The Emir of Zuru, Major General Muhammadu Sani Sami, retired, (Sami Gomo II) ascended the throne as the 11th Emir of Zuru in 1995. He was commissioned into the Nigeria Army in 1963 as Second Lieutenant alongside President Muhammadu Buhari. He also participated in the civil war and was the commander of the troops that chased away Chadians who invaded Borno State. In this interview with Saturday Sun, the British trained Army General who was at different times military Governor in Benue, Sokoto and Bauchi states explained how to end the insurgency, and insecurity ravaging the country. He told our correspondent, OLANREWAJU LAWAL that there are real plots to break the country into pieces by politicians who failed in the last elections and those jostling for positions ahead of 2023. He said they all deserve to be ruthlessly dealt with to bring the scourge of insecurity under control. He also asked all retired military Generals to rally round President Buhari to foil desperate attempts to destabilize his government and make him fail.
Your Highness, Nigerians would like to know how you were able to adjust to life on the throne, having risen to the pinnacle of your profession as a Major Gen. and a former military governor?
My life in the military for many years, I served from a tender age till I retired. This had prepared me very well ahead of any challenge. I am capable of holding any task, any position within and outside Nigeria, because I was thoroughly trained in the Nigeria Army. When I was there, I was privileged to be taught on civil administration. Again, I once served as a Governor in Benue State, Acting Governor in Sokoto State and a substantive Governor of Bauchi State. These positions and others have nurtured me to withstand any task.
As a former Military Administrator of Benue State, how would you compare the security situation then with the current development in the state? Are you disturbed with clashes between farmers and herders there?
During our days in the Nigeria Army, the situation was quite different from what is happening now. There was a lot of discipline, soldiers were doing their works to the best of their ability without interference. For instance, when I was a Second Lieutenant in 1963, I could recall that we were deplored to deal with internal insecurity matters. I featured in the Benue uprising in the 1960s. We were in Benue for many months to crush tension in the state. It was when the police could not handle the situation that soldiers were deployed to restore peace in the area. It is not like current situations in the country now when all the villages and towns are under siege, crisis and calling for the deployment of armed troops all over the places. Deployment of armed troops should be the last option.
What we are witnessing today were blown out of proportion, out of carelessness. For instance, the so called Boko Haram in the North East part of Nigeria, it started like a small smoke. It was not their intention to be killing innocent people as they are doing today. But today, we are witnessing series of attacks, killing of innocent people by this sect. Their recklessness could have been curtailed easily if the situation was well handled. I think, it was due to the carelessness of the governor in the state this sect originated. They are now kidnapping schoolgirls and wicked politicians and criminals are now fueling the situation.
Do you foresee an end to this insurgency?
I think, with this current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, we shall see the end of these insurgents. I know President Buhari very well, I had served under him because we were commissioned together in the Nigeria Army as Second Lieutenant. He is a man of principle, incorruptible and very honest. President Buhari means well for this country. All we need is to give him support and let him lead us to the better destination. But these dirty politicians do not want him to succeed, to do the right things.
The spate of insecurity ravaging parts of the country appears distant from here, could that be because there are many military Generals like you, the Bamaiyis and Magoro from here?
We are now in a democratic era, in a political dispensation, there is little we can offer except offering our advice. Personally, I have been going to see President Buhari as my good friend often to render pieces of advice on what I have read, seen or heard across the country. And he had been utilising many of these counsels. Just like I said, many wicked politicians who are out there don’t want him to succeed. They just want to make sure that this country breaks into pieces and God will not allow them.
Why do you think politicians are really doing this?
I think by now, they ought to have learnt from President Buhari who have contested elections and lost many times. Despite these losses, he exercised patience before God answered his prayers in the 2015 general election. If you lose election, why must you throw the country into crisis? Why must you say Nigeria must go, break into pieces? We must avoid playing dirty politics. If there is any issue in the country you are not satisfied with, let us embrace dialogue, discussions; going to British Council, USA would not solve our problems. The solution to our problem is within Nigeria and among Nigerians.
In short, we retired Generals, we shall continue to offer our moral advice to our colleague, President Buhari. Even, we Generals do meet to offer our candid advice. We should be harder on these people who want to destroy Nigeria. I mean, we should be very, very hard on them. We should not tolerate nonsense at all.
That means you are really bothered about the insurgency, banditry and kidnapping going on across the country?
Every well-meaning Nigerian must be worried about this insecurity and the dimension it’s taken. It is bizarre and many people are calling for the resignation of President Buhari. For what? These people want him to fail but he would not fail. Evil people are doing everything possible to make him fail. They are also saying that he should remove all the service chiefs. That would not solve the insecurity problems we are facing. They should give modern equipment to these service chiefs to fight our enemies. They should take care of the welfare of soldiers in the war fronts seriously. The Air force, Army and Navy should be properly taken care of.
Again, we don’t have enough troops on ground to combat what is happening now. These service chiefs should be allowed to recruit more soldiers. In my own opinion as a retired General, we should adopt what we did during the Biafran war in those days. We must mobilize all the ex-service men and recruit more, because it may take time to train newly recruited officers. But we can mobilise ex-service men who are willing to fight again for the country. I still have my military uniform with me and I can still give order, direct operations in a war arena. So, if we do that, it is temporary and after the war, we can recruit from those that took part in the war just as we did during the civil war. Definitely, the troops on ground are meagre and they need to be strengthened.
Some have expressed worries this problem could threaten the unity of the country. Do you share their views?
I don’t think so. The unity of this country has been taken care of by President Buhari. Those who were seeking for restructuring, what really do they want? Federalism or regionalism? They should be honest in their agitation. Let them embrace dialogue, and advise government constructively. Some people are clamouring for community policing, regional policing; the most important thing here, is that, they should be patriotic and honest in their demands especially on what would affect us collectively.
The South West governors have gone ahead to set up a security network to defend their area. Should this be and if so, should other zones do the same?
That is exactly what I am talking about. Why regional? I think they are now discussing which shows great level of maturity. We must continue to dialogue about modality on how to live together as one Nigeria. All these agitations here and there, are handworks of politicians. They are fuelling agitations. I also read it that the South East wanted to emulate this security outfit. May be, by tomorrow, another region will wake up and declare their intention to establish their own security outfit.
We must sit down and discuss our problems. If we need national conference, let it be. The must important thing is that, we must continue to live in peace, unity. All these agitations for individual security outfits will not help us. To be honest, we have not reached that level of discipline where each region could maintain state police, though community policing is good because we have experienced such outfit during the colonial era. Yes, it worked perfectly because they enforced discipline. If they could enforce discipline, there is nothing wrong with the state police. But that regional policing, we are not mature enough to do that.
Is there anything retired but experienced military Generals like you could do to assist the Buhari government overcome this challenge?
Like I said, we have been rendering our advice and I believe, President Buhari is making use of it.
Do you believe the struggle for political power ahead of 2023 could be responsible for the worsening security situation in the country?
Of course, that is very clear, politicians have started working ahead. Many of these politicians want to discredit efforts of the government in power, which they have been trying without success. Sometimes, blackmails would not work. The best thing is to sit down, think twice and leave the situation in the hand of God. If you don’t win election today, you can win tomorrow. We should learn how to accept defeat and move on with life. If people reject you today, they can accept you tomorrow. Mind you, Nigerians are getting enlightened everyday. Even in the rural areas, they now know their rights and whom they believe can rule them.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat in 2015 and he is still visiting President Buhari till now. What lesson do you think Nigerian politicians could learn from that?
That is what we are expecting from our politicians. They should emulate their past leaders. Many people don’t want the former President to concede defeat but he listened to few elders and congratulated President Buhari. That singular action has made a lot of difference. We thank the former President for that.
Would you advise political leaders from the north to allow for rotational presidency in 2023 in the interest of peace?
I believe in quality. President can come from any part of the country as long as such person is accepted by the people. In USA, Bill Clinton was the President and his wife, Hillary Clinton wanted to become President too. George Bush senior was the President, his son George H. Bush also became President. Former President Goodluck Jonathan is a good example here; he came from the minority group in the South South and he became President of this country. If by tomorrow, another good candidate from his town comes out and generally accepted by the people, he will be voted for and become our President.
What role should traditional rulers play in the political stability of the country?
At this moment, we are enjoying our role. We are given the privilege to advise governors and Mr. President. If by tomorrow, they stipulate it in the constitution that our roles are A,B ,C and if we go beyond this, it may result to litigation, which we don’t want. Therefore, let them put our role in the Nigerian constitution so that we can continue to play our roles, assist government on security, education, health. So, we are comfortable now with our roles.
The military in your time and now, which is better? And why?
During our time, there was discipline; we were very disciplined. But today, the reverse is the case.
Sir, can you recall your saddest day in the Army?
My saddest moment was in 1966, the year first coup took place in Nigeria. I was a Second Lieutenant then. I just returned from Britain. I was in Kawo, in Kaduna when the coup happened on January 15th,1966. What made me so sad was that, those who organised the coup were well known to us. Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu who was behind it, his office was very close to mine. I was Battalion training officer, while Nzeogwu was in Nigeria Training College, which is no longer part of the Nigerian Army today. We gave them space in Kawo, which they were using temporarily as training area. But, overnight, lives of innocent people were taken. I was an innocent Second Lieutenant. We didn’t know what was going on when Nzeogwu was organising training for coup. He was Director of Instructors and we thought all their training was mere soldiers’ training. They used to train, day and night until when they alerted us at the barrack that coup was going on. That fateful night, all of us came out in tranches. They told us what had happened and during the breaks, we got details of all what happened. We were upset and that was my saddest day in the Army. We heard that Sardauna had been killed along with his wife and many others. For what? For no reason. What was their crime? Nothing! Sardauna was a fantastic human being we can never have again in Nigeria. He had done well for the Northern Region during his lifetime. Some of his legacies he left behind, many of us in the North cannot surpass it and maintain it. Is it his legacy in education, health, security or social welfare? All these Almajiri you are seeing today, Sardauna would have resolved it because he had started a programme on it. That made me very sad and many other soldiers too.
Do you think Nigeria has been getting things right since the first coup?
That was the beginning of our instability in the country. Since then, there have been coups and counter coups. But I have confidence, faith in President Muhammadu Buhari. He is ready to correct this situation if people give him the necessary support he needs.
As a friend to President Buhari, what would you tell him to do differently from what he’s doing now to get better results in the area of the economy, security and development?
Like I said, President Buhari is a very good man. He was our Commander when we were in the Army. We worked together during the civil war and as Second Lieutenants, we fought together and we came out alive together. When he became Head of State, he made me Military Governor of Bauchi State. When he was GOC in Jos, I was a Commander in Maiduguri. He ordered me to recapture some villages captured by Chadians who encroached on our territory.
I did it very well. I was able to reclaim our villages and chased away the invaders. I also arrested some of these Chadian officers and we grounded their aircrafts in Maiduguri. That is why whenever I hear the issue of Boko Haram, I always laugh. If we have tackled these insurgents earlier enough with all sincerity, they would have been issue of history by now. I did that assignment during the civilian Governor of Mohammed Goni during the era of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the President of Nigeria. I can recall vividly that I recommended to the governor that he should establish government institutions in those villages recaptured from the Chadians.
That is why I said, President Buhari is a good Nigerian who means well for Nigeria and I just want him to continue to be patient with people and continue to listen to good advice. Though, there are some people underground, who are working against him, to undermine his efforts. The main reason they don’t like him is because he is fighting corruption tenaciously in the country. And like he said, the corrupt people are fighting back. They are fighting back because they have their stolen money in foreign countries and the repatriation of these funds have to follow due processes, the laws of the country.
As you know, we are in a democratic system and if you recall, during the 8th National Assembly, they were against his administration throughout, but God really helped him. I want my friend to continue to exercise patience and Nigeria will be better. Even his enemies know that he is trying in the areas of infrastructure facilities, economy and welfare of Nigerians. One of his critics recently criticized him for collecting loans. The fact here is that many countries are collecting loans and what matters most is the utilisation of the loans. President Buhari is using the loans judiciously for our benefits. The railways lines are there, roads construction are going on across the country. In any part of the country you go, you will see federal government projects going on. Look at Ogoni land for instance, President Buhari administration has invested in the cleaning up of the area. I knew the place very well because I was the GOC in the South South then. So, what we need now is to give President Buhari maximum support to lead us to where our nation is supposed to be among comity of nations.
How have you been coping on the throne?
When I came home, I found things, tasks before me so easy to maintain. It was easier because throughout my career in the military, I was dealing with human beings and here in Zuru Emirate, I am dealing with my subjects. Since I ascended the throne, I have been rendering series of advices to governors and those who sought counsel within and outside Nigeria. So, I can say, I am very comfortable serving my people.
What were your dreams and visions when you ascended the throne and how have you been able to actualize them?
When I came home, I came with a vision that I want peace in my domain here in Zuru Emirate. Secondly, I wanted rapid development for my people. In Zuru, we have large number of Christians and highly placed Christian leaders. So, I decided to create inter-denomination committee comprising of Muslims and Christians and we always hold meetings in the palace. We discuss, what they want, what we want too and we reach consensus and strike the balance. We decide those things we want government to do for us and what we can for ourselves. We have respect for ourselves and we are moving on very well. It is only in my Emirate that we are having Christians in my Council.
In term of the development, I am an old General who knows many people across the country. So, I have been attracting erudite people to invest in my Emirate, on road construction, education, health and others. The Federal University of Agriculture, Zuru will take off soon. This was possible through our hard work. The Technical College and others are due to our hard work also.
I have succeeded in uniting our people together through celebration of Uhola cultural festival. The festival usually holds once in a year and it is a great moment for us to interact among ourselves. All our sons and daughters who have excelled in any field within and outside Nigeria, we invite them home and we celebrate them and pray for them. In term of security, I have reintroduced the colonial system of security measures. I had set up a committee with five chiefs to make my job easier. It is only in my Emirate that we have district heads. At each level, we have security committee down to the grassroots, working day and night to ensure security of people and dissemination of vital information to appropriate quarters. We don’t spare criminals in my domain here.
On the issue of herders and farmers crises, we don’t have it any more in my Emirate because all the grazing land seized by politicians for other purposes, I have retrieved and given them back for grazing. I am doing a lot to improve the standard of living of my people. I have flouted NGO on HIV/AIDS. The NGO is almost 12 years old now. Similarly, I have a foundation, which is taking care of other tropical diseases. Before, many people were dying silently because of ignorance. We have enlightened them how to protect themselves against HIV/AIDs. I am doing this so that if I am not here anymore, I can be remembered as a leader who stood by his people.
How has it been relating with the low and mighty in the emirate?
In my Emirate, service to the people is not from the top to the bottom. It is from the low level to the above in the society. I was commissioned into the Nigeria Army in 1963 and I was given responsibility of management of few soldiers, which we call platoon. That has accorded me an opportunity to know my men, their families, relate with them personally. So, it was not strange for me dealing with people when I returned home. There are few challenges, but I am doing my best to bring the best things, standard things for my people in the area of education, security and economic development.