By Bashir ADEFAKA
Isa Kachako was a former Deputy Defence Adviser in India and later became Acting Military Governor of Kastina State and now he is a Senator of the Federal Republic. He spoke to BASHIR ADEFAKA at his residence in Kano on his life and relationship with other past military leaders. Excerpts:
Tell us about your background?
I was brought up in a good and humble home and I am proud of my parents: They raised me to be honest, discipline and, to crown it all, obedient.
With these traits, I found myself in different leadership positions at the grassroot.Â PeopleÂ have always discovered leadership qualities in me and so they made me a leader at different times.Â I was captain in various schools that I attended.Â I was a good high jumper, I was a coach, a referee and all that.
How did you start out in life?
I enrolled in a Qurâ€™anic School.Â We have Godly orientation in Hausaland because our life style usuallyÂ start as a child, with the learning of the Qurâ€™an.Â And in the word of God you learn humility, simplicity, discipline, honesty, etc and that motivated me to develop the kind of simple life you noticed in me even upon my school administratorship and later my military career.
After my primary school I couldnâ€™t go to secondary school because I was over-aged.Â In those days you had to follow educational guidelines: I think I was about fifteen years of age or more, already over-aged for starting secondary or Government College. So I had to go straight to Teachersâ€™ College but then, I had to take the examinations to qualify for Teachersâ€™ College, which I took, and emerged successfully.
Why did you leave the teaching job to join the Army?
Actually there was an announcement that those with Grade II or secondary school certificates were to be recruited into the Special Pilot Course of the Nigeria Air Force.Â Therefore, I decided to leave teaching job to become a pilot.
Then I joined the group of 800 applicants throughout the country and then we went for interviews and examinations and for three months, we had to go through the rigorous pursuit of basic tests, physically and otherwise.Â At the end of that, from 800 we were reduced to 400 and from 400 we were reduced to 200 and from 200 to 100.
I was among the last batch of 100 of prospective pilots and we were given written examinations in Lagos followed by another set of interviews out of which only 20 of us emerged successful and I was stillÂ part of the 20 throughout the country.
So, we were taken to the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) for basic military training for four months before going into the Nigeria Air Force Base to start training as pilots.
At the end of the four months basic military training at NDA, I changed my mind from the Air Force to the Army.Â So there was Course 5 coming, which I and the likes of Major General E. S. Magashi and Major General Sarki Mukhtar, who was National Security Adviser to Mr. President attended.
So you were course mates?
Yes we were.Â They couldnâ€™t have been my mates if I had gone straight to the Army initially. I joined them as regular combatant, that was in March 1971 and then we got the first pip as 2nd Lieutenants.
One very important thing happened: I was on my wayÂ to Ibadan in a train when I heard that I had gotten my second pip as Full Lieutenant.Â It was a great encouragement.Â And when I got to Ibadan Garrison Organisation, I found myself being posted to 133 Battalion in Akure to serve as Second-in-Command.Â I was in Akure for one good year.
When the reshufflement and movement of units came, 6th Brigade came back to Akure from Ibadan and 2 Division came back to Ibadan from Benin and we found ourselves moved out of Akure to Owo.Â I was in Owo for two years after which I, again, found myself back in Ibadan as Second-in-Command, 186 Battalion in Mokola, Ibadan.Â From there, I was posted to Army Headquarters to replace then Captain Onoja, now Major General Onoja, who was on a course to the United States of America.
How did you become Acting Governor of Kastina State before your retirement?
Normally when the Military Governor is not there by whatever reason, the next person to stand in his place is the most senior military officer operating in that state.Â I was Commanding Officer.Â There was a battalion there, headed by a Commanding Officer which I was and so when the Governor was out and another person was not brought in, I was appointed to step in as Acting Military Governor and the appointment at that time was done by the Defence Headquarters.
And I must say that my more than one year in office as Acting Military Governor gave another dimension into my experience in life.Â My political knowledge of how to deal with people was also boosted.Â I mixed freely with civilians either as my commissioners or my stateâ€™s people and the people loved me and I loved them.Â Donâ€™t also forget that as a military officer at all points of duty I was very popular and loved by people.
Ordinarily the hope for a person in a situation of running on the platform of unpopular party to become anything politically is thin. But here in Kano, because of my popularity; I won election to become the only NRC Senator from Kano State in the Third Republic representing Kano South Senatorial District.Â Kano South has sixteen Local Governments.
Late Head of State, General Sani Abacha once visited your Isa Kachako Road residence and I wondered why you were not interested in material things profoundly acknowledged your indifference to material things wondering why your house did not portray who you are as a military top brass.Â What kind of relationship did you have with the late Head of State before he died in office in 1998?
Whatever relationship existed between us was personal to both of us.
Well, I must tell you that I was one of the Group of 5 that assisted General Sani Abacha regime over his many laudable programmes.Â I would rather advise Nigerians not to be beclouded by anything from seeing the good side of their leaders.
Anybody would agree with me that General Abachaâ€™s economic programme was superb as our national economic situation was stable and really working for the time his government lasted.
He did a lot of good things for Nigeria, part of them was the big effort he made to maintain peace particularly during the political impasse that characterized the June 12 issue.Â Honestly speaking, it could have been a catastrophe but General Abacha insisted there must be normalcy and peace and there was peace every where.Â People should talk about that.
Also, General Abacha was a very different military leader who had no interest in witch-hunting, arresting or killing anybody.Â Unlike those before him, instead of him to killÂ coup plotters, he spared their lives, at most, gave them life jail.Â This was why he didnâ€™t kill Obasanjo and others found guilty of coup plotting by his regime.Â I mean Obasanjo could have been dead long before he came out of prison to become civilian President.Â That frankly speaking is one aspect of General Abacha that people fail to talk about.
Could you tell us the level of relationship that existed between Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo, both former Heads of State in Nigeria.Â Iâ€™m asking because you have not hidden your respect for the two strong men?
These people I will never, never forget them.
Every one of them touched my life and made life meaningful. I find myself as former Acting Governor, former Senator, then Defence Adviser to the Head of State, Member Constitutional Conference and, to crown it all, dynamic politician: That is how I can call it.Â These people crowned it on me.Â The people, my people here would say, Kachakon Kena, meaning, The Man Kachako â€“ the mind is clean and clear.Â That is my slogan both here in Kano and in Abuja.
So, whatever one has against Obasanjo or Babangida, I am ready to challenge him.Â Because, like you know and I have always said it, they tried their best for the development of this country.Â Militarily, Babangida did it and maintained a kind of sanity.Â And Obasanjo did it also militarily when he became Head of State and when he became civilian President, he did it well again.
I can say without fear of contradiction that, if not because of Obasanjo, we could have entered into another Civil War in 1999.Â To do that he adopted the life of a mad man (laughs).Â Nigerians are like that and if you act madly, they will fear you.
Obasanjo doesnâ€™t like to be a hard person, he was a gentle man militarily.Â But he knows the way to deal with Nigerians such that if you donâ€™t act fast you would be in trouble.
I used to say this, and you can quote me anywhere, thatÂ Satan, the devil; if he comes to be Head of State or President of this country, there will be a day that he will put up his two hands and say â€˜â€™ohÂ Allah, oh God, save meâ€™, because of how difficult it is to lead the people of Nigeria.
You are a respected man in Kano and other places that you have had opportunity to operate.Â Such thatÂ during crisis, people regarded your area as no-go area.Â What kind of life do you live?
I cannot say my life is this or that.Â But I think I have been a very contented person.Â Contentment is the order of the day talking about me.Â And at the same time I am peaceful in my nature but I strike whenever I know or find that things are not going in the right direction.Â I challenge anybody, whoever you may be, if you are doing things in a way that I know or feel will hurt the well-being of this country and the well-being of citizens of the nation.
I challenge you.Â The society is as it is today because people donâ€™t condemn indecencies and that is why corruption has eaten deep into the heart of the nation.Â It mustnâ€™t be so!