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Why Ekwueme was schemed out of 1999 presidential race –Williams

Major General Ishola Williams (rtd), one – time head, Nigeria, Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), in this interview with JOHNSON AYANTUNJI, bares his mind on the state of the nation, Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary, COVID–19, herbal medicine and how the military schemed out the late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme out of the presidential race in 1999


It is the second year of the second term of President Muhammadu Buhari, how would you describe his administration’s performance so far?


The interesting part of it is that the second term of Buhari falls into the 60th Anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence, which is October 1. Now that he does not have to stand for election again, he has all the opportunities in this world to implement what I call three – point agenda of security, which everyone agrees is a priority. The second is the present political system and structures which are not working.


There are too many agitations especially in the south and the middle belt. The third is the issue of integrity of institutions in government, the personalities and the effort to bring that integrity in the three areas. There is still a lot of work to be done. However, there is a lot of progress in infrastructure. This administration puts a lot of efforts in it with special attention to transportation in railway.


They are carrying on with the agenda started by Obasanjo, continued by Jonathan. They are doing the same thing for roads. In that area, there are still many important roads to be completed. Somebody said Lagos – Ibadan Expressway has been under construction since the time of Obasanjo and till today it is yet to be completed, not to talk of some other roads. What is wrong? One cannot say.


In the area of education, agreed many young Nigerians want to go to university, but then the government keeps establishing universities in every state in every zone without backing them with enough resources. In the university rankings, how can a university in Nigeria in the whole world come to 500 and we are very happy with that when a country like South Africa, the universities are competing in the first 50.


There is something wrong in that. One would have thought that you will consolidate on the existing ones. For health, COVID – 19 woke everyone up from their sleep and especially in African countries; we need to thank our stars on how we were able to survive up till now.


Our structures were I   not built to handle what happened. Maybe the Pastors were correct to say there is a Divine intervention in our cases in Africa, especially Nigeria. We must give kudos to the President. He handled the situation by listening to experts and the task force that he created. That task force is doing a good job. They deserve praises and admiration for the job they have done.


It is hoped that we will now create health infrastructures that will fill the gaps we have in our health systems, especially for those who cannot afford to go to private hospitals or abroad, We need to create in each zone, reference hospitals that are as good as anyone abroad. They are doing that in Ghana, why can’t we do the same here? One neglected area which also came up is herbal medicine.


The DG (Director- General) of NAFDAC said recently that over 30 products from the herbal medicine community have been submitted to NAFDAC for testing. They have done that in Ghana. The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology runs a four – year degree in herbal medicine. A lot of research is going on there and here.


But why we cannot transform the herbal medicine to use like they are doing in Ghana with scientifically trained people is what I cannot understand. COVID – 19 has brought it up, even in the whole world, people prefer the herbal medicine to the orthodox medicine. It is natural and has no side effects. We need to take it seriously. The last point is the issue of restructuring. It is not only pressing, but getting to the point of destabilization of the polity.


How has Nigeria faired in the last 60 years?


No country or human being stands still. You either progress or retrogress. That is in comparison with others. When you look at the last 60 years we need to ask ourselves in terms of comparison what are the ground breaking periods between when we got independence in 1960 and now?


When you look at the South West for example and see what Obafemi Awolowo’s regime as Prime Minister in six years – 1960 – 1966 and now, you need to sit down and reflect if Awolowo had been in power for say another 10 years, what could have happened in the South West? It is obvious – Extra ordinary.


Not only in the South West, in the South East too with Michael Okpara, Ditto the big North with Sardauna of Sokoto. There were healthy competitions among the regions, whether it is education, infrastructure or what have you. That is what is missing today. We have 36 states in the country, governors come and go, steal as much as they can steal loot as much as they can loot and go.


When you get there you ask what this man has done in the four or eight years he spent. What has happened to all the money that came to the states? Because a people cannot stand still, there must be some work done and in between the military came in up to the point that (Yakubu) Gowon came and said that the problem with Nigeria is not money but how to spend it. I have been to some countries in Latin America with military regimes.


We have a lot to be ashamed of as a military regime. Countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile and so on and so forth. The military laid the foundation for their technological development. That we could not do here in spite of being in power for over two decades.


What would you say is responsible for that?


I have been trying to look for a reason since I was part of the military too; it has been difficult for me to do , except for one reason, in that a leader cannot rise above the vision of his people.


What I have discovered is that we have a challenge as followers in Nigeria whether under military or civilian. We have a group of people who will because of their selfish reasons do what is bad for the country, to make sure also that you do not get the right people to contest for election.


Also, those who have money legitimately and illegitimately sponsor those who they believe they can control. Due to the ethnic nature of the country you want to favour your people. Like our President came in and said he belonged to nobody but belonged to everybody.


Obviously from the list of his appointments he belonged to a group of people. The military, whoever the head of state is thinks about survival before anything else. General Buhari had that mentality. That is why he found it difficult to sack people. One he is not street wise.


Throughout the time he left the military, he felt isolated and he does not know people. He does not know most of the people that are recommended to him, even within the armed forces. When he was released after the coup d’état, you never see him at any conference, he never attended any lecture, rarely do you hear him. In the last 60 years one can say that we ought to have moved faster than this. We did not build the foundation that we needed to build in industry, technology, infrastructure and what have you, we did not build it. What we are now doing is haphazard.


As part of the agitations going on in the country the Middle Belt people recently formed the North Central People Forum saying that their interests are not being taken care of…


The North East Forum did that before them. Governor Babagana Zulum is the chairman. What it shows you is that everybody is positioning for the presidential nomination. In fact some people have already started the campaign for 2023. Governor Aminu Tambuwal is already positioning himself.


The way I look at it is that he is looking for a Vice Presidential position. He knows that the North cannot claim to be the president again after Buhari’s eight years in office.


He wants to place himself that anybody looking for a running mate from the North, he is available. My own calculation is that in the name of equity, nobody should contest for presidential candidature with the South East, whether it is APC or PDP, you should pick your presidential candidate from the South East.


But some will say that it is against merit as Mamman Daura, Buhari’s nephew recently posited that we should jettison rotation and go for merit?


We have heard that before. Every time an election is coming, there is always this argument of should we continue with rotation or not. I tell people that there is no state where there is not rotation. If you look at Lagos State here, the rotation is between Muslim and Christian.


In Lagos State, everyone is a Lagosian as everyone is allowed to contest no matter where you come from. The contest is between a Christian and Muslim. Since 1999 and even before then, the last South Easterner was with (Shehu) Shagari. What happened to them? They were overthrown in a coup d’état. An opportunity came in 1999; Alex Ekwueme was the choice candidate.


But the military boys decided that they wanted Obasanjo. They managed to do what they needed to do and Obasanjo came up. It would have been Ekwueme. But since 1999, not even a vice presidential candidate because it was on North – South basis. South south has been with Goodluck Jonathan. South West with Obasanjo, and not only that, we now have Yemi Osinbajo as vice president. What do we want again from the South West?

Former President Obasanjo at a round table with some ethnic nationalities said that Nigeria was fragile and at the verge of becoming a failed state because the indices of a failed state are staring at us and if care is not taken, it may disintegrate very soon. Do you agree with him?


What many people should understand is that no matter what anyone says about the country, a country with a big population and a large land mass is always respected. We gain more by being what we are as Nigeria. Therefore whatever arrangement we can make to keep that as a country, we should do it. But what I see is that sometimes we do not learn from other countries because we just copy. We copied the American Presidential System of Government, the Americans are crying now with Trump. They believe that he is becoming a dictator. But it is not the fault of Trump, but the fault of the Constitution and the system. When you look at it, the President is like a god with the kind of Constitution that we have. But in the Parliamentary System there is no god there. To become a Prime Minister, you go the House and they vote for yo  u. If they feel you are no longer good, they vote you out. But with the Presidential System, the president must approve every appointment. If you look at appointments in Nigeria, priority is given to the people from the North. That is why the North Central Forum separated, the North East Forum and co. In the Parliamentary System if you make that kind of appointment next week you come into the parliament, they will ask you. If you do not satisfy anyone with your explanation they pass a vote of no confidence on you and you are gone. There is no need to go through impeachment procedure and all that. It is the same thing at the level of the state. The best thing we need to do is to change the Constitution to the Parliamentary System as practiced from 1960 to 1966. I believe that is what Obasanjo should be talking about and not to retain the present system. It is not good for us.


The current system is also expensive and cost of governance has left the country with taking foreign loans which is mounting by the day, what is your take on this?


If we change the system both at the state and the federal level, automatically you won’t have everything going to Abuja before you start distributing. It starts from the states to Abuja as agreed in the Constitution. If you really want to start, it will be better to write a new constitution entirely based on the Parliamentary System. I believe that in order to make the transition easier between now and 2023, leave the states as they are with the Parliamentary System. If the States then decide that they want to form a region, they can do so. Nobody has pushed them. It is voluntary. Each of the state and the region must have their own Constitution on their relationship with each other, at the states with the local governments on their relationships, local governments with their own charters. People should be able to sue the local governments on the charter. Right now the local governments depend on the federal constitution for their charters. Each level must have a charter or constitution of its own. Part of the good thing the president has done is to give the local governments’ financial autonomy which is great. That is the proper third level, an important level. But still the state governments have control over the local governments. The second thing the president has done is about the state assembly. State assemblies should not be under the armpit of the governor. But today they just give the members money and anything he wants to do, he has his way. If they get their money directly too, you have a parliamentary system of government they have the control over the governor because they are the people’s representatives. Yes people elected the governor. But the parliament is there to check the governor. In doing the same thing for the judiciary, can you imagine all the governors of the 36 states irrespective of their political parties coming together to sue the FG. They do not want to carry the responsibility. I always tell people that governors are our problems. They are the people who do not want to make a change. They never talk about restructuring. They want the status quo to remain. The governors are the enemies of progress.


Talking about security, insurgency in the North East, armed banditry in the North Central and North West kidnapping in the South-West and South East are on the increase. This led to the formation of Amotekun early in the year. What do you say to this?


I have always told people we have to separate security from safety. If I live in a community, I am looking to live in a safe community where I can do my business walk around any time of the day. That is why Lagos has created the Neighbourhood Safety Corps. It is Community policing because they live in the neighbourhood. They know the people living there. If you are a criminal they know you. Any intelligence you need about people, they can give you. They do not live in any barracks. They live like tenants in any home. That is safety. When the community is safe, the local government is safe, when the local government is safe, the state is safe. The Community should be the responsibility of the state government. If you can deal with that, whoever is in Abuja, it is not his business.


That is what is called  policing. When it comes to a situation in which the state cannot handle it, the states can call for help. All states must have the same standards of training for police. They must be monitored and they must be evaluated to ensure that they conform to standard. You need to create an office for that in Abuja under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Police will now concentrate on two areas.


One, Mobile Police as a para military force will run after bandits and terrorists. That is why their uniform is different and their training must be different from the Police. The Nigerian Police does not need to carry on policing anymore.


It should be left to state and local government. Mobile Police should now have a separate command. The third one is crime intelligence and criminal investigation. They will concentrate on fraud, criminal activities and things like that. You need separate organisation like that of the FBI.


But in the case of Nigeria DSS is doing the job of crime intelligence and criminal investigation. They arrest people too. What is the difference between them and the Police? The Police do the same. What should have happened is that if the DSS is going to be like the FBI, why do you call the police to arrest people?


We have all these security agencies confused about their mandates. DSS should have been the crime intelligence and the criminal investigation. The Inspector General of Police is not commanding anyone but ensuring, training, evaluation and standard of training. You also have the Civil Defence.

It is supposed to protect pipe lines, government infrastructures and also protect Internally Displaced People and refugee camps. In fact in other countries, Civil Defence does the job of NEMA.


But again here, we have the two. People keep saying they do not have enough men. It is not true. Because the Civil defence is doing these jobs, you have freed the police from all those responsibilities because policing is done at the State level.


The 2014 Confab under the Jonathan regime is still there. No one is doing anything about the reports and recommendations?


Most of the people talking about restructuring do not want the system to change. They want to go back to the regional government. I am saying no! You want to create more problems. It will look as if you are forcing them. Are you telling me that the Governor of Oyo and those people have agreed to form a region?


When did they say that? If they are going to do that, they must pass a law into the State House of Assembly and let them do that. That means that they have to write to the National Assembly to change the Constitution for them to do that. Will the people in the South East agree to do that?


But they did that with Amotekun?


I remember in an interview on Channels TV, I told them it is unconstitutional for them to form the regional Amotekun. They were sensible to realize that they have to do that at the state level. Up till now most of them are yet to take off with the exception of Ondo which did a passing out parade. What about the rest? They are still saying they cannot find money. Are they thinking at all?


What has the IG done? Smart man, he went to the president with the new 2020 Police Act, in which they have included Community Policing. There is nowhere in the world where they practice Community Policing and One man sits in Abuja and commanding the Community Policing. It is no longer Community Policing. What did he do? He got N13billion for that. The man who controls the purse will control the people that he pays.


Like I said that time, the South West Governors should know that when you have security agencies, it is political institution, it is an economic institution. It is also a social institution. It has economic costs. It has to be supervised by political authority and people must accept it. Did they think seriously before coming out with their plans for that and how much it is going to cost them?


Above all when you put Nigerians in uniform, they see it as an opportunity to make something for themselves and their family. If you pay them N20, 000 per month, out of that he pays house rent and so forth, and somebody offers them money by the road side, he won’t take it? We behave like people who do not think.


Good idea, wonderful idea. I warned them at that time. I am sure some of my retired colleagues are involved in it. If they do not think about these three things that I mentioned, then something is wrong with their thinking. Once you created them at the state level they can cooperate and form joint patrols across the South West. All the noise they were making between the AG (Attorney General) and themselves, they need not. Lagos has Neighbourhood Safety Corps. Rivers State came to Lagos and copied it.


There seems to be no letting in banditry in Zamfara and Katsina States as people are being killed?


The governor that took over last year had a different approach, instead of going to beg the bandits, he sort of device a system on what the Community is going to do with the bandits among them. He had a dialogue with security agents. In the case of Zamfara, banditry has reduced to the barest. But in Katsina, they are still dealing with it.


But Zamfara too has escalated of recent?


Yes it is on the increase I am against and I was against that in the case of Zamfara and other states. The governor should not engage in dialogue with bandits. It is the work of traditional rulers. By talking with them you are giving them political legitimacy.


They go ahead and give them tax payers’ money. What I keep asking is DSS should be able to tell us know where the bandits get their money to buy the arms. Recently, at the border with Katsina, Nigerien security forces apprehended some arms smugglers. How many have we arrested in Nigeria?


It has been difficult to overcome Boko Haram in the North East. A Colonel and commander was killed recently in an ambush. Governor Zullum escaped death by the whiskers when his convoys came under attacks recently. Why is this so?


I was surprised that the colonel got killed. I was also told that he was a brave man who was always in front of his soldiers. Not at the level of a Colonel. He had Lt – Col, Majors and captains. In any case if he was used to doing that, there are some officers who chose to do so. Again I think the Chief of Army Staff too is tired.

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