Vice Admiral Akin Aduwo is the former military governor of Western Nigeria and retired Chief of Naval Staff. In this interview, he speaks on Nigeria’s 20 years of uninterrupted civilian rule, restructuring, insecurity in Nigeria, among other national issues. Excerpts:
Nigeria just celebrated 20 years of interrupted civilian rule, can you make an assessment of how well we have fared?
We have gone as long as we have prepared ourselves for self-governance. Taking over from the British colonialists, we thought everything will be just as a fair continuation of what the British officials had done and left for us to continue. I think we have left the path and have not put into beneficial use the training, the system of administration and governance that they left for us. We have turned the country into “I before others,” we have placed ourselves first before the nation and people now think it is their right to grab a piece of the national cake that comes their way. Then the military came in and everything went in reverse orders. I think what we have succeeded in doing, politically and administratively is self-damage, let me call it destruction because we are still alive and we are still voting and putting government into place. Dispensation changes, but we have definitely not gone half way through the goal that would have made this country a proud nation, a united nation and a comfortable nation in most aspect of human development, we have brought ourselves more backward than we should have been.
What is your take on the recent security challenge the country is going through and what you would suggest as the way out?
The insecurity that we have been experiencing is a reflection of lack of patriotic organizing ability for a smooth running government from which our nation should be benefiting from, in which employment and self-development should have been achieved. The number of universities we have and the graduate we churn out from those universities and they have no jobs in which they will utilize their educational qualification, professional performance and so on, had led to the problem of insecurity. The constitution allows the military to assist, provides support for the police. The police is an administrative outfit in time of crisis, the military is supposed to assist the police, but these days when you look at the security architecture of the country, the military seems to have taken over the normal police duties, and you hear more of successes and achievements. All those public announcements should be restricted. All operational plans of DHQ, following the approval and directives of the Commander-in-Chief should be restricted. I fought in the Nigerian civil war, I carried Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle on board my ship, followed by four other ships and by the time we left Lagos, and arrived in the entrance of the Bonny Channel and going into Bonny for the historic landing of troops; at the very beginning of that civil war operations, my ship was the leading ship. We voyaged from Lagos at that point of operation with complete radio silence, no signals or any kind of communication, we did that to prevent the Biafran forces from tapping into our signals and by so doing, we caught them unawares and Brigadier Adekunle, the greatest warrior that this country has ever produced, now carried out the onslaught, but surprisingly he was awarded no honour. I worked side by side with him, there were many things he wanted me to do, which I could not do because I wanted him safe. Sometimes, he wanted me to lower a boat so that he could cross to some villages where he thought that Biafran soldiers were hiding, but I would say no, because he was captured, I would have been hanged and that would have destroyed the operation, because I was the Sea Force Commander and he was the Land Force Commander until they changed things to Marine Commando, 82 Division etc. The Navy was the maritime conveyer of the land soldiers in that war. And when we got there we bombarded all the areas and the Biafran troops were woken up, just as the sun was rising and the only ship they used against us was the ship I had commanded. After all that engagement, the Biafrans lined up all the rivers up to Okrika in Port Harcourt with all sorts of dangerous weapons, they laid mines and blocked the channel with a floating dock, so we could not get from Bonny to Port Harcourt as had been planned. We pulled out from Bonny after securing that place and went to the Calabar River and through that river went to Calabar to the Naval base where I had commanded in October 1964. So, I knew my environment. So, while we were doing all these, there was no announcement on the radio or television or the newspapers, that we were liberating the areas. But today, when the Air Force acquires new aircraft that will be deployed into the war front, they make announcements. So, when the Boko Haram terrorists get all these information, they re-plan their strategies and prepare their troop. That is what is happening with the present security challenge and there is need for the military to carryout surprise attacks that will yield fruits. The Army and the military should stop announcing their successes against the insurgents, as the Boko Haram terrorists will get all these information and process them and work with them. The enemy must not know your movement, what you are doing, what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. When they put all these in the public domain, the enemy will only take them and work towards defeating you. The Army can call the Air Force to come and bomb certain areas they believe, through intelligence are being occupied by the terrorists, that is how to plan a war, war is planned secretly, it’s not like a football match. The present system has lowered the military’s winning prowess in this terrible Boko Haram war.
What will you be saying to the military commanders if you have the opportunity to do so, especially as it concerns winning this war?
If I have my way I will tell the commanders to make their operation secret and stop all these public announcement they make, because for every one or two terrorists that you have killed and showcased, dozens have studied your strategy and method through your own announcement, and they empower themselves more to be able to confront and if possible deal heavy blow on you. So, I will tell the commanders at the theatre to carry out secret operations, do not make noise about your movement and how far you have come it terms of the war. War operation is a silent attack and war commanders should be reporting their progress and difficulties to their headquarters and not to the media because it will jeopardize the operation and the successes you have achieved.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke recently accusing the government of having an agenda to Fulanise and Islamise Nigeria what is your view on this?
You want me to comment on what my Oga had said. Well, I do not disagree with his rights to speak about how he feels about what is happening in Nigeria. You see, there had been so many comments in the press, even vocal expression that he is a dictator, he did this, he did that. That man Obasanjo, to the best of my knowledge, had never been one of those that connived with anybody to plan a coup, the one coup that took him to commanding position, both as Chief of Staff to General Murtala Muhammed and later as successor; they had to send people around looking for General Obasanjo just to convince him to join the government as number two. The other coup that took place was after he had handed over power to the first elected President Shehu Aliyu Shagari and, for me, I never served for one day under a military Head of State.
What is your view on the clamour for the country to be restructured?
I personally believe every statement that had been made, every reaction that had been put forward by those who believe in restructuring. Restructure does not mean every ethnic group will go on its own, it does not compare with the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB. The IPOB struggle is an unpatriotic idea in itself because it could mean exactly what brought about the Nigerian civil war. Restructuring is what we have left behind to come to the republican status, state creation system, which we have imposed on ourselves. Nigeria was not ready for republican status, with the kind of presidential system that we had. We say we are copying the United States of America, I am a graduate of the United States Naval War College, the US Constitution does not have any inclusion, an elected Senate President, the Vice President of the United States is the Senate President, irrespective of the fact whether the Republican or Democratic party has the majority or minority. But here we have number three citizen as Senate President, he has to be elected, the same way President of Nigeria has to be elected, he sits down as the head of the National Assembly and every political argument and position adopted by the National Assembly go through him, in fact, the Senate president in Nigeria has more powers than the Vice President. The same as the Speaker, now in the United States, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is the number three citizen after the President and the Vice President. Now, you have a president as the Head of State, a vice president as his assistant, who are elected on the same ballot, then we have a national assembly of which the Senate is the leading law-making body and the House of Representatives. In England, where we emerge as an independent nation, it’s only the House of Common that makes a law and passes that law with the support of the House of Lords to Her Majesty, the Queen for ascension. There is no division, in fact, before you become a minister in England, you must have won an election in your home base, but here, the president appoints his ministers to only go to the Senate for confirmation same as ambassadors. Sending Service Chiefs nominees after they have been selected to the Senate is an aberration. I was a former Service Chief, I was Chief of Naval Staff under President Shehu Shagari. During that period we were never sent to the National Assembly for confirmation. As a matter of fact, in my own time as CNS, some people wrote a petition against me and through the representative from my own constituency, they were accusing me of influencing the tarring of the road in my village to pass behind my house. The House of Representatives sent a copy to President Shehu Shagari, they also wrote me to appear before it to explain why I should influence that contract, I sent the letter to him through the Secretary to the Government, the late Shehu Musa, and the president read it and called me and told me personally that there was a letter from the House of Representatives and that they are planning to invite me to convince them why I should influence the Ministry of Works to do a bypass to the road they were constructing in my village. On that particular road from Ore to Okitipupa, my house is located close to a gorge that could swallow hundred vehicles. President Shagari told me to ignore the letter and he wrote another letter telling the House of Representatives that Admiral Aduwo is a Service Chief and he is the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Navy, that I am not a political appointee and that they have no right to write to me directly inviting me to appear before them and that he had instructed me not to honour the letter and that all further communication, verbal or written should be directed to him as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Did it not bother you that they may likely penalize you if you ignored them, especially when it comes to defending your budget?
The National Assembly was not my employer so they cannot penalize me, they can only invite the service headquarters to come and defend their budget, service chief today obey the National Assembly because they are sent to them for confirmation and some of the Assembly men who do not know what it is to handle a gun, they do not know what is Orbatt or what it is to be a thousand mile at sea, without side of human land, what would they be asking me. In fact, it had never happened. Appointment of Service Chiefs is the prerogative of the Head of State or President and Commander-in-Chief. I am trying to communicate with our own president, who himself had been an army officer, a general and had even been Head of State for a while and head of Supreme Military Council. So, I support restructuring based on what we had from independence to 1966. I was appointed military governor of the whole Western State, which is made of Ogun, Oyo, and Ondo before I was posted to India as Defence Adviser. So, subjecting the Service Chiefs to the whims and caprices of the National Assembly is an aberration and should not be encouraged. Given the opportunity, I will advise the President, this time around, not to send newly appointed Service Chiefs to the National Assembly because it lowers morale.
Your constituency the Nigerian Navy just celebrated 63 years of existence as a force, what will you tell the Navy as they celebrate?
I was the toast master at the ceremonial sunset and the dinner to celebrate the 63 years anniversary of the Navy, the Navy made me who I am today and I love the Navy and that was the reason I became when I was appointed military governor of Western Nigeria, I was praying for the cup to pass over me that night I arrived in the Ibadan Government House all alone in a very big bedroom, the same room where S.L Akintola was killed because I still saw the bullet holes all round the bedroom. On seeing this I was sweating in the room despite having three air-conditioners in the room, but I thank God I spent only 30 days there. I did not like that appointment, and in the military, except from a superior authority you get a bad order. If you give a bad order the military law will punish you, if you obey a bad order without thinking of the consequences, the military can court martial you, the military protects every one, officers and men, so I cannot say because you are a rating and I can maltreat you as an officer.
Do you think these Service Chiefs can win the Boko Haram war?
Of course, they will, they are the military, they are supposed to wage war, attack and conquer in a war. If your Commander-in-Chief says, instead of three years, five years, in three years, I am sending you away because you have not fulfilled my expectation as far as the war is concerned, then it’s okay, he is the Commander-in-Chief. But my own experience is different, even to start the war, we have to scrap, we used old wooden ships that were given to us by the UK, the vessel was meant only for patrol and we were not expecting a war to start here until Biafra decided that they want to spoil things. You see we do not pray for war, because when we commission our ship and we smash a bottle of Champaign or palm wine as the case may be, on the forehead of the vessel we say ‘God bless this ship and all who sail in her, may this ship never be used in war.’ The reason we say that is because we have spent billion acquiring it. Nobody wants war.