Olu Craig, a retired Colonel of the Nigerian Army and ex-military police officer, was imprisoned alongside former President Olusegun Obasanjo and General Shehu Yar’Adua by General Sani Abacha over the 1995 alleged coup plot. He speaks on the state of the nation in this interview.
Before the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Chibok, there was the allegation in certain quarters that men of the Nigerian armed forces attacked some Fulani herdsmen under the excuse that they were members of the Boko Haram. When you begin to hear that kind of allegation, how does it sound to you, given your background as a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army?
That army people were the ones killing people, blaming it on Boko Haram?
That was the allegation.
No, this cannot be correct. You see, insurgency is not a conventional war. It is a most difficult warfare to prosecute because the insurgents live among the people. In a conventional war, if the enemy is here, you are there.
This problem lingers not because our soldiers are incapable; you have to think of the humanitarian factor and then, our soldiers are overstretched. And some soldiers are also deployed to some individual politicians.
My appeal since the military is overstretched is that there is need to mobilize ex-service men, say about ten thousand. These are people who had gone to war (civil) before and so they have the experience. It will just be a matter of paying them some amounts for the duration and, in six months, the problem will be over.
At the same time, politicians behave irresponsibly in the response to the Boko Haram challenge. PDP and APC; I do not know what they gain in verbal assaults on each other. This is a civil war and in such a situation, all parties ought to rally round the commander-in-chief.
One of the reasons our problem has lingered is because we generalize the cause.
You have just said ‘PDP and APC’ but what is clear is that the PDP has been very open in naming APC leaders as sponsors of Boko Haram. How does a country move forward this way?
This is not the time for blame game. In situation of national crisis, all parties must rally round the commander-in-chief, whoever he is, whatever party he represents. In America, during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, all the parties rallied round their president and fought the common enemy.
So, whoever is responsible for Boko Haram, there should be no room for blame trading. Forget about political differences, rally round the commander-in-chief and contribute to the solution, jointly.
Some people say the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, is weak, hence insurgency thrives. What exactly is the role of NSA in this regard?
The NSA is competent. What people do not understand is that his roles are defined in the Constitution. His role is to collate the intelligence in all the security agencies, pass the intelligence to the president and help in analyzing it.
The NSA is not a person that will carry the gun and go to the battle field. People are just blaming the NSA wrongfully and out of ignorance. And one thing with intelligence is that, in this kind of situation, everybody must be involved.
Look at Lagos, with what Governor Fashola has been able to put in place, every body is involved and people are alert. In the case of Ijora, it was the citizens who said, “Look, these faces are strange” and they got to the end of the problem that would have plunged Lagos into a terrorist situation. But if you say, “I don’t care”, what do you think would have happened?
The NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, has a good background in intelligence. Some people are just being malicious, blaming him unnecessarily. Even in Afghanistan and Iraq, America, with all its military might, have they conquered the insurgents there?
So, it is not a matter of military might alone.
In the North-east, there is so much poverty which helped the situation to grow. Initially, people were saying it was a religious problem and that the North was using the insurgency to Islamise Nigeria. It is now that their eyes are opened to the fact that it does not have to do with religion.
It is poverty which does not know tribe or religion. Agreed the people claim to act out an ideology but it is a useless ideology that they claim because Islam talks about peace and it is a religion of peace.
If we are one hundred percent religious people, all the problems we are having will not be.
CAN once said the North was using Boko Haram as an agenda to Islamise Nigeria. You said nobody should engage in blame game.
With due respect to most of our clerics, they have abandoned their religious responsibilities and are not intervening where they should. In time of crisis like this, during the Second World War, what the clerics should be doing is to pray for the end of the war. It is easy to radicalize somebody who is jobless.
That is the major reason Boko Haram festered to this level. Because many of their leaders are graduates, they feel that somebody who has gone to school and come out and cannot get a job means that Western education is useless. That forms the basis of their ideology but they are hypocrites.
They are hypocrites because they are using cell phones and using flashy cars which are products of the West. They are just indoctrinating these people because they are not educated and they are very poor. They feel that they are fighting for an ideology but it is a stupid ideology that is not supported by religion.
An American security expert said Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab have hands in Nigeria’s Boko Haram problem. The thinking in many quarters is that this could be a ploy for the US, which had long wanted to have a military base in Nigeria to now enter the country militarily considering the latest development where Secretary of State John Kerry, seizing the kidnapped school girls issue, vowed that United States would help bring back the girls?
No. We must sing in unison. America or no America, it is our country. We must unite. There is one Yoruba proverb that says, “If there is no crack in the wall, lizard will not enter.”
So, America or no America, it is our own national interest we are fighting for and we should not think about any other country. We have to survive because, unfortunately for us, Nigeria is not like Liberia. If it happens, this is a country of 170 million people, where will all these people run to? Liberia is just two million; see what it caused West Africa refugee programme.
And Nigerians are not liked by our neighbours. Those people beating the drums of war now, when it comes, they will regret. The fact that people who caused this problem are the caterpillars of our country is crystal clear.
But the Federal Government should try to calm strained nerves because there is anger in the land. Some people embezzled pension funds and they were not tried. The EFCC said they have tried this and that. They should mention one elite who has been tried. Not people who stole goat.
We are not talking about people who stole N20 million. I do not want to mention names but there are people who stole pension money running into billions and many supposed beneficiaries of these funds have died and are still dying.
In a good country, those people should be executed and the judiciary is not helping matters. You buy justice with money in this country because if you are rich, lawyers will take your money and they start adjourning your case.
It baffles me when I hear that there is no law to try one particular person for one particular offence, corruption inclusive….
Yes! Look at General Muhammadu Buhari government, did he waste time in dealing with corrupt people? People were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment and all of that for corruption. Same thing Jerry Rawlings did in Ghana and that is why Ghana is what it is today.
The failure to tackle this problem the way it should is one of the root causes of the problem we have in Nigeria today.
There is this issue of seniority and ethnicisation that people talk about in the military. I mean, if a Hausa man is appointed the Chief of the Army Staff by a Hausa President, people say ‘hey, this is Hausa or Muslim government’. Now that the President is from the South-south and General Ihejirika was made the Chief of the Army Staff, in some quarters, people said it was South-south/South-east government. Ihejirika has been replaced with a Bayelsa man, another issue has been raised about an anti-Igbo agenda in the military or the government. What does this look like, to you, as an ex-military officer?
It was in your paper that I read a columnist of Igbo extraction, who said Ihejirika was retired as the Chief of the Army Staff because he is Igbo. I want to say that people just talk things that are unnecessary because of ethnic or religious sentiments.
In the military, maybe in about ten courses, only one person may be fortunate, based on his competence, to be the Chief of the Army Staff! That columnist and others who carry such ethnic sentiment around, I do not think they know that Ihejirika had spent more than his stipulated time because the military is the only detribalized institution that we have in this country today.
They are people from various tribes but they are detribalized. They are people from different religions but they are never religious sentimental because, if you carry problems relating to these areas on you, how do you fight a war and win? You will be defeated.
Because if I am shot at the battlefront, I am a Christian, a Muslim colleague should come and help me. It is only in the military that you do not have religious sentiment and tribalism. Most of my friends are Hausa and I have so many friends across the country. I do not discriminate.
Ihejirika overstayed. The mandatory number of years is 35 years and he overstayed. And do not forget that when he was the Army Chief, some of his junior colleagues reached that mandatory number of years and were retired. And the Constitution is very clear that the Commander-in-Chief can delegate operations authority to any officer.
What is your take on the National Conference?
The National Conference is a good thing. But many delegates do not know why they are there. They are championing tribal causes. What they should work towards is true federalism. And what is a federation?
A federation means a permanent union of states which possess independent rights but nevertheless share a common government.
It is usually the desire for common development and greater international prestige that leads to federation and control over foreign relations and inter-state trade, armed services, currency and postal services has been transferred by the federating units to the central government.
So, federation is really a compromise and a useful way of reconciling conflicting or diverse interests.
Everybody has his own identity within the federation. What the federation needs is respect.
When some people now went to the confab to start saying they want this, they want that, that is not why they are there. I think the Commander-in-Chief has to address them once again because they don’t know why they are there.
What is the business of the National Conference when the Chairman of the conference kick-started his speech with a short prayer which included Arabic and Pastor Tunde Bakare rose up against him. Is that their job there? I think we are carrying religion too far.