I had hoped that the late President Umaru Musa
Yar’Adua was poised to break the jinx on the leaders of Nigeria of
northern extraction not serving completely their terms in office.
But I was wrong. He did not break it. So the jinx continues: No
Nigerian Head of State or President of northern extraction has
ever completed his term of office without being forcibly removed,
killed in a coup or dying in office.
General Abdusalami Abubakar was an aberration
and come to think of it, he was forced by the circumstances of the
time to leave after only one and a half years in office. He had
assumed power after a successive chain of brutal dictatorships of
Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abacha. Not to forget the inept
leadership of Alhaji Shehu Shagari which Buhari had ousted much
But let us start this discourse from the
beginning when Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the Prime
Minister of Nigeria on October 1, 1960. By 1964, he had run the
country aground and the Army, led by Major Nzeogwu deposed him in
a bloody coup on January 15, 1966. He was killed, along with the
patron of his NPC and Premier of the North, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello,
the Sadauna of Sokoto. Tafawa Balewa was a Hausa from Bauchi in
General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who took over
from Balewa was himself killed in a counter-coup of July 1966. He
was Head of State for only six months. He was Igbo from the East.
The leader who emerged after Ironsi was Yakubu
Gowon who was catapulted from the lowly Lt. Colonel to that of
General in a matter of months. He was in power for 8 years before
he was removed while on a conference in Kampala, Uganda. He had
thought that eight years in office was not enough for him to stamp
his mark on the Nigerian political field and was preparing to stay
on as Head of State for ever. “Not in my life”! said Murtala
Muhammed, a Brigadier of the Nigerian Army. Gowon is from southern
Zaria in the North.
General Murtala Muhammed became Head of State
in 1972 and was removed six months into his administration.
Murtala was killed by Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka on a street in
Ikoyi while he was on his way to the office. Murtala Muhammed, one
of the most loved Nigerian leaders, was from Kano in the North.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, Murtala’s Chief of
Staff became Head of State for three and a half years and handed
over peacefully and voluntarily to Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu
Shagari. Need I say that Obasanjo is from Abeokuta in the West?
Alhaji Shehu Shagari became president in 1979
and ran the country aground just like his civilian predecessor
Tafawa Balewa. He destroyed the country economically and
politically. He frittered away the foreign reserve accumulated by
Obasanjo and drove the country into debt to the tune of 33 billion
dollars in only four years. The country had had enough of him and
so did Major General Muhamadu Buhari, one of his General Officers
Commanding. He was removed on December 31, 1983, only three months
into his second term in office. Shagari was from Sokoto, in the
Buhari took over and was removed in 1987 by
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Buhari was from Daura in the
Then came eight years of brutal dictatorship by
Babangida. He destroyed everything that made Nigeria a country. He
destroyed education, health and even the Army that made him. He
started a transition to civil rule that had beginning but no end.
At the end of eight years in office, he annulled the freest and
fairest election in the history of Nigeria. Then he knew that the
traditional pull-out done for retired Generals that was organized
for him by General Sani Abacha might well be his last event on
earth if he did not heed to warning to leave, he scampered to
safety to his Minna mansion with his tail between his legs. He was
made to “step aside”. He was from Minna, in the North.
General Sani Abacha was the most brutal of the
lot. His reason for power was to own the oil money coming to
Nigeria. And by the time he died, he had owned much of the oil and
had become one of the richest leaders in the world for such a
short time as Head of state. He had wanted to continue as a
civilian leader when the army became tired of him. He had been
burried before most Nigerians heard that he died! His mysterious
death is a matter of fire-side gossip. The facts may not be known
for ever. He was from Kano in the North!
It is not certain that General Abubakar knew
about this jinx. But he had acted in consonance with the political
environment of that time. So, when he took over, he knew that
Nigeria was not ready for a president of northern origin at that
point. He also knew he had to leave office quickly before
Nigerians ran out of patience with him. He had one task at hand:
how to resolve the Abiola problem. MKO Abiola was never to become
President. That was an article of faith. Don’t forget: he was
Babangida’s neighbor in Minna! He still is! He had a home to go
back to! And neighbors don’t do that to neighbors. He could not
live with himself if he undid what his neighbor had done. What was
the solution? MKO Abiola, the winner of the 1992 election annulled
by General Babangida had to die in jail. And of course, “the man
Then President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed power
again in 1999 after Abubakar left office. He was president for 8
years before handing over arguably voluntarily to Alhaji Umaru
Musa Yar’Adua who died in office on May 5, 2010. Yar’adua was from
Katsina in the north!
Eight people of northern origin have had the
honor to lead Nigeria in her 50 years of taumatic independence.
Seven were forced out. Out of the seven, three died in office.
Only one left voluntarily and not without compelling reason to do
I had not forgotten about Ernest Shonekan who
was forced out too. His government had been ruled illegal because
there was never a constitutional basis for an Interim Government
in Nigeria. His government therefore, did not exist! And if it
did, it was an aberrant government of no consequence and therefore
did not count.
What is a jinx? It is a curse that brings bad
luck. Do northerners know about this jinx? Probably not! But what
they do know is what I have stated above. Because this is an
incontrovertible fact of history. No one can dispute it. You can
dispute my motive for writing this piece, but not the facts! Are
northerners not concerned? They probably are, but most of the
people who get to be appointed or voted for the post do not care
or are not circumspect enough to know and wish to do something
A jinx must be recognized in order to work
successfully against its reoccurrence. May be Abdusalami Abubakar
knew. But not so Babangida. He even wants to come back as
Ian Fleming, in his Goldfinger says on
James Bond’s ubiquitous presence every where Goldfinger was:
“first is happenstance, second is coincidence and third is enemy
The probability of something happening seven
out of eight chances is a sure bet that it will always happen.
Yar’Adua’s behavior in the few months before his death has
reinforced my belief that it will always happen.
Whoever is selected as President Jonathan’s vice must be made
aware of the jinx and must pledge to work against it!