Abba Kyari

By Eric Teniola

At present, prominent Kanuris very close to the president are his chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, a former banker; the chief of Army staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Burutai; national security adviser, Major General (retd.) Mohammed Babagana Monguno, the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, and many director generals, special advisers and special assistants in the public service.

One of the most discussed topics during the first term of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, was his special relationship with the Kanuris. And to fuel the speculations was his recent inauguration of the North-East Development Commission, the first regional commission inaugurated by the president. He appointed his friend and course mate, Major General (rtd.) Paul Chabri Tarfa (78), from Garkida in Adamawa State as chairman. Major General Tarfa had his military service between 1962 and 1988 and once served as military governor of Oyo State from July 1978 to October 1979. He also served as commandant, Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) between 1984 and 1985.

Since he was appointed military governor of the Northeast and served there between July 1975 and March 1976, President Buhari has never hidden his undying relationship with the Kanuris. This is understandable. Although his father, Hardo Adamu, was a Fulani from Daura, his mother, Zulaihat was a Kanuri from Kukawa in Borno State. President Buhari was the thirteenth child of his mother and, like many children, he loved his mother dearly. Those close to the president said he took on the height of his mother. Kukawa is a town and local government area in the North-East. The town is in Bornu State, close to Lake Chad.

Kukawa was founded in 1814 as capital of the Kanem-Bornu Empire by the Muslim scholar and warlord, Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi, after the fall of the previous capital, Ngazargamu, conquered in 1808 during the Fulani War. The town had great strategic importance, being one of the southern terminals of trans-Saharan trade routes to Tripoli.

The town was visited by German explorer, Heinrich Barth in 1851, who arrived from Tripoli seeking to open trade with Europe and explore Africa; and again in 1892 by the French explorer, Parfait-Louis Monteil, who was checking the borders between areas of West Africa assigned to the French and the British.

At present, prominent Kanuris very close to the president are his chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, a former banker; the chief of Army staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Burutai; national security adviser, Major General (rtd.) Mohammed Babagana Monguno, the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, and many director generals, special advisers and special assistants in the public service. There is also Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, who although is not holding any portfolio but who I understand is close to the president and is very powerful in the villa. Alhaji Kingibe was the former secretary to the government of the federation.

The Kanuris are not new to government. One of them, General Sani Abacha (September 20, 1943 – June 8, 1998) was head of state between November 17, 1993 and June 8, 1998. Although General Sani Abacha grew up in Kano and was also buried in Kano, he was a Kanuri man.

In the First Republic, four prominent Kanuris played crucial roles. They were Sir Kashim Ibrahim, Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri, Alhaji Shettima Monguno and Alhaji Zanna Bukar Suloma Dipcharima.

According to a publication, Makers of Modern Africa, published by Raph Nwechue, Alhaji Dipcharima (1917-1969) was a member of the Nigerian delegation to the London Constitutional Conference held at the Lancaster House between May 23 and June 26, 1957. He later became minister of health and minister for commerce, industries and transport under the then prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

Alhaji Dipcharima won a seat in the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos in 1954 was made parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Transport. In 1957, he became minister of state without portfolio and later minister of commerce and industry, before taking the portfolio of Transport in 1964. Dipcharima held this office when the federal civilian government was overthrown in the military coup of January 15, 1966. He made the headlines when, in the absence of the abducted prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, he presided over the cabinet that handed over power to the armed forces. Dipcharima died in an air accident in 1969.

In the same publication it is reported that Sir Kashim Ibrahim (1910-1990) was appointed the first Nigerian governor of the Northern Region. He was knighted by the Queen of England in the same year. Though greatly respected, he had no real power in that post in the last years of Sir Ahmadu Bello’s rule over the Northern Region. When that rule ended with the killing of the premier in the first coup of 1966, Sir Kashim was briefly arrested. On his release, he was appointed adviser to the military governor of the Region, which however was soon afterwards abolished with the creation of states in 1967 and 1968. Sir Kashim Ibrahim served as chancellor of the University of Ibadan from 1966 to 1977, and then as chancellor of the University of Lagos from 1977 to 1984. He did not return to politics. He acquired little material wealth and had to sue for his pension as former governor of the Northern Region. When he died on July 25, 1990, his reputation was evident in the great gathering at his funeral in Maiduguri, and by the appointment of his son, an architect, as Shettima of Borno soon afterwards. He is remembered as an ardent educationist who, in spite of his strong traditional upbringing, clearly perceived and promoted the values and virtues of modern education.

Alhaji Waziri Kolo Ibrahim (1926-1992) was initially a member of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU); he organised the Damaturu branch of the association in 1950 and was the branch chairman in 1951. In the late 1950s, he joined Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and was appointed the federal minister of health in 1958. In 1962, he was appointed the minister for economic development. In 1960, he was part of the Nigerian delegation to the United Nations, when the country was accepted as the 99th member of the U.N. In 1962, as minister of economic development, he presented to the parliament an ambitious capital expenditure budget over a six-year span based on a 4 per cent annual growth in GDP and investment of resources in productive projects to foster development.

In 1978, Waziri joined politics again and then co-founded the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) along with Chief Kola Balogun; however a disagreement with some party members such as Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, Chief Olu Akinfosile and Chief Paul Unongo about Ibrahim becoming both the party’s chairman and its presidential candidate, led to his exit from the party. He then formed the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP). He was unsuccessful in the election, but was popular within his Kanuri base. His party won the gubernatorial election in Borno where the Kanuris are in the majority and in Gongola State.

Alhaji Shettima Ali Munguno (1926-2016) was a member of the Northern Region Parliament in 1959, the education secretary and councilor for education, works and social welfare Borno Local Government between 1959 and 1965. Monguno was federal minister of Air Force and internal affair from 1965 – 1966, federal commissioner for trade and industries between 1967 and 1971, and minister of mines and power, petroleum and energy from 1972 – 1975. Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno was also president of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) between 1972 and 1973. He was equally a presidential candidate during the Option A4 elections in the early 1990s in Nigeria.

Monguno was leader of the Nigerian delegation to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) II New Delhi in 1968 and member of the Nigerian delegation to the United Nations for over 10 years. He died in Maiduguri on July 8, 2016.

Other prominent Kanuri politicians who played crucial roles in the First Republic included Ibrahim Imam, Abba Habib and Muhammed Ngileruma.

In the Niger Republic, Kanuri political leaders include the former prime minister of Niger, Mamane Oumarou and former president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja.

The question then is: Will the Kanuris still play prominent roles in the second term of President Muhammadu Buhari?

Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.