… ‘I joined the air force to fight apartheid’
By Kingsley Omonobi, Abuja
The Ovie of Umighwa – Abraka Kingdom in Delta State, HRM Lucky Ochuko Ararile, Avwaeke 1, says it is as if Nigeria is fighting a war that is undeclared because we have the same issues with Somalia, Congo Democratic Republic and Afghanistan, all of which are at war. The retired air vice marshal in the Nigerian Air Force also says Nigeria’s unity is negotiable.
Nigeria at 57, how do you assess the journey so far?It’s been tough and challenging because we are not where we expect to be. All the same, Nigerians are very hopeful people and we are hoping to get our bearing right.
Some people praise President Muhammadu Buhari over his anti-corruption fight while others blame him for the nation’s woes. What is your take?
The anti-corruption fight is necessary to put things in proper perspective. Remember that this fight has always been on; it’s only that we have a new momentum. We have achieved some success, though limited, probably because of the ill-health of Mr. President.
All the same, I think we are making progress and we are in the right direction but certain things needs to be put in place: Structures, institutions because we thought by now that special courts would have been established. The EFCC and the ICPC, for example, are not adequately empowered to carry out their functions.
The institutions should learn from their own experiences and improve on their performances.
What is your take on the controversial agitation of IPOB?
I think it is within their right as guaranteed by the United Nations (UN) Charter on Human Rights. They are not the only ethnic group agitating in Nigeria. Even before IPOB, we had MASSOB. I doubt if the country is fair enough. People should have a sense of equity but, rather, people feel alienated; or you may wish to call it marginalized.
What that means is that we don’t have a sense of buying into the Nigerian project. I am told they have been banned; that is no solution to the problem. I believe they will continue their struggle whether they have been banned or not.
The truth of the matter is that their sense of alienation must be addressed; their sense of unfairness of the Nigerian system must be addressed and not just in the South-East but also in the Niger Delta; even in the North-East but the prevailing problem in the latter (North-East) according to a research is majorly poverty as well as alienation and thirdly the handling of Boko Haram.
In talking about the Nigerian unity, everybody must be carried along and we must have a certain sense of proportion and lack of arrogance. You cannot talk about Nigerian unity and proclaim that Nigeria is not negotiable. Even the United States of America continues to talk about unity; the British are still talking about unity; European Union is talking about unity.
So, you must carry people along. It is not a question of declaration; you cannot force unity on anybody. So, we must address the issue politically, economically, socially and carry everybody along so that we can have peace.
Operation Python Dance is believed by many to have been the cause of the latest violence in Igboland when troops clashed with some IPOB members. Was the exercise by the military okay? There is plan to launch Operation Crocodile Smile 2 in the South-South/South West. Is it necessary?
I don’t know the information the military is working on. All I know is that they can do all the dances they want, but if the key issues are not addressed, they are not going anywhere.
Do you see IPOB as a terrorist group?
There are arguments for and against. The Nigeria government says by the country’s law, IPOB is a terrorist group. But based on international law, the Americans have said they are not a terrorist group.
You are a retired AVM, how do you compare your period in the military with the present military?
I don’t know if I have the necessary information to do that comparison because I am no more there. So, it will be unfair for me to make comparison because the times have changed. It is possible they have a totally different method, even in technology; in fact, my time might be totally different. So, those static analyses are not there but the fact is that they have a constitutional responsibility to defend the country against external aggression.
Regrettably, they have been employed in duty totally against their responsibility while what is ancillary has become their primary duty; in other words, they have taken over the responsibility of the police.
And that frightens me because if you civilianize the military, where you see them at check points, collecting bribe like the police; it is a bad thing. So, my take on that is that gradually the military should disengage from doing police duty; they should focus on their constitutional responsibility. If the police are inadequately manned, then they should increase the personnel to do their job, that is why we have a lot of tension and even in co-ordination there is no synergy; there is competition.
Instead of making the police work, they created another body called the EFCC and I tell you that the EFCC is still basically police. If the police are not doing their job, national (civil) defence corps comes up, who are struggling with the police to do their job.
Presently, I hear plans are on to introduce national peace corps; so, next time, we are going to get the Boy Scouts involved; in fact there is confusion everywhere; regrettably, everybody is doing everybody’s job and that is why there is inefficiency, lack of effectiveness; sadly you cannot hold anybody responsible.
Do you have any reason to regret serving in the military?
No, no, no. If I have any regret, it is the fact that my primary purpose of enlisting in air force was to fight apartheid in South Africa, but it was resolved peacefully. So, I was engaged in other operations such as ECOMOG, where I was involved for twenty years. Whatever operations we had in West Africa, I was involved. So really in terms of professional satisfaction, I didn’t have anything to regret.
What do you feel about the current democratic system in place in Nigeria?
That is a tough one because you think in terms of input and output. The Houses of Assembly are performing below expectation which forces you to ask if indeed the price we are paying for democracy is worth it, I mean getting value for money and that is why the issue of restructuring must be addressed.
The creating of more states or going back to regionalism is not the issue. There are fundamental changes that have to be carried out. One of the changes is the Constitution.
A lot of things in the Constitution are inimical to development; the Land Use Act for example has to be looked at; local government autonomy is the way to go and we need state police although they might not have the power of the federal police and they are not mutual exclusive.
In the United States, for example, you have county police, but they have specific duties. Their federal police, for example, if you commit a crime like murder in a state and you run to another state, it becomes an issue for the FBI. So, we can copy from America, after all the 1999 Constitution as amended is a copy of the American system. There are structural issues to be addressed.
I know work has been done by the various conferences and the last one tagged the 2014 Confab that was convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan. The report is there and that is why it is a little discomforting that they will be going around the country to gather opinions.
Some of these issues have been discussed extensively; it is just to bring out the documents and implement, because the unnecessary going round and round like the barber chair does not serve any purpose.
It is a waste of time and money. We are in a country that should be in a hurry, in fact, we should be running, we cannot be crawling the way we are doing now. If you look at all the human development indices, it is as if we have been at war from the beginning.
If you tabulate from the United Nations report, you will see that all the categories we belong to seem we are at war. We have the same issues with Somalia, Congo Democratic Republic and Afghanistan, so, it is as if we are fighting a war that is undeclared. We are actually at war.
Your Kingdom has been peaceful, except for pockets of crisis caused by issues of herdsmen attacks. How have you been able to address them?
We had a crisis which saw a few persons being killed by herdsmen. And what we did was to use the structure on ground. In this regard, I will like to commend the commissioner of police, Delta State whose responses have been wonderful. We wrote to the Inspector General of Police. We equally informed the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) Zone 5. And the issues were resolved and there has been peace.
Still on the issue of restructuring, some people say the way out is parliamentary system of government. Others suggest regional system and true federalism. Where do you stand?
It is clear we inherited the name and not in practice. Any system will do but the basis of the system should be fairness, equity and justice.
How would you score the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
He has done well despite the state of his health; probably because of that (ill health), our expectations have not been meant. There is deficit in his performance. Even when sometimes one has the impression that the country is not well piloted, he should do more. He should try to go beyond his familiar surroundings in picking people that he works with.
I don’t want to use the word nepotism. But he needs to trust all Nigerians, and it is even better to give a job to somebody who is not close to you because it is easier to fire him if he is found wanting. If you appoint people on nepotism, it will be difficult for you to remove your appointees from office.
Urhobo, being the fifth largest ethnic group in the country, would you say they are getting their fair share of the national cake?
I have been asked that question severally. I always say we are marginalized. Really, who is not marginalized in this country? So, let’s put in place structures and institutions that will guarantee the achievement of our aspirations.
How long have you been on throne and what is the experience like?
I have been here for five years now. Like everything, leadership in Nigeria is challenge. It is even more challenging in the traditional institution because you are given responsibilities without resources. It’s not as if you have been given a job and here are the resources to do the job or carry out your responsibilities. Sadly, it is just like open cheque. Because responsibility without authority, no resources and wherewithal, you have to be innovative and create platforms.
Local government elections in Delta are around the corner; what is your advice to contestants?
Every citizen of this kingdom has the right to join any political party of his/her choice, they are all my subjects. I cannot prefer one to the other. Now, competition is enormous in Nigeria election because of what the people expect in the end.
I will encourage the parties that, in the process of selecting their candidates, they should avoid on relying on people who are virtually jobless. The only job they know is politics.
They should push forward people with impetus, armed with good educational qualifications and can work with experience and resources which they can fall back on should there be a change of events. You should not allow somebody who you know will not deliver be voted into office.