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I protected a former colleague fighting on Biafran side – Abdulsalami

We must avoid war

*Endorses Violence Free World project, VFW
*On N-Delta militancy: Give and take will solve problem
*On Boko Haram: Let’s be careful on assumptions
*On civil war: I protected a former colleague fighting on Biafran side

By Charles Kumolu 

SINCE it was conceived by veteran broadcaster and culture activist, Mr. Cally Ikpe, and its adoption by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, the Violence-Free World, VFW, project has remained a viable vehicle.

•Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, retd

From the naming of some eminent Nigerians as peace icons to the VFW show, which now holds on the platform of the Ooni’s House of Oduduwa Foundation, the VFW project has been outstanding in non-violence advocacy in a country where violence has become a handy tool.

The fact that violence, today, threatens the fabrics of the nation, on a huge scale, makes the programme very attractive to Nigerians. And that is why those enthusiastic about the novel programme cut across age, background, and class. The latest person to key into the VFW is a former Head of State, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, (retd), who, in this interview at his Lagos residence, endorsed the project and urged Nigerians to support the cause.

While hosting the VFW team at his residence he drummed support for the project, calling on Nigerians to support the cause. 

Ikpe, on his own part,  told the elder statesman that   his relentless campaign to promote peace in the country has served greatly to inspire the VFW initiative.

 “ I am eagerly looking forward to seeing the former head of state engage the youth audience directly during the forthcoming Peace Icons 2017, as he speaks on the theme: the illusion of gains from violence. Our target is to get as many iconic individuals and institutions and celebrities to also lend their voices to the cause,” the project initiator said.

Details of this year’s Peace Icons program are still being worked out.

Those who have keyed into the programme as Peace Icons include Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah; a former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; ex-Delta State governor, De. Emmanuel Uduaghan; Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, and Tuface Idibia.

 You have consistently preached peace. And the efforts you and some statesmen made to ensure that the 2015 general elections held in a peaceful atmosphere are ever green. Having done that, how do you feel about the spate of violence and instability in the country at the moment?

Certainly, like any other individual, it makes me sad; it is sad seeing the carnage violence brings to the society. Apart from destabilising the society, violence does not achieve anything in the short and long run. I feel very sad. Besides bringing sorrow, it does not achieve anything.

Prof James Tsaaior of Pan Athlantic University; Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar,retd, and Mr. Cally Ikpe during the presentation of the WFW insignia in Lagos

You are seen everywhere as a man committed to the unity of this country. At the moment, the country needs initiatives that would further promote unity. In what ways do you think Nigeria’s unity can be promoted?

Every citizen loves this country. It’s just a matter of passion regarding the way people handle what makes them happy and what they are doing. I believe the generality of Nigerians want peace and they can do all they could to ensure peace. But, unfortunately, the few miscreants who are making life uncomfortable for the people, I don’t know where they get their support from; I don’t know what their motivation is. Some of the things they do are senseless. For example, the vandalization of government assets cannot be justified. People destroy a school that their children will attend, where does that lead the society?

There is a need for every one of us to bring our children up in the right way to live in a decent society. There is a need for the authorities to ensure there is law enforcement by bringing deviants back to the right way. A lot can be done by the society.

70 years ago when we were children in the villages, any elder that saw you doing something wrong in the society will correct you; whether he was your father or not did not matter. And your parents will not challenge the person; rather, parents will thank the elder. But these days, we say we are educated and we are protecting our human rights. In doing that, we forget that where our right ends is the beginning of somebody’s right.   We forget that people will respect us by what we are doing.

A lot of people are beginning to see violence as a means of achieving results in the country. If you look at it in line with the trend, what do you say?

It is very sad for someone or people to think that violence or crime will pay in the long run. They can go through history to see how the lives of criminals have been. They are always on the run. In whatever, they do, it does not pay them and they will live in perpetual hiding and perpetual sorrow because, whatever they do, their conscience will haunt them. Certainly, the young people in the country should try to avoid violence because it does not pay.

 There is this feeling that the elite pay lip service to the campaign against violence in the country. It is even believed in some quarters that some elite benefit from violence and, therefore, are not committed to discouraging its spate in the country?

Let us just try to run away from the generalisation that some of the leaders enjoy the proceeds of violence in the communities. Well, maybe one or two but it is not good to generalise.   There is no leader in any community, state, federal setting and global stage that will be happy seeing his domain engulfed in violence or seeing violence being meted to his subject. That is not possible.

The general belief is that if the leaders were committed to discouraging those things that gave rise to violent tendencies and dispositions among the populace, the situation would not have been this terrible in Nigeria.

My belief is that that there is no leader anywhere in the world that will take delight in hurting the same people he is leading. Maybe some people, who are very negligible, came to power through that.   I believe you are talking about electoral violence being perpetrated using the youths. I am sure that most of our politicians are doing their best to ensure that they seek elections without violence.

It appears criminality is becoming an industry. For instance, when suspected high profile kidnapper, Evans, was arrested, opinions were divided with many saying that he had not done much harm like the politicians who sponsor violence and also loot the treasury. What is your take?

There is a lot to be said about the current situation we are facing in the country. For example, one of my grandchildren asked why other countries that do not have oil and other resources like Nigeria are not involved in criminality like Nigeria.

This question came from a young girl who is just growing up. So, there is need to work on the psyche of our people. We need to make them understand that they don’t need to go into crime to survive. There are legitimate ways to make life worth living. Again, government needs to provide the wherewithal for everybody to be gainfully employed. Talking about the fellow you are talking about, I think the society is not being fair to politicians by comparing them with criminals, who go about abducting people and putting them into sorrow. That is all I have to say on this issue.

As one of the ways to curtail to curtail the spate of criminality in the country, some state governments have come up with capital punishment. Do you believe such measure will reduce the spate of criminality in the country?

Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar,retd.

We are getting to a situation where human rights activists, to me, are protecting criminals rather than victims. I believe that both religions have guidance on how to deal with criminals on various offenses. I believe also that the Nigerian law provides punishment for offenses. And it is my belief that whatever is provided by the Constitution and other laws should be visited on criminals.

On preferential treatment, agitations

I do not support any idea about petting any criminal but there is always another side to a coin in any story. Talking about the Niger Delta militancy and others who are making violence their trade mark, I want to say that the system of government should be looked into whether there are equity and justice.

These militants feel aggrieved. And I think that if we look at the cause of violence in Nigeria and try to address them from their roots, I believe we might get to the root of this thing and kill it. I think that in the society which we are living, some people will try to use the opportunity to further their interest. Again, this is where the last question about applying the law comes.

If this is done, I believe it will reduce this patronage. Again, whatever it is, in governance, there is give and take. A leader is responsible for governing his people and if there are persons or group of people, who want to make the society ungovernable and make life very uncomfortable, the leader has to look into ways of having a trade by barter to solve the problem.

On permanent solution to violence in Nigeria

Let us not leave everything to government. The citizen has a responsibility. The people carrying out violence have parents, friends, and associates. It is the responsibility of their parents, criminals, and elders to check the activities of these criminals. Government cannot be everywhere at the same time. It is the responsibility of these people to discourage violence tendencies. There is a need for every one of us to carry out his responsibilities.

On Boko Haram

It is unfortunate. Who in his right sense will like to be recruited into Boko Haram? And who will take his child or ward to become a member of Boko Haram? I think we will get to the root causes of the Boko Haram insurgency. What is their philosophy? What do they want? At the beginning, they said they wanted to secure justice because of the injustice they claimed was meted out to them. But you don’t secure justice by killing everybody in sight. Why capturing and conscripting people to become members? It is important for us to do more to find out more about what is wrong with our society.

Look at ISIS today, it is the same thing that Boko Harm is doing that they are doing.   How they punish their members shows that no one in his right senses will join them. Again, the talk that people are encouraging and supporting Boko Haram because they are benefiting does not hold ground. Benefit in what sense? We have to be very careful because anything people start saying over and over whether it is true or not, is assumed to be true over time. I can say that Boko Haram is a movement that is bringing sorrow and destruction to the society. And it is my belief that the whole world should be concerned about these people, who are bringing terror in the society.

Would you like to share with us moments that you experienced violence during your career?

Unfortunately, it was during the civil war. It easily comes to mind. During the war, we were fighting fellow citizens. In the sector where I fought, unfortunately, I fought against a colleague, who was my roommate and who trained alongside me. The war brought me face to face with this fellow in the battle ground and I had to protect his life. So, you can see that war is evil and we should do as much as possible to avoid anything that will bring any other war to this country and other countries in the world.

You were fighting against someone and, at the same time, you tried to protect him. Can you expatiate on that incident so that people will learn from such experience?

There was no fight between this individual and I. War was brought to us by circumstances and we found ourselves facing each other on the war front. By protecting him, the action protected my troops and his people because we came to an understanding and there was a ceasefire.

On things that promote violence in Nigeria

People in the industry should censor themselves on the things they produce because violent scenes also encourage people to be violent. It is not only in Nigeria that people dish out things without censorship. I hope people will censor themselves and ensure that they do the right thing. They should consider if what they are producing will affect the society positively or negatively. People who produce violent films should look at the other side to produce films that will promote peace and morality. I am glad that you came my way and I hope other people will emulate what you are doing so that we can all be happy people in this society.



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