BEVERLY HILLS, May 23, (THEWILL) – In this interview with AYO ESAN, a former Chief of Training, Operations and Planning in the Nigeria Army, Major-General Isola Williams (Retd.), speaks on some major issues affecting the country. Excerpts:
The Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman was recently suspended over an alleged fraud she allegedly perpetrated in office. Are you surprised that this kind of thing is happening under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch?
What is the real reason why the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi decided to confuse the President? He didn’t convince him to suspend the lady. From What I read in the newspapers, it was clear that President Buhari was confused in suspending that lady.
The reason why I am saying this is that if you accuse somebody of fraud you must produce the evidence and that is after warning the person with a query. But in this case there was no query. If after investigation has been carried out and the lady is proven to be innocent of what the minister wrote about her, the minister must resign. This is because I read somewhere that the minister is taking back for initial activation. I am talking about insubordination. If that is true and the revelation comes out, the Minister should resign because he would have lost his integrity by taking that action.
This kind of thing happens in all corporations and parastatals in Nigeria. None of them is clean. Ask anybody who has served there. They all take their own cuts. It is when they become greedy or somebody within the system, who believes he or she is not getting his full share of the loot, cries out or somebody above, who expected the MD to be sharing the Gaari within the agency, feels it is not being shared properly, that trouble rears its head. The disgruntled will find one way or the other to remove that person and put the person who can play the game. So that is what I think happened in the case of the NPA.
If you look at the auditors’ report, how many people have they accused of fraud in Nigeria? What has happened to them? Have you ever seen an auditors’ report published by the Federal Government since you were born? How many states have published the auditors’ report and how many corporations have published their auditors’ reports? And they are supposed to be public institution. What about the members of the National Assembly whom we elected to represent us? Are they honest with us? Have you ever seen the auditors’ report of the National Assembly. I am waiting for it before I die.
The whole system has not changed at all. Despite the President’s claim that there is improvement, nothing has changed. When you take a closer look at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, you will discover that they have a backload of cases. They were told by many people to establish a corruption tribunal, a special corruption tribunal. They have been talking about it, but the National Assembly has kicked against it. Can you recall when Senator Smart Adeyemi stood up in the National Assembly and started complaining about insecurity? What did one of his colleagues tell him openly? So when you find yourself in such a situation, you know we have a country that lacks integrity.
Aren’t you worried about the rate at which the present government is procuring foreign loans?
The point is that we can never develop. We will continue to borrow money and part of this money will be going to some people’s pockets and personal banks accounts. People are running away from Europe now, but they are taking their money to Dubai and other places in the Middle East.
Can you imagine that after changing the leadership of the armed forces, those who came after them are now saying that, in spite of the large sums of money given to their predecessors to buy weapons, they can’t find the weapons. What did the government do to the erstwhile leaders of the armed forces? They appointed them as ambassadors. Where in this world can you see that happening?
Now the same people and the same corrupt National Assembly are now asking us to set up a Public Trust Fund for the armed forces like they have done for the police. They send mobile police personnel to guide individuals. They pay the police for the services of the mobile police. Is that money part of the budgetary allocation to the police? It is not. So where does the money go? It is shared. Where does the money go, if it is not shared? Yet it is not part of the budget for the police.
When you ask the police they will say they have no money. But I have not seen any Inspector-General of Police or the head of any agency that is poor. You can see the late Comptroller General of Customs and the number of cars that were found in his house. With all this, how can you have a disciplined force?
So I can say that there are no bad policemen or bad soldiers. Even the officers themselves are corrupt and against the state. You can’t expect the security agencies to perform.
Is that the reason why Transparency International still rates Nigeria high on the Corruption Perceptions Index?
Yes, of course. Anybody who has been to Nigeria will experience what I am talking about. They keep saying we should continue to improve the welfare of the police. The question nobody has ever asked is what have the police done with the money they were given?
The interesting thing in this issue is that each time you read in the newspapers that state governors donate Hilux vehicles to the police, six months later nobody gives account of what happened to those vehicles. Who is asking questions about those vehicles? And the leaders are completely unaccountable, especially at the state and local government levels. They don’t account for anything. That is why they don’t want to change the system, especially in terms of going to collect money from Abuja.
There can be no Federal Government if there are no state governments and there can be no state governments if there are no local governments. There will be no local governments if there are no communities. But if the members of a community themselves and the local government have no contiguity, then corruption will continue. Our political party system is the worst in the world.
What is your take on the worsening insecurity in the country?
We don’t have insecurity because no country is engaging us in a war. It is just that Nigerians are no longer safe in their own country. The South-West states founded the Amotekun security outfit and the South-East copied their example. The North created Hisbah a long time ago. In every state of the federation there are vigilante groups. So there is confusion all over the place as to who is responsible for the public safety. It is the duty of the National Assembly to look at the situation and decide if it is necessary to create a law that will remove this confused state that we are have found ourselves or reduce its impact to a minimum.
Now that they have set up Amotekun by law in each South-West state, what the National Assembly should do next is regularise the situation. That is all.
They are shouting about Amotekun. What is the meaning of Hisbah? Hisbah is not a government agency like Amotekun. So why are they are crying out against the existence of Amotekun and they are not talking about Hisbah? In fact, the current Senate President is the worst we ever had in this country. He is not good enough for this country.
Then how do we move on as a nation?
The point is that they have created a situation in which everybody has to look after himself, in terms of public safety. Nobody will defend anybody now like the Nigeria Police. Unfortunately the police have refused to get reorganised. What they are doing now is creating big positions for their top shots. Does that constitute public safety? The answer is no. This is because the job of policing the country as a whole is too big for the IGP to handle. Yet he doesn’t want to let go. It is not his fault because the people that are supposed to take political decisions are not doing their job. So there is a problem with our security governance at the presidency level. It is a serious problem because it appears to me that neither the President nor the people advising him know what to do anymore. If they know, they don’t want to do it for reasons best known to them.
Are you saying that President Muhammadu Buhari has not done what he is supposed to do?
If he has done what he is supposed to do, we won’t be in this kind of situation. There is no doubt about that. The issue is that he knows what is happening. If you tell him something is happening he will only promise to deal with it. There is no strategy.
Is it not surprising that despite the confidence they initially reposed in the President Nigerians still feel unsafe in their own country?
This is what is very funny about the presidential system of government. Under this system, the President can be likened to demi-god that has all the answers to all problems. It is a big mistake. That is why he has advisers, but, unfortunately, one man will take responsibility. If he is old and sick, what do you expect him to do, if he has bad advisers? If he cannot sack them, then he is compounding the problem for himself.
Senator Smart Adeyemi recently urged President Buhari to seek foreign assistance to combat insecurity. What is your reaction to this?
That is the most stupid thing that I have ever heard. People are talking as if America is not there. The America is still there. If we really need foreign assistance, the president should step aside and a foreigner should take over his job. All the service chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police should step aside, too and let foreigners take over their job. Then they should begin to run Nigeria.
If you bring in those set of people who are they going to advise? Is it not the same President? Who are they going to work with? Are they not the same advisers? And if the foreigners don’t understand many things about Nigeria, who are they going to ask? Are they not going to work with Nigerians?
If you want to change the whole thing, the best thing is to change the President. He should step aside. The service chiefs and key ministers should step aside, too. The Minister of Defence and Vice President should also go. Then you can bring in foreigners there. That is when I’ll know that we really need foreign assistance.
Why is it that you retired generals are not speaking out or advising the President at this critical time in Nigeria’s history?
The Federal Government does not need our help. They called some people, those who are their friends and those who will tell them what they want to hear. They did not call those who will tell them that what they are doing is wrong. It is human nature.
What is your advice to those who are talking about self-determination?
That happens all over the world. There is nothing new about that. There is no country in the world where people are satisfied with the status quo. They want a change.