Ishola-Williams, Army Chief who moves around in Danfo, Keke
BY ’TUNDE THOMAS
He can be described as an unusual Army General. Although he has retired from service, Major General Ola Ishola-Williams can be described as an enigma whose lifestyle has continued to baffle many.
Unlike other serving and retired Army Generals who mostly live in luxury, Ishola-Williams’ story is different. Everything about him is very unusual.
Unlike other Generals who have retinue of aides at their beck and calls or who ride in convoy of motorcades, Ishola-Williams live a spartan life.
For over 30 years now, he has been moving round using Lagos cab popularly known as Kabu-kabu and later tricycle called Keke Marwa as means of transportation. Even when in active service except on official assignment, Ishola-Williams moved round in kabu-kabu and keke Marwa, he admitted.
“Yes, I’m not ashamed to say it. I feel fulfilled and proud when I enter kabu-kabu and danfo commercial buses. I started moving round in commercial buses when I was in the Army and even after I left the Army, I’ve continued doing so. It is what I enjoy doing and I’ve no regret doing so,” he declared.
According to Ishola-Williams who retired from the Nigerian Army about 24 years ago as the Commander, Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC, he sees nothing unusual in what he has been doing.
While speaking with Saturday Sun at his modest office at Ile-Eyin, Akute on the outskirts of Lagos, the retired Army General vowed that nothing would ever make him change his style as he had made a personal resolve not to have anything to do with materialism.
As he was fielding questions from Saturday Sun’s team, a survey of the expansive office which was on the second floor of a three storey building revealed that several office items which can be considered as a necessity were glaringly lacking. No ceiling fan, no table fan, no air conditioner, no television and no radio. The windows were just flung open to allow breeze inside to cool visitors.
What you have there are piles and piles of books and the retired Army General was himself buried among the books as he answers questions posed to him.
While apologising that it would no longer be possible for Saturday Sun team to take his shots while boarding Keke Marwa (tricycle) after close of work, Ishola-Williams said: “I know that our initial arrangement was that you will take my photos while boarding Keke Marwa from my home, and when I came down in the office, but we have to suspend that arrangement for now because of the security situation in the country. If you take those shots kidnappers may come after me or some people may have funny ideas and if I’m kidnapped, I have no money and neither does my family have any to pay as ransom. So whatever question you want to ask about my life, ask here in this office.”
Asked whether he has not been harassed or molested by fellow passengers who don’t know his identity as a General or even molested by bus conductors, Ishola-Williams said even though he has been molested and harassed by fellow passengers and bus conductors on several occasions, he said such treatment would never dissuade him from his preferred means of transportation.
“I’ve lost count of times I have been harassed and insulted by fellow passengers and bus conductors. You know you meet different characters in the bus, some will deliberately provoke you, while bus assistants would try to cheat you by not giving your complete balance. I’ve learnt how to cope with any situation that arises. I know how to defend myself – I’ve fought several bus assistants. If they want me to behave like an Area Boy, I don’t hesitate to do so. I’ve fought some conductors and their drivers dirty over balance issues. I will never allow cheating. Never. I will always say no to injustice,” he declared.
While saying that these days, he prefers moving round in Keke Marwa (tricycle), Ishola-Williams said the reason is to avert argument with danfo drivers.
“Again, you know that Keke Marwa carries fewer passengers, just four. It is unlike danfo that carries about 12 passengers. I go around now mostly in Keke Marwa. I enjoy it a lot. I enjoy the breeze that comes in and mostly when I flagged down Keke Marwa, I look for the ones where I can sit in the owner’s corner. You know what they call owner’s corner in a car or jeep, that’s the side I love to sit inside Keke Marwa. I also enjoy my ride because it is faster and you have less number of people to argue with,” he declared.
For the retired General who is also a renown anti-corruption crusader, what happens when he travels abroad for programmes, he said:
“It is the same story. Whether in Africa, Europe or in America – anywhere I have a programme, whether they come to pick me at the airport or I found my own way to the venue or hotel where I will lodge, I go by commercial transport. I have been to Kenya several times for programmes. There, they also have something akin to our own Keke Marwa, they call it Matatu. It is a tricyle I always used in Kenya, and the way they arrange their own, you will enjoy it. So for me it is not a case of one thing in Nigeria, and another thing abroad. I will always be my humble self.”
Expressing disappointment with the way transport system in Lagos State is organised and being run, the Army General implored the state government to carry out some reforms which will make public transport system comfortable for commuters.
“I don’t see any reason danfo, that’s the commercial bus drivers should be allowed to carry more than three passengers on a row. What is the Federal Road Safety Corps doing about that? Four passengers on a seat is not tidy at all. On several occasions, I’ve quarreled with many passengers over space problem, but if it is three passengers on a seat, there will be no problem. It is sad that both FRSC and those Vehicle Inspection Officers saddled with enforcement of transport laws can’t do anything because they collect bribes from the commercial bus drivers. But I will like Lagos State government to do something about this,” he said.
On whether his unusual lifestyle has not become a source of concern to members of his family and his colleagues in the Army, Ishola-Williams said many of his colleagues had called on him on several occasions to find out whether anything was wrong with him. He however added that he was left alone when they realised that nobody can change him and that it was the kind of life he had chosen to live.
As for his wife he said: “It is a free world, she knows me very well, and she had chosen to stay with me. But as I said it is a free world, she is free to go if she can’t cope with my lifestyle. Materialism means nothing to me – what does a man need one billion naira for? Why should a man steal when you are colleting your salary?” he asked rhetorically.
While saying that what is killing Nigeria is insatiable appetite for materialism by many especially those in leadership position, Ishola-Williams said the country may not be able to record progress until the leaders and the led imbibe a new orientation and attitude towards public life.
“It is sad that today, many Nigerians see positions of authority or leadership positions as an avenue for self-enrichment and not for service. Materialism is what is killing this nation and everybody including religious leaders are involved. I’ve held different positions during my military career years which exposed me to millions but I’ve never touched a kobo belonging to anyone, I will never do so.”
Lamenting that religious leaders who are supposed to serve as role models have also joined the materialism drive, the retired General said: “It is sad that most of these people who profess themselves as religious leaders are only religious, they lack spirituality and this is why you see elements of greed and self-centeredness in their lives. They ought to be focused only on the spiritual well being and welfare of members, but sadly this is not the case, today most of our religious leaders are after materialism, they run after things of the world rather than matters that are spiritual”, he stated.
On why he is not living in choice parts of Lagos like Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki like most Generals, he said: “To me nothing is special about Ikoyi, Lekki or Victoria Island. My own concern is just to be my own landlord. Location doesn’t matter – what matters to me is inner peace and joy that I have – even billions of naira can’t give that.”
Urging the nation’s leaders to do more to tackle corruption, the retired General lamented that corruption has done a lot of damage to the country.
“It is good that Buhari is there. Before he came on board, there was decayall over the place. Impunity reigned supreme. But today we can see gradual change. Buhari is trying concerning corruption but he still needs to do more, and more importantly he should show through his actions that nobody is above the law or that there is one set of law for the common man and another one for the elite.
“Nigeria should not be like George Orwell’s Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others. Corruption is a serious vice. Buhari should not tackle it with kid’s gloves. He should wage total war on corruption sparing nobody who is involved,” he declared