Society dysfunctional, some working while others idle waiting to be fed
We can go on like this running in circle, or we can decide ‘Enough is Enough’
If we had allowed regional autonomy, we’ll by now be better than Singapore
Let Igbos go if they want to, you can’t hold people against their wish
A former Chief of Army Staff and chieftain of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd) has said that Nigeria as a country“is in a big mess”, and that ten years from now the citizens may be worse off, unless they decide that ‘Enough is Enough’.
The General, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Times, said Nigeria as presently constituted is a dysfunctional society, where some of the constituent parts are working while others are just sitting idle, waiting to be fed. He blamed the current woes of the country on the jettisoning of the regional autonomy, and resistance to fiscal federalism by some constituent parts. Said he: “I don’t even think Nigerians are serious enough to pick the right representatives and talk… It’s either we go on like this, running in circles till kingdom come,… or we decide that Enough is Enough. These are the facts on the ground and this is how we are going to resolve them… we are in a big mess. Ten years from now, things will be worse.”
According to him, one of the biggest mistakes made was not to have sustained autonomy of the regions, arguing that if this had been done, with its concomitant healthy rivalry, Nigerian today would be better than Singapore. On the anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration, Gen. Akinrinade said: “It’s good we are recovering money and meting out punishment. But my worry is that you may lock up 90 persons today , but who says in the next five years, more offenders won’t turn up? “T
he whole system is corrupt. Economic revival is not going to happen unless we cleanse the milieu, the environment is which we operate. There are many people who must be locked up…” Akinrinade said Nigeria has “too many centres of rebellion”, and that the constituent are different nations, with each being allowed to put on its ‘template’, what it stands for. “My fear is that we are glossing over a lot of important things. We are spending so much money in the North East. We have a whole division running after cattle rustlers in the North West. Something catalystic really has to happen to put an end to all these,” he said.
On the agitation for Biafra, the retired General said: “I see no reason why we should be exerting energy and risking our reputation to hold some people who want to leave Nigeria. Like the Igbos, provided their people are really ready to go; provided there is a referendum which clearly shows they want to go; then I think they should be allowed to go.” He further added, “You cannot hold people against their wish. If the Igbos want to go, let them go.”
Why did the General openly disagree with Afenifere for supporting former President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid?
I didn’t share the reasons they gave. That time that they were calling for continuity, it was apparent to everybody that the state of the nation was bad. It was not that he took over a very good country, but over the years, he made it much worse. So, I could not in good conscience support the Afenifere position that he should be given a second chance.
Political stakeholders saw your opposition to the Afenifere stand as a declaration of support for Buhari. Do you agree?
Buhari was a military man, a past head of state. What reason would I have for not supporting him under the circumstance? I would have preferred a complete civilian with the kind of mien of Buhari, but under the circumstance, Buhari was the more fit for the job. It wasn’t really in opposition to Jonathan. Jonathan was from the minority. I was glad about that. That for once, a minority can be president. But then Jonathan had spent six years. I think that was enough. And he was too muddled up. So there was really no reason for me not to support Buhari.
How would you assess Buhari’s performance after about one year in office?
As the saying goes, ‘It is too early on creation day’ to start delivering judgment. What I would like to know in this first year is what plans he has. I will like to see some concrete plans, like where we are going, who are the prime mover, etc.
What’s your take on the recurrent barbaric attacks by Fulani herdsmen, especially that Buhari appears to be condoning the offensive?
We are in a big, big, mess with these Fulani, Bororo attacks. Even on my own farm here in Yakoyo, we have difficulties with them. But I have not seen signs that they would resist good advice, accommodation. We should try to resolve it by being human about it. I haven’t see signs of intransigence. That’s the difference. In Benue, it got to a point that a member of the senate had to appeal to the President to save the Benue people.
It’s unfortunate that it is getting more pronounced at this time when Buhari, who is also Fulani, is in government. He is in a quandary. What is he supposed to do? Sit with his supporters, his ministers and say ‘what do we do to stop this menace?’
By recovering cattle from rustlers, I know he’s doing something about the situation in the North West. I haven’t heard anything big about Benue and Plateau. Something like that must be done in the Middle Belt to stop this menace. Similar things were happening in Oke Ogun in the South West, but it has abated now. We must not allow it to surface again. If it surfaces again, the danger is very enormous. If the rural people decide to be very nasty, what we are going to have is civil war. We already have civil war in the country.
Nigeria, in fact, is a country that’s always at war; like the equal opportunity war among all of us. Inter-tribal wars were better because they are defined; equal opportunity was is not defined. We are fighting intellectually, legally, physically. It’s a country in big tumult. That’s why I expect this president to settle down and address major issues that will reverse these.
I recently had a few minutes talk with the Agriculture minister and he told me he was doing some new work on cattle-rearing, breeding, settle agriculture to resolve issues related to livestock rearing. We are waiting to see the blue print of the plan so that we can all make inputs and adjustments, that the final result will work. That is the more positive aspect.
Unlike the suggestion at the confab that they wanted right of way for cattle, cattle corridor, grazing areas. What kind of rubbish is that? Which century are we talking about? Rearing cattle around when children are supposed to be in school learning skills? For me, it is very pedestrian.
How do you assess the outcome of the National Confab?
The confab ceased being serious after the first two weeks. First, rather than start with the more serious issues, they insisted on delaying them (serious issues) for later. That’s not done, If you are serious, you start with the most important issues. There were all sorts of clowns standing up to introduce themselves a hundred times. They turned it into a jesters’ pit.
For instance, fiscal federalism…where those who work must be seen to be eating. Not a place where three of us will be working and the fourth will be idle, knowing that we will feed him. That is not an egalitarian society. It is a dysfunctional society. Soon, the three of us will say ‘what’s the point in working when this buffoon who is sitting down doing nothing is going to eat equally from it?’
That’s the problem. You take money from the South South people, you sell their gas, sell their oil, then bastardise their environment, then you start sharing it in your villages and all over the world in such a way that they don’t see why they should allow us continue to take their oil. And they take up arms and you are complaining. I have no problem understanding that.
You should see the holes made all over Jos when tin was being mined. Now, no more mining there, but the holes remain. Nobody is talking of the negative impact of tin mining on their environment. They are talking about derivation, 10% instead of fiscal federation. These are non-starters. Nigeria is going nowhere if these issues are not tackled.
I am ashamed to sit down with people to discuss oil money, I have lived there, I have friends there. I was very disappointed with a Jonathan who was President for six years and did nothing about it because he was afraid of centres of power in Nigeria.
Well, do you suppose we should call for another conference, a serious one this time, perhaps?
I am not even sure. I don’t even think Nigerians are serious enough to pick the right representatives and talk… It’s either we go on like this, running in circles till kingdom come, or …. or we decide that ‘Enough is enough’. These are the facts on the ground and this is how we are going to resolve them… we are in a big mess. Ten years from now, things will be worse.
Now, as a retired general and elder, what advice would you give on the way forward?
The prevailing mentality is that we all carry trucks to carry money from the centre. A time will come when there would be nothing left to carry. If we had been smart enough to allow regional autonomy to continue – the North, the East, the West and created Calabar-Ogoja River State and the Middle Belt–Opobo thereby promote healthy competition, today we would be better even than Singapore.
But no, out of envy, this internal civil war. They cooked up accusations and sent Awolowo to jail…for doing absolutely nothing. They organised the whole court and sent the man to jail for 10 years. He did nothing wrong. All of us in this room cannot all be equal. We will be equal before the law. But the opportunities of life, even if we are afforded the same opportunity, each of us will use it differently. That is the way the world is made.
So even if the West was ahead then, what the others should have done was imitation, copying, ask for assistance, and borrow ideas, not just money. That’s what they should have done; instead, it was, ‘Pull them down’. That is what brought us to where we are today.
Now we are still talking today of creating mores states. But people like me hold the view that if this thing doesn’t break, there will be nothing to fix. It hasn’t broken yet because we are still managing to eat. But when it comes to the crunch – and I hope it comes very soon – then we’ll sit down together and realise that this ‘atomisation’ cannot work.
According to records, television got to the Western Region before it got to France, Italy, even Sweden. Some say that it was a connivance between the North and the British to stop the pace of development in the Western Region that eventually led to the dumping of federalism for the present Unitary system …
Otherwise, how do we explain their resistance to fiscal federalism? How do we explain their resistance to regional autonomy for each of the nationalities? How do we explain that you contribute as much as you can to the national economy and you are extorted?
That is precisely the explanation for our backwardness, what you have just enumerated. How can anybody convince me it was not a deliberate move by the North to suppress the rest of Nigeria? Even years later, when Chief Awolowo warned the Shagari government that the economy was collapsing, they branded him a ‘professional agitator’, a scaremonger; their pseudo-economists said he was talking rubbish. But what happened? The government collapsed through the stupid way they were handling the economy.
But we can change all that if only we can sit together and do things the right way. Otherwise, I have a private fear that Nigeria is sitting on the brink and one day it might just collapse…if we are not careful.
On Buhari’s anti-corruption war
It’s good we are recovering money and meting out punishment. But my worry is that you may lock up 90 persons today, but who says in the next five years, more offenders won’t turn up?
The trouble is, all institutions in Nigeria are corrupt. The whole system is corrupt. Economic revival is not going to happen unless we cleanse the milieu, the environment in which we operate. There are many people that must be locked up; first… the bankers. Second, the people who make the regulations, the civil servants, the CBN governors, the finance ministers. They must ‘wash’ their heads. They are giving us all sorts of policies that will never work.
For instance, they are proposing N5m for young entrepreneurs with 9% and 6 months moratorium. But the cheapest power he’ll get, a 44KVA generator alone costs N3.6million! That does not include the servicing and the fuel he would buy, so what money is left to even make tooth pick? And you want him to pay back in five years! It’s unrealistic.
Go to Japan, Singapore, Malaysia: when they were making their economic revival, they started with zero interest. So, the federal government is going to put N300 billion into the banking system and these buggers are going to sit there making more money. After Soludo left, we heard he owned over 12 bureau de change firms. So the bureau de change were making good money, because the owners are the custodians of our money, our policy makers. The policy makers were simply making laws that would favour the bureau de change which they own. And now you are complaining that your currency is N300 to one dollar? Excuse me!
If anybody is to do something drastic to save this country, he must overhaul all our institutions, otherwise, nothing will work.
Given all these irregularities, can we really continue as a nation?
As a people, we have the power to make our own laws, to make us stay as one people. So when people talk of the amalgamation over a 100 years ago that did not work; colonisation, and then they say it is holding us down, or what people like Maitama Sule say about the North being destined to rule, I say, we can all learn from that. It does not stop us from changing things. This country has too many centres of rebellion. For it to survive, we must do much better than we are doing now.
So, what do we do?
First, we must recognise we are different nations. And each nation must be allowed to put on the template, what it stands for and how its culture and tradition ….
How do we do this?
Obasanjo called a conference. We were not more than 70. Everybody came there prepared. The first person to talk, I think, was Nwabueze, then came Pa Abraham Adesanya. The addresses were very similar. Then Maitama Sule took the floor and said he did not know the conference ‘was to reorganise Nigeria’.
How could he say that when the conference was well publicized? The Yorubas came there well prepared having held many meetings in preparation for it. Someone now moved that if only two out of six regions were unprepared, we should go on. That was how the conference broke up.
Something catalystic has to happen. My fear is that we are glossing over a lot of important things. We are spending so much money in the North East. We have a whole division running after cattle rustlers in the North West. Something catalystic really have to happen to put an end to all these.
Why will Nigeria not let Biafra go?
I don’t know. I see no reason why we should be exerting energy and risking our reputation to hold some people who want to leave Nigeria. Like the Igbos, provided their people are really ready to go; provided there is a referendum which clearly shows they want to go; then I think they should be allowed to go. I know that if you publish this, there would be flaks from both my friends and enemies and everybody else. But that is how the world works.
You cannot hold people against their wish. If the Igbos want to go, let them go. It is only the orderliness that must precede. We should be sure it is not just their elite, a small clique that wants to take their people into slavery. But since we were together before and we are going to be neighbours, we should search for a peaceful way when they leave to survive. Let them campaign at the grassroots for their Biafra, then let there be a referendum among them. After all, there are many countries with better reputation than Nigeria that are smaller than Igbo land, like Singapore, for example.
In other words, you are saying Nigeria’s unity is negotiable?
I have always stood on that. Anything that’s not negotiable cannot make progress. People negotiate to make something better. But you are saying ‘no negotiation and that’s the end of the matter’. So, all of us wake every day disgruntled simply because we are not allowed to say what’s on our mind.
True unity is unity of ideas, of ideals. It’s being aware that if I turn my back things will be done in the interest of everybody. That’s unity. But when I wake up and I always suspect you…that you don’t even want me to wake up. What kind of country is that? This country is in constant civil war, that’s what I see. It’s constant. Not just once a while; it’s all the time.
You spoke briefly on corruption
Our institutions must be cleansed such that justice, fairness become a culture. The individual should feel a sense of responsibility for the proper running of society.
Like institutional integrity, you mean?
Yes. For instance, I have spent the last 15 months trying to get my gari sample tested by NAFDAC. But when I went to a private laboratory, I got it after 10 days. But we took it to America and got a certificate that we can export it there. But because we can’t display it on the counter here due to lack of certificate, all the gari we have been producing are exported to America. We must cleanse our institutions, otherwise nothing would work.
On state Police
What is the sense in training a Yoruba man in Ikeja, then then post him to Birnin Kebbi in the name of unity? He’s a total stranger there. Because he doesn’t understand the language, he cannot even help the people. You have done violence to him and to the system. Even he’s too afraid of the people, he’s always on his guard.
On removal of history from syllabus
They don’t want our children to know how Nigeria was fraudulently put together, how the British manipulated elections. Our history is not palatable. Till today, census figures are still manipulated. There is nowhere in the whole world where there are more people in the desert than in the forest region. When they made the mistake of putting Odumegwu, Felix, I think: there he did not last six months, they removed him. He was revealing too much.
Considering the present rot in the military, how would you compare today’s military with your’s?
Like they say, Seriki ngoma, zamani ngoma. The eras are different. They came with different challenges. When we were there, Gowon was there. And his own standard reflected on the army. After the war, all over the world, the next step was demobilisation. But for some reasons, that was not done. Thus we had a horde of soldiers. It was difficult to control the army. That was where we disagreed with Gowon.
We told him (Gowon) to recall the military governors – Mobolaji Johnson, Aba Kyari and the rest – to leave governance to civilians like Awolowo. We needed those officers to organise the military. But Gowon was dilly-dallying. That was one of the reasons he lost the army. Materialism was very alien then. People thought they had a profession, including the Civil Service. When you entered those two institutions they took care of you till you die. You knew what you would become. Then the army was very clean.
However, in 1975 when Murtala Muhammed came with Obasanjo in turn, and they did that purge in the Civil Service and the military; it is the reason the civil servant decided to look out for himself. He had a family to care for. Military governors were also sacked though we expect them back in the army.
If I was a GOC and I knew I had three Brigade Commanders, I would sleep a little more. But no, I had nobody. One civil servant heard on the Carter Bridge that he had been sacked and he decided to jump into the lagoon. Look at the universities, the professors who left had houses of their own in Bodija, which they paid for over a long time. Gradually we lost our values.
It’s not the only reason for materialism, there is the issue of personal morality, but that uncertainty is part of the reason that aggravated corruption. I can tell you this is not the army I knew. But I have an idea how they got to this stage.
Some say the rot started in Babangida’s time. Do you agree?
No, it started long before…as a mindset. But in Babangida’s time there were the ‘Babangida boys’. True, there were people you gravitated to, whom you like. But I think in Babangida’s time, that got out of hand.
There isn’t much to say other than that any system that allows such things to happen is not good for our country.
What is your take on the Boko Haram?
It is convenient for people to blame religion, but I think the main reason is tradition and culture which allows children to grow up without education and without the values of their parents. The almajiri system does not promote the values of individual families. A man is allowed to marry up to four wives, but he can marry up to 20.
Then he can send any of his wives away to marry others. The culture does not allow the woman to take her kids to her father’s house. She leaves them with the husband and we all know the tremendous influence of the mother. These guys have kids from so many women.
Then there is no free education in the North. And many of these men lack the wherewithal to take care of these children. So, they send them to the mallam to teach them the Quran and the Hadith. The kids therefore grow up with the mallam, not with their parents. The only person they know is the mallam.
At the age of eight they go to the makaranta – I was there myself – where they learn in the morning. They are then given bowls to go begging for alms. They are not begging for themselves. They are begging for the commune. They tell them how much they must bring in per day (depending on their ages) and if they fail to do that they will be punished. Now when the boys get older and smarter, they turn to pick-pocketing to make up for shortfalls in their expected alms returns – to escape punishment.
So, when they don’t grow to know their father and mother intimately, what values will they live by? But later, they grow up and begin to see life a little differently from the mallam. Now when the Boko Haram, El Zakzaky, Mahdi come and recruit them for nefarious activities, we are complaining. They never used to carry guns, but after northern politicians saw them as a means of achieving their selfish ends, they started organising them.
Maitasine? That one? I was GOC then, we got rid of them in one day, but not these ones. They are everywhere…they have no part in this estate called Nigeria. So if it burns down what does it matter? The man who has nothing he is looking forward to and you offer him Aljanna if he kills somebody else, some kafiri. To me it is simple: poverty of knowledge and physical poverty. That is what is fuelling Boko Haram. However, we have to be careful of the funky alleluyah Christians now flourishing in the South.
You are said to have suffered terrible pile during the war while in Bonny
In the sixties, I had pile; my doctors were Ogunbiyi and Adesola. It had developed before the war. But I once had to come home when it got so bad. In 1973, I had a surgeon, Femi Oye, who decided it had to be operated. Very simple operation, but very painful. And I eventually had it done in Creek Hospital on Awolowo Road, here in Lagos.
The way forward for Nigeria
We feel ashamed that this is what Nigeria has come to, where nothing works at all. No values; anything goes. I am not sure our children are going to do better. It’s frightening. One can only hope with a Buhari there, perhaps, just perhaps, these ills will be cured over time.