‘APC Put Restructuring in Its Manifesto to Deceive the People’

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Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party and former governor of Lagos and Osun states, as well as, Chairman South-west PDP Reconciliation Committee shares his thoughts on the polity and his career as a soldier and politician with Yinka Kolawole

As a retired military officer who is still very active what is your candid view on the level of insecurity in Nigeria and what solution would you think can assist us as a nation?

At no time has this country been so divided along every fault lines. The fault lines have been made more pronounced under this administration and if care is not taken we may be heading for chaos. My candid opinion which I believe is the opinion of many Nigerians is for us to discuss and renegotiate the basis of our togetherness as a nation.

In a nutshell, either the country institutes a conference, which I think will not be necessary because we have the report of the 2014 confab that was well conducted. We can dust the documents and implement what is inside. Let us restructure this country. We had a federal administration from 1960 to 1966 during which every region ran its own area according to the needs and desires of their people and it worked. There was healthy rivalry between the regions, Awolowo was running free primary education and others were copying him all over. So, the best bet for Nigeria, if it is not going to be a blow out, is for us to look at restructuring of the country and look at the issues holding down everyone and find lasting solutions to them.

Considering what you have said, would you call for Conference of Retired Military Heads of State as well as Presidents for that lasting solution to the nation’s insecurity?

Now, we are called a federal republic, there are ways and manners in which a federal state is run, why can’t we keep to the letters of federalism? Where we took it from, we see it daily how institutions make democracy to progress. Just of recent, we saw in America how the system saved itself. So, we have adopted federalism in governance, why can’t we keep to the dictates and run our country as a true federation? Why? I should run my educational scheme the way it suits my people and not a straitjacketed educational system running from Borno to Osun state. That will not work.

The police issue, we had local police in the Western Region and those were policemen drawn from the locality. There was no-how a thief would steal and they would not get him. They knew all the bad boys within the vicinity. Where we drew this system from, they have local police. The laws of one police system in the US cannot override the other. I remember on one of my visits to America, and a security man was detailed to go round with me wherever I went. I was to buy a golf equipment, but I had to cross to another state to the shop where I had to buy the golf equipment. The security man said he had no authority to cross over to that place. Then, I said well, I would go and come. He did not go with me because his jurisdiction did not allow him to cross to another state. I went and bought the equipment and he was waiting for me. I joined him where he was to continue my other activities. That is where we took the federal system from. Military rule has bastardized our federation but why can’t we go back, 20 years after the military left? Keeping the unitary system alive, where things are skewed in favor of some people, helps them in appointments, developments, etc. So, those who benefit from this pseudo federation won’t want to let go.

If they don’t want to let go, what is the way out?

I don’t want to say what comes to my mind.

You are the chairman of Southwest Reconciliation committee for PDP how far have you gone?

Well we have succeeded in understanding the areas of problems and the differences and we believe the leaders are eminently qualified to resolve all the differences. At the end of our job, we will go and present our report to the stakeholders meeting that gave us this assignment and from there the people will go and handle each state’s peculiarity. Like I said, we have gone through Ogun, Oyo and we are heading to Ondo next week.

If you are to X-ray President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance what would be your take?

My take is failure in all ramifications. The APC gave us some promises as to what they want to do. You said the Naira’s exchange rate will be competing with the Dollar; you met naira at N197 to USD1, it is now N500 to One US dollar. Is that not a tragedy?

When the PDP government increased petrol price, you screamed, you brought out all civil society groups; they were all picketing everywhere, what is the price now? The only disappointing thing is that those civil society groups that were shouting over the increase of petroleum prices are now mute because the price has been increased three times.

Federal appointments have never been so blatantly skewed in favor of a particular section. It is an open secret. So, mention the areas where it has not failed, telling lies. Is that the next level we were promised? Is that the change? They did not tell us it was going to be negative change. No banditry in the Northwest in 2015, everything was with Boko Haram in the Northeast. Now, nobody is save everywhere. There is no security for anyone. I joke that if a governor walks about in, say, Katsina, without his security men, Walahi they will abduct him. It is that bad. Kidnappers took away a District Head in Daura. They abducted him and they have been doing things like that for so long in that zone. It is very sad.

The president recently replaced the Service Chiefs…

Honestly speaking , I don’t know why the service chiefs were kept for that long. By the condition of service that I know very well, you are to stay and serve for 35 years or leave when you are 60 years old. But, as the head of any of the services at the instance and privilege of the president, he may extend your service by two years. Those ones served for over forty years. Infact it negated the service Acts. It was a breach of the law. And because of that, there were generations of officers who have had to exit the service without making it to the peak of their careers because those who were made to sit tight at the top would not allow anybody to go up. The hope and aspirations of any officer is to work and command the force. I don’t know the brilliance of those officers that made them indispensable. We were all trained and graded fit by the defence academy. If they were all the best sword winners in their sets what of the remaining Swords of Honor that were retired because of the overstay of those chiefs, if we are talking about brilliance? And I know for certain that the General Buhari whom I served under would not take that kind of a thing if it happened when he (Buhari) was in service. I can bet you this would never happen with him in service. I don’t know why they were kept for that long and I don’t know why those ones were not honorable too to tell the president they were leaving. As an officer, there is time to be honorable because at the end of the day you must still go. Now, he has asked them to go, eventually.

You were Chairman of the NIMC that is doing the NIN registration going on across the country. Nigerians are finding it difficult to get it done in this period of COVID-19, what is your take?

Well, if there are situations militating against the smooth conduct of the exercise, the only thing is to extend the exercise which I believe the government will do because the essence of doing this exercise is for security reasons. I can tell you that as a former NIMC chairman. In all countries, all you need is a single identity card and that is why when you cross the border to Benin, all they ask you is your identity card; with the identity card, they just slot it in and tell everything about you.

In the UK with your drivers license you can take loans and do everything you want to do with it and that is what an identity card has to be.

But because of our lack understanding or uncooperative attitude, the Central Bank has its own data, police have their own data, several others like that. It is supposed to be one central data base which NIMC is supposed to keep. That is why some came up with the idea that if you don’t have a NIN you are not allowed recruitment into any of the forces. We need to bring everybody in. People are nonchalant about it and the NIN is good as a means of identity management. When I was there, some states don’t have the machines but from the little money we were given and which was coming for the first time, we were able to put the machines in over 774 local government areas substantially – and it has not gotten any other subvention ever since then.

Why did you resign as NIMC Chairman?

I resigned because of the fact that our President reneged on the promise that restructure would be part of the programme we were going to execute and being somebody from the South-west, I know the commitment of my people to having Nigeria as a true federation. The Yoruba bought into the Buhari project because of the issue of restructuring. They said, yes, this is what we have been clamouring for but at a stage after the election, the President said he did not know the meaning of restructuring, it was baffling and disappointing. When the leadership said they didn’t know the meaning of restructuring why did you put it in your manifesto? So, you did that manifesto to deceive the people?

You turned 70 years, yesterday. We want you to explain your social life; what you have been doing before 70 and what you will be doing after.

My intention is to continue to do what I have been doing in my life even beyond 70, everything I have been doing; maybe that is what kept me this long. I am an addicted golfer. I am the President of the Nigeria Golf Federation. if you invite me to a party I will come and dig it and boogie down, dancing is part of me and I took that one from my Dad. He was acclaimed to be one of the best dancing Obas around here.

You were 49 years old when you were retired from the army; did that decision catch you unawares?

Not really. I was very sad. If I was told that such a thing would come after my service as a military governor, I would have turned down the offer to be MILAD – if it won’t earn me punishment for rejecting posting. My interest in soldiering made me join the military as a Private in 1969 before I developed myself to become an officer and I faced that job so seriously that my family came next to my job.

As of the time I was retired, I never missed a promotion cycle. As of 1999 when I was leaving the army, I was one of the two people that were Brigadier Generals out of 76 of us commissioned in 1971. That is to show the extent of how well I faced the job. Then, for retirement to come like that was a kind of disaster. Three weeks before it came out, I knew of it. I was in good relationship with Senator Iyorchia Ayu who was a key minister in Obasanjo’s new government. He was the one that told me that I was going out of the army and even told me the day it was going to be announced. Then, a day to that D-Day, I went to my immediate boss to surrender all the documents and weapons with me. I asked one of my junior officers to type my handing over note. I was playing golf when it was announced. When I got home and I told my wife that I had been retired, she began to praise God that she had her husband back.

How did you do it in moving up from being a Private to an officer within one year?

When I became a Private in the Signal Corps, I had two options: one was to go to Defence Academy and become an officer or to go to the university to read. Signals Corps was the only Corps that sent officers to the university and I knew within our community there, it had no meaning if you didn’t have good education. I was taking external studies at Exam Success located at Ikorodu for my advanced level while at the same time working towards going to the academy. Then, Raji Rasaki was posted to my unit as a Second Lieutenant. When he was inspecting the parade, he asked me to step out which I did and followed him to his office. When we got to the office, he said that he wanted me to be his Batman and I told him that if it was due to my clean, well ironed uniform, I was not the one doing it. I told him I paid One Pound per month to the person that washed and ironed my uniform. He was impressed with the way I spoke with him and wondered how a Private could speak like that. He asked for my qualification and I said I was a School Certificate holder and he asked why I didn’t I go to the Academy. I said I just wanted to wear the army uniform. Since then, he took interest in me and with his encouragment, I gained admission into the Defence Academy. That is why he’s occupying a good chapter In my memoir.

You were governor in Lagos and Osun State respectively what did you do in those states that gives you joy to recall?

What gives me joy in Lagos, was the fact that despite the fact that I was Administrator in the most turbulent period in the history of that state due to the annulment of the June 12 election, to the glory of God, I administered Lagos without firing a shot.

In Osun State what I look at as my greatest success is the ending and termination of the 100 years old war between Ife and Modakeke.

Talking about peace, there has been increasing concern about the nefarious activities of Fulani herdsmen in the South-west, as a Yoruba leader, what advice will you give to Fulani people?

They should learn to live in peace with their hosts. We agree that you have the right to exist in any part of the country but you must live in accordance with the law. You do not have the right to perpetrate crime anywhere. When did herdsmen start to carry AK47 and not the sticks they were known for? However, a criminal is a criminal no matter his ethnic group. If you commit a crime, you should be so treated.

You were in APC and also now in PDP; you have interacted with both parties what will be your assessment of the parties on matters of principle and discipline?

There are differences in both parties but the ability to resolve disputes without much rancor is high on the side of APC. There is a bit or more discipline in APC than in PDP but APC is not as democratic as the PDP. If you see them (APC) fighting, somebody will just call them and seal it overnight. We have not learnt that in PDP. Everybody wants to be a leader. But talking of democracy, there is no doubt that PDP is more democratic than the APC in all ramifications.

You met General Ibrahim Babangida at the NDA, what role did he play in the development of your career?

He played roles throughout my career and he continues to play it after my career. He was my Company Commander in NDA and I became quite close to him. Now, because of my desire to go to the university…when you are leaving the NDA you were given three choices on the corps you want to belong to. With my interest in education, I filled Signals in the three spaces. General Babangida asked me why I decided to choose Signals and not his own corps, Recce. I replied that in my area, if you don’t have university education you were not regarded as anything and Signals was the only corps that allowed its officers and men to go to the university. But he had decided on where to send me. On the day the posting came out, we ran to the board to know where we were posted. I saw my name in IBB’s Recce.

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There are differences in both parties but the ability to resolve disputes without much rancor is high on the side of APC. There is a bit or more discipline in APC than in PDP but APC is not as democratic as the PDP. If you see them (APC) fighting, somebody will just call them and seal it overnight. We have not learnt that in PDP. Everybody wants to be a leader. But talking of democracy, there is no doubt that PDP is more democratic than the APC in all ramifications.