Calls for restructuring have been described as a waste of time and energy and will lead to nowhere. Making this assertion in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, a renowned anti-corruption crusader and retired Army General, Maj.-Gen. Ola Ishola-Williams (retd) noted that what Nigeria needs is not restructuring but constitution amendment to address the ongoing agitations in different parts of the country.

Ishola-Williams also spoke on other national issues including the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organization, Nnamdi Kanu’s travails, calls on Buhari to run in 2019, influx of illegal arms into the country and former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s advice to President Muhammadu Buhari on Nnamdi Kanu and a host of others.

 

Read an interview granted to retired Army General, Major. General. Ola Ishola Williams

What’s your reaction to the recent declaration of the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB as a terrorist organization by the Defence Headquarters?

The issue has not only become a subject of national debate but very controversial as opinions are divided over the categorization of IPOB as a terrorist organization, and amid that debate and controversies, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation had declared that IPOB was only proscribed by the Federal Government, and what that means is that the organization, whether it has been declared a terrorist organization or not, it has been banned.

In spite of the ban, can IPOB still go to court to challenge the validity of that ban by the Federal Government.

To be able to do that successfully, IPOB must be a registered organization – that means that if IPOB is not registered by a relevant body, then it becomes an illegal organization, and there is no way it can challenge that ban by the Federal Government.

Having said this, I believe strongly that Operation Python Dance is a needless one. It is an overkill; the Federal Government should have used the police to quell any form of disturbance or perceived threat to peace by Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB.

Drafting the military to deal with Kanu and IPOB was needless; it shows that Boko Haram insurgency is not occupying Nigeria. It shows that the military is not too preoccupied with how to tame the deadly Boko Haram insurgency. The Federal Government should order troops withdrawal immediately from Aba and other parts of the South East. The police should be allowed to contain IPOB’s crisis.

As part of efforts to find a lasting solution to Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB’s agitations, some eminent Nigerians have canvassed dialogue rather than the use of force. Even some, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo advised President Muhammadu Buhari to have a one-on-one dialogue with Nnamdi Kanu, what’s your take on that?

I also believe in dialogue. Dialogue should be the best preferred option in resolving crisis. But I prefer President Buhari having dialogue with Ohaneze leaders and the South East governors, and other Igbo elders who are already making efforts at finding a lasting solution to the problem.

Obasanjo’s advice is wrong. How can Buhari invite Kanu for dialogue? Dialogue for what? Buhari doing so would also amount to undermining ongoing efforts by Ohaneze and South East governors to find solution to the crisis.

Obasanjo should keep quiet, if he doesn’t know what to say again or advice to give. With due respect to him, Obasanjo is a hypocrite. When he was the President between 1999 and 2007, did he invite anybody for dialogue or discussion before he sent troops to destroy Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State? Obasanjo should not be taken serious; he is only playing to the gallery.

I don’t expect Obasanjo to make that statement. His advice that Buhari should dialogue with Kanu is very wrong.

By asking Buhari to meet Kanu, is Obasanjo legitimising the actions of Nnamdi Kanu some of which are very wrong?

I’m highly disappointed with Obasanjo. As a retired General and former President, he shouldn’t have made that statement. Is Obasanjo trying to elevate Kanu above Ohaneze leaders and the Southeast governors?

The other time, that was how he went to meet the father of a Boko Haram leader, a known terrorist under the guise of helping the Federal Government to seek an amicable way to resolve the Boko Haram insurgency. Honestly, some of the actions often taken by Obasanjo and some of his comments do not show or reflect strategic thinking expected of a retired General and a former President.

Again, asking Buhari to meet Kanu one-on-one for dialogue will also boost Kanu’s ego. He might even start seeing himself as Igbo leader or hero of a sort, which he is not. You can never compare Kanu to somebody like Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu or any other renowned, prominent Igbo leader. It is balderdash to ask Buhari to meet Kanu for dialogue. That task should be left for the Ohaneze leaders, South East governors and other Igbo elders. Kanu should not be it at all.

Well, some people may want to say that Kanu commands a huge followership, yes that may be so. In history, we have seen men who had huge followership, with figures like Adolf Hitler but who are not diplomatic, reasonable, lack finesse and didn’t act with decorum. Nnamdi Kanu also falls into the category of these people. He should not be regarded as Igbo leader — he doesn’t have such qualities. He should not be treated or regarded as Igbo leader, he doesn’t merit it at all.

Like I said, Obasanjo should have reflected very well before making that statement.

If the Police is well equipped, I don’t see any reason for Operation Python Dance. Operation Python Dance is nothing but an act of intimidation. Buhari should order troop withdrawal immediately while police should take control of the situation. IPOB issue is a police problem. The situation in Aba and South East has not assumed a frightening situation like the one created by the Boko Haram in the North East.

I’m not impressed at all by the way both Obasanjo (when he was in office) and Buhari handle security situation in the country as retired Generals. It is sad and unfortunate that it is only in Nigeria that soldiers are drafted to scenes of riots and protests. In other climes, even in countries like Cameroon that is very close to us, it is police that is used to quell or contain civil unrests.

Some have canvassed restructuring as the only way out to stop the agitations by IPOB, and other ones across the country, what’s your reaction to that?

I say a capital NO to restructuring. Restructuring is nonsensical. It is not it. To resolve all these agitations is very simple – what we need is constitutional amendment which should be done by the National Assembly, and President Buhari has already agreed to that, and on their own part, the National Assembly has set up committees saddled with that task. Restructuring is a distraction, a very big distraction, we don’t need it.

What we need is Constitutional Amendment to address the issue of how to divide or share national assets. But fiscal federalism is also important, all states can’t be equal, states should be allowed to develop resources in their domain for the development of their regions or areas, and can make certain contributions or pay tax to the central government. There is hardly a state in Nigeria that is not endowed with mineral resources that can be harnessed for commercial purposes. But definitely, all states can’t be equal.

Then whatever constitutional amendment is done by the National Assembly should be subjected to a referendum, and whatever is the outcome will be binding.

There is no need for any restructuring. What I have just highlighted is what we need to do, and I believe that if we do the needful, all these agitations will fizzle out.

On the state of insecurity across the country, the idea of setting up National Guard was recently mooted as a way of complementing the police and other security agencies, how do you see that?

National Guard? To guard what? That’s another avenue to siphon public funds. It is another avenue to create room for looters.

What do we need National Guard for? There is no need for it. Apart from the police, we also have the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, we also have Peace Corps, and at the state levels, you have different para-military outfits saddled with confronting security challenges. Why do we need National Guard again? Why not maintain, equip and sustain those security outfits we have already.

There is no need for any National Guard. Yearly, both federal and state governments budget money running into trillions of naira for security purpose, what happens to this fund? How well is the money disbursed for the purpose intended? These are questions people should ask.

With 2019 about two years away, some Nigerians have started campaigning for President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to seek another term, how do you see that development?

It is very unfortunate. Not amusing at all. If APC is a serious political party, by now they should be shopping for another candidate that the party will present in 2019. It is very unfortunate seeing people like Governor El-Rufai, and APC National Chairman saying Buhari would seek a second term in 2019. Second term for what?

Are you saying President Buhari is not eligible to seek re-election?

I’m not saying that. Of course, it is Buhari’s constitutional right to seek another term. But the question you ask is this, will that be in the best interest of Nigeria if Buhari runs in 2019? I say a big NO to that.

It is not that Buhari is not qualified, but it is not in Nigeria’s interest that Buhari should run in 2019. That’s why I’m happy that former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has declared his interest to contest in 2019. Others who have interest should also come out.

From the look of things, with Buhari’s health challenge and age, what will we be looking for again in 2019? What does he have to offer in 2019? His health challenges and age are a source of concern.

Although Buhari is incorruptible but that doesn’t mean that he is indispensable. Nigeria can do without Buhari. Presently from what we are seeing, Buhari is not in charge. To me, if Buhari has conscience, he should not run.

It is sad that Nigeria is full of sycophants, if not, why would people like El-Rufai and Oyegun be selling Buhari’s candidacy in 2019 to Nigerians now? These pro-Buhari campaigners are very wrong – they are not helping Nigeria.

On the lingering Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, what is your advice to President Buhari?

The military is doing their best – they should sustain the current momentum and onslaught against the insurgents.

However, like I said earlier, rather than diverting military operations to other parts of the country like Operation Python Dance, Operation Crocodile Smile and others, the Army should focus on battling the insurgents. There should be no distraction.

All these operation this and that should be suspended while police should be allowed to deal with civil unrests, protests and riots. This is what they are trained to handle. The military should not be distracted, and this is why I will like President Buhari to order troops withdrawal immediately from Aba and the South East.

It is not every civil disturbance or crisis that the military should be drawn into. The President must also cultivate the bait of using dialogue. At times as the saying goes, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. Dialogue is a good instrument, a valuable key to achieve peace. It is only when there is peace that there can be meaningful development.

What’s your reaction to the recent influx of arms into the country with the discovery and seizure of hundreds of guns, ammunitions and other arms by the Nigeria Customs?

It is a serious development that should be of great concern to the Federal Government.

However, what is curious to me is the revelation that all these seized arms and ammunitions emanated from Turkey. They were imported from Turkey. I’m surprised that the Federal Government has not deemed it fit to take the matter up with the Turkish Government.

There is no way arms can be shipped out of a country without the approval of relevant security agencies in that country. Turkey has a case to answer. The Federal Government should demand an explanation from the Turkish government.

Influx of illegal arms into the country is a matter any serious government should not gloss over. Thorough investigation should not only be carried out, but government should also find ways of checkmating the ugly trend.

If such illegal arms found their way into the hands of some militia groups, organizations making series of agitations here and there including IPOB and even Fulani herdsmen, this government must find a way to arrest the ugly trend.

With the way things are going, some have expressed fears that Nigeria may break up, do you harbour such fears?

Why should Nigeria break? Who wants to break Nigeria? There is no need to entertain any fear or anxiety. What the Federal Government needs to do is the needful which I had earlier recommended in the course of this interview. If constitutional amendment is carried out to do that, there will be peace and contentment by everybody and all these agitations will fizzle out.

However, it will be dangerous for the Federal Government to procrastinate in effecting the suggested advice. The earlier the government does the needful, the better.

Nigerians stand to gain nothing from the break up of Nigeria. Break up will even create more problems.