There are Generals, but Aliyu Mohammed stands out in the league of military personnel who rose to the zenith of their careers. Born in Gusau, Zamfara State capital, on May 18, 1943, the army added his birthplace to his name to distinguish him from another General, Aliyu Mohammed, and the element of distinction has followed Gusau all his life.
Just as he dominated the military during his heyday, so does his influence loom large in politics. In doubt of his political exploits? Ask Bello Muhammad Matawalle who has just been shown the exit door of the Zamfara Government House.
No Nigerian, dead or alive, has served as National Security Adviser to different presidents, but Gusau retained that office under three different administrations. He headed different intelligence agencies, he was Director-General of the National Security Organisation (NSO), which he split into three – the Department of State Services (DSS), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA).
The veteran spy Chief was commander of the Nigerian Defence Academy from February 1992 to January 1993. He became National Security Adviser in January 1993, and was promoted to Chief of Army Staff when former military President Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) passed control to the short-lived civilian government of the Third Republic in August 1993. He was the Chief of Army Staff during Ernest Shonekan and briefly under Sani Abacha’s regime.
He was the National Security Adviser when the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo retired former political office holders in the armed forces. That action is believed to have laid the foundation for Nigeria’s longest transition of power from a civilian-to-civilian government. He later left the government, but got back into that same office under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010.
INVOLVEMENT IN COUPS
According to records, Gusau participated in several military coups. He reportedly played a major role in the coup that ousted President Shehu Shagari and brought the then General Muhammadu Buhari to power.
But two years down the line, he partook in another coup that ended Buhari’s regime and brought IBB into power.
In a chat with The Interview magazine, Buhari challenged Babangida and Gusau to tell the truth on why they carried out the coup against him. Buhari, who was detained in Benin prison for four years after the coup, said he fell out with Gusau and IBB because of his tough stance against corruption.
“I learnt that Aliyu Gusau, who was in charge of intelligence, took import licence from the ministry of commerce, which was in charge of supplies and gave it to Alhaji Mai Deribe,” he had said.
“It was worth N100,000, a lot of money at that time. I confronted them and took the case to the Army council in a memo…I wanted Gusau punished.”
IBB had earlier told The Interview, formerly published by Azu Ishiekwene, renowned journalist, that there was nothing in the memo that Buhari said he submitted to the army council.
“Don’t forget that I was one of Buhari’s closest aides. I was the Chief of Army Staff. So, I had an important position, an important role to play within that administration. I don’t think it had to do with a memo,” Babangida said back then.
When The Interview told Buhari of IBB’s earlier response, the incumbent Nigerian president asked the magazine to choose whose story to believe.
ORACLE OF PDP
Just as Gusau is feared in the intelligence community, not just in Nigeria, so is he respected in the PDP, the party which formed government at the centre for 16 years. Referred to as the oracle of PDP, he remains a powerful kingmaker in the opposition party.
The story was told of how in 2018 a certain governor took the reins of the party and was pushing one of his counterparts to emerge as the Presidential flagbearer so that he (the governor) could be considered as running mate.
The plot was said to have gone very far as the PDP which was battling to recover from its loss in the 2015 general elections, acceded a lot to the governor who influenced the emergence of the party’s national chairman and called the shots.
Delegates had converged on the venue of the convention and all was set for the emergence of a sitting governor as the PDP Presidential standard bearer until the arrival of General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau.
The intelligence czar was said to have got to the convention ground a few hours to the kick off of the event. He was said to have immediately gone into a meeting with the party leaders, telling them that the only aspirant who could give Buhari a run for his money was former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
He was said to have told them that he and some powerful persons (loosely referred to as the Owners of Nigeria) would support Atiku’s campaign if he got the nomination. Long story short, Atiku emerged as the PDP candidate.
Around the time Gusau influenced Atiku’s emergence, his son, Mahdi, was selected as running mate to Bello Matawalle, the then PDP governorship candidate in Zamfara.
Some pundits said Mahdi was drafted into politics to compensate his father for nurturing the PDP in the state. The crisis which led to the downfall of APC in Zamfara in 2019 started before Matawalle clinched the PDP ticket.
In the middle of the crisis, some APC bigwigs were said to have mulled defecting to the PDP. Considering their status, sources said Matawalle rushed to Gusau to seek assurance of getting the PDP’s nomination. The retired general reportedly assured him that he would get the ticket, which he eventually did.
Matawalle contested the election but lost. However, he became the beneficiary of the Supreme Court ruling which sacked all Zamfara APC candidates for the 2019 elections. Alongside, Gusau’s son, Matawalle was sworn into office as the 5th executive governor of Zamfara on May 29, 2019, but two years later, the governor had other plans.
With his eyes on reelection, Matawalle felt it would be tough to fight Abdulaziz Yari, Kabi Marafa and other APC heavyweights from the PDP, so he concluded that a move to the party that defeated him in 2019 was a good one.
However, his deputy disagreed with him and that’s how the fireworks begun. Mahdi was impeached in 2022 after the panel set up to investigate him reportedly found him guilty of the three offences leveled against him. They are abuse of office, criminal self-enrichment using public funds and failure to discharge official duties.
But in his reaction, Mahdi said the allegations levelled against him would have been dismissed assuming he joined the APC like Matawalle.
“What they are saying is simple. If I finish from here and go and join their party (APC), everything will be forgotten. So, is there truth in the allegations? The only thing they want is to fulfil their wish but that is not how I do my things,” he had said.
However, the battle ground shifted to 2023. Mahdi, who is still challenging his impeachment in court joined the PDP governorship race, but his father reportedly told him to allow Dauda Lawal Dare, the governor-elect and Matawalle’s main challenger in the 2023 governorship election, to lead the onslaught against the outgoing governor. The son listened to his father and the rest, as they say, is history.
Meanwhile, Matawalle had accepted the outcome of the election and asked those whom he offended to forgive him.
“If I have knowingly or unknowingly offended or hurt the feeling of any one I seek for his or her forgiveness. I’m a human being like any one and only Almighty Allah’s deeds or actions are error free,” he was quoted to have said.
Perhaps, the election outcome humbled him or he had someone like Gusasu in mind when he said that.