In this interview, pioneer Military Administrator of Delta State, Air Commodore Luke Ochulor, warned that the nation’s democracy may soon collapse if the system; particularly, the electoral process was not overhauled. His words: “I will ask Nigerians to change their method of democracy. If they don’t change it; it will collapse. I am not a prophet but this is a serious warning. Did you see me carrying Bible to preach? I repeat, if they don’t change their method of democracy and election, it will collapse very soon. And when it happens; it will be to your tents oh Israel.” He spoke further on this and more with STANLEY UZOARU, in Owerri.
Give us insight into your service years
I served as the first Military Administrator of Delta State. I rose to the rank of one star General in the Nigerian Armed Forces, specifically, in the Air Force. I was an instructor in the global navigation worldwide. I operated the Charley-130 Air craft. That’s where I was an instructor for many years. I retired after 30 years of service having worked during and after the civil war. If you want to know more wait for a memoir they are writing about me that will be published very soon.
When did you disengage from service?
I retired as far back as October 1993. I joined the Nigerian Air Force in January 1964. It is quite a long time and I am sure you were not born then. You can see that I am already an old man.
So, where were you during the civil war; did you fight on the side of Biafra?
When you look at my name, when you hear my name there is no way I would have been on the other side of the battle. I was a Biafran officer. I fought on the side of Biafra. Like I have always said, the purpose for which we fought the war as young as we were, 25, 26 years of age was to save the Igbo race and I have said it before my colleagues from the North, from the West, from the South South, that that was the purpose of getting involved in the war.
How were you able to get back into the armed forces after the war when many others that fought on the side of Biafra were disengaged?
Yes, that was the system. It is unfortunate to get involved in civil war. You journalists know it very well, that after the exposure, people don’t talk much generally. Well, after the war, General Gowon wanted to implement the three Rs, of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation. We were the ones that were called back to come and continue to serve the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So, what has life in retirement been like since 1993?
As a matter of fact, life has been full of ups and downs depending on which side that one is. But I would say that anybody who is of my own generation in the Nigerian military system can hardly say that he has had the best of time. It has not been rosy and it has not been all that bad but it can be described as a chequered history. Nobody can say that it has all been very good or it has all been terribly bad but the Nigerian conditions for many people are like that of the wailing wailers. It is a pity really. I remember telling the Sun and the Daily Trust that for some of us, if we are to say what we feel about Nigeria today, it is worrisome not because Nigeria as a country has annoyed anybody or short-changed anybody but maybe that is our own lot. The country at the moment is going through hell. If you look at the youths, some of us will feel worried and bewildered. If you have a boy or a girl, who comes out from a university, graduates very well and after 40 years of age he or she is still living with the parents; it is not acceptable. So, for me I have always stayed away from partisan politics.
Are you missing your career in the military?
No, having served for 30 years, you know the military is one institution where when you are there you pray to God that you leave in peace because I witnessed over nine coups when I was in service. I mean, to witness nine coups and still be able to escape without losing your life or being arrested or being implicated, to me, one should always give thanks to God. It wasn’t a nice experience to be involved in coups and counter-coups taking place in your presence. I don’t miss or regret anything. I left at the time I believe I should leave.
What can you describe as the high point of your career or may be your happiest moment in the Air force?
Well, my happy moments come when I look at the young men I was training in the force becoming great. Many of them became Chief of Air Staff. Even the present Chief of Air Staff was my student back then. Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike was my student; so was Air Marshall William. Air Marshal Petirin passed through me; the present Chief of Air Staff too. All of them went through me because I was an instructor in the flying school.
What can one also look at as the low point of your sojourn in the military? Any regrets?
When I start talking of regrets now my colleagues will say that in spite of all the support they gave me that I am still talking of disappointment. No, I wouldn’t want to say that. The only time I felt sad was the June 12, 1993 election.
That was the election that Babangida annulled?
No. I don’t want to go into that. I mean when Abiola was involved in election and General Abacha went again to take over government after we had agreed that we were no longer interested. It’s not Babangida as people always say. It wasn’t Babangida. It doesn’t take one man to cancel an election. It involves a large number of people or officers who will say no, we don’t want that. But whoever is the head of state will bear the brunt.
Are you affirming that Babangida alone should not be crucified for that decision to cancel the June 12 election for which he is held responsible?
Never! He didn’t take that decision alone. I don’t want to go into that. There are certain things that a man cannot say in his life. As you grow; you may find out that there are certain things that you cannot say to the public and those things will have to live with you throughout your life until you go down to the other side. We know that there were some officers who were hell-bent in making sure that the result was not announced. It wasn’t General Babangida. He was the head of state and that is the reason everybody is calling his name.
What are you actually doing now in retirement?
What I have tried to do first of all is to monitor my children who I have trained all these years to become people with responsibility and to be careful with life. I also advise government on matters of security. For some of us, we don’t even offer advice until they request for it and without making noise. Once we see a governor doing well and he is one of us or contacted us for an advice, we offer same with what we think should be the best for an ordinary man.
You are a member of the Imo State Council of Elders that backed Governor Emeka Ihedioha; looking back and within the short period he has held sway, are you pleased with that decision?
I don’t have any regret about that. This is because before then; we elders met several times and looked at the history of Imo State. We looked at the various zones in the state––Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe zones. We monitored what they have been doing since 1999 when this dispensation came in focus. During the time Obasanjo became the President, we monitored and found out that the politicians have not been doing what we expected in matters of equity. Equity demands that you don’t hold on to power as if you are an emperor and assume that other people should be told to go home and rest. At times, the politicians make careless and reckless statements in the manner they describe their fellow politicians or other citizens of the state. We discovered that Orlu produced His Excellency Achike Udenwa who was there for eight years and I was one of those who insisted that His Excellency Ikedi Ohakim should be allowed to do his eight years. I didn’t see what was wrong with his administration. I was not a member of his cabinet. But politics threw him out and His Excellency Rochas Okorocha took over and did another eight years. Meanwhile, Okigwe has done only four years and our man, Chief Sam Mbakwe, adjudged to be the fulcrum, the power of Imo State. Then for Owerri zone, Senator Evan Enwerem was there for only one year plus. Then the question is how come that Owerri Zone will not be given the opportunity to serve? We looked around as elders and said that there were over 71 governorship aspirants in Imo State before the primaries. We put them together and discovered that in that 71, Owerri Zone had 54 candidates vying for one position. We placed them on a scale and weighed their careers, weighed their profile, weighed their integrity, weighed their capabilities and we found that the only person who we believe that can take over the leadership of Imo State and make sure that justice is done was Emeka Ihedioha. One, he has gone through the House of Representatives, he has walked the ropes, he is also a young man and there was no way we could find any other person better than himself and that decision we took at that time and I stand by it.
So, can it now be said that you are in politics?
Every human being is a political animal, but I am not a politician, even though, I advise. I am a leader, a statesman. When you talk of politics, politicians say many things they don’t mean; I don’t want to be grouped in that line. But I am not ignorant of political affairs and world affairs. I am involved in Nigerian politics in the sense that I would want Nigerian democracy to be real.
You have been linked with an emerging security outfit in Imo called the Imo Intelligence and Community Development Agency (IICDA). What’s the group all about?Yes, I am part of the group. Yes, I am the Grand Patron. The Chairman would be in a better position to give you all the details. As the Grand Patron, all I need is to support them because I have looked at what they are doing; they are not the enemies of the state. They want to bring the awareness of intelligence to the grassroots so that people become aware of their environments. You are living with people and you don’t know where they come from yet every morning, every one leaves and you don’t know what each is doing. That is why most of the time security threats take us by surprise here. You see people are being killed here and there. You don’t have those things occurring without a prelude. And our people are not security conscious. I supported them to be their Grand Patron because from what they explained to me, they will be able to take security to everybody not minding where you are. It doesn’t mean that you will not accept strangers. Everybody any way is a stranger. I have studied their system and procedures. They are on the right track.
As the first Military Administrator of Delta State, looking back, how would you describe governance then and now?
The difference is very clear even with each passing day. Actually the comparisons are obvious. The environment at the time is not the same. That was a military era. At that time, I can tell you that Nigeria had no money. If there was money, I can tell you that it was being conserved. The governors didn’t have allocations. At that time, no governor would travel outside the state without clearance from Abuja talk less of going overseas, going overseas to go and do what? You must stay in your state to run it unless you are invited to Abuja for a meeting. So, there is no way the Head of State would call you and it is discovered that you are somewhere in Kenya, in South Africa or Europe. So, the difference is very clear. The government more or less was a small organization and there were not many people who were really involved in the administration. First, you can see the development of those states that were created in 1991 by His Excellency General IBB. You can see that many of them are doing very well. Some of them have even overtaken the older states in terms of management and growing funds available to the states.
Can it be rightly implied from your comments that there was more discipline in the states during the military era than now?
That one is quite obvious. You can see it not because I was there, neither am I holding brief for anybody. The danger in answering your question is this: the Nigerian public will now think that this man likes military regime and doesn’t want our democracy to survive. Far from that, the point is that it was easier to know what the governor was doing. Moreover, you notice that as the country grows, the problem becomes more enormous. Those days, what I was using as my official car was a Peugeot 504 car. There was nothing like a retinue of vehicles. Why? You don’t need them. You may have an extra car in case the one breaks down and the other for security. This is unlike now in the democracy, in fact, I will stop to avoid being misunderstood. I tell you something; I have been doing a nightly exercise since I took interest in Nigerian democracy from 2003.
Did you say nightly exercise?
Yes! What it means is that man on a journey should not sleep off like that. Even when he wants to sleep, the thoughts that hunt him will not allow him to sleep. Anyone at my age who goes to bed without thinking about the problems of Nigeria must have some problems. Without mincing words, some of the politicians are doing very well while some are not. I don’t want to mention their names. The nature of our democracy and elections leaves much to be desired.
Looking back over time, how would you describe the character and nature of our politics?
Within what time frame are you talking about? Let’s go back to a more recent time starting from the Shagari period to the present dispensation. If a child in the womb can talk, I tell you honestly he would tell you that those days are better. It is very clear too. Though, there has been a lot of development as you can see the structures that dot here and there, but when you look at the psyche of a Nigerian, he has more or less lost his personality in the eyes of the outside world. I have been trying to find out why this is happening because the changes have been quite dramatic but nevertheless it was easier those days to exist as an individual whether or not you have money than now. Life now is a grind. Life was better those days. We are developing but our development is only structural but if you look at our attitude and the level of discipline, we are nowhere. Nigerians love confusion and you can observe this in the manner that people drive through the street, not minding whether or not the next man dies. We have problems indeed.
The crime wave among the youths is very alarming. Looking critically at the situation, who do we hold responsible for the level of mounting gross indiscipline among the youngsters. Is it from the homes, the schools or where?
Yes, the youths are indisciplined but there is this Latin word, ‘nemo dat quod non habet’, meaning that you can’t give what you don’t have. Environment determines how an individual is going to act. For instance, if there is food for the three of us on a table, if the food is big enough, you will never struggle for it once it is about to finish. That is a natural instinct in a human being. But once it is insufficient to go round, your instinct will tell you that you must do something drastic or extraordinary if it must reach you. That is a natural reaction to the reality, not their fault. If you watch, you will notice that their intellect is higher than that of those before them. You can see that science and technology have done their jobs. You don’t blame the youths but pity them and encourage them to change. This is because if the country does not survive, they are the ones to bear the brunt.
What is your message to the people of Imo State and Nigerians?
First of all, I will ask Nigerians to change their method of democracy. If they don’t change it, it will collapse. I am not a prophet but this is a serious warning. Did you see me carrying Bible to preach? I repeat, if they don’t change their method of democracy and election, it will collapse very soon. And when it happens, it will be: “To your tents oh, Israel.” And most important, this question of winner takes all must stop. I heard a governor threaten two years ago that he was going to deal with his enemies in the same state. He was describing those who did not vote for him and those not in his party as his enemies. Granted as the governor of the state, you may not treat everybody equally but you should treat everybody fairly. If you watch what is happening in the state (Imo), the government is trying to reach everybody regardless of the political leaning. It is because of this winner takes all that politicians are killing their opponents to win elections. Nigeria’s democracy must change or collapse. For Imo people, it is always good to have hope than being in despair. That hope must reflect what we do. If we keep our surroundings clean; we are not doing it for the government but for our health. We always see people throw dirt out there and they will say, call the governor. If you keep your area clean and I keep mine, everywhere will be clean.