A retired military officer should stay away from politics. But now, roughly all of them are involved in party politics. And that is not good for the military as an institution
Retired Captain Yusuf Abdulmalik is the publicity officer of Retired Army, Navy and Air Force Association of Nigeria, Kano State Chapter.
Abdulmalik, 79, who retired from the service of the Nigeria Air Force 34 years ago, has been blunt on the feelings of ex-military men towards the present administration. He maintained that they expected more than they are getting from the Buhari administration even as he believes that the fight against Boko Haram is taking too long. He encouraged Buhari to change the Service Chiefs to inject new blood in the fight against insurgency and the rest of security challenges facing the country.
How is life generally with you in retirement and also, with the rest of the retired military officers, whom you often speak on their behalf?
Well, life generally for anybody that is retired is interesting. It is a period of rest and reflection. It is also a period you watch your children grow, you encourage them to fulfill their realities and so on…. But like all other Nigerians, you cannot run away from the biting economic challenges in the country today. I must say that it is also biting the pensioners and ex-servicemen even more than the average Nigerian. We are struggling to survive. Those of us who retired 34 years ago or about that time, we are struggling because what we get at the end of the month is not enough to cater for our needs or bills.
If I get you right, you retired some 34 years ago from the Nigerian Air Force. How would you compare the military then and what it is today?
These are two different times and as you know, the challenges are different too. The kind of security challenges that were happening in our time are slightly different from the kind of security challenges that the military is faced with today. In those days, there was nothing like Boko Haram insurgents, there was nothing like kidnapping for ransom, there was no herdsmen issue or banditry as we have it in Zamfara State and its environs. What we had then were challenges like Operation Wetie, which was largely a political situation where they pour petrol on opponents and set them ablaze, and here in the North then, the problem was that of NEPU and NPC fighting each other. There were no killings in the actual sense. There was no kidnapping. Yes, the parties exchanged words and fought themselves. That was all. It was only a few cases of conflicts here and there. But generally, there was peace during the Sarduana era, the country was very peaceful and people went about their businesses without fears. The military today, I must say, have done well in the circumstance they found themselves. However, I very much believe that they could do better. The whole insurgent thing is taking too long to suppress. Six or so number of years of this insurgency is enough time to bring it under control. In those days that we were hearing of Boko Haram, we were blaming the previous government, we were saying that they were not taking proper actions and measures against the problem and were unable to tame it. But now, we have a retired military general, a retired GOC, who had commanded Divisions as the president, we had hoped that he could do better than the past administration in the campaign against the insurgents. We campaigned for change because of this expectation, we jubilated when he won and I think that some of us are disappointed today over his inability to completely tame the problem of Boko Haram, so that there would be respite for the people of the North-East. I think the serving Service Chiefs should do more to ensure that the security situation in country is improved. The truth is that the figures are not good enough and different new crimes and security issues are emerging on the scene. I also agree that Nigerians must support the officers and troops in the field with their prayers. This would help them overcome the challenges and all other crimes.
Many Nigerians want Buhari to change his security chiefs as a solution to the nation’s security problem. What is your view?
I agree with those who think like this. It is what President Buhari should have done initially. He was supposed to have relieved them of their positions long ago. In any case, many of the Service Chiefs are due for retirement and that was supposed to have been a quiet way to let them go for a new set of officers to bring in their own expertise and knowledge in the fight against the security issues that are bedeviling Nigeria. Instead of letting them off, he retained them and gave them more time. The younger ones (officers) maybe, could have done better in the war against terror.
But they say the older you get, the more experienced you become. Are we not sacrificing their experience?
But from the look of things, from the management of the security challenges in the country, from their reported successes and failures, it is obvious that we are not getting the best of their experiences. I don’t know what is happening these days… because in those days, the military was very, very decisive. I remember during the Maitatsine uprising in Kano State in the 80s. Maitatsine was growing wings and people were afraid of him, but within a matter of a day, he was crushed by the military. I was an instructor at Kaduna Command and Staff College as at that time when Maitatsine uprising broke out. He was disarming the police and other security agencies, but when the soldiers moved in with Armored Personnel Carriers, he asked his followers to burn the carriers, but they returned to tell him that; “this is the one with chains”. In a matter of hours that the soldiers stepped in, he and his followers took to their heels and ran away and peace was restored. The soldiers are meant to crush anybody who is trying to disturb the security and peace of Nigerians.
One of the reasons many ex-military men voted for President Buhari was the feeling that he was better positioned to take care of their interests being their member. Three years down the line, would you say he has been able to address your welfare challenges?
No, he has not. I doubt if he had done that or has taken care of our interests as ex-servicemen or pensioners. During his campaigns, he assured us that he would resolve our problem. In fact, in what was published by the media on March 15, 2015, Buhari was quoted as saying that, “it saddens my heart that the ex-servicemen, both army and police, do not receive their entitlements on time.” He, in those publications, assured us that if he wins the elections, he would do something better for all of us. And that was why we supported him, we voted for him. A majority of us voted for him and even campaigned for him despite the fact that before, we said we would not vote for him – you know that most of us, by our age, are respected in our various communities and, therefore, we influenced votes in his favour. And when he won, we were very happy. For us, change at last, has come. We wrote him a congratulatory letter informing him that all ex-military officers were in support of his administration while expressing the hope that his administration could take us out of our bondage. We have continued to write to him over some of our problems. For instance, Jonathan had approved 53 per cent review for us, but we were able to get the payment of 33 per cent as at then. We continued to call his attention to this problem. The administration finally began to make the payment of these arrears by installment and the last one was paid in December. But you know what? It was paid in bits and pieces and we did not enjoy the benefit of it because on each occasion that it was paid, it was very, very meager. The arrears was paid for three years, some ex-officers were receiving N10 to N12, 000 before they finally completed the payment.
But have you people tried to visit the president or pay him a courtesy call to express your grievances?
We have been writing to the appropriate authorities. We have written a number of letters to them, hoping that they would get to him. I think one of such letters was written in January and we stated there that ex- military men deserve a better attention than they are getting. He saw it. It was published in several media, but up till now, we have not gotten a positive response.
Have you gone to meet him with these complaints? After all, the president may not even know about your plights.
He used to see our publications. My former National President, who is also a retired military officer, there was a time he presented all our issues to the Defence Minister, but up till today, nothing. We are still struggling, we are still crying, we have families, we have children, we pay school fees too. We are not demanding for anything special. We are demanding for the full implementation of our legitimate rights as prescribed by the law.
There are moves to review the salary of civil servants in the country; what is the fate of the ex-service men, military and civilian? Is your members carried along?
Nigeria Constitution says that every review, you must include the pensioners. But this is not the case for us. We even wrote them that they should include our members in the committee. But again this has not happened. This is what happened in 2011. We were excluded from the review committee and this was the reason we were not included as beneficiaries of the review that took effect thereafter…. This time, we are very hopeful, we are expecting. I was hearing that he has accepted to review our payments; we are hearing that our review has been approved since January 2015, but the military pension board is claiming that they have not gotten the authority.
You would have noticed that a number of top retired military Generals like Babangida, Danjuma and Obasanjo are opposed to the present administration. What do you think is making ex-senior officers turn their backs on Buhari?
My personal opinion, and this is personal, is that this is nothing, but the outcome of the present day politics or what some people call modern politics in Nigeria. If you remember, General Murtala Mohammed initiated efforts to stop military men, serving or retired, from taking part in politics. This is one of the consequences of being involved in politics. All of them have retired into politics and have become card-carrying members of different political parties. Therefore, they have to defend and challenge each other in the public because of their political parties or their personal interests. Some of them are PDP, some are APC and some even belong to some unknown parties and they are duty bound to speak in favour of their parties. But left to me, a retired military officer should stay away from politics. He should not join the fray. He should only provide security advice, when invited, to the government of the day. He should not be involved in party politics. But now, roughly all of them are involved in party politics. And that is not so good for the military as an institution.