Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa (ret.) needs little introduction, considering his visibility on the Nigerian political scene for more than 20 years. It started with his appointment as governor of old Borno state in 1990 by General Ibrahim Babangida. Two years later, he became Defense Adviser to the Nigerian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
From 1996 – 1999, Marwa was the military administrator of Lagos state, and it is a mark of his enduring legacies that even the fact that he was appointed by General Sana Abacha hardly diminished his status among Lagosians.
After the mass retirements of military officers who had held political positions by the Obasanjo administration, Marwa ventured into business and established Albarka Airlines. Though the firm later flew into the notoriously stormy winds of the Nigerian aviation industry, Marwa left with his reputation largely intact and, in 2006, announced his intention to seek the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nomination for president. Though unsuccessful, he supported Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who later appointed him Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the Republic of South Africa in 2007.
In 2010, Marwa decided to run for the governorship of Adamawa state. He left his ambassadorial posting and contested the primaries against the incumbent, Murtala Nyako. Dissatisfied with the conduct of the primaries, he left the PDP and moved to the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). He picked the party’s ticket, but narrowly lost to Nyako. With the merger of three opposition parties that led to the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Marwa was primed to test the electoral waters in Adamawa once again. Or so it seemed.
However, the decision of his arch-rival, Governor Nyako to dump the PDP for the APC threw a spanner in the works of Marwa’s aspiration. The trio of Nyako, Marwa and Marcus Gundiri – who was the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate for governor in 2011 – were now in the same party. With former vice president Atiku Abubakar joining the fray, it was clear that all Marwa needed to do to actualize his governorship ambition was to manage the processes and expectations of the various contending groups – in other words, to play real politics.
But the former army officer suddenly somersaulted and returned to his old party, PDP. The reasons for his departure from the APC may not be fully known, and it may be simplistic to attribute it entirely to his desire to occupy Government House, Yola. However, it appears that the highly intelligent, urbane and likeable former brigadier general may have made a politically flawed calculation – or miscalculation.
In the 2011 governorship polls, even with the overwhelming power of incumbency, PDP only managed to scrounge a razor-thin victory in Adamawa. It was because the opposition CPC and ACN were so divided that PDP hung on to power; the combined votes of the opposition parties were more than sufficient to hand them a massive victory. As elsewhere in the North, it was the CPC presidential candidate’s aura and popularity in General Muhammadu Buhari that drew in voters, and not the power of money or party structures.
And that is why Marwa’s decision to rejoin the PDP is as giddy as his miscalculation in leaving the APC a grave misreading of the emerging dynamics on the Nigerian political scene. In leaving the APC, Marwa accused the party’s national leadership of handing over the party in Adamawa to Governor Nyako who only joined the APC after its formation, saying that his supporters were marginalised during the recent APC membership registration in the state. He vowed not to accept a situation where Nyako, who came from PDP, would take over the party from “the original founders in the state”.
Alas, Marwa was not looking at the larger picture: By all standards, his military background (retired brigadier general); education (two masters degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University, respectively); international exposure (trainings and postings in USA, Pakistan, India, South Africa, etc); administrative experience (governor of Borno state – comprising today’s Yobe state – and his being from Adamawa gives him firsthand understanding of the insurgency states); enduring popularity in many parts of Nigeria and his (even if abortive) venture into business – all of these makes him one of the best qualified persons to lead Nigeria at these difficult times.
Marwa’s miscalculation was to peg the limits of his ambition on the uncertain possibility of becoming a PDP governor of Adamawa, as against a more probable APC president of Nigeria. Voters favourite, Buhari may, or may not run, and might, or might not pick the APC ticket, but by knocking himself out of the contest even before it starts, Marwa has robbed himself of the chance of taking a realistic shot at the biggest prize in the political sphere: The Presidency.