Bashir Tofa and the 1993 Presidential Campaigns- A Tribute by former Security Aide
By Nasir Anas Mohammed
My first contact with Alh. Bashir Othman Tofa of blessed memory was in 1993 after he emerged as the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Bashorun MKO Abiola of blessed memory too, had also emerged the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Tofa and Abiola were therefore at intense preparation to commence the campaign that was to culminate in either of them becoming the democratically elected President of Nigeria to whom the Military regime under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was to hand over power to. Both the NRC and the SDP were created by the Military as part of a democracy project meant to form two detribalized political parties for the country.
In line with one of its statutory duties, the State Security Service (SSS) was responsible for assigning full security protection to the presidential candidates. This was to ensure they were kept safe from any harm and that nothing ontoward happened to anyone of them that could undermine their campaign or embarrass the government.
I was a little more than 9 years in service then when I was deployed to be the security officer to Tofa, who was living in Kano. I reported to the State Director of Security (SDS) Kano Command who arranged that I was introduced to Tofa as his security officer. A colleague was similarly also assigned to Abiola in the same way and for the same purpose. Although I was not told why I was picked as it was not the norm in the Service, but at least I was not a greenhorn at performing such duties having previously served as chief detail to 2 Military Governors in Plateau State and has also had short stints with a Minister and an SGF. As a proactive measure in preparation for the return to civilian administration, the Service also brought US secret service trainers that further trained few of us in protective security duties and its tradecraft
After my introduction and when we were alone, Tofa asked me what exactly was going to be my duties. Alrhough I didn’t know the briefing the senior officer that brought me gave him when they were alone, I was however able to reel out to him most of the major things I was to do and that also required his cooperation and support. I sensed he was impressed but found it a little of a tough order, kind of. He also wanted to know what I was carrying with me for the duty. I simply told him I had a personal weapon, a taser and was also to be supported by some trained and kitted service personnel. May be I should have given him a total run down of all my ‘tools’ as it would later turn out to have been necessary. He assured me of his cooperation and also introduced me to some of his domestic and personal staff. I later got to know others as he had quite a lot, including from Century Merchant Bank where he was the chairman. I subsequently also met some of his friends, political and campaign associates. Among the early ones included Usman Alhaji, Alhaji Isiaku, Abba Dabo and Ibrahim Mantu of blessed memory. Mantu headed the campaign team.
As scheduled, the NRC flagged off its presidential campaign and we hit the road and commenced the tour and campaigns in all the states. If we had used any flights in between might have not been more than twice or so. Travelling by road and in convoy, it was mostly Tofa and Mantu or occasionally Chief Sylvester Ugoh his running mate or some other person, at the back seat of the car while I sat in the front with the driver. I was also generally around him or within his glance and earshot at all times. The campaign was divided into two segments. After the first segment, we went back to Kano for a deserved short break before we resumed the second leg.
Activities during the campaign days mostly commenced in the morning with Tofa receiving briefs from his handlers, close political team, associates and also meeting other politicians, several stakeholders and interest groups before proceeding if required, on courtesy calls to the governor and traditional leader in any state visited. Several rallies thereafter followed, including at different towns in some states, but usually along the earlier agreed itinerary. There were of course other unscheduled stops along the road, especially where enthusiastic party members turned out in large numbers to see the candidate. The typical campaign day often ended quite late at night, at times as late as 2 or 3 in the morning. It was therefore not unexpected that not much sleep was enjoyed hence resorted mostly to short naps while in the car. There was not much room and time for proper meals either, hence generally made do with snacks and drinks stocked in the car.
Traversing the country by road in the 1993 campaign was quite a rigorous, energy sagging and most tedious and demanding exercise. But Tofa was equal to the task and run the campaign without any health incident. He felt at home in all the states and towns visited. He also had around him an attraction and aura such that thousands of people waited for hours at the stadium or other campaign venues to see the candidate.
In the course of the campaign, I learnt to admire and respect Tofa’s untiring capacity, endurance, patience, intelect, focus and stamina among several such unique qualities. From my then vantage position and close assessment of his conversations, comments, view points and speeches at rallies, Tofa certainly was a great patriot with lofty vision for Nigeria and had all that was required to be its leader. Our dear country would have surely witnessed a positive difference if he had won that election and was sworn in as its president as he wanted only a better Nigeria for all.
Although he assured me of his cooperation and support at the beginning, I however soon realised that some few persons around him were also capable of influencing his views on issues that we had earlier discussed and agreed upon. Such issues generally were to do with him as a person. For the success of my work and realising he had come along way with such persons, I therefore simply cultivated them to also appreciate security perspectives.
As his security officer, I was under obligation to be forthright, sincere and honest to him. But as its most often the case, some principals view their security details with a measure of suspicion. Although I somehow felt he could also harbour such a suspicion, I believe some incidents at our early part of the relationship earned me his total support and confidence. I’ll mention just a few. One late night, Tofa ‘confessed’ to me that he was made to believe that I was all along bugging or recording his conversations while with him. It was their believe that the pen I always had in the front pocket of my suit was a transmitter or recorder until the day I had to bring it out to use as the only source of light when we experienced a power outage while at a very late night large reception at a hotel in Owerri. To further earn his trust, I therefore gave him the pen to handle and showed him how it worked as it was only a touch light. Another incident was when he directed me to keep some cash amounts for him. After almost 3 weeks, I reminded him of the cash with me. He admitted that he had actually forgotten and then directed I handed it over to a named personal aide.
Tofa also appreciated my concern for the welfare of some essential staff on the campaign, in particular the drivers. I had drawn his attention that drivers in the campaign convoy hardly had time to eat, refresh or even sleep and the situation was exposing all of us to being potential accident victims. I then got his approval that at every place of reception, all drivers were to be fed first after dropping the occupants of their cars and even before the rest of the entourage or going to refuel their vehicles. Hotel accommodation was also approved to be provided for them at overnight stops.
It was indeed a most herculean task providing him security at the campaigns and rallies. He was always impressed with the usual mammoth turnout at those events.and it bolstered his confidence of winning the election. To his credit as well as of Abiola, the campaigns were generally peaceful and non violent.
With the subsequent annulment of the election mid way into counting and before a winner was announced, all the efforts therefore came to naught. Of course man proposes and God disposes. Some weeks later and with everything over, Tofa was informed by my office that my assignment had ended and I was required back in office. It was therefore a nostalgic moment when I went to bid him goodbye, especially after having created a close bond of understanding and trust over the past months. During the campaigns, I was among the last persons he saw before retiring at the end of each day as well as among the first to see him at the start of another day.
Apart from some very few chance meetings since then, I did not see Alh. Tofa until in early December last year, just about a month before his demise. I met him at the residence of a very prominent, influential and eminent traditional title holder in Kano, Alh. Shehu Mohammed the Sarkin Shanun Kano, who is also my mentor as well as a senior old boy of my alma mater, Barewa College, Zaria. I learnt Tofa was there for a regular meeting of some select senior citizens of Kano that ended shortly before my arrival. I greeted him with an apology for not having kept in touch. I also condoled him over the death of Alh. Mantu. He was happy to see me and enquired about my well being. He was suprised and also happy when I told him I had since even retired after a successful public service career. Tofa accepted my pledge that I was going to arrange to come and specially visit him at home. Our common host the Sarkin Shanun Kano, could also not hide his suprise at that part of my relationship with Tofa after I later further briefed him how it was.
Alas, my visit to Alh. Bashir Tofa was not to be. I was apprehensive when he was first falsely rumored in the social media to have died and was relieved when it turned out that he was only on admission at a hospital in Kano. However, the first news item I heard on 3 January this year was of his passing announced over the BBC Hausa service early morning news. It is surely the destiny of every soul to die as decreed by Allah, our Creator. However, from the way his loss was received with deep sadness across the nation and beyond, the mammoth crowd at his funeral prayer and the torrent of tributes and condolences since then, Tofa had indeed lived an exemplary worthy life that not only greatly impacted his immediate and larger society but also hundreds of thousands of people around him and humanity.
I can only pray that may Allah forgive Alh. Bashir Othman Tofa of his sins, grant him permanent abode in Aljanna Firdaus, and bless the family members he left behind. Aameen.
Nasir Anas Mohammed.
A Retired DSS Chief who previously served as security officer to Alh. Bashir Othman Tofa, the NRC Candidate in the 1993 Presidential Election.
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