BY ERIC TENIOLA
The Minister of Defence of Nigeria is a senior cabinet official in the Federal Executive Council. The Defence Minister’s main responsibility is to manage all branches of the Armed Forces, to maintain a modern, competent, and professional military force for the protection of the national territory, maritime interests, airspace, and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
After independence, Nigeria’s first Minister of Defence, was, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu (1910-65). On May 1, 1965, he was to be honoured with gold medals of the Usmamiya order in Kaduna .along with the then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-66) by the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello (1909-66).
He died on the morning of that day at the age of 55.
No doubt, Alhaji Ribadu was a towering figure. A giant among men. He was in all but name, the Deputy Prime Minister. He was powerful and intrepid.
Alhaji Ribadu was born at Bulala, in the present Adamawa state. He was active in Politics in the Northern Region and entered the Northern House of Assembly in Kaduna in 1947. Thus began a political career in which he rose rapidly. He soon became a leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), founded in 1949 as a cultural organisation but which soon turned into a political party in order to meet the requirements of the Macpherson Constitution.
Under the leadership of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the most powerful politician of his era, the NPC won all the Northern seats in Nigeria’s first general elections of 1951-52, and Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu was one of the Northern candidates who won the election to the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos where he was appointed Minister of Natural Resources. He was previously a director of the Nigerian Produce Marketing Company, but resigned this post on becoming a minister.
In 1954 he was appointed Federal Minister of Land, Mines and Power. He served in that ministry until 1957 when he was transferred to the portfolio of Lagos Affairs. He was second Vice-President of the NPC, and one of the most influential leaders of the NPC-dominated regime in the Federation. He received a British decoration, being awarded the Member of the British Empire, MBE, in 1952.
While serving as Minister of Defence, Ribadu presided over a rapid expansion of the Nigerian Army, Navy as well as the creation of the Nigeria Air Force. He established the Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna, the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna and a Second Recce Squadron in Abeokuta. He got practically all his budgetary requests through parliament including approval to spend 19.5 million pounds on defence from 1962-66 as compared with 5.5 million pounds during the preceding seven year period. Defence costs as a percentage of federal recurrent spending from 1958-1966 ranged from 7.7 to 9.9%. Defence costs as a percentage of federal capital spending during the same period ranged from 1.5 to 12.1%.
Ribadu lost the chairmanship of the Economic Committee of the federal cabinet in 1964, a position he had used skilfully to protect and oversee his defence appropriations. His colleagues often referred to him as “power of powers”. He completed the Nigerianisation of the Nigerian Army. Till today he’s still remembered as one of the most outstanding Defence Ministers Nigeria ever had. If we remember Alhaji Ribadu in éclat, valour and repute and for his giant strides, we must also note in glory and prowess the two permanent secretaries and the four Ministers of State who served under him.
Alhaji Abdul Azeez Attah (1920-1972) served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence between 1960 and 1964 and handed over to Alhaji Sule Dede Kolo (88) who is from Jos, Plateau state.
From 1960 to August 1961, a physician, Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi CFR (1916-2012), was Minister of State for the Army. He handed over to an Idoma businessman and politician, Chief Jacob Obande from Elilazi, Igumale in the present Benue state.
Alhaji Ibrahim Tako Galadima, an ex-student of Government College, Bida,Niger State took over from Chief Obande in January 1963 and served till January 1966. Alhaji Galadima, according to the famous writer, Dan Agbese, recruited almost all the famous Generals including General Ibrahim Babangida, Gado Nasko, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Mamman Vatsa, Sanni Bello and others, particularly from Niger state, into the Nigerian Army.
Chief Matthew Tawo Mbu (1929-2012) served as Minister of Navy from 1960-1965 under Alhaji Ribadu. Chief Mbu from Okundi in Ogoja area of present Cross Rivers state had earlier served as Nigeria’s first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom between 1955-1959. He was also the first Nigeria representative to the United Nations.
After the death of Alhaji Ribadu, Alhaji Inua Wada, Uncle to late General Murtala Muhammed, was appointed Minister of Defence. There was little he could do until the military coup of January 15, 1966.
Many scholars and historians believe till today that if Alhaji Ribadu had been alive the January 15, 1966 military coup could not have taken place. That he would have prevented it and that the first republic in spite of all incidents would have survived. And that we would not have been in this mess today.
Since Alhaji Inua Wada, Nigeria has had many Defence Ministers namely Major General Iliya Bisalla (1975-1976), Professor Iya Abubakar (1979-1981), Alhaji Akanbi Oniyangi (1971-1983), General Domkat Bali (1984-1990), General Sani Abacha (1990-1994), General (rtd.) Yakubu Theophilus Danjuma (1999-2003), Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso (2003-2007), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed (2007-2008), Alhaji Shettima Mustapha (2008-2009), Major General (rtd.) Godwin Abbe (2009-2010), Adetokunbo Kayode (2010-2011) and Dr. Bello Haliru Muhammed (2011-July 2012).
Of all the Defence Ministers, none has resumed in office during war like the incumbent, General (rtd.) Aliyu Muhammed Gusau.
I think it is not by accident that he has been picked at this period to serve as Defence Minister. He has all the credentials.
General Aliyu Gusau ended his military career as Chief of Army staff. His long tenure as National Security Adviser is still unequalled. He was Director- General of National Security Organisation (NSO).
He was once Director of Military Intelligence. He was once chairman of Joint Intelligence Board. He was also Director of Defence Intelligence Agency. To top it all, he has friends. Many friends.
War is no longer being waged like in the past in the conventional way. Things have changed. For a war to be won now there must be a great input from the intelligence unit. For example in the United States, the Secretary of Defence, which is Minister of Defence to us, by the Goldwater-Nichols DOD Reorganisation Act of 1986, has combatant control of the Defence Information Systems Agency, the Defence Nuclear Agency, the Defence Logistics Agency, the Defence Intelligence Agency , the National Security Agency, the Defence Mapping Agency and the Central Imagery Office.
In addition, the Secretary of Defence gives policy guidance and direction to other supporting organisations, including the Joint Tactical Command Control and Communications Agency, the Electromagnetic Compatibility Analysis Centre, the Military Communications Electronics Board, and the Joint Doctrine Centre.
Even in the United Kingdom, the Minister of Defence is the Chairman of Defence Council and all other bodies, namely the Admiralty, the Army Board and the Air Force board report directly to him. In return, he is accountable to the Queen and the parliament.
In relation to our present war in the North-East, if we are to go by the American experience, the Minister of Defence must have complete control on Specified and Unified Command so as to avoid duplication of efforts.
This Boko Haram war has brought dejection, depression and melancholy to us all. Many homes are today in anguish and despondency. Thousands, if not millions, have been displaced because of this war.
It must and it should end. The continuation of this war cannot be justified. It is the duty of a General to fight a war. It is also the duty of a General to stop a war. I believe it is the duty of General Aliyu Gusau to help stop this war.
Eric Teniola, former Editor of The Punch, was a Director at the Presidency. He lives in Lagos.