by Umoru Faruk Salifu & Anthony Maliki
Retired Colonel Abdulmumini Aminu, Borno state military governor during President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, narrates, among other things, how he led other officers to pick up current president Muhammadu Bahuri from Dodan Barracks in Lagos where he was as military head of state.
What have you been doing after your retirement from military service?
If you may recall, I retired from the military in 1993. Since then life has been very challenging. I won’t say it has been very bad, but manageable. I was opportuned in 1986 to be appointed as chairman of Nigeria Football Association (NFA) and I became President, West Africa Football Union (WAFU). I was also a member of CAF, FIFA and the rest of them. You know I am a lover of football. Well, sports generally but football in particular. Up till now I am a stakeholder in football affairs, because I cherish it. I follow football with passion. I always contribute my quota in many ways.
Life in military service or retirement, which area do you cherish?
It depends. When I was in service, I was very young. For me to say it was not enjoyable, is an understatement, because it was a very interesting, exciting experience being in the military and don’t forget, I did a short service course in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), so I was commissioned in 1969 and matched to the war front, because at that time, there was dire need of officers. So we did a crash programme. What regular officers were doing in three or four years, we did in four months. We did not have anytime of ours. It was a massive training, but very interesting. We were happy that we passed and most of us were interested in serving in the military.
But on the other hand, if you compare it with retirement especially for a military officer, they are two distinct lives. When I was in the military, I held many posts and after that, you retire. It is not easy for you to blend with the civil life. In the military when you are given an assignment or give an assignment, you are expected to perfectly complete or adhere to it. In fact, the subordinate in carrying out that assignment, would be worried whether it would be done to the satisfaction of his boss. But on the other hand, with due respect, some civilians do things the way they want, when they want it, how they want it and so on. And even where you push them to do it, you would see that there is some lackadaisical attitude. I am not saying that everybody is like that but some people do that and that can never happen in the military. And that is the beauty of it and that is why if some people leave the military, they are not able to adjust.
You had some time in politics. Now are you still in politics?
I am still participating in politics, but not too active.
At some point you contested for the governorship of Katsina State but you kept out of this year’s election. Why?
I ventured into politics because today that is the norm. I like politics. In my state I am a kingmaker. In the federal government also I am in the higher echelon. Initially, I was in the PDP in 1999, then in 2003 I was in the UNCP. Before the governorship elections I withdrew and supported ANPP then. At that time, I even supported General Muhammadu Buhari and that was how I was even arrested at one time and was in Abuja, although the following morning, I was released. It was on the allegation that I went to a local government area and stole ballot boxes and burnt the entire local government. Anyway, I drove myself to Abuja with the boxes I carried that they were trying to thumb-print and I stopped that and I carried some boxes as exhibit to the headquarters.
The ANPP with other parties transmuted into the All Progressives Congress (APC). Why didn’t you join the APC?
I had personal grudge. It was not because I did not like my party. But later I went back to my party. That was a short-lived thing. Immediately after that, I returned to the PDP after the elections. People say it was because I was scared. It was not so. People always feel that you should be scared. I believe under democratic setting, you should not be afraid of anything. The system protects you. It is not a military administration so I am not scared of anything.
Are you saying this because you have a military background?
I know I am a very courageous individual but the issue is I know my rights. Once you know your rights I think half of the battle is won. I have not stolen money. I have not done anything wrong against any government. I am not a saboteur. It’s not because I have a military background. I know my rights. Nobody can just say you should be arrested. There must be something for somebody to initiate that arrest.
You were governor of old Borno State, now faced with the problem of insurgency. What is your take on the whole situation?
Unfortunately in most cases in Nigeria today, we always allow bad things to develop from weakness to strength. Well, to me, it was supposed to be arrested right from the onset. For you to allow it to develop further, then you will find it difficult to contain it. That’s what has caused our problem today. There is a lot of laxity pertaining to the way the whole situation was handled. We discovered that there were complaints about the military being ill-equipped, ill-motivated, who were not very much supported or leadership that lacked focus. All these put together really cause a lot of problems in terms of objectives of winning any war, whether it is real conventional war or war on terrorism. You see, you must identify the problem clearly and you must set objectives and also the ways and means of how to achieve that objective with the aim of completely destroying Boko Haram. But, the government and the military didn’t have a clear cut idea of how to go about it. They didn’t even define the enemy properly. They didn’t even know the intention of the enemy. They just took them for granted and I know by our training in the military you don’t underrate anybody or any opponent. An enemy is an enemy because if you underrate an enemy, then he can cause a lot of havoc before you realize it. That is the situation we found ourselves. In the course of my military training, I never heard anything like ‘when you are killed’. It is said, ‘when you kill’ because ‘when you are killed’ is demoralizing.
Having been a governor in the old Borno State, what efforts did you make to help mitigate the problem there?
While I was there, there were a lot of problems in terms of security. There were a lot of security challenges in Borno and Yobe and I took it head-long. There was the proliferation of arms and ammunitions from the political upheavals in Chad that caused a lot of security challenges for my administration in Borno at that time. With all the security agencies in the state, we came out with an idea of operating not in a normal way but we had to adopt an unorthodox method, whereby I ordered the purchase of two buses used by security personnel in civil dress and unarmed. That is how we were able to check the insecurity. They would think that they were ordinary people and we arrested many of them, sometimes we killed some. And from there, we had a lot of information until we checked the criminals and that was how we eliminated them right from the beginning.
Would you link the insurgency now to the events of that time?
The magnitude now is different and the Boko Haram is beyond local insurgency because al-Qaeda and ISIS are being alleged to be involved or supporting Boko Haram in Nigeria and you can’t imagine, they are using armoured vehicles, heavy machine-guns and sometimes helicopter. So it is not a child’s play. I’m happy that they have taken full military operation to bring to an end the problem of insurgency in the Northeast. I recall that in early 1993, during Babangida’s administration, National Guard was established and I was the pioneer commander. When it was established, Abacha was vehemently against it, because the military, the police and other security agencies saw it as a rival organisation. The military and politicians were not comfortable. Some say Babangida established the unit to enhance his stay in power but that was not the idea. Before it was established, I went to seven countries that established similar outfits. When I came back, we even started sending people for training, suddenly it was abolished. Believe me if that outfit was allowed to thrive, armed robberies, kidnappings and all these would not be, because we could have curtailed them from the onset. We could have had the intelligence to discover all these things. That was our mandate. No security outfit had that kind of mandate and our training was geared towards that. The essence at that time was to establish it as a fighting force as well, so that if there was any attack on Nigeria, it would be the National Guard who would take the first shot to stand the enemy. If it gets to the point that they cannot cope, then the military comes in. I am talking of an attack against the country. Now, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, with due respect, I don’t even know the role they are playing in the country. If you have an outfit like that, that outfit should be able to get some amount of military training. But I really don’t know what they are doing. Are they doing police work, road safety work or whatever? For me, that outfit should take the role of the National Guard to take care of the things I have enumerated. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps should be a stronger outfit. I would pray and beg that our president should look into that with a view to making them a very strong outfit that can perform certain functions. Now, the military is mounting road blocks and the rest. The respect and the fear the military earned is gone now.
The last Chief of Defence Staff said some of the problems he faced were the lack of well-equipped military to tackle the insurgency. Do you think he should be taken seriously?
Yes! Because you see at that level especially in the military, you have to be loyal to the government. I am sure he made his point before the authority. He must have made all efforts, probably something was not done.
So are you saying in essence that the last administration was negligent in dealing with the situation?
They took a lot of things for granted. They never knew it was going to blow out of proportion to this extent. But as far as I am concerned, the military did well, the way they started with limited weapons and even training. You see to fight terrorism is very difficult. It is even easier to fight conventional war than to fight terrorism. The insurgents would be in civil dress, be with the population and you won’t know and even people protecting them without you knowing that they are your enemies. So, it’s a very difficult thing. If the military had wanted to apply maximum force, they would have done it, but at what cost? They would have killed a lot of innocent civilians and Nigerians would complain and if you do it to save lives and property they would still complain. It is a double edge sword and it depends on your real calculation, how you really plan your own operation. But whichever way, you stand to be accused of killing innocent people and there is no war that can be fought without killing innocent people. But to what extent is what matters.
At a point in your military career, you were asked to arrest your superior officer, former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, the present president. During the IBB coup you were asked to arrest him and you did. What happened and how do you relate with each other now?
I must confess that I led that operation. I went to Dodan Barracks that time in company of two other officers - then Major John Madaki and Lawan Gwadabe. Three of us went, but specifically I was the one that went upstairs to bring Buhari. With due respect, I have been reading in the papers and listening to radio, people saying that we manhandled him, we disrespected him. That was not true. I and General Buhari are the only two who knew what transpired upstairs and there was nothing like that. We gave him his absolute respect as a superior, because even before that time, we had absolute respect for him, because of whom and what he was. We respected him a lot till today and there is no animosity between us and he knew it was a military assignment that we were carrying out from our superior. He even told me at one time. So for us, it is just like the other way round of when he came to power during the anti-Shagari coup. I was among those who played a major role in getting him to power. So, he knew the role I played. And even Buhari knew in 2003, I was arrested because of him. That time, I supported him. I worked for him at that time, without even him knowing anyway, but he later knew.You see, once you believe in somebody and you know he has the capability, you can do anything for him without even him knowing.
But, is it true that you handcuffed Buhari?
It is a blatant lie. In an operation of that nature, we don’t carry handcuffs. I did not salute him because according to military tradition and norms when the flag is lowered, you can only pay compliments the way you deem fit, not salutation. We met at 2 a.m. and at that time, we don’t salute because the flag is down, until 6 am again when the flag is up. To insinuate that he was handcuffed, that is far from the truth. We only accorded him all the respects he deserved. I still hold him in very high esteem.
But why you are not with him in the same party?
I left the PDP, which was on a personal ground. I am in the APC. I have been in APC for long. I and Buhari met in Katsina before our governorship election.
There was a time you were in PDM?
I have never been in the PDM. But at the early stage of PDM, when General Musa Yar’Adua established it, I was a member, including Tony Anenih and others. That was what metamorphosed into the PDP at that stage, yes; but not the PDM as a party.
People have expressed worry in some quarters that President Buhari is slow. What is your assessment of his administration so far?
To be slow and calculative is a strategy. I don’t know what he might have met. Now, he is in a position to know how he would govern the country. First of all, he has to align all the dismantled areas. He has to put them right because he can’t just start doing things blindly. So, I have no complaint about that, I don’t have any worry about it, they should allow him to do things at his own pace and to do what he deems fit, because he is the person on the ground. He is the one who knows the situation better than any other person. Besides, we know Buhari is a very sincere person, a honest, incorruptible person. My advice here is that, like any other person has been saying, he should also look for people who are honest, who are sincere, who love this country and who are ready to work. He knows them but it is very difficult to get people like him because most Nigerians are corrupt. He should know how to pick his team. If he gets the right team, you would discover that he would do little and everything would fit in. The government should pick people even if the president is doing something wrong, they should be able to tell him. But today, you discover that a lot of people because they are corrupt, they see leaders making mistakes, they would not draw their attention to that, because they are scared that they would be removed. We don’t want ‘yes sir ministers.’
What is your general assessment of the state of the nation?
For me, I am a Nigerian, I believe in Nigeria, I love Nigerian and love Nigerians irrespective of who they are, their religions, tribes or faith and I want Nigerians to stop discriminating against one another because we are talking about Nigeria and where is the strength if there is no unity? When we say unity, we must avoid being a northerner, a southerner. Today Nigeria is being supported, respected from the outside world because of our number. Today, it is not because of our oil or economic potential that we are being recognized and respected, it is that number particularly. That number alone is why some people don’t joke with Nigeria. So we should harness that advangate into strength by being each other’s keeper and respecting ourselves. Let me tell you, any individual who believes he would just succeed alone from the section he comes from or religion, would fail in every endeavor he ventures into. I have seen a lot of my superiors who developed people, who supported people irrespective of section, tribes and that is what most Nigerians should be doing. I was afraid at one time that if there is war against Nigeria, it would be a difficult war. For example, if it comes from the south west, people would say ‘just leave them with their problems’ and if it comes from the northern part, some would say the same thing because we are divided to that extent. So unless we orient ourselves and that is the duty and responsibility of government. We have the National Orientation Agency (NOA). I am not saying they have not done well, but they should find a way of doing it properly. They have their own ideas, but we have not seen the impact.
How do you intend to make this message go round the country?
The government should take the initiative. However, we must stop thinking of our tribes, being a Christian northerner, Muslim northerner. But you can do that personally, it is something you cannot eliminate completely. You cannot tell me, I cannot see myself as a Muslim, but see it within yourself and your God and your family, but don’t go beyond that. Everybody is mature enough to know what is right and what is good for him. We have problem and unless we solve that problem we cannot go anywhere. It is not just when we meet in America or England that we start seeing ourselves as Nigerians. People keep saying that if it is not their man, they would not feel comfortable. We should eliminate that as much as possible. I know Nigerians are good, it is the leadership that should be tasked with this responsibility. The Nigerians I know, if you are good, they won’t be worried about your tribe or where you come from. If you give them the best of leadership, they would support you totally.
How do you intend to take this message to the likes of Ohaneze, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum and the rest of them?
I is out of fear that they are establishing all these groups. They are just pressure groups. What are they doing? They are just pressure groups as far as I am concern. If it were a military administration, I would have removed them. Yes, because that is giving them the feeling that they are northerners, southerners or whichever section. They are not helping the country but a section which we are trying to eliminate. As far as I am concerned, there is no basis for these organisations.
How long are you going to sustain this campaign?
You don’t set targets. Even when you achieve your aim, it would still continue. You cannot operate under this. Today, we are still talking about Biafra. Can you imagine? It does not make sense to me. It is just a way of agitation. They are afraid that because they did not vote APC, they would be marginalized. They don’t have to be afraid. The constitution has taken care of everything.