Lawrence Onoja and Fidelis Makka were military administrators while Shettima Mustapha was a minister during the General Ibrahim Babangida-led regime. They were prominent in their days but not much has been heard about them for some time. Where are they now? ELEOJO IDACHABA asks.
Major General Lawrence Onoja (retd.) was one of the military officers designated ‘Babangida boys’ during the General Ibrahim Babangida-led regime.
He was military administrator of Plateau state from 1986 to ‘88 and later moved to Katsina as military administrator from ‘88 to 1989. Onoja later became the Principal Staff Officer (PSO) to General Sani Abacha as Chief of Defence Staff.
His career in the military suffered a major setback following his arrest for alleged involvement in an attempted coup against Abacha in 1998. He was subsequently set free because there was no evidence to nail him down to the said crime. Onoja retired from the army in the same year.
As a military officer, he served in various positions including Defence Adviser at the Nigerian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt; PSO to General Babangida shortly before he was appointed as military administrator of Plateau in July 1988.
While in Plateau, he was saddled with the responsibility of managing the religious crisis between Christians and Muslims, a development that made him threaten to pull down all public places of worship in order to defuse the tension in the state. He however did not carry out the threat before he was moved to Katsina. As military administrator of Katsina state, he was adjudged as a transparent administrator because of his transparency in running the affairs of the state.
On leaving the military in 1998, he joined politics and was appointed a member of the board of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
He was the governorship candidate on the platform of United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) in the 2003 general election but lost. Again, in 2006, he contested for senatorial position against the Senator David Mark but narrowly lost.
In April 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua named him the Chairman, National Institute for Sports.
This Benue-born army officer, who fought in the Nigeria Civil War, while recalling his experience during his 70th birthday said, “Surviving the war was a miracle of God. A lot of Idoma officers, who were with me in Port Harcourt, were killed. I remember when they brought the dead bodies of George Lawani (younger brother to former deputy governor of Benue state), Col Shambe, a Tiv man; Francis Oluma, a native of Adoka here in Benue. I was very young then.
“One day, I just received a call from the late Benjamin Adekunle (Black Scorpion) in front of his office. I could remember vividly that what was written on the steel helmet in front of his office was ‘enter my office at the pain of death.’
“Adekunle posted me to meet my kinsman, Ignatius Obeya who was the then Brigadier Commander at Itu, Cross River State.
“At that time, you couldn’t connect Port Harcourt from Calabar because there no road, you had to go through Aba, which was already held by Biafra. So, we had to connect through Igwenga to Abak, then to Oron before finally crossing to Calabar.
“I reported to Brig Obeya and I was part of the operation from crossing Calabar to Itu through a river called Ikoto Okpora. I was made a Brigade Major to Obeya to ensure that the three battalions in the Brigade were effectually controlled and commanded to fight the war.
“We were facing a place called Arochukwu across the water at the time. The Biafran were on the other side while the Nigerian troops were on this side. It was very funny because every morning, we would wake up and talked to ourselves across the water. The Biafra soldiers would tell us that ‘Gowon and Ojukwu are enjoying themselves in Aburi and we are busy fighting ourselves, please give us some food’; we would then throw cigarettes and sometimes beer to them across the water.
“But after an hour, we would start shooting at ourselves. I went through all this and came out alive; I think at 70, I would say I am a fulfilled man,” he recalled.
Shettima Mustapha was minister of agriculture and natural resources in the Gnerel Ibrahim Babangida-led regime between 1990 and 1992 and later moved to the ministry of defence.
He was appointed into the cabinet of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as ministry of interior and served in that capacity until the cabinet was dissolved when Vice President Goodluck Jonathan took over power following Yar’Adua’s demise in 2011.
Prior to his coming to political reckoning, Mustapha had a stint as a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
His is first political appointment was as commissioner in Borno state under the Governor Mohammed Goni-led administration.
He rose steadily in the political ranks and was later nominated as vice-presidential candidate of the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) platform in the 1983 presidential election in which Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) later won.
After the military coup of December 1983, when Major General Muhammadu Buhari came to power, he was among the political office holders jailed until 1985.
He is also a one-time advisor to various local and international organisations as well as the national treasurer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a position he held between 1998 and 2001.
However, not much has been heard about him for a long while.
Lt. Col. Fidelis Attahiru Makka (retd.) was military administrator of Benue state between 1988 and 1992 under General Ibrahim Babangida.
He joined the military in 1973 and served in the United Nations Force in Lebanon in 1976. He was also a defence attaché to the Nigerian Embassy in the Republic of Cameroun before he was appointed a military administrator in 1988.
It was during his administration in Benue state that the state university was established in 1991. The Niger state-born military officer has been described by many as an energetic administrator committed to transparency.
He is credited with completing projects like the Apeh Aku Stadium abandoned by the previous administration. He also built the IBB Square, Fidelis Makka Library and Pauline Makka Women Centre as well as six general hospitals, several roads and extended rural electrification.
Also, as military administration he made the monthly environmental sanitation exercise compulsory with the military enforcing compliance.
However, since his retirement from the military, not much has been heard about him.