‘I have consistently condemned coup plotting’
At the outset of this interview, I ensured that I kept to my promise not to dwell on political issues. But, as the interview progresses, it became unavoidable not to pick a strand of political issues for analysis or as reference point. The former Chief of Naval Staff, Retired Vice-Admiral Akin Aduwo is one naval officer in his own class. Much as he cherishes the good things of life, he remains contented with what posterity bestows on him. “I don’t like arrogating undue credit to myself in maters I am not a specialist,” he will repeat the umpteenth time.
Yet, he cuts the personality of an active military top brass despite the age at his retirement days. At intervals, he would shout almost like a parade commander at the sentry ordering the guards to keep the gate closed, apparently to avoid distractions.
The small reception on the ground floor of his Omole Estate, Lagos residence might be a mirror-image of the main sitting room; where everything is at its right place. It is also a mini-museum of a sort, displaying many memorabilia, portraitures, Ooni of Ife’s rare photograph and showing those glorious military days (including a collection of photographs of his course mates at the US War College). All these exhibits are capable of keeping any guest, including this reporter, busy for half an hour.
Expectedly, he did not hide the military in him, as he avoided engaging in any undue pleasantries. But when he became unimpressed by the prelude to my first question, and insisting he is not an authority on foreign role models like Nelson Mandela, I rephrased the question: ‘As an ex-service chief, don’t you have right to comment on national issues affecting the society?’ ‘Why not,’ he said. That opened the afternoon interview that lasted over four hours. He spoke with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME on why Obasanjo removed him as governor of Western State within a month, his priority for the Navy as a service chief, his assessment of the Nigerian political class, his worries about younger generation of Nigerians, his resentment for military in governance and fear for freedom of information bill.
“As a former governor of the defunct Western State, I have right to comment on issues within my experiences. But to start citing role models far away from Nigeria is not my kind of option. As a matter of fact, there are several of them locally, be it in entertainment or sports. And Obasanjo is my role model. He may be your own antagonist as a journalist. Governor Gbenga Daniel is my role model but the most superior role model in this country is Ooni of Ife.
Baba Obafemi Awolowo was to me a father, not that he is not a role model but he is a father figure and sage. He is a leader of people not just of men. But before we start going outside our environment and making me sound or look like an authority on African behavior and misbehaviour, I will want us to restrict ourselves to my own environment.
For instance, for most Nigerians elected into National Assembly or State House of Assembly to serve, once they get there, they make themselves masters of the people who elected them. I cannot single out anybody that is truly serving this nation but to enrich himself, as they see it as an opportunity. These are within my environment and those are issues I can comment on.
In my military days, I don’t like anyone making me what am not. I am not an authority on anybody’s role modelship. I am a concerned Nigerian citizen. As a retired service chief and former military governor, I feel disturbed when elected governors of states turn themselves into executive governors, which to me is a meaningless designation. It is not in the Constitution because nobody was sworn in as an executive governor. Everybody in service of this nation that is elected or appointed will say he is executive. What about executive? One will soon find executive messenger or executive secretary to a goddamn local government? All these executive titles are meaningless. It is the fault of the press. All these were as a result of press creations. No governor will come out and say, I am the executive of any state, but the fault is from the print media.
But why accept the tag? After all, the governors can correct the press if they don’t find it appropriate.
I am very sorry to say, this is the most annoying question to answer. It always upset me hearing it from learned people. For example, it is like somebody dips his hand into his pocket and gives N50 to a policeman at a road block and you are asking why did the police man receive it. Are you talking of the cause or effect? Or better still, when a politician plans a coup and using surplus money to fund it. Whose fault? Is it the military?
Why don’t the military refuse to accept such offer? It is like coming in here and I spelt your name wrongly. Would you take it from me? The title “executive’ to me, is like a name or a tag.
Misspelling of names is quite different from that. However, the former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Agagu said in a press release that he should not be referred to as executive governor and his wife should not be called first lady. All these titles are from people who are seeking favours and the press took it over and amplified it.
You were described as a perfectionist during your days in the Navy and that you had a tag on your table that reads: Why not the best?
When I became a military governor of Western State, people started publishing all sorts of things on the pages of newspapers describing me as visionary leader and God sent messiah. I had to issue a press statement directing to channel all the money for such advertorials to motherless babies’ homes. After I issued that statement nobody sent me such greeting any longer. And it is because Nigerians glorify in all these titles and I trust only one person that cannot tolerate that in Nigeria, that is, former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Though I suffered from him, but that is my true opinion of him. I was the governor with the shortest tenure (30 days) in Nigeria under Obasanjo’s administration for refusing as a principle, to hand over the University of Ile-Ife to federal military government in September 1975.
On the issue of perfection, is it humanly possible for man to attain that level of performance as indicated by your slogan? Again, it is common saying for people to declare that ‘I did my best’ even when their best is not good enough.
Then you are covering up, which means you are not honest and not straight forward. At a stage your boss will find out that you are not reliable. So, what you are saying now is that, what people are saying about me in Navy could never had happened because one day people will say ‘Ojo gbogbo ni ti ole and ojo kan ni ti oninkan’. One day you will be judged and for me, I can say, for the four years I was honored and graced by God, I did my best and that best was in fact by the grace of God, not man that saw me through. That introduced me to a man I had never met, never spoken with in the person of President Shehu Shagari to have made me chief of Naval Staff during his administration. I was not even a northerner or an indigene of any state that was governed by his party. I am a Christian not even a northerner.
Maybe they were trying to satisfy federal character.
Shagari appointed all the three services and the inspector general of police and we were all Christians and none was from the state governed by his party, National Party of Nigeria. MD Bello, the chief of air staff was from Gongola and I am from Ondo State and I think the Inspector General of Police from Oyo state.
I have not been happy or impressed by journalistic profession in this country because, they write all stuff and they want people to belief that it is real. They are not in the chamber of power, yet publish reports that the cabinet has decided to do this and that.
But can we say there is no federal character?
So, federal character means you can bring an idiot as long as it represents his state to a position, which he is not in any way qualified to occupy? That brings to mind the recruitment exercise I participated in as a serving officer for candidates at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). I had to contribute to sending away one applicant who scored 72 per cent representing Ogun state because that state was entitled to three and the last of the candidates already has been short listed and qualified with 78 per cent. That same interview, I have to contribute to bringing in a Bauchi State candidate who scored less than 40 per cent because that was the highest score from that state. So, is that a pleasurable character? I was Chief of Naval Staff for four years.
What was your priority for the navy as chief of naval staff?
My priority was training for the navy because no one qualifies for anything unless he has been trained for it. No one in the military do a specific job without the appropriate training for the job. So, training is most important. I mean you cannot even if it’s a gift, jump into a car if you are not trained to move or drive a car. So, that is the priority for training. When you have trained your men, you have pointed out who are really equipped. If it is engineering you can identify those who are really equipped with the knowledge of performing the duty of engineering in a particular type of ship: a patrol ship, patrol boat, landing craft and so on. In the military, it will be like employing a law student as chief judge of a state or appointing a young National Youth Service Corps member as attorney general, and when the wind blows, you will see the back side of the hen. Put the right person at the right place and if things go wrong, then it must be by act of God.
As a member of the political reform committee, I know what I spoke against, and I remember what I suggested to Obasanjo, some of, which he ignored but came to hunt him later. He is a courageous man and a patriot. And he did not restrict himself to the Yoruba nation.
What is your take on the non-passage of the freedom of information bill by the national assembly in the light of the secrecy surrounding Yar’ Adua’s health?
Nigerian press will abuse it.
I’m talking from experience. The senate president, David Mark was complaining bitterly about a report in newspapers concerning senate giving federal executive council ultimatum on Yar’Adua’s state of health. He said there was no such ultimatum.
Could there not be a whistle blowing group in the Senate?
Who is blowing whistle?
And you can not confirm the authenticity of that? You just take it like that?
Again, you see most Nigerians don’t understand governance. You don’t understand what is called secret. You have to keep your mouth sealed until an official statement is released… You say some people are whistle blowers that say we are going to do this, does that and they are authoritative statements?
How will you describe the confidence level between Nigerian leaders and the led?
I will not place any trust on any leader or any individual for which confidence I have not proven. Everybody is thinking about his or herself and what he can get from you or the favour you can bestow on him. And by any means, he wants to get close to you. That is why they even consider assassination and murder. Yet, the newspapers and individuals blame the police.
Uncle Bola Ige was killed seven years ago. What did the police do? The policemen are not magicians. Like a pressman, if you are looking for information and if you can’t get it, you will be blank. What will you do? The police like the court of law depend on the witnesses. The judge or the magistrate cannot go to the scene of incident at the moment it was happening.
When you approach Uncle Bola Ige’s house where I have gone many times in his life time to attend meetings either of the Yoruba leaders or his own family function, you have to go through roll of houses to reach his gate. But nobody will come out to say I saw a blue car, a white van at that time of the night. That is not what happens in Europe or American where we learnt our democracy. Only now that people are depending on scientific D.N.A, which I don’t think we have the technology in Nigeria. Unfortunately, witnesses will say I did not see anybody because they don’t want to be dragged to the court or be punished and letting the culprit go. That is the problem we have in this society. Prof. Wole Soyinka once said that within two weeks, he would name killers of Chief Bola Ige. It was head line news.
Are you worried about this new generation, especially their inability to integrate into Nigerian society and the recent arrest of Mutalab in US?
I am worried because I have my children who have grown up as well as my grand children. Unfortunately, the opportunity has been misused. I used to trek five miles to school and five miles back, for five days in a week, throughout my primary school days. I pray and hope that our culture would help to stabilize these conflicts. Though, hope is a prayer and you can hope and it does not come to past. For as long as we continue to send our children to study in foreign land, and return to meet a non-conducive environment, we will remain in this mess.
This scenario use dot happen in the Navy when men are trained in sophisticated war ships abroad only to return home to work on smaller coastal ships. Also, as a result of coups, the Navy got rid of some of its best brains. We had to start all over again in training fresh ones who are mediocre. That reduces the culture of military professionalism, power and strength. I am lost for words to describe this calamity.
You took over from Prof. Wole Soyinka at the FRSC. What were the challenges?
A Nigerian man is the most arrogant, the rudest and reckless road user I have seen. I took over from Wole Soyinka as corps marshal and I discovered that in Nigeria, there is no respect and regard for life and laws. I have been insulted several times while cautioning people on the highway to slow down or wear seat belt. A woman even said she is pregnant and so could not wear seat belt. Some road users would ask me was it my business if they don’t wear seat belt.
We blame government for bad road, what I blame government for is lack of a functioning railway system and inland waterways. The neglect of these two systems was caused by the northern traders who invested in trailers. They have murdered the rail system. Now, we have been bedeviled by darkness. Everybody now operates his business and home on generator. Nigeria has gone from bad to worse.
I blame the press for a lot of things, but I commend them on issues dealing with governance, freedom from military rule, publication against the strong handed rule of late General Sani Abacha.
Nigerian leaders do not lead by example. You find law enforcement agents like Police breaking the rules with ignominy. How about that?
Police are like other Nigerians. Being a Nigerian is a great lesson in life. In my last few interviews with the press, I condemned the decision of the House of Representatives sending delegation to Saudi Arabia to see Yar Adua. All they were interested in is the money they would make form the trip. Also, I condemned government picking the bills of pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem. These are wasteful policies.
But you and I know that some groups of Nigerians live on these policies. Are you sure any administration can muster the needed political will to right these?
What can these groups do if a government with the political will wants to stop it? Certainly, nothing.
What is your take on the lingering deregulation crisis?
Deregulation to me, does not make sense. Why should government be bordering itself about how I fill my car tank? If I am capable of buying a car, fueling it should be my headache. Why is government not subsidizing my hair cut?
The argument is beyond that level. Nigerians are questioning the economic sense in Nigeria as a leading oil producer importing petroleum products?
Ok. What happened to the elected law makers assigned the duty of overseeing the rural electrification project? They are in court now over misappropriation of funds. So, where are we going to start from? If I were in government, I would ask the president to give me the ministry of works.
I will not repair any road.
Why and what would you use your vote for?
This is because the worse the road condition is the less there would be accident.
I thought you would order the withdrawal of tankers and trailers off the highways?
No way. That is another ministry’s job. That ministry should revive the railway system for heavy duty equipment transportation. In Nigeria, everything goes by road, so the road can never be in good condition. It is better to loose time than waste life on the road.
You served as military governor in 1975, yet you feel uncomfortable with military incursion in governance. Is it an after thought?
Not at all. I have never one day supported military in governance. I always maintain that the military should allow the politicians to dance naked and make a fool of themselves. I believe through that they will learn. So far, I salute the military for keeping to their constitutional duties.
In August 1975, Obasanjo removed you as governor of Western State barely 30 days of assuming office. Today, you are among his protagonists. What is your take?
People express shock that I speak highly of Obasanjo who removed me as governor of Western State. If he did not remove me someone else will do. If Judas did not betray Jesus Christ, can we talk about Jesus Christ today? Judas thought he was doing Jesus some harm; Obasanjo also thought may be I will suffer. Five years on, I became the chief of naval staff, which is the highest rank in the navy. And I got it under a non-Christian and non-Yoruba.
Who has done me good? It is Obasanjo, because I might have been killed in the following coup. My successor, David Jemibewon spent two nights inside the booth of his car during the coup. But today, the likes of Jemibewon whom Obasano made minister in 1999, are among those pouring venom on Obasanjo. And most Nigerians still blame Obasanjo got doing this and that. Believe you me; I have no grudges against Obasanjo. My removal as governor was God’s blessing in disguise.
In fact, I expected retirement when Obasanjo handed over to Shagari in 1979. May be they missed my name. Five years on, Shagari made me chief of naval staff. But Obasanjo played his role in my destiny. Going to Ibadan as governor I felt sorry for my self. It was like asking you to climb Olumo rock without a rope or ladder. Until that posting, I was enjoying the best appointment at the executive of navy commanding a ship. It is the noblest appointment you can get.
Coup planning or scheming to become governor never crossed my mind while serving in the navy. Obasanjo’s removing me from Ibadan as governor culminated in my rise in the navy and becoming the chief of naval staff as well as becoming the Taarelase of Ife in 1987. I got the honour of Taarelase fm the Ooni of Ife following directive of the late Oba Aderemi who noted in his diary that I should be honoured by Yoruba kingdom for refusing to hand over the University of Ife to federal government in 1975.