Former Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Joshua Dogonyaro (retd), clocks 80 today. The veteran war commander who took part in many local and international operations, in this interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, talks about his military career, life in retirement and the state of the nation.
You initially trained as a dentist, what motivated you to join the Army?
By the time you wrote school certificate examination in those days, you had to think of what to do afterwards. Many ideas would come into your head but whichever one stuck first you embrace it until you hear from God concerning His plan for your life or what He wants you to be. I took interest in Dental Technology because that was what some of my friends were studying otherwise my originally chosen course of study was Accountancy. After my secondary education, I found my way to Lagos. That state then was where everyone wanted to go in search of opportunities. It was while I was in Lagos that I decided to study Dental Technology.
At what point did you choose soldiering as a profession and why?
In our days, the question often asked whoever wanted to go into the military was, ‘What do you want to go and do in the military when you have passed your school certificate?’ Originally, I had no plan of joining the military but then one had friends who had already gone into the military and were now being called officers, while one just sat there and people called you akawu (bookkeeper). Another interesting thing is that when I went to the officers’ mess one time, I saw how officers were fraternising there and realised that you can’t get that in a dental club. It was interesting seeing how officers were relating with one another in a very disciplined and cordial way. I found that very motivating and then I said to myself, ‘Okay, let me venture into this’.
You had a successful career which spanned more than 30 years. Was there any time you felt like quitting?
Quit the military? No way. I did my job properly and soundly until the end of my career.
What was your experience during the civil war?
When the nation was at war, you had to make sure you put in your best and pray for God’s guidance along the way, if you realised that your action would go a long way to help the nation. I didn’t know I was doing anything good anyway; I was just doing things the way they ought to be done. God was my protection; no playing around, no lies; I was just doing what I was supposed to do. God will protect you as long as you are doing the right thing.
Apart from the civil war, you played a prominent role in ECOMOG as a commander in Liberia. What was your experience like during your stay in the then war-torn country?
ECOMOG, as far as I am concerned, was God’s plan for me. The military chose me to lead the operation but God designed it and called upon me. And when that happened, I called on God to take care of me. I took it seriously; I carried out the mission as professionally as required alongside other officers and God’s guidance saw me through. It was one of my best moments.
You moved a lot from one place to another in the course of your career, how did you juggle that with your duty as a family man?
If you are a true believer in God, He guides you aright. I believe in God and I do only that which is right and pleasing to Him. I always want to do that which is pleasing to God. If you do that, you will surely excel because He equips you and He will never leave you alone. If you believe in that, be sure of success. You must have a sound principle to succeed in life. You have the fear of God and you can be sure nothing bad will ever happen to you wherever you are but when you have some selfish interests like taking what does not belong to you, you are bound to have problems.
How do you feel at 80?
It is in God’s plan that I would attain this age and since He wants me to get to this age, He equipped me. So, do only what is right and pleasing unto Him. Do that which glorifies His holy name. If you can do that, you can be sure of His protection and guidance. Things are not easy but with God, for whom there is no hiding place for man, you should be able to stand out anywhere you find yourself and not be afraid. When you are doing things that are contrary to God’s wish and plan, you are on your own. Everything I have achieved is by God, not by me. He guides and directs me. I do that which is pleasing to God.
As an elder statesman, what is your perception of the prevailing situation in Nigeria? Are you happy with the way the country is faring?
What we are seeing is very frightening and disappointing. Everybody has their own time but the nation belongs to all of us. We would not like to see any humiliation or disgrace but there is no hiding place before God. Are we aware of this? Do we have the fear of God? Some of us will just continue to pray for the nation and for those equipped to do certain things so that they could do them rightly.
Do you have any regret in the course of serving the nation?
I thank God that I am recognised by the nation for most of the things I have done. Recognition matters. We thank God for what the nation has done for us and what the nation has seen us do. In the course of my career, I did not give room for anybody to point finger at me for any reason. I always strove to do what was right. What is not yours is not yours. Do your work well and you get your reward. That has been my policy. I always tell my children, ‘Daddy and mummy may not be with you all the time but God sees you all the time so, don’t do things that will bring shame to the family’. Surely, there are lots of virtues, but it is fear of God that should drive everybody’s life.
Insecurity pervades the nation today; it is worse in the northern part of the country. Given your background, what solution would you proffer to this problem?
It is sad. I see security as the responsibility of everybody; every citizen. I don’t understand what is happening to this nation. If we admit that this is our country, then we should be interested in its security. We will continue to pray for the nation and its citizens. But we have to take care of our country as nobody will come and defend it for us. So, security is the responsibility of everybody. Those who are put in positions should know what to do and have the fear of God otherwise palaver dey o.
Some of your contemporaries are still around, are you getting in touch for the purpose of advising the government?
We are trying but there is a limit to everything; it depends on who the leader is. If you are asked to contribute, you contribute. If the advice is taken, fine. If it is not taken, that is left to them. There are individuals that when they speak, they mean what they say and stand by it. We pray that we have the right people in the right places.
At 80, what will be your message to Nigerians?
As I have been saying, we must have the fear of God in this nation. Fear of God reflects in your actions, utterances and your relationships. If you fear God, it will manifest in the place you live as those around you will be happy and feel safe. As parents, don’t do the wrong things; do the right things. It is very important to have the fear of God and do that which is right and pleasing unto Him. It will boost the confidence of those around us. Also, let us be conscious of the security of our nation.
In Tarok land where you hail from, it appears as if the people there embrace soldiering more than any other profession. What is the drive behind this?
I was born in Jos, precisely in Vom. I didn’t stay much in Langtang but every Tarok man is a fighter. We believe in security but at the same time, the fear of God is the main thing.
What was your educational journey like?
I was born in 1940 at Vom Missionary Hospital, Vom, Plateau State. Coming from a humble background, I attended Saint Peter CMS Primary School, Bukuru, from where I gained admission into Boys’ Secondary School, Gindiri. Then I moved to Dental Technology School, Broad Street, Lagos, from where I gained admission into the Nigerian Defense Academy, Kaduna.
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