The forthright Gen. Alani Akinrinade

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THIS week’s SUNDAY PUNCH carried a most instructive interview with General Alani Akinrinade, one of the finest Nigerian Army officers. Akinrinade belongs to the generation of soldiers of the old school, who played very defining roles in Nigeria’s Civil War, between 1967 and 1970. He retired as Chief of Defense Staff but was to become more socially and politically engaged with Nigeria’s history, especially becoming active in the struggle against military dictatorship, during the 1990s. General Akinrinade is a man of sincere passion and he makes clear his position on issues of national development.

I don’t always agree with his views, but his genuinely patriotic fervor and commitment to the building of an inclusive and socially just society cannot be faulted. I saw General Akinrinade at close quarters during The National Conference, 2014; as a matter of fact, we worked in the same committee, the Committee on Politics and Electoral Matters. It was one of the most dynamic committees of the National Conference, because of the pedigree of its membership, including the inimitable General Alani Akinrinade.

I was therefore not surprised at the breath of vision and the ranging intellect and originality of perspective which he brought to the answers during the interview. He was forthright about the duty of the professional in society, soldier or otherwise: “When you have a duty, especially if it is a professional duty, you should be happy each time you are able to discharge your responsibilities creditably”. And on the roots of the crisis of terrorism in our society today, General Akinrinade said regrettably, “we ignore why people do the things they do. We dismiss them instead of examining the message carefully and finding answers to it”.

He was unambiguous about what faces us: “I think it is rooted in injustice- injustice that breeds poverty in such a big way; that is overwhelming that people become desperate to use any means to vent their frustration and religion is an instrument they use”. And for emphasis, he added that: “there is too much of a class struggle in Nigeria.

The centre of power in Nigeria is so narrow and they make all the decisions”. As the experienced and highly decorated soldier that he is, he fielded questions on the deterioration of Nigeria’s fighting forces and the alarmingly frequent cases of mutiny amongst our troops. General Akinrinade was equally thorough in his appreciation of the problem: “It’s unlawful to demonstrate in the army.

Yet, I don’t think it is enough to rely on the law to discipline erring soldiers in this case. We need to ask why. I tell myself that if these (mutinies by soldiers) happened under my watch, I will court marshal all the officers. I will disband the units because soldiers cannot do anything on their own. Therefore, the senior officers must have done something wrong. We should find out exactly what it is”.

Buhari’s certificate controversy

It was clear that an interview with Akinrinade, in the midst of the controversy generated around General Muhammadu Buhari’s school certificate, could not avoid the issue. Akinrinade was angry about the controversy: “It is an insult to the armed forces- a terrible insult to the armed forces. If they are so embedded in the system and they have lost their souls, then they can go ahead and join everybody in castigating a General of Buhari’s caliber…By the time he joined the army, in those days, there were no cutting corners…Buhari attended the Mons (Officer Cadet School in Aldershot in England) and the Staff College; I don’t want to think they have an idea what they teach in those places…You send a man to America for one and a half years in a military school. Do they think he just went there to learn how to fire a rifle? No”.

Even his requirement for Nigerian leadership was unambiguous: “Considering where we find ourselves today, honesty is the first quality a man should have. The people should trust a leader to the point that his words are taken as a bond. If it is your worry that is honesty enough, I will say yes it is enough.

The next one is wisdom so that the leader is able to get people who will do the work for him”. There were other issues ably interrogated during the interview, but what I have touched here gives a good indication of the forthrightness of General Alani Akinrinade.

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