Chief Turner OgboruÂ graduated from the University of Benin with LLB in Law and got a Phd in
Theology while in prison. In this interview, this businessman turned preacher speaks about the
coup years and why his name featured during the Gideon Orkar coup. He also speaks on the Niger Delta problems and sees government action on militants as triviliasing the whole issue.
The name Turner OgboruÂ is synonymous with coup plotting. The last time some of my colleagues saw you, they referred to you as a coup plotter. How did you get involved with 1990 coup?
Well, my simple involvement with the coup had to do with the fact that our companyâ€™s facilities were used during the coup.
It was in our premises at Ikorodu that participants in the coup wereÂ assembled.. It was our companyâ€™s vehicles that were used in refrigerating the drinks that were used on that day.
It was our companyâ€™s vehicles, the J5s and other station wagons which we had purchased to go into transportation business a few days from the date of the coup that were also used. So to that extent , we were linked to the coup because of the use of our facilities as sponsors of the coupÂ but for me, my link was that I escorted my elder brother who was believed to have sponsored the coup to the border to travel out of the country .
That was my link for which they said was concealment of treason and that given my back ground and social standing,Â I ought to know that by escorting my elder brother who was involved in a coup to travel out of the country, it was a treasonable offence. So you see, that was my link but I knew nothing about the coup.
Sincerely, and God is my witness.
Even as at the time your brother was leaving the country?
As at the time my brother was leaving the country, the coup had already taken place.
And he had been declared wanted?
No, he was not wanted as at that time, but in the circumstance of the case at that time, it was wise and better for him to escape because when tempers are high, you cannot predict the foolish things that people can do .So it is better to be on a safer ground to be able to explain your position.
So at that time he was not wanted. It was through my information that he was declared wanted because I had to incident the matter. In the process of doing so, I had to see the thenÂ Governor of Lagos State Raji Rasaki andÂ the former Brigade Commander Ikeja cantonment, General Ishaya Bamayi .
So we had to make some moves to be able toÂ incident the matter and finally went to the security group where I met Aliu Tongo and others who were able to arrange and link that fact of the position of our involvement in the matter . So they initially took me inÂ for protective custody which finally ended in life imprisonment and to God be the glory, we were judiciously given amnesty by Chief Ernest Shonekan, whoÂ gave amnesty to all political prisoners including the dead..
Somewhere in the process of effecting the amnesty, Abacha took over and the process was scuttled .When Abacha took over, he tried all he could to withhold the amnesty Shonekan had granted, but thank God for people like Femi Falana and Dele Aturu who wereÂ bold enough to challenge Abachaâ€™sÂ moves to scuttle the amnesty and they went to court.
Finally, they won the case against Abacha saying that it was wrong for the Government to continue to keep people in custody after they have been granted amnesty and that it was unconstitutional. Thank God for Justice Gbolahan Jinadu (retired) of the Federal High Court who gave judgement that I should be released from prison custody. In spite of all of Abachaâ€™s resistence, he finally gave in.
After his death, the government of AbdulsalamÂ Abubakar came and with the help of people like Opadokun and NADECO and the Afenifere led by Pa Adesanya who were part of the negotiating team ,they convincedÂ the government on the need to have all political prisoners released.
The government in its wisdom conceded to them and we were all released
Do you have any idea how the soldiers were recruited in that coup?
You see the coup was a very unique one. First and foremost, we had this security outfit that was floated by Saliba Mukoro and others . They floated a security outfit where they had to recruit a lot of ex-servicemen into their fold and these ex-servicemen were posted to various companies where they were supposedÂ to be doing their security assignment.
They had no inklingÂ that they were going to be involved in a coup.Â So on the day of the coup, they were all told to come for confirmation of appointment and so they assembled in our premises in Ikorodu with a view to having their appointments confirmed because that was what they were told. By the time the whole matter ended, it turned out to be something more than mere confirmation of appointment, it was not what they expected that they met.
The military boys, that is most of the coup plotters, were commanders of various units. Most of these commanders asked their boys to come for a partyÂ and by the time they arrived at the party, they were all conscripted into the team.
Then they went to the armory in Mile 2, got the people around thatÂ place, got all the guns and ammunition and every thing that they needed for the coup. By the time they arrived at Ikorodu with arms and ammunition and spokeÂ to the people who had come for confirmation of appointment, it was a different ball game. So they were unknowingly conscripted. So that was how they got involved in the coup.
The major kingpins,Â that is the commanders who Babangida had strategically put in various commands were the very trusted boys of Babangida who rose up against him and they were able to pull down his government, they were able to over throw his government for some minutes but by the Grace of God, he was able get back power before he finally left on his own.
At what point did you get to know that it was a coup?
In the morning of 22nd of April, I woke to pray in the house, as we woke to have our morning devotion. I heard a coup broadcast. It was in that coup broadcast that I heard there was a coup. And I did not know that the coup was in my house.
That same morning a brother and IÂ went to the Love Family church to preach. It wasÂ after that church appointment that I got to know that the people actually assembled in our premises for the coup. That our facilities were used in one way or the other.Â So by the time I got to know about all these, I had to take immediate action to be able to remedy the situation .
The high point of the coup was to curb corruption and other anomalies in the society. If you cast your mind to the Nigeria of that time of the coup and the Nigeria of today, would you see any changes?
If you listen to the coup broadcast properly, you willÂ find out that one thing that the coup plotters wanted to correct was a situation where the Northern Oligarchy thought that it was their birth right to rule this country and that no other federating unit had a right to that because politics is just the game of number and so since they have multiplied their numbers, they were the only ones ordained by God to rule us perpetually andÂ they said the six core Northern States were suspended from Nigeria until they lead a delegation to accept that other federating units of the country had a right to rule. Banbagida, for what is worth was a listening president.
He was very careful about public opinion. So he was able to gauge that aspect. That was why he handed power to Shonekan who came from the South West the same place with Abiola when he was leaving, . It was also the same thing that informed the handing over of power to Obasanjo by Abdulsalamâ€™s transition. Because of the position of the coup plottersÂ , power was shifted to the South West .
Whether head or tail,Â Obasanjo or FalaeÂ were both from the South West because they feltÂ the heat brought about by the coup also brought aboutÂ a lot of sober reflection and the political class in the North was very careful about it and that was why they conceded. It wasÂ not because they could not hold on to power but because they deliberatelyÂ allowed the South to have power for the next eight years before the power went back to the North.
What you are trying to say is that the likes of Shonekan and Obasanjo were beneficiaries of the coup?
Yes they were beneficiaries of the Orkah coup. The issues that brought about the creation of OMPADEC was also a fall out of the coup, the appointments of women as deputies , the issue of NDDC areÂ Â falloutsÂ of the coup. The issue of corruptionÂ and the fight against indiscipline whichÂ Idiagbon and Burhari started were just part of it .
Homosexually-centered government, personal character issues were not really the core issues. The core issue was to have a true federation where every personÂ that is part of this federating unit has a right to aspire to the highest office. In the military, you had the royal army that is made up of the sons of Emirs and Sultans who wereÂ posted to special units because there was aÂ plan.
This group of officers are sent to the best and choicest military training colleges in the world. Meanwhile, their course mates that wereÂ better and more intelligent were being sidelined becauseÂ they are not from a privileged part of the country.
The issue of nepotism and favoritism was so prevalent because within the Nigerian army, you had the royal army and this was an issue that bothered some very intelligent officersÂ because thereÂ were so many intelligent officers in the army.
You will be shocked when you get to know the crop of intelligent people in the Nigerian Army , I mean well informed, well educated people who would not play second place to their counterpartsÂ from any where in the world.
If you saw the intelligent officers who were interviewing people during the coup, the civilized way they went about their duties, you would be proud of the Nigerian Army, you wouldÂ be proud to be a Nigerian.
Name any field of professionalism, they are there, these guys are well trained. The situation of this group of people facing oppression within the system was part of the restiveness.
The Bible says that too much wisdom is sorrow to the heart, when you get to know things, you get seriously offended at the type ofÂ injustice that is being perpetuated in the name of quotaÂ system, in the name of catchment area, Federal character or whatever it is called.
When mediocrity is being celebrated and excellence is being pushed to background, it is painful and these were the things these young men wanted to correct. We could not have a Nigeria where we could not have a say, we cannot have a first or second class Nigerians and that was the thrust of the action .
Recently, one of the coup plottersÂ Seliba Mukoro came into the country and the first thing he did was to visit Babangida. What is over reaction to this? Did he consultat before he met Babangida and do you think that was the right thing for him to do?
First and foremost, some things must be made clear. The coup plottersÂ had nothing personal against Babangida.Â He just happened to be the President at the time of the coup and like I told you, most of the boys involved in the coup were his boys, they were his commanders, theseÂ were the boys that knew Babangida and he knewÂ them by namesÂ and that was why none of them had the guts to go into where Babangida was when they struck because they were so sure that if they entered the house where Babangida was, heÂ wouldÂ callÂ them by name.
He was very familiar with them. So it was not strangers that came after him. They knew Babangidaâ€™s hidden agenda because theyÂ were the ones that carried out research projects for him and they knew what they prepared for their boss, but theyÂ were not happyÂ with what the man was proposing and so they wanted to terminate it and the y were all of one mind to terminate and theyÂ went ahead and attempted it.
From 1990 to 2009 that is almost twenty years, time heals all wounds, it is normal for people to begin to realign. Even Babangida in his private moments when he looks back atÂ what he was planning thenÂ would know that it was foolish to have conceivedÂ such a plan and would not do it if given another life. Besides, you reap what you sow. He came into power through a coup against his best friends because he was not pleased with them.
So he also had a situationÂ where his own best friends were not pleased with him. After everybody leaves an exalted office, we all come to the normal civilians that we are and at that time, we can appreciate our positionsÂ on certain issues better and that we are firstÂ humans and first friends before you came into power and so there is always a need for reconciliation because youÂ always see the need to reappraise your position, the older you become, the wiser you get about the issues ofÂ life.
So people change with time no matter how radical they had been in the past and they begin to see issues from an entirely different perspective because the world had beenÂ before we came and it will be after we are long gone. It is what we did in our life time that will be the beginning and end of the world to us.
Saliba Mukoro had been to this country before but he did not see IBB. TheyÂ were lotsÂ of under ground moves before he met with IBB. He came into Nigeria shortly after Obasanjo gave him amnesty. ItÂ was this last visit that made people like Oyinlola and others to broker peace between IBB and Mukoro because IBB is in politics. IBB is also strategising, everybody is strategising and when this is done, there also will beÂ the need to realign with others. So it is normal for people to reconcile.
The government has just givenÂ militants amnesty, do you think this will solve the crisis in that region?
Amnesty cannot solve the crisis in the Niger Delta. Amnesty can never andÂ will never solve the problem. The issue of Niger Delta is the issue of a people who were imprisoned for whatever reason and the people are revolting because their leaders are in prison. Amnesty for prisoners works.
When you have rebels in castration and members of their group are demanding for their release and you proceed to release them, then the cause of hostilities will cease . So giving amnesty to people who have not been convicted of any offence seems toÂ be superfluous and presumptuous by the government because the core issues in the Niger Delta haveÂ nothing to do with theÂ imprisonment of anybody. The core issue in the Niger Delta is primarily the issue of under development and exploitation .
If you do not address the economic situation in the Niger Delta, if you do not address exploitation of the people inÂ the Niger Delta, it wouldÂ beÂ like what ShakespeareÂ said, ifÂ you scorchÂ the snake not kill it, she will grow and be herself again.
Every day,Â people are getting enlightened in the Niger Delta, they travel to Abuja, they see the roads, the sky scrappers and these projects are financed with monies from the Niger Delta and you cannot name a single road with federal presence that is motor able in the region and you are talking of amnesty. What amnesty ?
The amnesty is rubbish because that is not the solutionÂ to the problem. The Federal Government must make sure that Governors and Local Government Chairmen that are elected into offices in this area are not rigged. TheyÂ must ensure that responsible leadership emerges from the popular vote of theÂ people from the area.
They need leaders that are responsible and accountable to the people. Not leaders imposed on themÂ because when impose leaders by fraud, they will sustainÂ themselves by fraud. So whether the people like them or not is immaterial because they believe they can continue to buy themselves into power. So what needs to be done, fundamentally first, is to make sure that the people get their own leaders, not Abujaâ€™ s leaders, not any political partyâ€™s leaders.
They should allow the people to haveÂ free and fair elections. This is the only way a wise government will help in solving the problem because if you do not have leaders that the people love and are enthroned by the people,Â nobody will listen to you .So whatever the government does, nobody cares, people will be doing their own thing.
But when you have a leader that is popularly elected by the people, they are loved by the people, what ever they say,Â the people will listen because this is the voice of theÂ king that they have made. And the leaders also are conscious of the fact that they have been enthroned by these people, not some godfathers whom they have to consistently service by ensuring that their so called godfathers are given fraudulent contracts so as to sustainÂ the patronage.
So the sovereignty of the people isÂ taken away and when you remove the sovereignty of the people and enthrone the sovereignty of crooks and so called godfathers, then you have created lawlessness, you have created perversion, you have created injustice and no proper governance can come out from this type of people.
From 1999 when we returned to democratic rule, if you check the amount of money that the states in the Niger Delta have gotten, it is no where compared to the physical development on ground. You cannot find anything to justify the amount of money they have collected.
Instead, the leaders of the that area have become multi-billionaires over night. People just move from penury andÂ joblessness to become multi-billionaires over night. People who did not have a dwelling, people who could not afford three square meals butÂ because they rigged themselves into power wouldÂ want to cure the poverty of their generations in arrear.
They have no antecedents, they have never done anyÂ successful business in their lives. Slaves are ruling whileÂ princes are walking on foot. It is a curse. So these are the core issues. The developmental areas andÂ development cannot arise without responsible leadership. Responsible leadership cannot emergeÂ except responsible, credible process of brining about these leaders is put in place and so these are the core issues .
When these issues are addressed, the issue of responsible leaders who take their allocation and add value to the lives of the people come about. When you address these issues, then you are pulling down the strong hold of restiveness and militancy in the area. But to just announce amnesty for a freeÂ manÂ is stupid.
The militants are seen as the creation of politicians and at a point, they became uncontrollable and have now turned against the politicians. How would you react to this?
The militants are the creation of politicians, they are the creation of injustice and pervasion and exploitation in the Niger Delta. The politicians only acted asÂ catalysts.
When they came in, and because they were looking for thugs who they would use against their opponents, use to rig elections, and use to carry ballot boxes; they had to go into the pool of these militants who had been there but in a low profile and local way. When the politicians came into them (militants) , they empowered them, they brushed them up. They gave them arms and special boats.
TheyÂ gave themÂ a lot of facilities toÂ help themÂ further their cause. A lot of these things they did was for their selfish interest, but after the elections, these arms remained with the boy.Â So the materials remaining with boys could not be collected and these boys used these arms to rob, abduct and they now graduated into the rich trade of crude oil.
These boys want their share of the national cake . Crude oil trade is a very lucrative trade and if you understandÂ trade by barter, the people who are standing outside our shores to have these boys supply them crude oil also supply them sophisticated arms in exchange for crude oil and so the boys have become very sophisticated because a lot of them are very educated.
The politicians were the ones who increased their capacity. They were a big catalyst to help them to mature.