Former Chairman, Transparency International, Nigeria chapter, Maj. Gen Ola Ishola Williams (Rtd) has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has made the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore who is being detained for leading the #RevolutionNow protest into a hero. In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, he opened up on various issues.
What’s your reaction to the recent Wall Street Journal [WSJ] report alleging secret burial of 1000 Nigerian soldiers killed by Boko Haram insurgents in Maiduguri, Borno State by the Nigerian Army?
That report is very sad, and very unfortunate. It doesn’t speak well of both the Nigeria Army, and the Federal Government. It showed that our leaders, and the Army authorities don’t care about our soldiers. It showed that our leaders don’t have compassion for those fallen heroes fighting to defend Nigeria from attacks by the insurgents. The report is an indictment on the Army authorities and the Federal Government. These dead soldiers deserve decent burial. They should be treated as heroes. But sadly, our leaders appear not to value the contributions made by these soldiers to keep Nigeria one. This kind of thing would not have happened in other climes where dead soldiers are given heroic burial.
It is sad that Nigeria as a country has gradually become a country where anything goes, if not, such indecent burial would not have happened at all. All over the world, there are standards for burying soldiers who died on active service. It is very saddening the way these fallen Nigerian soldiers were buried which was not in accordance with the acceptable international standards. I read the pathetic story by the wife of one of the dead soldiers who insisted on being taken to where her husband was buried, and they just took her to the place and showed her a plank to indicate where her husband was buried. This is an act of cruelty on the part of the Nigerian Army. It is a big shame. Soldiers are supposed to be buried decently.
However, it is still not too late for the Army, and the Federal Government to do the needful by burying the 1000 soldiers in a decent manner, in accordance with international standards. The cemetery where the soldiers were buried should be renovated, or even possibly reconstructed to meet up with acceptable military standards. Apart from this, both the Army and the Federal Government should apologise to the family of the dead soldiers. They should also apologise to Nigerians for the international embarrassment, and shame they have brought to Nigeria through their callous and cruel action.
Then again, the Army authorities should take members of the families of these dead soldiers to Maiduguri or wherever they were buried to enable them pay their last respect to their loved ones who died in the course of defending their fatherland. It is a big shame that we don’t know how to honour our fallen heroes. In other countries, they construct walls where names of soldiers that died on active duty defending their fatherland are written so that coming generations will know that they are heroes who died on active duty, serving their nation. This is what I expect Nigeria Army to do. Such walls should be constructed in Abuja, Maiduguri and other places across the country. Some countries where you have such practice include the United States, United Kingdom, France among others. Army authorities should also pay immediately the entitlements of the dead soldiers to members of their families without delay.
What is your reaction to the arrest and detention of the activist, and former presidential candidate, Sowore, over his Revolution Now campaign?
The Federal Government made a mistake by ordering Sowore’s arrest. By arresting Sowore, Buhari’s government has turned Sowore into a hero. By arresting him, they’ve made Sowore more popular. If those in government are wise, they would have let Sowore continue with his protests and calls for a revolution. After sometime, he will get tired as his call for a revolution will not be heeded by Nigerians. Revolution can never happen or take place in Nigeria.
Why did you say so?
It is very simple: our leaders who want the status quo to remain will play Nigerians against one another. They will use the ethnic card to polarize and divide Nigerians. One point to note again is this: most people are just shouting Buhari, Buhari, but it is not only Buhari that is the problem––obviously, Buhari is failing, he has not been inspiring, and any Nigerian who puts any hope in Buhari is wasting his time––the state governors are also a big burden to this nation.
Then look at what happened when the late MKO Abiola declared himself president; how many Nigerians came out to support and back him? It was only Abiola himself and a handful of supporters that were with him. Nigerians deserted him on the day he declared himself president,. This was why it was possible for Gen. Sani Abacha to order his arrest. But if Nigerians across all ethnic divides had turned out en masse to support Abiola, it would not have been possible for Abacha to order his arrest.
You were saying something about state governors
Yes, state governors are a big burden on this country. Apart from behaving like emperors, many of them are not using their states’ resources for the benefit of their people. Many of these state governors are self serving. Many of them are not comfortable with Sowore’s call for a revolution. Some of the state governors warned Sowore and his supporters to keep away from their states. They are afraid of a revolution because they have skeletons in their cupboards.
What is your reaction to the worsening state of insecurity across the country?
It is sad, alarming and frightening. It is very unfortunate that President Muhammadu Buhari has not treated the situation with the urgency it deserves. It is sad that Nigeria is gradually being turned into a Banana Republic where bandits and kidnappers have become a serious threat to the wellbeing of the nation.
To tackle the insecurity challenge, President Buhari told the whole nation that Nigeria needs a new security architecture to solve the problem but he has refused to back his word with action. Some Nigerians have called for the removal of service chiefs so as to inject new blood into the leadership of the nation’s security apparatus; even though it is a good idea supported by many Nigerians, but Buhari has refused to act, and since it is Buhari that appointed these service chiefs, there is nothing anybody can do. To me, it appears Buhari doesn’t know what to do again on the insecurity issue, and unfortunately, the problem is festering. Some state governors are now panicking, some are even confused. The situation has become that bad. It is very unfortunate.
To ensure that their states are safe, and secure, some states, including Zamfara, have started giving amnesty to bandits and kidnappers, how do you see that development?
Well, as the chief security officers of their respective states, those governors can say that they take such steps in the interest of peace. But how do you explain it, giving amnesty to bandits? The danger there is that giving amnesty to bandits may encourage others to take to banditry. If some people realized that they will be given money by the government if they take to banditry, many more will go into it. So, instead of solving the problem, giving amnesty to bandits may worsen the insecurity problem.
What do you think is the way out?
Serious efforts should be made by the government to block the source of illegal arms flowing into the country. Where are these illegal arms coming from? Those in charge of our intelligence services should be able to detect the sources of illegal arms in-flow into the country, and block them. Although government has been telling us that these illegal arms are coming from Libya, I don’t think so. I don’t believe that. There must be other sources which our intelligence officers must find out and block. Then we should also embrace community policing. The idea of a central police operating from Abuja is no longer ideal, and workable. Community policing will help to tackle insecurity.
Notable Nigerians including Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka and former President Olusegun Obasanjo have been speaking on the myriads of challenges facing the nation. Soyinka reportedly said that Nigeria’s problems have overwhelmed President Buhari, and that a national conference should be organized to discuss Nigeria’s problems with a view to proffering solutions. What is your take on that?
I don’t think the challenges facing Nigeria today are such enormous to the extent of overwhelming Buhari. But sincerely speaking, Buhari through his action or inaction has not shown or demonstrated the signs that he is up to the task. My sincere advice to Buhari is that he should resign if he feels that he has been overwhelmed by Nigeria’s problems. It is not a big deal if Buhari throws in the towel. If he resigns, he will not be the first leader to do so. If Buhari demonstrates the zeal to tackle all these challenges, he can tackle them successfully. But the question is this, is Buhari demonstrating that zeal? My answer is a capital NO.
What about the call for a national conference by Soyinka and Obasanjo?
That is needless. There is no need for another conference. How many national conferences do we want to be organizing? What is wrong with the implementation of the confab reports organized by Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan? When Obasajo was in power, he organized a national conference, but the confab report and recommendations have been gathering dust for many years now, same with Jonathan’s confab of 2014. Organising another conference will amount to nothing but a jamboree, and waste of national resources.
Everybody knows that the solution to Nigeria’s problems is restructuring. The moment we restructure, by returning to true practice of federalism, we will overcome all these challenges. It is those people that want the status quo to remain that are opposed to restructuring, and as long as those people are opposed to it, Nigeria will remain in this quagmire.
What is your assessment of the ministerial list that was recently screened by the Senate?
The list is a big disappointment. Apart from the fact that the screening by the Senate was very disappointing, other decisions taken so far by the Senate under the leadership of Ahmed Lawan have shown that the Senate has become a rubber stamp for the executive. The 43 ministerial nominees were not properly screened by the Senate. They were cleared by the Senate without proper scrutiny. Some of these ministerial nominees have cases with the EFCC, they are being investigated, and on trial for corruption. Some of them were also nominated and sponsored by powerful All Progressives Congress, APC godfathers. Most of those Buhari appointed as minister-designates are those he knows, not competent people who can deliver.
What is your assessment of President Buhari’s administration? Has the administration been gradually taking Nigeria to the Next Level as APC is claiming?
That’s deceit. It is a deceit by APC, and Buhari’s supporters. There can’t be any change under Buhari. Those who are talking of next level are politicians deceiving Nigerians. There is no hope of any meaningful change for Nigeria under Buhari. It is not that I have anything against him. But all the signs of the failure of his administration are there, visible for Nigerians to see. Insecurity has become a big challenge. It is festering, and Buhari’s government appears clueless to tackle the problem.
The Boko Haram insurgency is also there. Although top government officials will always pretend that all is well, it is not only Nigerians that know that the security situation in Nigeria is precarious; members of the international community are also aware. So, who is government deceiving? Look at the Apapa gridlock which has become a shame of a nation. For more than four years now, Buhari’s government has not been able to find a solution to it, and that is just a single problem; what about the power issue? Nigerians can’t be deceived even if Buhari and his apologists are deceiving themselves.