Air Commodore Dr (Chief) Luke C Ochulor (Rtd), was the first military administrator of Delta State. He hails from Okpofe in Ezinihitte Mbaise. In this chat with our Group Editor, Afam Echi, he explains why the military was yet to win the insurgency battle. The Imo elder also shockingly revealed that the destructive herders in the South East have Igbo men behind the business. His incursion into why we are not making progress in our politics is revealing. Enjoy the read.
How would you look at the political situation as at present in Nigeria?
Let us not dwell very much on the myriads of issues facing Nigeria today. The question as to how did we come to where we are today has to be answered. Firstly, Nigerian leaders started with a very wrong assumption when we transited from military to civil rule in 1999. Very many good leaders were afraid of getting into politics fearing that the military could still drag them out. So what happened was that most of those who dared to take the risk were mostly people of doubtful pedigree. As the test went on from 2003 to 2007 the political space in Nigeria was inundated with all manner of politicians, the good, the bad, the ugly. By 2011, it became like a battle in the jungle. In the school of the jungle, there are no drop outs, from what we learnt in the military. Those outside the political space found out that politicians were holding sway and criminally building up great wealth for buying up the man in the street. By 2015 only politicians mattered in the affairs of Nigeria. This is because they controlled the commonwealth of the country. It was to your tenths o! Israel at this time
Is the situation not redeemable?
My dear editor, if you listen to some governors in Nigeria around 2015 you would hear them boast that that they would deal with their enemies. Ask yourself who are their enemies? I tell you, their enemies are those who do not belong to their own political parties. A country where a citizen simply because he doesn’t belong to their own political party is their enemy can never move forward. To these types of governors, nobody else matters except themselves and their political supporters. With 91 political parties in Nigeria in 2019, how could an honest man or woman survive under such a situation? Win at all cost became the order of the day. What I am saying here is what Nigerians already know. I am only trying to amplify the situation. Once a politician loses an election despite all the propaganda earlier on he heads for the court and starts buying up the lawyers and judges. At the moment we are running a rat race whether you believe it or not. If you oppose them you will be branded an anarchist or a traitor. I believe we have lost out in this country and there is nothing new in what I am telling you today.
How do you look at the security situation now?
Now Afam, let us talk about security in Nigeria. To say the truth nothing bothers us more than the activities of herdsmen and ISWAP (Islamic Society for West Africa people). Nigeria should reconsider her foreign policy guideline. Let it be known that most other African states hate Nigeria and her citizens but our policy makers ignored this bare fact and continued to play the big brother role. Yet a minute number of criminals coming from all the regions create a bad image for Nigeria. Nevertheless, that should not give the world and Africa the authority or audacity to paint every Nigerian with the same brush. If I were to be the head state I would have directed the National Assembly to request for a general mobilization and every fighting man or woman to go to the North East or North West and decide whether we are going to survive or not. In other words it will be necessary to declare an all-out war against ISWAP and Boko Haram. Without that there will be no peace in this country. But one thing is certain from the way I know the Nigerian military from its inception the Boko Haram and ISWAP know clearly that they can NEVER defeat Nigeria in this war even if the war lasts for 50 years. Boko Haram and ISWAP know that God does not need any one to fight for him. He has the capacity to destroy the world in a matter of minutes. Our greatest problem today is insecurity and lack of purpose.
There is this very strong suspicion or rather allegation among Nigerians that government is not serious with ending the Boko Haram war. Those who canvass this view hinge their point on the amnesty given the insurgents, sabotage or ambush of the military leading to mass depletion of soldiers, inability to equip the military etc. What is your take here?
Editor, these are speculations. In my training in the military we don’t operate on speculations. And I don’t think these statements are true. The issue is that if Boko Haram has been defeated within one year of coming into power of this present government nobody would be talking like this. But the problem is that both Boko Haram war is a religious war. It is a war of ideology and once they have been convinced that they would go to Allah in his paradise if they kill people opposed to their religion it is difficult to manage. There may be some other problem just like you can find in every organization. The Nigerian military, the army is trained to win all land battles and that is the policy. That is the philosophy and code of ethics. It is because of the nature of this war drawing from my experience in the military where I fought many wars, the civil war, I was in Lebanon, in Zimbabwe and others, I know that things went out of control and thus the blame game ensued. I think they are saying this because the Nigerian people do not understand the difference between conventional war and guerilla war.
In the light of what you have said Nigeria has been participating in global military missions and is reputed to do so well. How come that we cannot over run war in just a section of the country? This is another reason that fuels suspicion against the government sincerity.
The issue is this. I will repeat there is a difference between, civil war, conventional war and guerrilla war. Some of the people fighting Nigeria are from Nigeria. They live with the people there in the north. When you are fighting such a war where you know that the people you are fighting are part of the natives, it becomes a problem. There must be some elements that will have sympathy for the opposing camps. The reason is this; some of those elements might have been friends of the people who are in the military. The danger is what shall we do to avoid getting people who are saboteurs in the military. Right now I cannot accuse anybody of recruiting saboteurs but given the way BH operates and their philosophy they can do everything possible to get into the Nigerian army. What Nigerians should ask is for the military to change their mode of operations. They should change their tactics. What I would suggest is that Nigerian government should declare general war, do mass recruitment of anyone who wants to fight in the North East and North West, even if it means destroying the whole area to get rid of Boko Haram, let us do it. It is difficult to make such decision.
Recently the Senate called on the President to get the Service Chiefs to resign. Does that say anything to you about the general dissatisfaction on the prosecution of the war including heightened insecurity? Do you support the call?
No. I don’t support the call. The reason is that people must face their own field of specialization. You as a journalist must have studied political history. I give due respect to the people at the National Assembly. Most of them have no experience in military operation. The more you stay in the force the more you know what is happening. The Service Chiefs and other elements may not be involved physically in the war but they are the ones who plan. We were complaining in the past about recruitment and retirement of officers who have experience, the only thing people can say is that they have not succeeded in winning the war. That is what they can have against them but they should also know that they are fighting the war. For example, once you are up to 50 years in the air force you are stopped from getting involved in combat because your reaction will become weak. You will no longer react as fast as expected. But today we don’t know the people we are recruiting. We are recruiting from all the 774 local governments in the country. It is not easy to win this war because it is a religious war. It is not an international war. What pains some of us is that other people who are coming to fight are from other parts of Africa, from Libya, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Benin Republic. They are all fighting claiming the territory of Nigeria. But in an attempt to sweep them you may kill other innocent Nigerians. There will be a lot of collateral damage, which is why the Nigerian military are very careful. They have to identify the group and make sure that they are the real Boko Haram people. The Boko Harm people take shelter under the civilians. They use them as fodder. That is the danger but most of these things are not explained to the ordinary Nigerians. They enter people’s houses and stay there to start shooting. Are you going to kill everybody because of them? Changing the service chiefs is not the issue, what matters are to have proper mentality and then have proper information and then soldiers who are willing to fight. The soldiers who join the Nigerian military especially these days are just because of the need for survival. They don’t know that once you join the military within a minimum of thirty years you must be joined in a war. This is a knowledge that people don’t have. You must be involved in a war because of the nature of man.
When you call for change of mode of operation are you not indirectly supporting the same call for the sack of the service chiefs? They have been there without re-strategizing.
It is not the same. You can give somebody advise but it is up to him to take or not. But if you are changing them you will discover that you are still going to get the people that they trained themselves. There is something that we have not stressed the government should focus upon. They should insist upon Nigerian style of appointment of service chiefs and security personnel. When I was in the military we considered the federal character in appointment. This is because even the fighting troops observe this character. The psychology that all the service chiefs are from one region, the north will affect their operational proceedings. They in the field will know that this is not right. It is not right for the head of state to stick his gun that they must come from one area. The whole Nigeria should be his own constituency.
You are saying that that is a wrong thing that the President has done?
Yes that is a wrong thing. He must observe the federal character. He must appoint all the service chiefs from all parts of Nigeria. That is federal character. I say it without mincing words.
You notice that the insecurity is not restricted to BH. We have the cattle rustlers, herders, bandits; assassins etc. Down here in Imo farmers no longer go to farm for fear of planting for cows that destroy everything. Sadly, this affects the same agriculture the government claims to be promoting and they are not doing anything about this? How do we do this?
I tell you honestly what you have said now is quite unfortunate. Normally without farming people here cannot survive. The problem is who are the owners of the cattle? You must ask that question. You better go and investigate. The owners of the cattle are also from this South East. They use the herders to rear their cattle. If you don’t bring them, if you don’t invite them to rear cattle for you, they will not be here.
Are you saying it is our people that bring down the herders down here?
Exactly. They are the ones bringing them but they will go and hide under Miyetti. For them it is business but they should know that if you want to rear cattle the best thing to do is to create your own ranch. They should buy land establish their ranch and people will come there to patronize them. When you allow your cattle to roam around in the name of one Nigeria, it doesn’t make sense. Our people are involved. The problem which they should look deeply into is that Boko Haram could be involved in cattle rearing. They have been trying to come down here in the South but they are being stopped by soldiers. If they would have their way they would bring too and start fighting down here. Boko Haram and ISWAP may be involved in the cattle rearing leading to killing of people.
So many things have happened in Imo in the last seven months which affected people’s condition. Imo people watch with shock as the elders like you and other stakeholders like the traditional rulers, the religious leaders etc keep mute as the people groan under the weight of months of unpaid salaries. Why is it so?
Actually, you know that unless you are involved in a business it will be difficult for you to be involved in that business. I am not close to the government. I don’t know what the government is doing. Besides, it is too early for me to comment. My policy is to allow governments stay up to a year or more before I can comment. But I want to say that in 2015 when politicians gathered around me in 2015 asking me to advise them on how to run a state because they know that I supervised some states as governor. And I told them that what I see in Nigeria today. I told them as at moment if you call me to come and be governor now in Imo, I will refuse.
There are no resources to run the state. Laughter here from all
But it is reported that we have more resources now than before?
No no no no. There are no resources to run the states at all.
How can you say this Sir?
Let me tell you why. First of all you must understand what is available. Here in Imo State you don’t have industries. You can’t point at one single viable industry. You know a state develops based on the industrial level of that state. People would work in the industries and they pay taxes. People will also be encouraged to build houses which will be rented by the workers. A state that depends mainly on the 13% derivation and federal allocation will collapse. There will be so much overhead costs. The main job of the people of Imo State is teaching, civil service and subsistence farming. For me I would not take responsibility of a state that would keep me awake very late in the night. I don’t envy those of them that are struggling to be governors of these poor states. For Lagos, Rivers, Delta, I can understand. These are buoyant states that will survive even from their internally generated revenue (IGR). You cannot survive on the IGR coming from Imo State, nothing is received.
But the governors are supposed to create the opportunities, build the industries just like the people then, M. I. Okpara and others took the initiative to do so?
That is true but let me tell you something. No two situations are exactly alike. At the time that you are talking about M. I. Okpara and the rest there was national peace and tranquility in the land. Farmers were doing their job and herders were not stopping them. Again, the need of the people was small. When you look at it now everybody wants to build a mansion and live well. And people were a bit ignorant of what politics was then but now everybody wants to be a governor, minister, senator etc. The struggle is so much that instead of thinking about how to build the place people are more concerned about grabbing power. This is why it is difficult to develop under such a situation. I am surprised that Nigeria is still standing (laughter again from all)
The report of the resignation of over 300 soldiers rattled many people. What does that mean to you leaving en mass like that?
I saw it on the social media and was waiting to see their list in the newspaper but didn’t up till today. The NASS discussed it. In the military if they gathered together to present such a course as a group, in the face of fighting, because right now there is active war, the rule is if you volunteer to leave that would be execution. That would be considered treasonable. I think all that may be based on speculations. Those soldiers I guess know that there is what is called run out dates. Until your run out date reaches you can’t leave.
What is run out date?
R.o.d, run out date, from the date you entered if you are not a regular combatant officer you can leave after some years. If you are a short service officer you can leave after some years. But when you are a regular combatant soldier and there is war going on you can’t go anywhere. This is why it is good for people to make up their minds before joining the military. This is why it is not good to use soldiers to quell riots in the city; it is the job of the police and the civil defence.
Are you saying in effect that the reported resignation is not real?
No it is just fake news. They cannot come together and say that they are resigning. It is not possible.
What if they have resigned differently?
Yes, they may have. Let us see their names. A soldier who is disgruntled will decide to be truant. Or when he is not doing well he would find fault against the battalion. (Laughter again). But you know these things are happening because we are at war. If there was no war with BH those soldiers will never tell you that they will resign.
What do you have to tell the authorities especially in Imo?
I told you that I do not talk about governance until after a year because I was a governor of different states. I know the problems that they may have. The problem is that all those that want to be governors don’t know the troubles that they are getting into. If they were to know some of them would revert to do their private business and support the country. It is not a piece of cake to be a governor of a state. Remember sometimes ago, I told you that our democracy will likely collapse by 2023 if we do not change how we practice it. It doesn’t make sense having 91 political parties. During my time you don’t award a contract because you are the governor. The executive council must debate to agree on it no matter how small. Now I can’t imagine what is happening with the civilian governors with their billion naira contract award without going through the executive council. Nobody holds you responsible once the Council has approved it.
Thank you Chief.