General Abdulsalami Abubakar At 73
So, the more the elections drew nearer, the more heightened was the fear that gripped the populace. But trust politicians, in the face of obvious threats, they will always remain optimistic; optimistic about victory which to them is not negotiable even if everything is crumbling around them.
Therefore, while the uninitiated were scared stiff, a lot of permutations came to play among the politicians.
But one man was quite concerned about the trend of events and what fate had in stock for Nigeria. That man is General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar, otherwise known as General AAA or Triple ‘A’ for short.
I remember in one of my routine visits to him in his Minna home sometimes last year. As was customary to him, the issue of the pending election came under discussion.
That day was the day after the visit to him by the leaders of the All Progressive Congress, APC, who were going round at that time for consultation with notable senior citizens and political figures in the country.
They had visited the old but energetic man to put before him, their resolve to effect a change in the leadership of the country which, according to them, they believed deserves something better, a purposeful leadership with vision and vigour.
The APC entourage was so large that they almost frightened the General. At any rate, he knew that he must give them audience. He quickly looked for a way out by simply asking the delegation to nominate four or five people among them to deliberate with him.
There and then, General Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Alhaji Aminu Masari and two others were unanimously chosen to meet with him.
After the five-man team had briefed him about their mission and their concern for the progress of the nation, General AAA wished them the best of luck in their chosen endeavour and urged them to go about the whole thing in a peaceful manner in order to ensure the stability and corporate existence of the country. No more, no less. And the delegation departed from his house.
The above scenario emblemizes the quiet and unassuming nature of General AAA. On the day of my visit and as always, one thing that dominates our discussions is the state of the nation. Whether we meet eyeball to eyeball or through frequent telephone contacts, the first question that General AAA will fire, is: “Dele, what is happening in the country?” Sometimes, it could be: “Where are we going in the country?” If the call was from outside the country, as the general travels a lot attending to numerous international engagements on behalf of the United Nations, the African Union and other respected global and regional bodies where he serves as Ambassador extraordinary or plenipotentiary, the question you will surely hear is: “Dele, what is happening in Nigeria?”
Like I mentioned earlier, at a time in this country when numerous prophecies from several doomsday-prophets predicted gloom and disintegration in the political horizon, General AAA buried himself in a rather quiet domestic diplomacy in the search for enduring peace.
With unrelenting vigour, he made pragmatic efforts that helped to banish despair and replaced it with renewed hope in the citizenry.
In many fora, he strongly expressed his conviction that despite the negative predictions that the country might disintegrate by 2015, the prophets of doom would be disappointed, as the umbilical cord of the federating units cannot be separated.
He said: “God has joined us together. Whether you break Nigeria into pieces, we will remain joined by our umbilical cord. No matter what happens, our umbilical cord is still there. We will live together either as neighbours or as communities.”
What all these signify is the fact that the General is always concerned about the peace, progress and development of Nigeria.
Long before the 2015 elections, he was visibly worried about what becomes of the country before, during and after the elections. Which was why he was seriously involved in efforts to calm frayed nerves across the country.
His passionate commitment towards ensuring peace helped the country to successfully navigate landmines that political interests had erected at various points.
His headship of a national peace committee that brokered the non-violence agreement between former President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, through which the two most prominent gladiators in the 2015 Presidential election, agreed to rein in their supporters in the event of anyone of them losing the election, was not by accident. That was just one aspect of General AAA that everybody got to see and witnessed.
In actual fact, that was only an anti-climax. Every other day or permit me to say day and night, the general has been toiling to ensure peace in the country, peace in Africa and global peace.
His numerous travels, (I believe he spends more time inside the aircraft than he spends with his family), are to enthrone peace where ever there was turmoil in the world particularly in the trouble-prone areas of Africa.
He was in Zimbabwe several times as leader of the observer group; he was involved in the negotiations in Liberia during the country’s decade-long fratricidal war and succeeded in getting former President Charles Taylor to agree to step aside. He was also involved in Sierra-Leone and many other hot spots in Africa.
In 2007, when we conceived the National Think-Tank, myself, Prof. Steve Azaiki, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi and Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Shagari, who were the arrowheads of the organization, went into a long debate on the most qualified Nigerian to be the chairman at the formal inauguration of the organisation at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja on May 23, 2007.
General Abubakar was unanimously selected. When I personally conveyed the decision to him in Abuja, he did not object after asking a few questions.
Apparently, my good friend and brother, Steve Azaiki, had somehow prepared his mind at a chance meeting he had with him long before we took the decision. While delivering his inauguration speech on that day, I was humbled and even to this day, blush when I remember General Abubakar’s remark, deliberately showing friendship and recognising labour and patriotism. He said: “I have accepted to be chairman because of my friendship with Steve and Dele and the efforts and patriotism they have shown and the service they have given to this country and will continue to give.”
It was Ambrose Bierce, the American writer who once said: “While your friend holds you affectionately by both your hands, you are safe, for you can watch both his.” To us members of the National Think Tank, the General’s acceptance to honour us as the chairman is the greatest service a man can give to his country. Those who truly know General AAA will agree with me that he does not and cannot betray friendship.
I agree with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu when he wrote in The Nation newspaper many years ago, even long before the 2015 elections that: “When the history of this country is written, (Abdulsalami) Abubakar will be remembered as the one that saved our unifying institution, the Nigerian military, from itself and restored democracy in our country.
For this singular act of courage, generations unborn would be grateful to him.” These living words are still valid, if not very relevant today, in view of the role being played by General AAA in the contemporary history of this great country.
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy; “if this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men working for our country, than most of those sitting in Abuja dreaming about a time long gone and a future that reads failure”. Friendship, like novel, to me and the much I know of General AAA, remains for me one of the few forms where I can express my innermost thoughts, express man’s complexity and the strength and decency of his longings; where I can describe, step by step, minute by minute, the unpleasant struggle to put ourselves into a viable and devout relationship to our beloved and mistaken world. In friendship, you can be yourself and not worry about mistakes and caution and language and compromise and pain and love; that is true friendship.
So, our dear beloved General AAA, surely this tribute comes as a surprise to you but your noble deeds and friendly disposition to everyone have compelled me to celebrate you today as you clock 73.
Over the years you have distinguished yourself as a detribalized, courageous, patriotic, trusted and committed Nigerian of unequal statesmanship. That is why you are readily at home wherever you find yourself on planet Earth and people welcome you with open hands, open minds and open hearts.
Your belief in a Nigeria where ethnic group, tribe, religion and or social status, should not be a determinant factor of one’s citizenship or the position a person should occupy, clearly marks you out as one of the responsible and revered leaders and fathers of this great country. Like Martin Luther King, you believe that everyman should be judged by the content of his character.
Today, I join your numerous friends and admirers, as we celebrate you and give you 73 ‘Gbosas’ as you mark your birthday. We thank God Almighty for sparing your life and taking you to this high pedestal of achievements even as we ask God to continue to guide, protect and bless you abundantly.
May we celebrate you for many years to come. May our country, for which you toil day and night, rediscover itself and achieve the type of greatness you envisage among the comity of nations.
May your service to your fatherland and humanity continue to inspire the younger generation and generations yet unborn.
Agekameh wrote from Lagos
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