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Why we executed Lt. Col. Dimka

Gen . Obada: I have been living a quiet life

Zik’s ADC, General Obada speaks

By Chioma GABRIEL, Deputy Editor

Major General Orho Esio Obada was the Aide-De-Camp to Nigeria’s first President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the first republic. He was the President of the Special Military Tribunal that tried and condemned Colonel Dimka after the 1976 coup de tat that assassinated the former military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed. He was a member of the Supreme Military Council and GOC,4 Information Division, Nigerian Army Lagos.
Major General Obada was also the Federal Commissioner for Works; Federal Commissioner for Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission; Commander, Training Command, NAF, Kaduna and  Second-in-Command, NAF, Kaduna . He has many national honours including OFR and JSSC.
In this interview, he talks about Nigeria since the first republic and the early years before the invasion of military coups that eventually led to the assassination of former Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed.
Excerpts.

It’s almost 50 years of independence and Nigeria is gearing up for her anniversary. What’s your view on the country’s development?

There is a lot of improvements in all facets of life. Although there are some complaints in some sectors like education not being what it used to be; but we have better roads. Where there were no roads, we now have roads. People now complain about electricity.

There is so much complaint about government but the problem we have in governance is mainly that of follower ship. And if there is problem in follower ship, there will be problem in the society. We have had a lot of improvements in local government administration and governance generally.

How would you assess governance in the first republic and now?

Well, that is where I am going. People complain so much about government nowadays but in the past, there were no bickering. I remember the days of Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Okpara and the rest. They settled issues amicably. But these days, things have changed. In the political arena, there is no respect and  we don’t even know who are our elders.

Everybody talks without respect for the elders. For people like us, there is no lure in Abuja and I decided to retire back home. My house in the village is a solid bungalow which I built in 1968 for 2,000 pounds in those days but if anyone were to build that kind of house now, they would be calling millions. I refused to be in Abuja like most of my colleagues. I enjoy being home. And home is Delta State. I am Urhobo by tribe.

You talked about Nigeria having problem with follower ship. How?

Every follower of a leader has a role to play, like ensuring improvement in your immediate surrounding. Without good followership, leadership will have a problem. Somebody must always have a contribution to make to encourage leadership but where there is no such thing, there are bound to be problems.

Are you saying Nigerians are difficult  to govern?

No. That is not what I mean. I’m talking about trust. It’s easy to govern Nigerians but when it comes to trust, Nigerians don’t trust. When you trust someone, he will do his best for you but Nigerians don’t trust. Without good follower ship , there will be no improvement. But where follower ship makes personal financial demands from leadership, it shows that follower ship does not have interest in the upliftment of his immediate environment. If leadership bribes follower ship up-front, then, follower ship has no right to demand for improvement from leadership in his immediate environment.

What would you say was the problem with the first republic. What went wrong?

Well, amongst the leaders themselves, nothing went wrong. They knew what they wanted. They were wonderful people.

I met them. I was ADC to Zik. The Sarduana, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Zik, had no problem. All the Okparas, Ibiams and others didn’t have any problem with each other. They were all wonderful people. So, looking back, there were no problems with the leaders. But Nigeria was in a kind of hurry. That was why the military came in, thinking they could do things faster and change things overtime. They believed they could change people by forcing them but you don’t do that.

You can’t change people by forcing them. That is why democracy is better because the people are in charge and the people change with time. If democracy stays, it will hold. It will appeal to the people and the people will grow.

So, to what would you blame the collapse of the first republic?

I would blame it on the over ambitious military officers.

I thought they wanted to make things right.

No, no, no. I didn’t say that. That is not correct. They used force on the people and things were not right.
We have had more years of military regime than civilian rule and when you look at civilian rule, you’d discover it’s the same military men who ruled by force that transformed into civilians.

Well, there is nothing one can do about that. As long as they are no longer in the armed forces, they are retired men and they are Nigerians. I’m now a civilian. I have retired for 43 years and I’ve been living a quiet life.

I have been conforming and my behaviour should be right. So, if  the retired military men want to take part in politics, their behaviour should be right and they have to conform to law and order. If they are retired, and are now civilians, they should conform and do things right. I think that is the problem.

So, you witnessed the civil war?

Yes.

What happened then? Who did what? You were ADC to Zik.

I was not in the South during that period. I remained in the North. I didn’t belong to any camp. I remained neutral. I was not convinced by the reasons for the coup. As far as I know, the coup was spearheaded by people who think they could change things by force. During  that coup of 1966, many people tried to convince me but I was not convinced.

So, I remained in the North. It was Nzeogwu and his gang that carried out the coup and whenever I look back to that era, I dismiss their attitude as youthful exuberance. It shouldn’t have happened. Military coups were a vogue then by people who want to change things by force but it’s no more a vogue now.

What were you doing in the North? You were supposed to be ADC to Zik then.

Zik and I went on a cruise to West Indies and then came back just before the coup and I was transferred to the Air Force in the North where I remained for almost ten years. I was no longer Zik’s ADC then.

The system of government in the first republic was parliamentary.

Yes.

Now we have democracy. Which of them is better?

The presidential system of government is too expensive. It was not so in the first republic when we ran a parliamentary system.

Would you subscribe to a return to Parliamentary system?

It’s not really that easy. Having tasted the presidential system, it is going to be difficult to convince Nigerians about a reverse. The people may not consider that.

When you look back at the decades of military rule after the collapse of the first republic, what do you think?
Like people rightly say, military rule is an aberration. The years of the military made Nigerians conscious of their rights. I don’t think Nigeria went backwards during those years because we became conscious but the way we harness the consciousness will determine whether it would propel us forward or not.

We need to be a disciplined people who obey law and order. But,where you circumvent and somebody does something wrong or connive with others to do wrong, let him realise he has done wrong and get the punishment he deserves.

How did you feel each time there was a military coup?

I felt terrible because I never envisaged military rule as a system of government. I always kept away because my colleagues always deceived themselves into thinking they would be better. I never took part in the military coup and some people who took part in the military coups they knew nothing about ended up being killed in the process.

So, you never participated in any?

No. I didn’t.

But you presided over the trial of Lt. Colonel Dimka over the coup where General Murtala Muhammed was  killed?

I was appointed as President to the tribunal that tried the coup plotters. I had no choice but I was fair.

Can you share that experience?

My job was to preside over the trial and ensure that whoever was guilty was committed to punishment. So, we did the trial and committed the offenders to  punishment. Some were executed.

So, what were their reasons for assassinating General Murtala Muhammed?

That was the indiscipline that I talked about earlier. Before this time, I had met Dimka. When I came back from the North, I was posted to Abeokuta.This  same Dimka  was a corporal and I was a Lieutenant. He did something and I reported him to my superior officer. But nothing happened to him. This same character appeared before me in 1976 and I asked him, what did you do in Abeokuta? He has forgotten.What I’m driving at is that in a system, you apply standards that are correct, so that no confusion would be created in the system.

So, he was your junior in the army?

Yes, he was.

Would you say he was ambitious?

No, ambition is not the word. It was greed and gross indiscipline.

You knew him personally.

Sure, I did.

If he committed an offence and was not disciplined, that showed there was no discipline in the army then?
If  he was taken care of  at the time I pointed out that he was that kind of fellow, things could have been condoned. Perhaps, he would have been stopped. If he had been disciplined, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go that far. If he had served  punishment then , he would not have been a threat.

You know, the readers would want to know what he did. What did he do then at Abeokuta?
He was in the camp with my  late Commanding Officer. And I went to that camp. He came back drunk. The next morning, during my checking, I noticed that he was not there. I asked them to find him and  he was found sleeping in the tent. He was drunk again.

What was your experience with the coup plotters?

Looking back to that period and analysing it is a very complicated thing because it was a coup within a coup. There was the issue of those soldiers who fought the civil war and many other issues. There was the issue of allegations that within the hierarchy, junior officers were being promoted above their seniors and they used that against Murtala Muhammed.

Some retired generals I interviewed in the past think there was more discipline in the society during the military regime than civilian regime. Do you think so?

Comparatively.

Do you think this country would ever have cause to go back to military rule?

No. I will never imagine that. And I also urge governments not to do anything stupid that would warrant that. No. We are done with military regime.

We have had eleven years of uninterrupted democracy. How would you assess democracy after several years of military regime?

It is better to have a civilian government, run by the civilians than a military regime. There is nothing to worry about. Once they put their house in order, things will take shape. We have to cope  with the problems inherent in a democracy and as we tidy things up, we grow along the way. Indiscipline is like a cankerworm in any system and it is for individuals to be self-disciplined instead of  joining the fray of gross indiscipline.

We have done well in our 50 years of independence and if you ask me, we’d rather be here than somewhere else. Everyone of us should strive to make Nigeria  better. Those who want changes in the system should make their demands known through the right channels.

It was reported recently that the Federal Government mapped out N10 billion to celebrate Nigeria’s golden anniversary and the people are screaming over that?

It was an allegation. I don’t believe it. What would we be doing with N10 billion? What are we celebrating? It is not possible. When we are talking about corruption, as far as I’m concerned, the society is corrupt. I don’t believe all these allegations about celebrating Nigeria’s 50th anniversary with N10 billion.  N10billion for what?

But since this allegation came up, no government official has come up to deny it or say the allegations are false. We are even hearing about ministers gearing up to travel abroad to plan the celebration so as to attract investors.

I don’t believe it. It can’t be.Silence does not mean consent.I don’t believe there is anything like that. I don’t believe such because it is not possible. It’s so incredible.

Do you think President Jonathan should not contest  2011 presidential election because of zoning?
It is for his party to decide. I don’t belong to his party or any party and if his party says it will be, so shall it be. Let the party produce who they want to contest presidential election under their platform. If you want my personal opinion, I have none for now.

The South-South does not need zoning to produce Nigeria’s president. And there is an opportunity for the zone even at this present time. We don’t need presidency to be zoned to the South-South for the zone to produce Nigeria’s president.
In other words, he should abide by the party decision?

I didn’t say that. We are human beings and anybody can be whatever.And I said the party will determine how it will go. Everybody will toe the line. I was chairman of the electoral panel that brought Yar’Adua into power. So, what am I saying?

The party used zoning in the past and it suited them. If they decide to jettison it, it is their business. It is the choice of the party.

Sir, 2011 general elections are around the corner. What advice do you have for Nigerians?

Nigerians should vote right. And the system should ensure the peoples votes count. It is for the people to say no to rigging. It is for the people to say no to allowing themselves to be sued to commit fraud during elections. It is for the people to reject taking bribe from the politicians and ensure the right people are voted for during elections.


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