By Mike Ebonugwo, Features Editor
IF it is possible one could conveniently describe General Julius Alani Ipoola Akinrinade as a soldier by birth and inclination, to borrow the words of Nigeria’s literary icon, Professor Wole Soyinka. But no one is born a soldier; you become a soldier either by voluntary enlistment or conscription. For Akinrinade, the former was the case. But he certainly was no ordinary, run of the mill soldier; he was a soldier who saw a lot of combat action and lived to tell the scary tales of it all.
It was a story that began when he joined the Nigerian Army in 1960. And from the rookie that emerged from cadet school he subsequently passed through several ranks to attain the rank of Lieutenant General. He had as his companions on the day he joined distinguished officers we know today as Colonel Sule Apollo, Brigadier General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, Major General Emmanuel Olumuyiwa Abisoye, Brigadier General Alabi-Isama, Colonel Ben Gbulie, General Yakubu Theophilus Danjuma, Major General Martins Adamu, Lt-Colonel Ayo Ariyo, Brigadier Pius Eromobor, Brigadier Ignatius Obeya, Brigadier General Femi David Bamigboye and Colonel Simon Uwakwe Ihedigbo.
But it would appear that destiny had his career path cut out for him as a man of history. Perhaps to illustrate this is an interesting and indeed engaging story told by Emeka Obasi about this man who through the circumstance and accident of his soldierly calling became one of the principal actors in the leadership succession struggles that broke out in the First Republic, culminating in a civil strife that almost put paid to Nigeria’s emergent, if not fledgling, nationhood.
According to the story, Akinrinade who was a Lieutenant Colonel when the civil war broke out soon found himself in the thick of some of the bloodiest battles fought at different fronts. He was Commanding Officer, CO, Sixth Brigade of Nigeria Army’s Second Division under Colonel Murtala Muhammed. His tour of duty during the war took him from Ifon, Sobe to the Mid West to the Eastern Region. But particularly remarkable was the attempt by Nigerian troops under different commanders to cross the Niger Bridge on two occasions which ended in disaster. Not satisfied with the development, especially the high casualty to troops, Lt. Col. Akinrinade was said to have challenged Murtala’s tactics. So when he was asked to lead a third attempt, he refused and left in protest.
His next posting was the Third Marine Commando Division under Col. Benjamin Adekunle and later Col. Olusegun Obasanjo. From commanding the 15 Brigade in Bonny, Akinrinade became Commander, Sector Two from where he led operations in Aba and Owerri. His exploits and experiences are story materials from which blockbuster war movies are made, especially given the accounts of his many close shaves with death. But happily he survived all the near-death encounters, came back stronger and emerged from the war as General Staff Officer, GSO, One, of the Division with some of the Brigade commanders under his control as Majors George Innih, Philemon Shande and Sam Tomoye.
From here he continued his steady rise through the ranks which began with his being promoted Lieutenant on March 29, 1963; then Captain on March 29, 1965; Major on June 10, 1967; Lieutenant Colonel on May 11, 1968; Colonel on October 1, 1972; Brigadier-General on October 1, 1974 and Major General on January 1, 1976.
Within these periods, he held various infantry appointments, including serving as Commander of the Ibadan Garrison (1970–1971) and GOC of 1 Infantry Division (1975–1979). And between 1975 and 1979, he was a member of the Supreme Military Council during the military regimes of Generals Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo. He was promoted to Lieutenant General on October 2, 1979 and appointed Chief of Army Staff. The promotion did not stop there. In 1980 he had the distinguished honour of being appointed the first Chief of Defence Staff during the Second Republic civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. But by October 2, 1981, he voluntarily retired from service.
The period following his retirement opened another important chapter in his life. It is a chapter that features his engagement in large-scale farming which paved the way for him to become chairman of Niger Feeds and Agriculture Operations between1982 and 1985. He later served as Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development between 1985 and 1986, Minister of Industries (1988 – February 1989) and Minister of Transport in 1989.
Though retired from military duties, events were to later prove that his soldierly instincts were very much in place, waiting to be activated. It took the cancellation, by the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime, of the June 12, 1993 presidential election widely believed to have been won by the late Chief MKO Abiola to trigger it into action. The refusal of that regime and the one led by the late General Sani Abacha to re-validate Abiola’s mandate led to the formation of a pro-democracy pressure group known as the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO.
Re-validation ofAbiola’s mandate
General Akinrinade did not hesitate in identifying with the group and became a leading light in its struggle against the Abacha regime. Indeed, using NADECO as a platform, Akinrinade, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the late Enahoro, Wole Soyinka, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and several others, mounted and sustained a campaign that forced IBB to step aside and practically crippled the Abacha junta, leading to its eventual demise.
Though an elderly statesman, he is still very active in the renewed quest reform and restructure Nigeria. And by so doing, General Akinrinade maintains his status a national leader who can be counted upon to lend a credible voice to issues that will promote peace and development in the country; he remains a prominent Yoruba leader who speaks truth to power, especially when the interest of his people are threatened.
And having served his country with nationalistic dedication, almost paying the supreme price in the process, Vanguard recognises Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade as a hero worthy to be celebrated, hence his inclusion in the eminent list of Vanguard Personality of the Year Awards 2018 in the Lifetime Achievement category. .