‘Military officer should stay away from politics and stand firm as professional soldiers’

Captain Yusuf Abdulmaliq

Captain Yusuf Abdulmaliq, one of the few 11 Native Authority Police enlisted into the Nigerian Army in 1966, actively took part in the civil war alongside several military officers, dead and alive, to secure the unity and territorial integrity of the country. As he clocked 80 yesterday, Abdulmaliq shared his thoughts on insecurity in Nigeria and experiences as a gallant soldier with MURTALA ADEWALE in Kano.

Born on March 27, 1940, Yusuf Abdulmaliq attended St. Thomas Primary School in Kano and Our Lady of Fatima, Jos, the Plateau State capital for secondary education. On finishing his secondary education, he returned to Kano to join the defunct Kano Native Authority Police in 1959 until 1966, when 11 of them, including the late Yusuf Kazaure and Ado Dandogeri, were enlisted into the Nigerian Army.

He reminisced: “We were specifically selected due to our activeness. I was given the rank of Sergeant and later commissioned into officer’s cadre as Second Lieutenant in 1975 and later in 1979, I got my substantive rank of Captain. After meritorious service, I put up a retirement letter, which was granted in 1984.”

Reflecting on his days in the military and experiences during the Nigerian civil war, he said: “I was in 5 Battalion with Gen. Haliru Akilu, Col. A.A. Gora, who is late now and others. The military was fun and sweet then because we didn’t care for money; the only priority was service and delivery, believing so much in keeping the unity and integrity of Nigeria intact, which was the task everyone held firmly and that must be done.

“I can recall when the civil war started, we were directed to report to Kaduna for our escort. Some retired soldiers who also reported with their brocade joined us. I remember the late Gen. Hassan Usman Katsina, who was the Garrison commander during the inspection, challenged one of the old soldiers, saying, ‘you are coming with briefcase. Can you go to war with these bags? The old soldier, Sabo Soka, replied, ‘Sir, are we going to war? Did you tell us we are going to war?’

Gen. Katsina countered him immediately with, ‘look at the younger soldiers with their bags ready to go, are we the ones who told them?’ Soka quickly replied, ‘we are sorry sir.’ And that was how the journey to the civil war began.

“We moved to Okene, then to Ilushi and launched the war at Obollo-Afor in Nsukka, now in Enugu State. Later, we moved to Obollo-Eke then to Abakaliki. The Biafrans continued to launch their attacks and we never resisted them, we retaliated and up to Enugu, the people were still using their Biafran radio to claim ownership of the land.

“They also took control of the then Bendel State and that was when some of us were transferred to 3 Battalion in Asaba. I remember we had to cross the River Niger from Asaba to Onitsha when Biafran soldiers threw explosives on the river. We lost some men as the boat capsized, while others survived it. We were able to sail on and arrived at Onitsha safely and later overwhelmed the Biafran soldiers.

“At Onitsha, we joined Capt. Samuel Ogbemudia, who was the commander of Armoury and part of those that stood firm and said the Nigerian Army must reward me with a commission rank because as a Sergeant, I was commanding a Platoon, the duty of an officer, when we went for an interview at Enugu, with Col. Doba as chairman of the Board then.

“We were together with Gen. Ibrahim Haruna, who handed over to the late head of state, Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammad, at 2 Division. I remember when Gen. Mohammed met with us at St. Patrick College in Asaba one day and challenged us, saying, ‘I heard some of you are running away from the battle.’ We had Gen. Akinrinade and Gen. Oluimade, two very active officers, as well as Gen. Akilu, who was fired at Okigwe, but survived it anyway and Gen. Lawal Isa. It was fun.”
 
On the security situation in the country, today said: “Security in Nigeria today is nothing to write home about honestly. Imagine what we are witnessing today, a total alien scenario to the security apparatus of Nigeria I know then.

“I remember the crisis of operation weti e in the defunct western region in Ibadan, it was the Police that was deployed to calm the situation. The Tiv riots, where people were being killed on a daily basis, cannot be forgotten. It was the mobile Police that was sent to clear the whole mess and that was the end.

“In the past, soldiers would remain gallant at the barracks, waiting for any external aggression; they didn’t go for Police work. How do you expect security to improve today when soldiers are already with the Police at every checkpoint in the country and if external aggression erupts, where do we gather men to counter it? Look at the situation in the northeast today, as we speak, Boko Haram is still killing our soldiers, so do you assume we have security?

“During our days, when you kill one soldier, the whole community where that happens will not try it again. The security of the country is very poor if you ask me. When the enemies, like Boko Haram, parade superior weapons and our soldiers are still lacking adequate weapons to combat them, how do we overcome the threat?

“The welfare of the men at the battlefront is not attractive. Our intelligence gathering is not too impressive. I wonder how and why Boko Haram members, who live around us, will continue to wreak havoc on civilians at will. Imagine how girls were being kidnapped, whisked away and we negotiate their release.

“I want to believe there is something going wrong in the fight against insurgency in Nigeria. During our days, it wasn’t like this.”

Asked if it would be necessary to change the service chiefs, the retired officer responded: “I kept saying this since 2018, that the service chiefs should be replaced for optimum performance. Besides, the terms and conditions of service are very clear. It says after 30 or 35 years, you should leave. But the service chiefs refused and they continue clocking over 40 years in the service, which is wrong.

“I also agitated against retired military officers taking part in politics to safeguard their integrity. As professional soldiers, they should be in a position to advise the government on how to manage the security situation and not to occupy political appointment. That is also wrong.

“There is military politics, but officers involving themselves in democratic politics is not too healthy. So, extending the tenure of the service chiefs in the office is deliberately a disservice to our national security, especially when the situation is rather getting worse. The country is wasting its competent hands in the military circle that can make a positive impact.

“We should have allowed others to take control and prove differently with a fresh tactical approach. As professional military officers with exceptional character, I expected the current service chiefs to have voluntarily put up their retirement letters, seeing the public concern on the state of our security. They should have taken a bow in honour long before the public outcry.

“I want to believe it is all about politics and gimmicks. Now, you can feel their involvement in party politics. Several years ago, you could not see retired officers in politics; it is not possible. Today, you see officers who are president, senate president, ministers, etc, in native attires, which is not good for the democracy.

“Military officers should stay away from politics and stand firm as professional soldiers.”

Prodded to compare the military then and now, Abdulmaliq said: “It is not comparable, my dear son, because the military during our time placed priority on welfare, training and general concern of soldiers. Today, the reverse is the case, as there is no training, no weapons and welfare of those at the frontline are denied. The insurgents have more weapons than the Nigerian military. Soldiers should be well equipped to confront and diminish their enemies.

“During our days, the military was well equipped. We started with Mark Four (riffles) to Beretta rifle. We know what and how we got information to strike the enemies. Presently, who is willing to give security information? It is a wide margin, despite the availability of resources now.

“But I will blame politicians for everything and the military for allowing themselves to be used by the selfish politicians. It is unlike the founding fathers of democracy in Nigeria, such as the late Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Akintola, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara and a host of others, who never interfered or delved into military affairs. The same the military never interfered in politics.”

Reminded that many Nigerians believe the military is rather overstretched, he retorted: “No… I will say the Nigerian military is performing based on their capacity and available resources.

“A major question I was expecting you to ask is whether or not the military is well equipped. The answer is no. The federal government should not allow the military to be rubbished by common civilians fighting a guerilla war in the jungle. The government should provide all the necessary facilities, including adequate welfare. It is not acceptable and unthinkable to see the bloody enemies wiping out federal military with superior weapons.

“Look, during the civil war, there was a jet fighter roving around and some of us believed it was Nigerian forces until the jet fighter started dropping bombs on federal forces. Immediately, our men retaliated with the superior arsenal and in a few minutes, the jet fighter was brought down. If the federal military has no such artillery, Biafran soldiers would have finished us. Today, you see Boko Haram using sophisticated armouries against our men. This is not acceptable!

“Again, recruitment into the military is in shambles. If young men who are physically fit and qualified applied and are rejected, only for the politicians to suggest and recommend candidates, how do you expect them to perform? I have a practical experience where a candidate applied, he was invited for an interview, and at the end, he was not shortlisted.

What are the two days he would never forget in the military? Hear him: “You see, unity and solidarity are golden in the military. You enjoy that moment of unity, joy, solidarity and sadness among all manners of people, despite your religious, ethnic and tribal colorations.

“Now, coming to your question, the day that will remain in the sand of time during my active service was the day we were ambushed by the enemies at Onitsha during the civil war. I lost many of my soldiers to this sudden ambush. I will never forget that very day, it was so painful a moment I had in the military.

“Then, my golden moment was when I was commissioned as Second Lieutenant. It was a joyful moment because many of our colleagues were dropped during the interview, and I give glory to God.”

On his post-retirement experiences, Abdulmaliq recounted: “I volunteered for retirement because I had paid my dues and completed the conditions of service. So, I had to take a bow.

“Before I finally left, we were trained in Business Administration at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos to prepare for our retirement. We also went for industrial attachment at Obasanjo Farms and Northern Flour Mills, where I spent six months before retirement.

“The training was very useful because it prepared me for a civil relationship, how to relate to the civilians after wards. The industrial attachment really prepared me for life’s challenges.”

Shortly after retirement, the gallant soldier was known to have joined active politics, so what actually cut his new career short? “I tried it at least for trial sake in the early 1980s. I joined the National Democratic Party (NDP) and was with Kabiru Gaya, now a senator. At a point, I had to leave the scene because of persistent complaints about my policy. The party men believed I was too straightforward, unfortunately, that is not accepted in politics.

“In politics, if you see blue and the majority believe that blue is white, you just have to follow the majority. That for me was too difficult and against my principle in life, so I had to jet out because I saw no need to join the train where you cannot say the truth.”

Having retired over 35 years ago, how would he describe life over the years: He answered: “Glory is to God in the high. I have no regrets since retirement, because I am doing fine with my family, despite the delay in payment of pension.

“But I must say the military pensioners are still suffering due to delay and poor take-home. See how Gen. Benjamin Adekunle, the 3rd Marine Commander died like a chicken with no assistance from the Military Pension Board.

“We thank President Muhammadu Buhari for approving our consolidated salary, but what he approved in 2017 only took effect last year. The arrears of six months were paid, while eight months is still hanging.

“We appreciate the kind gesture and that of the Minister of Defence, Gen. Bashir Magashi, but they can do more to old soldiers who had made a sacrifice to keep the country together.
During the civil war, we were told that to keep Nigeria together is a task that must be done.

“It is unfortunate that those that fought the war are left uncared for and the families of those that paid the supreme price during the war are also left suffering. The only care you can do for the ex-service men is to pay their pensions as at when due. What do you expect people like me, now in my 80s, to do without a pension? We need our pension while we are still alive to take care of our families.

“Let me appreciate the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for equipping the Armed Forces Hospital in Kano. We are appealing to the government to settle the remaining eight months arrears.”

On his advice to the country’s political leaders, he said: “We should pray for peace in the land, for God to fortify our leaders to be able to lead us aright. Again, the fight against corruption should be holistic. Those arrested and found guilty should be jailed. The leaders should try to fight summarily, the scourge of corruption. Even the insecurity in the land was as a result of corruption.

“How will you describe someone pocketing monies meant to purchase weapons and ammunition to fight enemies of the land? The leaders should accept truth and advice?

Even at 80. The retired officer still looks very strong and healthy. Asked what could be the secret, he laughed and replied: “Your question reminded me of the late Gen. Joseph Garba, who also asked a similar question. My response to him was the fear of God and he replied, ‘are you saying those of us that are not as strong as you are not God-fearing?’ I told him, ‘it depends.’

“Honestly, I devote my time to worship God and I thank Allah for his blessings so far. At the last count, I have 19 children and 73 grandchildren and all are doing fine. I am good to go because my children are taking good care of me. My lifestyle is devotion to worship.”

What does he eat to keep fit? “I do exercise; I trek like one hour to buy newspapers and 45 minutes trek to market almost every day. I don’t take the vehicle all the time. And I eat local foods, but moderately.”

At this age, does he socialise? “I don’t go to parties, I don’t enjoy music; I only enjoy the company of friends. Whenever we meet, we crack jokes.

“Apart from that, I do read books and newspapers. And I see my doctor every 28 days,” he enthused.

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