INTERVIEW: North Paying for its 1999 Stupidity – Gen Bamaiyi
Former Chief of Army Staff retired Lieutenant-General Ishaya Bamaiyi has blamed northern leaders for the current political woes because they “acted stupidly” by believing that General Olusegun Obasanjo would hand over power to them after his tenure.
Bamaiyi, who served in General Sani Abacha’s administration, in an exclusive interview with Daily Trust in his country home in Zuru, Kebbi State, said it was part of the calculation for northern political leaders to seal the deal to ensure power returns to the region that he was put behind bars.
He spoke on why he was against Obasanjo’s choice as civilian President, his fear for Nigeria ahead of 2015 and the current security challenges in the country.
You have been out of limelight for some time. What is responsible for that sir?
What is responsible is that I want peace. I have always been a very peaceful person, even during my military career. You people in the press hardly get me to talk and people say that I don’t like the press. No, it is not that I don’t like the press, I want peace, all I want now is to focus on my people, give them as much help as I can, stay with my family and continue to look upon God to help us. Let us lift up our youths, I don’t have to come out now and start struggling that I want to be governor, I want to be that when there are some young men who should also be given the opportunity. When you talk, people say they don’t have experience. Well, you don’t get experience without doing something. You have to learn by making mistakes. Let us allow them to make the mistake and then we can help to correct them. That is what I have been doing now, I have been quiet and I want to remain quiet.
What is your projection for 2015?
We are going into politics in 2015 but I am scared because politics in this country has become a do or die affair. Although, I still blame the common man- if there is anything like that- because it is the same man that will cast his vote for you if you give him N1,000.The politician will not remember anybody after election and the common man will go back to his poverty. During another election again, he will come and share the same thing and go back.
What is the way out?
Until we educate our people on the need for them to elect people that care for their welfare, we will continue to go into these problems. If you look at the local government chairmen now, how many of them in positions of authority today can tell you that they really won election? Most of them rigged election. There are ways of buying votes and results, threatening people and the rest of them. Most of the local governments in the state, I am sure you will not have many of them that can show you what they have done within this four years, nothing. And of course, they still want to come back and be elected. So, until we educate our people on the need to elect the right people, people who care about them into political positions, I think we will continue to have these problems.
What is your take on the political struggle for power shift to Northern Nigeria?
Well, as far as I am concerned, every part of this country has a right to produce the President. But, I was told that there was an agreement. I have not seen the document and nobody has shown it to me that there will be power shift. If that agreement is there, whether it is written or un-written, then I think people should respect agreements. I do not bother myself about where the president comes from or whatever leadership. Let us have people who are worried about Nigeria, who can move the country forward. That is the most important thing. But, if there was an agreement , I think people should respect such agreement because I have been a victim. I have been in prison for over eight years because I said do not bring a military man as the President. We brought a military man, that is the consequences we are facing. I was sent there by northerners who insisted that I should be put in prison. Southerners did not send me to prison. It was a southern judge that discharged and acquitted me, northerners took me there because they thought Obasanjo would hand over to them after his tenure. We are paying the price for our act of stupidity; let me put it that way without apology.
Did you kick against the release of Obasanjo from prison to become president?
I said we should not bring a retired general to become the president of this country because what is the difference? It was a military government, so why am I leaving and giving a military man? And tell me, when Obasanjo came, was there any difference between military rule and Obasanjo’s government? In the first place, he surrounded himself mostly with military men, the minister of defence was military, minister of internal affairs military, the NSA military, SSS military, Chief of Staff military. Those are the key appointments, so what is the difference between military and civilian rule? You know more than myself because I was then in prison. The same people that locked me up claim I did not know what was happening.
What is your view of Nigeria after your eight years in prison?
I have been vindicated since I was discharged and acquitted. We are now paying for being stupid, thinking that we are smart. You know the problem is when you think that you are too smart, sometimes you become the greatest fool. That is what has happened to the north. To me, we have stabbed ourselves and even today when you talk of governance, who are the people being used to destabilize the north, are they not northerners? So, let us think twice and do the right thing.
What is the motive behind recent reconciliation of the Zuru Elites?
The Emirs of Zuru has brought about unity, against the backdrop of rumours which might and may not be true. In every organization or society, you will have one or two people not agreeing with themselves. But that does not mean there is lack of unity. Nevertheless, whatever it is, I think in the case of Zuru, has been overcome and I believe we are now properly united. This has brought us back together as a family and I think the unity of Zuru people is assured.
To what extent is the reconciliation connected to the struggle for power shift by Southern Kebbians?
Well, let me correct an impression. Zuru Emirate elders did not reconcile because of politics, no. We reconciled to make sure that Zuru moves forward and this is part of the progress of the Zuru land. Like I said earlier, every part of this country has a right to ask for political post. Yes, it is true that we have never produced a governor in Kebbi State, let me not talk of Yauri because they produced a governor before and they now have a deputy. Zuru people never had that privilege. So, I think what we are asking for now is justified. We are not saying we are going to grab it by force, but we want to have it as a right. Let us have that equity that we claim to be in the state. To have that equity, power should be spread round. I think our demand is genuine, I think it should be quick.
How prepared are the Zuru people?
We have got everything, we have got the brains, we have people who are exposed, who have got the experience to leadthis state, maybe better than it is being led now. We have the people, even those who have been governors before and are still looking for it now. There is nothing wrong with that. It is left to the people to decide.
Those who have declared interest for governorship in Zuru alone are about 17 and this is causing some kind of disaffection among some of them. How do you view such development in the struggle?
To me, everybody has a right to aspire for an office. I think what we have now is unwieldy. That is my personal view. But, I believe at the end, people will find a solution. We are going to have may be only one person. We cannot have more than one person as a governor. Let everybody try his luck. Sai mu ce Allah ya ba mai rabo sa’a (May God grant the lucky one success).
As a retired General, what is your assessment of government, especially in the fight against insurgency in the country?
Honesty, I must be very frank, I do not think meetings can solve the problem. I believe that the governors we have who are supposed to be the chief security officers in their states have a lot to do on this security issue. You see, when we were kids if you go to a village as a visitor, your presence will be reported that very day to the community leader and you will be scrutinized properly. That has helped because security is everybody’s responsibility. Nobody has a sort of monopoly as far as security is concerned. I agree that some people are trained in the aspect of security, but the most successful security is that one that everybody gets involved in. I don’t think we have gotten to that stage now because I blame our security officers at the state level; the governors and the rest of it. Most of the governors don’t even stay in the state. If you don’t stay in your state as the chief security officer, how do you resolve problems of security? Even if you have the commissioner of police, you have to be around for him to discuss issues with you. If you have the State Security Service (SSS) or whatever, it is, they still need to contact you as the chief security officer of the state. If you are not there, what do you think will happen? So, it is not how many meetings or how much we meet that matters. I don’t think we are very serious about security matters in this country. That is my personal view.
What do you think is the cause of current ethno-religious unrest in Nigeria?
Well, I think it is a problem of lack of leadership. We have lived with the Fulani for long and have never had this kind of problems. Now people want to take the Fulani/ farmers clash as a religious thing. I do not think it is a religious thing at all and I do not think it has anything to do with ethnicity. It is just the lack of leadership and of course hunger. Poverty, whether we like it or not, is there and there are people in this country who do not have one square meal a day. Therefore, they are easy prey to anybody who wants to use them. Until the government comes to make sure that at least everybody is able to feed himself, we will still be in trouble. The situation is getting worse, despite continuous promise of government to get to the root and take care of it. That means, you cannot, as a government be deceiving people, government should come out and tell people the truth.
Should the state of emergency imposed on Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States be extended?
Well, I first ask this question; have we achieved anything from the state of emergency? The answer is no! The situation is worse. I said it before and I want to repeat. If you think I have failed as a governor and you imposed emergency rule in my state and if I have failed, what am I still doing there? When President Obasanjo was in power, he imposed State of Emergency in two states. He removed the governors because as far as he was concerned, they are the problem. Now that state of emergency is imposed on those states, that means the governors have failed, so what the hell are they doing there? I believe that just like Obasanjo did in some states, if I know you cannot hold a state, then you have no business being there. So, to me, I don’t think we have achieved anything. As far as I am concerned, state of emergency is unnecessary. Allow the governors to handle their security problems. What we are doing now is like army occupation. Force cannot solve this problem because it is fighting a war that has no frontiers. It is not like conventional war where we will say, ok , the enemy is there, I will bomb it with artillery and attack and take over the place. But in this war, you do not know where they are. They could even be right in your house , it could be your driver, it could be your cook. So, it is not a matter of excessive force. Yes, force can be used, but sometimes, when you use excessive force, you will give the enemy, in this case the terrorist or whatever you call them, the opportunity to think fast and change their tactics. It is like a guerilla war, it is not a matter of taking a brigade and go and attack and finish them because you don’t know where they are and they don’t stay in one place.
How possible are allegations by some military personnel of alleged military complicity in killing their colleagues in the North-East?
Well, there is nothing impossible in this country now. When you talk of operations, the level of corruption in this country can cause anything to happen. Imagine a military barrack being run by terrorists. Is it possible without an insider? Is it possible without intelligence from that place? So, I think the man has a point. But since I have not studied the issue, however, my answer is, it is possible and from what we have seen, the man has a point.
I was jailed so that Obasanjo would hand over to the North – Bamaiyi
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