Akinrinade: Buhari should widen his scope of security advisers
General Alani Akinrinade (rtd) is a former Chief of Army Staff, erstwhile Chief of Defence Staff and former Minister of Agriculture. He is a veteran of the Nigeria Civil War. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE and YETUNDE OYEBAMI OJO on state of the nation, insecurity and insurgencies. He also suggests ways Nigeria can overcome her current ordeals.
• Nigeria Will Not Fight Another Civil War
• If We Can’t Go Together, Then Let’s Part Ways
• It’s Insult To Say North Should Concede Power In 2023
Would you say the Southwest region waited too long in taking the decision on Operation Amotekun, considering the surge in crimes and banditry across Yoruba land?
There are many things that will not be too clear to me because I am not a constitutional lawyer. A lot of things may be unclear to me, regarding whether the Constitution precludes you from defending yourself or looking after your own security and that of your people. I don’t know, but I think it is only a stupid Constitution and an inhumane one that will prevent anyone from looking after himself, his welfare and the people around him. If you are in government, the nation you are presiding over is under you to protect. So, when you talk of timing, it is a bit difficult to fault anyone or to make any judgment. However, all I know is that things got to a head and became unbearable, and so, at some point, the governors had to do something.
Over the years, I have always held after this new dispensation, I am talking about 1999 now, that the present Constitution did not create governors. Rather, it created administrators. A governor must be able to make a law through his parliament and that kind of thing. He should sign something into law, which binds his own state. He must also be in a position to enforce those laws. And how do you enforce laws? He uses the police, and sometimes if it is the bigger nations, they always call in their armed forces to help. But our governors don’t have such. Even though they are called Chief Security Officers of their states, but where is the instrument for fostering that security?
They didn’t have it, and over the years, I have observed that when you have a case of some form of security in any state, the level is directly related to how much money or how much effort that governor is putting into it. If I might give an example, there is no time you don’t hear one or other governor talking about raising security funds or buying equipment for the police or appealing to companies in their areas to give them money to buy mainly vehicles and radios. We even heard that some governors were buying weapon for the police.
The Police is not the governors’ responsibility, because it is a federal police. So, they cannot rely on the state they are serving to provide all those things. I can confidently say that Lagos, Oyo and Osun have been buying hundreds of Hilux vehicles for a police that does not really belong to them, as it belongs to the Federal Government. And if the FG is unable to assist in properly equipping and training the police, to enable it perform effectively in the states, then certainly, the governors (administrators) are just trying to prevent hazards from befalling their people, by spending money that is not even in their budgets to cater for the federal police. We must have known something is basically wrong with the architecture over time. So, timing to me was fostered on them by things that are going on now. All of us can experience and feel it.
Does this suggest you are in support of Amotekun?
When you are boxed into a corner, you have to find an innovative way of doing things. I don’t think they ought to have been pushed to that point, if the FG was aware and was determined to do its job, knowing that security is the first responsibility in any nation. Then, they should have realised there was no way you could police a place like Nigeria, using one Inspector General of Police (IGP) in some remote buildings in Abuja, with the infrastructural impossibilities we have that are not very friendly to whosoever wants to do anything nationwide. It is the same reason why our powers don’t work, because we centralise everything. You put one man on top of it, and once the man is inefficient, everything gets bad. Do you expect me as a magician to be sitting in one place and know exactly what is happening everywhere within the country? It is not possible.
Do you think the formation of Amotekun will help the country, if other regions begin to establish their separate security outfits?
That is why I said FG ought not to have been sitting back to the point where people get to this kind of state of mind; where everybody now wants to look after himself. That is what I see. People are beginning to feel that what they can do is to look after themselves. The states are looking after themselves, local governments are looking after their areas, and now we are beginning to talk about community police, civilian JTF and Hisbah, among others.
These are unnecessary if we had just sat down together to review our security architecture and realised it is impossible for one police force sitting in Abuja to look after Nigeria. We have had enough experience to see it is not a matter that requires serious thinking. It’s just to sit down, keep your ears open to hear what is happening everywhere in Nigeria, and you will know that something is basically wrong with the current security architecture.
I hate community police, Hisbah and others. We should call a spade a spade. A Police Force is a Police Force. Therefore, let us sit down and review all the recommendations that have been made before. There have been hundreds of recommendations from small and big groups. Even 493 eminent Nigerians sat together and recommended that we should break down this system, and get states to be responsible to the first line of security in their states. That’s what we call state police. When anybody starts to call Hisbah and or giving all manner of names, it is just trying to push us to the wall. That is exactly what they should do and not try to come in through the back door.
We should agree that the present security architecture is not working, and we should now break down the police into the Federal Police, which should have its own remit and responsibilities, and then the states should also have their own police, which will be responsible for the states alone. Why all these names, as if we are quarrelling among ourselves? This is a country that doesn’t have an elite class, where they sit down and decide that, ‘this is good for all of us, let us do it.’ Rather, it is always suspicion, people getting angry and doing things out of turn because the FG itself is scared of its own country. It is scared to innovate, to look beyond the blinkers they are all putting on.
You fought in the Civil War to keep Nigeria one. Are you not afraid the country is moving towards disintegration?
No! I am not afraid. I think somehow, Nigeria will get rid of all these people that are too afraid to look after us. Personally, that is what I will like to see. Let them go to hell. What we should have is an impacting elite, people who can sit down as if they are brothers from the same mother and they decide how they are going to run this house. You can’t just sit down in one corner and say you are from Daura or wherever, and the only people you want to know are those around you. No new ideas are coming, and people are dying and they even have the effrontery to tell us that these people calling themselves herdsmen are non-Nigerians.
Are you telling me that the Federal Government will be looking on, while some foreigners shamble into this country and start doing whatever they want? I don’t think so. I am beginning to get uncomfortable with these people, because I don’t think Nigerians will behave like that. So, if there is a cabal that is making this mistake that Nigeria is going to break up, it is not going to. It is only that we need to be on the alert; we are going to get rid of them.
What should we do to sustain the country’s unity?
Let us go back to all the recommendations that have been made on security in this country. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had one, and there had been one or two before then. We had another one organised by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and that of Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai on behalf of his party, APC. These are Nigerians who sat down and made recommendations. Nobody has had the courage to look at those documents closely and decide which part of it we can even execute now. I think it is timidity; they have no idea what they are doing.
But according to its manifesto, APC said it would restructure Nigeria…
Look it is in their manifesto, either on page three or so. It was not tucked inside. It is one of the major things. They made some efforts, maybe after a lot of time wasting, they set up the El-Rufai committee, which was essentially a review, but they did not also even listen to the people around the country.
But we are aware that APC refused to take the El-Rufai report to the National Assembly…
It is the party that set up the committee, and what I think the ruling party should do is to get their own members. Since they are in the majority, they should get themselves together and review the report and decide the one to start with, and they can get some lawyers to convert it into a Bill.
Let me divulge a secret to you. The chairman of the 2014 National Conference, the late Justice Idris Kutigi and his vice, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, as the conference was making major decisions that needed constitutional review, the old man (Kutigi) set up a completely different outfit made of very bright constitutional lawyers. He hired them to look at the portion of the Constitution we are quarrelling about, to determine what the decisions are and what it is going to look like when it comes to the Constitution itself? That group was busy doing that on a daily basis. So, all the decisions made during Baba Kutigi’s conference also have a copy of what the Constitution would look like, and what they are going to look like when it is finished.
But at the last minute, when some people (names withheld) got wind of the arrangement, they made sure the document, when it was presented, was killed instantly. So, what we should have come up with from that conference in fairness to Kutigi and Akinyemi who manned the Secretariat and the Conference was a draft copy of a Constitution, which will be whatever we had been getting before and the new decisions embodied in that document, which should be sent to a referendum. Let them deny no Constitution came out of that conference.
But why would those people kill that document and why didn’t people like you make noise then?
I don’t want to mention names. But there were people at that Conference, who thought anything that loosens this federation, anything that doesn’t put them in absolute charge of everything and in every facet of our life in Nigeria, should never be allowed to come into the country.
Would it be wrong to assume it is the same Fulani cabal and some southern elites that did what you have just said?
There is something else that worries me, when you say Fulani cabal. How many of them are in this country? Between three and 10 million. And if that is the case that they have absolute grip on the country, then good luck to the rest of us. I wish all of us the best.
What can we do to salvage the situation?
What can we not do? Ordinary simple definition of democracy is government of the people for the people and by the people, which is based on one-man-one-vote. So, how can 10 million people outvote us? And even if the Fulani are more than 20 million, which I doubt, we have 160 million people left, and people are saying it is Fulani. I don’t think so. I think if the rest of us really don’t like what is going on, and we want to change it, we don’t need a coup or revolution. We should just go and vote accordingly, and that is it.
A Fulani did not man the polling booths in my place. I remember just one Returning Officer being a Fulani man in my area. So, it is up to us. I am a democrat, and I would like us to challenge ourselves. All of us must come to the reality that there is no cabal that can survive in this country, if there is an elite consensus and all of us are aware of what is going on and we decide to change it. We should change it.
What type of restructuring would you prescribe for Nigeria?
If you bring the ‘Constitution’ that was made in 2014 with amendments here and there, because 493 people are not 200 million and we bring it back into a proper modified Constitution, everything we are talking about that is harassing us will be gone essentially. We should be able to build a country based on that. We have over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria with their different traditions and cultures. A lot of them have their own languages, and there are things they will and will not do. So, what is the basis for all of us wanting everybody to march at the same speed in the same direction like German Army? Ghost-stepping or professional ghost stepping. That is not going to work, and we know it.
I am not by any means advocating we return to regions, as I understand the trouble is too much. But even the states can be run like the regions of old. That Constitution also provided that states that want to merge should be allowed to do so. It also put in a kind of structures and conditions, which they must meet before merging. It will allow everyone to go out to work his spirit out to enrich his own section of the country. We have broken down a number of things, including education to make it a bit more local for people to allow them to tinker with their own curriculum, so that if you want to go much higher you can go ahead.
What is the purpose of a Value Added Tax (VAT) that the FG collects for instance? Now, we are talking about revenue generation and allocation. When you talk of generating and allocation, what is all that? No country does that again. You earn, know how much it is from various sectors of your economy, and then we agree to send a portion of it to the FG. I thought the world has been made much more simpler by technology. My son bought a card at the Lagos Tollgate and sent it to me that anytime I want to go to Victoria Island, I should not carry money, that the card will enable easy passage and when it runs out, then I buy more time.
What is the difficulty in going to a supermarket, purchase any item and the moment you pay the money to the cashier, the portion that goes to the FG, state and even the local government or wherever will go there immediately? That is where the world is now, and we have also got there. I just gave you the example of the tollgate. What of the Single Treasury Account (TSA)? They want everybody to appear on one payroll, so that you don’t go and collect your salary in three places? So, technology has simplified all these things.
For instance, why should petrol sell for the same price everywhere? That is what is causing our problem, and the people in authority know that three quarters of the fuel that we use our subsidy money to take out of Lagos ports is not used in this country. It goes to Niger, Mali, Northern Cameroon and even Benin Republic, next door. Some people are known to be making a lot of money from it. A colleague (name withheld), who was a former Minister of petroleum went home on holiday somewhere in the far North. When he returned, he told me how, while sleeping in his house, he would be hearing different noises all through the night. In the morning, he inquired what the noise was all about, and he was told to mind his business. The noise was coming from people carrying tankers full of fuel across the border all night.
I suspect some of the dirty money that goes around in this country during elections, when people just deposit huge amount to buy votes comes from this kind of malpractices. There is no such thing as fuel subsidy. On the same road right in the heart of Washington, there are four petrol stations; two on either side, but none of it sells at the same price. How are they making their money? Who is subsidising it? Nobody. Petroleum tax alone can raise some of our states out of poverty. You go to the pump and the state says I want five per cent of money from petroleum products, and that is factored into the ringing. So, each time you pay for petrol, the state gets something. So, where are we going? If it is true we want to modernise, we must do what other people do. It is not rocket science anymore.
Why do we have a system, where kids qualify for the same thing at different markings? In what nation does that work? First of all, you devalue the brighter children by saying they are inferior to some others. You also embolden the others to even bully them that they come from a regal background. How can you allow your people to be so devalued, and what is wrong in you trying to jump the height every country is jumping? You say it is quota system or federal character; there is no such thing. We are just one person and what other people do we must do.
For instance, we are complaining about our educational system and civil service that is full of corruption. But have we done what other nations are doing? Malaysians, Singapore, Southern Korea and others get their students going. They motivate them and where a student graduates with a First or Second Class, there are two jobs waiting for him/her. Where are the civil service and teaching profession today in Nigeria? Who wants to be a civil servant anymore? It has to be a last resort. Who wants to teach? How much is a teacher’s salary?
But we grew up with the mindset of wanting to be teachers, because in the village, they were the most honourable people. They were the role models, just like the clergyman. The catechist in my village was a big man, not in terms of material wealth, but the dignity, the way they do their work and their approach. But we have bastardised all these things to the point where clergymen have become rogues. We grew up to know only Catholic and Protestant Churches, but now we have almost 1,000 of them. We are living in hell in Nigeria. If you go to advance nations, how are you going to recognise there is anything better than hell? Everybody, including government has been frightened into submission. Every element is working against us in Nigeria.
How do you compare the strength of the military in your days with what we have presently? Is something deficient in our military might?
When you belong a profession, it is a bit difficult to make serious comments about it. This is because you are no longer an insider. You don’t have enough knowledge or information of what is exactly going on, and sometimes, I don’t know more on the subject than you do. But what I can say is that we knew in 1979 the reason we wanted everyone that served in one administration or the other to leave was partly because we knew the armed forces were haemorrhaging, even worse than many other institutions in the country, and we wanted that to stop. Let me say Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s time was when this argument started, when we wanted everybody to return to the barracks.
We wanted all the officers to handle the situation in the barracks. Gowon had the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as his vice, with many civilians in the government. So, we asked him to go and look for civilian governors and bring all our officers back to the barracks. The military has been haemorrhaging for a very long time. I am not surprised that there is a little more of push and pull of non-commitment, if I can put it that way. We haven’t helped matters since when Obasanjo got there again. The first major damage done to the Army was the 1975 purge, which did a lot of damage to the civil service, military and even the universities. You just woke up in the morning and everybody got kicked out of their position.
That was the first decision the military made that really destroyed everything. It lowered people’s morale and destroyed the civil service, the police, just name it. And it encouraged corruption. Many people became unstable in their lives, and it became easy to tempt them to do the wrong thing. The same way the civil service we used to rely on was destroyed was the same way other institutions were destroyed, including the military. Maybe from then on because of the prevailing circumstances, we didn’t have Boko Haram, following the civil war. But there were little skirmishes like the Cameroonians going to Bakassi and others going to the North. We did not really have serious insurgency as such, aside the United Nations work.
Look at India and Pakistan, for instance, that were almost like an open war, but it never ended. Even after Pakistan and Bangladesh left, they always still find something to fire guns across the border.
Once we turn this into an intelligence war, what is happening to us is not going to be different. And that is what we have been saying. I have seen videos of some people saying they could have rescued the Chibok girls, but their captors were mercenaries; soldiers of fortune in our own country. So, everybody will create his own and collect money and bring us guns that will not work and all that.
I suggest we re-organise the political system. If President Buhari can really get cracking and re-organise the political system within one year and get us to start working, with all hands on deck, I think that is one chance we would have to defeat these insurgencies. The press has not investigated how much we are really spending on security now. We say the security is creaking and yet, we are not told how much we are spending, compared with what we budgeted and what we are supposed to have earned and all that. Where is the money coming from, or are we just collecting money? There are a lot of complications in all this. I have heard soldiers complaining of welfare shortages. Some even complained of being in a place for three days without water and other necessities.
Would you then join the call on Buhari to relieve the current service chiefs of their jobs?
Honestly, I can’t say because I don’t know most of them, and I don’t think it is a matter of time because people are complaining that they have overstayed their time. The main issue is that of organisation. When we were there, we left three divisions, but there are about six or seven now. It is very difficult to get all these divisions properly equipped and trained. When you deploy them to rely on their sense of judgment and that kind of thing that helps the situation, it doesn’t make people to behave. It is very difficult and puts a lot of pressure on the officers.
How close are we to another civil war, 50 years after the Biafran War?
I don’t know why I have the feelings we are not going to fight another civil war because no country survives two civil wars. I also have the belief that Nigeria can survive, but not in the rickety way it is now. I think at some point, the elites, whether in the North, East, West or South will wake up one morning and decide that enough is enough; we have got to get this country going. And if we are going to do that, there are some basic things that must be done. The most important part of it is to sort out this arrangement that binds us, so that everybody knows exactly what he is supposed to be doing, and everyone knows what he is entitled to.
The present system is amorphous. You take taxes from all over the place and sell our properties. Interestingly, I have never heard people asking how much of the Abacha loot we have recovered and where it is going. I don’t know whether the Auditor General can even tell us where all the money recovered is going. It is not enough to say they want to use the recovered money to build infrastructure. At some point, people will wake up and realise that, if they allow the present situation to continue, Nigeria will be in trouble.
I don’t blame Buhari and people always ask me why. People are always talking about the wife; that she is this and that. Any head of state has to be careful in the Third World. We are not different from many of the Third World nations. But his idea of not widening the scope of people who have access to him, people who can give him advice, those who can disagree with him and even walk out on him is not good. And this is the only way you can get anything done in this difficult situation we are in. He needs to listen to people to get information directly from outside, and not just those around him otherwise; they will lie to him.
What could happen peradventure the North decides to retain Presidency beyond 2023?
I don’t even like the word. Why should they concede power? We are going for a contest and you are asking me to concede the first position to you. Anybody who gets to the Presidency should do so by the power of the electorate and his ability to perform and move Nigeria forward. Buhari got to power because we thought he was a better alternative to former President Goodluck Jonathan. We thought for him (Buhari) to have been trying for that long, he must have had an almost impeccable manifesto, and not even that of the party. Honestly, that is what I considered before offering my support, and not because he is a Fulani or a Northerner.
We looked at what was available then. After all, it was the same way we voted Chief Olu Falae in 1999 because that was what we believed and not in Obasanjo and we were proved right over the years. If this federation is going to continue, then everyone must throw his hat into the ring. I don’t really care about ethnic nationality of the President. As long as he or she has the quality to perform better, I will support such person and I will be contented to lose. I think it is an insult to say the North should concede power to the South. And then some people will sit down in the North and say we cannot do this.
If there are things we cannot do together, then we should part ways and let everybody go his own way. And I don’t think anyone of them has the effrontery to say let us break; not even the Northerners. Who in fact is a Northerner? I hold the view that there is no one ethnic group in Nigeria today that can hold all of us to ransom. The North is in a segment with all sorts of ethnic nationalities. I don’t think there is any ethnic group that is up to 20 million in the North.