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BREAKING !!!: ‘Nigeria Can’t Afford A 2nd War’ – Lt. General Akinrinade (Post Civil War Video, Pix)



‘Nigeria can’t afford a second civil war’ – Lt. General Akinrinade

At 41, he retired as Chief of Defence Staff after a brief stint as Chief of Army Staff. Later, Lt. Gen. Alani Ipoola Akinrinade served as Minister of Agriculture, and later, Industries and delegate to the 1989 Constituent Assembly under the Babangida administration. During the June 12 struggle, he was a key chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The light-skinned General, who is celebrating his 80th birthday today at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, spoke with reporters on his military career, civil war exploits, his ordeals as a pro-democracy crusader, Afenifere crisis, the 2014 National Conference report and the battle for true federalism. Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU was there.

Congratulations Gen. How do you feel celebrating 80?

If you go through some bumps in life and you survive and live up to 80, you feel great.

During the civil war, you escaped death. During the Abacha period, you also escaped death. During those times, did you entertain the fear that you will not clock 80?

Every soldier is really prepared to check out anytime. All is a blessing. There are so many bumps in life. There will be many more. I have spent nine months in the hospital before, which was different from the war front. I went through different operations. When I came out, it was as if I lost some forms of energy. It is a way of life. That was the life of a soldier. A soldier should know that there is the possibility of losing your life. I think what one should pray for is to finish a good course. Some die in some futile ways; get killed by armed robbers.

Why did you choose soldiering as a career?

How I became a soldier? If I say it was a deliberate thing, I will be economical with the truth. As a young person, I loved boys scouting, even from primary school. I used to see my uncle who went to Burma. Next door in the house. He was a hunter. When he came back; fairly elderly. When he went out hunting, he looked like a brave man to me. He told us stories. Usually, in the village, soldiers after the world war used to move about in the village when they were exercising. We used to see them. They came out of their vehicles in the village buying all sorts of things. Their looks had some impressions on young people. They were smarter people. I thought if these people could be like this, I could also be. I left boys scouting in the secondary school and went to interact with different people. I like to live a very outdoor life, very active, practical. So, when I left school and saw one day the UTC store at Ibadan some officers who were shopping and they were younger officers, lieutenants and captains, I didn’t get to know who they were. That was the way we say them as young people. I took the courage to talk to them. They were looking very smart in the old colonial dresses. I had something within me telling me that soldiers were not ruffians. I thought it was not a bad idea.

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I was working in the Ministry of Agriculture as a Clerk. When the advertisement came in the Daily Times, I said why not try. That was the long and short of it. That was how it started. It was not a deliberate thing. In any case, the advertisement said you will train in Nigeria, you will train abroad. I thought that was something. It was going to be competitive. Then, you were to get a big salary that was enough. I thought that was okay. It was better than what you get when you leave the university and start working in the civil service. So, nothing to lose. If I didn’t make it, for instance, I will just go back to my original plan, do my A/Level and find my way to the university and start life. There was nothing really to lose. It was a gamble that was worth it.

In your days in the Army, and up to now, you were described as a master strategist, who advised Murtala against crossing River Niger by foot and against another operation around Owerri…

I think it is not because anyone is smarter or clever. I really don’t believe so. I think when matters come to a head, where we all differ is that some people are not able to stand their ground. It may not be because they didn’t know, but that there may be risks attached to it. Some can’t stand their ground. I think that’s the difference. It is not about being master strategist or not. I was a Major. I should be commanding a company, not a brigade. That was the situation we found ourselves. Experience is one thing. Knowledge is important. It is the best. Many of us had knowledge. Experience? No. but, some people were not quite strong enough to stand their ground. I think that is the only difference. I know some people, who would have done much better, who were my peers too. The problem then was that most of the people who would not stand up and speak were my seniors. They just sat down there. I always said that was lack of guts, because if you know what is to be done, then, stick to it. You suffer the consequence if that is the case. In my own case, all the people who could have done me in, I think I was too close to them for them to do anything untoward. I came back to Lagos to see the Commander-In-Chief, and I returned to the war front. They couldn’t say go and lock this idiot up. Many of those making the mistakes were not properly instructed. You have hierarchy. The Army Headquarters, even the Supreme Commander. The Supreme Commander was not tough on us. He couldn’t put his feet down, that you should not do this. People just did what they wanted to do. That was the atmosphere that pervaded at that time.

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When you were entering the Army, did you ever envisage that soldiers will be in political control for a long time?

The Army and politics? We don’t even mix at all. There was no such time. There was a big wedge between the military and civilian administration. It was not our business at all.

Could the civil war have been averted by the military?

The military are the worst people to resolve a confused situation like the one we had. It was a political problem which could have been solved through political maneuvering, sitting down and talking. But, when you put the military in charge, they are only thinking at the hard power, that if I can really do him in, why should I talk to him. So, that was the difficulty we all had in Nigeria. Military were in charge when things went very very bad. And they made the wrong decisions. They made the war to go on and we lost so many people. Political problems should be solved by politicians. When I joined the Army, the closest I had ever come politician before 1964, for instance, was because I had a friend, who was a lieutenant like me. He has an uncle who was in politics. They were two. The junior one was a parliamentary secretary or so. He has a car, a Chevrolet car. And during weekends, we used to go and borrow it. We took it out Saturday night and that kind of thing. The third time, we got drunk and slept in the Bachelors’ Officers Quarters. And in the morning, they saw the car. The car had no registration in the barracks. Who brought it in? Two idiots. So, we were in for a high jump for that. It was illegal to do it. That was the closest. He was called Omokowajo. He was a parliamentary secretary in the Western Region at that time. But, to sit down with politicians and talk politics? No.

Would the country have been different, if there was no military rule?

I think so. I honestly think so. I think that was the undoing of the political system. When they started jostling for central power and got to the point of people biding together to do people in; like the treasonable felony and that kind of thing. Up to that time, until they started breaching law and order, the military never left their barracks. But, it was only when the police cannot stabilise the system, you call the Army to do it for a short time and go back. The Army is not to govern. You don’t go and sit down in State House and say you want to govern. That is not part of our business. We lost our way.

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Why was your tenure as Chief of Army Staff so short?

Again, it is the carry over problem that started a long time ago. You begin to look for people you know, people you have worked it, people you trust. The argument was going on all the time. You couldn’t have a Yoruba an as Chief of Army Staff at the time. That was the situation.

Your friend, Brig-Gen. Alabi Isama, said we do not know the real account of how Biafra surrendered; that it was you and Major Tumoye that accepted the surrender before you invited Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo…

The account of Alabi is correct. Alabi was in the Third Division. But, when the push was really tough and both of us decided to leave the Third Division; we had had enough of Adekunle. We thought that leaving him there was unfair. Adekunle had fought so hard. Really, the law of diminishing return had been coming. He was beginning to get a little irrational. And when you are commanding human beings, each time you make mistake, it cost human lives. It was worse than political mistake. That was the reason that both of us said if the Commander-In-Chief would not remove him, we better leave. We left and we came back. We persuaded the Commander-In-Chief to change him and he put Gen. Obasanjo. Unknown to us, between Ibadan and the war front, after persuading him to come to the Third Division; and these are terrible stories. That if anyone else who is not Yoruba took over Third Division, he will not succeed. Unfortunately, that was the setting at the time. So, Gen. Obasanjo agreed. He came down. I think he was scared to have me and Isama there. He knew me a little better than Isama. He asked Isama to be posted out. That was how Isama left for the First Division. But, the tactics we finally used was a document that me and Isama had prepared. In our last time with Adekunle, he had started becoming distrustful of us. He was not happy with some of the things he thought we were doing. Also, he also believed that we were not believing in him as our commander. So, he posted us outside of his headquarters. So, Alabi was in Third Sector. I was in Two Sector. That was the mistake he made. The two sectors were adjacent to each other. I was in Aba side. Ayo Ariyo who was a bit senior, but our classmate, much older that we were, was in Calabar. We were saved for Imo River all the way to Calabar. He now put somebody else in the First Sector, who was also our senior, but we didn’t particularly get along with him. In the Second Division, when I quarrel with my own GOC, he was there. He said nothing. They were just sitting down there, allowing the GOC to do whatever he wanted. He now again ended in the Third Division. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. They were having hell in that Owerri sector.

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Adekunle was having a second thought about us. When he left and we came back, I don’t know who briefed him; he decided to send us away. so, it was that work that both of us had done when he was in the First Sector and I was in the Second Sector; because we said we wanted to finish this war, it was not that difficult. We then, presented it to Adekunle. Whether he read it, whether he studied it, we were not sure. But, all he wrote there was that ‘This is tactics lesson one. When am I expecting the next tuition?’ He closed it. We went back to our sector. It was that one that I brushed up and put it purview. I didn’t tell Obasanjo that we were going to execute that. I was fed up sitting in the war front; the war we should have finished in one year, we were there for 30 months. So, we decided to execute it. That was why Isama knew much about it, although he was no more there. Tumoye was there. Ariyo was there.

What are the lessons of the civil war?

It taught us a lot of lessons. What is the last thing that should be in anybody’s mind? Recently, somebody said they wanted a Yoruba nation. IPOB said they wanted Biafra. I asked them: can we sit and iron these things out? If you say no, then, I part company with you. If you can’t, you are telling me that you want to fight a civil war. I don’t know about a country that has survived two civil wars. Secondly, did you see the carnage that the last one caused? Are you telling me that things are not going to be even worse now, if we start one again tomorrow? No. so, war is the last thing on anybody’s mind.

You retired at the age of 41 in 1981. Part of your reason was that President Shehu Shagari was not able to foster better relations among the Army, Navy and Air Force, and that the Chief of Defence Staff should have moderated. Today, there is rivalry among them to the detriment of security of life and property. What do you have to say?

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I think on their own, they do cooperate among themselves. I know they have outer forces where the Army, Navy and Air Force do operate. They are efficient to the extent of the equipment and training available to them. That is what really dictates what happens; the organisation you have and the equipment available to you. They are performing the task within that framework.

In our time, I thought it was because I was the first Chief of Defense Staff, that I said, laid out all these things; what the atmosphere should look like, what the organisation should look like. It was the advice that should be given to the Commander-In-Chief. The Commander-In-Chief has access to all his troop; the Chief of Army, Chief of Navy, Chief of Air Force.

In the case of President Shagari, he was not an ex-soldier. So, it was the duty of his Chief of Defense Staff to protect him, to know what was really going on in real times and take decisions everybody can live with. Once you neglect doing that, you start calling the troop yourself and start buying equipment for them, you invariably end up with an Armed Forces that is not balanced. You don’t have unlimited resources. You want to prepare. So, you really prepare for those challenges. And that is the work of the Chief of Defense Staff. But, if you say you have personal relationship with the Chief of Army Staff, what about the Chief of Naval Staff? You won’t have a force when you are called upon to do so. I don’t like to sit in a place and see things going in a wrong way. I won’t sit down there and say it is not my business. It is my business of all of us. That was why they felt that in those days the Chief of Army Staff was pompous. That feeling that it was about Awolowo was also there.

But, I had my chance to publicly tell all of them. I had the opportunity to tell the Commander-In-Chief my mind. When I went to him, that I wanted to leave, he asked people to talk to me that I should stay. I really don’t know why I would want to stay. He said he was not too happy that everybody he sent to me, Akinjide, Akinloye could not convince him. Nobody was there when I decided to join the Army. Why should you make it your business when I wanted to leave? That is my decision. When I now saw the big boss himself, he was not happy. Well, I also told him that I was not happy either. I said I saw them as a bunch of people who wanted to commit suicide and I said I was not in the business of committing suicide with anybody. I thought that will open the way for a big discussion between both of us. But, he didn’t ask the big question. I didn’t volunteer any further information.

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But, on the day I was leaving, he graciously gave me a luncheon. His ministers were there. Party chieftains were there at the State House. I asked him whether he will give me permission to say anything. He said yes after his speech. I asked if I could be permitted to make a response. He said yes. So, I wrote a speech because I wanted a record for it. I made sure it was a three-minute speech. I thanked everybody and told him I had enjoyed my work and ensured that the commission they gave me was executed, that I have tried very hard to keep the soldiers in the barracks and that the only thing that will keep them in the barracks is good governance. Some of my people were not too happy with that.

You made a statement which really foiled Dimka’s coup in 1976 when you said what was happening in Lagos was not happening in other parts of the country. What really gave you the courage to do that?

People talk about courage. I have always thought that whatever conviction you have, you are ready to live by it. This is why I stand. I will tell you so. You may not like it. It was not anything extraordinary as far as I was concerned on the line of duty. There are lot about the story that people didn’t get absolutely right. I happened to be in Lagos for a conference and the conference was to start at 10 am on the day of the coup. I had an agreement with Alabi Isama to make a presentation at the conference. So, because he was the Principal Officer at the Army Headquarters, and I was only a GOC in Kaduna, he was to make the presentation. But, he wanted me to work on it. We agreed. I had seen the draft. We agreed that I will be in the office before 6.30am, meet with him so that we can conclude the presentation, get the slide. I was staying in Marina and one could walk across. There was a radio in his office. It was on. Radio Nigeria. We had the voice. By the time it stopped, he said that was my officer, Dimka. We all knew him very well. So, what do we do? We waited. People were coming to the office. So, the Chief of Staff arrived early. He was to be the chairman of the conference. He needed us to brief him on what we would present so that he could have an idea. He said there was a coup. He had a radio in his office. He put it on. He said oh my God, we needed to get out of here. There was a decision on what to do, whether to operate from the Headquarter here before the thing got too hot, and go and take over a unit, in Bonny Camp. We decided that everybody should get into his car and fly our flag. The worst thing was that they will shoot us. We decided to go to Bonny Camp. Unfortunately for us, the officer at Bonny Camp, Shagaya, was not there. He was already on his way to the airport to go and catch a flight to Jos. But, there was Yomi Williams and another officer. We got to the barracks. The barracks was not too awake to know what was really going on. That was around 8.15 am. The Chief of Staff, Danjuma, was there. I wished I were in Kaduna, but I was not there. I said let me write a brief speech for broadcast. If I wanted to do it in Lagos, the radio we knew had already been taken over. Before they take over Kaduna, let me find a telephone. My officers, HMO, Garrison Commander were there, Bako and so on. There was no phone working at the Headquarters. For whatever reason, the phones were not working. There was no phone inside that barracks going from office to office. Suddenly, I saw this group of officers. They all got up and saluted. I asked: does anybody has a phone there? They said no sir. They said I should go the next officer, which was Adefope’s office. He was our Chief of Medical Corps. We went in there and there was phone and it was working. I got my headquarter. I called Bako, my Garrison Commander. I asked him to listen carefully and get some things down. I asked him to read it back to me. I said: Take over the radio station, go and broadcast that. Take the officer to take a unit you can muster from the battalion there. Start going to the bridge in Lokoja and take over the bridge because the next thing they will do was to break the bridge and people will not be able to cross easily and we didn’t have the kind of big air force. Our best bet was to seize the bridge. Most people thought I was sitting in Kaduna. I was in Lagos, but I gave them the impression that I was the one speaking.

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