▪︎ Urges President Tinubu to probe and recover funds looted by former president’s government
• Advises Tinubu to be less impulsive in public policy formulation and execution
Former military governor of old Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), has said that the sit-tight syndrome of some African leaders is responsible for the current wave of coups within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region and the African continent in general.
Umar who participated in the coup that ousted former President Muhammadu Buhari as military Head of State in August, 1985, surprisingly told Sunday Sun: “We cannot support change of government through military coups.”
Umar, however, said: “But how else do you change those regimes headed by leaders for life? Paul Biya of Cameroon has been in power for 41 years and counting. Museveni of Uganda, 37 years. Eyadema and his father have been the only rulers of Togo since 1967. Also, Ali Bongo and his father, Omar, since 1967. They are too numerous to count. The fact that they are civilians and are able to conduct sham elections does not make their systems democratic.”
He also said that the international community, including the AU, ECOWAS and other regional organisations must not recognise such regimes headed by sit-tight leaders as legitimate and democratic.
Among other issues, Umar x-rayed the eight years administration of Buhari, saying that the former president’s counter insurgency, anti-corruption war and economic revival was a ruse.
Umar explained that over 80,000 persons lost their lives during Buhari’s regime, thousands of women and girls were raped; hundreds of thousands were kidnapped and killed or released after the payment of ransom, while millions have been internally displaced.
He also exposed how corruption and embezzlement of public funds were at its peak during the Buhari’s administration, including how the economy became worse than that of his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan, whom Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), removed from office via propaganda.
The election of General Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 by which he defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was celebrated both at home and abroad. It was greeted with much optimism and high expectations. He was regarded as the most qualified candidate who could rescue the country from its daunting security challenges, heightened corruption and economic decline at the time. At the end of his eight year tenure, even his most fanatical supporters feel a sense of disappointment and regret. You are one of the most respected and consistent social critic and human rights activist; Nigerians will, therefore, be interested in your assessment of the Buhari administration. What is your take on this?
I honestly don’t want to add to President Buhari’s misery, now that he has retired, having ample time and opportunity to reflect and introspect on his performance as president for eight years (2015-2023); an office which he so much coveted and contested on five different occasions, three of which he failed through electoral contest and court cases. No matter how insulated he was from our reality, he could not have failed to realise the level of devastation he caused on Nigeria in the eight years of his administration. His strange and self-serving claim and that of his minders and sycophants that he left Nigeria better than he met it in 2015 amounts to pure delusion. It is a measure of the lack of empathy and accountability which characterised the Buhari Presidency. The must-read columnist, Prof Olu Fasan, assessed the Buhari administration as follows: “The past eight years of the Buhari administration have been an unmitigated failure, a monumental waste of time, of resources and of the hopes and aspirations of a nation and a people. True stewardship is leaving a place better than one found it. But Buhari is leaving Nigeria far worse than he found it in 2015. On any metric, Nigeria sunk deeper into an abyss under Buhari. Without a doubt, he is the worst civilian leader Nigeria has so far! No previous civilian president showed such arrogance and such utter lack of competence and vision in governing Nigeria. None!” This is a true representation of the views of the majority of well-informed and well-meaning Nigerians. As to be expected, anyone who undertakes this sort of assessment is likely to attract vitriolic and ad hominem attacks from self-interested and beneficiaries of the regime’s excesses. General Muhammadu Buhari continued to deny General Abacha’s crime of looting the nation’s funds despite all the evidence available, including recoveries made during his administration. This, of course, is out of gratitude for his appointment as PTF Chairman by General Abacha. Any serious and public-spirited activist must disregard these attacks. The option is to remain silent and watch evil triumph. Any assessment of the Buhari administration must consider his campaign promises and his achievements in the fulfilment of those promises. The General campaigned on three issues namely: security, anti-corruption and economic revival. His APC party, a conglomeration of disparate political associations, having no party ideology or manifesto, found this agenda attractive and, therefore, anchored on it. Besides, Buhari as its presidential candidate was an election winner even without any party ideology or manifesto. The Jonathan administration had been thoroughly weakened by the worsening security situation, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency. The insurgents had captured large swathe of territory in the Northeast and began to threaten other parts of the North, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where it successfully exploded bombs by the use of suicide bombers. Its abduction of over 300 Chibok school girls demonstrated the existential security challenge it had become. The opposition APC capitalised on this event to draw world attention to this growing security challenge. President Jonathan was also accused of being an enabler of corruption, which if not killed, would kill Nigeria, according to the APC presidential candidate. Although there was ample evidence to prove that President Jonathan was successful in causing improvement to the economy, causing it to be the largest in Africa with a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over 500 billion United States dollars, the APC disagreed with this claim, describing it as mere statistical fantasy aimed at deceiving the electorate. It is under this political climate that General Muhammadu Buhari, who had announced his retirement from partisan politics or contesting the presidency after his defeat in the 2011 presidential election, was prevailed on to contest the 2015 election. Who was more qualified to tackle the growing insecurity than a retired General, a civil war veteran and a former military Head of State? The General had a record of being a warrior against corruption, a leader of much vaunted integrity. Nigerians looked back, with nostalgia, to the period when as military Head of State, General Buhari caused to be arrested, senior political leaders, particularly members of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) ruling party and their business associates. The legal maxim then was that all were adjudged guilty, arrested and incarcerated until they could prove their innocence. Considering the high level of corruption and public desire to rid the nation of it, the Buhari approach was preferable. Nigerians hankered for a return to that era. It came as no surprise that the 2015 presidential election was won even before the declaration of the final results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). President Jonathan felt so intimidated as to call and congratulate General Buhari against the advice of some of his advisers. President Buhari would appear to have hit the ground running. As one of his media aides crowed: “A new sheriff was in town.” He ordered for the immediate relocation of the Military’s command headquarters to Maiduguri, i.e., closer to the theatre of operations. The continued withdrawal of the insurgents into Sambisa Forest was attributed to the Buhari body language instead of the successful offensive operations of the South African mercenaries, referred to euphemistically as technical partners. It was the success of, what I refer to, as the Col. Sambo Dasuki’s counter-insurgency strategy. Col. Dasuki, as the National Security Adviser (NSA), advised President Jonathan to hire foreign mercenaries who would lead the offensive against the Boko Haram insurgents, while our military’s capacity was being improved through massive manpower recruitment, training and retraining in asymmetrical warfare and re-equipment. The president approved, leading to the hiring of the South African mercenaries. They led offensive operations while our troops occupied and held reclaimed territories. As if to confirm the success of this strategy, President Buhari claimed that he campaigned in all the local governments in the Northeast. But for some inexplicable reasons, President Buhari, who had earlier approved this strategy, decided to terminate the mercenaries’ contract against the advice of Col. Dasuki. Things immediately began to unravel. The end of the rainy season and premature departure of the mercenaries witnessed massive counter-offensive by the insurgents inflicting heavy casualties on our troops, including the loss of gallant commanding officers. Failure of the administration to massively increase manpower resulted in units operating under strength. Personnel shortages resulted in poor rotation, exhaustion and low morale. The issue of the arms procurement is in court. We cannot discuss it here. It is enough to say that some of the arms procured by that administration arrived during the Buhari administration. Had the new strategy been allowed to run its course, i.e, up to the end of the mercenaries’ contract in October, 2015, Boko Haram would have been defeated. This would have made available troops with which to confront other security challenges which sprouted nationwide. You may wish to know why President Jonathan relied heavily on his NSA both for security and management of his 2015 presidential election campaign. As I mentioned earlier, President Jonathan was weakened by the deteriorating national security and the very effective propaganda of the opposition APC. He felt isolated and intimidated, causing him to begin to doubt the loyalty of some senior members of his administration and party. In Colonel Sambo Dasuki, he found a competent and loyal aide. He entrusted most government and party affairs in the office of the NSA which became the main power centre of the administration.
From this account, it would appear that our troops were overwhelmed or at least, overstretched in the counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast. The attention of President Buhari was fully focussed on defeating the insurgents. Could this account for the emergence of other equally daunting security challenges in other parts of the country such as banditry, kidnapping for ransom, farmers-herders conflict and separatist movements?
Partially so. Even the strange decision to relocate the military’s command centre from the federal capital, the seat of the Commander-in-Chief and his Service Chiefs would point to this. These other security challenges existed even though they were not as virulent as the Boko Haram insurgency. But unlike past administrations, the Buhari Presidency failed to deal decisively with them, causing them to fester. Had he allowed the continuation of the counter-insurgency strategy, Boko Haram would have been totally defeated, making troops available for other security details. Unfortunately, the Boko Haram insurgency lingers on to this day. Government’s claim of having technically defeated the insurgents is empty propaganda. We are still awaiting Mr Lai Muhammad’s plan of converting Sambisa Forest to a holiday resort. Let’s review the most serious security challenges which were simmering as the Boko Haram insurgency was raging. We should also look at how past administrations reacted to their emergence and forestalled them morphing into the existential security threats which they have become currently. The Maitatsine, an ‘Islamic’ fundamentalist sect emerged in early 1980s under the President Shehu Shagari administration. It had its base in Kano, with cells in other parts of the North, more visible in Maiduguri, Yola and Kaduna. Sensing its security threat, the government ordered the military to dislodge and stamp them out. Its headquarters in Kano was destroyed. Its cells were also exterminated. Many of its members, including its leader, Muhammad Marwa, were killed. Many were arrested and prosecuted. This brought to an end, the Maitatsine religious uprising. Banditry; this also became a serious security challenge in the late 1970s and early 80s. Bandits bearing sophisticated arms crossed into Nigeria from neighbouring states of Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon. They rustled livestock and foodstuffs and retreated back into their bases in those countries. Once again, President Shagari tasked the military to confront the threat. The 3 Armoured Division, Jos, under the command of General Muhammadu Buhari, was given the mission. The Division successfully drove out the bandits, pursuing them across our border into Chad, with the aim of attacking their bases and preventing them from future raids. This resulted in diplomatic row between Nigeria and Chad. In an effort to placate the Chadians, the Shagari administration conveyed its disapproval to General Buhari, a kind of censure or slap on the wrist. The General was so angered by this which must have contributed to his decision to lead a coup against the government of Shehu Shagari. The arrest and detention of Dr Haruna Adamu, whose magazine wrote an editorial critical of General Buhari’s actions is evidence of the General’s anger. Dr Haruna Adamu remained incarcerated and only released after the ouster of General Buhari’s regime in August, 1985. The new banditry and kidnapping for ransom have assumed an industrial scale in the past eight years. Most of the perpetrators we have encountered were Tuaregs and Fulanis. Some of the Fulanis were herders who lost their livestock to cattle rustling. But most of the new recruits in the growing army found these criminal enterprises very lucrative and low risk. These criminals continued to roam freely, bearing sophisticated weapons. They have pillaged most of the rural areas in the Northwest and some parts of North-central. More than 300 villages in Zamfara State alone have been sacked. They have rendered over 70 per cent of the farms in these areas inaccessible. The failure of the Buhari administration to confront this metastasizing security cancer has so confounded Nigerians, causing cynics to attribute this failure to the President’s shared ethnicity with the criminals. If the Boko Haram insurgency appears defeated or at least under control, it is because banditry and kidnappings have eclipsed it in terms of posing greater national security challenge. The farmer-herders conflict; this is an age-old struggle for the control of land and water resources. The conflict was easier to manage due to abundance of these resources and the possibility of delineating grazing reserves and livestock routes. The sedentary farmers were quite welcoming and accommodating of the herders in a symbiotic relationship. Desert encroachment, exponential population growth and rapid expansion of arable farming have caused land and water resources to shrink, leading to the intensification of the conflict. The civil war raging between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt more concentrated in Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa states must be seen in this context. If it appears like as an ethno-religious conflict, it is because the herders are Muslim Fulanis and the farmers are mostly of different ethnicity and Christians. The divide and rule policy of opportunistic politicians has also complicated matters and led to escalation. States and the Federal Government must provide solutions to this crisis. They must create an enabling environment for a balanced and sustainable livestock and arable farming to guarantee the much desired food security. Separatist movements; these have existed since amalgamation in 1914, but grew during the struggle for independence and soon after. Sections or regions which felt aggrieved or marginalised by unfavourable Federal Government’s policies sought relief through different means, which include threat to exit the federation. The Biafran secession which led to the 30 months civil war was the most successful attempt at separation. Since then, separatist threats had been peacefully handled and discouraged. The current Biafran movement as represented by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was given traction by President Buhari’s discriminatory and exclusionary policies against the Igbo, hence the Igbo voting decision by which they gave General Buhari five per cent of their votes and, therefore, undeserving of key appointments in his government. No person of Igbo extraction was found worthy of appointment as head of any of the security services in all of President Buhari’s eight year tenure. We must view the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB separatist struggle in this context. The young man is fighting a just cause. God forbid that we succeed in creating a nation in which citizens, particularly the youths, remain passive in the face of injustice. The Federal Government must obey court’s decision and release Nnamdi Kanu. IPOB must pursue its objective peacefully. The current violent struggle is disruptive and injurious to the nation and more so to its kinsmen. In summary, the failure of President Buhari’s administration in the area of security can be appreciated by the following statistics: Over 80,000 persons have lost their lives. Thousands of women and girls were raped. Hundreds of thousands were kidnapped and killed or released after the payment of ransom. Millions have been internally displaced. It would appear that the president was more concerned about his regime’s security than national security, which explains his decision to retain military Service Chiefs in the face of public dissatisfaction with their performance. Nigerians were amused when President Buhari was honoured with some highfalutin security award by a senile President of Mauritania.
The second point of the Buhari agenda is the fight against corruption. Although majority are of the opinion that he did not deliver on this, he believes that he was successful. Speaking to the leaders of a Katsina farmers association who paid him a courtesy call at his Daura residence a couple of weeks back, the former president said that nobody can blackmail him because he did not embezzle public funds. He declared his assets as a house in Daura, two houses in Kaduna and the cows in his Daura farm which he owned prior to becoming the President. The former President’s minders are quick to use his appointment as anti-corruption chairman by African Union (AU) as proof of his success in the fight against corruption. What is your response?
Well, it was former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill who jokingly said: “History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it.” When he wrote that history, he did not engage in self adulation and spurious claims. Many actually believe that Churchill was unkind to himself. President Buhari had the opportunity to declare his assets publicly before and after his Presidency as he promised to do while campaigning for the office. He failed to do so. His assets declaration to the Katsina farmers is meaningless and doesn’t meet the legal requirements and expectations of the general public. It also does not matter if he left the Presidency poorer. Truth is that he presided over the most corrupt administration in the history of this country. His appointment as AU chairman of anti-corruption, if true, and whatever it means, appears misplaced and amounts to dressing him in borrowed robes. The former president must begin to understand that the measure of a leader’s piety and integrity is in deeds and conduct and not in his claims and rhetoric. It is these kinds of claims in the past which led to the mistaken apotheosis of General Buhari and the building of the myth of his unequalled competence and other leadership traits which unfortunately have not come to the fore. As is the norm here, he is not expected to be called to account, but he has to prepare to account to God Almighty. He will be called to render an account to Him on how he governed. God already knows what he, his immediate and extended family are worth, both before and after his Presidency. There is the day of judgment and all of us will be present. In the assessment of President Buhari’s fight against corruption, I call on the respected Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and Chief Femi Falana as witnesses. Bishop Kukah opined that “Buhari’s government amplified corruption morally and financially,” while Chief Femi Falana said “Corruption waxed stronger under Buhari.” These views are shared by most Nigerians. The moral corruption Bishop Kukah must be referring to is President Buhari’s elevation of personal interest over national interest. Consider, for example, the siting of over 20 major Federal Government’s projects in the President’s hometown, Daura. Senior members, including ministers and military Service Chiefs, engaged in very embarrassing and unethical acts to appease and ingratiate themselves to the president by gifting him projects from their ministries, departments, agencies and services. These were accepted with gratitude. Someone correctly observed that Daura is sinking under the weight of democratic dividends. It was the height of ethical and moral corruption that the president accepted a gift of an Air Force Reference Hospital from his Chief of Air Staff when Daura does not even have a landing strip. The rail line from Kano to Maradi was only approved because it passes through Daura and not for any socio-economic value. It ranks lowest in the nation’s infrastructural priorities. Less so that it is being financed with a $1.9 billion Chinese loan. This project must be discontinued. Work so far done should remain a monument of corruption. The two federal roads leading to Daura from Kano and Katsina are being dualised, while all roads leading to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, are yet to be completed. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway connecting the North with the two South Western ports is still under construction. Construction of the East-West Coastal highway has been abandoned. The second Niger Bridge remains uncompleted even though it was commissioned by the Buhari administration. General Buhari’s decision to relocate to Daura from Kaduna must be on account of Daura being more urbanised and secured than Kaduna. Not a few Nigerians were shocked when an Army University was cited in Biu, the local government headquarters of General Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff. The officer was simply emulating or to use military parlance, taking dressing from his C-in-C. Question is, why does the Nigerian Army need a university when the Nigerian Defence Academy is a degree awarding institution and its rank and file are being accommodated in civil institutions? Buhari’s high level of nepotism ensured that appointments, particularly in the sensitive area of security, were skewed in favour of his section of the country, leading to unprecedented polarisation, discontent and separatist agitations. The ongoing Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) probe will lay bare the monumental financial fraud that happened under Buhari’s watch. It will reveal how the President’s cabal fraudulently enriched itself through forex round-tripping and Anchor Borrowers fraud. The claim that the president was unaware is false. He was made aware by the DSS and advised to cause the arrest and investigation of the CBN governor. He was prevailed upon by beneficiaries not to take an action which would expose them. One will not be wrong in saying that Nigeria has become a truly fantastically corrupt nation in the last eight years.
Again, the former president claimed that he left a robust economy on account of the provision of massive infrastructural projects. What is your take on this?
Yes, good infrastructure is absolutely necessary for any meaningful socio-economic development. This is one of the items in President Buhari’s economic development plan. But let’s review all aspects of the plan. General Buhari promised to repair our four refineries and construct new ones aimed at bringing down the prices of petroleum products and doing away with fraudulent subsidy. A litre of Premium Motor Spirits (PMS), for example, would sell below N40:00. The naira would regain its pre-SAP value of one to one United States dollar. Power outages will be a thing of the past as he would increase the generation capacity to 10,000mw in the first year of his administration. His anti-corruption war would reduce to the barest minimum, leakages in the economy. Many more promises too numerous to recount in this already lengthy interview. To be able to measure the performance of President Buhari, we need to consider the state of the economy he inherited from President Jonathan’s administration. Truth is, even the most rabid critic of President Jonathan cannot fail to notice his success in the management of our economy. He succeeded in growing the economy to be the largest in Africa with a total GDP of over 500 billion United States dollars. It was growing at an annual rate of about five per cent. Of course, the administration was lucky in terms of relatively large revenue from oil as prices remained high, ranging from N60/barrel at the beginning of the administration in 2010 to about N140/barrel towards the end in 2015. It also borrowed N7 trillion. It was able to utilise this revenue in the area of security and socio-economic development. For example, it heavily subsidised power. Electricity was selling at N6 per kwh, PMS at N97/litre, and Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) at N120/litre. Subsidy on all petroleum products was maintained at less than N1 trillion per annum. Other consumer prices are worth mentioning. A 50kg of rice sold at N8,000; a hundred kg of maize sold at N3,500-N4,500. A dollar exchanged for between N165-N200 which was the highest rate. In the area of infrastructure, the government provided a couple – a total number of 12 federal universities of which seven were sited in educationally disadvantaged North. Several Federal Medical Centres were established. Almajirai schools were provided in some Northern states. The Kaduna-Abuja rail line was constructed. Many federal and states roads were repaired. The administration’s plan to grow the excess crude account was thwarted by states governors who forced the Federal Government through legal action to share the funds. It was this economic state that President Buhari inherited from the Jonathan’s administration. Let us compare this with our economic state after eight years of Buhari’s management. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) statistics although helpful, particularly in the past, do not provide an accurate and clearer picture of our economy. I have already provided consumer prices pre-Buhari era, let’s consider these prices in 2023 or the end of the Buhari administration. AGO N800/Litre; PMS sold between N187/litre to N620/litre as of July 2023 when the subsidy ended. We should note that the Buhari administration only budgeted N3.5trillion for PMS subsidy to end or withdrawn by June 2023. PMS subsidy withdrawal was made fait accompli for the Tinubu administration. Prices of all food commodities have risen by over 400 per cent in eight years. The evidence of the success of the much vaunted rice revolution can only be seen in the dubious rice pyramids displayed by the Federal Government and the so-called rice states. Electricity generation capacity has stagnated at 4,000mw. Our refineries have totally shut down despite an investment of over $2billion for their repairs and maintenance. We spent an average of N3 trillion annually as PMS subsidy. Average of N40 billion is being spent on payment of salaries and allowances of moribund refinery workers. The former President’s achievement as Petroleum Minister for eight years was the purchase of 20 per cent shares in a private refinery which he commissioned with no completion date in sight. He has also caused the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) to start drilling oil in Gombe and Nasarawa states before credible discovery was established. Question is, why were OPLs not granted to private sector to invest in this activity as is the current policy governing prospecting and mining of oil? The government claimed that it borrowed over N70 trillion with which it provided infrastructure. But where is this infrastructure? There is not a single infrastructure of any kind that was started and completed by the Buhari administration, except perhaps those in Daura. I stand to be corrected. President Buhari’s economic management has resulted in creating total economy paralysis. Nigeria has become a debtor nation much more so than what General Buhari described it under the government of President Shehu Shagari. Over 90 per cent of our government revenue goes to debt servicing. The naira exchanging currently at over N900 to the dollar has assumed the status of a wheelbarrow currency. Buhari’s economic management has caused Nigeria to be the poverty capital of the world with about 2/3 of its population, 130 million people, living below poverty line. It is in consideration of this security and economic collapse that Dr Umar Ardo correctly concluded that the Bola Tinubu administration inherited a failed state. Pained by this embarrassing failure of a professional colleague and a superior officer, General Haliru Akilu queried the decision of President Buhari to seek a second term in 2019.
Barely three months into the life of the Tinubu administration, the growing insecurity and economic crisis leading to hyperinflation, have made some people to compare it to the Buhari administration, concluding that it is no better. Or that it is behaving like it is an offshoot of the Buhari administration. After all, Tinubu promised to continue where Buhari stopped. How do you react to this?
It is preposterous. As you have observed, the Tinubu administration is barely three months old, so not time enough to assess its performance. Yes, it has demonstrated worrying impulsiveness in its major public policy decisions. As I said earlier, Dr Umar Ardo is spot on when he said that the Tinubu administration inherited a failed state. How else do you describe a state with an empty treasury, heavy debt burden, having to spend over 90 per cent of its revenue for debt service, a state with decayed infrastructure, high insecurity and monumental corruption? Tinubu is saddled with the task of resurrection of a dead or failed state. The worst mistake he will make is to create the impression that his is an offshoot of the Buhari administration. Doing so would amount to building on a shaky foundation and having to own the rot. He must chart a new course even though he is of the same APC party. He must probe and recover looted funds. Luckily, President Buhari had created precedence by his probe of the Jonathan administration and prosecution of some of its members.
You advised President Tinubu not to appoint former governors who were desperately lobbying to be appointed in his cabinet. You accused some of them of leaving behind empty treasuries, heavy debt burden, looting government property and polarising their states through divisive politics. He has appointed six former governors. Are they not part of the group you referred to?
Yes, I referred to all those former governors who are guilty of the offences you enumerated and who exhibited embarrassing desperation to be appointed in the cabinet after eight years in what should normally be a difficult assignment, making most honest holders to show hesitation and resistance to being called to serve in any capacity in public service. It is mostly in pursuit of selfish interests that you find former high level public servants lobbying for office. The stories coming out of many states reveal shocking and brazen corruption acts by former governors. Most shocking is resort to petty theft of public property, including cars and furniture by states chief executives who paid themselves humongous sums as severance allowances. Please, compare this to the case of former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. His nine years regime was toppled in a military coup on July 29, 1975, while he was attending the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Kampala, Uganda. Soon after a world press conference during which he magnanimously accepted his ouster and wished his successor, General Murtala Muhammed success, he called our High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alhaji Sule Kolo, with a request. His wife, Mrs Victoria Gowon, was in London to shop during the seasonal summer sales when prices of items are reduced. Some believed that he got her out of the way since he had security reports about the likelihood of a coup against his regime. His Chief of Staff, General David Ejoor, left the country on vacation after failing to convince the C-in-C to pre-empt the coupists. He asked the high commissioner to check his wife out of her hotel because he couldn’t pay her hotel bills. The high commissioner was taken aback and sympathetic. He immediately called Dodan Barracks to relay Gowon’s request to him. When General Murtala was informed, he instructed the high commissioner to pay all her hotel bills for as long as she stayed. Gowon requested our Embassy in Kampala to book him on a commercial flight to the United Kingdom. Word on Gowon’s travel plan reached heads of states attending the OAU meeting. One of them volunteered to lend him his presidential plane to fly him to the United Kingdom. Gowon had sent back his presidential plane, since according to him; he was no more entitled to its use as a former head of state. Those heads of states gave him monetary contributions to start life in the United Kingdom when they discovered that he could not even pay his wife’s hotel bill. A few months later, Gowon shocked the world when he appeared in a queue at a Warwick University students’ cafeteria trying to buy food. General Murtala was so shocked and decided to despatch a delegation to meet with Gowon and convince him to return home with the guarantee that he would be treated as a former head of state entitled to benefits befitting his status. He apologised to the delegation for refusing the offer as he had already enrolled for undergraduate studies and would prefer to continue his studies. Besides, returning home was not a good option since he did not own a house anywhere in the world, including in Nigeria. When as Governor of Kaduna State, I visited Gowon’s family house in Wusasa, Zaria, in 1987 in company of the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Gambo Jimeta, we met Gowon’s mother in the same mud building where he was born. Her room furniture comprised a Vono bed, a wooden chair on which IGP Gambo sat, while I sat on a bag of grains. Gowon’s sister took her position on a straw mat, while the mother sat on her bed. Her other daughter was making haste to fry beans cake for us, of course, using firewood stove. Leadership self abnegation in glaring display! This is who we are. This generation of ‘leaders,’ at least, most of them, have strayed. I used to encourage my subordinate officers to follow me on pilgrimage to Wusasa where I conducted them round the Gowon’s family compound. They saw those relics of saints. I am happy to report that the Gowon’s family church is still the old mud building. I encourage our current leaders to visit and be guided on the right path.
You are one of those recognised to have participated in the June 12 struggle. This even led to the loss of your commission. Many Nigerians are wondering why you are not seen close to President Tinubu. I understand you are yet to visit him. Why?
Well, because I did not participate in that struggle with the aim of attracting any personal benefits. It was, for me, a selfless struggle for justice and fairness. I also lacked the clairvoyant powers to foresee the emergence of a fellow activist as the President of Nigeria. Nobody expects me to accept an appointment from President Tinubu on that account. Besides, I am already 73 years old, having spent most of those years in one struggle or the other. I am struggle weary now. I hope we have been able to inspire the younger generation to continue. We have stepped aside and don’t intend to get in their way
Since you don’t intend to serve in the Tinubu administration, what advice would you give him on how to run a successful administration? Are you planning to meet with him to render such advice
With 45 ministers and many advisors, including brilliant and honest National Security Adviser and the Director-General of the Department of State Services, it will be presumptuous of me to assume the role of an advisor to the President, particularly in that area, where you expect me to be an expert, security. Remember also that Tinubu has been a successful governor of Lagos State for eight years. But if I have to advise as an outsider, looking in, I will counsel him to be less impulsive in public policy formulation and execution. Even beneficial policies must be adopted with public support. Perhaps, it is the reason we are required to endorse and append our signatures before we undergo medical surgery just in case things go wrong. The president must carry people along, particularly in those major policy decisions which have far reaching impact on their lives. The president must be aware that worsening insecurity in the past 10 years has had negative impact on all economic activities, particularly agriculture which accounts for about 30 per cent of the nation’s GDP. Border closure, corruption have all combined to cause about two-thirds, about 130 million Nigerians to fall below poverty line, resulting in the country attaining the unenviable status of world’s poverty capital. The fuel subsidy withdrawal by this government would appear to be the last straw that will break the backs of Nigeria’s poor. It has so far led to hyper-inflation. Hunger and destitution are very visible nationwide. The exit of multi-national corporations is turning into a rush. Small and medium enterprises are shutting down in large numbers. Brilliant columnists like Profs Farooq Kperogi, Sam Amadi, Dele Sobowale, et al, have been making convincing arguments for a review and reversal of this subsidy withdrawal. The idea that fraud exists in fuel subsidy and, therefore, it must be withdrawn is akin to throwing away the baby with the bathwater. What government needs to do is to remove or reduce the fraud in subsidy and provide subsidy, not only in fuel, but other sectors such as agriculture, education, health, etc. Truth is, most government functions are bedevilled by fraud. This does not mean we should shut down government and live as an acephalous society. Most countries, including developed ones which are prophets of neoliberal economic ideas.
▪︎ This interview was first Pubished by The Sun newspaper.