Gusau. “Where is the Big Chief,” he would typically ask me whenever we met on the corridors of the State House, in obvious reference to Ugochukwu. Obasanjo in December 2000, appointed Ugochukwu pioneer Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC). This meant he shuttled between his Abuja base and his assignment in Port Harcourt. Gusau believed I was underutilised in the “Presidential Secretariat,” the office abutting the seat of the President where his correspondences and paperwork were processed. He spoke to Liyel Imoke who was Minister of Power at the time, to engage me as spokesperson for the defunct National Electric Power Authority, (NEPA). He made the same request to Kupolokun when Obasanjo appointed him Group Managing Director, (GMD) of NNPC.
Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was born May 18, 1943. His curriculum vitae reads like that of many luminaries assembled together. He has held virtually every position of importance in Nigeria, except the presidency. “Gusau,” the name of his hometown in present day Zamfara State, was affixed to his name by the military authorities when he was an officer cadet. This was to distinguish him from another trainee soldier who had the same first and second names. He enrolled at the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA), in 1964, and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1967. He was promptly hurled to the war front during the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970.
He served as Commander, 9 Infantry Brigade, Abeokuta between 1976 and 1978, and Adjutant General of the 2nd Mechanised Division, from 1978 to 1979. From November 1979 to December 1983, Gusau was Director of Military Intelligence, (DMI), and functioned behind-the-scenes in the ouster of Shehu Shagari December 31, 1983. Denied appointment as Director, National Security Organisation, (NSO) by Muhammadu Buhari who succeeded Shagari effectively from January 1, 1984, Gusau was despatched to a training programme at the Royal College of Defence Studies, (RCDS), in the UK.
After helping Babangida to upstage Buhari in the August 27, 1985 coup, Gusau was appointed Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, (DIA) and concurrently Acting Director-General of the National Security Organisation, (NSO), between September 1985 to August 1986. He was then appointed Coordinator of National Security from August 1986 to December 1989. He reengineered the nation’s security complex, breaking the NSO into the three contemporary organisations named: Department of State Services, (DSS); National Intelligence Agency, (NIA) and Defence Intelligence Agency, (DIA).
From December 1989 to August 1990, he was General Officer Commanding, (GOC), 2nd Mechanised Division, Ibadan, and then Chief of Administration, Defence Headquarters, August 1990 to February 1992. He also served as Commandant of the NDA from February 1992 to January 1993. He was appointed NSA in January 1993 and was elevated Chief of Army Staff, (COAS) in August 1993. Abacha, paranoid about Gusau’s influence and networks in the military, retired him from service in November 1993, after he, (Abacha) brushed aside the “Interim National Government” (ING), emplaced by Babangida and headed by Ernest Shonekan.
After serving meritoriously as NSA to the Obasanjo government, Gusau resigned to contest in the presidential primary leading to the 2007 presidential election. As the story went, Gusau was opposed to Obasanjo’s “third term agenda,” where the latter purposed to stay beyond his constitutionally allowed two terms of four years. In March 2010, former President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Gusau as NSA. The charismatic army General thus made history as the only Nigerian to serve in three separate administrations as NSA. Jonathan would subsequently appoint Gusau Minister of Defence in March 2014, at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East of the country.
For his services to nation and the global community, Gusau has been variously honoured and decorated across the world. He is variously: Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, (GCON); Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, (GCOM), Germany; Order of National Security Merit, (ONSM), South Korea; National Intelligence Service Medal Gold (NISMA), South Africa, and the Grand Collar of the Order of Emperor Haile Selasie, (GCOS), Ethiopia. Gusau inaugurated the “Gusau Institute” in Kaduna in 2015, and donated his private library and publications, for the promotion of national development. A consummate reader, the joke was cracked about an incident between a top functionary of the Abacha government and the dark-goggled dictator. The said official was travelling abroad and visited Abacha on the eve of his trip. As they concluded their exchanges, Abacha was said to have told his guest: “When you are coming back, bring me some of those big, big books, the type Gusau always reads!”
This is congratulating the amiable General as he joins the revered club of octogenarians and wishing him a million happy returns of the landmark!
*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)