Chief Bode George is a retired commodore and governor of old Ondo State. Also, he is one time National Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with JOHNSON AYANTUNJI, he talks about the resurgence in insurgency, the continued retention of the Service Chiefs, electoral system and the controversy surrounding Amotekun
Congratulations to you and your party PDP on the victory in the Bayelsa governorship election. How do you feel?
(Prolonged laughter) I am very happy and feel good. I am yet to read the details of the judgment and the reasons the Supreme Court gave for the ruling. In any case, I will support anything that will add value to our party. Bayelsa is a typical PDP state. It is salutary. I want to read the details of the judgment before I make my comments. I learnt there is chaos there now and (Adams) Oshiomhole has been firing on all cylinders. Violence leads to hell. He should be the big elephant in the room, rise above pettiness, idiocy and violence. It is said in my part of the world, ‘Jandaku kii bimo ire’ (Violence does not pay).
Why has it been seemingly difficult for the military to defeat insurgency?
This warfare (insurgency) is not the conventional warfare. It is a guerilla warfare. It is not easy to do a quick fix in guerilla warfare. The people are also Nigerians. They speak the same language. They live among the people, dress like the people. They look alike. They can come in their civilian dress, mix with the people, have a look at the location of our troops, because you cannot differentiate them by their looks, they can go back and then come with a formidable attack. They know their low time, they know their high time. They gather intelligence, hit you and run back. But our troops wear their uniforms and this gives them out.
I have looked into many nations that have gone through this guerilla warfare tactics. It was not easy. Do you remember the Vietnam War? Eventually, America had to come to the round table for talks. Remember this people in Sri Lanka, the Kurdish; because they were the same with the people, it was near impossible with the army to conquer them. Eventually they came to a round table.
It was the same in Pakistani, India and Bangladesh. After 1948 India broke into two because of religion. The Hindus remained in India, the Muslims went to Pakistan. They had the South Pakistan, which is today Bangladesh. They looked at it and said how can you be ruling us from there? The mighty India said we want our own independence. That also went on. What I am saying is that we can borrow from the developed world; we can’t go on fighting and losing men. Warfare is no longer fought like in the past with a thick moustache and be shouting like a regimental sergeant major. It is technology based. What satellite do we have up there, to gather information for us? How many people can we send on errand to gather intelligence for us? But with satellites, there is no hiding place for anybody. You will see their location; you can go and wipe them out. As you are wiping them, they are surging out. The best thing they can do is to internationalise the fight, hoping that it will abate. Because it is the same people, they speak the same language, so who would the army define as Boko Haram? They do not write it on their heads.
Secondly, I want to suggest that since government knows those who are involved, let them come to the table for discussion, what exactly do they want? Nigeria is a nation of Christians, Muslims and traditionalists. Why would you use that as a measure of power in Nigeria? Religion is personal. It has nothing to do with defining our relationship here. You are free to practice your religion, as long as you do not bring it to cause trouble. You want to go to the church, you want to go to the mosque, you want to do your traditionalist stuff, go ahead, as long as you do not inconvenient other people. Here in Lagos, we do not see the difference. My own immediate elder sister married a Muslim.
Today she is an Alhaja. If she goes to the church, she will pray and worship the almighty God in the way she was brought up. She even went to Quranic School. I sent her and her husband on pilgrimage to Mecca. Am I going to throw her away? We still live as brother and sister.
My younger brother who is a reverend married a Muslim girl, today she is also a pastor. What is it, if not greed? Why are we defining ourselves through religion? You go and behead somebody in the name of religion, it is an anathema, and it does not work. It is creating so much fear in this nation now. What has that got to do with bringing food to the table?
My best friend is a Fulani man and I have no qualms with that. He is my friend because he is a good human being. When you dress in an Emir’s attire, and you come, they will think you a Northerner. If a Northerner wears our own agbada with a cap to match, they will think you are a Yoruba. Human beings are human beings. If you have two heads, you are no longer a normal human being. If you have two hearts, you are definitely a monster.
Everybody – Chinese, European, African, you are human being. The hematology, histology and the physiology of the body is just one. Where you were born and who your parents were, make you a Christian or Muslim. All this religiosity is anti – human being. Do unto others as you want them do unto you. Respect your neighbour, help your neighbour, when you go up, lift your neighbour and bring them up. That is what we are lacking. You are in power now and you are raising your shoulder. These people can go to hell!. How can you be a member of an association and you will be the only one telling people you go there, you stay here Oga! Oga!! Oga!!!. It is not going to work. These are the things driving us in the wrong direction.
What is your take on Amotekun?
There is nothing wrong in having an Amotekun. It is value added to the sustenance of security in the country and proper policing. How many people do we have in our police in the country? A little above 240,000. Can they cope with the population we have in this country? If you have the Amotekun the way it is designed, then you have the Community Police. Any stranger that comes into the community is interrogated: Who are you? What do you want? What is your mission here? Where do you sleep at night? They provide security so that people can sleep at night and are able to wake up hale and hearty. Who is going to pay them? It has nothing to do with the federal purse.
When I was growing up in this same Lagos, we had what we call Olopa Irole (Evening Policeman). That was their job in the West then. We also had the Akoda. They were very effective. They lived among the community, they speak their language. They know the culture. If any stranger comes in, they report to the Kabiyesi, we have seen somebody, what does he want? If he is genuine, they will allow him to stay, if you are just wandering and do not know what to do, they grab you and take you to the police station.
The Amotekun will not be able to deal with people directly. But they will sustain peace in the area. Anybody doing rubbish, they will quickly grab you and take you to the police station. Is that not adding value to the police? Mutual suspicion has hit the highest under this administration. Somebody will make a pronouncement and some people will get apprehensive somewhere, the language, and the way we talk to ourselves.
We have been in existence as a country for over 100 years, throwing tantrums all over the place. Some people would say this person cannot be this, this person cannot be that. It is very base to speak about any other human being like that. We have to be careful with our choice of words.
Prof. Ango Abdullahi, a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University suggested something, a young man is now insulting him and another elder. You do not talk to them like that simply because you are defending the indefensible. The Bible says: “Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days will be long in the land which the Lord thy God has given to you.” He is a Pastor. Is that not a shame? He should apologise to them for that stament he made, calling them they are spent forces. You talk to an older person like that? It is a curse on his head. All these abusive language, all this grammar, they do not work. This is not a military government. In the military, you do not go to canvass for votes. Whoever emerges the leader, he is a servant of the people. If the people are crying there is hardship here, you got to listen to them. Look at it now, the Northern Elders, the Southern Elders are all saying the same thing, South West, South South are all saying the same thing: “There is wahala ooo’ and you are asking what are they saying?
The National Assembly (House of Representatives and the Senate) have called on the President and the Commander in Chief to relieve the Service Chiefs of their appointments and replace them with new ones due to the resurgence of the insurgency. What do you make of this?
As a General, the law that I know says the Service Chief keeps his job at the pleasure of the Commander in- Chief, but there is a caveat. If you hit 60 years old or 35 years in service, whichever comes first, you must go. I do not know how old these people are, may be they have not put in 35 years of service.
For every kobo they draw after the cutoff date, they would pay back, irrespective of the number of days or years they spend after the cutoff date. It is not a private company. If they do not go, another government will come and exercise that power.
Are you saying there are no other officers who can do the job? A hood does not make the monk. It is a collective responsibility for military operations. Chief of Naval Staff, for example, will have the Chief of Operations, the Chief of Fleet, Chief of this, Chief of that. They will sit down and conceptualise and plan any operation. When you stay too long in the toilet, you will see all kinds of flies, as it is said in my local parlance.
They themselves, having stayed that long, will be tired. The morale of others, who are inching to reach the zenith of their profession, will become low. It degrades morale. There is no perpetuity in anything. To have gotten to that height and be considered as chief means you have done so many trainings and exposed to a lot of things. Freshen up the ideas and let others come in.
I left he service many years ago. I do not know why he is still keeping them. The guerilla warfare is unconventional and you require unconventional approach to tackle it. In the end if we learn from all the wars and the countries where they have fought insurgencies like this for long, let them go and read about how they defeated them. That is what we do in War College. Let them read about the historical account and how it finally ends. Otherwise ask them what they want. You cannot really end it all. You can internationalise it, get other countries to join hands with you, use satellite technology which would locate them and smoke them out. There are drones.
I attended the War College in the USA about 32 years ago, The Palestinian man Yasser Arafat, his plane crashed in the desert, the Americans saw it, knew exactly the position and that he was safe. They told them where to go to get him. in my class we went on a visit to the Air Station. That station was responsible for monitoring the then Soviet Union Submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria too, we are in the Atlantic Ocean. We got to the operations room. They just focused on Lagos Tinubu Square. I was the President of my class. I sat there and I was looking at all the yellow buses, the people and how they were moving. They captured everything there live! I saw it. That was over 32 years ago. It is even better now, using drones for all kind of things. They take out all the bad guys in the Middle East without being in the Middle East. The control Centre is in Nevada. What are we saying?
Just recently, the Nigeria Airforce commissioned three additional aircrafts into the fight against insurgency.
Without knowing where they are, there is little or nothing you can do. I do not know who the sponsors of these people are. Where do they get their sophisticated weapons from? Do they seize them from our troops? You will see them as the same people coming to spy on you during the day and hit at you at night.
As the former military governor of the Old Ondo State, what was your greatest challenge? Why have the governors we have today been unable to improve on the infrastructure development as well as impact on the lives of the people?
When I was there, our goal was to alleviate and reduce the pains of the people. We were not voted for. That was the difference between military and civil rule. We did not have the House of Assembly.
How do you manage the people? I designed a concept. Every Monday, I would meet with the Permanent Secretaries. They are the accounting officers of their ministries. We had a budget – the expected and the actual. We looked at it every Monday; all ministries would come with their Permanent Secretaries. If you are doing well, we will know, if you are not meeting the expected target, you will tell us what are the inhibiting factors.
We met on Tuesdays for the State Executive Council with only the commissioners. Every Thursday my SSG (Secretary to the State Government) would have planned it, we go out on tours. The Obas would be there and other every stake holder. We ask them of the problem or challenges in the area. You know there was no House of Assembly. If for example your commissioner tells you we have already supplied them Ajile (fertilizer), or whatever we have planned for them. They are there to tell us the actual situation. Have you delivered the support from government to them? Some would say Yes, they have, others would say No! We have not.
Mister Commissioner come out. Where is the supply for the people? That was the only way in which you have contact with the people. Governance is about the people. Every Friday, we went back to our offices to do an appraisal of what we did in the course of the week. But in a civil system, they have their representatives. That is how it should be for the people to get what is due to them out of the resources of the nation.
But out of the nuisance of the organization of the electoral process, that is why when they go there, how many of them come back to the people? One Emperor will sit down at one corner and be ordering the people around: ‘You go’. You come. You sit down there’. Until we get the INEC and the electoral system right and out of the mess that we do it manually, we will never be at peace.
What you are saying in essence is that we should go for electronic voting?
Why not? It is best thing to do. Is there anybody who has a bank account now either savings or current account, if they take any money from you, you get an alert, if they credit any money into your account, you get an alert. Why not take that process into our voting system. What is the difference between that and capturing our electoral process?
You would see the Chairman of INEC sitting down with people physically carrying paper and reading results of votes. May be they got there by Marwa tricycle) (or rode on horseback, anything could have happened to the result. That is rubbish. In the 21st Century? The paper should be a back up result, to know whether these things are so or not.
It reminds me of the days when my grandfather would ask people to read newspapers for them. We have brilliant Nigerians in the ICT, why don’t we engage them and ask them to do something for us in that direction? Whatever soft ware they want to do these things, they can do it, Britain held their own election in one day. Did they go to court? In France, they did the same. By 6:30 pm, you begin to project and by 9:30pm, Macron had won. Nobody went to court. Here it is the judiciary who will be adding numbers and deducting some others. It is not their job. Let us wake up as a country. This nation is blessed.
Some are saying that it is time for Nigeria to restructure. Is it really the time?
It is! If we do not restructure, Nigeria will never get to its promise land. We copied the American system of government. The counties are like the local governments, they add up to form the states. The state itself has its own police. Now the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the Federal Police. You sustain yourself with whatever resources you have in your state.
Look at California, for example, they are the fifth largest economy in the world. You have the smallest states in America that is still surviving. Let every state cut your coat according to the cloth available. There is no state that is not blessed. The material and human resources are incredible. We have depended on oil for 60 years. Britain has passed a law that by 2032, there will be no more petrol engines. What are we going to do with our petrol? All the refineries that Dangote is building, what are we going to do with them? There was a time we mouthed Vision 20 2020. That by the year 2020 Nigeria would be among the 20 developed economies. This is 2020. Are we there now? We went to Davos, Switzerland, Nigeria was not invited. Transparency International rated Nigeria 146 out of 186 countries in the corruption Index.
This gives me the reason why we have to restructure. Restructuring does not mean you are driving yourself away. What we are saying is, we cannot develop at the same pace. Let everybody develop at his own pace. The states are the same in America from where we borrowed the system of government we are operating. Some have only House of Representatives – congress. They do not have Senate. If you cannot afford it, do not do it.
The first responsibility of any government is safety of life and property. If you cannot guarantee that and you say you are in government, which government is that? When the British left, we adopted the Parliamentary system of government; it had its own faults. But when the military came, they introduced the unitary system. It is the only management style that can work in the military. Order comes from the boss and it percolates. But we are not in a military era, which is why it cannot work.
Security vote was introduced during the military rule. It has continued in the civilian era. Do the civilians need security votes which they do not account for how it is spent?
Of course they do.
You see when there are unexpected situations such as natural disasters; they have it too in America. It is just like when you have disasters like Hurricane Catherina, flooding and others, it is the fund that they throw into such, to alleviate the suffering of the people or mitigate their loses, to assist in rebuilding the devastated or destroyed infrastructures.
Is that not what fuels corruption as they are not accounted for. They used them for patronages and what have you?
Usually people say they do not account for it. People are mismanaging it. But now you can see that there are some whistle blowers who come out to let the state now that the votes are not spent for the purpose they are meant for. You got to be careful if you think nobody sees you, you are deceiving yourself. There must be request, there must be approval, it is the procedure and somebody along the line will pick it up if it is for your pocket. They know where that money is to be delivered. The whistle blower will come out that this man has been putting the money in a private account. This is what he is doing with it. You can only run, but you can’t hide. It is not only necessary but very very important.
As a military governor of the old Ondo State, we had a limit to which we can spend. We could not spend more than N10, 000. If you had cause to spend more than that, you must write for approval from the Chief of Staff, General Headquarters. Some of our colleagues misused that. Report got to him and at a meeting he told us “I learnt that you boys are mismanaging the security vote… From now on, you must not spend more than N10, 000, if you need anything more than that, apply to the Chief of General Staff for approval.
“But if it the civilians, the House of Reps, and House of Assembly must put their eyes on what the governors are spending. They should have committees who will oversight the executive as watchdogs. You can see what they are doing with Trump in America. But here, one emperor sits in a corner in my state, he handpicks those who go there. They rather than being loyal to the state, they are busy hero worshipping him. A day will come, when he thought all the things being hidden, he would watch them like this, like a movie. One thing that struck me and has bothered me so much was the day of the last election two bullion vans were in his house. Were they carrying Coca Cola? Where they carrying water into his house? I have never heard of it anywhere in the world, even in the worst country that on election day, two bullion vans in a politicians house? When they mentioned it, one of the men in charge of anti corruption agency said he had been very rich before he became governor. My God! What is going on with us?
Should we then enact laws as some people advocate that anybody caught should be tied to the stake and shot like they do in China?
You know they are many in China, over 4 billion. If you shoot 200 million, what is that compared to their population. That is not the way. There must be rule of law. The very foundation of democracy is the process through which all these representatives emerge. If it is still this rubbish that we do – You elect them through the emperor. The first thing is to make sure that technology is available. What is so difficult about data collection? Then the papers would be to support the evidence of the electronic copy. If we love this country genuinely that is the first thing we should tackle. We still have time between now and the next election.