Former chief of defence staff, Air Marshal Allamin Musa Daggash, in this interview with TARKAA DAVID, speaks on the need to sequence the number of security operatives to civilians to secure Nigeria, the appointment and sack of service chiefs as well as the need to review the nation’s constitution. Excerpts:
With the recent turn of events in the Northeast, particularly in Borno where farmers were recently killed, what can be done to avert such threats?
Well, I don’t know, I can only tell you the little bit I know about the incident. I’ve heard from some people. I know that village, Jere village. I have been there about three times and it is a choice place for farmers, fishermen not only those in Maiduguri, but the Kanuri, Shuwa or the Fulani’s even the Hausas do also come from Sokoto, Zamfara, Taraba to farm. They come there because the land is fertile so they easily grow rice, wheat, beans, maize, and lots of vegetables and also catch fish. So even those that come from Sokoto, Taraba, and Zamfara that’s what they do come to do. They come and pay a token to the inhabitants and then they farm. It is a very rich place and anytime you drive there you will see a lot of planting and harvests going on. Each time I drive through the village, I see trailers loading and unloading farm inputs and crops. So, when you look around even the poor little kids look a bit happy. You can see it in their faces so perhaps whatever their parents are doing, at least the goodness reaches them. That is what is known about that place. I heard that Boko Haram attacked that place. This one that happened is what baffled me too, they said Boko Haram attacked the farmers, some sources also said those who attacked them came in some kind of dresses and told the people to come that they were going to preach ‘Wazi’ and people left their farms and came and some of them when people were moving there refused and came back. How could people who look like bandits come to tell us they are going to preach to us? No, so they ran away. They rounded the people up and started beating them and slaughtered them. I think when the news broke to the village and they saw that help was coming then the next thing they did was that they opened fire on those who were still alive. So why I felt so bad about it and the government is that it is difficult. This is a village that has been growing and expanding in numbers because of the resources there and I thought the local government should have informed the state government that the village is expanding, stressing the threats to their existence too and the need for additional security. I understand that there are some policemen there but I am sure they are not more than 10 or 12 policemen. I understand they said there are even some soldiers there but that is still rubbish. You know in Europe, security goes by one policeman to a certain thousand people and whatever therefore in the same sequence if it turns into a war then it will become one soldier or a squadron or a flight supporting so and so people but I don’t think we even think of that calculation here. We just send some people there. They don’t even get them an appropriate office. Maybe one tiny room with mats, the so-called rifle they carry may not have enough ammunition, may be four or five ammunitions. And those people know of our people that our rifles or magazines are always half empty, so they wait for you to finish then they are loaded with 100 or more, they come and start blasting everybody. The security whether it is in the town, local government, or in the village should be commensurate with the threats to the number of people you are trying to defend. But they will never do this calculation, it is just stupid talk. Where were the policemen or soldiers when these people came?
After this incident, there were calls for the sack of the service chiefs, are they subject to civil service rules in any democratic setting?
Well, we are running a presidential system of government, that is what is said and of course, in a presidential system, the service chiefs stay their four years as the government of the day and after that when a new president comes or if the same president is re-elected, he has the choice, the right to choose who works with him. That is the problem in a democratic setting. So, you see now if it was a change of presidency, then the new man can now decide either to maintain those people or ask them to go. But when the presidency is won by the incumbent, he can use that clause to say, okay he retains these people to work with him because the thing is, they say, he has the right to choose who works with him. You can now see the issue. So, if that is the presidential system and the public accepts it then it is difficult for anybody to say sack them. Unless he wants to sack them, he wouldn’t sack them. So, this is the issue, it is a little bit political, a little bit also constitutional. So, which one would you want to break? If he wants to break it now, they will tell him no, you can’t do that because it is in the constitution. The president has the right to choose who works with him, so you see you are stuck. I believe that is where the problem is, I believe not that any one of the service chiefs is doing very well, no. The public has the right to shout and yell but the buck stops at the president’s seat.
I understand there is the Armed Forces Act which serves as a guideline and almost all the service chiefs have celebrated their 60th birthday. What does it stipulate concerning their tenure?
Yeah, the Armed Forces Act is there, it is a guideline too. It stipulates how long we can serve by age. If you get to that age, you should be considered to retire or retire yourself. A commissioned officer has the right to write anytime he wants to leave. He can write to the president and say I don’t want to continue with my service, we have that right. It is in the Act. The second issue is if you are in a particular appointment like the service chief or whatever, it has a stipulated period. That stipulated period is connected to the constitution in a presidential system. The president is voted for four years therefore he selects who to work with, he too has his four years but then when you find the incumbent winning another election again, the clause is there, he has to choose who to work with him. If he decides that this same man who has served four years can now continue to work with him for another four years, it is still his prerogative. You can shout and yell but that is what it is so the service chief who has served for four years and now is asked to serve another four years if he is loyal to the system, to the president then he has to continue.
What is the way out in terms of improving the security of the country because as it is people have lost confidence in the security architecture. What would you advise that should be done differently?
Well, my advice cannot go far in the sense that we all know the system, we all know what to do, unfortunately, the political system itself has derailed governance in this country and that has affected the Armed Forces too. That is the problem. So, people should tackle the politicians, tackle the constitution because the constitution cannot all be right. You can see what is happening in America. That is a constitution of about 200 years now and is being faulted here and there, they may end up doing something very soon but then how old is our constitution?
Those who drafted it and so did not have a thorough check on the system. This constitution was redrafted during our time,1996 when we were leaving the government but then one cannot say it was thoroughly done through representation that is supposed to support the population and support the country.
Everything was done a little bit in a hurry but then if they are people with honest and genuine concerns for the government and the country, these so-called justices and legal practitioners. The constitution is the law, it was drafted by them under military supervision but then how much of the military knows the law?
They are not lawyers. We had probably one or two young men in that committee. Justice Tobi was the chairman of that drafting committee during Gen Abdulsalami, during my period but then how thorough was it, how good was it, how comparative was it with the so-called presidential system in other countries. I don’t think that has been vetted by the public. Everybody was in a hurry, so they too were in a hurry to get out.
So they have been talking about the constitution, some people are calling for a review while others are asking that the constitution be jettisoned and a new one drafted. Which would you want? Others even recommend the 2014 confab report.
No, no. I do not think that the constitution should be thrown away. You cannot just jettison that constitution. It is a lot of work, it is not easy. I wouldn’t say those who drafted the constitution didn’t do well. They did well, they tried. But then they may need to look at the constitution and review it in all honesty not from the political point of view because some of those people clamouring the need for review of the constitution are all political mongers. I don’t play politics but I have served as honourably as I can for 36 years and I appreciate God’s favor for that.
They should not look at the review from a political angle, no it should be from the National interest and total responsibility to the people of this country, whoever is going to sit to do that not politics. If they are going to look at it from the political interest they should just forget it but I believe there are a lot of areas that can be looked into which can be now corrected, amended, and made to operate in its true sense by any politician that comes in. Anyone that comes in and violates it should be dealt with whether he is the president, minister, or whatever. The law is an axe and that is what is happening,
You allow people in authority to do what they want to do, they don’t like this then they change it even if it is not there for them to change they will change it as long as nobody catches them and punishes them. How can we continue like this?
The population of this country now is about 230 million people, it is increasing every year by about 3.5 percent, 4 percent. In 10 years what will we have? Maybe 300 million and if we have not got a good constitution, a good law reform, and a good set of politicians that can abide by the rules of the game, rules of the constitution, rules of the law then we are gone.
The brand of politicians we have now are just nothing to talk about, nothing, even those so-called politicians they are not playing it and they know it, they read it, they know it but then they are not operating it that way.
And the bottom line is that you have the elections and the Presidency from top to bottom. You’ve got a good presidential system, a strong President that can hold the axe and operate in the interest of the nation and the population, nobody is above the law but then you are just holding a strong President who insists that you must work to the constitution, a strong President that will also punish anybody that does wrong not minding his affiliation. Whether he is from his (President’s) political party or what, that is not it. God has said if I give you authority over people on the day of resurrection, I’ll ask you how you ruled these people however when we die only Allah knows how to judge but as long as you are living you know it is not your hard work, you know there are many people better than you but then somehow God said you should be there. If you have that then a lot of nonsense will stop.
In recent times we had the EndSARS protests that transformed from EndSARS to ending bad governance and then later tagged an anti-government movement trying to topple the government. What is your opinion about the movement?
I don’t view that as an attempt to topple over the government or whatever. If you go through what has been happening in the last four or five years, the end people, the so-called educated people, frustrated people, jobless people, and difficulty to survive have made people talk. They have said so many things whether the government likes it or not but they are uttering their own concerns and so the bottom line is if you have got statistics of about 17 to 18 million young people that have no job.
You can see them on the roads and there are no concerted efforts to get them off, if tomorrow you raise a flag and say let’s bring this government down, let’s change the system, a lot of them will follow you but that is what has happened with the EndSARS thing. And whoever initiated that EndSARS movement is knowledgeable, crafty enough because that was one of the serious problems that concerned the masses especially down South because those Policemen were terrible people.
I don’t know whether you remember when Anenih and his gang were terrorising the then Bendel region. He operated for about five years before he was caught, the Policemen that were supposed to tackle them also joined, they were doing similar bad things to the people and that’s why a lot of young people rallied and said they should end that SARS but as I was telling people, people asking for a change of government or revolution cannot be far away from having so many frustrated people in the country, jobless people, young, old, middle. If that type of thing starts, you cannot say they are trying to end a legitimate government, they might have been crying for so many years to the government we have no jobs, no food, and the rest before they came to the end of SARS thing and I don’t think it has changed. I used to tell some people, philosophers have said when you see a population and that population is almost 60,70 percent of able young men jobless, no work, no craft and even in the country itself nobody looks at you to give you a good job, he will always look at his brother, someone from his village, a high level of nepotism and what have you, they will come together and vent their anger.
When that happens, some kind of revolution will creep in. It will move in step by step, group by group, it will cause a lot of unrest and that is exactly what happened in Nigeria. If you are a leader whether you are a traditional ruler, governor, minister or President, whom the people get up and shout and yell and you don’t listen to them then who are you going to listen to. They have a right to be listened to and then you try to do the little you can for them by improving the situation and you keep going.
Then it shows in your governors this is the best way to go about this so let’s improve this and that and then you keep going. You cannot do it overnight agreed but start somewhere and keep the momentum don’t let it drop and then you have to advise from the federal government that the governors have to do the same and the local government chairmen have to do the same thing, All these corporate companies, you call them and discuss with them as government, look we this crisis of unemployment, how do we go about it, they will bring you their complaints, yes as a government I’ll try to solve this and that but you try to employ so so and so and let’s fight it together. There are a lot of ways to kill a rat they say.
We have a lot of agitations, some arising from perceived nepotism, others seeking to be divided. In your wisdom as an elder statesman, what would you advise?
They are also liars, they are supposed to represent the people and when he/she is going for political campaigns, they will shout and pledge to represent but when elected he/she has forgotten about the promises. He is only talking about his pocket, talking only about getting more jobs, contracts through squeezing one company here and there. They are deceiving the people, there is deceit in the system. If they can remember the olden days 1960 right from the 40s and 50s when we had only four regions and the white men were still here up to 1960 when we got our independence, were we not living well, were we not living together, there was the North, West, East, and South. There were political mongers too, people like MKO, Awolowo saying the North is too big we must dissect it but they too were talking about what was worrying them, it was about the political number, when they (North) come to elections they are too big and that was when the issue of rigging started. Even then we were living peacefully. There was no oil at that time, it was only cocoa, palm kernel, rubber, groundnut, cotton, hides, and skin, these were the things that were being exported by Nigeria and it gave us foreign exchange, money to run the government. The foreign exchange was kept in London at the commonwealth reserve, the nation was moving. I went to almost a free school at Kuru science school. When I was at Abeokuta Grammar School, my father had to pay every fee with my late brother. Even when I was attending Mrs Kuti’s class, the primary school my father had to pay everything but up North here the children of the working class were paying a small fee but for others it was free. Everything I had in that school was free, every son of talakawas had the same thing from books, uniforms, and food including pocket money every week. They will give us soap and water to wash our clothes. It was free. The roads were not as many but the few were good. That was governance. Whatever God has given us was used for the people and suddenly the oil thing after independence came in and everybody forgot about farming, trading or the other, everyone started carrying briefcases claiming to be an oil dealer and then next thing they started stealing all the oil money. All the oil money has been stolen only God knows how much is outside that has been stolen but the Americans know exactly where they are in all the banks, the Northern Elders Forum when they went to Washington two times, the State Department told them and showed them documents, piles of volumes. They said this is the list of your countrymen and their companies, with all the money in all the banks but this is the way to go, when you go tell your President to set up an independent tribunal, they don’t trust your judiciary, it once happened in America too.
Set up an independent tribunal of renowned retired judges, pass it through the National Assembly and it becomes an authority but they have not been able to try the people. They know the details are there, they told the team then that the monies that are outside are worth about six years of Nigeria’s national budget. They said they are ready to come and give evidence however, this is something that nobody wants to hear. You people should find a way of telling the government, shoot at those who stole the oil money, the press is not as active as it should. You are not strong. A lot of them are lobbyists more or less now. You are supposed to represent the people, you are supposed to fight for them. If somebody does wrong, you can start by telling him the truth. The media should do very intensive research and investigation on corruption. After all, when the President was campaigning, he said he was going to fight corruption, the press can take him on that, it is a sad thing for this country. When I go out in the morning, I see the misery on the streets and everywhere amid abundance. The press has to come back very strong. God’s wrath is on all of us because Allah says you know something is wrong and you don’t try to fight it but condole it you are also guilty.
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