James Ojo, Abuja
Thirty young lads known as ‘Boys Company’ were recruited as pioneers of the Nigeria Military School Zaria in 1954; today, only two of them are still alive and one of them is Ibrahim Malgwi (IBM) Haruna, who left the Nigerian Army as a General 23 years after.
General IBM Haruna from Wuyaku in Garkida town in Gombi Local Government of Adamawa State later proceeded to the Regular Officers’ Special Training School in Teshi, Ghana, Mons Officers’ Cadet School, Aldershot in 1961 and upon graduation as a member of RMA 27 of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst United Kingdom. After, he enrolled at the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Blackdown in UK to qualify as Ordnance Officer before returning home to take Commanding positions in the Nigerian Army.
Born in Adamawa State, the son of a world war veteran in this interview with Sunday Sun spoke about the vision of the ‘Boys Company,’ military career, coup, life after retirement, birth of Arewa Consultative Forum, state of the nation, among other topical issues.
You are privileged to be among the 30 boys that opened the Nigeria Military School in Zaria in 1954, how was it and how many of you are still alive?
We were called the ‘Boys Company’ before it was later changed to the Nigeria Military School, and we were 30 in number from different parts of the country. All of us were aged 14 and not more. We were young, we were not matured, in fact, we were all coming from primary schools in barracks and mostly from the Nigerian Army created by the British colonialists for their own protection. As young as we were, we had fun and were conscious that we were been prepared for the Nigerianisation of the military like they were conscious preparing our political leaders for the country’s independence in 1960. Yes, out of the 30 boys, I am aware that it’s just remaining two of us that are still alive. The other mate is Emmanuel Ebije Ikwe, he rose to become the Chief of Air Staff, having transferred his service from the Army to the Air Force. He is from Otukpor in Benue State, he now runs a big religion organisation somewhere in Surulere, after we left the service, but the truth is that we are still in contact. We met last during one of the family engagements in Otukpor in Benue State. If you know, he is the senior brother of this popular musician, Bongos Ikwe of the Cockcrow at Dawn fame. Now, we hear about ourselves from third parties, but we still keep in touch and I’m sure whenever we meet, we will still play Golf together like we used to do even after we dropped the uniform.
Can you still recollect the memory of your first Commandant, W.U. Bassey who is Nigerian Army Number 1?
I knew W. U. Bassey before he became the Commandant. Who will not know him in the barracks? He even became known when he was following Ironsi. I knew him personally in Zaria. He was a Commander before. He made us to be aware of the bigger future before us and thought us in the military tradition of discipline and loyalty, later he was replaced.
General, I want you to shed light on coups by the military that were rampant before and after your left the Army?
What do you want me to say? What light do you want me to shed? I don’t know anything about what you are talking about. Come out straight and ask questions, don’t speculate.
Sir, what I’m saying is that some of your colleagues, or can we say your mates were involved in the January 15, 1966 coup?
What do you mean by that? What do you mean, that my mates planned coup, do you know the implication of what you are saying in the military? Look, that is very implicating, I was never in the know of any coup. For you to know, on the day of the first coup, I didn’t know about it, I didn’t even hear of it. The fact is that I was at the party in the morning that the coup broke out. I left the party organised by our Commander, Brigadier Maimalari, I was on my way to my quarters and before I reached, I heard it on radio. It was later that I heard about the people behind it.
But some, if not every one of them, are they not your mates?
Look, ask me questions that I can answer, I have told you that I don’t know anything about coup plotting. What I know is that some of the coup leaders are my mates by rank because then, I was a Major by rank, besides that I got to know about the coup after it was staged and it failed. But as a Commander of a unit under Col Largema, I have to take actions to secure the depot under my command, and that was what I did.
Where were you during the counter coup of July, six months after which was largely spearheaded by officers from the North?
Most of these officers are my course mates at training, but I was not in the show. Why because I was commanding a depot under the Brigade. In the morning of the coup, I was not in the country. In fact, I was in Europe with a delegation, which included the Quartermaster General of the Army Col. Keshi and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Actually, I heard about the counter coup just like any one that was not involved in the planning. We heard on radio when we were transiting from London to France. So, about all the coups in my military years, I don’t know anything about it. But even now, coup is no more fashionable. Coup plotters are like a thief who came and steal what is not theirs. It is to take power by force using guns. You came with weapons to dislodge someone and you took his position by force, that is why it is no more popular. Democracy is the in-thing, which every nation is embracing even with its imperfections. For us in Nigeria, I strongly believe that democracy has come to stay.
You are a Combatant, an Ordnance Officer, you were involved in the civil war, what are your memoires?
At the outbreak of the civil war, I was in Yaba Lagos as Chief Ordnance Officer, Nigerian Army and Ordnance Corps Commander and later transferred to Kaduna. Our major task, I mean the Ordnance corps, was to organise a back up for the police action which was to curtail the rebels. It was the sack of Benin, the capital of the Mid-West and the advancement of the rebels commanded by a Yoruba officer, Col. Banjo at Ore that we now have a real war at hand. Government has to rise to the occasion by the creation of military formations and commanders appointed to man them. My real involvement in the war was when I was redeployed to man the Rear Guard of the First Division commanded by the then Major Mohammed Shuwa. Part of my role was at the rear under him was the deployment of resources and men to strengthen the division and hold the ground. It was on record that the First Division made quick success of incursions into the Biafra territory with expectations that the war will not be prolonged, but the Second Division under Murtala Mohammed delayed to link up until they took over the command from him. No, that your story is inaccurate, yes I took over from Murtala, his troops have recorded major breakthroughs in taking Onitsha and crossing the River Niger, they have even taken over Awka, Abagana, and many grounds after Onitsha had been consolidated. I took over the command of the Division much more later.
Each time you hear about the passage of your contemporaries in the Army, what goes on in your mind and how do you feel?
I am a human being like you. How do you want me to feel when news of the death of my colleague reaches me? I feel that a part of me is gone, I feel a sense of loss like any other human being. I am human. Some died in active service serving their fatherland, they were commanding soldiers and they died in serving the nation like General Murtala, it was a personal loss because we were course mates at Sandhurst. For the death of General Shuwa, it was purely a murder case. Some hoodlums just walked into his sitting room and opened fire on him, that was pure murder and it was shocking to me. The recent one General Mobolaji Johnson, former Lagos State governor, indeed, the pioneering governor who after retirement was for many years chairman of Julius Berger. Bolaji Johnson’s death is a personal loss to me. We have been friends from military trainings in Ghana, it continued when he was Lagos State governor. Until his death, each time he comes to Abuja or I am in Lagos, we were always together, we played Golf together and retired home to play Scrabbles. His death was different from that of General Shuwa who was my guest in Lagos during the second coup.
You were the General Officer Commanding, GOC 1 Division, Nigerian Army Kaduna before your appointment as a Federal Commissioner as was called then, what are your experiences like?
I was appointed the Federal Commissioner for Information and Culture, it was during my tenure that Nigeria organised the second African cultural summit known as FESTAC, the Festival of Arts and Culture.
I was the hosting Minister and I handled the external planning while a Naval Officer, Commander O. Fingensi handled the internal arrangement. In all, it was a successful outing that Nigeria got commendations from all over the world.
Your records showed that at the time you left the Army, you were yet to reach the peak of your career as a soldier, what really happened?
Yes, I was not at my peak when I was asked to go, but I think the question should be directed at the person who wanted me out of the military. You know him, he is Obasanjo, I was only 23 years old in the Army when I was retired. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he has the power to do what he did. What surprised me was that I was with him two hours before the news of my retirement was broken to me and he never mentioned near it. I was not shocked because in the military, you can’t question the decision of your superior, so you just take it. There is arbitrariness in the military and you live with them. However, what pained me was that it was over the radio that the news was broken, meaning that I heard the news just like any one who listened or monitored the radio. That was how I was thrown out without prior notice and had to start a new life afresh. But as a Sandhurst trained combatant, I remained a lifetime General.
During the period that you were a member of the Federal cabinet, there was the existence of a powerful bloc known as Kaduna mafia, is it true that the group existed and very influential?
Yes, I have heard about the existence of such group. I can’t deny it and I have read about it. All I can say is that I, General IBM Haruna, I am not a member of Kaduna mafia. To me, I see them as a political group within and outside power. I am not in the Supreme Military Council, so I don’t know what they do. I was a minister until I was retired from the Army.
You returned to school to read Law after your military career and not farming, which seems to be the vogue among Generals, what informed your choice?
It means that you did not follow my track well after I left the Army. I started a new life as a farmer. I owned a farm in Kado areas of Kaduna where I reared birds. I sell eggs and chickens, do you know that the farm is still there, although when I went back to Ahmadu Bello University to study Law, I brought my parents down to manage it, now they have passed on. I didn’t plan to read law, I got admission to read Agriculture, but for reasons best known to the school authorities, I was persuaded to change course and Law was offered.
Don’t you think that your military training, combined with legal knowledge would have made you a good politician, why did you shun politics?
I am a private citizen contributing his little quota to national development. I can’t belong to any of the 95 political parties in the country, no not me. I don’t have faith in any of them, but I do politics just like you and everybody in different levels. I have my voter’s card, I do vote during elections.
Are you not politicking when you co-founded a Pan-Northern Nigeria socio-political group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) which became the voice of the North?
ACF is born a child of necessity or if you like child of circumstance. The idea is a response to the political dynamism as at the time it was formed. It was founded in part to be a forum to engage ideas that lead to taking positions on national issues as it affects the North and other parts of the country. The Forum, however, became a powerful voice when the issue of succession was at the front burner of political discourse between Obasanjo and his vice, Atiku Abubakar. It was then that we came out boldly and the voice of the forum was heard loud and clear. The impact of the steps taken has led to the emergence of many groups, some are responding to the democratic expansion as dictated by the environment, which keeps changing. The culture of our politics is a mix bag. It is now different from when Obasanjo and Atiku were in the saddle and democracy was finding its feet. Like I said earlier that the impact of ACF has caused the emergence of several groups, its effects had led to the situation where an opposition party through a coalition of parties who consolidated were able to defeat a ruling party. What is happening now if you observed is that the Forum is quiet, but not really quite in the sense of it, we are just gazing at the political crystal ball towards the dispensation. We are watching and studying to see what will happen next and be sure that all is well with our democracy.
Is it true that you are one of the few officers who formed the intellectual arm of the military during your regimental life. Are you still providing such services to the Arewa Forum?
In the military, it is your superiors who will assess you and write a report on your capacity and capability. They can write to uplift you or write to bring you down, that is their prerogative. So, their verdict depends on what they want to achieve which is their prerogative. So, to be adjudged as an intellect is good, but could connotes different things to different environment where people give meanings to intellectuals. As an Ordnance trained, you must think out of the box. You must act fast in getting men and organise available resources to meet the needs of the moment to achieve success. We did it during the civil war when we had to achieve what we achieved when the rebellion became tougher and required more involvement of the army both in terms of men and resources and the Commander-in-Chief had to result to another strategy to improve on the police action. The strategy adopted was as a result of involving tactics and strategy that gave birth to the Adekunle unit known as the ‘Scorpions formation’ being first of all by enduring the blockade to the sea by the landing of the army in the famous Bonny landing. Through this we brought about landing tools and expanded it to ensure that there was a sea blockage to the Biafra enclave. So, from the police action it erupted into the military action as a response to development. Now, we are in a different environment and response must be different because challenges are not the same. Response to challenges led to the formation of ACF. It was a product of intellectual work. I’m still a member of the forum because first and foremost, I am a Northerner. I came from the North, Adamawa precisely, so I am a proud Nigerian, a Northerner. There are things in life that you cannot determine by yourself. Nature has it that you can’t choose your parents, for instance. So, I was born by my parents who happened to come from the North. Maybe if I was born in Benue State, I will still be a Northerner, but from the minority, so I remain a member of the Forum till my end to contribute to its progress and achieve its objectives.
What is your view about the clamouring for the restructuring of the country?
The truth is there is no permanent political structure anywhere. It is a matter of what has been bestowed on us. Before now, we have civilisation and later we had communism, socialism, fascism, and all that. Now, every one is talking democracy, democracy. When you talk of democracy, you are talking about freedom of expression, which everybody likes to enjoy. But then democracy itself has challenges of what it entails, which is freedom and civilisation that are fundamental to the vision of the new world. Structurally, the world has moved on from industrialization to digitalisation and this is now aiming at intelligence revolution. The implication of these changes is that whichever angle you want to look at it, there is no permanent political structure anywhere. As for me, I see those clamouring for restructuring as not addressing the problems of development politically, socially and economically. I see it as a class struggle by a group of elite looking for an opportunity just to become dictators in their political enclave. We have seen communism, socialism given way and we are yet to find solutions to fix our problems. Look, there are various ways of killing a bat no matter how, what is paramount is to kill it, as for the promoters of restructuring, I see them as awaiting looters ready to join the past and present looters. It is not for altruistic reasons. It is either we outwit them or allow them to succeed and continue the looting of our collective resources.
I want to believe that you are not happy with the current situation in the country, are you pained and what is the way out?
No, I am not pained and I am not happy, what I can say is that I plead for understanding on what is happening and what can be done. In the past, we had our high and low moments. We have our sweet moment, now, we have to gird our loins not to slip into anarchy. We must not allow our primordial interest lead us to the direction of where we no longer observe rule of law, the Federal Character principles and allow the constitutional provisions to guide our doing government business. We will progress if we adhere to the constitution.
What is your stake on rotation of power among the geo-political zones?
I don’t like people talking about power rotation, as for me, power is in the hands of God. He gives to whom he wants and you can’t question it. Power manifests in where God wants it, that is why I don’t think power should be decreed. Leadership is from God. God made Moses, Moses, he made Pharaoh, Pharaoh, so He decides. That is why I say that if Nigeria’s structure remains as it is today in 2023, I see an Igbo man becoming president of this nation, but if not I can’t say. Nigeria is a big puzzle and blessed with every resources to make it one of the greatest nations on earth planet. But see where we are today, when you think it will break up, it will find its ways of indissolubility. There is a thread which strings us together and that is why we are still together in spite of the lines of our differences.
General, is the country on the right path of political ascendancy towards 2023? Or are we on the right next level to the magic year?
Next level is as defined, according to the present government, that one I can’t say much. It is determined by the government you and I joined together to put in place and this has been confirmed by the highest court of the land. You empowered them through your votes to do certain things, then you must allow them. The Supreme Court has ruled, what is left is for us to pray for success as they confront the challenges of insecurity, economic hardships and the purposes of government. All I know is that as a nation, we still have a long way to go to attain our potentials. We should be ruled by natural laws that says don’t cheat your fellow being, don’t steal and also allow the rule of the law we made four ourselves through the Constitution, by this we will be making progress and develop our potentials. Enough of the rule of man, like we sometimes experience in today’s Nigeria. Government and the citizens, we need reorientation.
The war against terror has been on for over a decade, your state Adamawa has been ravaged and some are calling for a change of tactics, including the Service Chiefs that have passed the retirement age, how do you see this call as a war veteran?
Change of Service Chiefs in the middle of war can lead to worst things than you think. That is a sacred duty of the Commander-in-Chief who sees more than the ordinary people. He has more information, which others don’t have. Look, you don’t change Service Chiefs simply because someone or a group is complaining. When fighting even a conventional war unlike what we have in the Northeast, you can’t just wake up and fire your Service chiefs, just to please some interests, no, you don’t do that. You have to assess and evaluate what they are recording in terms of success or otherwise to the mandate given to them. You can employ internal command or external methods to assess them, not to just pan to the demands of people, you don’t even know their motive of calling for a change of the Service Chiefs. You don’t run the military on sentiment or perception. You relied on facts. Appointment of Service Chiefs should not be turn by turn as some wanted it to be. I know that some people see this position as turn of our tribe person, no, military institution is a bit different. We are winning the war against insurgency by the grace of God.
My life as a Golfer
As a young commander in Lagos, I used to have a quite time in my room thinking about logistics for the Army, which is the Ordnance’s callings to provide and prepare men and resources for use at any given time. I was doing that and after kept myself busy with rolling small round objects in my room. My interest in Golf was fired when I met with Chief Anthony Enahoro, a Golf prodigy. Before I finally settled to be a life Golf player, I had played Table Tennis, Squash, Soccer and other games. Today, I only play Golf, not because of age as my joints are getting weaker, it is the passion and the benefits therein. I am a life patron of the IBB Golf Club, I play Golf everyday, you can see the evidence of my exploits, take a look at the medals and cups on the shelves.