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COAS Appointment as Missed Opportunity for Unity

By Farooq A. Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi The appointment of my namesake, Major General Farouk Yahaya, as Chief of Army Staff to succeed ...

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The appointment of my namesake, Major General Farouk Yahaya, as Chief of Army Staff to succeed the late Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru who died in a plane crash on May 21 is yet another tone-deaf but entirely predictable mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity at a time it desperately needs to be cared for with deliberate symbolic nourishment. 

There is no question that General Yahaya is qualified for the job. His CV shows evidence of immense professional and academic preparedness for the position. But the alternatives to him are just as qualified, so this is never about competence for the job. It’s about symbolism and the politics of representation at a time of heightened national storm and stress.

Many people had hoped that the regime would appoint Major General Benjamin Ahanotu from Anambra State as Attahiru’s successor both to water the perishingly shriveling tree of national unity in the country and to pacify the Southeast whose sense of alienation in the last five years is resurrecting the ghost of Biafra secessionist agitation.  

Since Ahanotu is just as professionally and academically prepared as Yahaya is, a lot more would have been gained in symbolic and substantive terms if the regime had chosen to not appoint another Northern Muslim to succeed a northern Muslim who succeeded a previous northern Muslim.

In no previous civilian administration has this ever happened. Former President Shehu Shagari had ethnic and religious diversity in his choice of Chief of Army Staff. He started with Lieutenant General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, then appointed Lieutenant General Gibson Jalo, and finally Lieutenant General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi.

Although Obasanjo’s choices of Chief of Army Staff didn’t reflect religious diversity, they reflected regional and ethnic diversity. Goodluck Jonathan also chose only Christians from the South-South and the Southeast, which we condemned, but his security council was more broad-based than Buhari’s is.

Many well-placed northern politicians who are disturbed by the widening intensity of fissiparity in the Nigerian polity told me they intervened to ensure that the regime appointed someone other than a northern Muslim as Chief of Army Staff. One man told me he was part of a group that reached out to Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, to persuade him to advise his boss to appoint Ahanotu—or another qualified southerner—as Chief of Army Staff.

Perhaps, that was where the group erred. Gambari has no powers to influence consequential policy decisions in this regime. A personage who is intimately familiar with the workings of the Presidential Villa told me a few days ago that Gambari was recently caught dozing off in the waiting room of Sabiu “Tunde” Yusuf, the 30-something-year-old cousin of Buhari’s who is also his special assistant. 

The man said the fact of Gambari drifting off in Yusuf’s waiting room was indicative of the extended minutes, perhaps hours, that he had been waiting for the young man. But, for me, it emblematizes Gambari’s powerlessness and lack of access to the man he is supposed to be Chief of Staff to.

As dramatic as this revelation was, it wasn’t shocking to me. I have always known that Sabiu “Tunde” Yusuf, whose highest work experience prior to joining his cousin’s government was a phone recharge card seller, is the real successor to Abba Kyari.

In my November 23, 2019 column titled “Government of Buhari’s Family, By His Family, and For His Family,” I described him as “one of the most powerful people in Nigeria today. He determines who sees and who doesn’t see Buhari. Only Mamman Daura and Abba Kyari can overrule him.”

I also pointed out in my May 16, 2020 column titled “Real Reason the Buhari Cabal Picked Gambari as CoS” that Gambari’s linguistic “handicap” in the Hausa language would ensure that he isn’t sufficiently close enough with Buhari to have any meaningful interpersonal relationship with him. That, I said, would whittle away the influence of his office.

A May 25, 2020 exclusive Daily Trust story titled “How Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Gambari facilitated removal of TCN boss” proved me right. “The Special Assistant to the President (President Secretariat), Sabi’u Yusuf, the same day, wrote a letter referenced PRES/65-I/COS/3/750, addressed to the CoS, Prof. Gambari, conveying Buhari’s approval of his earlier memo,” the story said.

So, unlike Abba Kyari who had a direct access to Buhari and whom Buhari said all ministers should meet if they wanted anything from him, Gambari has an intermediary between him and Buhari, and that intermediary is a blood relative of his planted there by Mamman Daura, his Trinity College, Dublin-educated nephew on whom he has always been emotionally and intellectually dependent. 

As I pointed out in my May 30, 2020 column titled, “Gambari: Embrace and Alienation of an Outsider on the Inside,” “The real Chief of Staff to Buhari is Sabi’u ‘Tunde’ Yusuf (of course, acting on Mamman Daura’s behalf) while Ibrahim Gambari is only the public face of the office— with some legroom to do the most obvious official requirements of his job.”

I’ve gone to this length to rejig the reader’s memory just to make the case that anyone who wanted to influence the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff should have gone to Mamman Daura who is the real, if unofficial, president of Nigeria. But Daura has a really retrograde and fossilized understanding of Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity.

Nonetheless, in case people who can influence Daura are reading this, he should be made self-aware that in moments such as Nigeria is going through now, even little symbolic acts of inclusion go a long way. At the twilight of his life, he has become the luckiest Nigerian alive. He has unofficial presidential powers without winning or rigging an election, staging a coup, or even being appointed. Even for the sake of his grandchildren, he should snap out of his provincial cocoon and save the country from avoidable implosion.

Nigeria’s chance for continued existence going forward will be dependent on intentional symbolic gestures that nurture national cohesion. National cohesion doesn’t magically emerge out of thin air because people who are luxuriating in the decadent orbits of power facilely proclaim Nigeria’s unity to be “settled” and “non-negotiable.” Nation-building is never “settled”; it is always in a state of negotiation and renegotiation. 

Unity is not an article of faith to be internalized and accepted unquestioningly. It is consciously sowed, watered, and nourished by acts of kindness to the disadvantaged, by equity and justice to all, by consensus-building, by deliberate healing of the existential wounds that naturally emerge in our interactions as constituents of a common national space, and by acknowledging and working to cover our ethnic, religious, regional, and cultural fissures. The efforts will never be perfect or fool-proof but doing something about a problem is always better than complacency and smug self-satisfaction.

Most progressive Muslim northerners I know are embarrassed to no end by the extreme and unprecedented Arewaization of appointments in this regime. They are embarrassed and worried because the lopsidedness of the appointments invites unearned hate to innocent northerners who don’t materially benefit from them, line the pockets of a privileged few, and alienate our compatriots from the South. That’s not sustainable if we still want a country. 


  1. This is succinctly said. The PMB regime has broken Nigeria's umbilical cord, especially for the southerners. His ineptitude and brazen nepotism, coupled with shock in the atrocities if his Fulani silk is reprehensible to say the least. Most of us wants Restructuring, fairness, equity, justice or division.

  2. Most times I wonder if you are not a thief. One that steals my thoughts completely.

  3. This level of nepotism, cronyism, ethnicity, anyhowness and bigotry of this Buhari led administration is unprecedented. Sadly, this evil men welding power at Aso Rock and determining what happens in this country to the detriment of others are unwittingly setting a dangerous precedent.

  4. Your write ups are always on point

  5. My own case is on Prof Gambari, the figure head Chief of Staff. The government has a system of making people becoming irrelevant, to an extent that they will not be able to regain their self respect in public again

  6. Well written. Logical and patriotic. Would the people who these decisions ever mind? Would they read and contemplate?

  7. Your objectivity is second to none.

  8. Before the coming of Buhari, Nnamdi Kanu had few supporters. Today almost every Igbo person agree with him even though many don't agree with his tactics. Buhari have really lowered the bar.

  9. Well said Prof. I wished the nepotism is even yielding the desired fruit to the nation. We keep doing something over and over again expecting what I don't know. Shame

  10. Buhari has set a bad precedence on governance in Nigeria, if at all the country still remain one after Or prior to 3023 any person that takes over will govern with nepotic impunity which will be worst than this government politically, in so doing the implosion of the country is inevitable.

  11. Another good piece, always looking for your write each saturday. Sir, is it not possible for you to two articles in a week? It our obligation to educate and senstize Nigerians.

  12. Since Kperogi is a constructive critic, it is good he starts his criticism from scratch. The list of COAS below might of help to him.

    1. Lieutenant colonel
    Yakubu Gowon FSS
    (born 1934)
    Later military ruler January 1966 July 1966 6 months –

    2. Joseph Akahan OFR FSS
    Lieutenant colonel
    Joseph Akahan OFR FSS
    (1937–1968) May 1967 May 1968 † 1 year –

    3. Hassan Katsina RCDS, PSC
    Major general
    Hassan Katsina RCDS, PSC
    (1933–1995) May 1968 January 1971 2 years, 8 months –

    4. David Ejoor
    Major general
    David Ejoor
    (1932–2019) January 1971 July 1975 4 years, 6 months –

    5. Theophilus Danjuma
    Lieutenant general
    Theophilus Danjuma
    (born 1938) July 1975 October 1979 4 years, 3 months –

    6. Ipoola Alani Akinrinade CFR FSS
    Lieutenant general
    Ipoola Alani Akinrinade CFR FSS
    (born 1939)
    Later Chief of Defence Staff October 1979 April 1980 6 months –

    7. Gibson Jalo CFR FSS, JSS
    Lieutenant general
    Gibson Jalo CFR FSS, JSS
    Later Chief of Defence Staff April 1980 October 1981 1 year, 6 months –

    8. Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi CFR FSS
    Lieutenant general
    Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi CFR FSS
    (born 1940) October 1981 October 1983 2 years –

    9. Ibrahim Babangida
    Major General
    Ibrahim Babangida
    (born 1941)
    Later military ruler January 1984 August 1985 1 year, 7 months –

    10. Sani Abacha GCON , DSS, mni
    Lieutenant general
    Sani Abacha GCON , DSS, mni
    Later military ruler August 1985 August 1990 5 years –

    11. Salihu Ibrahim FSS , FHWC
    Lieutenant general
    Salihu Ibrahim FSS , FHWC
    (1925–2018) August 1990 September 1993 3 years, 1 month –

    12. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau DSS, rcds
    Lieutenant general
    Aliyu Mohammed Gusau DSS, rcds
    (born 1943) September 1993 November 1993 2 months –

    13. Chris Alli CRG, DSS, ndc, psc(+)
    Major general
    Chris Alli CRG, DSS, ndc, psc(+)
    (born 1944) November 1993 August 1994 9 months –

    14. Alwali Kazir DSS, Usawc, psc(+)
    Major general
    Alwali Kazir DSS, Usawc, psc(+)
    (born 1947)
    as Chief of Army August 1994 March 1996 1 year, 7 months –

    15. Ishaya Bamaiyi DSS, Usawc, psc(+)
    Lieutenant general
    Ishaya Bamaiyi DSS, Usawc, psc(+)
    (born 1949) March 1996 May 1999 3 years, 2 months –

    16. Victor Malu DSS, mni, fwc, psc
    Lieutenant general
    Victor Malu DSS, mni, fwc, psc
    (1947–2017) May 1999 April 2001 1 year, 11 months –

    17. Alexander Ogomudia
    Lieutenant general
    Alexander Ogomudia
    (born 1949)
    Later Chief of Defence Staff April 2001 June 2003 2 years, 2 months –

    18. Martin Luther Agwai
    Lieutenant general
    Martin Luther Agwai
    (born 1948)
    Later Commander of the UNAMID June 2003 June 2006 3 years –

    19. Owoye Andrew Azazi
    Lieutenant general
    Owoye Andrew Azazi
    Later Chief of Defence Staff 1 June 2006 May 2007 11 months –

    20. Luka Yusuf CFR, GSS, GPP, DSO, psc(+), fwc, Msc
    Lieutenant general
    Luka Yusuf CFR, GSS, GPP, DSO, psc(+), fwc, Msc
    (1952–2009) June 2007 August 2008 1 year, 3 months –

    21. Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau CFR, GSS, psc, ndc, fwc(+)
    Lieutenant general
    Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau CFR, GSS, psc, ndc, fwc(+)
    (born 1954) August 2008 September 2010 2 years, 1 month –

    22. Azubuike Ihejirika CFR, GSS, psc(+), fwc, fniqs
    Lieutenant general
    Azubuike Ihejirika CFR, GSS, psc(+), fwc, fniqs
    (born 1956) September 2010 January 2014 3 years, 4 months –

    23. Kenneth Minimah GSS, psc(+), fwc
    Lieutenant general
    Kenneth Minimah GSS, psc(+), fwc
    (born 1959) January 2014 July 2015 1 year, 6 months –

    24. Tukur Yusuf Buratai NAM, GSS, psc(+), ndc (BD)
    Lieutenant general
    Tukur Yusuf Buratai NAM, GSS, psc(+), ndc (BD)
    (born 1960) July 2015 26 January 2021 5 years, 6 months

    25. Attahiru Ibrahim
    Lieutenant general
    Attahiru Ibrahim
    (1966–2021) 26 January 2021 21 May 2021 † 3 months

    26. Farouk Yahaya
    Lieutenant general
    Farouk Yahaya
    (born 1966) 27 May 2021 Incumbent

  13. Thank you for your intervention. The last paragraph is interesting as it seem to portray the state of mind of some progressive Northern Muslims but their actions/inaction say an entirely different story.

    This is where I doubt if in truth they are embarrassed to no end.

    There silence is at best criminal.

  14. CDS from South

    Naval Chief from North

    Air Chief from South

    Army Chief from North

    Google will help you if you don't know the meaning of Nepotism.

    1. Yeye man!. Why did you extract just a few positions? Bring out the entire list let us see! All national appointments, list all. Notorious and no-real Ibo name, you people that assume names that is not your name in order deceive people, just know that you are killing this unity of this country.

    2. Yeye man!. Why did you extract just a few positions? Bring out the entire list let us see! All national appointments, list all. Notorious and no-real Ibo name, you people that assume names that is not your name in order deceive people, just know that you are killing this unity of this country.

  15. I keep praying to God to continue to hold us together as a nation and those agrieved to excercise more patient. Those who laugh last, laugh best they said. 2023 is around the corner...God will bring a change to heal our wounds and save our dear country Nigeria. Let's all be hopeful!

    1. Why are you praying to God to continue to hold us together as a nation when virtually everything is going wrong, never witnessed a single improvement in my entire 44 years of existence, don't u think it's time for something different like separation?

  16. Buhari and his northern cabals and a few yes men from the south controlling the presidency don't care if the country crashes and burns under their watch. I read one of them likened the perilous situation in the country to the breasts of a woman running; that no matter how much they swing, they don't fall apart. So the country won't fall apart. One thing they fail to understand which you have pointed out Prof is that small symbolic gestures consciously sowed, watered and nurtured by acts of kindness to the disadvantaged, by equity and justice to all, by consensus-building, by deliberate healing of the existential wounds that naturally emerge in our interactions as constituents of a common national space, and by acknowledging and working to cover our ethnic, religious, regional, and cultural fissures is the only way to go if we really want to continue as on country. At the moment it the other regions of the country feel like conquered territory.

  17. How I wished these fellows read your insightful comments, our country would have moved on from its prostate state to a progressive estate. Unfortunately, they don't. It hurts greatly. Thank you so very much for your interventions.

  18. I am sure those this write is meant to reach are not listening...

  19. My brother u put everything in right perspective but all fallen on deaf ears because Buhari is implementing policy of exculsion targeted at one ethenic nationality. It's a shame

  20. Well said. Awesomely insightful.

  21. It couldn't have been written better.
    More ink to your pen Prof.

  22. Rightly said Prof. My worry about is, how will the North feels or reacts when the tables are turned. Because one day, the table will surely turn. Allah ya taimake mu

    1. The tables had actually turned under Obasanjo who generally excluded muslims from NE and NW from service chief appointments. He made sure that the northerners he appointed were either Christians or muslims from North-Central.

  23. Analytically sound. The extraordinarily extreme nepotic disposition of this government has broken the fragile unity hitherto enjoyed by Nigerians. Whether there would be nothing left to govern in 2023 is an open debate

  24. Thumbs up for another classic. đź‘Ť

  25. Well done Prof,for this Write up you have say it all. May the Almighty Allah continuous to bless and Make you always do the right thing.

  26. Great lines of analysis. Well done sir. Always amazing reading your account

  27. This is a very unbiased factual write up

  28. The truth is light.. always shining, can't be overwhelmed by darkfalsehood. You can't judge the Truth. May your light never dim, Prof.

  29. You said it all as you seen it. I expected that PMB should at least appointed a southern this time around, it automatically shut the mouths of agitators more especially Biafra. What a missed opportunity.

  30. I agree that Buhari's security and other appointments are overall not balanced but the post of Chief Of Army Staff is always given to ethnic and religious groups that a president considers safe. This did not start with Buhari. Obasanjo went to great lenghts to avoid appointing a muslim from NE or NW as service chief during his 8 years to the extent that he appointed southern Kaduna christians twice as COAS. It was obvious that he was doing everything he could to keep out far north muslims.

    1. Shagari, as I pointed out, appointed two Christians (one from the South and the other from the North) and one northern Muslim (from Niger State) as Chief of Army Staff in the roughly5 years he was president. Incidentally, he was overthrown when a fellow northern Muslim was the Chief of Army Staff. So much for a "safe " CoAS!

      Obasanjo, for his part, threw an opportunity for the North to really live up to its "one North, one people" mantra and it failed. Of all Nigeria's former
      regions, the North is the only region that was ruled as one and that was unbroken until the regional structure was disbanded. Suddenly, because of Obasanjo's appointments, a northerner who was a Christian was no longer a "northerner." Even a northerner who was a Muslim (such as Ibrahim Oghohi--not sure if that's how his last name is spelled) wasn't a "northerner" unless he came from the Northwest or the Northeast, like you've just shown here.

      Obasanjo was clearly smarter than northern leaders because he destroyed the myth the North cherishes about itself by testing it. It became clear that "Northerner" narrowly meant only Hausa-speaking Muslims. That was an irrecoverable self-own.

      If Buhari and his people were as smart as Obasanjo was, they would as well extend strategic political appointments to Southern Muslims and northern Christians. They won't be accused of regional and religious exclusion with any credibility (just like nobody could credibly accuse Obasanjo of regional or religious exclusion in appointments except for the unreflexive bigots in the NW and NE) but they would solidify their hold on the polity.

      In any case, as the example of former Inspector General of Police Suleiman from Kano showed, Nigerian political appointees tend to show excessive allegiance to people who appointed them irrespective of their primordial differences with their bosses. IGP Suleiman was uncommonly boorish in his defense of Goodluck Jonathan and against Jonathan's northern opponents (including Tambuwal whom he said he didn't recognize as the Speaker because he opposed Jonathan) that I wrote a column where I called him the "Inspector General of the President."

      Ultimately, though, anyone who finds "safety" only in his or her ethno-religious cocoon should not aspire to the national leadership of a complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria.

  31. The dinosaur was the largest mamal that walked the earth some six million years ago. Why did it go extinct? Its reaction time to stimuli was too slow. Wild dogs and wolves will meander from behind to feed the flesh of this beast. By the time it begins to feel the pains of injuries, it's too late. Gradually and one day, the dinosaur vanished from existence. This is the picture of Nigeria. Q. E. D.

  32. They are also when PMB massacred more than 1000 shi'ite members in Zaria in 2015 barely seven months into his fist tenure!

  33. The progressive muslims you talk about are not demonstrating in the streets. Their silence is pregnant with meaning.Why are they not protesting this marginalisation of their so called fellow country men. You underestimate the popularity of Buhari amongst Northerners.


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