We should have allowed Igbos to secede but …

Last week, we brought you the first part of this captivating interview with General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade.  In that copy, he discussed the health challenges of President Muhammadu Buhari – who happens to be his friend; the issue of restructuring – which has been one of his life-long pursuits; as well as his stay in exile  during the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, days. In this second series – which is the concluding part –  Akinrinade practically rued the fight to keep Nigeria one, explaining that should Nigeria continue with its lopsided, deceptive and warped federal system, something would give.

But he was quick to add that he has hope that Nigeria would remain one, based on certain conditions. But more instructive in this issue are the General’s  disclosures about what happened at the war front as never before done. Teary-eyed, sometimes, the amiable-looking but famously stern General would pause a bit, then, continue his narration.

We had actually finished the major interview but the journalist in you wanted more.   Knowing that one of the best ways to get a very good interview is to make your guest feel very comfortable talking to you, a plea that we could actually do a human angle segment over refreshment was put across, to which Akinrinade agreed. Also cognizant of the fact that if you push too hard, you could turn your guest off, some follow-ups were not necessary.

If you are not interesting, he becomes very bored and you won’t get the best out of him.   If you become too precautious, then you turn him off. But the General was a fatherly man all through.   At the launch of his book, MY DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA,  last Wednesday, with  fanfare at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, you need not be told that Akinrimade  is a Nigerian with friends across ethnic divides. Hold your breath as you enjoy this concluding part.



Good, you allow people to make choices.   And you also said it is good to allow people decide their fate.   This present agitation by the Igbos, garbed in the Biafra  movement, in retrospect,  wouldn’t we now begin to admit that the fight to keep Nigeria one, based on contemporary realities, was futile, a fool’s errand, that was not worth it?  Those ideals that people had, in keeping the nation one, appear  to have been thrown out of the window. (Pause).

Well, I think as far back as the early 1980s,  I’d alluded to the fact that it is still possible to keep a country like  Nigeria one. I still have that belief.

You still do; with all that is going on?

Gen. Akinrinade

Okay, whether it is a  belief that is actionable and realistic, I have doubts myself now.

So, what do you anchor that belief on?

Maybe because some of us have served everywhere and we have friends everywhere and we talk and discuss and share views. As far back as 1983 when I went to Ife to deliver a lecture, I suggested that we would do much better with a confederation.

There were quite a number of things I also said there.   Because, there, I made it clear that the way free education was being  continued, it was not going to survive or give quality education, that it needed remodelling.   Those who had made good and were expected to pay back to society were still hinging their hopes on free  education.

That was not fair.   When you have benefitted and can afford to offer at least 20 scholarships, you still want to keep your wealth made through free education and you want your children to also participate?    On top of that, you add bursary.   Are you  going to give bursary to children of people in my social  category?      It would be unfair on the farmers and those in dire need of the bursary.   So, because my father married five women, I should now marry six because I appear to be a bit more comfortable?   The society will not grow like that.   Somebody has to apply the brakes and fine tune things.

I believe a confederal system is more manageable.

But even at that time, people kicked.   So, imagine what the response would be now because things have gone from bad to worse.   Why  didn’t we allow the Igbos to go their way?   Don’t you think we should have allowed them?

Absolutely.   But, honestly, we can have a true federal system  after all.   Even Switzerland, as small as it is, still has its federal system intact.

I think it is a black thing.   We blacks have this problem about managing ourselves.

But you are black and this world-view you have is progressive? Yes, but when we now come together to sit and try to solve a problem, I think we go gaga.

And that negates your hope, rather than belief, that reasonable people should be able to sit down and solve a  problem.   It appears people are not as reasonable or do not want to be as reasonable as you suggest they should be?

When the people are pushed and there is no other way, we would become reasonable because what is going on now, the governance structure, cannot continue forever.


There’s so much going on about corruption in the country today.   The war against corruption.   What is your view?

We are still deceiving ourselves.

Deceiving ourselves?

Yes.   Look, the fight against  corruption goes beyond what is  going on now.

Let me tell you, the  amount of money required, or that is laid out for security alone in this country must be so huge that it must be scandalous.

Scandalous because of corruption or what?

It is simply because we are poorly  organised.   That is not the fault of Buhari.   But it will be his fault if he did nothing about it.   So, this idea of shying away from a wholesale look at how we are organised for these tasks ahead, simply because it is tedious and difficult, then we are not serious.

Let me tell you what breeds corruption: You cannot, for instance, as minister of agriculture, sit in Abuja, and  ask people to apply for or show interest in a scheme like ranching.   Do you know how big Nigeria is?   Are you going to start driving round Nigeria to inspect?   This is just one of the things open to abuse.   Just this week (last week), a young man came to meet me in the farm and asked to be assisted with a tractor to work on a farm land; that he had just gotten approval for a N30,000 per month allocation – a  Federal Government scheme.   He said his wife too applied and got.

So, if they had a grown up child, that, too, will benefit.   I tried assisting him but I  told him it would be better if I helped him negotiate with the owner of the tractor that was being used on my farm.   I was interested in helping him; so I took him in my car to the owner’s place. When we got to the owner’s place, that one requested to see the farm; and I was still prepared to help drive him to that farm so he could show it to us. It was then he said we should give him some few more days so that the farmland he wants to use would be made available – by the original owners. Now, the point I’m trying to make about  corruption and the way we are organised is that you say you want to give people money to farm for a year or two – N30,000 per month – yet you sit in Abuja.

How many people like him do we have in the country?   How many more people’s names would be added who are not even existing. That is how government allows the system to become corrupt.   The remoteness of government to the people breeds things like this and it fits into the issue of restructuring.   Beautiful idea no doubt.   But the system you are using has failed from the beginning. You have an outfit called SUBEB; it is based in Abuja.   So they say they must have branches in every state.

What are they doing?   They are supposed to be building  schools, primary schools-o, in  every state.   Why should that be?  This is money  coming from the purse of all of us.

Let the local people have the money and do the thing the best way that suits them.

That is the nexus between restructuring and corruption – not that corruption will disappear when we restructure, but these avenues of muddling things up would be reduced.   Why must the Federal Government come and build  primary school in my village? Why?   There is a local government and a state government, yet you want to come and do it from Abuja.   Or, that state should bring some money and then Federal Government will bring some money.   We do not have an effective mechanism to monitor such.   It will be and it is open to abuse.

The system gives room for corruption?

Yes!   Now, what is  corruption?   You put me in a place as your friend and I’m appointed as a director or something.   What are they going to do?   They will pay rent, buy me vehicles, give allowances and all that.   By the time they do it for seven or nine of us in a parastatal, all the money is gone.   But it is the system that has created some of these institutions that are needless as well as their centralisation. These are the issues that lead to  corruption and the problems we create for ourselves.

The corruption is so deep and it goes beyond those people who you say are going to the Central Bank to cart away dollars.   It’s deeper than that.

Let me give you another example.   The power situation in the country.   You do not give people electric power.   Then when it’s a few days to the end of  the month, you supply power for some hours and then bring a  crazy bill and they expect you to pay or they disconnect you – I don’t know how it happens in Lagos-o, but that  is what they do in my village.   What other form of corruption are you looking for?   May be we should all just go into the streets and start marching and protesting.

Unfortunately, it appears we are not that  organised for that  kind  of mass protest.   Look at what is happening in Venezuela.   Can we do that here?   It might take long, but I do not think their leader will survive it. People say my views are radical.   Somebody was  saying  republicanism and feudalism have no convergence point at a  recent lecture and then, I remembered something that happened sometime ago. Let me make you laugh.   I went to deliver a speech some years ago and the (late) Ooni  (Okunade  Sijuwade) was seated in the audience and I was saying that republicanism was established by cutting off the head of  the king.   And the old man was sitting there  in front of me.   I had said it before realising the import (laughs).

But the point being made in terms of restructuring is that in  parliamentary system, you can always find a way to accommodate feudalism.

Still on corruption, since Obasanjo’s time, I’ve asked this question:   Where have you heard that government houses are being  auctioned?

Is it the monetisation policy?

No.   I’m still talking about  corruption.

Government comes out to say somebody has eight houses and  they are being  confiscated?

In America, if you  don’t pay your tax or you have an issue with the law and wealth, they seize your property and make the auction open.   After the auction, government reclaims its  money and returns whatever is left to you.

Since Obasanjo’s  time and this anti-corruption thing started, I have not heard or read that some  seized properties were auctioned or that there were even adverts for auctioning  seized properties. So, my concern now is, what happened to those properties?

Did they go behind to return them to the owners or what?   Or did they share it?

Some of the allegations against a former EFCC boss touched on that, even though tangentially.

I was abroad when Buhari was putting his  anti-corruption personnel together and I sent word to the President that if the former EFCC guy was not removed, even  me, I would squeal on him and become a whistle-blower.   And I sent word to him that  ‘if you have any difficulty, call me and I will be ready to play my part for the country’.

You see, there are so many issues in the anti-corruption war that, sometimes, you just wonder.

Nothing is so straight-forward and, some times, the more you look, the less you see.

When you say the system encourages corruption, the Ajaokuta  Steel Complex, the issue of kickback,

which saw members of the ruling party at that time embarking on a trip to France to negotiate kickback… (Cuts in)  Ajaokuta! That is one typical  example which still makes me wonder which type of  country we are in, and which  type of people we are.   We were in  Council   during the IBB era, and we were supposed to discuss something about  Ajaokuta  and I raised a point, that none of us at that meeting knew anything about  Ajaokuta neither were we engineers.   Babangida then said we should suspend discussion and, the following day, we, members of the AFRC, flew to the place to have a  first-hand observation.   What we saw there was shocking.   The place was already rotting away.   We did our assessment and the then Head of State made some moves.   The foundry was the only thing that was serviceable in the whole of that complex.   So, a rail line that would carry both cargo and humans was initiated and it was meant to run from  Ajaokuta to Aladja.   But before then, another committee was set up to go and study the place in details and  proffer a lasting solution.   This time, when we got there, we were able to do a thorough tour of the place.   Some of the houses meant for staff accommodation in the estate within the  Ajaokuta complex had been abandoned such that, in some places, trees were already growing in the living rooms and were even taller than the buildings.

Maybe it was after that that the ruling party you mentioned tried their own nonsense.

No.   I’m talking about the Second Republic, about the non-compatibility of Russian technology and French technology which stalled progress at the steel plant.   This was during the Second Republic.

What?   But I thought they said some people took it over and started selling-off and  cannibalising the place.

Yes, those were Indians/

Yes, Indians.   But which type of country is this?  The debt is still there. The place is yet to function properly.   We are still repaying the debt, yet, there is nothing commensurate to show for the huge investments.   What kind  of people are we?


There was always this talk about General Akinrinade, the tough soldier.   During the war, there would have been instances that you would have experienced, though unpalatable, but such would help Nigerians appreciate what went down, so, those youths of today, who mouth  inanities about war, can reflect deeply.

Things happened, that, when you look back, you feel somehow.

When I was in Bonny,  I had this senior, who  didn’t do too well in his earlier times and, so, he wasn’t getting promoted too well, so I overtook him.   One day, a ship  arrived from Lagos and he was on the ship.   He  didn’t tell me he was coming, so I thought maybe he came to visit or something. Apparently, he brought a  posting paper, that he had been sent to Bonny.   I gave him a battalion to  command.

Five days later, we had an operation which I had planned before he took over that  battalion, but I decided to go with him to that operation – that was in Bonny. Lo and behold, as we were just holed up in one fox-hole there, with heavy fighting going on, I just saw him going down.


(Long pause)What happened?

He had been shot.   We got the medical people to  quickly come and evacuate him and see if he  could be saved.

By the time they removed his dress, behold, he had a life-tortoise strapped to his body.   And I wondered, how come the bullet hit him and he still died?

So, all these people who say they are not afraid of bullets, or that they  have one voodoo that can turn bullets to water so that it does not hit them, I feel for them because in the military and on the war front, these things don’t work that way.

I felt so bad.   I do not think that was what emboldened him to come to the war front; because we were both in that fox-hole, he was just unlucky that the bullet hit him.

This is just one of the things that happened during the war, before your very eyes,  that when you reflect on, you feel somehow.

It was so painful because he spent only five days in the war front and he died just like that.

How was Bonny?

Bonny was a particularly bad place.

Everybody found an excuse to get out of there.


After my two weeks there, I found out that people were shooting themselves.

How?   Were they turning the guns against one another?   Or do you mean people were inflicting injuries on themselves – as in, really shooting themselves?

Yes.   People were  inflicting bullet  wounds on their own bodies.

Sorry sir. You mean shoot their own bodies?

(Pauses, then takes a pitiful look, as if this young man would not understand, then he responds)

Yes!   People were shooting themselves just to feign injury and get out of there.

I just asked myself, we had a war to fight, what do you do in a situation like this?

I simply wrote a Part 1 Order, that anyone who feigned injury or attempted  that nonsense again, should just  kill himself instead, because if he  didn’t, I will do it for him.

Because it did not make sense for people to inflict injury on themselves, just because they wanted to get out of the war front.

I  don’t  think they took it too seriously.

A few days later, the doctor certified that five people had inflicted injuries on  themselves again.

I just ordered that they should  line them up and shoot them.

Of course the whole thing stopped immediately.

Nobody tried it again.

But before then, even among officers, many did it and got away with it.

So, like you asked, you remember some of these things and you feel bad.   But you were in the war front; and you had a job to do.

Why do  you think they did that to themselves?

Some people  felt,  ‘well, we did not cause this war, so why should we go through this type of  dehumanising conditions?’

And then, when  you’re in Bonny, it is as if you are in the middle of nowhere.

The saying that  you’re between the devil and the deep blue sea made a lot of sense there, practically,  because in front is the ocean (in fact my house was just  by the edge of the ocean), then you have the enemies on the other side behind.

Some of the recollections  are bad.

Must be very bad sir.

My brigade was like the spearhead – going  ahead of others to clear the path but, at some point, I just said I wasn’t going again, that the other brigades too should come and lead from the front and not from the rear – from Ikpoba hills.

By the time we got to Umunede, usually the orders are done early in the morning, and I would leave my headquarters as  early as 4am and get to the GOC’s place say by 6am and sometimes at 7; but I discovered that by the time I get there, most of the men would be sleeping. We had one intelligence officer, very good.   So I asked him, ‘why call a meeting for 7am when you knew your people would still be sleeping,  knowing that we would have left our base as early as 4am, coming from inside the thick forest’.

He said the men normally slept around 5/6am.   So I asked him what they were doing all night.   He said they were playing Cha-Cha.

Boy, I became horrified.   He now said he wanted me to know of something.

I asked what that was. He said he  didn’t  want me to continue sending prisoners of war to the headquarters and I asked what nonsense was he talking about.

You know, the Geneva Convention does not allow you to harm any prisoner of war.   In fact, anybody you capture must not be exposed to danger any more – unfortunately, that was the convention.

He said the GOC was killing them at the headquarters, lining them up and killing them.

What that meant was that the pogrom that happened before the war, continued in the  Second Division.

At that point, I asked why  didn’t he tell me this before?   He said it’s like a secret but he knew that I wouldn’t like it.

So what did you do afterwards?

From that day, I made a rule, that in the evening, those that had been captured, I would tell Ike, who interpreted Igbo language, to explain to them that if they wanted  to go back to their units from where we captured them, they could  go back but if they chose to stay back, they would be endangering their lives in the sense that if they overran our headquarters whoever  was caught would be  killed.   But I also  warned them that they could not also misbehave.

At first, because they were scared, they  didn’t want to leave, but later, they did.   But we still found a few who chose to stay with us; and we deployed them in the cook or laundry sections.

That’s why I said some of the things that happened were just too ugly to be retold.

Some of these came out in the classified materials gotten from Britain recently about some people who said you captured them but you saved them?

There was one of the officers who  Gowon nicknamed Bandit.   We all called  him Bandit.   He was commanding a battalion.

In the evening, Ike Nwachukwu (who was my operations officer) and I, around 6pm, we would take a quick look at the 3  battalion headquarters before retiring for the day, just to be sure people were properly deployed. This evening, somewhere in the Ishan side, when we got to Bandit’s headquarters, he sat on  that type of collapsible chair officers carry about.   When he saw me, he jumped up and saluted. And behold, there was a man buried in front of  him, with just his head above the ground. I asked,  ‘who or what is this? He said,  ‘he’s a rebel sir’. I was initially taken aback, at least, knowing that we were fighting rebels in the first instance, so what made this one peculiar? He said,  ‘well, he should suffer a little bit more before he dies’. I asked,  ‘what’s the point, you want to kill a harmless man?  How do you intend to kill a man who you have buried already?’ He said,  ‘you  just cut  off his head sir’. What? What what? No, I’m just asking what that meant? You asked the questions, so get the answers too. (Another pause) He said ‘yes, just to cut off his head, as long as you do not look at his face’.

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