October 1, 2022

Punch Newspapers
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A pro-democracy icon and former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Alani Akinrinade, shares his thoughts with BOLA BAMIGBOLA on his involvement in the struggle for the actualisation of June 12, 1993 mandate
Can you tell us how you got involved with the National Democratic Organisation struggle?
NADECO was just a creation of a few organisations. When I left the Army, General Olusegun Obasanjo pressed me that I should go and join General Adeyinka Adebayo in Ilosiwaju Yoruba; he excused himself because he was the Head of State. First, I was hesitant, but I know the General very well. So, I decided that I would join them in Ilosiwaju Yoruba. Ilosiwaju then joined with Afenifere and it had people like (Chief Adekunle) Ajasin, (Chief Abraham) Adesanya and I thought it was an opportunity to get closer to some politicians, because apart from Chief Bola Ige, who I knew personally, there was no other politician of note in Yorubaland that I was close to. That was how I started doing things with them in Afenifere. Eventually, Ilosiwaju Yoruba and Afenifere got together and started taking on the military and when 1993 was approaching, we decided that we needed a southern presidency. So, if we needed southern presidency, we needed support. We invited the Middle Belt Forum and the Eastern Mandate. We now became a bigger group called the Committee for Unity and Understanding and we were still meeting under the auspices of Ilosiwaju at Gen Adebayo’s house.
We had the privilege because there were a lot of military people there. We decided that we needed to intervene in the 1993 election, and that we had to get somebody from the South to be there. The aspirants from the South respected us. Then, the committee met each one of them. Moshood Abiola was the most qualified person because of what was in his mind that he wanted to do for Nigeria if he ever got to the top. We then adopted him, but we were not really a political party; we were just a group of people. That was how things went and eventually when Abacha started misbehaving, we decided that we needed a stronger body.

We had to transform into something pro-democracy-inclined. So, we transformed into NADECO. One or two people opted out, because they said we were going to get involved in partisan politics. But we saw it as a matter of making sure democracy gets root. That is my root in NADECO. Those of us who were left were strong enough to make things happen, organised programmes, resistance and tried to convince other people that this was a matter of life and death for Nigeria, and if we didn’t fight for it, we were not going to get anything.
Do you think the Yoruba nation has been compensated for the June 12 trauma on the socio-political psyche of the citizens?
Yoruba have always been at the forefront of any fight from the days of Herbert Macaulay even to the present day. If it is for Nigeria, for democracy, for fairness and all those things, we are not looking for compensation. Our compensation will be that we establish democracy in the true sense of it and people enjoy it, and both the governed and the political leaders enjoy it. It’s not really compensation for the West as such, but it was also true that after Abacha behaved so badly and the election was annulled in 1993, we thought it was the last straw that anybody should take if you were truly fighting for democracy. That is what strengthened NADECO and made it more determined that we really had to fight for it.

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So, Obasanjo’s emergence in 1999 was not to compensate the South-West for the annulment of the June 12 election?
Eventually, when the whole matter came to an end, Abacha died and all that, it was obvious to the rest of Nigerians that really, we (Yoruba) just have to produce the next President. I don’t think it was compensation. I think it’s just by fairness, because for whatever it is, you cannot compensate for Abiola and for the amount of effort that all the politicians put together to get through that election and make sure it was peaceful. I think they deserved to be honoured. I don’t see it as any compensation though in the past few years we have got Abiola recognised. Even when our own was the President, he did not think it was necessary. We have Abiola’s name now brought to the forefront with schools and stadiums named after him. I just don’t like the idea that all the suffering and human lives involved can be compensated for, because if you want Nigeria to survive, then we have to channel all the resources that are around us to make sure that people feel content with what they have.
Did you personally make effort to reach out to General Abacha, being your junior in the military?
The situation was out of the reach of people like me. We were not thinking about Abacha or the military. Abacha was a Brigade Commander under me, I knew him very well. He was a good officer but not as excellent as some of the officers I know, especially from the North. Some of the things that happened were beyond the reach of those of us who were already out of the armed forces, but they played a very bad game to have said there would be an interim government when you had a government that could easily have led us out of these issues. General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election. If you remember, General (Theophilus) Danjuma was there in NADECO. We had Air Force officers and many other influential individuals. In fact, the current President, Muhammadu Buhari, was with us in the Association of Good Governance under General Obasanjo, also fighting for democracy as a separate organisation, but it was beyond us; we didn’t have such powers.
Do you believe that the Nigerian political landscape is skewed against the emergence of a Yoruba President?
No, because all of us didn’t work hard enough to get the constitution straightened out. There is nowhere in the world where people are talking about landmass; you talk about people. The moment we agreed, they didn’t fight hard enough to stop states being created. That was where the whole thing got screwed up. It got tilted to one side of the country and favoured some more than the others. Yoruba are not the worst; there are others. We just made that mistake of not fighting hard enough to stop all these nonsense of interim government and that was where we started missing our ways and those in the military came back and Abacha took over and decided to run over all of us.
What we are seeing today is just the wash down of all those disquiet, all the lack of cohesion, fairness, good judgment that was established then. I think after the first state structure that we started on, anything else was just confusion that brought us into the path that we are today. Many states, many governors, without production and we are complaining about poverty.

Given the current realities of Nigeria, will you say the struggle for democracy has been worth its weight in goodness?
It has been worth it; it’s not every endeavour that you embark on in life that is going to end up in a satisfactory end. But at least we tried and I would have been very sad if we didn’t try at all. I think we tried and for me, it was worth a trial and it also shows that it is possible for us to get Nigerians together to fight a good course. I believe it’s possible to march together and do something to get ourselves out of this mess.
Some members of the NADECO struggle have become part of the current dispensation. Do you think they have made an impact in bringing democratic principles to the fore or they have faltered out of the way?
We really had problems with some people who were part of us. It began a long time ago during Abdulsalam Abubakar, who got to power as the Head of State. Abdulsalami was a gentleman, a good officer, but I thought he lost the dream. He was to be in interim capacity to ensure he got the new constitution done so that the one that Abacha did would be buried. That is where this whole confusion of today came from. With that decision to go into democracy without a constitution that we have read and studied, and we have all amended and signed up to before we start. We put the cart before the horse. That is where all these problems started from. You cannot promise what you don’t have powers to do. So, all the governments that we have had, especially the first one we had after the death of Abacha. Obasanjo’s government had no clue what power they had or what they could do or not do. They had no clue how to solve the problem in front of us because they got there at a time that the constitution became an albatross. That is where we all lost the game. If we had decided then that unless we had a new constitution, we were not going to go ahead, the military were tired and fed up; they knew they were losing respect not just in Nigeria, but all over the world.
Was Obasanjo in any way in support of MKO Abiola’s release?
I can tell you that when (1993) election results were coming out, Obasanjo was calling me at 2am to give me updates from different parts of the country. He was very interested and enthusiastic about the election. I know he was interested in Abiola’s election and he played a vital role in his own way. Even if we have had a civilian government, if the AGGN had existed without NADECO, we would have been able to mount pressure on the government for whatever we wanted to get, because there were no politicians there. All of us were professionals from different walks of life. It could have become an institution under Obasanjo then. I am sure he would have provided everything necessary to make it a functional institution, because he could reach the people. But when the matter got discussed in Abuja and people were talking about interim government, which we didn’t need, everybody got disgusted and walked away. Even Buhari was there, TY Danjuma was there and these are the people deciding things in Nigeria today.
Some people will say the country has yet to free itself from the trappings of the military regime, like the way the handing over is militarised. What do you say to that or is it okay to continue with that tradition?

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I think our problem is that we have never been governed by ‘the seven hunters who went to Igbo Olodumare’. We have not had the luxury of being governed well. Most of the countries that make good progress, they have great leaders who they can be proud of or imitate. Who are the people who led us, who have courage to shun mundane things? Leaders who have the guts to change anything; we have to have people who are brave enough to change things and things are very symbolic, it could be mundane but very symbolic. What we have to do to become a nation, nobody has done anything about it. It is not the military who wanted to be imitated.
I have personally canvassed that instead of the National Youth Service Scheme, it should be national service where people will join the Army, Navy or Air Force, for one year or two. They will be trained and work, then they can go on with their lives. If they want to stay there, then they can apply to stay and they will be given the terms to stay. We need some discipline. It is the discipline that drives the Army.
But even in the military that you mentioned, there are still cases of corruption. Does that not show that Nigeria’s case is beyond redemption?
Optimism is the basis of life. I don’t think I can give up at all, but, however, the condition which you have stated now is a very sad condition. We walked into this thing gradually without knowing; we didn’t do enough to watch our recruitment, training and promotion, and gradually, we lost some ground. Secondly, when people start misbehaving and we didn’t hold them with strong hands; we didn’t see it coming. I am very ashamed to hear that a military officer stole money because I stayed long in the army and served so long in the Ministry of Defence. I know you cannot steal a kobo without writing or approving or to know how money got to the command and how it is spent. We had people there who were trained and knew what to do, they knew the procedures and they followed it. So, how a military is able to get into the treasury and make away with our money, I have no idea and I don’t think anyone of my age in the military will ever understand what it is all about, but the military has never suffered in Nigeria like the civil servants.

Our salaries and entitlement were good. We had barracks with accommodation and beyond that, if you wanted to buy a car that was befitting of your rank and you didn’t have money, the government would give you allowance to buy it and pay back in 10 years and the life of the car was more than four years. You could also queue up for housing loan because you were entitled to it, but now, all these institutional safeguards have disappeared. So, how we intend to make people live on the wages they earn now is what I am not aware of. For instance, in Osun here, some people were paid half salary for years, and I ask myself, where are the sociologists, the economists? They should let us know how those people lived at the time. Even the full salary cannot pay your bills and now, you are getting half of it and you are still coming to work. I want to know how.
This is how we have promoted corruption and people are living well above their means and nobody is asking questions, and since nobody is asking questions, it will continue but as I told you, I am eternally ashamed that military officers will ever get involved in some of the cases that we hear of. While in the Army, I witnessed a case of a Lieutenant Colonel, who moved from one station to another, and when he was parking from his quarters, because then it was government quarters, which was furnished by the Ministry of Works. In each house, there is a law that guides what you have inside it. When the officer left, he left with one baby cot and because of that, he was court marshalled; he had to hire a lawyer to defend him. Because of that, he was called ‘Colonel Baby Cot’. It wasn’t his house and at that time, it was all wooden furniture, no one was doing sofa as of then. The institutions are dying and people are pretending as if the institutions are still strong.
As a retired General, how does the current insecurity make you feel, because some will argue that it ridicules the military and security agencies not to be able to defeat terrorists and even bandits?

I think people have a good point there and I won’t deny that. Our Armed Forces have participated in peace keeping all over the world, including Lebanon, and they have always been praised. Even at home, they have always been praised. So, when the matter of banditry started, people were just giving them different names, but these are terrorists. Now, saying it is people who came from Mali and Chad, is making it more illegitimate to deal with them without any hesitation at all. All the semantics, either bandits, herdsmen or whatever, they are all terrorists and they should not be allowed into this country. I said that much last year August and that is my position. We hear all the time from the military that the pieces of equipment are not good enough, that they have fifth columnists that releases information among them. These are not palatable stories to hear and if 10 per cent of it is right, we are in for a very long fight. I don’t have first hand information, but if that kind of a story is true, then we need some good hands to help us to reorganise our forces and retrain them to what they have to be.
The Armed Forces are not for marginal people; they are not for people who have no mind to serve their country. They’re not meant for people who cannot be trusted by their own kinsmen. I am not sure how the officers are coping and how widespread the situation is and I will not be surprised if we are losing out in some simple situations, which we can send 10 or 20 soldiers to resolve. It is a matter I will want this government to take a look at. Who is involved? Who did you give your equipment? We have to know each other; we have to be sure that there is no doubt to their loyalty and service to their country, and they are ready to abide by the rules. All these nonsense must disappear from our country. There is no such thing as half loyalty. So, I am not so sure we have not got ourselves into a bigger mess.
To tackle security challenge, will you suggest that the government should get foreign help?
No, I can’t imagine myself merging two characters together and say mercenaries should be the one to come and defend your farm. You think he will want to die there. Use of mercenaries is not a good idea. Use them and you will never get to the target before they will leave. If you put them in the Navy, they will hardly hit the target. The stick (military force) cannot be the end-all solution. However, the military, the police and other security agencies must be empowered and given free hand to fight and defeat all the adversaries without classification. They are professional soldiers without borders and should be treated as such.
There should be huge investment in technology and training to make for any shortfall in personnel. The President and the National Assembly ought to have periodical special reviews. The Ministry of Justice and the judiciary must expedite trials and publish information on multitudes arrested or captured in detention facilities across the country. Those facilities must not become a comfort zone or rest area for their retraining, intelligence gathering and regrouping. It will also convince the citizens of the government’s seriousness and impartiality in this war against terror.
Government at all levels must name, shame and try all the known promoters and financiers of insecurity in the country. All levels of government and even large institutions must have their own police with their peculiar needs. Then security can be localised and be more effective. All the religious leaders, traditional rulers, ward and compound heads must be taken to task for insecurity in their domains. They spot undesirables but have no organised method of dealing with them. The state police, civil defence etc. must have strict and effective rules of engagement and enforcement, and the means to rapidly share intelligence. Government at all levels must be serious with definite and practical programmes to reduce unemployment by taking advantage of technology and innovation through indigenous research, general education and organised financial support for small business.
Finally I don’t think it is too much to declare war or state of emergency in the highly volatile areas of insecurity within the country. Except in Ukraine, I doubt if there is any other part of the world enduring the kind of bloodshed and misery like Nigeria. We need our President, the National Assembly, the judiciary and our security forces to step up to the plate.

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Looking at the last seven years, how will you assess the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the basis of his three cardinal promises of security, anti-corruption and improved economy?
He has failed woefully on security. People trusted him that he would stand stoutly for their security and he didn’t speak up when they were accusing him of being the patron of Miyetti Allah or whatever they call themselves. He didn’t speak up to say that is not the case. When they started misbehaving, eating people’s crops, he gave the impression that these were itinerant herdsmen who came from North Africa, because the Sahel dried up. But also ask, if they (herdsmen) came to eat grass here, why carrying AK-47?  With ECOWAS, there is free movement, but that doesn’t mean that you should carry guns across borders to force yourselves into other people’s property.
What about the regime’s performance in economic development?
Talking about the economy; in fairness, if you look around the whole world, everybody is groaning about one thing or the other; inflation, lack of this and that. That is going on all over the world, especially after this pandemic (COVID-19) struck and depleted all the treasury of every government. But seven years later, this government is still importing fuel and people are complaining about the pump price. Crude oil is sent 6,000 miles away and returned as fuel; who pays for the transportation? None of the refineries is working and that bothers me as a person and makes me ask, what can we do well on our own? We have all these refineries long time ago and by now, I expect them to have made enough money to change their equipment to state of the art.
The equipment installed 25 years ago is already obsolete. We met the Port Harcourt refinery a little bit damaged during the (civil) war, but we located a young person who had worked there as administrator or in their administrative section. He was from the University of Ibadan. We just grabbed him and said this refinery would work. We knew he was not an engineer, but within two weeks, we found all the people and we returned to Eleme and in one month, we were no longer taking fuel from Lagos. That refinery started working. There were no expatriate left in Port Harcourt at the time. It was mainly people from Rivers State, because we had only liberated Port Harcourt and we found enough people to restart that refinery. In no time, we were pumping (fuel) into barges and taking it to Lagos from Eleme. What really went wrong? And we are now talking about subsidy for refined fuel and none of us is paying for that. That is akin to colossal failure for any government to have watched that happen for seven years, especially for a President, who had been Minister of Petroleum.
He knows OPEC like the back of his hands. I don’t know what excuse they are going to give. Even now, you have almost the final say in what happens in the NNPC and people are sitting there and have the effrontery to tell us every year they are spending our money on turnaround (maintenance of refinery). They are not turning around anything and money is only disappearing. I don’t really pray, but I always send my best wishes to (Aliko) Dangote that he should get that thing (refinery) finished on time. Those that want to sabotage it are already saying it will not work because they are stealing our money through petroleum. There is also no power. That is the beginning of failure. We also don’t have power to run anything. How can there be work when there is no power? From 1999, how come we don’t know how much has been spent on power? Sometimes, they mention $15bn and I will say no, where do you get that kind of money from, but they tell me it is true.
From Baba Obasanjo’s time till now, there is no stable power. In my local government, we don’t have power supply for 11 months. Our governor (Adegboyega Oyetola) just paid N35m and our senator (Fadahunsi) also paid N35m to an institution owned by a private company to repair what was damaged. You can imagine what will be happening in other places, if it can happen in Ife North. They have restored the light but we have never enjoyed it for more than one hour a day. They restored it about three weeks ago but some parts of the local government have not been connected. The government is always telling us that they got 7,000 megawatts even more than 20,000 megawatts cannot power maritime in New York and that is our country. In the economy, it is a colossal failure.

On infrastructure, he has not done too badly. I think the few places I go to, I can see signs that serious work was going on, though hampered by lack of funds and maybe legal issues and so on. The Lagos-Ibadan road was a victim of all sorts of changes and gerrymandering for many years. But now, I am happy that it is beginning to take shape and I can say they have spent a lot of money on that road. We have railway, if only these bandits can allow us to run it. I hope this government, the little time left, it will continue the Lagos-Ibadan rail and aim for Abuja to join the Kaduna one, so that we can transfer loads carried by heavy trucks to train. We also have new ocean terminal that no one is talking about.  Whichever way they have got it, whether by private or public means, let’s have a port that is modern, that is working. It is in Epe (Lagos State).
What about Buhari’s anti-corruption fight?
In anti-corruption, the government got zero. I think there is corruption everywhere in the world, even in America. But corrupt people get instant punishment in those countries. For lying, for just lying, trying to escape responsibility, our sister who is in London, who is in the parliament, a brilliant lawyer, got sacked. Even though you can pay a fine, but for lying, she got sacked. When you are talking about corruption, how strict are the rules? How honourable are the people who execute the law? And it starts from the police, who arrest the suspect, to the man who investigates and from there, you are going to court and most of the time, we don’t hear anything again other than that the accused gets bail and he returns to live among the people. That is it; we will never hear anything again. Unless you make examples of people, you cannot fight corruption. Everything is muddled up here right from the investigators to what happened in the court. I can tell you, countries that got rid of corruption were very strict. In China last week, people were tried for corruption. The proceedings took 15 minutes and the culprits were shot. But here, who really has got a proper jail term for stealing?

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