Shehu Usman Abdulkadir, is a retired Major General with the Nigerian Army and a one-time Military Secretary. In this concluding part of his interview with Saturday Sun, General Abdulkadir, gave hints about ongoing moves to activate the reserve clause in military’s engagement rules.
What motivated you to join the Army?
Well, I joined the Army because of the love I have for the profession because while I was growing up in Kaduna, my father who is late now used to be a contractor with the Army.
He was the one supplying foodstuff to 5 Battalion then, that was in the 60s. And because of that interaction with the military, I developed the passion for the profession and that was what informed my joining the Army because I saw them as a unique group and felt that it was a place for me.
What was your expectation when you joined the Army?
I did not have any expectation before I joined the military, I just saw them as a unique group of disciplined people and I felt that, that is where I belong and that joining them would probably make me fulfill my life ambition of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation.
So what would you have become if you didn’t join the military?
Probably I would have become a teacher because I enjoy talking to people on the way things should be done and probably the classroom would have been the best place for me to really achieve that if I had not joined the Army.
What was your experience like in the army where you spent over 30 years?
To be honest with you, of my over 37 years plus in the Army including my NDA years, I can tell you that life in the military then at the beginning was quite interesting when I joined because of the cohesive nature of the military devoid of what we see today like the introduction of ethno-religious sentiments that has attempted to really divide rather than bring together that cohesion that one would have expected like you see in other Armies of the world.
But having said that, at least with God’s intervention, that myth surrounding the military still remains in the eyes of the larger society and that is probably what is keeping the country going.
What is the difference now that you are retired?
Well, there is a world of difference because while in the military, we have rules and regulations that probably guided our lives including the way we sleep, the time we go to bed.
In other words, everything we do is written because there are responsibilities that you must discharge. You have duties to perform in that office and those duties were a guide to you on how you should conduct yourself.
It is an organization with rules and regulations and very strict too. Anything you want done, so long as it conforms with the rules and regulations, those things must be done and if they are not done, the individual could be punished instantly as against what lies in the civil works where as the chief executive of my own company when I schedule a meeting for 10 o’clock, because of my military life I will come in at quarter to 10 and the next person who is my subordinate will come in at 10:30, and he will start giving you excuses. In fact, the civil life is another world entirely but what has helped me is that military training that I had that is keeping me going.
How have you been coping with no orderly, driver and other security you had while in service?
I must thank God for everything and how I have been able to adjust.
But when I was a Major, I by chance met one retired Gen Ademikhai, at the airport in Lagos and I went to meet him, paid compliments and sat by him and I began to ask him how he was coping without all these things that you asked me and he told me a lot of things and how he started adjusting to civil life one year before his retirement from the Army as General Officer Commanding 1Division Kaduna at the time, how he stopped using his driver and orderly and goes out alone if it was not an official outing and how he manages his life in retirement. And that really helped me because from the moment I had that discussion with him, I began to work towards life after retirement.
He told me that when you get carried away by the things you enjoy in office, as a military officer, when you retire, your purse will not be able to maintain that. So I started practicing life in retirement when I was a Brigadier General.
But again if you don’t have passion for driving, that will become a big problem for you. I have passion for driving and I can drive from Abuja to Lagos and back so that has really helped me.
Beside, I saw the drastic reduction of staff of retired four star Generals because the staff were no longer getting what they were getting while he was in service so they gave different reasons like wanting to go for courses and other excuses for wanting to leave. So you must learn to adjust even before you disengage because those people may not be there for you.
How did your retirement come to you?
My retirement did not come to me as a surprise. In the first place, I was the second in rank to Gen. Ihejirika, on the seniority roll as Commander, Training And Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Minna.
And looking at the way things were going, I said to myself that it is either I take over from Gen Ihejirika, as the Chief of Army Staff or I go home. So I sat my wife down and told her, let’s take the worst scenario. If we have to go home, where do we go to because I had one more year in service and that informed our decision to start thinking of where do we settle, what do we do.
Even though she is a civil servant, I have to be fair to her to look for a place where she works and we automatically settled for Abuja. So we had to start putting our resources together to put up a structure, which is where we are staying today.
So, it didn’t come to me as a surprise because looking at my position as second in command, it is either I take over as number one or I go home because I cannot be asked to go down because TRADOC, is called the alternative Army headquarters. So we took the worst case scenario, that was why we were not caught unawares.
There has been an agitation by retired military personnel to bring them on board to fight Boko Haram, what do you think?
Well, you know in the military we have what you call the reserve, when you retire, you go into the reserve like it is done in other countries.
It’s nothing unusual for you to call those that are on reserve to assist you in tackling certain situations. It is done everywhere. As I speak to you, the United States of America, anywhere they are engaged in a war, they bring in these retired people and they come in in the name of one company or the other to bridge this gap.
In other words, my experience is my experience and if I don’t share it with anyone, then it remains my experience. So the essence of doing that, is to bring people together to brainstorm on the way out of a particular situation. Because when you look at it, we were in Liberia, we were in Sierra-Leone, Mali, Congo, we brought about peace in other peoples countries and we are being applauded up until now and we still remain the darling of the United Nations as a country.
So if we were that bad, the United Nations wouldn’t be looking for us. Here we are being confronted with the problem in our own country similar to the problem that we have resolved in other peoples countries. It is not unusual for the retired officers to come together and proffer solution as to the way forward considering our situation. But that trend has changed and we are beginning to see a lot of improvement in the way business is being done in the military.
Just like you said, in retirement you must feel it because we are part of a whole and even aside from that, the geographical expression of Nigeria as a country, the way you make your bed, so you will lie on it. If we fold our hands in retirement and say because I was aspiring to be this and that and if I don’t get it that would make me so downcast as to remain quiet and not contribute, it would affect me. It will surely affect me and directly too. Because anywhere I go today in Nigeria, I will be identified as a General and if I am identified as one, certainly I didn’t work with the Cameroonian Army, I worked with the Nigerian Army. So, whatever affects the eyes, affects the nose, that’s the relationship.
And that brings me to relationship between serving and retired officers. It’s like the relationship between the teeth and the tongue. They conflict, but they are inseparable. And you could see the present cream of senior officers that we have today. As a person, I have access to all the Service Chiefs. I talk to them, I advise them and they listen to me. Sometimes, they call me to seek my advice on certain issues. If we synergize in that manner, it will be a lot easier for us to deal with any situation, because we wouldn’t go out and say we were not parties to the solution proffered, even if the solution does not work, as against what it was when we were not even accepted, nobody would even pick your call. But now, we have officers, our own juniors, that listen to us. And as I speak to you, there are many retired officers that are working in different military institutions. The NAF, for example, the Navy, brought in some of their retired officers and the Army has done the same . As I speak to you, I have one month package on unconventional war for the NAF young officers. Anytime there is a course for young officers at the NAF base in Kaduna, one month is given to men to teach them unconventional warfare and that also has provided room for me to bring in other retired officers to partake in that package and the NAF is so happy with that and we are going to run the fifth package next month.
So you think the military especially the Army is making good use of its reserves?
We are not. We are not and the reason is not far fetched, probably because we have never been confronted with this kind of problem that we have today. So since there was no need for it, nobody activated it. But it is there on paper that if you retire you move into reserve and while in reserve, you could be called and even your reserve can be renewed. It is not time-bound, it can be renewed. But since there is no problem, what do you need the reserve for? You don’t have a flat tyre, why do you need a vulcanizer for and for that reason you won’t even check the state of your spare tyre in the boot of your car until something happens. But with the situation we are in now, there is a plan to re- activate the reserve, which will do us a lot of good and it will also give those of us in retirement a sense of belonging that yes, those in service still remember us and to also tell those in service that someday they will also disengage and they will not remain redundant.
And I pray that government should begin to look into ways of engaging retired military personnel in other endeavors because if you look at the amount of money that was spent to train them, it is unquantifiable. For example if you look at the amount of money that was spent to train me from NDA, in 1976, to when I disengaged from service, it’s a large sum of money. And then if you look at the experience that I have gathered, based on my involvement in activities within and outside the country, I was in Liberia, Mali where I was the force commander and you put all those together, it should not go down the drain or wasted.
If nobody asks for you, you should also offer yourself.
Because if you sit as a retired officer and say everybody in the military is my junior, so you can’t reach out to them, you will be making a very big mistake.
What do you do as a civilian?
I am not a civilian, I am a retired General (laughs). I run a security company. We train those that have interest in security jobs. I have my own training school where we train people in security and where we have vacancies for duty guards and security operatives, we employ them.
I also run security awareness training free of charge to organizations and once in a while I go to military outfits to talk on contemporary issues. Since my retirement, I have delivered lectures in several places. I am also privileged to train 5,000, personnel of the Civil Defence Corps that would be deployed to the Northeast.
I also carry out security survey for organizations, individuals and the military because the military is planning to outsource some of their outfit to enable them deploy more men to the Northeast.
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 opportunity, 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 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. And every year, we keep reeling out graduates from our institutions with no place to go. But if you look at it, the government has a plan, they have said they are going to fix people in schools, create jobs and also clean up the Niger Delta.
On the issue of MASSOB, they should bring their grievances on the table and we will look at them, if it is creation of additional states in the Southeast, we should be civil in our conduct.
Nigeria is over 50 years and what do you expect of a child of over 50 years? You should expect the child to behave maturely. But if this is the way we do things then we will never move forward.
What legacy will we bequeath to the younger ones? What example are we showing to the younger ones? Are we a good example, surely we are not. Some people created the good environment that we all grew up in, so we are challenged to create a conducive environment for our children and even children yet unborn.