•‘Fulani say they own Nigeria. I believe them’
•ON SCHOOLCHILDREN KIDNAPPING: You don’t rule out ransom
payment without providing alternative to rescuing victims
•ON 2023: Let power shift end but Igbo must be President first
By Kennedy Mbele
In this concluding part of his interview with Sunday Vanguard, Brigadier General Godwin Alabi-Isama, Staff Officer at the Third Marine Commando during the Nigerian Civil War, speaks on how Nigeria can be at peace with the Fulani amid the insecurity crisis facing the nation among other issues in the polity. Excerpts:
I am talking about the issues in the North-East, North-West, South-East and what have you. There seems to be too many arms in wrong hands and there is the fear that we might….
Arms in wrong hands… Who is in charge of Customs? Who is in charge of Immigration? Arms in wrong hands… Which wrong hand? For instance, you mean that if I have cutlass or whatever I can fight with me in this house, it is arms in wrong hands? In Benue, 73 people died. Only 40 died in Israel and the Prime Minister was in trouble. 73 people died and the body language of our government…’oh, learn to live together’ or work to that effect and that emboldened the killers. It is like Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State. That young man meant well but I think he didn’t get it right. Fulani people or herders killed people in Southern Kaduna who were supposed to be Christians.
He spoke on television, saying that in order for these people not to kill the Southern Kaduna people again, he was going to give them ransom. He negotiated with them. For me, the first thing as an elder is that the young man meant well but he didn’t have adequate knowledge of what he was doing. I had described that action in an interview as the beginning of Nigeria’s failure if not properly handled. If he was going to pay ransom, how much he paid I don’t know, it could have been any amount.
So if it is fake news that billions of naira was paid, the government has not refuted that. But if I were the governor, God forbid bad thing, I would have called the Southern Kaduna people and requested they stop the killings as they voted for me into power and, as such, are part of the people I swore to protect. I don’t want any more fighting. I will give you N10. Maybe you give them from your pocket; that is for you. But right there in the meeting, you say I will give you N200, at least they know that you gave them something from your pocket. But this money that will be given has to be approved by the state House of Assembly.
They may even give you more or they reduce it but you have both agreed there that I will give you something, don’t touch my people. If you are negotiating, what did you get in return? The military school I attended taught us that you must get something back when you negotiate. That is why I said I would have gotten something if I were him but God forbid bad thing, at 80 what will I be doing there? I would have had them sign an agreement that they will not kill my people again and that if they do, there will be death penalty.
The assembly would discuss all that and give me like two weeks to get back to them. But right now, the attackers believe that the governor can just dip his hand into his pocket and give them N100million. There is no institution to approve the amount to be given to bandits. That is why money is going around everywhere. The fact that the approval has to come from the Assembly ought to have been made known to them and that they may or may not agree.
We have not been able to defeat Boko Haram. Do you think something is wrong with our military?
There is no problem with the military. I pity those boys; they are fighting a fight caused by politicians. The youths are fighting while adults are picking money one by one. It appears as if there is an agenda like this: I need a green card in the US and to marry a white girl; even if you offer me former President Obama’s daughter, my agenda is that I need a white lady. You don’t even bother about the mal-content; whether people are dying or not, you bulldoze your way. So, that, coupled with the body language of government, many people were killed and they announced that only three people died.
But when they realized that many people died, they didn’t come back to say that was the information they got at the Presidency and then release the new figure. Rather, you dismissed it with a wave of hand by describing those complaining as wailing wailers. What language is that? People are dying everywhere and you are talking about wailing wailers. So the body language of government emboldens those killing people. The governor of Niger State said that about 42 villages in his state had been taken over by bandits. Governor El-Rufai said he was not going to pay ransom for kidnapped children.
What alternative did he have in place? What I would have done as a military commander was to get troops ready to go, even if the parents of the children are coming along with me, it is ok, we are going there to look for the children. Troops will lead but we are not doing that. Rather, we say we are not paying ransom. Who asked you to pay the first one? For me, paying the first one was thanking them for killing Southern Kaduna people. But then, you as governor said you are not going to do that anymore. What is the alternative? If I were him I will pay ransom, chase the money but believe me, I will level the whole place.
We should all know that these people (Boko Haram, herders, bandits, etc) are Nigerians and that both APC and PDP are Nigerians too. The President is the head of all: the good the bad and the ugly. He is our President. He is making me to miss the late General Tunde Idiagbon. When Idiagbon was with him, there was regular press briefing, keeping people informed about government policies and programs. Everybody over rated the President saying that if he could do that as a military leader, he could still do it as a democratic leader. Now, everybody is disappointed, saying this is the man we voted for. Before his second term, he got Governor El-Rufai to chair APC Committee which came out with a brilliant report and everyone said, “let’s give him second chance”. Nobody is talking about that now. So, there is mistrust in government.
We are approaching 2023 and there are so many issues on ground. How do we get things right ahead of 2023?
To get things right, I will have to open my book (The Tragedy of Victory) because in it, there are points I made in my vision for unity. One of them was to put citizens right in place. You are a Nigerian: you can vote and be voted for wherever you are. The Fulani say they own Nigeria. Do you know that I believe that? This is because there is no village in Nigeria where you cannot find the Fulani. They were my best friends in my ranch. I gave them grass and water. In return, they gave me fertilizer because what we call fertilizer is not good for our soil. So I prefer animal dung. The Fulani would come, graze in my farm and their cattle defecate, that’s my fertilizer. In addition, they give me a cow on my birthday, December 24, every year. They don’t like killing cows.
Can you believe that? But they would get some people to slaughter it for me and their wives would cook. So, I know them to be very peaceful and I understand their language slightly. For instance, ‘mi’ means me, ‘yeti’ means thank and ‘Allah’ – God. Miyetti Allah means ‘I thank God’. When I heard that they were fighting in Ibarapa (Oyo State) where I had my ranch before traveling abroad, I called them and they said they were not the ones fighting, that their father had even left the area because of fighting. They were my friends. They said many herders came from another place who didn’t even speak Hausa, let alone English language. In page 463 to 466 of my book, The Tragedy of Victory, I discussed unity in our diversity among other pertinent issues. If we had put citizens in place…at the time I wrote the book, people thought I was referring to the Igbo who are almost everywhere too. No! I was thinking about the Fulani after the Maitatsine issue. It is in my report in the Nigerian Army. The only way to handle the Fulani is to integrate them. Nigeria is a native country. The Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba know their villages.
The only immigrants in this county are the Fulani. That is why I like democracy; people can come from anywhere, just as Obama arrived in the US and became the President. If he was in Kenya, he would have probably been driving a commercial bus. The Fulani being integrated into the country is citizen’s right. They are all over the country. They will be councilor, governor and even President. Put true fiscal federalism back in place, after all, that was why we went to war. Gen Aguiyi Ironsi (assassinated Head of State) was killed for installing unitary government. We all know these things. Who is benefiting from the chaos? The next war in Nigeria is not going to be between Nigeria and Biafra. Civil war is better than chaos and anarchy which is unfolding now and must be nipped in the bud. If not nipped in the bud, it will be more expensive to control. There is evil in the land. Who is benefiting from the chaos? If we have state police, it will assist state governments take charge of security of their states.
There is this silly discussion about community police. We don’t have community. Community police exist in countries where you have areas like Maryland in the US. It entails giving black people black police men and the white, white policemen. We don’t have such communities here. We are indigenous people of Nigeria. We have had two national anthems. The first one says ‘Nigeria we hail thee, our own dear native land’. It is not a native land to Fulani and that is why they changed it to the new one.
We don’t have a problem. We have an agenda….. There is no single group that can rule this country. You can’t say the Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo will rule this country single handedly and, when they realized that inability, they said “ok, let everybody go their own way”. If the Yoruba will have their own country as Oduduwa, is it not people like Governor Sanwo-Olu or Tinubu (former Lagos governor and National Leader of APC) that will be there as governor and President of your country? That is back to square one. Will Ijebu not still fight Abeokuta and the rest of them?
You just asked a question, who is benefiting from the chaos? That is a good question from a statesman like you. Now, many commentators are saying that the elites are not saying what they are supposed to say and it appears there was also elite silence before the civil war. What do you say about that?
It is called feudal system of government. It happened in England in 1625 and the people were saying “our king, you have all the resources”. It is like the story we are hearing, that Nigeria is on fire and may not be able to disburse money from the Federation Account to the tiers of government in May, June and July. If you will not be able to pay and the cost of everything, flight, food, petrol, power etc, has gone up, what will the situation be?
Is it revolution like the French or Russia? That was why I also wrote in my book that “whether by restoration or by revolution, sit down and discuss issues”. People are benefiting and when you are eating, you don’t talk with food in your mouth. It is a feudal system. It is monopolistic. It benefits only the elites and they are keeping quiet because of what they gain. How many of them have suggested anything? And the way our political parties are structured is another thing. Baraje, a former Permanent Secretary in Kwara State, explained how rogue herders arrived in Nigeria and refused to go back and are now making large sums of money from ransom. Nobody has refuted his story. The elites are benefiting, just like in the days of Oliver Cromwell when the people said, “we cannot do this, you are the King of England, you have everything, including the army, at your disposal but we are the people, you can’t keep dishing money to us as if we are beggars”. The king did not accept. Rather, he started a war against the people and the people won and, in 1649, they said these are the conditions under which he will be king and that there will be a parliament which will have superior power to the king. It also happened in France with Napoleon.
Now here in Nigeria our leaders are telling us that the feudal system is still the best even if we cannot move forward with it. The richest people are still in the North. But in every village in Nigeria, over 50 percent of the beggars and Okada riders are from the North. In my book, I noted that we might start with a. psychological analysis of our leaders. Some of them are mentally deranged. Senator Adeyemi Smart was crying, they didn’t kill his people, but he said, “How can people be dying like this in a country where I am a senator?” The next thing we heard was people saying the senator was an APC member talking like a PDP member. So, APC has accepted what is happening? You can see the level of cross carpeting in the two parties because there is no ideology.
As we approach 2023, people are talking about power shift. What is your perspective?
I don’t believe in this shift thing. That is why I talked about citizen’s right. An Igbo man could have been governor in Lagos and a Yoruba man governor in Enugu, and a Hausa man governor in Rivers State, etc. But, since we have started it, let the Igbo have their turn and, after that, we start putting some of these things in place. We need means of production and not means of destruction.
Factors of production were killed; local car plants were killed because of our appetite for imported cars. The textile industry was killed. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo went to campaign for President in Aba and they took him to a textile factory and he said he would ban the importation of second-hand clothing if voted into power. As you can see, second-hand clothes have killed the industry and we are complaining about unemployment.
There is the fear in the North that if an Igbo man becomes President…
Cuts in… Is the North dictating who is to be President? That is not that type of country I want. I want a country where we should be able to sit down and discuss who our President should be.
You retired from service long time ago. Can you tell us how life has been and even the circumstances of your retirement?
The army of my country lied against me. Number one, they published a fake gazette. A picture of that gazette is in my book and nobody has said no. They said I wanted to steal N300, 000. In the first instance, my mother did not want me to join the army. In those days, only idiots joined the army especially in Ilorin (where he grew up) but I love the job. They call them soldiers and would say “you want to die in Congo”. Incidentally, as soon as I came back from training, they transferred me to Congo. When my mother saw us during training, marching in the sun, she went and bought a bicycle for me. When we returned from England, my mother bought me a car, she married for me and, by the time the civil war started, I already had six children.
My 7th child, the girl I had after having six boys, is older than General Danjuma’s first daughter. She was born in 1970. My mother will give me that money. Are you saying they have not sent EFCC after me all these days? Of course they have. What will I do with a billion naira? If you give me a billion naira today, what will I do with it? Marry more wives? I have 24 children (15 boys and 9 girls). I have 29 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
So, retirement, I was dancing at my birthday party. I drove from Ibadan alone with only my God sitting down with me. A policeman who saw me alone stopped me and asked, “Sir, you are not a young man the way I see you. Do you have your driver’s license?” I said I have it, I showed him, he saw Brigadier General and asked, “Where is your driver? You are alone”. I asked him, “Who told you I am alone? Look at God sitting here, see Archangel Michael”. And he said, “If you continue like this I will charge you with over-loading”. We laughed and I left. That is the type of Nigeria I am looking for. There are nice people in this country. But there is so much ethnic tension and they turned it to religious tension. In Ilorin, they have this hijab story which was an unfortunate one.
Before you discuss any issue, the proper thing is to trace what went wrong. Muslims said Christians in the school must put on hijab. To me, Christians did not handle it properly. The issue required sitting down and thinking behind the ordinary. Number one, it was in Gowon’s administration that we had too much money and didn’t know what to do with it. General Gowon preferred that we helped people in education like giving more money and aid to missionary schools and they did. General Bamigboye was Kwara governor, another Christian. He could have asked Muslims to take over those schools.
But, today, when they introduced hijab for all girls, Christians, instead of sitting down to negotiate, went to court. You know that if you have a problem in this country or anywhere in your life, you have to negotiate. Who is in the court? Are you sure of getting justice? So, why did you go to court in the first place? Then they had an appeal, who did you find in Appeal Court? The same people. Then they moved to Supreme Court.
What did you expect to get? Because they have given an order in favour of one side, they can’t change it. Therefore, what I expected Christians to do was to map out a strategy. Number one, “Mr Governor, it is ok that hijab issue is there, children are fighting and burning mosques and all that but, now, we are here to discuss the issue with you. “In the first place, you know we have to propagate our own religion, Christianity, as you do yours”. Quran 10: 99 says there is no compulsion in faith. Forced faith is a wrong faith. God has given you the injunction to think how you will serve Him. So forcing people to believe in this or that is wrong. So you would have expected Christians to say alright, you cannot change it.
Mary the mother of Jesus is in the Quran. It is the only name of a woman in the Quran. And, all her pictures, there is always a head tie. In Pakistan, they call it burukar. Now, we know that Mary, the mother of Christ, used to put on hijab. It is ok because government cannot change it, it has favoured one part. “Go on but please don’t allow any mosque to be built on our land. Number two, in each school, there are about 40 teachers, we don’t want more than 10% Islamic teachers. Number 3, we don’t want the principal of any of the schools to be a Muslim. Number 4, we want a Church or a Cathedral, etc”. There are so many things they could have asked for in return for the hijab and not to quarrel. You want to quarrel with government? You will lose. There are strategies behind everything you do in your life. You don’t just start fighting because somebody slapped you because there may be many more at the back yard waiting to swallow you. Christ said when they slap you on your left cheek, turn your right but if you do that today, they will slap you twice.
What were your high points and low points in the 80 years of your life? Any regrets for joining the army, especially as you claimed they lied against you?
No regrets. Am I not the one still talking about Nigeria now? I still love the country. My mother was so happy that they threw me out of the military. She went to then Alake of Egbaland to thank Oba Lipede: “They said it was Obasanjo that sent my son packing. The boy went to Congo, he didn’t die. He went to civil war, I had to follow him; he didn’t die. I thank you”. I was annoyed with her. I said, “Alhaja, you cannot continue to say something like this”.
My mother was very happy and asked me to go to the world and play my part; that my destiny will show. So, when I got to America (US), I became so successful that Obasanjo had to send his wife, Stella, to come find out if I was doing well. That was height of his hatred. Then we got talking, “He is not God. He threw me out of one job, I found another and I am doing well; as you can see we are doing party”. We danced so much and had champagne but, after she left, I drank garri. But I really showed her that I was ok. I introduced my Insurance Manager to her, showed her my staff including my Secretary. I was doing very well. People are looking for honest people to work with. In fact, as a Colonel, I was driving a limousine.
Your mother must have been very rich?
Absolutely. I wrote a book on her.
Your pension, you talked about government owing you…
No. They are not owing me. They didn’t give me pension and gratuity and, from my office in America, we did a project for NITEL. My company did the job in Venezuela and can you imagine David Mark that I recruited into the army in 1961 with Tunde Ogheha, I went to David Mark who was then Minister of Communication, I kept traveling up and down, he didn’t pay me. $1m, we wrote it off.
Do you retired generals have a platform? Do you people reach out informally?
Well, many Nigerians are contactors. Most of my friends are contractors. But I don’t do contracts. In the world today, I have not seen any country that has invested so much like America looking for global peace and their soldiers keep dying as peace keepers. They love Africa even in their foreign policy, they went to Mogadishu. They love democracy so much that they would say, “Oh, you want to remove Buhari that was democratically elected?” They will not support that. But the difference in our own democracy is that you could win an election while in prison. Some people won election while in jail. Such cannot happen in the US.
But I pray that Buhari should not be the last President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Americans have been in Nigeria before but found out that the atmosphere is not the type they would want to operate in. They have a reason for it. All our people are still telling us that our system, which is feudalism, is the best unless we change all that. Some of our senior officers are talking but what is important is to look at the cause. If the Fulani want to rule Nigeria, fine, they can do that without killing anybody. They can do that between now and 2023, if we have citizen’s right in place, they will get their votes everywhere they are. They are all over this country.