Lt. Shola Oremade (rtd), who fought the 30-month old civil war against Biafra, in all the sectors, has called for the trial of some of the war commanders by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, for leading a senseless war.
In this interview, he said the current agitations in the Niger Delta and the South-East are motivated by the same situation that gave rise to the unfortunate war almost 50 years ago. He also warned President Muhammadu Buhari to be mindful of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo. He spoke with newsmen in Abuja. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of President Buhari’s change agenda?
I have the belief that Buhari means well for this country, but I think that he is surrounded by incompetent people. I don’t know maybe they have no idea of what to do. It’s just a show of shame to the public. Buhari is a very good leader, not because he is not corrupt, but the people around him, something must be wrong with them. The worst corruption is going on in this government, the worst corruption ever in Nigerian history. They said the former government was corrupt, the worst is happening today. And Buhari doesn’t know, they go back to tell him a different story, they won’t tell him the right thing, and maybe he will believe them, I don’t know. In all ramifications, something is wrong with those around Buhari. And if there is no correction anytime from now, I wish Buhari good luck. I’m not going to tell him what to do, I’m not going to tell him work with this or work with that, but those that were very close to him before, that had the idea of telling him the truth, they will not allow them around.
In what areas do you think immediate action is needed in Nigeria today?
We need immediate action in all the sectors, if you visit any office in this country, they want bribe. For example, I went to Minna to see Gen Ibrahim Babangida, the boys were dribbling me, when I came to Abuja, a senior officer asked me, do you want to see General Babangida, Shola? You have to give those boys N20,000 at least. But Buhari is in Aso Rock, he doesn’t know what is happening in Minna; he doesn’t know what is happening in Ibadan, he doesn’t know what is happening in the offices, he doesn’t know what is happening in the ministers’ offices.
You go to a minister’s office; they’ll ask you, do you know him? Why do you want to see him? I don’t need to know the minister, I have a problem, I want to see him; they will tell you, call his number. Somebody that I don’t know, how can I call his number? They will be giving you problem maybe you will say okay take N50,000. That is what is happening in this country. They wanted me to give them bribe. I did not experience thia in Babangida office alone but in other places including ministries. But one thing is clear, it is not a crime if you do me a favour and I appreciate it.
But did you eventually see IBB?
I was not allowed to see him and I slept in my car for three days in Minna. The Personal Assistant, who gave me his two telephone numbers, kept avoiding my calls; anytime he picked, he would say call back by 4 O’clock. If I call by 4 O’clock, the phone would be dead for more than ten times, I texted him, no reply. It was later that a senior officer told me that I had to give them money. When I learnt that the PA was an officer in the army, I was ashamed of myself. I was ashamed that he could treat his fellow officer like that. He never asked me for money but people around him were dribbling me.
How do you assess the relationship between Buhari and Obasanjo given the latter’s harsh criticism of the president recently?
To be honest with you, Buhari is not the problem of this country. Nigeria was already dead before the arrival of Buhari, but if he is probing people now and leave Obasanjo and others, then something must be wrong somewhere. You can see that Obasanjo is trying to avoid being probed by going to Aso Villa everyday. I know Obasanjo fairly well; he is unpopular, frightening, inimical, a traitor and has no respect for the truth at all. Some people believe Obasanjo is a virus that should be caged and I personally believe that he requires a surgical operation to extract him from the public because he knows everything about everything. He is not the only former head of state in this country; he is not the only former president in this country. Obasanjo is vulgar. You need a long anti-bacterial spoon to dine with him and if you say I was a soldier and Obasanjo was a soldier, I’m not being boastful, it is like you take a jewel and you start messing it up in the mud. Obasanjo should not be an issue, what should be an issue is the institution that produced people like him. When you work on such institution so that people like Obasanjo and others are not produced, Nigeria will be the best place to live. Buhari’s government as far as I am concerned is going on well. When you give birth to a child, the child will not grow immediately. I am aware that people are complaining, I am also complaining but the problem has got nothing to do with Buhari because he met the problem there and the problem is going to be solved gradually. We cannot solve this problem in a day.
Do you agree with the ongoing probes?
There was corruption before the government of Goodluck Jonathan. Why can’t they start from the beginning and gradually take it to Jonathan’s government? You probe Obasanjo, late Yar’Adua and then Jonathan. Yes he may be coming to them later, I have no idea but the idea of Obasanjo going to the Presidential Villa every day to go and do what? To tell Buhari don’t probe me or what, when he was the president, Buhari was not going there every day the way he is doing now. Obasanjo knows everything about everything, I don’t hate him as I call his name all the time but I hate his policy. He believes that without him Nigeria cannot exist, it’s wrong.
What do you see as the solution to the crisis in the Niger Delta?
I advise the militants to wait and see what Buhari would do with their 16-point demands. But these people are human beings, you won’t be taking oil from their place, yet, they have no light, no roads; no pipe borne water. I don’t want them to make further trouble. A lot of people having oil blocks are not even from these oil-bearing areas; where you are taking this oil must be developed. The people don’t need to press for it; it’s their right.
I think the solution to the Niger Delta crisis is on the roundtable; killing left and right is not the solution. Government should look into their demands. If government looks into their demands, there won’t be problem. They are human beings like me; they are human beings like President Buhari. Buhari would not be happy if they are taking oil from Katsina to develop other places. He will like to make trouble himself.
Do you think the issues that gave rise to the civil war have been resolved?
I still maintain that the Nigerian civil war was senseless and the main causes of the post-independence crises; nepotism, tribalism, corruption, name it, still exist today. And whatever threatens the right of any citizen to a secure and peaceful life must be combated by any responsible government. The measure of leadership is to see such threats and prevent them from coming to reality.
To be candid with you, those of us who fought the war then did not even know what we were fighting for; they just ordered us to go, and we moved. The reason I said the war was senseless: You went to war and you saw a friend and you could not assist. What kind of a country is that?
Even those of us that fought the civil war to keep our country together, we are totally disappointed to see what it has become today. With what is happening in the country today, that war was absolutely senseless. Many people know the truth but they don’t want to say it. Although truth hurts but I must say it; if we can’t contain ourselves; if we can’t maintain our social cohesion, if we can’t act within the rules; I am afraid Nigeria will end up in the jungle.
I don’t know why all these things are not resolved, I wouldn’t say they have no idea of what to do or they just don’t want just to do anything. Some people are saying they are marginalised and nothing is being done. But I can assure you of one thing, if the present government under Muhammadu Buhari refuses to find solutions to these things then after some time I will make a statement about IPOB, the statement may seem somehow inciting but I will say it in the sense that I fought the civil war from July 1967 to January 1970; and I fought in all the sectors of the war, One Division, Two Division and Three Division and I saw the behaviours of some of the so called commanders. I don’t know why they were doing what they did then. I think some of the war commanders should be taken to war tribunal.
I have a lot to say about them and I am glad that many of them are still alive. Few of them believed they could make sense from the senseless and do things with impunity, but we have to tell them that there is law in this country. There is law guiding any war. They should be taken to war tribunal.
Which of the incidents during the war touched you most?
The one that bothered me most was that of over 800 Biafra soldiers handed over to Obasanjo; Gowon should ask him where they are? Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle is dead but Gen. Alabi Isama is alive; what happened to them? Take him away; get him down and all that. If they do that to Obasanjo’s children, what is going to be his reaction? And those who believe that we were not fighting enemy at that point in time were branded Biafra soldiers. There was even an allegation that Brigadier Adekunle was selling arms to Biafra soldiers and there was a Colonel; may his soul rest in perfect peace, Colonel Abubakar; an Hausa man, that refused to attack Owerri because he married from that city and he was not ready to damage his wife’s hometown. They removed him from 3rd Marine Commando. Some of the commanders are gone; they died, when you talk of Col. Isemede, Col. S.S. Tomoye, Mohammed Shua, Major Robert Obeya; those who believed that we were not fighting enemy although they gave Brigadier Adekunle bad name. They called him names, but they were not there. They said General Murtala Mohammed looted a bank. The bank was looted by a Yoruba officer and I can assure one thing, if they keep on calling General Murtala Mohammed’s name in that bank looting, then I will be forced to mention the name of the Yoruba man, he is alive and I don’t want to disgrace him, his children and grandchildren. The bank in Benin has got nothing to do with General Murtala Mohammed.
Your worst civil war experience?
In 1969 when David Jemibewon was my Bridgade Commander at Nnewi Sector, there was a heavy fight, I made mention of this to General IBM Haruna when I met him at IBB Club here in Abuja last year. There was a heavy fight and casualty and we ran away about 20 of us. Jemibewon got hold of us and tied us like animals, naked but we were putting on our trousers, he took us to the Division headquarters in Onitsha that we were going to be killed for running away from the war front. We were sitting down under the sun, army photographer taking our pictures, the guy by my right Yakubu from Sokoto and on my left was Hassan from Kano. Yakubu was crying and soldiers were looking at us, I never knew that one of my colleagues then Captain Kosoko Adeyosoye in Benin got information about my predicament and went to Sani Abacha, then a Major and told him. Suddenly I saw Abacha’s driver with an envelope and he also wanted to see the condemned runaway soldiers at the Division headquarters. When I saw him, I was raising my head, he saw me and opened his mouth and jumped back into the Land Rover, then I told Yakubu don’t cry we are not going to die. Within two minutes, Abacha came and my friend Captain Kosoko Adeyosoye went straight to the GOC, within three to five minutes Abacha came out, met us briefly and left. And that was the end. If not because of Sani Abacha, I would have been a dead man with others. I became close to Abacha when I saw him with the 3rd Battalion’s black belt and asked him ‘Sir, how did you come about this belt? I didn’t know you in 3rd Battalion’ and my Company Sergeant Major said shut up your mouth, don’t talk to an officer like that. Abacha said leave him alone; that was how I was interacting with Abacha. And David Jemibewon himself ran away from Onitsha. IBM Haruna will bear me witness, he was crying like a baby, he ran away and because of the heavy fight and casualty. I don’t want to say why he ran away in order not to disgrace him. I was physically there; he was my Brigade Commander and he ran away; therefore I call him a coward. What he did to me at that point in time, the pain still lingers in my bone marrow. I can only forgive him if he releases the picture for the world to see.