• You ’re not generals
…Urges President to try those who annulled June 12 polls
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Quite a good number of Nigerians have received the news of June 12 declaration as Democracy Day and the honouring of MKO Abiola with GCFR award with mixed feelings.
One of them is General Ishola Williams (rtd), who have expressed some reservations for the gesture. The General wants the state actors who annulled the historic election to be tried and brought to book to serve as deterrent to others.
General Williams who spoke to Sunday Sun on the declaration made by President Muhammadu Buhari last week also looked at the alarm raised by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, saying that the ex-president and the incumbent are not behaving like Generals, but as politicians. He spoke on other sundry national issues. Excerpts:
Many things are happening and sentiment is running wild in the polity. One, generals are fighting. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo recently raised the alarm over the plot by the security operatives to get him arrested and detained on framed up charges. Two, Police invitation of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in connection with Offa robbery incident is also in the news. What’s your take on all of these?
Whenever election is coming close, especially in African countries, the party in power tries as much as possible to come up with strategies that will undermine the opposition whether as a party, individual or group. And if such individuals are very powerful, the government will find one way or the other to keep them quiet. That is what is happening in Nigeria and it is quite normal. Obasanjo did that too using the EFCC to probe the governors when he was in power. I am told; it is hearsay, I am not too sure, that it is one of these probes that led to Dr Peter Odili not being made the vice president. To me, it is very normal. But we have to separate the two. To a certain extent, you cannot compare the position of Senate President to the position of Obasanjo as an ex-president. Again, both Obasanjo and Buhari have similar precedents. Firsts of all, the two of them were military heads of state. The only difference is that Buhari was overthrown by his own colleagues while Obasanjo handed over to a civilian president, which is a very big difference. Two, both of them became civilian president through the ballot box. Whether they rigged it or not, it is a different ballgame because we cannot say that all elections that have taken place in Nigeria from 1999 to date have been free and fair. The late Yar’Adua was the only honest person who really came out to say that the election that brought him to power was flawed. So, I am not surprised about what is happening. As for the case of Saraki, he can be quizzed by the police to say his own side of the story. But if the police are going beyond what he believes is legal, he can go back to court to seek redress. For example, the Federal Government took him up to the Supreme Court on the issue of asset declaration and the apex court said he has a case to answer on some of the count charges. So, the court is always there as an adjudicator. The IGP can also take the Senate to court for declaring him unfit to be in that position.
Similarly, if he (Buhari) wants to probe Obasanjo, he should go ahead and probe him. But he hasn’t got any moral high ground to probe Obasanjo because he too has a case with the ETF. People try to say that ETF was full of fraud, but Buhari retains his personal integrity. Does that sound logical?
How can you be the head of an organization that is fraudulent and maintain your personal integrity? What were you doing there in the first instance? Once you lead an organization that does not have integrity, you too you have lost your personal integrity as long as you do not resign. When he wanted to contest this last election, he said he did not have money to collect the form. But in his asset declaration, he said he had about 90-something naira in his account. How much was the form; N47 million! Who was he lying to? APC also lied on his behalf that he has no house in Abuja and he did not correct it. So, what they are trying to do now is to use every means within the legal limit to keep the opposition quiet. And to a certain extent, you will discover that Obasanjo has kept quiet a little bit. EFCC cannot fight corruption because it is wrongly structured. You cannot have the chairman of the board as the chief executive at the same time. Who is he reporting to? Obasanjo used it to fight the opposition and the present government is also using it to do the same. You earlier spoke about the Generals fighting. They are not Generals; they are politicians.
Are you trying to disrobe them?
They are not Generals because they are not discussing security. If they are discussing Boko Haram or insecurity and how to deal with the whole problem in the country, they are Generals. They are supposed to have expertise and experience in matters of security, but when they are not discussing security and they are discussing politics, they’re not Generals, they are political particulars.
From what you can observer so far, would you say the alarm raised by Obasanjo is real or imaginary?
That one is difficult for me to answer because Obasanjo is such at a high level that he can see what an ordinary man like me cannot see. But I don’t think what he is fearing can happen. He can be probed without being arrested. To be arrested for what? Secondly, Obasanjo is a very lucky man, he has international network. If you arrest him, there will be hues and cries all over the world. Anybody who wants to arrest Obasanjo must think twice.
How far do you think the movement he is leading for a change of government can go or he is just doing it to seek relevance?
It depends on individual’s interpretation. It also depends on whether you like what this regime is doing or not. Some people refer to APC as ‘All Promises Cancelled.’ But I call it ‘Alliance of Political Crooks.’ So, it depends on whether you support what the regime is doing or not. First, let’s take the issue of insecurity. Go and ask people on the streets what they feel about insecurity. Even in the area of corruption, there is no systemic change. For instance, they discovered in the Police Force alone that over 30,000 people are being paid as ghost workers, yet this government has not deemed it fit to call back the past IGP to ask him questions about how such a huge number of ghost police were paid under him. Is that not impunity? In the civil service too, they found several thousands of ghost workers. Who has been called back? What do you think is happening in the military? What do you think is happening in the civil defence, in the customs and so on? This means that up till now there is so much leakage in the payroll system and nobody has been punished. What then is all this talk about change when the change that is required is not there? Up till now, our procurement system has not changed. What led to the impeachment of a former President of Brazil, Dilma Roussef, was the fiscal responsibility bill. She padded the budget and was impeached. Will that ever happen in Nigeria? In response to the suit filed by SERAP, the court had ruled that those responsible for padding of the budget should be punished. Yet the government has not stepped in.
In order words, are you saying that the change Obasanjo is advocating is genuine and desirable?
Yes, to me it is desirable because I have not seen the changes APC has brought to this country. EFCC investigated the former Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF) and declared that he has no case to answer. But everybody knew what happened because documents were published in the newspapers. In the case of Maina too, everybody has kept silent because the case has been swept under the carpet. Is that a regime that wants to lead a change or cleanse the Augean stable in this country?
How do you also see the threat by the National Assembly to impeach the president for his inability to guarantee security in the country?
The leadership of the National Assembly has no integrity. We are in a situation where both the legislature and the executive have no integrity. I don’t think there is any right thinking person who will take them seriously. We need a new set of people in the National Assembly. We need a third party for a change of government. We don’t need APC or PDP anymore. Sincerely, we need a new set of people.
But there is no cohesion among the advocates of Third Force. How then can it happen?
To me, it is too early. Even within the APC and PDP, is there any cohesion? Do you know who is going to come out as presidential candidate of APC? Do you know who is going to come out for PDP? In both parties too, there is no cohesion. Everybody is joking.
For the APC, Buhari has already indicated his intension to seek re-election. And, of course, by tradition, when a sitting president shows intension to re-contest, other aspirants chicken out. Not so?
There are many people within the APC who do not agree. Let’s see what is going to happen with the likes of Aminu Tamabuwal, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Sule Lamido and others who are now sitting on the fence. It is too early to predict in the Nigerian scenario.
And you think they have the liver to confront a sitting president?
Yes. Anybody promising the South-east restructuring or vice president will have the votes of the people. In the case of the South-west, nobody is sure. Even Bola Tinubu himself is not sure.
The June 12 declaration as Democracy Day and the honouring of MKO Abiola is being interpreted as an attempt to hoodwink the Yoruba. Is that not likely to affect the politics of the South-west?
I am not in any political party; so, I don’t know how it is going to affect the politics of the South-west. But for me, May 29 is more important than June 12. I am not against June 12 being commemorated, but it should not be called Democracy Day because the day that actually completed the process of military handover to civilian was May 29, 1999. If you want to honour Abiola, call June 12 Abiola’s Day. In many countries, they have names like that for holiday to honour their great heroes. If you say Abiola is a hero of democracy, I will agree. But nobody can convince me that June 12 brought democracy to this country. So, I don’t see why it should be called Democracy Day. Call it Abiola’s Day, period! May 29 remains watershed of democracy in this country. We can’t throw it into historical waste paper basket. To me, if they want to do it properly, June 12 should represent a day in which there will be historical lectures about where Nigeria started from and how it has got to where it is today. What are the challenges for the future and how do we take care of them. There are so many things that could be done for Abiola. If they want to name an airport after him, they can name an airport after him as they did for some other people. The one that gives me pain is that of Kingibe who betrayed Abiola and was on the same podium for the honour.
What is the honour for Kingibe for? That award alone has demeaned the award given to Abiola. I am surprised that Abiola’s children accepted it. I am surprised too that Gani Fewehimni’s children too accepted the award which Gani himself rejected while he was alive. Gani will be crying in the grave. They should go beyond award of honour. All those who participated in the annulment of that election should be tried and punished.
What powers has a civilian government to try an army general?
How did they do it in Latin America? This is not a military government, this is a civilian government. Buhari has lost his uniform, he was voted in by the people. He is no longer a soldier.
That makes it even more unthinkable. Are you saying he has the powers to try army generals?
You are very funny. You are talking of probing Obasanjo. Is Obasanjo not a former military head of state? Is he not a retired general like him? If he can probe Obasanjo, why can’t he probe others who annulled the election? Why is he honouring June 12 if he cannot probe those who annulled the election? They did it in Latin American. It can be done here too.
Recall that when Obasanjo came in and set up human rights investigation panel headed by the late Chukwudifu Oputa to probe into human rights abuses under his predecessor in order to right the wrongs of the past, General Ibrahim Babangida refused to appear before the commission. How do you think somebody can call him to order now?
Does he need to be there? He is just one individual. He doesn’t need to be there; other people can come and tell the story. There are other actors. In the case of Latin America, many of the generals ran away to the US and they did not come to tell the story. Those who knew what they did told the story and they were brought back to Latin America. If you are going to set up a panel of inquiry, you are going to appoint a judge, which makes it legal.
What happens if the actors refuse to show up?
Can Babangida alone cancel June 12 election if others did not agree with him?
You are a general and you know better…
It is not a question of knowing better. There is no leader in the world that can take decision alone. There are always some people behind him.
The National Assembly recently passed a resolution calling for the declaration of the results of the June 12, 1993 election. Of what consequence will that be in the light of the current development?
If they declare the results, are they going to swear-in a dead man? They are used to passing frivolous bills leaving the important ones. Secondly, legally, the present Chairman of INEC cannot announce the result. Are they going to swear-in Humphrey Nwosu again? I don’t know whether some people think before they talk.