…Asks Buhari to look beyond his team for the truth
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Elder statesman, Gen Alani Akinrinade, ret, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to spend time with people outside his cabinet to get the true picture of the state of the nation.
He also urged the President not to ignore those who seem to have lost hope in the country, saying it is incumbent on him to spearhead what he described as the reorganisation of the country.
The former Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development said these in a chat at his Lagos residence ahead of his 80th birthday.
In the interview which would be published fully next Thursday, Akinrinade, who is also a civil war hero, spoke on his life, stewardship to the nation, key national issues, and roles of certain persons at some critical junctures in Nigeria among others.
He also corrected some historical accounts that had been told to suit individual and group interests, stating that Nigerians should quit devoting energy to things that do not elevate the nation.
The Osun State-born statesman, who played active roles in the struggle for the restoration of democracy during the regime of the late Gen Sani Abacha, also provided fresh perspectives on how to make Nigeria work again.
His words: “Things don’t necessarily have to be the way they are now. We are wasting too much energy on unnecessary things. We are even making unnecessary laws for ourselves because we don’t see eye to eye. If you have a house where people do not see eye to eye, a lot of resources would be wasted on inanities. We still don’t hear each other loud and clear. I expected that he (President Buhari) could have spearheaded the idea of reorganising the federation himself.
“If you are in a system that does not work, it is important to sit back and see what others are seeing to know the one that catches your fancy. But to leave it in abeyance does not make sense to me. That is why I would still tell the President that I thought he was smarter than what I am seeing. To say that he didn’t want to hear about the 2014 Confab does not make him smart.
“His party set up a committee that came up with a report. In that report, there are simple issues which will not radically change what is happening in the country but will help to restore order. You could pick that to bring hope and disabuse the minds of those who are saying you don’t want to do anything. But we seem to just give up. You can’t leave people who have concluded that nothing is going to change. You can’t just ignore them but that is what they are seeing under your watch.
“He could get smarter. I think he needs to spend a little time with people who do not belong to his team to hear more about what is going on in the country. Those who you see every time don’t see further than you do.
“20 years of democratic governance is a long time but we have not found the formula when compared to the quality of human lives. Our citizens expected that they would be better now but we are still groping around. We are still arguing about inanities and we have done very poorly. Those in government may tell you a different story but I don’t agree. This country can do much better. Some of my friends sometimes are scared of disasters happening to us, but I tell them that it is good for some disasters to happen so that we would wake up. But we remain careless. How can we still be arguing over the religion and tribe of those who occupy positions of leadership?
Tried in absentia
Reflecting on his National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, days, he said his only regret is that what is happening in Nigeria is rubbishing the efforts of pro-democracy activists.
He said: “A lot of people lost their lives and a lot of people suffered so much. And seeing where we are today, one begins to question if our NADECO struggle was worth it. But if we didn’t get involved in the struggle, what else could have happened? Let us keep struggling because the tunnel is dark.
“Maybe we would see the light someday. When I was tried in absentia, I didn’t pay attention. What I knew was that Abacha’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Tom Ikimi, went to Auckland to say that Soyinka and I were planting bombs around Lagos.
“He said I was an accomplished bomb maker. The Nigerian Army can testify that I was not part of the engineering corps. We were taught how to lay mines but the making of bombs was never our business. Saying that I was an accomplished bomb maker was laughable. I didn’t know the details of the trial by the Abacha regime but I got a letter in London from Chief Segun Osoba which stripped me of my rank. We just laughed over it. I didn’t know how he brought it to London. The idea of stripping me of my rank did not change my personality. I was not born a general’’
Asked if he was surprised that Abacha, who worked under him as a junior officer, became a despot, he said: “I am still waiting to read and hear from people who would assess those, who surrounded Abacha when he became the Head of State. I was not close to him like I am close to Ibrahim (IBB) and Aliyu Gusau but he served under me. He was Brigade Commander in my division for several years.
“At the time, as a GOC, things were so hard that I hardly slept in my house for two days. I was always on the road to visit the barracks to keep soldiers in the barracks. Abacha was like a distant commander, who I saw periodically. I want to know those who surrounded him because, sometimes, it is the people a leader defers to that shape who the leader becomes.”
The birthday lecture, which promises to be a melting pot, holds next Thursday in Ibadan.