Shehu Usman Abdulkadir, is a retired Major General with the Nigerian Army and a one-time Military Secretary. He joined the Army at a tender age of 18 and rose to the peak of his career. As a young officer, he aspired to become the Chief of Army Staff one day but just when he was about to realize that dream, he was retired from service after his Junior, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah was appointed COAS.
In his 30 years of service to the nation, General Abdulkadir, served both in and outside the country where he held several positions and commands. He was a one time force commander in peace keeping operations in Mali, Liberia, Sierra-Leone and a one- time Military Secretary, where he was custodian of documents of all army officers.
In this interview with SATURDAY SUN, General Abdulkadir, who now runs a private security firm with over 400 staff and offices in about eight states of the federation lamented the rot and other vices destroying the military, chief among which is religion, ethnicity, and corruption. He spoke further on how the military underrated Boko Haram and more in this interview with MOLLY KILETE.
How has the Army fared in the Boko Haram operations and what do you think went wrong?
Well, I want to believe that there was a disconnect somewhere in the way the Army handled the issue of Boko Haram and that disconnect helped to further aggravate the situation. I wouldn’t say it is a case of whether they didn’t believe that Boko Haram existed or it didn’t.
Rather, I will look at it this way, that the Boko Haram issue was underestimated. Probably the military hierarchy then looked at it as something like student riots that they could go in and deal with it and come out. Little did they realize that it was much more than that. And when they started, the initial push or strength that could have been used to deal with the situation was not being used.
In other words, if probably the military had moved in the desired strength looking at the calibre of weapons the terrorists had then and not necessarily considering that they were essentially based in Maiduguri, they could be in other places, just like the case in Mali and some other countries, probably we would have dealt with the situation much more faster than we did. But we underestimated Boko Haram and by the time we realized it, they had spread to the extent that we had to pull back to plan again and then head for it.
So I believe that it was an issue of underestimation of the strength of Boko Haram.
You said religion and ethnic politics is killing the military, what do you mean and when did it start?
Well, you can’t say precisely when and how this unfortunate thing of ethno-religious sentiments crept into the Army. But that is one of the causes of the fractured nature of the military up until today. To the extent that whatever you want to do, you have to take into consideration these factors, be it in your posting, retirement, promotion, those factors at some level just have to come to play.
In other words, we have become so sensitive to these two issues of religion and ethnicity to the extent that it has affected the way we do things.
I tell you if a level playing ground is provided, we will do away with some of these things. In other words, if Nigerians believe that Mr X, is appointed to head a place because he is competent not because he is from a particular geographical area, then it would do us a world of good. If not, we will continue to sing the song that I hate to hear. He is our own, he is from my place. We must not forget that we came into their the Army based on just one thing, your state of origin and then your qualification. Those were the only two factors that played in my time.
When we joined the Army I think we were five from Niger state and only two of us were Muslims. Nobody cared about such because the bullet does not know your religion or your ethnicity but at some point that sentiment was being whipped to the extent that it affected the way things were being done. It got to a point where those that were not competent to be appointed to some offices but because of where they come from or because of those considerations, those deciding the postings or the promotions have to take those two aspects into consideration. So, competence was so watered down and where you water down competence, what do you expect? Mediocrity and when you put a round peg in a square hole, what do you expect, it will surely not fit in. So, I am looking forward to Nigeria where ethno-religious sentiment will not be it and then money will not also be the issue. Then we will be able to say yes, we are back to those good old days when your religion and ethnic group or how much money you have did not matter to me as a young officer, rather who you are and what can you do and what can we do together to make things better for the country and by extension ourselves.
As a one-time military secretary, do you think the army did the right thing by making the Buhari certificate controversy a public issue?
Well, I wouldn’t want to comment on that issue but like I said sometimes sentiments are whipped to the extent that they make a ridicule of the institution that has been asked to perform certain roles.
As custodian of all documents in the military, talking about the office of the military secretary, we should not have gone to that extent actually.
We shouldn’t in anyway. We shouldn’t have been involved in the politicking or in the politics at the time because the military as an institution should be seen as a neutral body but the way the military did it, it was as if the military was pro-the government of the day and anti-the other party. The military should have been kept out of it if you want my honest opinion about it.
After all, if I say that I went to a school and the school is still in existence and there are some people that were said to be in my class and some of them are still alive, a lot of them are still alive. So it would have been easy for the government of the day to go to those institutions that were said to have been claimed to verify the authenticity or otherwise of the certificate, not military.
There has been series of retirement in the military due to involvement/ interference in politics, what is your take on this?
Well, a lot of things have happened since the advent of democracy in Nigeria in 1999. What I will say here is that we have institutions and all institutions have their rules and regulations. They have their functions, they have their duties.
Institutions should be allowed to play the role that the constitution has so prescribed for them. If we do that, then they would be the better for it. But where the political class begins to meddle with the function or responsibilities of the organizations, then you are only saying that those organizations should not function based on their constitutional callings. And when they don’t function based on their constitutional calling, it will say a lot of those institutions because they will not perform to the optimum, so that’s my take on it.
A lot of things have happened and for those of them who have been following events since the advent of democracy, I think we’ve had enough of examples to learn from and anybody who gets involved in those silly acts in the future should have himself to blame because if he did it before and got away with it, just know that Nigerians are becoming wiser and Nigerians are becoming more enlightened so we should not take the docility of Nigerians for granted.
Rather, the government of the day should allow all organizations to function based on their assigned responsibilities and where rules and regulations are breached and cases investigated and individuals are found to be culpable, they should be punished according to the law. Not based on hearsay, not based on political bias, not based on my religious inclination or ethnicity. Rather, we should go back to the books and do those things that we have.
Nobody forced us to put those things on paper. If we think they are not working well, there is room for amendment. We should amend the rules. We should amend the laws, that is why we have the National Assembly but if the players of the rules and regulations are not allowed to function properly, definitely it will affect their conduct and when it does it will be obvious to the larger society.
All I am saying is that things should be done properly. What is yours should be given to you and where you are supposed to work, you should be allowed to work and work properly. Not work on somebody’s else dictate, but work based on your job prescription.
How do you feel about the arms deal scandal rocking the military?
Well, the case is still under investigation.
How do you feel?
Definitely as a Nigerian, not just as a retired General, one should feel bad if anything is going wrong in one’s country and pray that such a thing does not happen again. The world today is a global village and Nigeria is still being respected in the comity of nations and we are being looked at as the vanguard when it comes to sub-regional issues or even the regional issue and then here we are in this kind of a mess. What do you think it would do to our reputation? It would definitely affect our reputation. So, one would really feel bad but I just pray that we get to the root cause of it and get it done with and put aside so that we forge ahead as a nation because the more we begin to think of it the more we see it happen and the more we get disturbed and the more it would drag us back as a nation.
I am not saying that cases that have been investigated and those that are found culpable, like I said if there are no offenses, there won’t be punishment. When there are offences and punishment are not meted to those that have committed those offences, then you are only asking the larger society that, do as you wish in whatever position you find yourself.
So in other words, it is a country that thrives on rules and regulations, laws are meant for all, they are not meant for a few. So, no matter how highly placed you are, and you are found guilty of having done something that you shouldn’t do and the case is investigated and you are found culpable, you should be punished. Since the punishment is not punitive, the punishment is corrective. Punishment serves dual purposes for the person that commits the offence and those that did not commit the offence; that if you do it, this is what will happen to you.
How would you advise government on the issue of MASSOB and the Niger Delta militants?
Well, when you have a society that is bedeviled by poverty and lack of opportunity or unequal opportunities, it leads to what we see today.
It drives people towards salvation. Not salvation in the real sense of the word from the religious point of view. Salvation today, is in the context of whoever that can provide food.
And don’t forget that the best way to a man’s head is through his stomach. So, whoever provides the food will give the direction and whether the direction is sensible or senseless, as far as he is concerned, somebody is providing him a means of livelihood. And that person can ask him to do anything within the period that he is under him. So this is precisely what is happening.
My attitude to that is this; in as much as we have grievances, we must not go for our national assets. We must not go destroying those things that we have enjoyed from. Those things that other people have worked to put in place to make life comfortable for us.
The issue of Niger Delta, I have been there, and it is a pathetic place to be. In fact, in some locations you see the oil companies where they are located and where the citizens or the indigenes are located, they are two different worlds.
But again, the plan that the present government has put in place within the time frame to clean up the Niger Delta, I want to appeal to the Niger Delta avengers to give the government time to actualize that plan. Because the more we go destroying our assets, the more we delay this master plan. And the longer this master plan remains unimplemented, the more costly it will be when it will be finally implemented.
So, time is not in anybody’s favor. Rather, let’s allow the government, let’s believe the government. If they say they are going to do this within this time frame, let’s see if they would do it. It’s all a problem of poverty, unequal opportunity and lack of opportunity that is bringing about all these issues of insecurity. Otherwise why would a graduate go bursting pipeline? It’s because he is not employed.