A former Chief of Air Staff and governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Bauchi State, Sadique Abubakar, tells DANIEL AYANTOYE about the solutions to Nigeria’s security challenges and his plans for his people
Your entry into politics barely a year after you retired as the Chief of Air Staff came to many as a surprise, has that always been your plan?
It was never my plan to go into politics. After my retirement, my desire was to go for my PhD. Before I became the Chief of Air Staff, I was running the programme with Walden University, United States but I could not continue when I was appointed because of work pressure. So when I retired, I had concluded to go for the programme, add value to myself and see how I could get busy. However, so many of my people kept coming to Abuja in groups, putting a lot of pressure on me to come and be part of the process of adding value to my state. Initially, I resisted it because I felt I had contributed at the national level for 42 years and it was time to go somewhere else or try something else, particularly studying. After consultations with my family, friends and other associates, I reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. Now, I’m happy I’m doing this because I have seen fundamental issues affecting our society, and these are partly responsible for the insecurity that Nigeria is currently facing.
As a former Chief of Air Staff, do you agree with those who feel Nigeria needs foreign help to permanently eliminate Boko Haram insurgency and banditry?https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.555.2_en.html#goog_1802495548
As a retired three-star general who was a directing staff at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College; a directing staff at the National Defence College, and someone who has been taught how to fight and has taught others how to fight, that is the worst mistake any government will make. The only assistance you need from foreign countries is equipment. You have over 200 million people, all you need to do, if your system is functioning properly, is to look at the structure of the armed forces. I did that when I was there. I looked at our structure and realised it was not going to solve the problem we were handling and we had to create two commands: Special Operations Command in Bauchi and the Ground Training Command in Enugu. We also established more than 16 units to make sure we have the appropriate structure to be able to deal with the issues. So the idea of calling any foreign countries would be the worst decision that anybody will make, in my opinion. What you can do is to let them give you training opportunities, get the appropriate equipment and structure.
With the drastic reduction in the attacks by Boko Haram, do you think they have been completely defeated or it might still take a while?
In my opinion, the most important thing to do first is to create opportunities for people. That is why I keep saying every time we talk about security and we talk about bullets, bombs and rockets, it’s a mistake. There are several concepts to internal security. You must understand what is happening with capacity utilisation, power generation and economy. What kind of political process do you have? How credible is the process because these are all generators of insecurity. If you don’t generate insecurity, you will not have the need to fight it. What is happening in our schools? Are people getting opportunities to send their children to school? If the answer is yes, then you are beginning to do the right thing. Until we make sure that every child that is of school age goes to school and they acquire the knowledge they need to live a good life and support the society, we will continue to have insecurity. I will never justify any crime but you cannot ignore certain fundamentals. Education is very important. Make sure the level of literacy is so high so people can take opportunities and then you create an enabling environment for them to channel their energy into the good path.
What do you think is crucial in engendering loyalty and patriotism in the Armed Forces?
One thing that is important is taking care of your personnel. Let me tell you what we did. We took care of our personnel, we provided them accommodation, both office and residential. Go to any Air Force barracks today, you will be happy these are men of the Air Force. They have a place to stay, adequate medical facilities, reference hospitals in Daura, Bauchi and Port Harcourt. We have trained over 2,000 of them, we gave them what they require to do their job effectively. These have impacted positively on their outcome in terms of the job we assigned to them. I’m sure my younger brother that is there now is doing the same thing to ensure that the morale of the troop is good. The morale of the troop is mostly important. If you want to send anybody to war, you have to make sure their morale is good. They should have their salary and entitlements. We also established secondary schools for the children of our personnel. We also trained them. For the first time we trained fighter pilots that are women. For the first time in the history of the service, an all female crew was set up. The pilot, the co-pilot, the engineer, the camera and even when they landed, it was a woman that ushered them to park. That shows you that we are equally gender-sensitive. So I think all we have done impacted positively during our time in the service.
How would you rate the welfare of Air Force personnel compared to other African countries?
I can tell you that the Nigerian Air Force is one of the most credible. They are professionals, they are properly trained and they have all that are required to function effectively. If you remember, during the Gambian crisis, it was only Nigeria that sent fighter aircraft to Gambia and that was what actually sent the man who didn’t want to respect the mandate of his people packing. So I think our Air Force is the best in terms of training and equipment and they are doing excellently well.
Many people would wonder why the battle against insurgents took so long.
I told you that before we came, there were bombs exploding here and there and when we left there were no bombs. In Abuja alone, there were eight bomb attacks. They bombed Nyanya twice, the United Nations headquarters was bombed, ditto the headquarters of the police, and so on. Glory be to God, when we were there, there was no single bomb blast there. In the North-East, you know how many local government that were under the insurgents. Certainly, we cannot compare what was happening before with what we left behind.
Shortly after you left office, the NSA said the funds meant for arms procurement were nowhere to be found and that was like an indictment on all the service chiefs that left, including you. How did you feel with that revelation?
The fact of the matter is that I can walk with my head high with all sincerity. I heard all those things but the fact is that the proofs are there. The Central Bank of Nigeria is there. Luckily for us in the Air Force, we don’t buy anything in Nigeria. The documents and the facts are there at the CBN; the money given to us and what we remitted to those who supplied them. For me, I made sure that anything we did was documented with pictures and videos. So I can move with my head high and nobody can accuse me of anything over arms procurement. Anyone that has facts can come out and say this fund was given and the item it was meant for was not procured. I don’t want to have any issue with the National Security Adviser; he is my senior colleague but I can tell you that for us in the Air Force, our books are intact.
The federal government gave the contract of securing the pipelines to Ex-militant Tompolo, there are concerns that the FG does not have confidence in the Air force and other armed forces to protect the pipelines, what can you say about this?
You know, I am no longer in the military now, if you ask me anything about APC, I will give you, what you asked me about the Air force is what I have given you, I don’t know what the situation is now, I will want to politely decline to answer this question because I don’t have all the facts.
It’s difficult to defeat an incumbent in Nigeria, are you hopeful of defeating incumbent governor Bala Mohammed, who is the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party?
Nigeria is changing so fast and I am so excited about that. That I am contesting against an incumbent governor does not in any way make me feel challenged. We want to create in the minds of our people that they are the custodians of power. In my tour of some local governments, I could see that people are really tired and they are ready to ask questions. You see a huge population waiting for us up till midnight. That clearly tells me that something is changing; despite the fact that we do not have the required resources usually used for these things. So, our concern is not incumbency but how to get our children back to school, get water to the people and provide other basic things. In some of the villages I visited, humans and even the animals do not have access to water and they were crying for it. These are the issues we should really be concerned about and incumbency may not be the determinant. We saw it in 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari won the election. We are here to serve and we have made people realise that we are serious about what we want to do. We are not telling them that all their problems will disappear as soon as we come on board, but we have given our assurances, coupled with our proven track record. I served in the Air Force for 42 years and with all sense of humility, I was the only senior officer in the history of the service that received three commendation letters from three different Chiefs of Air Staff and they are about leadership and prudent management of resources. So, incumbency is not the factor at all. It is the people that will decide and from what I have seen and heard, the PDP government’s days in Bauchi are numbered, it’s a matter of days before they will be out of that place because they have failed woefully. I have given you statistics, let them come out and say it’s not true.
Before the APC governorship primaries, some party members accused you of vote-buying; using money to gain the support of delegates. Was that true?
That is absolute falsehood. Go and find out, I insisted that there must be live transmission of all that was being done at the primaries for everyone to see. So how can there be vote-buying. Everybody saw the process. There will always be allegations from the opposition, but I can tell you that the process was one of the most transparent primaries in the history of Bauchi State. I went there prepared that whatever came out of it was fine. I served Nigeria for 42 years, so it’s not a do-or-die affair.
You said there were issues in the state that needed to be addressed, what are they and how would you describe the performance of the incumbent governor?
I think with what people have demonstrated during our campaign tours, it’s very clear that the performance is very abysmal. A situation where you have the highest number of out-of-school children in the country in your state; about 1.4 million children are out of school in Bauchi State; a situation where you have net attendance in school at only 29.9 per cent when the national average is 68.7 per cent; a situation where you record 1,549 deaths of women for every 100,000 births clearly shows that the PDP government in the state is clueless. They have no idea as to how to really address these fundamental issues. This is not my judgement alone, the figures and statistics are clear for everybody to see, coupled with the judgement of the people. This is a state where people go to work and they are not paid salaries. People, after working for 35 years, end up going home without a kobo because nothing is paid to them. This is a state where you have enormous resources; solid minerals, but very little is done to explore the resources for the benefit of our people. This is a state where if you go to primary schools, you would want to shed tears. The governor is like an elder brother, we attended the same school, and he was two years ahead of me. I kept asking him, sir, where is that school we both attended? So, clearly the statistics are there; it is an abysmal performance and I am sure the people of Bauchi are now ready to take their destiny into their hands by putting aside the PDP and bringing an APC government on board. We have also been emphasising that they need to make sure that it is APC from top to bottom so that we will tap into the experience of Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate) and make sure that we transform our society.
But the governor in his campaigns says he has done well and will want to continue.
Everywhere I go, the answer is that he has not fulfilled the promises he made to the people. Also, if you look at the statistics, the answers are very clear. He promised to address the payment of salaries, but some people are without salaries for seven, eight and nine months. He promised to address the issues in the education sector, but the sector is worse today. When he assumed office, he said there were only 50 doctors. Now, I ask him, how many have you trained and how many are you training? No answer, for three years. I brought into the Air Force about 150 medical personnel because I was expanding the medical services in the Air Force. For the first time in the history of the service, we sent 10 of our officers to become consultants. We have just discovered oil and gas in Alkaleri which is his local government. I asked him, sir, how many have you trained so that they can come and man this place? No answer, because he has not done anything. So, I think we need to re-engineer the political landscape.
What will you do differently if you emerge as the governor?
The first thing, in my opinion, that every leader needs to do is to close the gap between him as a leader and the people he is leading. If the people have confidence in you, that you are doing your best, they will support you. Secondly, we have so many areas we can generate resources; we should not rely on federal allocation only. Internally generated revenue is very important but the issue here is that they have collected loans from banks and whatever they generate through internal revenue is used to service the loans. Another thing is the issue of selling public assets. When you look at the flour mill factory in Bauchi, it has been sold; the fertilizer company has been sold to individuals. Look at the Yankari Game Reserve, they have sold everything. Even in some areas, they have sold the land where people are farming. We will rebuild confidence in the government, schools will function appropriately, even if we don’t have hospitals everywhere, we will send medical teams to those areas. We did it in the Air Force; we had what we called medical outreach strategies in dealing with banditry and Boko Haram in the North-East. We sent people to the villages, and in some instances we used helicopters to pick people from their villages to Maiduguri, where we treated them in our hospitals and fly them back to their villages in order to win their support in the fight against insurgency. These things are very important to people. When they feel involved in governance and there is transparency and accountability in the way their resources are managed, you will find it much easier to handle some of these issues.
Most of us that are in positions of leadership are in our 60’s, you cannot spend another 60 years, so this is the time to give back to society, rather than building a massive personal house that can accommodate thousands of people. If you live alone in such a house, you might even run mad, whereas people are looking for a small room where they can sleep every day. Most of us benefited from a system that worked. I and the governor went to Government Secondary School, Bauchi where we were paid pocket money monthly. We were given so many things free of charge. That is why I believe if we get to the point where people understand the power lies with them, these things will stop.
You spoke about the selling of properties, perhaps the government believes privatisation is the way to go, are you opposed to that model?
There is no doubt that the private sector is very important in every economy, but the privatisation process is very important. Whatever you are doing you must consult the people. It’s not you sitting down and making decisions alone. You have the people’s representatives in the state House of Assembly but how many of them have you really sat down with? Was there any public hearing? Did you really agree to sell the companies? It should be very transparent and there should be public participation.
Issues of out-of-school children, child marriage, unemployment and other societal ills affect the northern region, what are the lapses you have observed in tackling them?
If you look at the agricultural sector in Bauchi State, we have everything we need to employ all these youths, and they will make a lot of money. They don’t need to kneel before anybody to beg for money. You can generate a lot of jobs through agriculture. We have a very fertile land where you can grow rice, wheat or anything. We have a flour mill factory that can employ up to 30,000 youths but they have shut it down. Solid minerals are there. Right now with the discovery of oil, we are expecting a refinery and a power generating company there. These are companies that will require manpower, but the sad thing is that, how many of your people have the skills to be part of what will be happening there. And there is no strategic plan. If you know you have had this idea of exploring oil and gas in Alkaleri, why don’t you send your people to school three or four years ago as a strategic plan so that by the time it materialises you would have had the people that have the skills on ground. If you don’t do that, with time, you will have the issues of resource control in that place, because the people will see that they have the resources but they are not benefiting simply because of poor planning. This is the time to send, let’s say 50 persons, to school to be educated in that field so that when they come, they will be part of those that are manning the place. It’s about leadership. Look at the school feeding arrangement of the Federal Government, do you know how many people are benefiting? Apart from the children that are able to eat a balanced diet, the cooks, the sellers of the farm produce in the market and the farmers who produce the food all are benefitting from the scheme. This is because of purposeful leadership.
There are people who feel you might terrorise the opposition if you become the governor, given your experience?
I spent 42 years of my life in service. At the age of 19, I left home to join a professional force that has ethics, respects the rights of individuals to live and I spent those 42 years ensuring that innocent people are not killed. How would you expect the same man to use his expertise to create problems for other people? I am not a do-or-die politician. I have virtually achieved everything in my life by the special grace of God. People are just uncomfortable because they know we are going to reengineer the political space to hand over governance to the people and that is their fear. As someone who is conscious of security, wherever I go and in every local government, I tell my people, don’t shed blood and don’t take any life because we are not here to destroy. We are here to build and you don’t build by killing or injuring people or destroying their property. What some people are trying to do is to bring up stories that we are sponsoring thugs. That will not distract me.
There have been debates on local government autonomy, what is your position on it?
Everybody will be part of our government; it’s going to be all-inclusive. What is happening does not affect only the local governments, even civil servants, how many of them are really part of the current administration. Most of them don’t even know what is happening. That is what we are saying, to make sure everyone is part of the process. The local governments have a very critical role to play and we will judge them by their performance and their people will equally judge them by their performance. Local governments will have the right to function effectively in the service of their people and we will give them all the support they require to function. We will make sure that our workers are able to get their entitlements. When I left service, I don’t think it was up to three months before all my entitlements were paid but you see instances where people are not paid their gratuity until they die.
But there are concerns that the issues currently bedeviling the country has undermined the chances of your party and could affect all the party’s candidates at the poll.
I can tell you what I know, which is Bauchi State. Here, we are going to vote APC from top to bottom; from Asiwaju to all other APC candidates. That’s the decision of my people. Whether we like it or not, the APC government led by President Muhammadu Buhari has made substantial progress. I have been part of the process; no government has procured the number of military aircraft he has procured to ensure adequate security. In the Air Force, we generated over 60,000 flying hours in five and a half years, out of which 39,000 hours were flown in the North-East. When people hear this, they think it’s just a figure. For an aircraft to fly, it must be serviceable and we don’t manufacture spare parts in Nigeria, we have to procure them from outside the country. For an aircraft to fly, you must have a trained engineer and technician to service it. We trained over 2,000 people in nine different countries. For an aircraft to fly, there has to be aviation fuel. We were using thousands of litres of fuel in order to secure this country. All of these were with the support of the President. For an aircraft to fly, there has to be a pilot training school. The number of aircraft we had were so insignificant if you compare with the task we were having, but we had to increase that to over 400 per cent. New dimension of insecurity came out of the North-West, banditry and all that. Even at that, I am sure that my younger brothers that are there as service chiefs now are doing their best to ensure that the country is secure. Like I have always said, security has several dimensions, it’s not just about bullets and rockets, you have to address the fundamentals and generally these are generated from the grass root. If you don’t have enough primary schools in a state where you have 1.4 million out-of-school children and these people have access to telephones and they can see prosperity in other places, some will get weird ideas and the next thing you see is that they are picking rifles. So if we are looking at security, we should look at it from the social and the political dimensions, in which everybody has a role to play.
Source: The Punch