By Eric Teniola
When President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, submitted his list of Ministers to the Senate on July 23, the nominee on the list most discussed was Major General (retired) Bashir Salibi Magashi (69).
His critics were forced to ask, WHY BRING MAGASHI? while his admirers equally asked WHY NOT MAGASHI?
The sixty-nine year old retired General was discussed not for his present political role but for his past military role. We are talking in the context of the past role General Magashi had played but things have changed now and the years must have matured him. Definitely the General Magashi of 1993 I presume is no longer the General Magashi of 2019. Aging it is now clear, is part of maturational process that all our organs go through. Over a life time everybody changes inwardly as well as outwardly. The mind too changes although the petty pace at which we creep from day to day often keeps most of us unaware of how even during adulthood mental functions continue to evolve as we grow older.
The Nigeria of 1993 is no longer the Nigeria of 2019. There have been developments. I am told General Magashi should have been a Minister four years ago. His coming to the cabinet now has two advantages. He is a retired military officer and the only retired military officer in the cabinet and he has to keep the esprit de corps flag flying to his former Commander in Chief who happens to be his boss and President now.
Secondly he has known President Buhari for over 40 years in politics and in the military and that qualifies him to be an automatic member of the President’s inner caucus unlike the new arrivals. General Magashi is lucky in that the service chiefs and the Chief of Defence staff were once under him in rank unlike his predecessor, Brigadier General Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali (60) from Zamfara state, who was commissioned in 1984 and retired August 30, 2013 before being appointed in November 2015 as Minister of Defence. At the time Brigadier Dan Ali joined the Army in 1984, General Magashi was already commanding 192 Mechanised Battalion before he became military secretary that year. For example, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai from Buratai village of the 29 regular course enrolled in the Nigerian Defence Academy in January 1981. By appointing him Minister of Defence without Ministers of State, President Muhammadu Buhari has reposed his full confidence on General Magashi.
All eyes will be on General Magashi.
General Magashi is going to be under severe pressure from his colleagues both serving and retired military officers. There is going to be so much expectation on him.
At present he is a politician. He is from Kano state, the largest political constituency in the country with 44 local governments. Kano has 24 members in the House of Representatives. Like Lagos, Kano state has two Ministers, General Magashi and Alhaji Muhammed Sabo Nanono (73) who belongs to many brackets—a farmer, University Lecturer, politician and former Chief Executive of the defunct African International Bank Limited.
In 2002, General Magashi was legal adviser to the All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP. In April 2007 he was Kano State governorship candidate of the Democratic People’s Party, DPP. At that time President Muhammadu Buhari was also of the ANPP.
In the gubernatorial election in April 2007, General Magashi lost to Ibrahim Shekarau who had 10,077,751 votes. The last we heard about Major General Magashi was on March 30, 2015 when he resigned as National Chairman of the party and handed over to Chief Garshoon Benson.
Before the resignation, he implored members of the DPP nationwide to vote for Major General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC in the presidential election.
Let us look at the profile of the general.
Major General Bashir Salibi Magashi was born on the 1 October, 1949. He is a lawyer and a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. He holds a national award of CFR. He is married with children. He was educated at Gidan Makama Primary School, Gwale Senior Primary School and Barewa College, Zaria. He attended the Nigerian Defence Academy, Zaria between 1969-1971; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1980-1983; Nigerian Law School, 1983-1984; Young Officers Course, Jaji; Command and Staff College Course 1; Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru; School of Infantry, Quattaj, Pakistan; Humanitarian Law School, Italy, cr: Company Commander, 6 Battalion; Adjutant 1, Guards Battalion; Second-in-Command, 4 Guards Battalion, Epe; Commander, 93 Mechanised Battalion; Commander, 192 Mechanised Battalion; Deputy Military Secretary II, 1984-1985; Deputy Military Secretary I, 1985-1987; officer, 2 Mechanised Brigade, Ibadan, Oyo State,1987.Cadet Brigade Commander, 1988-1990; Brigade Commander, 7 Brigade, 1990; Military Governor, Sokoto State, 1990-1992; Brigade Commander 15, ECOMOG Brigade, September 1992; Commander, ECOMOG, July 1993, Commander, Brigade of Guards, 1993-1996; General Officer Commanding 2 Mechanised; member of the Provisional Ruling Council, April 1996;
During the intrigues leading to General Sani Abacha’s assumption of power in November 1993, Brig. General Bashir S. Magashi was given command of the Brigade of Guards in September. He was a member of the Abacha Military Caucus that reviewed the military and the political situation resulting from annulment of the 12 June 1993, issuing a report titled THE WAY FORWARD with recommendations for a partial military regime.
Shortly after democracy was restored in May 1999, the government announced the compulsory retirement of all armed forces officers who had served for six or more months in military governments, including Major-General Bashir Magashi. In a book titled MAKING AFRICA WORK, former President Obasanjo explained why he retired the military officers who have served in political offices. Former President Obasanjo wrote from 57 to 59 pages of the book, edited by Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo and Dickie Davies.
In the book, President Obasanjo declared “the military’s intervention in Nigerian politics in January 1966 went on like musical chairs for 33 years, fouling the political air, causing instability and uncertainty, causing destruction of lives and properties, resulting in a civil war and leaving the country divided internally and isolated externally. This peaked when General Sani Abacha ruthlessly and reckless pursued his programme of self-succession and life-presidency. Nigeria was impoverished economically, politically, intellectually and culturally. It became a pariah state. Nigerians deserted in droves and sought refuge all over the world. Nigeria was left prostrate. Those who raised their voices were either assassinated or put in jail, myself and my second-in-command as military head of state, Shehu Yar’Adua, included. We were arrested for a phantom coup and sentenced to long imprisonment. But for international intervention, we would have been killed. All the same, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, who was considered the winner of the aborted election of 12 June 1993, died in jail. The sudden death of Abacha was providential, opening the gates of prisons and political reform, reversing the exodus out of Nigeria. General Abubakar Abdulsalami, who succeeded Abacha, lost no time in releasing political prisoners and created a conducive atmosphere for Nigerian exiles to return home. He also opened the way for another attempt at democratic dispensation. It was in this new democratic experiment that I was persuaded to contest for the presidency of Nigeria.
I joined one of the three political parties, the People’s Democratic Party. Since the advent of the military in the political life of Nigeria, there had been debate on how to put an end to the recurrence and persistence of coup d’etat. Coups had become more and more destructive and destabilizing. No matter the excuses, they had a major negative impact on democracy, governance and unity of the country. Nigeria needed to put an end to its perpetual coups. The often prescribed solution of specifically putting a ban on coups in the constitution was not the answer. A coup is treason punishable by death only if it fails, and yet it puts the plotter in the State House if it succeeds. It was destructive and destabilizing practice, wasteful for the military itself, and undermining in terms of discipline, good order and military conduct. A junior officer takes a gun and looks at his political boss and senior officers through its sights, bumps them off and puts himself in the State House. He instantly becomes superior and senior to all political and military officers. Such was the situation existing in Nigeria between 1966 and 1999.
On assuming office as President, I decided to put an end these incessant coups. I asked the military to submit the list of all officers who had either participated in coups in the past or benefitted in the dividends of coups by being appointed to political office as governors or ministers. Not knowing what the list was meant for, the military faithfully compiled it and submitted it to me as the commander-in-chief and chairman of council of each of the arms of service. Ninety-three officers in all were given six hours’ notice of retirement on a Friday, and ordered not to spend the Friday night in uniform or in barracks to prevent adverse reaction. The following Monday, the service councils met to ratify the retirement of all the officers. From my vantage position and background as a battle-tested and war-victorious general, I knew that an officer out of uniform and barracks is like a fish out of water, and their power and influence would be greatly diminished.
The retirement of these 93 officers all in one day was salutary. It meant that taking part in a coup or benefitting from one could catch with you, no matter how long it would take, and for as long as you are alive. Their retirement did not stand in the way of any of them entering public life or making progress in it. Some of them later entered politics and became elected governors; some went into parliament; others got appointed as ministers or ambassadors. The idea was not to punish them for life but exclude them from positions in the military where they could be coup planners, coup plotters, coup executors or coup beneficiaries. And once an officer has tasted the trappings of a political life, of living in a government house, with free food and so on, he would easily look for excuses to want more if he is in a position to make it happen.
The fact that since 1999 there has not been a coup or an attempted coup in Nigeria speaks of the effectiveness of the measures taken to put an end to the destabilizing influence of coups on the political life and dispensation of Nigeria. Before 1999, and since independence, the longest that a democratic dispensation had lasted was six years— from 1960 to 1966.
It has neither been easy nor perfect, but there are improvements and evidence of learning among the political class. Any bad signs and misconduct would have to be carefully monitored. For those countries with similar experiences to Nigeria’s, there is a need to find an effective and relatively painless way of curbing the incidence of coups and corruption by the military.” President Obasanjo concluded.
In the book, titled VINDICATION OF A GENERAL by Lt-Gen. Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi (rtd.), the name of Major General Magashi featured prominently. On page 23 of the book, General Bamaiyi declared “I voluntarily retired when the military handed over power in 1999. As a result of the plan by security operators, everything I did was misunderstood. My first COAS Training Conference in Sokoto in November 1996 was used by these disgruntled officers as a test case. Sokoto was filled with security officers from DMI and SSS and some officers from the CDI’s office to monitor and confirm a coup d’etat I was alleged to be planning. I was aware of these maneuvers through my own security. I decided to play the fool, and a report was made of how General Magashi and I laughed when one of the lecturers amused us; it was alleged that it was because we were happy with the coup arrangement, but there was nothing to report to the Commander-in-Chief on the imagined coup plan by these officers.”
On page 56 of the book, General Bamaiyi wrote “the three of us never went to see Diya, and General Alli never discussed the assassination of anybody with me. Diya and Alli seem to have acted in all that had happened while Alli was in the service. Alli appeared to have agreed to help set up Diya but later confessed to such a setup when both of them were trying to get Abacha overthrown. Interestingly, the story was subtitled: Bashir Magashi and Lt-General Bamaiyi planned to kill General Babangida. General Alli, the most senior officer directed by Diya to allegedly brief General Abacha, was left out. General Diya also claimed that General Alli admitted it was a setup. What did General Diya and Major General Alli do when they found out it was a setup? If we had tried to setup General Diya in 1996, why did he agree to deal with us again in 1997? Was Diya such a confused general?
In conclusion, General Bamaiyi said on page 112 that “General Abacha died in the early hours of 8 June 1998. His family decided he would not be given a military burial and had to be buried at night in Kano. Before leaving Abuja for Kano with the remains of General Abacha, I observed that some officers were not ready to go to Kano for the burial. They included Brigadier General Sabo (DMI), Brigadier General Muazu (Commander Guards Brigade), and Colonel Buba Marwa, Military Administrator, Lagos State. At the airport, I had to order Marwa to go into the aircraft to proceed to Kano. At that time I had already given orders to Lt. Colonel Mana CO, 81Bn Keffi to ensure no officer took any step against the government; he was not to take orders from anyone but me. He was ordered to deal with anyone who made any move to take over the government while we were in Kano.
We returned from Kano and went into the Chambers to decide who would become the Commander-in-Chief. While in Kano, some senior officers had decided the COAS would take over the government. I had never been interested in any political office, had avoided them so far, and had no intention of taking up the position of Commander-in-Chief. I made this clear to the senior officers who insisted I should take over, including Generals SVL Malu, Magashi and Aziza. I was also aware of some junior officers who were against my taking over as Commander-in-Chief because they knew I would not tolerate them in service,” General Bamaiyi declared.
After his release from prison in 1998, the former Principal staff officer to General Sani Abacha who was also the former Governor Niger state, Colonel Lawan Gwadabe (rtd.) in an interview with a newspaper named General Magashi as a prominent member of General Abacha’s powerful caucus which he described as steering committee. According to Colonel Gwadabe, the members of the committee were General Sani Abacha –Chairman; Lt.-Gen. Oladipo Diya – V/chairman; Major -Gen. Chris Ali – Member; Major-Gen. I.D. Gumel– member; Major-Gen.
Tajudeen Olanrewaju – member, Brig.-Gen. A. Abdullahi – member; Major-Gen. P. Aziza -member; Major-Gen. B. S. Magashi -member; Col. Lawan Gwadabe–secretary. He added that “Everybody seemed to be scheming against the other. I decided to maintain my neutrality.” Colonel Gwadabe went further to state that “I briefed Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar about the nonsense that I had to endure since I left Abuja and demanded to know whether I was the only officer left in the Army that worked with Babangida, because that was the crux of the matter. Gen. Abubakar calmed me down and promised to speak to the C-in- C. He swore he was not aware of the matter, but that he would do something about it. He directed that I should see him in the office. Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar called General Sani Abacha and took my matter up. Abacha then told him that Gumel, Abdullahi, and Magashi came to him to say that it was the consensus of the meeting that I should be retired.” All these show that General Magashi was a key player in the hi-tech intrigue in the VILLA during the General Abacha era and the attempt to perpetuate him in office. Another key player during that era is Colonel Muhammed Mustapha Abdallah from Hong in Adamawa state, who was formerly personal assistant to General Sani Abacha in the VILLA but who is now Chief Executive Officer of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. He was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 11, 2016.