Buhari should sack service chiefs, no need extending their tenure unnecessarily —Junaid Muhammed
Dr Junaid Muhammed, a prominent politician of the Second Republic of the northern extraction, speaks with Deputy Editor, DAPO FALADE, on sundry issues affecting the country. He describes as incredible the recent statement by President Muhammadu Buhari on increasing attacks and killings across the country and declares that the service chiefs are unfit of their positions.
In spite of repeated assurances by the presidency and the security agencies, we are still experiencing killings and other vices across the country. How would you describe what is happening in terms of insecurity?
First and foremost, I am aware that the government and the president in power have been promising to rein in on insecurity in the country and do whatever they can. I think President Muhammadu Buhari, being a former soldier, has some issue of credibility because people had imagined that he knew the areas affected most, especially the North-East. Secondly, he is a retired soldier who has fought in wars, not only in Nigeria, but also in other countries. So, Nigerians had expected that the security challenges would be contained and that the country itself would be given a new lease of life.
However, it is unfortunate but is also true that the security situation is still posing a great challenge, not only to the government or the party or the president, but to all Nigerians and I think this is most unfortunate.
You will agree with me also that there have been efforts by some people to unduly politicise the issue of insecurity across the country. I am sure that you be reading about some people who have been trying to create something of the ordinary for political patronages. That too is unfortunate because if the nation cannot come together now on this issue of insecurity, there can never be any time it can come together again. I think that is very dangerous and very destructive of the national psyche and the way we manage our own affairs.
You don’t have to be a genius to know that without security, there will be no economic development and without economic development, there will be no peace in the country and definitely there will be reason for the people to even have a stake in the Nigerian Project.
People are saying that the president is not really in control of the situation. He ordered an aerial attack on spotted enclaves of terrorists, insurgents and other criminal elements, but even before the attack, these people have relocated. Do you think that the style of making public the security strategy to be deployed against these bad elements can work?
It will not work; in fact, it is counter-productive. First, I think somebody must be living in what I regard as an external planet to say that Boko Haram is the only security threat to the country. The banditry in the North-West and even in some parts of the North-East is separate from Boko Haram. What has been happening between the so-called herdsmen and farmers in the North-Central in particular are very serious issues because lives are being taken away; life of innocent people mostly, especially the life of the people who are being taken by the terrorists.
Secondly, although I am not a soldier and I cannot claim any specialty in security matters, but if they are sincere to fight a war, the security agencies should not make too much pronouncements. It is something that they only sit down, come out with their own plans, execute those plans and if they see the need, then they can make pronouncements. But if they need to have orders, such orders must come from the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces who is the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of the country. It is here that you now play politics by saying we are fighting a civil war.
Historically, it does not work anywhere. Even where the people are fighting away from their homes, like the French war in 1954 in particular and the American in Japan and other parts of the country, it has been shown to be counter-productive to attempt to fight a civil war or anti-terrorism war because you want it to be covered on the television or you want the newspaper to give it trashy photograph about what is happening. When you want to fight, don’t talk too much, but prepare your men for the war. But when you have army generals who are serving politicians, who have houses in Dubai, who have houses in the United Kingdom (UK), who are in cahoots with the army merchants in Europe who supply arms of low standards, you can see what the situation eventually emerges to be.
If we have to talk, we must be persuaded that it is time to talk. At the same time, you will find that it is not the army general who would talk; it is there political overseers. This is because in a democracy, one of the prominent conditions for democratic governance is that military is still under the political control. But when a general in the army talks, you are in fact creating more problems because these generals would end up thinking that if they can make all these political noises why not take over the government? And I can see clearly that some of the generals are behaving as if it is their birthright to say what they want, at any time they want and they owe no obligations to the people, except to those who are their political masters. That is very dangerous.
There has been an increasing clamour that the president should remove or replace the service chiefs on the ground that they have outlived their usefulness. Do you believe or support such a call?
I believe in it absolutely. In fact, I have insisted, a number of times in the past that there was no need in the military establishment to have generals who are in service to even have their tenure extended unnecessarily. This is because nobody has told us what was the reason for the extension and some of them have had their tenure extended as much as three times. One, it is not productive because these people who are kept there are bench-warmers; they have not succeeded in the fight against insecurity.
Secondly, there are younger generals with fresher ideas who have the competence of their offices and even officers of lower ranks. They would do jobs but they have not been given the opportunity. Instead, some of them have been prematurely retired. And that is a great disservice to the country because you spent millions of naira to train an officer to that level. At the time you will mostly need the services of such an officer, you retire him mostly because you think the one who is in that position is too important to be cast out. But you are ruining that military establishment.
Even within the military circles anywhere in the world, fighting a civil war requires greater responsibility. That is why those who fought our civil war became heroes: Benjamin Adekunle, Alani Akinrinade, T. Y. Danjuma and Olusegun Obasanjo himself, among others. These are people who fought the civil war and they are still regarded by very many Nigerians as heroes. It is not beyond our capacity to reproduce such generals of quality who can, not only maintain the unity of the country, but who can also do great honour to remain Nigeria and who I believe are the kind of people who should be brought forward to save this country.
But we have already retired three generations of generals who are due to be commanding officers of divisions and other comparative positions and who are also equally good. In fact, some of them are better educated than some of the service chiefs and General Officers Commanding (GOCs). So, I don’t understand what is happening at all; I don’t understand this politics. No amount of politics should be above merit. If somebody is performing, he should be rewarded; if somebody is no performing, he should be cast out.
Those who have political ambition- General Eisenhower served in the United States of America (USA) Army in the Second World War. But that does not mean that he had to remain in the military in order to be in service. He left and joined the Republican Party and he was elected as the President of the United States. That is how generals who know what they are doing behave. We also have examples of those political generals all over the world-in Vietnam, Japan and Burma. These are very important positions but while they were in the military, they maintained high-class training, discipline and they were men who earned their positions on merit, not through politics or through any primordial sentiments.
How would describe the statement credited to the president that he is not aware of the fresh series of attacks and killings; that he is only aware of Boko Haram and that the renewed killings are part of a plan by some people to bring the country own?
No matter how you look at it, that statement from the president was most unfortunate. You could look at the statement and, of course, you people in the media would do what those politicians in power have been saying that they were either misquoted or something. But that statement was too glaring. Some people have talked to me on that statement, not only you journalists, and I thought that maybe he was not actually briefed on the situation of things. But then what is happening in Nigeria, you don’t need anybody to brief you.
Are you telling me that, in the last how many years, what has been happening in Zamfara State is unknown to the president? Or that what is happening in his home-state of Katsina is not known to the president? Or the mayhem in Southern Kaduna; the border between Kaduna or in the South-West in a place like Birnin Gwari in Niger State are not unknown to the president? Nobody can tell me that those in power don’t know these things are happening. And, of course, the crisis in Taraba State which is really a mini-tribal warfare caused by some arch tribal bigots between the Jukuns and the Tivs; then in Benue where there have been crisis and they are making noise, blaming some people. Unfortunately, the people who are doing the blaming know that they are lying against some people like Generals Danjuma and Obasanjo. They have issues with the president and there is no doubt that, but those issues cannot now be termed to mean that it either Muslims versus Christians or some tribe versus another one.
For the president to say that he is not aware of what has been happening in this country in the last how many years is incredible. One of the reasons the president was elected was to straighten the situation; we have been in this situation since 2009. Some of the real actors, like the former governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sherif, have been involved, but because they are connected, nothing has happen to them.
So, here we are, but I sincerely hope that somebody would straighten the situation and do the necessary correction, instead of allowing this statement which can be dangerous historically in another, five, 10 or 20 years from now, if people are still existing, that: ‘In the Year of our Lord, January 2020, the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces of the country, the head of the most important branch of the three arms of government, claimed to be unaware of the other problems in addition to what he inherited from the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo and Jonathan Goodluck.’
On the state of insecurity, it is far worse and it has really ballooned out of order. We really have to do something about it and the country must come together and see what needs to be done. No person is indispensable; no general or soldier is above being sacked when he has misread the situation or he has not handle the situation properly or professionally.
You have been too critical of the president in respect of appointments, accusing him of being parochial. Are you satisfied with his cabinet now?
I have never used the word, parochial, to describe anything. I talked about nepotism so, please, get me right. As far as I am concerned, nepotism is a perfect example of corruption. I don’t believe that anybody can be nepotistic and yet not be corrupt. I don’t look at the religion or the tribe of some of the appointments. What I was talking about was specific; I was talking about in-laws ruling the nation and I described them in details. So, please don’t confuse the two words.
When I spoke in 1985 after General Ibrahim Babangida and his own group overthrew this same Buhari, I spoke about the need for people to be appointed based on competence. I recall also that during the General Sani Abacha regime, not only did I spoke to the media; I also went to Abacha and I told him that ‘if you are appointing people (here I was talking about the South-West), give them their first 11. Don’t go and pick somebody all because he is your supporter when he has no political competence and he has no technical competence to man the ministry or the appointment he has been given.’ I still insist on that and where people are under-represented, you employ the doctrine of Federal Character. But what I noticed about Federal Character now is that it is being massively abused; everybody will package his ward or friend or girlfriend in the name of Federal Character and present him or her for appointments.
At the initial stages of appointment into anything governmental, and the president have about 10,000 to 15,000 appointments within a very short period of time, what they need to know, first, is to make sure that people are given opportunity to compete-their requirements and their ages are mentioned and when that is done, you can now find out which areas they are representing. If somebody is now talking about closing our national borders with the Republic of Niger or Benin Republic, you can see and that job can be adequately tackled by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). At least, in posting, you will post people who understand the language, who know the terrain and who can be of service, otherwise the whole thing becomes a joke.
This problem did not start with Buhari, but it is still being abused. The problems associated with the Federal Character, either in the military service or the Customs Department has to be yanked out if we want to build institutions, and this is very important, institutions, not just put in names in certain manners or certain peculiar ways. We have to be very careful, if we want to build the nation.
Do you really believe in the existence of the Kaduna Mafia?
Of course, but we don’t have to pretend that it is a sensitive issue because there is nothing sensitive about its existence. Some of us have been talking about and criticising the Kaduna Mafia for over 40 year; we know some of them, people have mentioned them by name. The understanding that many of you have is that the Kaduna Mafia is similar to the mafia in Italy or the mafia in the New York, but they are very different. The essence of the Kaduna Mafia has been lost when some people simply hijacked the old system that was left by the tribal coup of January 1966. For example, there used to be what they called the Northern Nigerian Development Corporation (NNDC); it had over 1,000 companies under it, but I don’t think there is any of them functional now and being sincerely run. So, if there is a group that inherited the leadership of this country, of the North in particular, economically, militarily and in terms of security and in terms of politics, why can’t it bear the responsibility?
As far as I am concerned, there is nothing sensitive about the Kaduna Mafia. People know that in the North, there is a group and they know the names and they know within the Kaduna Mafia which faction is on ascendancy and which faction has gone down.
Are you a member of the Kaduna Mafia?
If I am member, I certainly will not be attacking them for the last 40 years. I have emphasised, even in the course of this interview that it is important to merit what one gets in life. Whatever I got in life, I competed for it. So, I don’t need any mafia or anybody’s godfather, either in politics or economic affairs or whatever. I want them to tell me who my godfather is and nobody has mentioned to me who my godfather is. The man who I regarded as my mentor politically was the late Alhaji Aminu Kano. He was never in a good terms with them [the Kaduna Mafia]. And any time he confronted them, he floored them flat by being truthful and by being honest. Whether in life or in death, nobody has accused him of being against the North or any section of the country. But those who are claiming to be members of the Kaduna Mafia have nothing to show for their leadership of this country since January 1966. I challenge them to show us what they did.