*Says restructuring ‘ll save Nigeria from break-up
Former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Akintunde Aduwo (retd) has implored President Muhammadu Buhari not to ignore the increasing calls for restructuring of the country. Making the appeal in an interview with SATURDAY SUN, the former Naval Chief, said restructuring can’t lead to the break-up of the country contrary to fears being raised in certain quarters.
Aduwo who was also a former governor of the defunct Western region, spoke with TUNDE THOMAS on the crisis in the Niger-Delta, the Biafra issue, corruption, his removal as state governor after one month in office and a host of others.
Looking at the state of affairs in the country today, there has been a lot of debates and arguments that all is not well, and that we need to restructure if things are to go right, what is your take on this sir?
I have been reading a lot of comments and debates about the present state of affairs of our nation. A lot of eminent Nigerians including former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, and former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku have been talking. Other political leaders including former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar have also been speaking.
To me, the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria is not an issue that is just coming up or came up in the last couple of months, the clamour has been there for years. I think if I can remember correctly, it is one of those things that late Papa Obafemi Awolowo championed during his lifetime. Awolowo made repeated calls for true practice of federalism.
Therefore, there is nothing new in calls for restructuring. However, I believe something has to be done about it now. I think the agitations for restructuring is based on the feelings of neglect by different zones or regions in the country. Most of the Nigerian citizens, or let me say different regions or geo-political zones in the country harboured the feelings that they have been marginalized.
One thing I however believe is that these protestations or clamour will never stop unless something concrete is done. Nothing human in life can never be stagnant, therefore, I believe President Muhammadu Buhari should do something about the renewed calls and agitations for restructuring. There is no system that is perfect. Even in the United States of America, some areas and regions still complain of marginalization.
Restructuring to me is not a call for break-up of Nigeria. Restructuring can’t lead to break-up, and it should not lead to break-up of Nigeria.
Restructuring will help to promote unity in the country and also give everybody a sense of belonging in the country.
Life is like weather, today it is sunny and bright, but tomorrow hurricane may come, the weather may suddenly become turbulent. We should at all times be prepared for the vicissitudes of life.
Although it is not possible to please everybody 100 percent but at least there should be a sign that people’s grievances are under constant consideration. We need to restructure to give everybody a sense of belonging.
What will be your advice to the President on this issue of restructuring, because it appears as if the President is caught in the web of those who opposed restructuring and those canvassing it?
The president is the officer on duty today and he is the number one citizen, but my advise to him is that he should listen and consider the calls of those calling for restructuring.
There can’t be peace if he doesn’t listen to these agitations because they are getting louder by the day. As a leader, you must not ignore agitations from those you are leading. God forbids, I pray that Nigeria will not be engulfed in chaos, but I believe we need to do the needful before things get out of control.
Some people have suggested the implementation of some recommendations of the 2014 Confab Report as part of the solutions to the problems facing the country, but some close aides of the president, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr
Babachir Lawal have described that confab as a ruse, how do you react to that?
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation is just an aide to the president. He can only advise the president, but ultimately the buck stops on the president’s table.
The SSG doesn’t have the final say on the issue. The final decision lies with President Muhammadu Buhari. The final decision maker on the issue is Buhari. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation is entitled to his own personal opinion, and that doesn’t automatically translates into official position.
I will advise the President to take a look at 2014 Confab Reports, and let him take those recommendations he feel are good for the nation, and will help the nation move forward.
The confab reports and recommendations can’t be a waste – I have gone through it myself, and there are areas I agree and disagree with.
But I strongly believe that President Buhari should not dump that 2014 confab reports and recommendations. There are aspects there which I believe if are implemented will help to douse the current agitations going on in different parts of the country.
Again, that 2014 confab cost a huge sums of public money, throwing it aside or dumping it will be like setting ablaze huge sums of money. I have suggested on several occasions that any project be it physical or financial that any state or federal government has expended so much money upon should not be jettisoned by any succeeding government whenever there is change in power or government. Even if it is an opposition party that win political power, it must inherit the projects embarked upon by its predecessor. Although such projects can be reviewed with a view of reducing costs, but outright dumping should be discouraged. We should even enshrine that in our constitution. To cancel ongoing projects outrightly is a big financial loss to the state.
A lot of money was spent in organizing that confab, so to dump the confab just like that or throw it in dust-bin will amount to a waste of public funds. President Buhari should consider the confab reports and recommendations – it should not be outrightly dumped. Of what gain will it be to the Federal government to do so? Government in actual fact is supposed to be a continuum. Consider again the list of eminent Nigerians that took part, and their robust contributions to the confab. I don’t think we should just wish away the confab like that.
How can we resolve the resurgence of violence in the Niger-Delta, especially the bombings of oil installations by Niger-Delta Avengers?
What is happening in the Niger-Delta which used to be part of the defunct Eastern Nigeria where God-given crude oil is located is very unfortunate. You ask why I said God-given oil? Yes, the oil in the Niger-Delta is God-given. The oil there is not through the effort of any individual or anybody’s own making.
When I hear some people from the Niger-Delta saying our oil, our oil, I get annoyed, and it makes me to lose my sympathy for them. Although one needs to sympathise with them because of oil pollution. Oil production has destroyed the people’s ecosystem and generally their livelihood. But then, until such law or provision is made in our constitution that oil producing communities or individuals are allowed to lay claims to oil wells, and then pay equitable tax to the federal government as it is being done in the United States of America, then it is illegal for any Nigerian, group or people to lay claim to ownership of crude oil in Niger-Delta. Oil in that region belongs to all Nigerians. It is insulting and highly provocative for Niger Deltans to continue saying our oil, our oil, our oil, they should stop saying so. The oil in Niger-Delta belongs to the federal government of Nigeria. It is the commonwealth of all Nigerians. It is just like an individual saying that natural air that we breathe belongs to him or her. The natural air belongs to God, so also oil. It is naturally provided by God, and it is by providence that geographically oil is found in large quantity in the coastal areas of Niger-Delta.
I still remember vividly how I led that famous naval landing operations in Bonny during the Nigerian civil war in an attempt to secure the lives and oil deposit in that region during the Nigerian Civil War.
That landing operation by the Nigerian Navy was historical, and it is also in the records of United States War College. From Bonny to Port Harcourt to Calabar, the Nigerian Navy secured the Nigerian coastal lines all in an attempt to preserve Nigerian sovereignty.
I believe we have come such a long way that what we should be thinking about is how to keep this nation as one entity instead of all these pockets of crises here and there which are threatening to put the nation asunder.
For the agitators of Niger-Delta and other geopolitical zones, federal government should listen to all of them and embrace dialogue. But where dialogue fails or voice of reasons fails to convince these agitators that break-up of Nigeria is not the answer, then federal government should not hesitate to bare its fangs.
I believe that the Nigerian Navy, and the Military have the capability to crush the Niger-Delta Avengers or any other group making trouble. But like I said earlier, dialogue should be the first option. It is only whenever dialogue fails that other options including military options should be considered.
For those agitators, perhaps they were young or not yet born during the Nigerian civil war. Violence is not something that is good. Blowing up oil pipelines is criminal. No leader will fold his hands and watch situation degenerates – Sanity has to be restored.
What those blowing up pipelines are doing is condemnable – their nefarious activities should be curtailed before it snowball into bigger crisis. We can’t afford another civil war. If these young agitators were eyewitnesses to the Nigerian civil war, they would never have been indulging in what they are doing. If they are aware of the repercussion, I’m sure they would have back out of what they are doing. No nation survive two civil wars, and this is why I believe that the present nation’s leaders will not fold their arms while some individuals or groups want to plunge the nation into anarchy. The Armed Forces are there to protect critical national assets, and the job of any commander-in-chief is to act decisively whenever the corporate entity called Nigeria is being threatened by any acts inimical to her continued existence. A word is enough for the wise.
Does your advice or comment also apply to the agitations for the Independent State of Biafra being led by Nnamdi Kanu?
Kanu is also ignorant about the Nigerian civil war, and this is why he and other youths in his group are doing what they are doing. Like I said earlier, I pray to God Almighty that we should not witness another civil war again. I don’t know Kanu except his photographs I have been seeing or whenever they show him on television.
Late Odumegwu-Ojukwu, a highly intelligent officer, British Army-trained that led Igbos during the Biafra civil war believed strongly that if he had succeeded in the secession bid that he would go along with the other minority ethnic groups located along the coastal lines of Nigeria or that those groups will agree to be incorporated as part of Biafra, but unfortunately those ethnic groups in the coastal areas refused to operate with him and that was one of the reasons he failed. Without the support of those coastal ethnic groups, the Igboland is landlocked, and that was why the federal troops were able to blockade Ojukwu and his troops during the war. The Biafrans became
landlocked without access to the sea, and that was one of the major reasons the secession bid collapsed. I don’t think Kanu was a man by that time. He must have been a young boy. If he had read history he wouldn’t have embarked on what he is doing now. Millions of lives were lost during the Biafra war, so why would any reasonable person be calling for a separate state of Biafra again?
I don’t know whether to condemn Kanu or not, but what I know is that what he is doing calling for a separate nation or an independent country for Igbos is not in the best interest of the Igbo people. Assuming his dream even come to pass, the state of Biafra will be landlocked, it won’t have access to the sea, and that may pose serious economic challenge to the people. Access to the sea will be a failure. It will eventually become a burden to people. A big burden because the nation will be completely landlocked.
It is unfortunate that people like Kanu that are being pushed by inordinate ambition don’t have time to think deeper and reflect on the consequences of their actions. Biafra under Ojukwu in those 3 years during the civil war was a genius state – there you see people’s ingenuity, how automobiles were being run on oil, I mean palm oil, there were other inventions which the Nigerian government could have tapped into, and see how such things could have been used for our technological development. However, I still strongly believe that it will serve the larger interests of the Igbos to remain within Nigeria. It is not advisable for any group to seek secession now, rather we should look for ways to foster unity and development in the country.
Agreed there were grievances and feelings of marginalization by different ethnic groups, we should rather sit down and look for ways to amicably address these issues.
How do you feel by the recent exposure and trial of some top military officers over corruption allegations, and stealing of billions of naira meant to acquire arms to fight Boko Haram insurgents?
I’m shocked by the action of these officers. With these revelations, their names have been ruined for ever.
I value my reputation more than anything in life. During the Nigerian Civil War, I was the captain of the ship that led the Nigerian Navy Coastal Operation from Calabar to Bonny, Oron, Okrika, Port Harcourt harbours, Burutu and Forcados. Ten I remember that there was a time during the war when there was a disagreement between late Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle and the then Head of State,, General Yakubu Gowon. I got to know that at a point, Gen. Gowon banned Brigadier Adekunle from coming to Lagos, and we were short of ammunition, and the Biafrans were bombing federal troops.
The situation became critical because there was an urgent need for food, ammunition and other essential supplies by the federal troops. We need money urgently at the war front, but since the relationship between Adekunle and Gowon was strained at that time, the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Akinwale Wey had to summon me to Lagos to get money to the war front in order to facilitate the purchase of some items needed by the Third Marine Command being led by Brigadier Adekunle.
Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Minister of Finance then, the first time I was given money, 6 metal crates containing 3 million pounds was given to me. I carried the raw cash on my ship back to the war front and deliver it to Adekunle intact. At that time as a Lieutenant Commander which is equivalent of an Army Major, my salary was a little above 7,000 pounds – 3 million pounds cash could have been tempting to me, but I thank God for the way I was brought up, I delivered the money intact to Adekunle.
About one year after, by then we had liberated Calabar, I came to Lagos again and this time around, I was given 8 million pounds cash to be taken to the war front. I delivered the cash intact again to Adekunle.
It was later that I heard that some officers were saying that I must really be God fearing and an unusual creature. Some even reportedly labeled me being stupid for delivering the two installments of cash intact.
When I heard that, I just laughed. I have no regret for doing what I did. My honour and integrity was involved, and my integrity matter to me more than anything.
From the home and village I came from including schools I attended, I was brought up to value and cherish integrity. Supposed I even did what those officers had expected, would I have remained in the military through which I later became a state governor, and later Chief of Naval Staff. If I had corruptly enriched myself, the glory that later came in my life would not have manifested. I would rather be shot dead than seeing myself as a military officer being taken in and out of court with television cameras showing me for being arraigned for corruption or theft.
That means you are in support of the military officers trial, and the way the process is being handled by the government?
Their trial is in order. It will serve as deterrence to others. If Buhari had been a corrupt fellow, he wouldn’t have summoned the courage to move against these corrupt officers.
Buhari, I believe is an upright man, and that is one of the reasons why Nigerians voted for him to become a civilian president. I pity Buhari, I don’t envy him at all because he is becoming president at a period of serious economic challenges for Nigeria.
It is not easy to be a political leader. Buhari is passing through a lot, and that is why I organized a thanksgiving service when I was removed as military governor of the then Western State by late General Murtala Muhammed in August 1975.
My tenure as governor lasted a month but I was happy when I was removed. You ask why? I trained as a military officer, political appointments never attracted me. When I was appointed governor of Western State, Murtala Muhammed and his deputy then who was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, General Olusegun Obasanjo, expected me to take a particular action and that was handing over the then University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU immediately to the federal government.
But on resumption of office, I discovered that it was not a decision that could be taken in an hurry without making some consultations, but my military superiors felt I was too slow in taking that decision, and I was recalled back to military duty.
On my arrival in Lagos, when I met Muhammed and Obasanjo in Dodan Barracks, what Muhammed told me was this, “Akin you are a fine officer. You are not removed as governor for being incompetent, but we feel that you will be more suitable for military duties.”
To demonstrate that confidence they have in me, when my other military colleagues that served as state governors were being retired when Obasanjo handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in October 1979, I was left behind in the Navy, and I later became the Chief of Naval Staff in Shagari’s Administration.
Although I was a governor for a month, I organized thanksgiving service to thank God for my removal because I knew what I faced within that one month, the politics, and other intrigues associated with the office of governor. If you are a truly committed military man, it will never appeal to you to hold a political office. I also challenge anybody to go through all my records of service, they should check all where I have served whether I stole kobo anywhere. If it is discovered that I stole a penny, they should not even arraign me before any court, I should be shot.
Corrupt military officers are bad examples to the Force. There is nothing wrong in executing corrupt military officers. What do they want to do with the money they are stealing? What does a man want to do with one billion naira? We need to take drastic action against corruption.