Friday, 22nd September 2023

Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (rtd) (1942-2023)

By Editorial Board
17 February 2023   |   3:00 am
The diminishing rank of elite military statesmen and pro-democracy chieftains in Nigeria has suffered further depletion with the death of retired Air Commodore Dan Suleiman.

Dan Suleiman

The diminishing rank of elite military statesmen and pro-democracy chieftains in Nigeria has suffered further depletion with the death of retired Air Commodore Dan Suleiman. Described variously as an officer gentleman with some of the finest qualities of a progressive democrat, Suleiman, 80, died unexpectedly in his Abuja home. Until his death he was a consistent patriot who helped build Nigeria’s renascent democracy.

Born on July 30, 1942 in Guyuk, present-day Adamawa State, Suleiman was educated in Numan Primary School, from 1948-56 and Provincial Secondary School from 1957 to 1962 in Guyuk, before joining the Nigerian Air Force. A pioneer pilot of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Suleiman rose through the ranks, working as Airport Commandant Ikeja, first NAF Base Commander, Ikeja, and Senior Air Force Officer (Administration) NAF Headquarters, Lagos until he attained the enviable status of an Air Force General. He was appointed Federal Commissioner for Special Duties during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, and worked for the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

After the successful coup d’état against Gowon he was appointed Minister of Health by the succeeding Murtala Muhammed regime, and later made Military Administrator of Plateau State when it was separated from the former Benue-Plateau State. Upon his retirement in 1980, Suleiman pursued further studies and earned a degree from the University of Beverly Hills, California. He also set up a business, went into progressive politics and became a community leader. During the democratic regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, he served as the Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation amongst other state appointments bestowed on him.

Amongst the many things that made Suleiman stand out in and out of service are his forthrightness and democratic conviction notwithstanding his military career. As the pioneer military administrator of the then newly created Plateau State, he was said to put forward a “progressive proposal” that re-modeled indigeneship and citizenship in Plateau, when he declared “that anyone born in Plateau State or anyone who had lived in the state for 20 years should enjoy all the rights and privileges of a native regardless of their ethnic origin.” At the height of Suleiman’s nationalistic idealism, this proposal was a very potent force for national integration.

Besides, he was one of the few vociferous activists and also a founding member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) who resisted the dictatorship of the late General Sani Abacha after the annulled elections of June12, 1993. With the critical mass of the time, he carried this pro-democracy activism through until the death of Abacha and the emergence of a renascent democratic government. He later joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that eventually won the elections in 1999. While a PDP stalwart in Adamawa State, he was also active as a chieftain of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), an umbrella organisation fighting against the marginalisation and suppression of peoples of the Middle Belt of Nigeria.

The relevance of this obituary lies in the lesson it has for the youthful Nigerian public. In the light of the anomie being witnessed, it seems like the fight for democracy 25 years ago under the most draconian military junta in Nigeria’s political history has been a futile exercise. Far from it. Nigeria is, today, in dire need of time-tested, reliable and courageous statesmen, whose sagely voices will not only speak truth to power but also unify the country and inspire national solidarity against injustice. The life and times of people like Suleiman are historical pointers to the reality of a genuine struggle and to the possibility of another occurrence.

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