Lt. General Ishaya Bamaiyi is a former Chief of Army Staff. He speaks in this interview on the need to support the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, his recently published book and his incarceration for eight years, among other issues. Wale Elegbede reports
How did you find your way to the military and later rising to the position of Chief of Army Staff?
As a child, I had always wanted to be a soldier and I am glad that I achieved my ambition in life of being in the military, which I joined while I was teaching in a primary school. I joined the Army as a soldier in the Education Corps and rose to the rank of corporal before going to the Defence Academy and got commissioned as a second lieutenant on July 5, 1968. I was involved in the Nigeria Civil war from July 1968 to the end of the war.
I enjoyed my military career because I never had problems with my commanders and my promotions went well. I never missed any promotion. The wish of every officer is to reach the rank of a general. I did not only achieve that but by the grace of God, I was appointed the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in March, 1996 and I held that post for over three years.
Due to the involvement of the military in politics, I had a turbulent tenure because I stood for the Army keeping away from politics. This stand caused me problems, which ended me in detention for over eight years, because I objected to a military person taking over from us in 1999.
I must confess that in spite of what I went through, I had a fulfilled and successful military career. I believe that this country would have been better if we did not make the mistake of bringing a retired military person in 1999.
What informed your decision of writing the book, the ‘Vindication of a General’ that you will be launching today?
Yes, it is true that I am presenting a book, titled “Vindication of a General.” The book is about my military career, the intrigues and backstabbing for standing for what I believed. I was persecuted and kept in prison for over eight years because I opposed a military officer taking over from us in 1999.
I was charged to court and stood trial for over eight years for an arranged attempted murder of late Alex Ibru. I was discharged and acquitted in 2008. My acquittal and the situation we find ourselves today as a nation has vindicated me.
It appears you’ve been silent on national issues over the years. Why is this so, and don’t you think your wealth of experience would be most needed at a time like this?
I have not really been silent; I have been making efforts to make contacts when necessary. For example, when the North-East problem was causing us embarrassment, as a former military officer, I met the former President, discussed how the nation was being embarrassed with the performance of the military in the war.
We had a good discussion and I made some recommendations, which unfortunately he did not have time to implement because of politics. I have applied in writing to see the present President to draw his attention to areas I feel very strongly need attention in the country at present. I am yet to get response on the application.
Let’s talk about your travail and incarceration. What changes do you think our criminal justice system needs in order to dispense justice quickly and fairly?
In order to dispense justice quickly and fairly, a lot has to be done right from the investigation of cases to the trial itself. Cases are sometimes delayed due to bad investigation, the attitude of lawyers and corruption in the judiciary itself sometimes interference by the state.
I am however glad that the judiciary itself is awake and is trying to deal with corrupt judges. This will be useful. I also hope that something is done about lawyers, who deliberately delay cases by unnecessary adjournment.
How would you assess the Muhammadu Buhari adminsitration?
I believe the President means well for the Nation. What I am not sure about is the quality of those working with him. I mean his Ministers and personal staff. They do not appear to be in the same boat with the president, because a lot of embarrassing situations abound that show lack of coordination, for example, the case of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
The Department of State (DSS) and EFCC are all under the presidency and one would have thought that they will also coordinate on issues of national interest but that is not happening in the case of confirmation of Mr. Magu as the EFCC boss. Look at the fight against corruption, to me the President appears to be alone on this. The Senate appears to be indifferent to this. Maybe, as I understand many of them have corruption cases with EFCC.
I believe that if one is accused of any wrong doing, the right thing to do is allow court process to be completed to clear yourself. Avoiding investigation and trial is not the solution to such accusations.
As a former Chief of Army Staff, what advice would you give the present administration in combating the Boko Haram insurgency?
I believe that the Boko Haram insurgency is being handled well. I congratulate the President for the support he is giving to the military by ensuring that they are given the necessary support to fight Boko Haram and I congratulate the military leadership for doing the nation proud in the fight against Boko Haram.
Let’s not forget that insurgency is not a battle you will overcome overnight and it is not a battle won by the military alone. We need to go back to the use of native intelligence where everyone is involved at ward level. Everyone must be involved in information and intelligence gathering to defeat this insurgency.