Prof Ifeolu Adewumi is a 69-year-old academic and former President of the National Union of Voluntary Paramilitary Organisation, Man O’ War, in higher institutions of Nigeria. He talks to KAYODE OYERO about his encounter with Major General Muhammadu Buhari in 1981
What were the duties of Man O’ War officers in your time?
We did community service in those days. That was the main objective, not to run after politicians or guard any big man as they do today. We looked for what to do in communities and we assisted in terms of security. Also, if there were no latrines, we built them; if there were no footbridges, we provided them. Our duties were purely about serving the community.
Usually, soldiers from the Nigerian Army came to train us. They also took care of our camping materials, food, uniform and others. I recollect meeting General Muhammadu Buhari who was the General Officer Commanding, 2nd Mechanised Division at the Command’s Office in Agodi, Ibadan, Oyo State. That was in May 1981. I went there as the Commander-In-Chief of Man O’ War club in UNIFE.
I went with other officers in the Man O’ War. When we got there and filled the form to say the commander-in-chief of Man O’ War was there to see him, we waited for about 20 minutes and when he (Buhari) came out, he said, ‘I was told that there is a C-in-C in the Office of a GOC, I think it should be the other way round.’ Buhari is a very humorous person. I got the joke and I saluted him and got up. And he said, ‘Now that we know who is in control, you can come into my office.’
What transpired during the encounter?
I went in and introduced everybody and requested for logistic support for Man O’ War. The next thing General Buhari asked me was, ‘How many northerners are in your university?’ I said, ‘Sir, University of Ife is a regional institution in the Western Region, there will be more people from here than from other tribes. In ABU (Ahmadu Bello University), there will be more northerners than other tribes and in (University Of Nigeria) Nsukka, there will be more Igbos there.’
He said, ‘Okay, okay, how many of you have joined the Army?’ I mentioned a few people, then he asked how we managed our uniforms and I told him. He studied us and said, ‘I am writing my handover note. By the time you come in two weeks’ time, you will meet the person in charge, he will tell you our decision.’
Two weeks later, we went back and we met General Anthony Hananiya. (He is deceased now. After retirement, he was appointed the Corps Marshal for the Federal Road Safety Corps.) He said, ‘I have bad news for you. By the next time you come, we must not see you in Army uniform, if we see you in Army uniform, we will treat you as impersonators and you know what that means.’
I tried to raise an objection but Hananiya said, ‘Don’t you know when a senior officer has given an instruction, you don’t go against it? That is an order.’ As the commander-in-chief for all Man O’ War clubs in Nigeria, I told the other commanders to come over to Ife and told them not to use the army green uniform anymore because of our safety and that was why we changed the Man O’ War uniform to the brown khaki that you see today.
What was the impression you had of General Muhammadu Buhari then and what is your impression of him now?
Those three questions he raised painted him as someone who is ethnically biased. I didn’t know he was Fulani or had family members in Niger Republic, but the question he asked about how many northerners were in the University of Ife was beside the point and because of that, he proscribed the release of Army support to Man O’ War clubs in higher institutions.
The leopard has not changed its spots; it’s those who don’t understand him who think otherwise. He has always been supportive of his tribe and he has demonstrated that by his appointments of service chiefs and other sensitive positions. Nobody has queried him because those around him are sold out one way or the other and cannot advise him that it is wrong to sectionalise appointments.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo will tell you, ‘If you don’t trust other tribes who voted for you, how do you expect other tribes to trust you?’ Also, General Buhari had always shown the act of taking care of Nigeriens. If you recollect, as head of state, he voted against the Nigerian nomination candidate at the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) elections and supported a Fulani man from Niger Republic. When the man was pronounced the winner, he went to embrace him.
Democratically, the President has been in power for six years now. How would you rate his government in the areas of security, economy and education?
He came in as a man of integrity and people believed that. In his campaign, he said within months, if he got elected, he would wipe out Boko Haram. I don’t know whether he has wiped out Boko Haram or not, but it took another faction of Boko Haram to kill Abubakar Shekau after so many years. Leah Sharibu is still in captivity because of her faith. What can he point to that he has achieved? Security is our major challenge in Nigeria but can we say we are safe in Nigeria when people can’t sleep well and are afraid to travel within the country? This is the number one factor in development because without it, the economy cannot grow. Also, Fulani herdsmen have been killing people all over but the President pretends he doesn’t hear of these. The purpose is to ‘Fulanise’ Nigeria and there is no hiding the truth. How many are the Fulani people? Five million people? Should less than five million people chase us out of our country?There has not been any laudable project under this administration. There are no jobs and even those who claimed to have been empowered through N-Power, are they really empowered?
On education, so many things have gone wrong and this is the reason the Academic Staff Union of Universities goes on strike all the time; it believes there are enough funds for education from primary to tertiary levels but the management of funds has always been an issue.
It is also important to say one of the main problems we have in the education sector is the quota system. In one of my poems, I said the quota system is a gutter system and there is no justice in it. When any country promotes mediocrity, there can never be quality development. Everybody cannot go to the university. Baba Obafemi Awolowo designed his programme in such a way that those who were not intelligent enough could go to vocational centres. Those who could not make it into vocational schools could go to attend technical programmes. That was why he created schools of agriculture, nursing colleges, and others in those days. This is how it is supposed to be.
When you pick someone who qualifies on merit and you take another because he is from a particular region where they are not doing well because you want to make sure there is a quota system, you have already introduced injustice. Look at the current cut-off marks for people going to unity schools and you will be shocked. You must have high scores from some zones in the country and others from some zones can have as low as four per cent. That doesn’t create development. Whoever chooses to follow cattle, let them follow cattle; whoever wants to learn a vocation, let them learn it; and those who are prepared for real studies, let them do that, so that we can have development.
What are your thoughts on the ongoing constitution review hearings by the National Assembly?
They are wasting their time. Let us go back to the First Republic (constitution), where every region had its agenda. Baba Awolowo decided that he was going to promote education and agriculture and he promoted that. In the First Republic, we had a federating unit. When we say we are a federal Republic, we should be operating a federating unit. The present constitution is a military-prepared document. The governors do not really have full rights over their states; they are accountable to the president, which is wrong. The local government has no role, whereas governance should be devolved from local governments upward.
If we want to make progress in Nigeria, the 1978 Land Use Act Decree must be revoked; let the power of ownership of lands come back to the local governments, not even the state governors, because the Obas are in charge of the lands in their domains.
We must also put an end to the quota system, it doesn’t promote efficiency. We should be a federating union of Nigeria where each union, as it were in the beginning, will have control over its states and will only send just a little to the centre because the centre is not doing anything other than taking advantage of other areas.
The ongoing constitution review will not take care of fiscal federalism, Yoruba exit or Igbo exit. Let nobody tell us that it is not possible. It is possible. Britain that gave us the unholy matrimony between the North and the South has exited the European Union. If Britain can exit the EU and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of those days can disintegrate to Russia, Yugoslavia and all that are there, nothing stops Nigeria from returning to the pre-military era where every region could control their resources and decide on something little that would go to the centres.
Are you saying ‘Yoruba Nation’ and ‘Biafra Republic’ should be allowed to exit Nigeria?
We can still have one Nigeria, if we go back to how things were in the First Republic. We don’t need to copy the British way of parliament but develop communal welfarism to take care of people in the area. After the civil war, if we say ‘no victor, no vanquish,’ we should allow the Igbo to develop their region and manage those resources. Let Bayelsa and other South-South states control their oil. Let us look at the biodiversity of each region to protect it, so that they don’t destroy everything of value in the process of tapping the minerals. Let the North also harness their solid minerals. There is no state in the country without solid minerals.
There are states that have up to 16 solid minerals, let them explore that and use it to develop their people. Majority of the states in the North are not contributing anything and they take the lion’s share of the country’s resources and that is what is generating the clamour in the country. But if each region is allowed to control its resources, there will be no more clamour for ‘I want to go.’ We can still remain together, provided the regions develop themselves and control their resources, but it is just sad that most of the people we have in government are dealers and not leaders, forgetting that service is the essence of leadership.
The rising insecurity in the country has been a source of worry to many Nigerians. How do you think kidnappings, killings and other crimes can be curbed?
Going back to the pre-military days of constabulary police in each region will go a long way in solving the insecurity in the country. Each region will have its inspector general or whatever they want to call it and that way, the governors will have control over the security agents in their states. A situation where a governor will tell a commissioner of police to do something and the latter will refuse, saying he receives order from Abuja, is not helpful at all.
As a way of tackling the security menace in the region, South-West governors launched the Amotekun Corps. Do you think this regional security outfit has been living up to its expectations?
The Amotekun arrangement is perfect, let each of the states be in charge of its security. I commend the South-West governors for this. However, there is the need for the Amotekun personnel to bear arms. You can’t ask someone who is carrying a baton to confront someone with an AK-47. It is only proper that they should be trained in the use of arms. I don’t think they need the permission of the Federal Government to do that. As a state, the governors are responsible for the welfare and the security of their people. They are within the law to do that and if they believe Amotekun should bear arms for the security of their people, they should make a bill and send it to the houses of assembly in the region. If the houses of assembly pass it, they should go and purchase it and get people to train them in the use of arms.