There’s nothing to celebrate with all the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria as a country, do you think that the country has anything to celebrate at 61?
Yes, I think we have come a long way as a nation. Remember, nation building is not an easy thing, especially where you have more than 250 ethnic groups with each and every one of them yearning for a place in governance. When you look back 61 years ago, since the colonial masters left the country, you will say that we have something to celebrate as a nation.
After the civil war, and before the current insecurity in the country, Nigerians have been living peacefully with each other with a lot of inter marriages, so I think we have something to celebrate as a country at 61.
Nevertheless some people will say that we should have done better, given the resources at our disposal. But we have made some progress as a nation, both in terms of education, infrastructural development, which at the moment is dilapidated and needing serious attention.
As a Military General and former Head of State, what can you say about the security situation threatening Nigeria’s existence?
Quite disturbing. For a couple of years now, the peace in Nigeria has been destabilized, first with the emergence of Boko Haram and later on with these miscreants who are staging atrocities in the country by kidnapping people and asking for ransom and also destroying government property, and at same time destroying the farms.
Certainly this is an issue of concern. Despite that the security agents are overstretched, I think they are doing the best they can, giving the circumstances they found themselves.
Notwithstanding, more could be done and how do we do that? By strengthening our security forces, by embarking on more recruitment into all the security forces, and most importantly, equipping them so that they could face the challenges. The security situation is a bad one I must confess.
Where do you think the country got it wrong and what is the way out?
I think this is a question for all of us. Where did we go wrong? I think it is a big question to answer. However let me say this, before the discovery of oil, agriculture was the main revenue earner for this country.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we discovered the oil and we forgot about the agriculture. I think that is one. Again, after the military handed over to the civilians, you find out that every Nigerian, when he speaks, he speaks for his village, speaks for his local government or speaks for his state.
Hardly do you see some- body speaking for Nigeria, I think that is another wrong. I believe we should be talking about Nigeria and not section, and to do that, there must be equity, fairness and justice so that everybody, every section in this country is carried along.
Some people are of the opinion that go- ing by their long rule, the military helped to destroy the country and that is why we are where we are today.
Well, it depends on where you are looking at it from. I as a military personnel, a retired military officer and a former military Head of State, I will certainly say no, the military has not destroyed the country in anyway.
As a matter of fact, the military fought to keep this country together and you could see quite honestly that during the military regime in this country, a lot of infrastructure was put in place compared to the civilian government.
The military tried as much as possible to give direction of nationalism so that we all look at Nigeria as one country.
In Africa, it is always difficult for the military to willingly hand over power to the civilians, but you did it within a record time as you promised. Were you under pressure to do that, and were you satisfied?
Yes I was satisfied because I handed over to a democratically elected government as promised. Under pressure? No. I was not under pressure to hand over. When I took over, I saw that the politicians were against the military and wanted them to get out.
The military was the victim of itself where the professionalism and discipline in the Army were being eroded, and the military at that time, instead of talking for Nigeria, we started talking for our states, our local government and our villages.
That was a very serious issue at that time, and politics started penetrating into the military. So these were some of the factors that we looked into and made it as short as possible to hand over and restore the unity of the country, and to bring professionalism back into the military.
The military was not in anyway pressurized. On the contrary, the civilians were the ones asking me to stay because they were not prepared for the election. They did not believe that we were serious to hand over due to past failed promises.
It was when they saw that we were serious that they came and started saying, why don’t you pro- long your stay to enable us prepare and actively participate in the process. So sincerely we were not pressurized to leave as Nigerians may think.
Are you satisfied that the sacrifice you made to hand over power to a democratically-elected government is worth the while?
Yes I am quite satisfied. I thank God for the last 22 years. We have democracy and now Nigeria is seen as a leader of democracy in Africa. The era of coup by the military is over and Nigeria is being respected all over the world.
Democracy has been growing from strength to strength since we handed over, such that Nigeria is being asked now to be the watchdog in Africa so that there will be democracy in Africa.
However some people will want to say that this is not the democracy that we asked for, but again the process of nation building is a continuous thing, and I strongly believed that as we go on, our politics would definitely change.
This is because our electorate is now better informed, and I pray and I hope in the next election, Nigerians will not sell their votes. They will not sell their dignity. In summary, I think democracy is on course in Nigeria.
But is this the kind of Nigeria you envisaged when the military handed over in 1999? Are you disappointed with what is happening in the country today?
My answer to this question is no. No, because we expected a more united country where our leaders’ concern should be for the welfare of the people and the progress of the nation.
We equally expected that there shouldn’t be any bitterness in politics because whether you are in opposition or in government, you should know that you are serving the people.
Those in governance should try to give good leadership and those in opposition should try to checkmate the government to ensure that the government does the right thing and implements developmental projects for the people. Certainly, this not what we envisaged for the country.
Some well-meaning Nigerians have expressed great concern over the debt burden of the country today. What is your take on this?
Indeed, the country’s debt burden is a great concern to everyone. But nevertheless, I think they say the man who wears the shoes knows where it pinches, but certainly the debts are a cause for concern. Let us pray that whatever loans we secure are utilized for the project it is meant for.
There seems to be more money in the system now than in the military era, yet the military seems to have achieved more in terms of infrastructural development. What do think is the problem?
Yes, apparently there is more money in the system now than the military regime, yet the development in terms of infrastructure provided is not commensurate to the resources available.
But then I think the government of the day is in a better position to tell Nigerians the projects that it has done, and bring them to the notice of Nigerians.
However there are certain hidden developments that you and I may not know, even though our roads are bad, and the rail lines are not working, I think efforts are being made to put them in good shape.
Nevertheless there is serious need to make judicious utilization of the country’s resources for the good of the people. The military certainly provided more infrastructure in the country.
Today, there is agitation for secession or self actualization in parts of the country. What do you think is the way forward? How do we stop all these agitations?
Some people are saying they are being left out of the scheme of things, and they are being shortchanged. If that is true, then the central government should look into these issues so that there should be equity, fairness and justice.
Again there is another agitations for secession or self actualization by some ethnic nationalities in the country.
I think there is the perception by the agitators of being excluded from the scheme of things and therefore the best way is to be excluded from where they are not recognized or carried along or not wanted.
Now the people or the brains behind these movements have strong feelings that they are excluded in the scheme of things. So wrongly or rightly, this is what they feel and the best way is to opt out.
The question now is that how do we stop this secessionist idea? Again, I repeat, there must be equity, fairness and justice.
There must be a deliberate effort to carry everybody along in governance, in developmental projects, provision of infrastructure and again in appointing various people into various offices. There must be equal representations.
I think if this is done, we will be able to kill these agitations and there will be peace in the country.
How do you rate the Nigerian media after 61 years of independence?
The role of the media is to educate and inform the people, and I think the media is trying, given the circumstances and the environment in which it operates.
The media should try as much as they can to always be factual in their reports so they don’t publish what is not right. The media should make sure that what they publish is the correct information, and it is absolutely true.
When you publish false reports about someone, it will take time to erase such bad impression. It will equally harm the person and by extension, his offspring.
Again I want to really see the media always checkmate every government of the day to en- sure that they do the right thing. But when the media criticizes, it should at the end of the criticism proffer solution on the way forward.
What would you tell Nigerians as the country clocks 61?
My appeal to Nigerians is to always maintain peace. Without peace, nothing can be achieved. Nothing can work and you don’t even have a country.
Again both the federal and states government should ensure that there is equity in the system.
People must be given equal rights in the scheme of things, because this is what destabilises peace in any country.
Watch Leakblast TV channel from around the world
SUPPORT LEAKBLAST JOURNALISM OF INTEGRITY AND CREDIBILITY
Good journalism costs a lot of money.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble Endeavor.
By contributing to LeakBlast, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.