General Abdulsalami Abubakar is a lucky man, one of the few military leaders in
the world to get a crown without a coup. When he was chosen by his military colleagues
to step into the shoes of General Sani Abacha who had just died suddenly, mysteriously,
he was not exactly a happy man. He thought of turning down the offer but he knew
he could not forgive himself nor the nation forgive him. It was a call to national
duty at a time of national distress.
Abacha's agenda of sit-tightism or of transmutation from military dictator
to a civilian president had polarised the country and split it down the middle.
The country needed a man of peace, a fence-mender, a wound-binder, a man whose
ambition was not vaulting, one who would steer Nigeria away from the knife-edge
Abubakar became head of state but his family members were not beating the drums.
One of his daughters cried uncontrollably for two weeks, interjecting amidst
sobs, "But daddy, why you?" The answer is "Mother Fate"
or looking at it another way "Lady Luck." It is fate or luck that
had taken him to the pinnacle of leadership and Abubakar knew only too well
that if he tempted it, he could be taken down to the valley of disgrace. So
he said he would quit on May 29, 1999. Cynics may have said, "we have heard
this stuff before." But Abubakar was different. He quit.
The world loves a man of honour. So Abubakar's lap of honour started immediately.
Ghana gave him its highest honour, the Star Award; ECOWAS decorated him with
its International Gold Medal. The America gave him the Reverend Jesse Jackson's
Rainbow/Push Coalition Peace Prize. He also raked home the International Globalist
Award for 1999.
At home, he has not been short of goodwill. He has represented President Olusegun
Obasanjo at the inauguration of the Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade and
received, on behalf of Nigeria, a peace award at Durban, South Africa, a few
weeks ago. During the Sharia riots Abubakar went on a trouble-shooting mission
to various parts of Nigeria.
Abubakar's profile is still rising like a meteor. He had the honour of being
named Chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Observers Mission to the Parliamentary
Election in Zimbabwe. Leading a 44-person disparate group from 25 countries,
Abubakar carried out the assignment with distinction, fairness and a sense of
history which earned him showers of praise from the observers. If Abubakar donned
all these honours and medals, his chest would look like a plate of fruit salad
which would certainly illuminate his grey beard and moustache. Both have been
neatly trimmed to give the picture of the circle at the centre of a football
field. This must be his celebration of freedom from the tyranny of military
Number two in a polygamous family of 10 children, Abubakar is clearly the most
distinguished. But his own family is smaller: One wife, sic children - evenly
distributed between the sexes - one of them a doctor, another a lawyer, the
other an architect. The remaining three - all boys - are just boys in school.
The Abubakar have a romance with the name Fati. Abubakar's mother is Fati. His
wife is Fati. One of his daughters is Fati - three Fatis in one man's life.