Alani Akinrinade

A former Chief of Army Staff and member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd.) thinks Nigeria is doomed if the federal government fails to address those issues that threaten the corporate existence of the country. In this interview with Bayo Akinloye, Akinrinade says recognising June 12 and bestowing honours on people will not solve Nigeria’s fundamental problems. To him, therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari may just be paying lip service to the late MKO Abiola’s heroics, because the president never liked him. The retired general also have some blunt words for former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who recently accused the Buhari regime of plotting to arrest and detain him. Excerpts:

Do you think as some prominent Nigerians have claimed that the honouring of some June 12 heroes, particularly Chief MKO Abiola, Babagana Kingibe and Gani Fawehinmi, is about 2019 elections and less about healing the wounds of national injustice?
Well, it is difficult not to believe there may be some political connotations or political advantage – maybe profits – that will likely come out of the proclamation of June 12 as Democracy Day and the bestowing of the GCFR award – the highest honour in the country – on the late Abiola. Be that as it may, considering that the declaration and the awards on some people came in the last moments of this administration’s first term is really a trap for the people.

Therefore, it is very difficult not to have some feeling of suspicion. In any case – you know how politicians act – you must also be suspicious that there must be something beyond what the eyes can see. On the whole, I think it is the problems of the country that agitate the people all the time – the amount of suspicions and misgivings; the unresolved ongoing killings of people. It is in this context that I reach some conclusions and have to really assess what has happened and whether the accolades that are being expressed – all the encomiums that are being poured are true enough. I didn’t have the privilege to listen to the people, who spoke at the national awards ceremony. I thought there must be a little more we could have done to address these issues.

What issues exactly are you talking about?
What did Abiola die for? He died that we should have not just democracy – not just good governance. But he was concerned of the need to settle the minds of Nigerians as a people and allow them to go back to their homes and houses and communities, regions – whatever you want to call it – and to start feeling some sense of camaraderie with everybody else.

But also knowing that their future – that of their children and children’s children – will very much depend more on what they themselves as organised people do for their communities. I think those are the things that we were expecting – that once Abiola got there, we were going to have a completely restructured political system. Even in our physical organisation for the task that is ahead of us.
A lot has been written about federalism by a number of individuals including Awolowo. So, we knew precisely where we had to go. But today, we are faced with one step forward and three steps backward – going back and forth is not the issue of GCFR and June 12. These are issues we have to sit down, deliberate and do something about.

You don’t think President Muhammadu Buhari should be praised given that former presidents like Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan had the opportunity to do what he did?
I think we should praise the President for having the courage to do what he has done. But he too should examine himself – (based on) some of the things he had said before. He didn’t like Abiola – he said so in an interview that why should he go ahead and love a man, who financed his ouster. He said so in an interview he granted TELL magazine. All these things are there.

Let’s not deceive ourselves. For me, unless we restructure this country physically, politically, financially and go back to address our political system and uphold the values of civic responsibilities, we will continue to have rigged elections, violence, corruption, and extreme poverty – and that’s why our leaders hate one another just to get to the top.

They go to any length to get money to finance election campaigns just to get into positions of power. A political system that works that way is not sufficient to address the aspirations of the masses. These are issues that people face; it is not just a matter of building infrastructure, getting jobs for people. We are never going to get anywhere unless we decide one day to sit and rearrange this whole system –nobody is sitting somewhere barking out orders and everybody begins to shiver and catch cold.

People are congratulating Abiola’s family for the honour bestowed on the late politician. What about Kudirat? What about Alfred Rewane? There are quite a number of people – men and women – who died for this cause. They didn’t die to get GCFR or to get Abiola recognised. They fought to establish democracy in the land – that’s what they fought for and that’s why they were killed.
Again, the suspicion is there. There are so many red flags. For now, everybody is congratulating one another but when we wake up in the morning we will find out that we are still in the same place.

Lately, there have been reports of threats to life, plans by the federal government to arrest and detain individuals like Obasanjo, Jonathan, Bukola Saraki, Governor Nyesom Wike, and Atiku. What do you think is happening?
Look, I don’t think there is any country that can make any headway without the establishment of justice – which people are very certain that if anything goes wrong, the bastion of refuge, which is the judiciary, is doing so well now? No. With all the things reeled out as problems, have even bigger connotation for a country that has no good roads, rail system, electricity supply, etc and wants to develop.
Meanwhile, Nigeria is using a lot of its resources to combat Boko Haram, to go after Shiites, to tackle armed banditry and sundry menace to the society, which are exacerbated by grinding poverty and steep decline in values.
I am not sure that my countrymen are looking at the amount of resources that are being depleted everyday. We don’t make guns. We don’t make ammunition – even gunpowder we don’t make. Even the uniforms that our soldiers use, most of them are imported from abroad; same with armoured vehicles and the rest, are not Nigerian products.
Our economy is bleeding, because we don’t manufacture things. We are going to be poor for a very long time. What does the government do? They gang up and make us pay more duties on banned vehicles, company taxation and others. They just want to milk the population and to do what? And do what they call security and what is the security if as consumers we are not producing? There are too many facets to the issues that beset Nigeria to be discussed in an interview. As we are configured today – with our mindset and our values – we are going nowhere.

But what will you say about ex-President Obasanjo’s claim that his life is in danger?
Look, what makes that something that we should even hear about? He is an ex-head of state; he is entitled to maximum security. So, is it the same people that the government gave him that are going to kill him for something or some other people will waylay them and kill them? To be sincere, we are in a dysfunctional society. Is that what we should be talking about? Have you ever heard of that? Well, maybe in some African countries.

Have you ever heard about ex-presidents or ex-prime ministers in more responsible countries doubting their own national security? But he sowed this seed. Obasanjo sowed the seed. He made the bed that he is lying on now. He ruled the country as a military head of state for some three years and eight years as an elected president even though he didn’t want to leave. He should look back and reflect on what legacy he left behind. I don’t bother about his claim. If the leaders want to kill one another they can go ahead and do so.
They brought us into this dungeon that we are in. If they want to kill one another, I don’t think they should worry us about that. Is it today they have been killing one another? He can complain now: his own attorney general (Bola Ige) was killed in his house, not on the street, and then we could not find out what happened. It was under his watch that people went from prison to the Senate. I think we are wasting our time.

Let us face the real problems on the ground. If those at the top want to kill one another, we should welcome them to do it – good luck! We already have a bad name anyway. So, nobody is going to be worried. It’s not a joke. We are like a banana republic. So, what? Did you see all of them sitting and making speeches? Most of the people at awards ceremony were not for that election (June 12, 1993 presidential poll).

The President gave (Babagana) Kingibe an award; an award for what? I am not too sure that if Gani (Fawehinmi) was alive he would accept the award – unless, of course, there are conditions to it that we are going to go for full-scale restructuring of our political system. A restructuring that will put an end to corruption, looting of the treachery and wanton killings can never be addressed by this government.

Does it bother you that individuals like Prof. Wole Soyinka and Bola Tinubu, who fought for the restoration of democracy in the country, were part of the award ceremony?
I didn’t listen to what Prof. Soyinka said while he was on the rostrum. But I suspect that if they had gone there they might have done so as a mark of respect for their president and as a mark of respect for Abiola and other heroes of June 12 and they then insisted that what really caused all the matters they have not looked into. The only honour that we can do to Abiola and all those who died during that struggle is to go full-scale and restructure this country – restructure our political relationships until then, we can’t have good governance.

I don’t like the idea of chasing thieves after they have bolted away with the loot. If they had gone to the occasion to canvass for a restructuring of the system and constitution and made sure that the matter was brought to the fore right there, I could have been happy. Well, I am not sure that I heard that. All I heard was that everybody wants Buhari to return in 2019.
I really don’t care who governs this country as long the country is restructured based on federalism allowing each state to grow and taking good care of its people – then, I don’t care if Buhari wants to sleep there (Aso Villa), elected for 12 or 15 years. I don’t know why people have to declare loyalty just like that – he has not finished one term.

Are you bothered about state of insecurity in Nigeria and what people called the country’s security architecture?
There are so many things that bother me even about security. First of all, we are spending so much that our countrymen are not thinking. How much of our resources –human, material and capital – have gone into security and yet nobody is sure that we have beheaded Boko Haram or that there are no other terror groups springing up. We have all that and then you’re thinking in terms of the lives, money and other things we are losing every day.

Some of these issues have not been addressed properly. I will like to hear my President say there is no room for anybody – whether you’re herdsmen or farmers – killing one another and that he was going to do something very serious about the issue. He should change the architecture of the security forces – creating state police that will be strong and responsive to the needs and welfare of the people along with laws that will ensure that the state police are not used by some governments to harass their opponents.
That is the fear a lot of people are expressing about state police. Community and state policing are key. You can’t take a man from Kebbi, send him to Kaduna for police training and post him to Mushin in Lagos. How effective will he be in that environment considering language and other factors? The security architecture has to change otherwise violence will continue to rise with death tolls rising in Zamfara, Kaduna and other states across the country. Are we not ashamed? We can’t continue to stick to a system that has failed us.

What’s your thought on 2019?
I just want us to know that all the efforts that we are making will come to naught. We are going to have national elections very soon. We are going to elect the same kinds of people and they are going to act exactly the same way as we have been watching for years. We are not going to get anywhere with that reality. We will be faced with one step forward and plenty of reverses. We can’t sustain whatever success we might make. We don’t have a system for sustained development of minds, people, our environment, and values.
I cannot see on the horizon anyone that is trusted enough who has the tenacity, the experience, the strategy, to create a Nigeria of our dream. We don’t need strong men but we need individuals, who can bring people together and think out of the box to create a Nigeria that is cohesive and dynamic. Buhari himself has to be careful, because he had once spoken about the country being ungovernable if he lost the election. Now he won the election and he’s ruling but the country is still ungovernable.
How he has stop the kick.