–General Agwai, former Army, Defence Chief
Molly Kilete, Abuja
The name of General Martin-Luther Agwai rings a bell in the country, especially in the military circle. The one-time Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and Force Commander of the Hybrid United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), has seen it all when it comes to wars and managing wars having participated and commanded troops in war fronts.
It is on record that General Agwai led one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world with over 20,000 troops and 6,000 police under his command.
But what this General has not seen is the level of insecurity where terrorism, banditry, kidnapping is now the other of the day. As if that is not enough, Nigeria is now tagged a terrorists country.
Before becoming the chief of army staff, Agwai, held several positions, including Chief of Training and Operations, Director of Military Training at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Military Adviser, Harare covering the whole of Southern Africa, Directing Staff and Chief Instructor at the Command and Staff College Jaji, and served as the commander of the combined United Nations African Union Peace Keeping Force in Dafur, where he retired from service.
He was said to be the first Chief of Defence Staff to oversee the first successful transition of power from one civilian administration to another without military interference.
In this interview, the retired General who spoke on insecurity said: “I never in my faintest idea believed that in my lifetime, the degree of desperation and brainwashing will reach the stage of what we are seeing today”.
Born on November 8, 1948, to the family of Agwai Gidan Mana, a Police Constable and Shera Agwai, a housewife, Agwai, hails from Gidan Mana in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna State and commissioned into the Armed Forces in 1972.
In this interview, General Agwai examines the security situations as Nigerian clocks 60, revealing steps to address these issues. Excerpts:
What was Nigeria like when you were growing up?
Well, Nigeria was not as developed as what we have now, there was no technology, if you are lucky to see the phone, it was in the city and it was this old thing that you have to dial and then sometimes there is something you have to wind in a box and then if you want to send a quick message, you have to send telegraph where they count the number of words and charge you. That was the Nigeria where the railway was one of the best and the most safest way of travelling. And then one thing I will say, it was more peaceful. Though underdeveloped, but it was peaceful. You could leave your house without fear and if you are threatened outside you run to your house and you know you are safe. That was the Nigeria I grew up and that was the Nigeria I know.
What was the Nigeria of your dream and what did you look forward to?
I tell people my dream was to buy a bicycle, honestly and I have told anybody who cares to listen that I was much happier and I felt ontop of the world the day I bought my bicycle than when I got my first car. Because in my environment where I grew up and when I went round, it was the people who have arrived that owned bicycles, so I was so glad and I feel very fulfilled that I could work from my salary and everything and bought a bicycle and I called my own. So, that was the Nigeria we grew up and we really have feeling of oneness. And yes sometimes you find it was a bit strange. I didn’t know Nigeria much and my conclusion when I was growing up is that everybody from the East was an Igbo man or woman. Everybody in the West, I remember that time West was up to Midwest, everybody from the West is a Yoruba person. But then because I grew up in the North, I knew that not everybody from the North was a Hausa or a Fulani man. So, that was the Nigeria I grew in.
What was your dream when you joined the military and were they fulfilled?
To be honest, how I wish they were met, but I was also realistic to know there was no…you know dreams, the more you grow, the bigger your dreams become. Most of my dreams were achieved, my bigger dreams was that I wanted to be a Brigadier because at that time there was Brigadier, there was nothing call Brigadier-General at that time and my dream was to be a Brigadier. So, the day I became a Brigadier, I felt very fulfilled and any other thing that happened was icing the cake to me. But my dream was to be a Brigadier, I wanted to see myself to say I will command a brigade and then I wanted to see myself do things that will bring pride to myself, my unit and my country. That was my dream when I was joining the military and it was met and over because honestly my greatest dream and my expectation was to be a Brigadier and God in His infinite mercy went to make it far beyond and I even became a four star General. So, really on that I will say my dream was met. But another dream I have that I went on I wanted to and those who know me knew my vision. My dream then created a vision in me that I wanted to build a Nigerian army, a Nigerian armed forces that would be feared by our enemies and it would be respected by our allies knowing that they can trust us because we can deliver and then it would be respected and we would be respected by Nigerians who paid tax to build the army. That was my vision. And it was met? No, I will not say it was met. But then I also believe that it’s a process that what I can proudly say is that I thought I set up the process to achieve that. What has happened after are things that … you know once you are out of the scene, you have no control of what happens and some other things that really become very difficult for you to achieve.
What do you think is the major problem of Nigeria especially in the area of security?
Well, I think we have to address this thing holistically. What is the value because insecurity starts from the value. What has become our value? Our value nobody cares how you succeed, nobody cares how you make your money. But as long as you have money, people are proud the man has money, he has arrived, he has done one business. Whatsoever that word business means is relative. So, if you are being measured to be successful by that means, then people have to find ways and means to be successful to be accepted as successful people. So, that is the heart of what has happened. And like the good old fathers say, behind every successful fortune sometimes there is a crime. So, that crime now translates into insecurity and just as you see one or two people succeed will then want to expand and say oh I want to be like that person and criminality starts taking place and we have then reached the stage we have reached today that people find the only way you can be relevant if you have dispute with your neighbour is to use force. If you want to have dispute with your community and other community is to use force. If you want to have dispute between one religion and another religion is to use force. And then violence now becomes the order of the day and unfortunately, many people do not understand and they think that is the way forward and because people have not been caught and security has not caught up with most of these people, then it becomes the order of the day. And that is where we are. So, really when we want to address insecurity, we have to look at it holistically, what actually encourages people and what encourages the insecurity.
As an army officer, was there ever a time you perceived Nigeria could become a major terrorists country in the world?
No. Honestly I will tell you, I remember even when I was talking of the army of the next decade, and in our frame analysis, I remember one day we were talking about it and one of my Generals said sir, you know Nigeria, we are cowards, which Nigerian would go and tie a bomb on his waist knowing that he is going to die. To tell you that was the way and I remember discussing that we have asymmetric warfare and we cannot now say that what is happening in some parts of the world will not reach us. I never in my faintest idea believed that in my lifetime, the degree of desperation and brainwashing will reach the stage of what we are seeing today.
What steps can we take to address the menace as a retired general?
The whole step is that first and foremost if you ask me my comment will be, what went wrong? Let’s all sit down and honestly examine what has gone wrong and let’s also remove sentiment and know that if there is insecurity that affects one person, that insecurity affects the whole society. So, how do we… it’s like all these crimes committed, they are not committed by people from another planet or another universe, they are committed by people within us. So, we sit down and ask what is wrong, what has gone wrong? Let’s address the issue that has gone wrong and then let’s collectively say no, we don’t agree, it doesn’t matter wrong is wrong. But when you start looking at wrong and it’s only wrong when it is another person that does it and when it is your own person, it is right, then we will now get to where we are going and that is where we find solution eroding us. But when we all agree that this is wrong, and then we put human security in the forefront and human security is giving the human being the basic things he needs what to eat, a shelter over his head and his family and what basically to eat. And when people have committed a crime, justice catches up with them, and no sacred cows and you find you become…though I may sound too idealistic, but little efforts I know we can make these things. And then you will find out we will gradually respect each other. Even if you don’t like or love the person, you will have to learn how to integrate yourself to the person because you are living in the same society. For example, when we are travelling on bad roads, it doesn’t affect one ethnic group or one society without the other, and when it is raining, even our creator when He brings rain he doesn’t send it to good people and deny the bad people. So, these are things I believe we can do together to find solution. And then we give the right person the right tool to do the right job. But when you are giving… but what is the role of our security agencies? What is the role of the military, what is the role of the police, what is the role of civil defence and on and on.
When we separate the roles of everybody and give people task to perform within your role and train them and equip them to perform their role, then you will find out that we will become professionals and we will reduce some of these things. Finally, how do you recruit people? Is it on man know man or you go for the best. Get the best and beautifully our systems have quota for everything, so when you are going to recruit people, go for the best. But if you compromise right from your recruiting base it would result to what the computer people say; garbage in, garbage out.
If you are brought back to the saddle, what steps would you take to get off this terrorism?
I cannot give you an outright answer because until I get unto the saddle, which I will not come back to and I have information, I have Intelligence and I have all the required things to make sound decisions, I will not be able to… all I will be doing is speculative and it’s very dangerous to speculate, especially if you want to be a strategic leader to sit at the top to take strategic decisions.Tactical decision, yes, even operational decisions may be, but not strategic decisions. So, I don’t want to simplify it as you know. Let me tell you, if you go to the football field and watch people and they are playing football and somebody even miss a penalty, you know you will hear all sorts of condemnations. But until you go there and try what he has done, you will now understand how difficult it is. So, I do not want to say that I know, but if you ask me from my previous knowledge, do I think things can be done better? I will say yes, because from my previous knowledge, I found we have very innovative, creative officers and men who if given the chance would work wonders and since I don’t know the challenges they are facing, I cannot now say why and what I think could be done. But if I am called and we sit and I am told these are the challenges, these are the restrictions, these are these, then I think we can sit together and proffer solution that will work.
What are your prayers for Nigeria?
Oh you know, my prayers have ever remained that God in His infinite mercy created this country where you have the largest concentration of black people on earth, so that means we have a lot. And no wonder we have so many ethnic groups. My prayer is that we will know how to use our strong points of every ethnic group, every religion, and everything, the strong points of those to propel our county forward than to use them as the thing that divides us. That is my prayers for this country.