…Ebitu Ukiwe speaks on Corruption, Buhari and Biafra
A FORMER Chief of General Staff(Vice-President under the military) Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe ,retd turned 76 on Wednesday. While attending to well wishers he spared us few minutes for this exclusive interview. He examined the multifaceted crises in Nigeria and said that normalcy should be urgently restored in the country. Ukiwe, who was the first number two man to former President Ibrahim Babangida from 1985-1986 also spoke on pro-Biafra agitation and war against corruption among others.
By Charles Kumolu
What does being 76 mean to you?
I feel alright and I feel very happy with myself because I live well and eat well. When I look back at events and how I passed through them, I just thank God for His blessings because without God’s blessings I could not have passed through the things I passed through successfully and happily.
In retrospect, what were the turning points in your life and career as a military officer?
It is a bit difficult to go through those events in an environment like this because they are many. Life to me is like a ladder, you take one step at a time. And if you don’t do like that, you will have a problem. I have passed through a lot of things and came out successfully right from birth to school, training and qualification as a Naval officer commissioned in the Royal Navy.
I have driven ships in the ocean as a captain. And I did that with so many risks and I reached the level politically where I was one of the few that had the privilege to have governed two states in the country which were Niger and Lagos states. From there, I eventually became the Chief of General Staff which translated in civilian terms as a Vice-President. In each of these appointments, there were hurdles and there were also some disappointments but with my faith in God and the struggle to ensure that I remained disciplined, God saw me through. That is why I am here.
Nigeria has gone through a lot of crisis like the civil war, do you think the lessons learned are being applied in the interest of the nation and do you think the nation learnt lessons from its experiences?
I will say that at any point, whatever obstacle anyone crosses, there are some lessons to learnt from it. Whoever does not learn from such things is a loser, if you learn from such obstacles you will excel and go higher. But the person may still face further obstacles but he may have developed the discipline to handle such problems. In Nigeria, I must say things have gone very bad.
Things went very bad. And they happened because they were allowed to rot and ferment given that there was not enough action to prevent them from going bad. From the way things are, you can see that they are trying to fight corruption. they are not finding it easy because corruption was allowed to spread like a disease and like a wildfire.
Now, knowing how to handle it is a problem. Those, who should carry the blame and responsibilities that follow it are those, who saw evil being committed and did nothing. Not now that it had gone like a wildfire, spreading everywhere that one or two cases would be picked with the aim of addressing it. It is a very difficult thing now but it is a problem that can only be solved. There is no alternative to that. It has to be controlled, people have to face it, the leadership must face the issue of corruption squarely.
Do you think President Buhari’s approach to it is the way to go about it?
I don’t think it will be good to just pinpoint Buhari regarding how the situation is. The issue had been quite bad before Buhari came in. So, pointing at him as if he has the capacity to do it and does not want to do it may not be right. There are things he is doing in form of policies that are right. To agree to fight corruption totally is right but the method is like strategy and tactics. Your tactics may not work, if that is the case, tactics could be changed in order to meet the main objective which is to fight corruption and wipe it out.
It is obvious that he has to make some changes, it is obvious that he has to have a second look at his tactics and see how best to handle it. You can see that the whole country is at a standstill regarding the issue that is happening about the judges, the lawyers, the National Judicial Council. The country is stuck. What is now needed is to apply all the caution and reason to be able to bring back normalcy to some extent to be able to fight corruption.
I don’t think it is an issue of just picking up Buhari and asking if he is doing it well or not. The issue requires everybody to be involved and if need be they should set up a committee. And the selection of the men who will be on the committee would even be more important than the policies of fighting corruption. It does not require preaching for anybody to know that one man cannot fight corruption. You need a man, who has the wisdom to not only identify the cause of action but to select the type of men that can do the job. If you can’t select them, you have failed already.
46 years after the civil war, some young Igbo men are asking for Biafra, as someone, who played key roles during the war, what message do you have for them?
I don’t think I have any strong message for them because even the way they are going about it is not the right way. I fought the war and I suffered all the inconveniences of the failure of that war. What they are doing, I have not been able to understand.
And I believe that if they can subject themselves to a little discussion, we will be able to talk to them and they will be able to understand what should be done. Criticising them will not be the solution, but if they are willing to be talked to, we will do that. I believe that if we are able to talk to them and the government, both sides will see sense in what to do and solve the problem.
What sort of Nigeria do you wish to see in the nearest future?
Every young man will know the type of Nigeria we desire. Right now, Nigeria is in chaos. That is what it is. So, the Nigeria we want is where there is peace, progress, development and general wellbeing of the people. The problems in the country are the symptoms of a disease. We have to identify what the disease is and not chasing symptoms.
Diagnosis of the disease is the first thing before applying the right medicine. A good leader cannot emerge in the country through the type of fraudulent elections we often have, deceit and looting of the treasury. Now, the problem has got to the stage of kidnapping, raping, and assassinations.