I felt like shooting somebody when Obasanjo retired me —Oyinlola

Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola retired as a Brigadier-General from the Nigerian Army after a career that could easily be described as princely and impeccable. A few years after his disengagement from active military service, he was elected Governor of Osun State. The Okuku-born prince turns 68 today and shares some of his experiences with SAM NWAOKO. Excerpts:

 

All your children have moved on with their lives as grown-ups. You’re now left with your dear wife.  Looking back, how is the home front, especially now that the children are not around?

Every stage in life is following a sequence. I was brought up in a family of 64 children and you can imagine how noisy and rancorous that kind of setting can be. As time went by, with everybody growing up and going to primary school and secondary schools, the largeness started thinning out. It was like this until one attained bachelorhood and as a bachelor, we explored all the explorables until the stage when one settled down. After settling down, we had four children and to the glory of God. They’ve all gone to settle in their own respective homes. So, it’s back to me and my wife. I’m told “east or west, home is the best,” that’s why after the last child got married, my wife and I decided that we would make Okuku our base. So, if anybody wants to see us now, you must come to Okuku. That’s where I am, back to my base.

Enough of dirty politics on Offa robbery —Ibiyeye-Adisa

Turning 68 for a soldier is considered a special privilege, considering the risks involved in the profession. How would you describe your experience?

It is only by the grace of God Almighty that one can live to any particular age. But you will understand the more the grace of the Almighty, if you had taken up such a risky job. To me, the greatest risk any human being has taken is being born into this world. The second to it is joining the Army, where you have no say about your own life. Somebody will go and cause trouble somewhere and someone will say “get up, go and ensure that that trouble is quenched.” And usually, when you move with your colleagues, it involves a lot of lives. So, to have been in the job for 30 years and coming out alive, I think that’s the grace of God. I joined the Army when I was 18 years of age and I served continually for 30 years, not just working, but fighting here and there and the grace of God has brought me back to my village alive.

 

By “fighting here and there”, I’m sure you must have had some close shaves with death in the line of duty. Which one readily come to mind?

The one that comes to mind readily is how I escaped mortar shell in Somalia. It landed in the camp and I thought I’m gone. I woke up to see that the shrapnel flew all over and had raised some dust. Some of the soil had covered me up as I took cover. When I got up, I found that there was no harm done to me; nothing happened to me. And all around, I saw people dead. How it happened that day I wouldn’t know, but I think it is the grace of God. That was my closest shave during my military career.

 

As a soldier, you are either commanding or being commanded. In this kind of regimented life, how would you describe yourself as a husband, a father and family man?

I thank God that He gave me my own missing rib. While I’m on duty, she was on her own duty 24/7 at home, looking after the children. Were it not for the grace of God, we wouldn’t have been able to experience this kind of grace to be able to serve and bring up the children. She was keeping the home front. I recall a sad one when I was in Somalia, my baby was stolen from school. I think that was a nasty experience for her. But to the glory of God, after three weeks she was found in far away Otukpa. She was abducted from Jos, some five hours journey to Otukpa… We thank God. Those are some of the experiences we had along the line.

 

As an active soldier, who loved the job and was serving meritoriously, you were among those retired abruptly in the wake of democracy in 1999. How did it come to you sir? Did you feel like slapping somebody?

I didn’t just feel like slapping somebody. I felt like shooting somebody! I felt so because I gave everything in me to that job. I decided to join the Army when our troops returned from Congo in 1961. I was only 10 years old and was living with my elder brother, Duro Oyinlola, in Abeokuta. When they marched to my area, I didn’t believe it was possible for such a number of soldiers under the command of one person to move without any error. I marched with them from Imo to Lafenwa, a very long distance. And that was the day I decided that if I did grow up, that’s the job I was going to do. Thank God during the war, I joined the Army as a Private. I got promotion after serving as a Private for 15 months. And because the job is first before my family, I never had any stoppage from progression.  I was never presented twice for promotion. I always had it at the first attempt.

Such was the progression that as of the time Baba was retiring us from the Army, out of my course mates, only two of us were Brigadier-Generals, myself and one Gandi Zidon. That tells you that I was looking at a point where I would command the Army. But one was given a military posting which I could not possibly refuse and at the end of it, somebody said I should go home. They should have interviewed me to know whether I wanted to be a Military Administrator or not. I just heard my name over the radio and I cannot say no to military posting. But in every disappointment, there is a blessing only that it would not appear to human beings immediately. I say so because if Obasanjo did not retire me in 1999, there was no way I could have become the governor of Osun State by 2003.  I had done 30 years as of 1999; there were only five years left to complete the service period and my run out date would have been September 2004. So, if he did not send me away then, there’s no way I would have been elected as governor of Osun State in May 2003. So, every disappointment is a blessing.

 

You were the Battalion Commander during the Nigeria -Chad crisis in 1982, under the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3 Division, Jos, General Muhammadu Buhari, and you led a successful operation. That operation is still one of the reference points whenever successful military operations are mentioned. For you, what are the memorable takeaways from that operation, when you look back?


We were having some border skirmishes with the Chadians and because of the way they were disturbing our people, we were instructed to keep them within their own borders. In doing so, we took some yards too, and that became the issue for settlement. That was under General Muhammadu Buhari when he was GOC 3 Armoured Divison. There were other things that came out of that operation which I wouldn’t want to talk about.

 

In the Army, like in other spheres or life, people have close affinity with some people. Yours is known to be with General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and Chief (General) Olusegun Obasanjo. And it is believed in Nigeria that the bond is strong. What is it with this trio of Obasanjo, IBB and Oyinlola?

I think you have a point there, but what’s there is that there’s hardly anything I’m doing, like birthday, my children’s wedding or other ceremonies that these two don’t normally attend. As for IBB, I came across him when I was 20 years of age, when I was admitted to the Nigerian Defence Academy in 1971. He happened to be my Company Commander in the NDA and ever since then, he has taken me as his kid brother. That’s how he has taken me and ever since then, we’ve been together. I had no initial contact with Baba Obasanjo in my early days in the Army. But we became close when I became a politician and running for the governorship of Osun State. He came out and stood firmly behind me and supported me seriously. And the relationship has been there ever since.

 

And as a soldier, you must always remain loyal…?

Ah, there’s nothing like 99.9 per cent loyalty. It has to be 100 per cent. If, in your performance evaluation report (PER), they say you score 65 per cent in loyalty, that is the end of your career. You are not fit to be in the Army. It has to be 100 per cent.

 

And talking about politics, we are about two weeks from a presidential election. Who would you advise Nigerians to cast their votes for among the presidential candidates?

I want discerning Nigerians to look at the situation on ground. There was a promise by President Muhammadu Buhari to improve the security situation, bring about economic buoyancy and stamp out corruption. Those are the three cardinal things you can put to him as his mission. If you take even a cursory look at the three, I think his scorecard will show you monumental failure.

Talking about security, the operations of Boko Haram were limited to the North-East before he came on board. Today there’s hardly any part of the country that has not felt the impact of Boko Haram. That shows that his promise on security has not been kept. In fact, you will recall that the Zamfara State governor said they should declare state of emergency in his state, and in Katsina, the president’s home state, the governor also lamented that he is under siege. If he cannot provide security in Katsina, his home state, how do you expect him to provide security elsewhere in the country?

In his fight against corruption, I think it is skewed against the opposition. And one is not amazed when his party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, said if you are a sinner and you join their party, All Progressives Congress (APC), you become a saint! That tells you the whole story.

On the economy, I believe Nigerians have never had it this bad. He promised to lower the price of fuel, it has not been done. They are borrowing more than any other government has ever done. Today, we are described as “the poverty capital of the world” and it has to do about the economy. So, why would I want to go on with such a kind of administration? That’s why we said we are out, and are supporting Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to take over from “a lifeless administration”, as stated by the United States of America President, Donald Trump.

 

It seems this government has got you angry. You’re a soldier and there are some things that you won’t tolerate. What gets you angry and what are the things that show your soft side?

Speaking honestly, a dishonest human being will see the bad side of me. If you kill my child, tell me you did it. To tell me lies irritate me because, by so doing, you’re telling me that I’m an idiot. That infuriates me outright Then, if you are a sincere human being, you’ll see the best of me. That’s just me.

 

Everybody knows that you are a golfer of note and many people are happy to have you back as the President of the Nigerian Golf Federation. As the leader in this sport, what are those challenges facing the federation the most?

The challenges are mostly that we don’t have funds to propagate and promote the game of golf. Last year we had to attend some competitions in Morocco, Dublin (Ireland); Brazil and we had programmed some of the children to participate in the World Championship. The only militating factor against it is fund. All the journeys we’ve been able to make is through the support of golf lovers, who sponsor these kind of things. In my first term as President, we were getting subvention from the government but today, nothing comes. When there are important competitions within or outside the country, we would have to go cap in hand begging, which shouldn’t be so.

 

What would life be for you without golf?

Life without golf will be like a day without the sun to me. A soldier’s day starts by 5am when he’s called out for physical exercise and training. He then goes to work and by evening, he’d be back for evening games. The only thing that can keep me in that mould is the game of golf. It is the only sport you can play till any age. Even if you cannot walk, you take your buggy, ride it to where you need it, hit it, jump into the buggy and go. There’s no other game you can play even after 100 years if God grants you such a long life, except golf. So, it’s a long-lasting game for every soul.

 

 


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