General Alabi-Isama at 80: Buhari in Power Emboldens Herdsmen

General Alabi-Isama at 80: Buhari in Power Emboldens Herdsmen

Thursday, February 18, 2021 8:00 am

Alabi-Isama cover design

General Godwin Alabi- Isama, the Chief of Staff, Third Marine Commando, during the Biafran War, turned 80 on 24 December 2020. In this interview with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, NEHRU ODEY (AND AYODELE EFUNLA who snapped the photos), the General speaks about his life, philosophy that guide him, the civil war, insecurity in Nigeria and other contemporary issues.

On 24 December 2020 when you clocked 80, what were those things that crossed your mind?

I looked at life generally and I found I am really fulfilled. Believe me. I have come up, I have come down, I have bounced up again. The good thing, therefore, is that as I fell I bounced up again. So everything is going well so far.

As a young man, we danced all sorts of music. One of the musicians was Haruna Ishola:

  Ina ran, o k’omo ti o f’owo k’eeru

Ina ran.

 Efowakan s’ori, Efowokan sibebere idi

K’ajo mia jo lo

Olo mi dakun daku jowo

Olo mi dakun dakun baby mi

K’o rotate pata pata

General Alabi-Isama1

 You know all those stuffs. And then in Europe, there was the Beetles; in the 60s. Cliff Richard (We are going on a summer holiday). And there was this old man. I could not believe how his voice ever attracted audience- Louis Armstrong. What a wonderful world. Fantastic!  You look at the rainbow. Which is a fact.  I loved those music. And again, irony of fate. The world itself would play you a lot of music. But how you dance it, it is your effort. I thank God for life. Everybody is saying, oh you’re looking good for 80.  Well, God knows why. This is because we were 15 that went to the United Kingdom in 1960 for military training. Only four of us are alive today. So God knows why only four of us are alive today,

Who are they?

Generals Alani Akinrinade, Theophilus Danjuma, Ignatius Obeya and I are alive. Only four of us are alive today. The rest have passed on. Not that we were better than they were. But God knows why He has kept us alive. And of all the four, people say I am bouncing. Again, God knows why.

General Alabi-Isama

Could you remember those periods you escaped death?

If I tell you all that, it’s going to be all day, all night (laughs). The first one was at school. The second one was in Pakistan, 1965. In 1965, I went for a training in Pakistan and it was Pakistan International Airline. The flight was full. It was their maiden voyage from Karachi to Cairo. And they wanted everybody to be in the national dress and all that. I was in agbada, wonyosi, white and all that.  The airport was full. And there was an old lady. And I said, “Mama come sit down here.” She was a Pakistan lady. And she prayed, “Ah my dear son, you will be older than myself.  You will prosper, and so on and so forth.” “Thank you, Mama.”  I had no seat. The place was full. Then this airline lady walked past, walked past again and walked past again – a lady walking fast in front of a young man! Then I said, “Lady, you are shaking your waist and you are walking in front of me?” She said, “Oh you’ve been looking at my waist?” I said, “Yes.” Then she said, “If you want to see my waist, let’s go to Cairo. “ Then I said, “That’s where I am going.”  She then said, “Oh I am on BOAC.” BOAC is the British Oversea Airway Corporation, the British Airways now. So I went to change my ticket. In those days you could endorse your ticket to another airline. My ticket was Pakistan International Airline. I could endorse it to BOAC and all that.

But when I got to the counter, the man said, “Look, we are leaving in five minutes time. You don’t have to do that. Before we offload your luggage and all that. He said, “No, no no. Could you please bear with us. In five minutes we will be boarding.”  I wanted to go with this lady.  I went and bought another ticket and so I went with the BOAC. In the morning, at about nine o’çlock, we got to the airport and I put down Pakistan International Airline ticket and I said I have come to collect my luggage.  The man shouted, “Where did you get this ticket from?” “Are you okay? I got this ticket in Karachi.” “How did you get here?”  “I didn’t walk.” Then he said, “Really where did you get the ticket from?” I said from Karachi. I said, “Please I just come to collect my luggage.” The man said, “The plane crashed 30 miles to Cairo, nobody survived, and here you come up with the ticket.”  “The plane crashed 30 miles to Cairo?” He said yes. “Okay, please give my luggage and let me go.” Everybody laughed at me. I missed the plane crash.

General Alabi-Isama

 So when you are talking about my missing death, look during the civil war, Gen. Akinrinade and I went to Federal Palace Hotel at night for dinner. Then we decided again: “Let’s go to Caban Bamboo and eat fried rice.” Then we phoned Caban Bamboo. Of course Bobby Benson said, “Ah, E maa bo.” Before we got down to the car at the Federal Palace, the very table both of us sat got blown up. Somebody wanted to blow us up. We didn’t plant the bomb.  But finally they caught one Agu who was bombing places in Lagos and all that.  We were lucky. If they didn’t catch that man, it is either we did it because we didn’t want to bomb ourselves.

 Ah, if you are talking about escaping death, I must tell you another one before you ask another question. This was during the war. We were attacking a place called Azumini (Azumini is in today’s Akwa Ibom State), and our soldiers on the right started withdrawing. There was a lot of firepower from Biafra. And they came to call me. I rushed in there, stopped all those coming back. I took the bus. I drove the bus and stopped it somewhere. I just stopped the bus. And by the time I had loaded that bus to take them back, the group on the left started withdrawing again. So I left the bus and rushed. And I told the driver, “Take them back.” If I did not run, I was already on Ogbunigwe. There was this Biafra bomb. I was right there. The man just released the hand brake to move the car back, it blew up everybody to penny pieces of meat. If I did not run! I was just running, saying, “Come on everybody, come on everybody come back,” I would have been dead. How many are you going to count? All my life, I survived. And here I am at 80. Praise the Lord!

General Alabi-Isama

We met you at Spectrum Books Ibadan in 2013. Seeing you now, you don’t look different from then. What is actually the secret of your looking young and your longevity? I remember that day, you walked a long distance. Despite the fact that, of course, you have cars, you walked to that office. Is that part of the secret?

I don’t know if there is any secret. But there are two things that I try to do every day. I would go play golf. I introduced golf into the Nigerian army in 1970.  I have been playing golf since 1965. Two people taught me to play golf: one man, Roy Douglas Salt of Caxton Press in Ibadan. I was a captain. And then another person, Charles Harding (they are both dead now). Charles Harding was Managing Director of First Bank (First Bank used to be called The Standard Bank) at Ibadan at the time. These two people taught me to play golf. And the way they played their golf was not competition. It was to exercise. We would do a lot of talking, we would play golf and then end up at the bar and have a drink. So it wasn’t a competition in which you are stressed and you want to win or you want to play well.  Just play and we walk. So I did that and I have been doing that since. I have a billiards table in the house and I drink a lot of water.  I learnt about drinking water abroad. They would say, “Flush your stomach.” I haven’t done really anything special. I did a lot of boxing. I did a lot of athletics. I played a lot of football. I was captain of Ibadan Boys High School.  God is good.

What about diet?

Diet?  Pounded Yam. My brother, look, the day you hear Alabi Isama passed on, you would say, “Oh that man is good. But he told me something.” They would say, “What did he tell you?” He said we should take a bowl of pounded yam near where he is lying in state, If I fail to look at that bowl of pounded yam, then the man has gone. But if you put that pounded yam and I look, I am still there. I don’t have a special diet but I love pounded yam well. You see when I was young there were two things: my grandmother would  take me by hand on Saturday and Sunday to go play football, from the age of four till the age of ten, when she died – 22 June 1950. When I was at Ilorin, she took me to play football.

My mother didn’t allow me to play football. That’s why I miss my grandmother a lot. And every time my mother came she won’t let me play football.  I was sad. So I miss my grandmother. The good thing about that though was that I  was exercising. I was very popular in the school. I did a lot of sports, athletics, football, and in the morning when I arrived in the school, all the children would call my nickname and there would be a lot of noise. The headmaster didn’t like that. There was a lot of noise. Instead they made me the monitor. And you know what the monitor would do? To stop noise makers (laughs). So not much of diet   I eat eba. I eat amala. I eat pounded yam. Nothing really special about my diet. Because I grew up as Alhaja’s son, we never had anything for salad but ewedu, efo and all that.

General Alabi-Isama

 How did you handle the ‘psychology’ aspect of longevity?

You know what? I think it was because I didn’t know something was wrong. For instance, if you were annoyed with me, I didn’t know you were annoyed with me because I was not annoyed with you. So I would just walk past.  So maybe sometimes when your mind is clear and you have no problem with anybody, the whole  thing cannot be a straight line graph.  I was bouncing and I would bounce up again and I would fall again. The same thing in the army.  So I think because I didn’t know that I had enemies until when they manifested themselves. So when they show up, “Is that what you’re thinking about?”  That was my problem with Olusegun Obasanjo. That was my problem with Benjamin Adekunle. Because I didn’t really know they were annoyed with me. And I was still talking to them. I was still advising them. Until I realized that these people are not the type to talk to like that. They had an agenda. They had an aim. I was just an ordinary soldier. You better believe it, I love the job. I love the military. Because that time in school, In Ibadan Boys High School,it was later on we realized that the march past in front of Ibadan Boys High School was because of Awolowo. And they would come and march past, the music and their uniform. Ha! That was how I liked the Army. That was how I went and joined the Army.

Talking about your joining the Army, you wanted to join as a recruit, you ended up joining as an officer.

We didn’t know there was an officer corps. I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about being an officer. I just saw recruits marching past in front of Ibadan Boys High School. And in those days of school sports, the army would have their inter unit sports. And they would invite Ibadan Boys High School, Ibadan Grammer School, Government College Ibadan etc for invitation relay. So I met people like Gen. Gowon who was doing long jump. I think he did 12ft and I found I was on the 17th. And I asked him how to join the Army. He said just go to Zaria. I didn’t know about officer corps. And so I got to Zaria. And no good child joined the Army at the time. My mother cried everyday:”Ah, tani mo se. Omo mi fe se soja (who did I offend? My son wants to join the Army).”

You know the word, Soja, was a taboo, was a bad thing, especially in Ilorin. Ah. Your child went and join the army? “Congo ni o lo.(he will be drafted to Congo).” And you know when I came from abroad, they sent me to Congo. They said, “We told you!” Though I didn’t die, I came back home. So joining the army, I was in line that morning. If I didn’t go that day – you see that is where destiny plays its part. When I got there everybody was like a six footer. I was a little school boy. I was only 19 years old. And the European chap, Captain Stamper, came by and said, Hey do you speak English? “Oh yes I went to Ibadan Boys High School, I was captain of my school football team, blab la bla.”

He said, “Wait a minute. Do you speak English? I said, “Yes sir.” “That’s what I want to know. You attended a secondary school?” I said, “Yes sir.” “You are coming from Ilorin?” I said, “Yes sir.” “Okay follow me.” He took me away from all these tall people. He took me to their office and said, “You are qualified to be an officer.” “What is that, sir?”  “Oh to be like us.” If I am going to be Oyibo, I am ready o. That was how they gave me the ticket. Then they asked, “”Would you like to take the exams in Kaduna or in Lagos?” I said Lagos.

They gave me a ticket, a warrant, to go by train. I went to Lagos. They met me at the train station, some two Europeans,  and then took me to a guest house. I was treated as if I was already an officer. I took the exam. And they said, “Ok, you will hear from us.” I gave the address of Ibadan Boys High School because we were still writing the West African School Cerificate Examination in 1959. And when the results came, they said I passed. That’s how I joined the Army.  I didn’t know there was anything about officer corps.  But by my destiny here I am.

General Alabi-Isama

You were born to an Ukwani, Delta State  father and an Ilorin mother. Many see you more as an Ilorin person than a Deltan. How did that come to be?

It was very comfortable for me because I couldn’t speak the Deltan language. But sometimes when you want to cheat you say “Hey do you know I’m from Delta? Where are you from?” You say you are from Agbor. “You are from Agbor. You are my brother na.”  You know those kind stuff. But definitely, my father was from Utagba-Uno in Delta. I cannot speak the language but you never know tomorrow. So I built a house there so that the children would know where they are from originally.  But I consider myself an Ilorin boy. I still live in Ilorin. I came from Ilorin. I’m going back on Sunday.  I read the Koran. Of course, since my father was a Christian, I read the Holy Bible as well. I’m a Christian.

Compare the Army of your days with what we have now?

It’s not comparable because I trekked from Calabar to Port Harcourt – 180 kilometres – not on a picnic but fighting for every inch of land. And today, you probably have a helicopter, a jeep. You have a Land Rover, probably even have Carriers or something. But at that time we had no vehicle. The story is also in my book. We  had no vehicle.  And we were fighting. I think we had only three vehicles. One one would carry food, one would carry the dead and the wounded. When we landed at Oron in our advance going to Port Harcourt, we landed at the waterside at Oron. And we knew Ikot-Ekpene there and Umuahia, Biafra would come. So I came in from there and caught then up. I told the airforce, “Please don’t bomb. I just needed the vehicles. By overflying the area they will abandon their vehicles and they would escape. Then I would pick up their vehicles.” That story is also in the book.  Again we call it the Strategy of Trust. Again, going further than the question you asked me, Biafra captured Ekot-Ekpene. Biafra defeated us at Aba. Biafra defeated us at Orlu. Biafra defeated us at Owerri. But the thing about it was that from where they were recruiting – from the civilians that they were recruiting – we had started our “Strategy of Trust,” where we would give them food, we would look after them, we opened the market, we opened schools, their children did the West African School Certificate Examination, their girl-children were also in the boarding schools, we were feeding them, we were paying the teachers. And so they trusted us.

 So while Biafra was still announcing on the radio, “Nigerian soldiers are coming. They would rape all your children. They would kill all of you.” We let them listen to Biafra radio and counter that. And that was how the war ended. Not that Biafra surrendered. In my book,  Achuzia came with a flag to the front troops. They took him to the commander of the front troops, which was Akinrinade. And Akinrinade followed him. They brought kolanut and all that, all this Ibo tradition, and all the officers were seated, waiting. Not that Biafra hands up to say, “We surrender.”  It didn’t happen that way. So what then happen was after the officers had surrendered to Akinrinade, then we called Obasanjo to say the Biafrans had surrendered. Now, here was the point again. Obasanjo was not there. We told him when they changed Adekunle that the war will end in exactly 30 days. But for six months we were roaming around, he did not know what to do. And he had an ego. You see, Adekunle would have said, “Right, what do you think. We want to go and attack Port Harcourt. What do you think?” He would pick your brain. Obasanjo’ ego did not let him do that and he didn’t know what to do. And soldiers were dying. In fact, in his book, My Command, he said 1, 500 soldiers died in one hour of battle. I lost only eight people and two officers, from Calabar to Port Harcourt- I, 500 is a disaster. He wrote it in his book like that. And so when they told him that the war had finished and the Biafran soldiers were waiting to meet him and all that,  he didn’t know where to go. And he had written in his book that the soldiers did not know Alabi Isama, they did not know Akinrinade.  But he then asked the soldiers. He wrote it in his book. He said he stopped and asked some soldiers, “Where are my officers?” And they said if you reach under that tree, turn left you would find them sitting down there.  If they didn’t know us, how will they know where we were.

You also said something about how Obasanjo was shot in the buttocks. Could you relate that story again?

He went on inspection. During my book launch, the officer is late now, Iluyomade. He died about two months ago. The man told the complete story, how it happened.  Obasanjo went on inspection. Unfortunately, you see, the problem about the man, what a pity (suppressing his laughter). Our soldiers dug a trench; it was wet. Obasanjo and others saw some soldiers standing on a television, some standing on a fridge. He also wrote in his book that the trenches were waterlogged. If the trenches were waterlogged, the soldiers could not stand on those waterlogged trenches. So they picked anything they could find –a television, a radio or whatever – and stand on it. And so he had already accused some of the soldiers of stealing. And you know soldiers. They didn’t know him. They asked: “Who be dis one wey say be we thief?” I said, “That is the new commander.” “This one with im belle like that?” {laughs}. “This one no be Adekunle o.” No we said Adekunle has been changed. This is the new commander. “And so who get the television wey we thief? We are standing on it because, look, water dey there.” You see. So the thing about him was unfortunate. That was how he saw the troops. And he was always saying things that annoyed the soldiers. But at the time he was still interrogating some of the troops, Biafra opened fire and he ran. On his way they shot him in the buttocks. And he ran into his jeep. And of course he wrote in his book that he went to bring ammunition for us. We all had ammunition in our vehicles. We all had reserves of ammunition with each commander. So how will the General Officer commanding the division go looking for ammunition? I mean. Oga if you wan run away, make you go. We dey here. You know, that is the thing (laughs). He was shot in the buttocks. It’s okay, he survived (laughs). There are pictures of these. I am just waiting for comments. He has not commented on my book. I’m waiting for him to comment on my book and maybe we would open more pictures. He knows I have pictures. He knows that.

General Alabi-Isama

Since you wrote your book, have you ever met with him? Have you ever met at an occasion?

We met once during Olikoye Ransome Kuti’s burial at Abeokuta. I went with Oba Eleyinmi (the Village  Headmaster) –  Oba Adeolu. And he was sitting in front with his wife, Stella (may she rest in peace), and he looked back and saw two of us coming, myself and Oba Eleyinmi. He just tapped Stella and they left. Those were the two seats that we sat on. Since then we have not met. We have no reason to meet. He sent his wife to come and meet me in Houston. He heard that I was doing well. “Stella, what did you expect? You are not God, you and your husband? You heard I was doing well and he told you to come and see because he didn’t believe I could do well. For instance, my number is 142 in the army, Danjuma is 146. He was four behind me in seniority. But you see, we were told in our commencement that- because in that school we had Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis, the Arabs, people from all over the world- and they addressed us that those of you who will be commanders in your various countries will not necessarily be the best but will be those that are acceptable to the politicians. So he became the Chierf of Army Staff. And of course they didn’t leave me behind, I became like his deputy in charge of strategy and tactics. So that was what happened.

 Obasanjo was instrumental to your leaving the army. Would you like to revisit that?

Well, I do not know where to start. But the point was N300, 000 naira was overspent, he didn’t say was stolen. The story is in my book. When they are looking for trouble for you – and I didn’t know they were looking for trouble for me. They said the account was overspent. I never ran any account. And I had accounting officers. So I set up an inquiry.  And they said, Oh there is nothing wrong, that my account officer missed one for the other. Whatever it is, go and put it right. I set up the inquiry myself. And then he said they wanted to steal! If this man wanted to steal money, why don’t you wait for him to steal it? Then you catch him. In whose office was the money? In whose safe was the money? It was with the paymaster. Paymaster Tijani, one Hausa man. In a polarized military I kept the money that I wanted to steal with a Hausa man! That doesn’t look like a wise story. So whatever that was. Then they said Tijani should come and testify. The man refused. The next day they killed him. I wrote the story in the book and nobody has said no. They just drove a vehicle on top of his vehicle on Kaduna- Zaria road and left the lorry on top of his vehicle.

That was how he died. And then there was another officer. Babatunde. That one was my sports officer. They said he should come and testify. “Oga, I cannot testify. Alabi Isama brought me here for sports. So I am in charge of sports for him.” Because at that time Chioma Ajunwa won gold medal, and we were trying to put all our sports men in the army, we were paying them so that they can train a lot more and all that. And believe me, this story went on. The man wrote me a letter and he called me to say, “Oga,  woni kin ko ni o…”  I told him, Who said? Tell me.  I invited him for dinner. I cannot tell you, sir. They will kill me. Do you know they killed him! They just came the next day and said, during this Dimka coup, that you knew about the coup. And they shot him.  The story is in the book and nobody has said no. Nobody has denied it. So I told you that I bounced up, I bounced down and I am here. They then published a fake gazette. I have a copy of my book here. I would show you the gazette. My country published a fake gazette.

I want to see any officer who would tell me today that it was his plan that ended the Nigerian civil war.  It was my strategy and plan that ended the Nigerian civil war.  And so how can you now look at Alabi Isama? As a cadet, my mother bought me a bicycle. She said, “Okay since you want to join the army and they won’t let you go away, why are you marching in the sun?” The picture of my bicycle is right there in my book.  And as we came back from England, the very first day, my mother bought me a car (100 pounds). The picture of the car is there.  And you’re talking about me? I was the first to drive a Limousine because I had seven children at the time. And any time we were going out it was either somebody would stay home, the two kids would stay or wife would stay. The car could make make it even if I drive. Then  Leke Onipede came to visit. Any time they had a meeting in Lagos, he was always eating pounded yam at my place. And of course when he came I called my mother to come and say hello to Onipede. My mother saw Limousine. Ah she liked this Limousine. Because she didn’t like to put all my children in a bus. She asked the driver, “Mbo le ti ra motor yii?(from where did you buy this car?)” And they said, “Leventis lon ta. E ma order re ni.(Leventis sells it. You will order for it)” My mother did not wait to see Onipede. She just went to Leventis, placed an order and then she described the vehicle- long, has six doors. they said, Okay. So they brought the picture. She said, “Yes this one. I want white.” “You want radio? She said, Put am. You want television? She said, put am. The total was N21, 000. Today, the tyre alone is N2,000.So I had a Limousine to carry all my children. And then when I was senior and I didn’t like Lagos because of traffic. When I was transferred to Lagos, after Murtala’s coup, I wanted a house by the waterside so that I could use boat. They couldn’t give me a place by the waterside. So I had a house at No 1 Rumens Road. So when the Army was not going to give me a boat, they gave me a staff car. With traffic in Lagos? I got a boat. My mother bought me a boat. The picture of my boat is in the book. And so during Dimka’s coup, Murtala had been killed, there was so much traffic. Danjuma, Domkat Bali and even the commander of the Navy, Adelanwa,  came to me, asking to enter my boat to work. That was how we bypassed Dimka’s ambush. We went by boat.

That’s another escape.

We went by boat. That’s another escape. And so of course we got to the office. Akinrinade was waiting for me. And there was a lady that called and Akinrinade picked the phone. She said, “Alabi, Alabi, they just killed the Head of State . You people should run from the office now. There is a coup.” I said coup?  We’ve just come back from war front. Who the hell? We tuned the radio on. It was Dimka.  Ah. Dimka had just come back from Madrid meeting with me. Dimka would organize a coup in this country and I would go and hide somewhere? Iro ni (it’s a lie). So we started looking for him. That’s another story.

       But you see, in the case of Obasanjo. My book was not about him. But it showed completely how incompetent, inefficient he had been and that was why he had been ineffective. Even this restructuring we are talking about, when he was head of state, some of you journalists asked him, “When are we going to start restructuring?”” He said, “Restructuring what?” Now he is shouting foul. The story is being on, not today. Now he is shouting foul.  We need to restructure. And Fulani is not good, Hausa is not good. That is not the story for the country.

Would you attribute the way he treated you to envy, the way you outshone above him during the war?

It is possible, when you use the word, envy. Like I said, at the beginning I didn’t know somebody envied me. I was just doing my work. I was just playing my part. So the fact that there was envy, people would wonder what did Alabi Isama do? That there was an Army council order. What is an army council? There was National Executive Council. There was Federal Executive Council whatever and  there was all this, all that. And nobody sat down to ask questions till today. I wanted to prove myself, so I went abroad. And I am here. I became more successful. My annual salary in Nigeria, in the army, I earned three times that in a day from commissions. I was in the newspapers in Houston everywhere. Then he sent his wife, “I heard that Alabi is doing well. Go find out.” And that one came. When you are not my God! And again the good thing is I did not know that you are annoyed with me. So I just came and hugged and walked away, not knowing that person was annoyed with me. I think if you keep your mind clean, God in his mercy will vindicate you.

If you run into each other, would you have a handshake with him?

No. I would just say, “Oga mi, how you dey o (laughs). I think that is what I would do.

It seems the efforts of the police and the army are not enough to tackle kidnapping, banditry and farmers and herders clash. What do you think should be done?

The first thing is that the herders became more emboldened when Buhari got there. Why that happened I don’t know because on my own ranch, the Fulani and our people were the best of friends. I had a place for them where they would graze and their cow dung was good fertilizer for me. I did not buy fertilizer. And then I would move them to the next site. Their dung again would be fertilizer for me. They drank my water and they ate my grasses. At my birthday they gave me one cow. Their wives would come and cook. So we were the best of friends. I think from 2015, when Buhari became head of state, they became emboldened. And for whatever the reason others were coming. Even Buhari himself said many of them were foreigners. If they are foreigners disturbing this country, they needed to be dealt with. But those that are not foreigners, who had lived with us, I think they have always been peaceful. Recently these killings and kidnappings and all that are a bit too many.

What is your view about the Amotekun in the South-West?

Let me put it this way. You know Martin Luther King said, I may not be there with you and all that. I may not be there with you. I am 80 years old now. You are going to have state police whether you like it or not. You are going to have local government police whether you like it or not. You are going to even have school police whether you like it or not. For security of this country that is what you are going to do. The army of my time is different from the army of today.

 Maitatsine took me only 15 days. This Boko Haram cannot take more than 30 days.  But there is a problem. This Boko Haram people are Nigerians. You must treat them as Nigerians. They have a pain; pain talks.  It was the pain of Egypt that took the Israelites to Canaan. The pain that these people have, you have called some of them, you captured some of them and you deradicalized some of them. We were told they even put some in the army. There is nothing wrong with that. But what is wrong is that you must take these people, call them together and asked them, “What is your pain? Why are you killing people? Why do you want to die? What is it that you want?” Then we would address what they want. Some we can solve, some we cannot solve. That was how we solved the Maitatsine story. As a matter of fact, when we finish, I will show you some pictures from my laptop. How I solved the problem of Maitatsine is a strategy of trust. They must trust you. Let me give you an example of trust. Let us say I was coming from Ilorin to Lagos. And I want to capture Lagos. They would say, “Why do you want to capture Lagos?” “They have money in Lagos. Let’s go collect tax.” So the aim is to collect tax. If you arrive at the Bar beach with your troops, you have lost the war. People will say, “Oga You say we go capture Lagos na.” Therefore we arrived at the Bar Beach. Those who will pay the tax are refugees. They have gone to Cotonou. They have gone to Benin. If they have gone to Cotonoe, who will pays the tax? Therefore you will go to the border, put food there, put water. When they come, you carry their children, you look after them, you give them food, you give them water, they would trust you. “Ah, these people wey dey say they no good, they good o. Look at them giving us water.” And them some lousy radio will be saying Nigerians are not good, they are this and that. “But look at what they did? They gave us water, they even gave our children school, they gave us food.” So with that, they would come back and that is when you can collect tax. Do you understand what I am saying? That strategy of trust, the meaning of it really is, you let the people trust you.

That was how Biafra war ended. We didn’t kill Biafrans. We had defeated them mentally before they were defeated physically. They trusted us.   “We trust these Nigerians. Look at. They are giving us food. Even when Biafrans were there, they didn’t give them food. So in this case, we gave you food, we looked after you, we told you to go back and it is when you trust us, you can pay your tax to us.

 Therefore, in the case of Boko Haram (because your question was really on Amotekun), if there are 10 houses here, each person has a gate man for his security. And one day I came in here, rented this apartment and I call everybody together. “You have 10 people standing in front of your gate and there are 10 houses or 10 flats. Why don’t we get them together to stand at the gate outside so that they can stop the thieves before they come inside?  Why put them at your gate sitting down there?”

 Amotekun is the right thing to do. They will go further into becoming the state police, whether we like it or not. I may not be there with you, like I said, but it is going to happen. You will have state police in this country. You wil have local government police in this country. You will even have school police in this country for the security of people.

Now listen to this again. This is what I told NITEL. I wrote a letter to one minister called Arzika (I can’t remember his name now) on 20 June 2000. “If you allow NITEL to continue like this, they will not be relevant in the new Millennium.” Is NITEL relevant now? I have a copy of my memo that I sent to this person. The thing we are saying is this: unless there is an agenda, who is afraid of Amotekun? You know, it is just like we are talking about the land use decree. Obasanjo put land use decree there. Buhari did not put land use decree. He is just taking advantage of the land use decree. You want to blame him? It is like the railway to Maradi. Buhari did not put the railway to Maradi. It was Jonathan and Sambo that first announced this Maradi railway in October 2014. It was not Buhari. But he liked it and so it is. The thing about this is, I am sure the person who wrote the feasibility studies must be from Maradi. What is it that is in Maradi that we are going to look for? We have not finished East-West road. We have not done Port Harcourt to Lagos railway. We have done Kogi to Abuja railway. Even the one from Kaduna to Abuja is breaking down every day. We are going to Maradi and do what?

 What are we buying from them? Sometimes we look mental, or that something is wrong with all of us. Again, the government of the country has more information than anybody. So maybe when they finish the railway line, we would see there must be a good reason that you and I don’t know.  So when you are talking about Amotekun, it’s the right thing for every state. I’m not talking of region now. There is state in our constitution. Forget the lousy region. Because when they talk about Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo or Association of Northern Elders, it is okay. Association is good. But let everybody start talking about his own state now. Talk about your state now. Let us know the problem of your state. And they say Northern Elders say . When you say Northern Elders. I live in Ilorin I don’t know how many elders attended such a meeting. Or Kogi, or Benue or Nasarawa, Bornu. My friend, when you are talking about Northern Elders or Afenifere – Afenifere say no, Northern Elders say yes – are we saying that we all cannot reason together and see that Nigerians are dying? And they are dying more in the north. The reason is that there is a lot of poverty in the north. How do you get poverty? I tell you how?

General Alabi-Isama

The National Assembly members were recently trying to talk about child marriage. So any of them that is married can vote. Everybody is looking for vote.  You have forgotten that a 30 or 40 year old man marrying this young girl, if he did not give her a tear, which you call VVF (many of them are given tears).  They cannot marry anybody any more. They cannot have children anymore.  And you find all of them are beggars. So a 40- year old person marrying 10/15 year old girl, in 40 years’ time when he will be 80, the girl is just 55 or so. That’s the height of her youth. She wants to meet men. The old man is fed up. She already has maybe two or three children. How is that person going to feed these children? How would this woman, who has no skill, send the children to school? Which school? Where is the money? Ibrahim, the man who collects my garbage in Ilorin speaks good English. I said, “Ibrahim, he be like say .you go school.” He said, “Yes sir. I passed WAEC, I passed JAMB. I was in Bida Teachers’ College. Two weeks after that, my father died. My mother did not even know how we were going to pay NEPA bill.  One, my mother was in purdah. My mother could not do any work. Now I go around collecting garbage so I can feed my mother and the rest of her children.”  With those kind of mindset poverty will not finish in the north whether we like it or not. The offshoot of poverty is Boko Haram.  When they have nothing to do. All those jobless will be recruited by them. So we need to address that issue of poverty.

 But for National Assembly to be talking about those children to be married so that they can vote, we   are talking to the whole world. And they say, “Look at this your country. This is Nigeria?” they ask you abroad. “And you are doing so well here.” If Obama had been a Nigerian I don’t know whether he will be a president of America. And if he had lived in Kenya he would have probably been a truck driver. That is what is happening to all of us.  Because there is an agenda. You want to rule the country.  You want to rule idiots? You want to rule educated people. Look at our internet. Do you think the people in Azare, in Potiskum, Kaura na moda, Nguru they are talking about internet? Apart from Lagos, Port Harcourt or Abuja what is your internet penetration in the country? We are far behind in education. Look at our next door neighbours.  No country will grow without power. None. Then the Customs will come one day and say, “Oh we have collected three or ten trillion whatever into government coffers.” Ah that shows only that you are collecting duty. Go to any shop in this country, more than 90 per cent of what they sell is imported. That’s why you are collecting trillions of naira as duty. You are not producing. And you are making the whole world laugh at us. Go to any shop, any. Even the person selling orange, the knife is imported.  The tray is imported. Haba.  I understand they have just changed the service chiefs. Whether you change them or not is immaterial. What is important is to let you know this. The army has never failed in any icountry until Hitler failed . It was when the Nazi government failed that the army failed in any war, in Diebenfuhr, 1965, in Cambodia, in Vietnam. The same thing is happening. It is the government that must send you somewhere. It is not the duty of the army commander. The army commander said the army is doing their best.  The army is not trained to do its best. Let me repeat that. There is no army that is trained to do its best.  You are trained to do what you are told and go where you are sent. If I told you to go and capture Ilorin by 2 o’clock tomorrow morning and you   fail to capture Ilorin by 2 o’ clock tomorrow morning, you are out.  Somebody else will be there. The strategy and tactics to apply are dependent on the aim.

What is the aim of the federal government on Boko Haram, on insecurity?  For instance, I told you about collecting tax. The aim is to collect tax. It is that aim that will dictate the strategy and the tactics to apply. That’s why you brought water. That’s why you are carrying their children. That’s why you are talking to them nicely so that they can go back. “You cannot be a refugee in your own country.” The story is in my book, with pictures. When we told refugees,”Go back.” Third Marine Commando did not have refugees. Nobody has ever asked the question: “Why don’t you have refugees? Why didn’t you have refugees in Marine Commando?”  We didn’t have refugees in Marine Commando because we told them to go home. We will come and feed you there. And they went home. We recruited ladies, which Obasanjo said we recruited for social servicing. Forget the rubbish. Nonsense. We recruited the ladies. It was better for me to send the ladies to you than to send one godogodo army man marching to come and talk to you about what. So the ladies went there, talk with you about what the commander said. “Commander said we should give you food.”  Then we opened hospital for children, for women. The men would go to the army hospital. There are pictures in the book which showed that we didn’t have casualty. Nobody has even asked why we didn’t have refugees.

 These present refugee camps should be disbanded. Let them go home, settle at home. Look after them there. Feed them, do everything for them there. Let them settle. They would say Boko Haram will not let them settle. Of course Boko Haram will not let them settle. Boko Haram is not a human being. Boko Haram is an idea. Biafra is an idea. Unless they have justice, the crisis will continue.  Boko Haram will not be defeated until we have changed our ideas. Boko Haram is an idea. Therefore, you need a superior idea, you need a superior argument to convince these people. Let the mallams go there and  talk to them. Let all the sheikhs go there and talk to them. They are Nigerians and they must be treated as Nigerians. Then they said airforce went and bomobed Boko Haram camps and 20 died. Who counted those who died? You have turned the whole thing into an ATM machine. Everybody is making money. The governor of Katsina state said about 300 Kankara boys were captured, the presidency said only 30. I can say that Buhari did not say so. And the presidency said only 30 people. But when the bus brought then we saw busload, we saw  more than 30 people. And then they said the government is making a plan to give one million to each family. Ah, ore mi I have plenty children. Let them come capture them and then release them and later give me one million now. I’m waiting for one, one million. It was like Obasanjo who said he wanted to make 50 billionaires in Nigeria but he was able to make 25. How many did you get out of poverty? You see, some of these people are jokers. But they are leaders talking on behalf of all of us. And then where do you start from? Boko Haram is an idea.

When Osama Bin Ladin was killed, it didn’t stop Al Quaeda. But some would say, but Syria, they have been fighting for over 10 years. In Afghanistan, in Iran, two superpowers are flexing their muscles, testing their weapons, perfecting their new tactics. They want it to go on forever. People are buying weapons from them. We are buying weapons with the money for our development. We are buying weapons in trillion and trillion of Naira. I heard that they bought some air force jets that could not land on our runway.  They didn’t see the specification before they paid for it?  And when the airforce goes to bomb, they got that intelligence from somewhere. They would pass it down to the army. They would pass it on to the police.  And the army would advance. The air force would bomb and kill some of them. And then the army would capture the place. The police would take over and move on.  It is the federal government that must tell them where to go, how to go, when to go. The army commander cannot disobey that order.

 The fact that they are doing their best is wrong. And then when you say, Operation Lafia Dole, which means you have peace by force. There was a time they said they wanted one billion US Dollars. In today’s money that is about 400 billion dollars. If you spend 200 of that billion to look for peace and 200 ready to fight, you will achieve peace. If that is our aim. Remember the aim about tax collection. It is your aim that would dictate the strategy and tactics to apply.

So what is the aim of the federal government? To kill all the Boko Haram people or to have peace in the country? If you want to have peace in your country, the strategy and tactics to apply must be the same.

How do you see the emergence of Sunday Igboho?

The Oke-Ogun man. I heard the story. Well, these things will pop up here and there. But you see Buhari just has to make one sentence and there will be peace in the country. From now on I do not want to hear that a herdsman has killed somebody or somebody’s farm has been eaten by cows or else there will be penalty. It’s as simple as that. And then they would capture one person that did that, and they would capture another person that did that and that person would be dealt with and the whole country will see it. We have captured 20 people, we have captured 30 people. What is the answer? In every twelve there will be a Judas. There will be people that will say things well and there will be people that have an agenda.

  Oke-Ogun is where I also have my farm. We are the best of friends with the Fulani. But like I said, they got emboldened when Buhari got there. And what they are doing now is not acceptable to anybody in the whole world. Look the whole world has gone too far. And we may be blaming Buhari and all that, it is Obasanjo that started Land Use Decree. At that time it was a big thing. In 1978 he disbanded the E branch of the police as the intelligence branch of the police. And if you say there are all Hausa or majority of them are Hausa, you don’t talk about Hausa anymore. You talk about Hausa-Fulani. When I was growing up we never heard of Fulani. We heard of Hausa. The Hausa lost their suzerainty to the Fulani. And that is what is happening. But that they are fighting at Igboho, that they are fighting at Oke-Ogun,  and all those kind of things, is because, for instance, the Chief of Fulani in Igboho said all 19 states of the north, all the Emirs of the 19 states of the north please come and help us and have an enquiry. There are no 19 emirs in the north. The Kanuri don’t have an emir. They have Shehu since 1840. Dan Fodio did not defeat El Kanemi in 1840. So they have been fighting since then.

Maitatsine is an offshoot of the same group. Boko Haram is an offshoot of them. There is too much blood flowing in the country. They have never been able o defeat the Kanuri . There is too much blood flowing in the country, whether in the South, in the North. The thing that pains me is when they say, Northern Elders don’t agree. Why don’t we have the list of these Northern Elders that do not agree?  That we should restructure the country for the benefit of all of us including your own children. The poorest people in the country are from the north. 90 per cent of the beggars in the country are from the north. Go to any village. And Festus Keyamo went and bought cutlasses and wheel barrows . And you say you want to buy wheel barrows and cutlasses for the774 local governments in the country, including the local governments in Lagos? Everybody is laughing at us for God’s sake. That’s the job creation of our nation called Nigeria. Ah!

Many people have been clamouring for war, that Nigeria should break up-as if that war should start tomorrow. With your experience in Biafra and the Congo, what is your advice to such people?

My brother. Okay, let us assume that Kwara state became a country, is it not Saraki and the rest of them that will be the head of state? So what’s the difference? What Awolowo used to build the West is still here. Awolowo did not collect any monthly allocation from anybody and the West was the best. What he used was here. He had his own cattle ranch at Fashola, at Ekiti, all over the country. The north had Mokwa, Calabar, Ogoja, the one at Obudu. We all had cattle ranches. And now we want to fight a war because of what? Because of Fulani? Let me tell you what I see for the future. I told you I may not get there with you. I am 80 years old. We do not trust the Igbo because of what they did. In the next 10 years, we will not trust the Fulani people in this country because of what is happening now. If people are unhappy with you, you want them to trust you. Try and look at tomorrow. Even the Koran told you that we do evil to ourselves and we do evil to others. So you tell me you want to break and form what. I fought for one Nigeria and I would stand by that.

 There are a lot of people saying, “Mark it, there would be war in this country.” Their children are not nearby. They would be the first to run away. They have tickets already with visas in their passports. I don’t know whether you have visas in your passports. I don’t have any more. I want to stay here. I promise to live in Ilorin and die in my mother’s house in Ilorin. That’s why I don’t have a gateman there. “Oga, you don’t have a gateman?” Why should I have a gateman? If you come to kill me, then that’s what I beg God for. My aim is to die in my mother’s house in Ilorin. So why do I need a gateman? (So that they would stop me from dying there)? And I would not have achieved my aim. No. Everybody is saying the country must break. I am telling you.  If Lagos becomes a country today, is it not Tinubu you are going to find there? So which one are we talking about?

The point about the Fulani, somehow, somewhere along the line, they became emboldened. In the next 10 years you would not trust them because they would have caused so much havoc that people will not  forget: the people’s fathers they killed or people’s children that were raped and all that, they would remember. So they should try not to infuriate people and not to annoy Nigerians. This is a beautiful country. God has given us everything that we need to grow. And for many of us that lived abroad, some of these things are strange. You have gold in Zamfara. And they are selling it to Central Bank and making money. And then we are sharing the oil. That sounds silly to anybody. They would ask you, “Who is your president? Or who is your leader?” And it would surprise you to know that these things are happening. And in any case, look at the case of NDDC. Who are the people there? Are there not people from Rivers?

General Alabi-Isama

 And in the case of the army formation, before now the army commander, the air force was from the north, immigration from the north, Customs from the north, The Chairman of the committee for the army in the National Assembly is from the north, the Chairman for the army, the Chairman for the air force, the Chairman for immigration and all that are all from the north. And more people are dying in the north. It is an implosion. When you keep giving people sugar, they would like you, but when they have dysentery, they have diabetes, that is when they would realize that you have done a lot of trouble.

The army today is not the same as the army that I joined. Because in the army that I joined, the aim would be given to us by the leaders and you the journalists would interview the army to come and talk on television. It is not a military government. We have a Minister of Defence. We have Minister of Information. Why couldn’t the Minister of Information tell us how many children have been killed or how many kidnapped? Why would the Minister of Defence not talk to us? And everybody would say, the presidency. In fact yesterday I think they were talking about how to confirm the service chiefs. And then they said from the Presidency. The National Assembly does not need to confirm them. But by this morning, Buhari himself, the president, has passed on their names. It is the normal thing to do. They have just done the one in the United States. So what is it that everybody would like to discredit Buhari?   They would say no, the Presidency said only 10 people were captured and Buhari has gone to his farm to look after his cows. Are you alright? Well, they have closed the borders. Why? Because they want farmers to produce what they would eat and eat what to produce.  Fine idea. Brilliant. The Central Bank came, gave them money on loan, on grant and all that. Brilliant idea. By the time the farmers went to produce, they went and killed them. Not only killed them, they cut their necks. That makes it deliberate. And then they say the Presidency said they did not get permission to go to their farms. Does that not sound silly? In the meantime, did Buhari say that? Because when you use the word presidency, that means Buhari told you what to say. And you want to discredit Buhari. Buhari never said so. I can beat my chest that Buhari did not say so. So when they were filling their form to get their loans or grants did you put there that they must get permission from minister or governor or president, or somewhere? It sounds silly to me. And this is the country that I fought for? I’m not ready for another war. I’m 80 years old. If you go to Maiduguri, see new hotels coming up. Who owns these hotels? Who are the people selling the food? Who are the people feeding the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs. Tell them to go back home. Let’s feed them at home. Let the army advance and capture the entire Sambisa forest and the area and look after the people. Let’s spend all the money voted for weapons on our people.

 And Boko Haram would not have anybody to recruit. That’s part of their strength that you would have cut. You need to sit down and think deeper than the ordinary. You don’t just wake up in the morning and say Lafia Dole. That means you want to kill them. Boko Haram is an idea. You cannot kill an idea. They should send all the Muslim sheiks to go and deradicalize them, look after their children, give them jobs, spend N200 billion, buy okada for all of them, buy Keke Napep so that it would be at least better than buying cutlasses and wheel barrows.

You spoke about war strategies. And you just spoke about one now. Looking at Generals in the world, who among them were your heroes?

General Patton of the United States army. Let me tell you about that man. Two things he did well that I would need to explain to you. He was going to attack Sicily during the world war. He landed in three towns. I used the same strategy to land at Oron during the civil war. And he had parachutists to land at a point. We had no parachutist at the time. So we infiltrated at night, arrived at Itu and ambushed Biafra. The exact plan of General Patton and it worked. I captured vehicles.  I did not kill any Biafran. We gave them a room to run away through Azumini. I collected their vehicles.  I advanced to Port Harcourt.

Then there was the Battle of the Bulge. When the Allied Forces had problems they had to take his own supply of petrol, oil and lubricants to give to the British. He still didn’t bother.  During that period of the Battle of the Buldge they had defeated the American troops. He was advancing. They had to call him back. They wanted him to come back within 48 hours. He said, “I can come back in 24 hours.” It was the way he set up his strategy. You need to study that man. He did very well. But you know when you do so   well in the military – it is not only in Nigeria. Everybody hated him and all their commanders.  The guy would do things well. The same thing happened in the case of Obasanjo.  He went and attacked Owerri. “Oga, don’t attack Ohoba. We don’t need Ohoba to go to Uli-Ihiala, which is the centre of gravity of  Biafra.”  This is Aba. This is Arochukwu. This is Owerri.  Straight there is Uli-Ihiala. That‘s all we need. Nobody would die. He wanted to go to Owerri like Adekunle. And then go to Umuahia. People would die.  We contained Umuahia. We contained Owerri. We were straight into Uli-Ihiala and in 24 days the war ended.

 So when you were talking about military Generals that I love very much, there is another one, General Vo Nguyen Giap who defeated the French in the battle of Diebenfuhr. And Ho Ching Ming defeated America in Vietnam. They had no resources. But when you are determined to achieve results, you will. Success is inside you, not around you. It is you that must want to succeed. And the people wanted to succeed. They said, Today, the French, na here we go die (laughs).

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