By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Few weeks back, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.

Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, gave the breakdown at a media briefing in Abuja.

According to him, the presidential election was initially scheduled to hold on February 18, while governorship polls were fixed for March 4, but the dates had to be reviewed following the signing of the electoral act amendment bill.

However, with the latest announcement, political parties are expected to begin collection of forms from INEC from March 1, 2022.

Open campaigns by political parties is scheduled to kick off on September 28th which is approximately a week away from today that I’m engaging in this conversation. By its time table the electoral umpire has today being September 20th 2022 already published the comprehensive list of all approved candidates for the general election of all the registered political parties. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi all made the final list published today through a circular signed by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission Yakubu Mahmood who incidentally was prior to his appointment as Head of INEC was a Professor at the prestigious military University in Kaduna known as the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).

But this is not the texture of our reflection. Our reflection is on the possible role former soldiers will play in shaping up the texture, context and nature of the broad conversations and ideas that will dominate the public political campaigns by the political parties.

As a major counter move to politically battle for the hearts and minds of the Nigerian youths to check the growing influence of the Labour Party’s Presidential candidate Peter Obi amongst millions of Nigerian youngsters, the former Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai apart from mobilising youths to vote for the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress in next year’s election, urged the electorate to give their maximum support to the All Progressives Congress.

General Tukur Yusuf Buratai already has set up a think tank on strategic security and peace study just as he has focused a lot of his public conversations lately around the issues of peace, conflict resolution and youth development. These are significant thematic areas that millions of Nigerians expect candidates for public offices to dwell on. To further the cause of campaign of ideas which dominate most of the public lectures of the former Chief of Army Staff who is the Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic and who upon retirement from the Nigerian Army identified with the All Progressives Congress, the retired Lt-Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai has commenced broad-based mobilisation efforts to attract young voters for the All Progressives Congress.

The Peoples Democratic Party has also paraded their Retired Army Generals who also will lead aspects of their national campaign. We will return to these issues of Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai and other erstwhile Service ciefs who are making profound intellectual conversations to shape the public campaigns of political parties for the Presidential election.

If you are reading this piece, you might be tempted to believe that the soldiers being talked about are just Generals. Not at all. Indeed, a Nigerian soldier of a very lower rank had few weeks back resigned to campaign for Peter Obi the candidate of the Labour Party in the Presidential poll of early 2023.

The youthful Nigerian solider that reportedly resigned to campaign for Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi is only but a Private in the Nigerian Army but his disclosure publicly of the reason behind his resignation ignited a national debate on how far former soldiers will go in constructively contributing to campaigns focused on the big ideas. Peter Obi has millions of foot soldiers made up of youngsters from all around the Country. His running mate Doctor Yusuf Datti who owns a thriving University in Abuja is also a young man. The Labour party’s Presidential candidate has therefore continued to dominate national conversations on the 2023 election by the youths. This factor may have motivated the young soldier to quit his job to embrace voluntary campaign for Peter Obi.

The retired Private in the Army shared his information on his social media handle on Twitter and stated that his voluntary retirement which was approved by the Nigerian army, will pave way for him to vigorously campaign for Peter Obi as his preferred candidate.

He tweeted; “I wish to tell you my voluntary retirement has been approved by the @HQNigerianArmy which has paved room for me to vigorously campaign for Peter Obi as my preferred candidate of choice come 2023 in sha Allah we will rescue this country.” Dawa added that those doubting him should “go and verify”. Other political parties are also celebrating their own former Generals and retired soldiers in their ranks.

Not wanting to be beaten by the All Progressives Congress that has attracted some retired military chiefs, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has invited three former service chiefs to campaign for its presidential candidate in the 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar.

Ishaya Bamaiyi, Kenneth Minimah and Martin Luther Agwai, all retired lieutenant generals and former chiefs of army staff, were named as members of the party’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), which has the mandate to organise the campaign.

Membership of the PDP’s Presidential campaign council was announced on Thursday by the PDP National Organising Secretary, Bature Umar, in Abuja.

While the PCC is chaired by Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State with Governors Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State and Seyi Makinde of Oyo State as his deputy in the north and south, respectively, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State was named the director general of the campaign.

Mr Tambuwal is to be assisted by five deputies who will man strategic areas.

According to the timetable and schedule of activities set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), campaigns will commence on 28 September as aforementioned.

The army generals in PDP include Bamaiyi who was army chief from 1996 to 1999 under the administrations of late Head of State, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar.

An indigene of Zuru in Kebbi State, the 72-year-old former military officer was in office when Nigeria transitioned from military to democratic rule.

General Bamaiyi it would be recalled was detained and subsequently charged alongside others for the attempted murder of the Guardian newspaper publisher, Alex Ibru, by the Lagos State Government, but was discharged and acquitted in 2008.

Although he is a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, it is not clear to some media houses when the former army chief joined the party. He has been participating in the activities of the party, particularly in his north-west zone.

In October last year, it would be recalled that he was linked with the alleged funding of a parallel congress of the party held at Shagalinku Hotel, Birnin Kebbi, which produced Ibrahim Manzo as state chairman.

In February, when Governor Aminu Tambuwal travelled to Kebbi as part of his consultations for his presidential ambition, General Bamaiyi was among party members in the state who received and accorded him a rousing welcome.

Recalled too that General Bamaiyi’s late younger brother, Danladi Bamaiyi, represented Kebbi South in the Senate between 1999 and 2003.

Closely following General Bamaiyi is the Rivers State-born Kenneth Minimah, who is number 268 on the list of PCC members, served as army chief for one year 2014 and 2015 in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

In 2021, the 63-year-old retired officer was charged by the EFCC with fraud involving the alleged misappropriation of N13 billion meant for arms purchase. He got a court injunction to slow down his prosecution by the antigraft commission.

General Minimah was charged alongside an erstwhile Chief of Accounts and Budget of the Nigerian Army, A. O. Adetayo, a Major-General, and a former Director, Finance and Accounts of the Nigerian Army, R. I. Odi, a Brigadier-General, at the Federal Capital Territory High in Abuja.

However, in May this year, he filed a suit against the EFCC over the criminal charges preferred against him by the commission. Another of the Generals now leading the campaign for the PDP is Lieutenant General Agwai.

Between 2003 and 2006, General Agwai served as chief of army staff and then chief of defence staff between 2006 and 2007.

The Southern Kaduna-born retired officer was hired from retirement by Mr Jonathan as the deputy head of Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (Sure-P), a government intervention agency.

He later became the head of the agency after the exit of Christopher Kolade, who was the chairman.

He was, however, removed in March 2015 for attending Mr Obasanjo’s birthday. He was said to have preached “change” while delivering a lecture at the event held in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. At the time, “change” was the slogan of the opposition party, APC. The latest appointment by Atiku could signal that General Agwai has actually pitched his tent with the Peoples Democratic Party for the 2023 poll.

A high profile Online medium recently reported that though the influence of former military officers in the nation’s political process appears to be reducing as the nation heads towards its sixth general elections under the Fourth Republic, about five retired officers are seeking elective positions in the election.

They are Sadique Abubakar, a former chief of air staff, who is the APC governorship candidate in Bauchi State and Aminu Bande, a retired major general, who is the PDP governorship flag bearer in Kebbi State.

Hamza Al-Mustapha, a retired major and former chief security officer to the late Head of State, Sani Abacha, is flying the flag of the Action Alliance (AA) in the February presidential poll.

Others are Kefas Agbu, a retired colonel and Samuel Abashe, a retired major.

However, several former military personnel keep membership of some of the 18 registered political parties.

Of the four presidents the country has had since 1999, two of them, Olusegun Obasanjo and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, are retired generals.

What is however crystal clear is that the top Generals who have retired from the military would be expected by their new political parties to formulate and canvass strategic solutions to the lingering security nightmare so as to win the hearts and minds of voters and especially the young voters.

Already, the retired Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), says the All Progressives Congress (APC) is the party to beat in the 2023 general election, as it has all its takes to win.

Buratai said this at the Progressives Young Leaders Summit of the APC in Abuja on Monday.

He advised Nigerian youths to mobilize the electorate to vote for candidates that will secure their future and ensure the country’s development in the election.

“You must mobilize the electorate to ensure that they come out en-mass to vote for the right candidate and I believe you know who I am referring to.

“The APC with the good support of the youth is the party to beat,’’ he said.

Buratai also advised youths to be actively involved in the development process of the country.

He said that the desire of youths globally, was to see that their country progressed in all areas.

“Our great founding fathers of blessed memory, including Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo were in their primes as youths when they took the mantle of leadership of the country.

“The youths of today could do same if they are determined,” he said.

Also speaking, retired Air Marshal Abubakar Sadique, the former Chief of Air Staff, said youths cannot not afford to take the back seat in the 2023 general election.

Sadique commended the APC National Youth Leader, Mr. Temidayo Abdullahi for organizing the event.

“The benefits is beyond politics because it will help in drawing the attention of youths to the challenges of our time.

“It will also help in making them to realize that they have an important role to play in defining the character of our society today.

“Youths constitute about 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population and therefore they cannot sit behind and allow others to determine what is going to happen,” he said.

He added that the event would afford the participants the opportunity to understand the challenges that was facing the country and possibly proffer solutions at resolving them.

“I am very excited that APC as a party has taken this challenge of ensuring that youths are mobilized and given a very crucial role to play in ensuring that the nation move forward.

“I hope we will have similar summits so that we can mobilize the entire youths so that they can remain focused on what is required for the development of our great country,’’ he said.

The retired Army Chief who is the Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic had earlier set up a structural and strategic think tank for the conduct of research on peace, conflict resolution, youths development and democracy which will come in handy for his party the All Progressives Congress in their Presidential Campaign especially if the party decides to tap some of the profound philosophical ideas that motivated the retired Lt-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai to establish the research centre which is affiliated to the Nasarawa State University Keffi.

Ambassador Buratai said of the Think Tank thus: “My simple philosophy about life is to continue to live a life of value by improving on the system that we have. As someone from the military, I reckoned the best way for me and my associates to add value to our society and make our country better and stronger is through a think-tank like the Tukur Buratai Research Center (TBRC).’’

General Buratai spoke further that Nigeria has the potential for greatness but there were insufficient capabilities to transfer those potential into socio-economic benefits for the people. According to him, inadequate research and development implementation in Nigeria create a massive void in the nation’s progress.

His words: “When properly focused research and training institutes are established, innovation and development become a natural progressive activity that benefits the nation’s life. In other words, Nigeria gains the ability to develop positively as a result of enhanced study and training.

“Corruption, insecurity due to terrorism and banditry, inadequate infrastructure, issues in governance and an inept educational system are all systemic flaws. With every amount of commitment made to research and training, as well as a strong national orientation one may be confident that we, as a people and a nation, are on the right track.

“I would like to utilize this TBRC platform to emphasize that now is the moment for us to turn within and devise home-grown solutions to our unique difficulties.”

Further, according to him, the “TBRC was his way of contributing to national development and giving back to society through a well-thought-out approach that would have a long-lasting impact on the country. As a result of the myriad of socio-economic and political challenges, it may be reasonable to argue that Nigeria can, to a large degree, resolve her development issues through research.”

In his words: “The vision and mission of the Buratai Centre aligns with the university’s policy and strategy for impacting the society. The centre’s motto which is to promote research for leadership and development is a strong statement about the ultimate value of research to impact humanity positively. We envisage that the centre will be a hub for cross fertilization of ideas on security, peace, conflict, leadership and development issues.”

The Ambassador made it clear that a strong and innovative think-tank would go a long way to boosting a nation’s institutional development and democracy, noting the Centre will fill the vacuum in the area of research and policy development.

He affirmed thus: “Let me make it categorically clear to us that one of the factors that helped the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries is strong and innovative think-tanks. As far back as 1831, the Duke of Wellington set up the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies with the aim of helping policymakers navigate through complex policy problems. Then the London Fabian Society which was established in 1884, home to Sydney and Beatrice Webbs, who later founded the London School of Economics.”

Recalling that Lionel Curtis of Oxford University spearheaded the establishment of a think-tank to explore international problems and advocate policy solutions, General Tukur Buratai the ambassador explained thus: “In 1919, scholars like Lionel Curtis of the Oxford University spearheaded the establishment of a think-tank to explore international problems and advocate policy solutions. After that, we saw the emergence of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1916, which in 1927, merged with two other institutions to form the widely acclaimed Brookings Institution. I believe that there exists a gap in our polity that TBRC as a think-tank can fill through research and policy development especially in the areas of security and defence, peace, conflict management, climate change, leadership and development.
“We need development in every sector of our national life, and this is something that should not be left for the government alone to do. As I have said in so many fora, there can be no real development without security and peace, and in the same vein, there must be economic opportunities, equity and justice for security and peace to exist which in turn serves as the foundation or pillars of development.”

Could these profound philosophical ideas around major thematic areas of nation building process if embraced by the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress help to boost the public acceptability by the youthful voters of the All Progressives Congress?

Time, philosophers say is our greatest counsellor.

What however is not in doubt is that the involvement of very senior military tacticians, strategic thinkers, tested and trusted professionals will add value and shape up issues based political campaigns towards the 2023 General election.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.

Please note that opinion expressed are exclusively the writer’s.

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