Vice Admiral MurtalaNyako(rtd) is not new in Nigeria’s power circles. He has mastered the game of power having occupied top positions in both military and democratic governments in the country. The Naval Defence Strategist was the first Military Governor of the newly created Niger State in 1976 and served as Chief of Naval Staff and Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Military Administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. As Governor of Adamawa State(2007-2014), he found himself in confrontation with the powers at the Centre.
He fought many political battles against the powers at the Centre and won some but got a bloody nose in others leading to his impeachment in 2014.In one of the battles, he accused former President Goodluck Jonathan of abating the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East. In this interview with DAILY ASSET Editors, he speaks about his life, military and political career and his service as Governor of Adamawa revealing for the first time that there were four attempts to take his life for his stand on a number of national political issues including opposition to President Jonathan. Excerpts.
You emerged as the consensus gubernatorial candidate in Adamawa State in 2007, at a time securing the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, guber ticket was a herculean task, may you recall how you achieved this nearly impossible feat?
It was very simple. I had no intention to become governor of Adamawa state. All through my career, I never nursed political ambition. When I was Military Governor of Niger state, ShehuYar’Adua was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. I respected him. I met him in Saudi Arabia and I said look, thank you very much for making me a governor but please when we go back to Nigeria, I would like you to take me back to the Service. I told him my reasons. Then he didn’t take action. After about a year later, the Head of State then, General Olusegun Obasanjo came to Niger State and we went round for three days and at the end of the day, before his departure, he sat down for debrief and he was full of praises for me for my focus on education, re-organising the administration, agriculture, he gave me a commendation and he was to leave the following morning. Col Amadu Ali was there and I told him Sir, thank you for giving me the compliments to be a governor but I assure you the one place I want to be now is the seas…
So you were not an ambitious officer?
Ambition to be what? I had my ambition. I am a big farmer now.I have no single ambition in becoming anything. I was called upon by my elder brother to attend Western school but I cried all day because I didn’t want to go to Western school. On getting to his house, he was not around; I met his wife and begged her not to allow her husband take me to Western school. I ended up sleeping there that night. In the morning my niece woke me up and I asked her about my request of not going to a Western school and she she said her mummy is not home yet. I then met the wife and asked about my request, she said, as soon as she brought up the issue, her husband was furious with her and pleaded that I should attend the school.
I arrived the school Friday night, I didn’t like the place because their restroom was smelling, and on Saturday I made up my mind to run away just like my brother and nephew did in the past. On Sunday, while other students were going to town, I was being tactful and I picked most important items, carried them in my armpit and went to town with the intention of running to my village. Meanwhile,the transportation system to my village from that place was twice in a week which was On Sunday 4:00pm and Friday morning. My intention was to join the lorry leaving by 4:00. When I got there I met the watchman, I had bought soya on my way. After eating I slept off. I didn’t wake up till 11-12pm. When I woke up, I noticed I was all alone, my problem became where I was going to spend the rest of the night. I remembered I have an old friend, I went to his place, he opened the door and asked what I was doing there. I explained to him and told him I was going to my village because I don’t like the school, he advised me to go back to school because the next lorry to go to my village will be on Friday and if I don’t go back the school will look for me. He offered to show me the footpath back to school. The next morning by 6:00AM, he showed me the footpath and I went back to school. On getting to school, by the gate I met the housemaster and he asked who is that? I answered it’s me, Murtala. He asked what I was doing there when the other children had left for town. He took me to join the other students. The following morning, the housemaster came to our class to choose a monitor and he chose me. I decided to stay in the school for halfa term.
Unlike the school where you were trying to run away, what encouraged you in the Navy, that you wanted to leave Government House Minna and go back to the Sea?
It’sa question of fate. Another fate in my life was this: When I finished secondary school, one morning, the Principal sent for three of us in my class to see him during break period. Quite frankly I didn’t have any common denominator with the other two, so I was wondering why the principal called me. When I got there, he specifically told me that I have been selected to attend the Naval Cadet interview in Lagos. I was surprised why I was chosen because I didn’t volunteer and I was not in school when the mail for the application was sent. I told him I am not going for the interview. He said in any case this is the invitation letter, and I should come back in the next 2hrsfor the school to tell me if permitted to go or not. I went back to the class and my classmates were asking me what happened. I told them and also explained to them that I am not going.I was not in school the day the mail for the application was sent, some of my teachers have assumed I will be interested, so they included my name.
Among 27 names that were sent to them, only three were selected for the interview which I happened to be one of them. The successful candidates were to serve as Executive, Engineering or Logistics. My area of interest was engineering. At that time, there was also a football match coming up from a major team, Vasco Dagama of Braziland I was a football fanatic.My friends told me it was an opportunity to watch the match, and come back to tell them before the school dismisses, that was how I found myself in Lagos. I was interviewed and selected to do engineering.
I was supposed to be among the first batch that will be sent to India but I was asked to go with the second batch which will go to England. That was how I ended up there.
During the MurtalaMuhammed Administration, I was in the latitude of America and by September, towards the end of my course, I was to report back to England to be commanding officer designate for the Nigeria Navy Ship. I left America on the 20th December; I came to London 21st and was in Nigeria on Christmas eve. I had begged them to allow me go for my compassionate leave which should last for 2 weeks. Before returning back, on the 29thof December, I went to Lagos, and I met the Chief of Staff who then advised me to go for my annual leave which was 30days and I did. I returned to Lagos 31st January. The main reason for going on leave was because I was building my first house through federal government staff housingloan and they were giving me half of the loan before I left for the course. I wanted to get the second certificate to qualify for the other part of the loan. That was why I came back to Nigeria.When I came back, I prepared my paper. On the 2nd February, I went to Naval headquarters with one of the Lt commanders and I gave him the authority to collect my cheque for the staff housing loan and when it matures he would let me know because I had given the contractor undated Cheque. I went and introduced him there and they all agreed to give him the Cheque. I went back to Apapa. I was told that three officers came from Naval Headquarters and were looking for me. I was surprised who told them I was still in town. They told me: report to Naval headquarters immediately. I went back to Naval headquarters and it was the Chief of Staff that was looking for me. When I met him, the first question he asked me is if I have gotten my uniform in Nigeria, and I said no Sir, my uniform is in England. He said, I should go and find uniform because in the next two hours I was going to be announced as governor for a new state, Niger, by General MurtalaMuhammed. After going through this kind of good fortune, why should I now plan to be who and what?
And that is why when they came that they wanted me to be civilian governor, I resisted with all my force that I didn’t want to but as God would have it, I ended up being the governor of Adamawa State by consensus of all the delegates.
I was in Abuja here when the leadership of the party came to my house and said I was now the candidate for the party. I asked, what about the primary, I was told it had been cleared with Muhammadu Ali, Chairman board of Trustees and together we went to see the president and it is now endorsed I was told, you are now to be the candidate. I will bring the certificate for you. I was elected effortlessly.
The way fate has played in your favour, how did it affect the way you serve the country, relate with people and the way you took your assignments?
I was told from the beginning, that in Islam, if you show too much interest in anything, they said don’t give it to him. Because there is a tendency for somebody to be single- minded; he will come to job with a mere perception of confusion to the detriment of the other issues laid before him. Even when I was called by OBJ, I would not incline to do it until I met one Mallam.I told the Mallam, I am not interested but he told me that in Islam if you express desire to be something, it is stated clearly that people should not allow it but if you are told to do it, and you are reluctant, you should even be sent to prison to do it from the prison yard. So many leaders in the history of the Islam were people who went to jail because they refused to do the job. I didn’t want to go to jail by the Almighty since they had this consensus I said let me do the job. I then accepted the job. That was how I ended up becoming a governor. My advice to the World is that whatever you are doing should be done well. It has been my stand from the beginning, whatever I did, I did it well. In spite of the fact that I didn’t want to go to primary school and I found myself being the monitor in the school, I made sure, until I left I was number one in the class. When I went to secondary school, I was involved in sports. I made sure I was either number one or two all through my secondary school. Because whatever that was before me I like to do it well. That had been my philosophy. That’s why even in the Navy, they praise me till today. While in secondary school, during sport I was either the captain or vice captain. When I went to England it was the same thing.
This did not affect your academics performance?
No. I was always on the top of the class. I was the only one, you can check the record. In England, I went for the first trial in hockey, because there you can only play hockey or soccer. And I found myself playing hockey and then I was the only one Afro playing hockey. I was assured of given a free ride by the divisional officer because I brought them the Hockey cup for the year for my division. The Hockey captain for the year. When I came back for the second year, I quickly went to the soccer trial and I was taken to play soccer. Now the hockey master was not pleased, they were all looking for me to come for the second year, he then tried to push me to play hockey but to no avail. The boring thing I didn’t like in the team was that I was the only Afro, while in the football team, we had some Nigerians there to enjoy the company and speak Nigerian issues. So I wanted to go and joined the Nigerians.
The PDP on consensus brought you as governor, yet you fell out with the Party. Lookingback how can you now justify that? Can you give us a backgroundas to what really happened that made you to leave PDP?
Let me put it like this,Goodluck Jonathan administration was supporting Boko Haram, when I became governor of Adamawa State , I looked at the security issues.Boko Haram was shimmering in Borno state and it was dangerous in neighbouring states and Nigeria and I wrote a letter to President UmaruYar’Adua requesting that I should be permitted to have a standing task force in the state with the Army,Air force, Police, DSS, traditional leaders, so that we have a standing task force called “, that is Operation self protection.I am happy to note that it went very well. The whole purpose of Operation Tsarowasto condone and search.
When Umaru died, Jonathan took over. I received a letter to say that the Nigeria Army personnel deployed for operations all over the place should be withdrawn. I wrote this letter to Jonathan.
“I have the honour and privilege to refer to Army sent to us on the above subject mater copied attached and to draw the attention of his excellency to the content of the letter effectively, withdrawing Nigeria Army from region operation office is not a hence your excellency may want Adamawa state sustained a security operation. Code named Ooperation for Self Protection with elements from the Nigeria Army then Nigeria Air Force and the Nigeria police force basically forrescue and search activity. What we used to do is when we heard some rascals were in a particular area and were penetrating Adamawa, we surrounded the area by 10:00 in the night and asked every body to leave and we search the place and we were able to catch the suspects and those we suspected are those who brought arms to Adamawa state.
“Mr. President, The genesis of this operation is not far-fetched. Adamawa state shares a very long border with the Republic of Cameroon. Our boundary is also not too far from the Republic of chad. The boundary has become porous permitting wrong elements within and outside our state, to roam at will and conducting all sorts of criminal activities. Certainly this by my assessment of Adamawa required a joint operation and more defence of security personnel, thus the –imperative for this type of standing joint operation deem it protect our people from such crimes. The essence of operations is therefore deterrence by being present.” You know when the enemies knows that you have the first organization group because for your self defence, you deter them by being present.
“ Now, let me assure Mr. President that the present and commitment of Nigeria to such operation or how it assisted the Nigeria Police, in my state immensely, by the detachment of army personnel, I held the police immensely, and have evidently brought down cases and robbery, particularly in the state to an all time low. Even robbery in the state went down, wehave significantly eliminated cases of kidnapping, arson, rape and other fatal criminal activity in the state. “More importantly, it has contributed substantially in containing the activities of Boko Haram and spreading for the neighbouringstates. It is in the light of the foregoing and in conformity with your principled desirefor peace and security of our people that I on behalf of the government and people of Adamawa state hereby most humbly request you kind intervention in revising the order of withdrawing the Army from the State and the Joint Taskforce of Adamawa State. A border state that experiences cross-border criminal activities emanating from as far as the Dafurregion of Sudan.
We will continue to settle its operational cost. So all these army officers will collect their salaries, we bought them vehicles, communication devices we had operation centres, so anytime somebody makes any report to us, we immediately through our small operation centres, tell all the units. Through out the period I was in Adamawa, there was no Boko Harambecause this operation prevented them. “Please accept the assurance of my highest regard and esteem.”
OperationTsaro was the most effective measure to tackle all major criminal and terrorist activities in Adamawa State, but was rendered ineffective by an insane declaration of state of emergency by thefederal government. Nowkillers squadswere about to be introduced in the North Eastern States. I will show what led to him declaring the state of emergency and when I confronted him, he said, it would last in Adamawa state for just three weeks, because I told him there was no excuse for it.I told him that he is going to cripple my economy and with this state of emergency I have to use my resources. So there had never been a single Boko Haram activity in the state until after my purported impeachment on 15thJuly 2014.
The next one, is the letter I wrote him after the election on 23rd April, 2011.
The next one is the letter I wrote. “Extract of the letter with the heading: (p.9) MrPresident, extract from memo on general insecurity in the north east by GovernorMurtalaNyako.” By that time they were talking about Boko Haram and labellingBoko Haram as a religious outfit but I said
“Labeling the sect’s motive on religion namely to Islamize and enthrone Shariain Nigeria, is to underestimate the socio-political motivations and objectives, their targets are largely among the Muslim community on how to deal immensely with the internal security of this country is now urgently required. “Clearly somethingneeds to be done to arrest the deteriorating security situation which is likely to have effect not only for region and the country Nigeria and the rest of Africa”.We are the best of friends, I fought to support him. I toldthe governors lets not quarrel about him being candidate. I wrote a memo to Northern governors to support him to becomethe candidate. South south have always been a friend of the north from time immemorial. I wrote a letter to northern governors for us to adopt him as a candidate.
“in every counter insurgency he now introduced Army, a Boko Haram survival, after reading my letter here about the tactics of dealing with this kind of insurgency, in every counter insurgency the key is “winning the hearts and minds of the people” and the security agents have not been very helpful. They are aggravatingBoko Haram, they have been known toterrorise the people of Maiduguri with cases of molestation, rape, and even looting. They go about these dastardly acts with impunity. The checkpoints which are too many have become become toll gates for any and everyone in the city. The people are beginning to wonder if they are not better off with the Sects thus casting aspersion on the ability of the government to protect its citizen.Obviously the security agents should not act to aggravate the present situation by raining the innocent victims to the side of the state.
“The ordinary man in Maiduguri is beginning to question the motive of some of the government operatives. The people even call into question the motive of the credibility played by the highly placed Nigerians close to government. A codeof conduct or rule of engagement for the defence and security personnel operating in this area is therefore, imperative in this circumstance. You don’t send them like they are going to fight enemies, they are Nigerians who are over there. Over 80% of nations in the world donot allow the use of military in internal security matters.
Recently after almost 75 years of existence of the guerrilla fighters in Colombia, the new president who was given Nobel Peace Prizeis now talking to people saying we have been fighting since, let’s talk.
Here you send soldiers there killing people. If your own children cause trouble in the house, do you kill them? Is there no alternative way of reaching these your children to prevent them from illegality or crime they are committing? Which part of the World you will allow soldiers kill civilians? An American soldier will never do that. A German soldier will never kill a German.
AND THEN YOU TAKE PLEASURE IN KILLING YOUR people. Mohammed Yusuf was shot to pieces in the glare of the World. Which barbarism is this? This was a bad name given to Nigeria.
“The recent picture of women and children forced to lie on the ground and being lashed by men of the recently established Joint Task Force before the World’s Mass Media cannot be helpful to this country. Lets we forget, the use of the Armed Forces in restoring internal security the World over is even prohibitive by the constitutions of a lot of nations.
Such responsibility behovesthe Police and other civil security organisations including the traditional rulers, and community leaders and everybody should be involved to make sure we have peace. The danger in allowing this kind of thing to continue is that it becomes cancerous.
“The current situation portends great danger to the peace and security of the zone and the country at large. And I suggested a strategy to my President on how we are going to deal with with the problem. I was still Governor; I was even a retired General.
“Any strategy suggested must facilitate immediate degrading of the threat to security in the North East geopolitical zone and country at large. To this end the following may be considered”. I had a whole list of things to be done.
I was travelling and there was a plot to kill me. When I saw the trap, I quickly abandoned my car went to another car and told the driver lets go back to Yola from Madagali. Fortunately,I was facing the road so all my vehicles blocked the road. The Army came from behind there was no way they could get to me. The driver shouted they are coming in ArmouredCar(APC). I said what is that who is coming? He said “Boko Haram was going”. I said Boko Haram coming and the Army Brigade is standing there with Armoured car? I left for Yola so the killers were blocked from me. When I got to the checking point they said where is the Governor? And the driver will tell them he is at the back, he is coming.
You used your tactics as a Military General to escape but why were you not speaking about these things?
They wanted to kill me four times.(laughter).
An audacious attempt was made on my life when I boarded a presidential flight to Yolaat the Presidential wing of Murtala Mohammed Airport. No sooner than the Aircraft Pilot put inmotion the aircraft, its taxi control system suddenly became erratic with the aircraft speeding along the path. Fortunately, the aircraft did not take off along that path and the pilot was able to direct it into a mushy area where it got stucked in the mud. We all ran out of the aircraft.
When the Bishops from the President’s area came to meet me in Yola to see if we could reconcile, do you know who was abusing them on the pages of the newspaper? The head of CAN, Oritsejafor was abusing them; why did they have to come to me to attempt to reconcile. By then we decided we were parting company, no need for hide and seek.
How would you assess the Buhari Administration in its first two years?
I warned APC, let’s sit down, let’s have a programme, let’s have a vision, a perception for Nigeria. We want the value system like the values in the Koran which I believe to be the direction for Nigeria until eternity.This time around the value system has to last till eternity. I told them let’s have a focus for Nigeria even in the next fifty years, what we are to do? What do we want to do in the next twenty five years and what do we want to do in the next ten years? And the next five years, one year, first Month, first day of being in the office? Even people who plan coup used to have this idea of where they go in the next five years of them being in government.
The APC must look at this matter and attend to it seriously. Unfortunately, when I talk like this some people think there is plenty of time. If only they said a few people should team upwith Nyako, come up with a focus for this country, for the next few years, we would have consulted. There are examples everywhere. Which programmes are we going to pursue? Every party in the world has a programme where it wants her nation to go. This party for now lacks focus and because we lack focus, we keep on quarrelling among our selves. How can we be a party in government, and then we behave like opposition party fighting among ourselves. These legacy parties have almost gone back to their cocoon. By now we should our ideas about how Nigeria is going. So, definitely we have to speed up, we have speed up in coming up with the way forward for this party, spell out to every politician who wants to come under APC let alone a public officer who is elected under our party whatever he is Councilor, Local Government Chairman, Commissioners, Governors, Ministers, President and the rest, they will all must have focus that this what the party stands for, for Nigeria.
All said and done, we must thank God that we have APC. We must thank God the more that we have somebody who the World accepts and Nigeria accepts. To me upright character, Gen. Mohammadu Buhari, today is the President of this country. At least he is upright, at least he has the respect, that is a good start for all of us. But you see because of lack of central direction of where we are going, some people even when the road in front of their house is not swept, they say Its Buhari. He is the one to sweep the road, gutter every where in tis country. He has made appointment of Ministers and keyleadership of parastatals. Because they lack direction, we are not getting the desired direction from them.The party itself has not come to map up how this our great country should be going. The issues before us, the issue of insecurity, economic backwardness and social integration of our society. Some people are blaming Nigeria but I say what about your zones and states? Are they doing well for you? What about your local government, ward and your clan and family? Today there is more enmity among members of the same clan, more jealousy, more ruthlessness against one another. So the whole society needs to be shaken from its roots. To bring everybody back to God’s way and in line with the lessons of history.
How do we get our country better?Today when you talk about inflationin Europe, its 4 per cent. Any leadership in Europe which does not reduce inflation and unemployment to 4 per cent will not be allowed to join the European Union. What is the level of unemployment today in this country?It’s over 80 per cent. Nigerians are not gainfully employed. When are we going to mobilize people? It’s not all about government. In the 1950s, the government was so small. All of us who went to school including primary school used to have jobs because there were jobs in the civil service and few parastatals that could absorb all of us. Today, with the number of people, government cannot employ everybody. The private sector must create the jobs. And we must be supported by government on how we can get credit at the rate of not more than 4 per cent. How can you give credit or loan from the bank at about 25 per cent interest? It means if you follow the normal compound interest, this money will double in three years, you can’t pay. Look at inflation. Abag of rice costs N18,000. What is the minimum wage? Its also N18,000. All the salary goes to buy one bag of rice. How do we eat the rice? No water, no stew,etc. So there is something critically wrong with us today.
But definitely we can’t blame Buhari for it. He has done the appointments required. You may blame him for not appointing the right people if you like but don’t blame him, simply say that this Minister is not working. But even the Ministers are constrained. What do you want them to achieve? It is a reflection of where we are going. Whatever you are doing today, we must continue tomorrow and increase speed, that’s how the World has become. Even if all Nigerians were going to be employed today, by the rate of increase in population of Nigeria, it means that by each year you cater for the increase of population. We have to expand the schools and infrastructure not the kind of infrastructure that collapses by the day. We must make this society secured security wise, socially and economically.
Now we talk about 25 per cent interest rate and you have some nonsensical credit schemes. You give somebody credit, he is hungry and give him loan to do his hair or eat? So what we did in Adamawa, we introduced what we called grassroots empowerment programme. We introduced minimum wage for a person.Everymonth, we give most of these poor people, a minimum amount of money to help them and try to see if they can open business at their own level. Believe me, when we gave people this basic thing after one year, they came and said remove me out of the list. There was somebody whom we gave about N10,000 and started buying Islamic books from Kano. He established one small shop. He has now got one large shop in Yola. There are people who would come out of this programme. They will notify you, I don’t need this minimum wage. In the Western World they have minimum wage for every citizen per month. It is safer for us as a society than we have lawless people and we spend millions of money fighting Boko Haram with all the crooks in the system hiding away the money.
We need to sit down as a people to work out where we are going now. The Chinese in the last fifty years declared that China will be the most potent nation on earth in sports. They introduced all the games in the world. This year, a Chinese was number two after a Jamaican in 100metres dash; these are people who were not known to be sprinters. They are now producing hockey players, football. They have sporting academies even in primary schools in China. Because they want China to be something. I assure you they will not reach fifty years, in the next two decades, China will be one of the most powerful nations as far as sports is concerned.
We have to have plan and have a vision of where we are going.Indonesia had a fertilizer plant in 1975 the same year we built our own at Onne.Indonesia today does not export one barrel of crude oil, they are refining everything in their country and selling at tremendous profit. We cannot even run our NAFCON. What is wrong with us in this country? Why are we in this shit? Every nation which were at par with them in development have gone ahead of us. There is no point of blame sharing here. Let’s sort out where we should be going as a family, clan, ethic group as a Council Ward, Local Government, State, Zone and at the national level.
Fortunately, I am doing these things because God has giving me some perceptions.When I was Chief of Naval Operations, we put the place up. Today in terms of survival techniques, and doing the job, Nigerian Navy is a pride to the rest of the Armed Forces. I established all the training Schools for them.