Col. Dickson Ahaba Itodo (retd), is a retired colonel and a former Chief Pharmacist of the Nigerian Army who became a gospel preacher because according to him, Jesus Christ physically appeared to him and asked him to go round the world and preach the gospel. The Presiding Bishop of Liberty Square Ministries and Director of Liberty Square Academy in this chat with Vanguard, speaks on the Nigeria he grew up in, the mess the country has found itself in, the way forward, and declares that the Nigerian Government is capable of solving the security problem.
By Ebele Orakpo
What was Nigeria like when you were growing up?
As you already know, I am retired but not tired. I retired from active military service on January 9, 2001 because Jesus appeared to me physically in my bedroom at 2:30am and asked me to go preach the gospel around the world. I was actually a career soldier having started from the Nigerian Military School at age 12. I served the Army for 26 years (1975 – 2001) so my leaving the military was because of the call for gospel service. I am a Nigerian to the core and I love Nigeria.
I grew up in Nigeria; I still remember Nigeria in the civil war days; I was already mature enough to know that war was going on. I can tell you about the Nigeria of the late 60s, 70s, 80, and 90s.
Nigeria’s #1 problem
I believe the number 1 problem of Nigeria is our faulty structure. The structure we are operating on now and the constitution that backs the structure cannot thrive, it was not well conceived and so Nigeria cannot thrive. The cry for restructuring which people mistake for cry for break away or splitting or balkanisation of the country is totally different from that. What we are saying is: Let us sit down and discuss the way out because we had a colonial master that handed over to us; then the military came in, tailored it to match the way they wanted it and then, we continued that way up till now. We need to sit down under a civil atmosphere and discuss. Thank God democracy has come to stay and I think that was because of the wisdom of the previous administration. The problem with Nigeria is that we don’t build on previous efforts.
The national conference was a wonderful idea and I believe all the members of both APC and PDP were part of the conference. We just needed to have implemented that. I think they should sit down work on it.
If we restructure Nigeria, there will be progress. I repeat, restructuring doesn’t mean breakaway or balkanisation; no! That’s a wrong concept. it’s about sitting down and weighing all our options and apportioning who is entitled to what, and who is to do what.
Nigeria is so blessed
Nigeria is so blessed in every way. God is so wonderful. Look at Zamfara State, did you know that the whole thing was all about gold? They even saw some diamond and other precious metals there! That’s enough to take care of that state. I learnt the dry fish I ate in my house was from Chad, That’s enough to keep Borno State because that is the major item of trade in the Chad Basin. I’m from Kogi State and we and Benue have about the largest yam tubers. So every state can survive on its own, it’s just to encourage grassroots development of what they have. I am an advocate of restructuring.
Most of our problems stem from ethnicity and religion. How do we overcome that?
As a young boy growing up in the late 60s and to the 70s, 80s, this tribal thing was not an issue; it was not so prominent as it is now. I still remember that the Fulani herdsmen we are talking about today were our neighbours and friends. We lived together, I never saw any of them carry arms. My uncle married a Hausa-Fulani lady from Adamawa State. I know some Igbos that married Fulani ladies back in the 60s and 70s so this also had to do with what is going on now.
I believe that most of our national security crises came up during this political era because politicians have a way of fanning the embers of war and ethnic and tribal sentiments to their advantage so it’s not a problem in itself, it’s a problem caused by politicians and that is because of lack of restructuring. When we restructure and get back to the system we were using before we brought this presidential system, everybody has something to survive on.
Make centre less attractive
There will be enough for everybody; the centre becomes less attractive while the federating regions become more attractive.
If you go by the present six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, these zones can survive on their own. If you plough the resources of these zones, they are enough to take care of the zones. So to me, I believe the whole thing has to do with the political class fanning the embers of war, beating war drums and heating the polity just to score cheap political points and have political advantage.
Do you believe the last election was militarised?
To be honest with you, I have not taken time to really analyse that. I’m aware of opinions of people saying ‘oh, it was militarised, particularly in Rivers State and all of that. The military I know and grew up in, will not do a thing like that. So when they said that, I said: ‘how can?’ I kept asking some of my retired and even some serving colleagues, how could this be? If you look at the average military setting in the barracks for example, it’s a mini Nigeria. If you line up 100 soldiers, as long as it’s a typical Nigerian Army, you will see Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Igala, Idoma, Tiv, Ibibio etc., because the selection method in the Army is quota-based so you can’t just gather 100 soldiers and they are all pro-one tribe, no!
The military is the most detribalised institution in Nigeria today so whether it is true or not, I can’t say but I’ll find it so difficult to believe that it happened. I probably would think that may be some politicians armed their thugs with military kits because I know they impounded some military uniforms and AK-47 rifles at the port just before the elections. I read the report in the newspapers so I began to think that could it be these armed militias posing as military men? But again, this is a political era, the politicians could just buy off a commanding officer and ask him to bring out his troops. I won’t doubt that such a thing could happen but I’m not part of the security operatives in the Army to know whether it happened or not. I don’t have much to say about that.
Insecurity in Nigeria is at unacceptable levels. Government seems helpless. What ‘s the way forward?
Security is not in the hands of ordinary Nigerians; it is in the hands of government and the security agencies. That is their primary duty.
President Buhari has everything going for him – a former military man, former military head of state, a general and now the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. We pray for divine intervention. It’s not something that is out of our hands; it can be controlled and I want to believe that in all good conscience, security will be President Buhari’s number one pursuit in this second tenure.
The truth is that no outsider will help us; it’s an internal matter. These people are nothing but a bunch of untrained, non-military and unrefined civilian fighters and we have a well trained Armed Forces so they can win this war against insecurity.
What do you think about the Nigerian economy?
I don’t have any other solution, just restructure first. When we talk about economic development, I just say give us light. When people are talking about the problems of Nigeria – our economy and all, I say you just bring light. You see, when God wanted to solve the problem of the new world which he created, he said: ‘Let there be light,’ Genesis 1:3 and light brought about every other thing.
Bring light to Nigeria now, let every village, town, community, city have 24-hour uninterrupted power supply and the economic situation will just normalise. People will begin to go about their businesses, life will be easier, the economy will improve and the naira/dollar rate will improve so I believe that it’s as a result of our not really getting it right politically. That, to me, is the number one problem of Nigeria.
Is democracy working in Nigeria?
To be sincere, I believe that democracy in Nigeria is growing though at a very slow pace but then, we compare ourselves with some democracies and nations like the US. I used to say let’s not forget that we are just under 60 years.
How old is Ghana?
Ghana is about three years older than Nigeria but not as diverse and as populated Nigeria. It’s not easy to lead about 200m people. Ghana is under 50m and South Africa is about 26m so when you hear that some African countries have broken through and are on the path of rapid growth, you are talking of a smaller manageable number.
So is population a problem? China has a population of about 1.4 billion and yet, making rapid progress…
Population is not a problem. China is advanced democracy; even with their communist ideology, they have been advanced for years. We are just evolving; you know we came out of colonial rule with colonial mentality and that is still playing a large part.