Lagun Akinloye: As Jonathan turns to Gusau, Nigeria’s soldier spy to fight Boko Haram

by Lagun Akinloye


If Gusau is able to make gains against the Islamist militants, his appointment could be the shot in the arm Jonathan’s administration − and 2015 ambitions − needs.

In a move seen by many as his last throw of the dice in the fight against Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan last week picked an old face in Nigerian politics to be his new defence minister.

The government’s efforts in combating the Islamist militants in the north of the country have proven ineffective recently despite Jonathan replacing his military top brass in January, and the president will be hoping the seasoned veteran Aliyu Mohammed Gusau can finally lead a turnaround in fortunes. In January and February of this year alone, Boko Haram killed over 600 civilians.

Gusau certainly has an impressive CV for the job having held a series of high-level positions in government over the past three or so decades, including Director of Military Intelligence, National Security Advisor, and Army Chief. Gusau clearly knows Nigeria’s military terrain better than most, and as of last week, can add to his roster of job titles not only Defence Minister but possibly also Coordinating Minister of Defence, a role in which he would oversee all aspects of Nigeria’s defence establishments.

With the situation in the North-east looking desperate, the government appears to be playing Gusau as its trump card. However, given the veteran’s controversial history and position within Nigeria’s political landscape, many commentators are reading more in Gusau’s recent ascension than just the appointment of a safe pair of hands.

G is for Gusau

Gusau has been a central figure in much of post-independence Nigeria, and his time in government reads like a spy thriller, fraught with intrigue, switching allegiances with burning ambition.

To begin with, Gusau was an integral member of the military clique which overthrew the elected president Shehu Shagari in 1983. Gusau became Director of Military Intelligence under Shagari’s successor Muhammadu Buhari, before collaborating with disgruntled elements within the army to topple his boss once again, placing his friend Ibrahim Babangida in charge of the country. Gusau held a number of high-level defence positions in Babangida’s administration before he was retired by Sani Abacha in 1995 as Nigeria’s latest head of state attempted to consolidate his hold on power.

Gusau did not fade into the background for long, however, and when Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999, Gusau helped the president take control of the armed forces. The comeback kid was rewarded with the familiar role of National Security Advisor which he left in 2006 to compete to be the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate.

In 2010, Gusau became Nigeria’s National Security Advisor again − this time under Jonathan − before he challenged to be the party’s presidential candidate for a second time in 2011.

In from the cold

In placing a man with clear presidential ambitions high up in his administration, Jonathan could be playing with fire.

“Gusau’s ambitions are unlimited and his new role is seen as positioning of himself as the link between the North and the South,“ says Gary Busch, author and political analyst. “If things do not go well for Jonathan’s next election he will be there as a power broker and a potential ‘compromise’ candidate. He is not finished with his dreams.”

However, when it comes to internal PDP politics, it may be Gusau’s relationship with former president Babangida that is of more significance, at least in the short-term.

Jonathan’s political godfather used to be former president Obasanjo, but a rift between the two figures has left a void which Babangida now seems to be filling. Babangida is a wily power broker and seen as a revered elder statesman amongst northern political circles, despite allegations of abuse of power and corruption levelled against him during his time in office.

Jonathan appears to be welcoming Babangida’s influence and many of Nigeria’s top government positions are filled with Babangida associates. Sambo Dasuki, former aide-de-camp to Babangida, for example, is Jonathan’s National Security Advisor, while Jones Arogbofa, a well-known Babangida loyalist, is the president’s new chief of staff.

Jonathan seems to have allowed Babangida into the godfather role previously occupied by Obasanjo in the hope of steadying his shaky government, and it appears Babangida is all too happy to help, albeit from behind the scenes.

Gusau is also a significant choice as he is from the north. Many northern politicians have been particularly disgruntled at Jonathan’s apparent ambitions to run for re-election next year, and some believe that the appointment of a prominent northerner could be the result of some high-level negotiations.

“The most conspicuous political conflict we have today is the desire of President Jonathan and his regional supporters to seek re-election, and the bitter opposition to this desire by the Muslim north,” says Akin Osuntokun, former political adviser to Obasanjo and columnist for This Day Newspapers. “Gusau’s appointment looks like the political bloc he represents is in serious political dialogue with President Jonathan. This may, for the sake of political stability of Nigeria, be a northern attempt at reviewing its hard-line posture against the return of Jonathan in 2015.”

The rainmaker?

With Boko Haram continuing ferocious attacks, the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) gaining momentum, and prominent northerners continuing to decry his possible re-election, Jonathan desperately needs a change of fortunes.

If Gusau is able to make gains against the Islamist militants, his appointment could be the shot in the arm Jonathan’s administration − and 2015 ambitions − needs. However, if little changes, Jonathan’s lack of success will give greater hope to both the opposition and challengers within the party, which could include Gusau himself.


Lagun Akinloye, a British Nigerian, studied Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. He is particularly interested in the history and politics of West Africa, specifically Nigeria. In addition to his role at Think Africa Press, Lagun is an executive member of the Central Association of Nigerians in the the UK.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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