HRM (AVM) Lucky Ochuko Ararile (rtd), Avwaeke I, is the Ovie (King) of Umiaghwa Abraka kingdom in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State. He is a veteran Nigerian Air Force pilot who participated actively in the Liberian/Sierra Leone war in ECOMOG Peace Keeping Force. On retirement, he heeded the call of his people and became the traditional ruler of Umiaghwa Abraka kingdom. In this interview with newsmen, the monarch bared his mind on national issues ranging from insecurity, restructuring, recently-passed Petroleum Industry Bill, Electoral Amendment Bill among other sundry issues.
Just last week, the Nigerian government took delivery of six out of twelve B 29 Super Tucano aircraft which have been ordered for the purpose of prosecuting the war against Boko Haram and Banditry, etc. Digging into your wealth of experience in military hardware, do you think the Tucano military aircraft is the game changer that would deliver the silver bullet to put an end to the war or is there any other superior hardware that can do the job?
Let me start by appreciating the present government for bringing into reality the acquisition of the Tucano aircraft. That has been on the drawing board. It did not start with the Buhari administration. At about 1999 to 2000, I was the Deputy Director of Operations at the Air Force headquarters. We were evaluating airplanes that we can consider to replace the Alpha Jets. So, the B-29 Super Tucano was one of the airplanes that was recommended at that time. For any Air Force, you have multi-role airplanes. These are planes you can apply as fighter aircraft, as ground interdiction aircraft and as surveillance or what have you. One airplane can do those things. We call them multi-role airplanes. An aircraft like the Tucano is a counter-insurgency airplane. And the requirement for it predates the Boko Haram insurgency. This is because in military, if you want to have a balance Air Force, you must have elements of this aircraft in sufficient numbers. It is an appropriate airplane for the job that is carved for it to do in terms of the range, in terms of the weapons that it can carry, in terms of simplicity of operations, the agility, the versatility, and the sophistication of the supporting equipment. Those type of considerations are favourable to the aircraft, given our own circumstances. So, it is an appropriate platform.
Having said that, can we say if it is a game changer? I really do not know. It depends on one, how it is employed. Two, it depends on the relationship between the services, the synergy. This is because there is no point having an airplane and when you see some bandits in a place, you go there, disorganize them, bomb them and kill a lot of them, and others run away and the army did not follow up as ground troops. The Air force comes from the air, the Air Force does its own job and the army ought to finish on the ground. But where the army does not go, what is the purpose? The Air Force has done its job, but the job is uncompleted because of what other people ought to do, which they didn’t do. So, inter-service cooperation is imperative for the proper use of that airplane. Having said that, the types of threats that we have in Nigeria today, whether insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, are the type of operations that you use special forces for.
Whilst the Tucano will act as a force multiplier, on its own it has limitation because it is a propeller aircraft. The proper airplanes for the problems we have in the country now are helicopters. So, you can see, for example, what happened when the Alpha Jet pilot was shot down in Zamfara State recently. The helicopters were able to deploy; they were able to engage the bandits or prevent them from pursuing the pilot to the end. It is the helicopter that went there to pick him up. Without helicopter, that pilot would have trekked a long distance, probably collapse and die on the way or probably get captured. So, the best aircraft for this type of operation is the helicopter.
Given the fact that the myriads of problems we have today are country-wide, the different zones have one form of security challenges or the other, they require helicopter services. So, each state of the federation including the FCT, should have at least 3 helicopters. That is 36 states plus the FCT which is 37 multiplied by three helicopters. And that gives 111 helicopters. That is what we require.
Three helicopters might not be enough for states like Borno and Niger because of their sizes. But all the helicopters in the country might not be in use at one time. When the three helicopters in one state may act as immediate reaction to any threat, then the three in adjoining states will act as follow-up forces. So, yes, the Tucano is appropriate, it is welcome. But it alone cannot solve the problem. We need more helicopters.
We need service cooperation and synergy. This is because I see a lot of duplication all over the place. Everybody is doing everybody else’s job. The Police have their own special forces under the Inspector General of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff has his own special forces, the Air Force and the Navy have their own special forces and so on. Sometimes, I would say that it is even disappointing when I see the way we are operating. It looks as if nobody actually is in charge. So, we have very serious issues in terms of inter-service cooperation.
Just last week, the Chief of Defence Staff invited ex-military top officers to a meeting in Enugu to brainstorm on the issue of insecurity in the South East. If you were in that meeting, for instance, what would be your suggestions?
Well, first of all, I think he (Chief of Defence Staff) is familiar with all the national security strategies, national defence policies, although in this case we will be talking more of national security strategies. These documents are there. It is a fact that we are not following these documents, that is why we are having this rivalry. So, let them look at what has been written. I just told you about the Tucano a while ago. These things have been studied and documented. So, it is just to follow it – the doctrine, tactics, the operational doctrines too – all these things are well documented per service. So, if he goes through these things and he has sufficient staff to do that, they will have to follow it. Doctrines is the belief on how best to fight a war. It is not cast in stones. From your experiences, you make a change. It is not the way the Nigerian army operated during the Civil war, the same way are operating today. So, you must change for the better to be more effective. If it is not effective, you go back to the drawing board and review it, why it is not effective. So, for now, the policies document that are documented are not being followed.
Among the service chiefs, presidency and even in the civil service, discretion is too much. Once the money gets to your hand, what you do with it becomes your own business. Whatever plan that is there you really don’t have to follow it. And that is the tragedy that we face.
You raised a very important point, and that is, the issue of lack of inter-service cooperation. Could that be the reason why the insurgency has been going on for a very long time?
It is just one of them. If you have a security challenge of the type we have now, and the extent it has degenerated, it becomes a national issue. It is an emergency. All this time we have been fighting Boko Haram, it has been like we deploy our troops in the North East and they are on their own. When you are fighting a war, it is a national business. Most of the resources of the country must be channeled towards tackling that issue. It is not a piecemeal approach. There must be a comprehensive strategy. Look at all the issues involved, not just military alone. There are diplomatic implications to it and there are economic implications to it. Why Boko haram, for example? Is it religious? We must understand the problem. There are problems that we can solve militarily and there are problems that we can use military and soft power. So, we seem to just think of the solution in terms of military and even the military are not being adequately provided for both in terms of equipment and manpower.
Let me tell you about the Civil war. By the 9th month of the Civil war, the Nigerian military started expanding. First, they called all the retired World II veterans. If you have served in the military, you were called back. Today, we are fighting a war and everybody is complaining that there are no enough troops. Yet, the military are retiring people. And those who are retired are not being brought back. We have a problem, we don’t have enough men. Instead of you to even recruit fresh people, bring those old people back immediately. That was what we did during the Civil war. Bring them back, they need very little training and they are ready to deploy. And they have the experience. So, sometimes when you see how things are done, you have the nagging feeling that our leaders are not serious. They are not serious about anything. They seem to be incompetent, very incompetent with all the education they have.
As part of measures to tackle the problems of herdsmen/farmers clash, we saw that the Southern governors came up with a ban on open grazing in the Southern part of the country. Some of the states are already putting in place laws to execute the ban. But there is the concern of how to enforce these laws. What is your take on that?
Well, as a member of the Delta State Traditional Rulers Council, I was part of the meeting that endorsed the decision of the Southern governors forum. And I’m even of the view that it was a little bit belated. It would have been much earlier. But it is better late than never. Not just on the herdsmen issue, but on the seeming dichotomy in the political relationships in Nigeria. Everything is on the basis of North/South. The Northern governors have been holding meetings, issuing communiques and insulting people. They have been meeting the President from time to time. I have not heard that the Southern governors had gone to see the President one day. Is this a country? So, they (the Southern governors) have my total support. In fact, they should go ahead speedily and enact those anti-grazing laws and we at the local level will implement it. And this thing should be time-bound. By September, all the Southern States should have enacted the anti-open grazing law. Then it is up to us at the local level to set an implementation date.
Sometimes, there is the lack of political will to implement government policies or laws. Take for instance, the law banning extortion of money from property developers in the state. We can see that they have not been able to enforce it. Do you think there will be the political will to implement the anti-open grazing law in the state?
It is lack of political will and bad governance. I have mentioned that in a previous interview which I have granted sometime ago. I said I don’t know why we still have the National and State Houses of Assembly. This is because there is no law they made that are being implemented. The only thing they are interested in is the budget, Appropriation Act or law. They implement this speedily.
The Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, has been on their table for about 13 years or so. It started in 2008 or 2007. Dr. Igboga was the chairman of that Committee. When he gave his first briefing on the PIB to the late President, Yar’Adua, I was there. I have a copy of that presentation.
Are you happy with the terms contained in the PIB as passed by the National Assembly?
No, they have canibalized all the terms in the Bill. Community participation in the new companies that will emerge, I’m told, has been canibalized. I’m hearing of 3% instead of the 10% that was originally proposed to fund the communities. But the most annoying aspect of the PIB is the arrogance and audacity with which they recommended reduction of the Community fund to 3%, but from nowhere, they brought in 30% for the Frontier Exploration Fund in the North. This term was not in the original draft bill. That is simply unacceptable. It is an invitation to anarchy. It is! Today, as we speak, we have gone through Joint Ventureship, we have gone through production sharing contract, we are talking of the privatization of the NNPC which is the whole essence of the PIB. Now this is the time you want to take 30% to go and explore for oil and gas in the North. You have been exploring for so many decades. How many years did Niger Republic explore for oil? They are farther in the desert, they got the oil. If you don’t have the oil, you don’t have oil, you can’t force it. Chad has oil. How many years did they explore it?
We have been exploring this oil in the North. We brought the Chinese, NNPC went but no result. Now, you want to commit 30%. And in any case, people are not futuristic. If you look further afield, you will see that even Saudi Arabia are worried. The idea and era of fossil fuel is gone. Let us make the best use of what we have now because later on by the year 2030 when countries in Europe and America will ban the use of fossil fuel, we will drink this oil. So, if you like, let us find 200 billion barrels underground now, what are we going to do with it? Let us use the money we have now to settle develop ourselves to await for the period that oil will no longer be useful, not to squander it. We have been squandering money.
Fortunately, this money could be used to build infrastructure. I’m not saying it should be given to the communities, we can use it to do infrastructure. Let us use the model that is working now – production sharing contract in which the government doesn’t have to bring money from its purse for the exploration. That will save some money for the government to do other things. But to take money from NNPC, 30% for that matter, to go and explore; that, for me, is a waste of resources, deliberate pushing money down the drain.
The NDDC has been at the front burner for sometime now. There have been agitations from the people of the Niger Delta region concerning the Commission. As a monarch from the Niger Delta, are you satisfied with the condition of the Commission as it is now?
Like most things in Nigeria, whatever problems you see are contrived. The NDDC had its own internal problems. Government, in its wisdom, decided to change the board. A new board was constituted, it went through the National Assembly, they were cleared, awaiting inauguration. Then Akpabio emerged from no where. If we are a very serious country, would Akpabio even be relevant in this regime? He was in PDP. He came with his own idea designed just to corner resources. Can you imagine an interim administrator handling a budget of N300 billion without a board? Even when there was a board in place, we were shouting corruption. Imagine just one person! Even State governments have their own executive council and everything goes through the approval of the executive council before they are executed. Then you appoint just one man to manage N300 billion. No board in place and the people working there are just his personal staff. What a country!
They came up with what they called forensic audit. Now, they gave a time limit of six months. How many years has it been in place now? So, you can see that all these things are contrived. They are grand corruption. We have gone beyond the level of corruption. Now, we are in the stage of grand corruption, almost state-captured. People do things with absolute impunity. As I said, once you are given an executive position, you are on your own, no guidance, no supervision. That is why people are fighting to get there. Once a person gets there, it is for himself and his family. We have been involved in all these agitations and struggles. As a result of these agitations, a lot of our people have gotten positions, but what did they do? Has anything changed?
So, what are your suggestions on how to get the Commission back on track?
They should inaugurate the board that has been cleared. There is nothing else. Every other thing is secondary.
Another issue in the front burner is the agitation for restructuring of the country. A lot of persons, especially in the Southern part of the country, believed that considering what is happening in the country now, Nigeria is due for restructuring. Just two weeks ago, somebody from the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, said that people from the South keep talking about restructuring and if you ask any of them what they mean by restructuring, they don’t know. What is your understanding of restructuring and do you believe the country is due for restructuring? If so, how?
I believe we are even overdue for restructuring. And my arguments are: first, the Nigerian presidency system has shown very clearly the inappropriateness of the presidential system of government. If for that purpose alone, I would want us to restructure though not in the old regional system. The States structure can still be left in place. But we should go back to the Parliamentary system of government.
On this Covid-19 alone, how many times did Boris Johnson of the UK go to the Parliament to defend his decisions? Even within his own party, they disagree with him. But he goes to the Parliament to defend it. If they invite Boris Johnson and he fails to go, it is just a simple vote of no confidence. And he is kicked out. The country is drifting and people are dying. So, if they are looking for a compelling reason to change the current system of government we have presently, for us to sustain democracy, we should go back to the Parliamentary system of government. That is my own definition of restructuring. This system that we have now is not helping matters. We will not go anywhere with it.
The Electoral Amendment Bill has just been passed into law by the National Assembly. It seems to contain a lot of contentious issues. One of such issues is the eletronic transmission of election results. What is your perpective on the e-transmission controversy?
To the best of my knowledge, the only contentious issue there is the electronic transmission of election results. You see, people want to rig elections, especially those people who are there. They think they will rig and remain there forever. It is not going to happen. The first version of the Bill should have been signed by President Buhari before the 2019 election. But he didn’t sign it. And in any case, the Constitution gives the right to INEC to determine the means of transmitting election results. So, INEC has the discretion to do so.
I’m happy with the position that INEC took. It is the National Communication Commission, NCC, that is propagating falsehood that they don’t have the capacity. But we know they have the capacity. The evidence is there. And they had done so in many elections before when election results were transmitted electronically. So, there is nothing new in that. As I have said before, every problem we have in this country is contrived for a purpose. So, I urge Mr. President not to assent to the two Bills, the PIB and Electoral Amendment Bill, if those sections are not changed as demanded by majority of Nigerians.
Still on insecurity in respect of insurgency and banditry, etc. Does the Nigerian Army of today possess the skills to fight and win this war against the backdrop that they excelled in the Liberia and Sierra Leone Civil wars as ECOMOG peace-keeping team? Do you also agree with the suggestion that the federal government should go out for mercenaries to assist fight the war?
For me, in my position as a retired Air Vice Marshall, I feel embarrassed when I hear anything concerning mercenaries. There are specific areas where we may not have the necessary skills. We can source for those ones. But for mercenaries to bring their boots on the ground, I would not support that. We fought in Liberia as you said. Liberia was an insurgency and so is Sierra Leone. If we didn’t have the experience before then, but we went there and we performed and got the experience. So, the key thing is the support and the direction of the government. This is key to any type of military operation. If you, as the field Commander, you don’t have a coherent policy to follow, it makes things very difficult. You have the army, the navy and the air force – all making up the military. You have the police, the DSS, the NSCDC and I’m told they are thinking about Peace Corps. To tell you the disorganized nature of our military, just go to any ceremony, you will see the army there, the navy, the air force, you will see the police and several others with different uniforms. With that motley crowd you see there, how do you control them? That shows you how the military is disorganized.
And, when you see a pick-up vehicle full of army, navy, air force, police and Civil defence corp, you know there is problem.
So, what is your suggestion in this respect?
We must go back to basics, the way we are trained to fight, that is, our operational doctrine. The way we are trained to fight is not the way the Police are trained to fight. By the time the level of violence escalates beyond the capacity of the Police, they turn in the Army. And when the Army comes in, the Police will just go back to their barracks and wait till the job is done. You saw what happened in Washington DC when there was the riot and the National Guard came in. Did you see the Police outside? The Police were restricted to the building. The Washington Police were in charge of the Capitol. But the entire street was under the control of the National Guards. That is the way we were trained to work. But when everybody is doing everybody’s job, it becomes a problem.
Just last week, the Bandits in Zamfara State shot down a military jet fighter. Does that shows the sophistication of the bandits at this time. Is there any sign that in time their capacity might increase such that the military can no longer cope with them?
No! It it is a question of political will. You call the Commanders, let’s finish this thing. I’ll give you the resources, I’ll give you three months. Finish! It is not this peacemeal thing of say buy one helicopter at a time. If you want to buy helicopter, anything less than 12 is useless. They are wasting their time. It must be for effect. When countries buy military airplane, they buy many at once. The 12 Tucano is okay for a start. But anything less than 48, we are not serious. As for helicopters, we need at least 111, that is 3 per state and the FCT. Any threat such as the kidnapping of students in any state, for instance, the 3 helicopters will be deployed and a backup from the surrounding States immediately, 12 helicopters surround the kidnappers up. It is doable if only the money people steal daily from public fund and put in their pockets can be checked and diverted to equip the military and there will be result