A second civil war will be calamitous— Dan Suleiman

  • Those calling for revolution, civil war haven’t learnt from history
  • •Asks Buhari to convene National Council of State to discuss Nigeria’s problems
  • •Our country has been invaded by foreigners
  • •Nowhere is safe in Nigeria now

By Chioma Gabriel, Editor, Special Features Former Military Governor of Plateau State and a leader of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, retd., in this interview advises those beating drums of war and revolution in Nigeria to learn from history. He also called for dialogue to resolve issues bedevilling Nigeria.

Dan Suleiman, civil war

On the state of the nation and where we got things wrong 

What we are doing wrong is that we are not learning our lessons. We are not learning lessons from our history because this country went through three years of civil war. We lost millions of people due to hatred and disharmony. So, if that did not teach us a lesson, then, we are a very sad people. But it is not too late for us to come together and agree on how we should live together as one people.

What I find very strange recently is two heads of state having to convey their grievances through the media whereas there is a Council of State where they should meet and discuss issues of importance. That is where President Muhammadu Buhari should call them so that they can air their grievances and from there, they should propose new ways of moving Nigeria forward.
You are referring to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letters but was it wrong of him to have pointed out loopholes in this administration?

He didn’t do wrong but it would have been better if his views were expressed under a forum like the National Council of State and these issues were discussed as leaders to leaders and recorded; then decisions would be taken on the way forward. Speaking to the media has some degree of frustration on their part. At their stage in life, they should have handled these issues differently.

Current events in Nigeria appear similar to the events of 1966 that led to the civil war…
Such a disaster should not be allowed to happen again. We saw war and we saw how ugly it was. A second civil war in Nigeria will be a calamity and we cannot afford it. One thing that Obasanjo said is that we cannot afford a Rwanda-like situation and elements seem to be pointing in that direction and as he also said, these things are avoidable. What is avoidable should be avoided. That is why the President should convene the National Council of State immediately for these elders and leaders, including state governors to come out with immediate short/long term solutions to these problems. We should not wait for things to get worse before we act.

On if NCS members would attend the meeting given their boycott of the last presidential inauguration. 

The National Council of State is a constitutional body created for these kinds of things. I don’t think the heads of state and former presidents will refuse to attend such a meeting because it is part of their constitutional responsibilities. So, they will attend. Nigerians should learn from history and people who don’t learn from history are calling for disaster. Our experience of the late 60s and early 70s is not a pleasant experience and now, it would be worse. Around the time of the civil war, we were about 60 – 70 million Nigerians but now, we are about 200 million people. It would be worse than a genocide.

On the government’s alleged inability to curb herdsmen menace, killings and kidnappings 

These issues are not beyond us. But we need to sit down and put our heads together to solve these problems. There are fundamental issues that are causing these things. There is a lot of distrust around the nation. People don’t trust one another any more and it is a very unhealthy situation to be in. But I’m optimistic that if the President can do the right thing and call the leaders: the former presidents, former heads of state and current governors to sit with him and talk, I’m sure they will come out with solutions that will get Nigeria out of this situation.

What role do you think politicians should play in restoring peace? 
Politicians must be there because if they are not, you are calling for military intervention and will that be the solution? No. I was part of the NADECO that said the military should go back to the barracks despite my military background. Democracy is what we agitated for and Nigerians have embraced democracy. If we say democracy cannot work for us, we are talking about anarchy which is not what we want.

Our forests have been invaded. Everywhere you look, people are lamenting what herdsmen are inflicting on Nigerians. Are these beyond our security agencies?

For goodness sake, we serve a living God and our God is a God of peace. We should seek to do things peacefully and urgently. The Bible says when we repent of our sins and call on our God, He will heal our land.

Sometimes, God inflicts things on people for them to learn a lesson. Nigerians should learn from history and this history should be taught in schools but unfortunately, we have withdrawn history from schools (policy has been reversed). This should not be. History should be taught in schools so that our children should know that we have had a bad experience and should not go back to that. History should be taught so our children should learn from the ugly past that should not be repeated.

Social media appears to be part of the problem and hype issues out of their proportion 

Social media is a creation of the devil. It creates more harm than good but it’s part of modernisation which we have to find a solution to.

How do we get rid of these criminals masquerading as herdsmen? Kidnappers are everywhere. Currently, it is difficult to drive on Nigerian roads or go from one city to the other… 

Nowhere in Nigeria is safe. I’m from Adamawa State and it’s the same situation where one cannot drive safely from one local government to the other. People cannot go to their farms without the fear of being attacked. It’s a very bad phenomenon especially when many of these people are not even our own citizens but from other neighbouring African countries. What is happening is an invasion of our country by foreigners. Our borders are very porous and that is why we must sit down and discuss all these problems, because these problems need resolutions and we have to resolve them.

Herdsmen shouldn’t be going into people’s farms to destroy their crops. Why should this be? Why should the farmers be afraid to approach security men if all is well with the security set up? If anybody offends you, under the rule of law, the only person you are to go to is the police. The duty of the police is to ensure redress but people can no longer go to the security agencies because they cannot get redress.

If these are foreigners like you said, why then is Nigeria accommodating them and even thought of RUGA as a way to accommodate them? Ruga is not a new word in Nigeria. Those of us who live in the North have lived with this Ruga situation for a long time. It’s where the Fulani settle in every village and they call it Ruga.

It has been there for a long time. My parents grew up and met it; I grew up and met it and it has never created crisis. But now, they want it everywhere and it’s not working because the way they brought it about is causing confusion. Before Ruga, they were talking about cattle colony which provoked bad reaction and anything anybody says now is believed to be the same thing being given another name. And whatever anyone says now, in the South, Ruga is cattle colony renamed. There should have been proper explanation. Even the name being chosen to address the problem doesn’t sound right. Look across the world, people are adopting proper practices which we have seen even here in some parts of Africa. Ranching has worked in addressing these problems. So, my advice is, let’s look at the things which have worked for other people and adopt them.

If it has worked for them, it will also work for us. Once you begin to bring issues of cattle colony or similar words, you introduce a matter that will raise an eyebrow. Many haven’t heard of Ruga before except recently and that is the position of many Southerners. It is alien to the south. When people are still talking about cattle colony, Fulani Radio; Ruga, National Livestock, etc, they are all the same to the average Southerner…

The problems indeed are numerous but it is not beyond resolution. We need men who fear God to put their heads together and find a way out but if we don’t do that, then, we have got disaster ahead of us which we cannot afford. I believe in Nigeria.

I’m an optimist and we will come out of all these problems. Nigeria has a great role to play in the world-politics and only when we put our house in order can we take our place in the comity of nations. Only Nigerians can save Nigeria. We have all it takes to make Nigeria a great nation where people will live in peace and harmony. Recently, there was another anniversary of the July 29 pogrom of 1966.

The Igbo of Nigeria still think the civil war never ended because they are still facing marginalisation in Nigeria today… It’s unfortunate. The only answer to these complaints is dialogue. Even former President Goodluck Jonathan said the same thing recently. There is need for dialogue. Obasanjo also talked about dialogue.

Everybody is talking about dialogue. We cannot escape it. The problem with dialogue is that if we don’t do it now, the war can come and at the end, we still have to talk and then, we would have destroyed many innocent lives and properties. The opportunity is today. We should grab it and exercise the wisdom of God. We should allow God to rule our hearts and minds. The youths are becoming increasingly difficult to control. They are the ones talking about revolution, war and agitating for action to be taken That is why I insist that History be inculcated in our curriculum. People are not educated about their past. They will not learn from the mistakes of the past and are bound to repeat them.

Even religious teachings are being banned from schools and that is not leading us anywhere. They should teach History in schools so that children should know what happened in the past and the consequences. We should educate the young people about the danger of what is happening in the country today.

Is the civil war of the past still affecting Nigeria? 

No. If it is, it should have a positive effect and you won’t allow your child to put his finger inside fire. If we have our fingers burnt before, we should learn from that. But like I said, this is all a matter of leadership and I suggested to you what the president should do to avert crisis and he must do it urgently. He must convene a national council of states meeting. I think the dialogue will start from there and some of the proponents of peaceful dialogue are former heads of state and they are members of that council. So, let them dialogue and come up with a solution.

That is why the constitution made this provision and that is the way to start. Cattle grazing, colony, cattle rearing are personal businesses. Why is cattle rearing dividing Nigeria? Why is this government dabbling into it? That is why we should learn from History. There was a national conference of 2014 which gave very important suggestions to these issues and like many people have said, the decision of that conference should be implemented.

But Buhari has already thrown it into the dustbin of history That is why his colleagues are there. He is the head of state but there are people he respects in that Council of State. He respects people like Gowon, people like Obasanjo; they were his bosses and he should listen to what they have to say in the Council of State meeting that Buhari should convene. We have all these people and Nigeria should not go the way it is going. But the same Obasanjo was attacked and his letter to Buhari was highly politicised That is not what it should be. Serious issues about unity of Nigeria should not be politicised because we will be fanning the embers of disunity.

But like I said, I believe Nigeria will come out of this current situation because God has blessed Nigeria. We are our own problems. Our greatest problems are ourselves because God has already blessed us. A story was told in a joke that African Heads of State went to God and complained why He has given Nigeria everything and God said, “but see the kind of leaders we put there,” and they said it is true. It is not that we lack the ‘know-how, the wherewithal to build a nation that is peaceful, a nation that is economically-viable, where people can live a normal life but we are not allowing ourselves to do it. It is unfortunate. Insecurity is a very serious problem.  Most of us who served Nigeria in the past served at a time when there was no issue of insecurity in Nigeria.

The government should convene a meeting or call us to ask how we did it in the 70s, 80s and 90s and ensured we had a stable and secure country. Of course, there are people who served in that era who would have given good proposals of what could be done to reshape the security apparatus that will ensure peace and security. But that is not being done. Many people that initially supported Buhari feel disappointed… In many cases, he is not really the problem but the people who surrounded him are ruining the system and damaging things in the process.

But Nigerians didn’t vote for those ones. He is the one that got the votes It’s really unfortunate. We didn’t know that this will happen but it has happened. It happened not because Buhari has a military background.  Democracy is open to all people despite their background. It does not exclude those who were soldiers. It is the voice of people that counts and that is what made June 12, 1993 presidential election count.

It was the people’s voice and their mandate. I told you earlier, I have a military background but I was among those that pushed the military back to the barracks and I paid my price. In my own case, I was arrested and charged for treason. My house in Lagos was burnt down and all my businesses were destroyed by the Abacha regime. But I have no regrets being part of the struggle to restore democracy in Nigeria. I’m proud that I participated in it and democracy should stay.