A former ADC to the former Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, Major-General Abdul-Malik Jibrin (rtd), in this interview opens up on the man, Abacha, his principles and what many do not know about him.
What motivated you into the military?
I was born in 1954 in Kano and was taken to Kaduna as a kid. So I grew up in Unguwan Shanu, Kaduna, which is contiguous with the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and the Ribadu Cantonment, popularly called Kotoko Barracks. Seeing soldiers on parade, patrol, amongst others, influenced me into joining the army.
Before then, I attended Sultan Bello Primary School between 1963 and 1969. After completion I went to Ansarul Islam Grammar School in Ijomo-Oro, Kwara State, and spent a year. Then I came to Sheikh Sabah, named after the founder who was then the Emir of Kuwait. It was later renamed Sardauna Memorial College when the military government took over missionary schools. From there I went to the Nigerian Defence Academy from 1974 to 1976 as a regular cadet on Course 17. I was commissioned into the Infantry Corps in 1977 as a second lieutenant.
Did you choose to serve in the military police (MP) and did that inform your studying law?
After graduation from NDA, I wanted to further my education and my intention was to study law, which I did, and at that time the Nigerian Army did not have a provision for an infantry officer to become a lawyer except the Nigerian Army Military Police Corps (NAMPC) which is in charge of maintaining law within the army. I secured admission into the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and after I graduated, I applied to change corps from infantry to military police.
How difficult was it juggling studies with the rigours of military work?
Interestingly, as a young officer, I had the privilege of getting admission into the university and it was strange to officers then, as many felt you wanted to go to the university and you didn’t want to work in the army. I was posted to 203 Infantry Brigade in Ijebu-Ode and my seniors where understanding, like Major Ajegbe became interested and said, “Young officer you want to go to the university, we did not have the zeal but we will support you as it is better to go to the university at a young age. He referred me to his course mate, the then Brigade Major, Major (later) Colonel Joshua N. Madaki, who made it possible for me to see the then Brigade Commander, then Lieutenant Colonel Aliyu Gusau (now a retired lieutenant general) and that was how I was cleared and offered full sponsorship.
After graduation I went and completed law school and was called to the bar. When I reported to the barracks, I was deployed as an investigator at the Special Investigation Battalion (SIB). Somewhere along the line I had another opportunity to reposition myself as a professional military police officer and so I applied to read for a masters’ degree in Criminology in the University of Kil in the United Kingdom. I was offered two years scholarship and on getting there I discovered that it was a one year full time programme and two years part time. I wrote examination and completed it in one year. I had one extra year, so I enrolled for masters in Law. And the third and last master’s degree I have is an MBA from Bristol University campus in Pakistan when I was posted as the Defence Adviser to the Nigerian High Commission. So I did not have problem between my military life and studies.
Did you meet General IBM Haruna in the university as he went back to read Law when he retired?
Exactly, General IBM Haruna was my boss, senior and classmate with a difference. I was privileged to know him as a retired general while I was a young officer, fresh from NDA. Many of our classmates are in the Supreme Court, like Justice Ibrahim Tanko and Justice Sidi Bage; while some are in the Court of Appeal.
At a time you were the aide de camp (ADC) to the late General Sani Abacha. What is the most striking life lessons you learnt in that capacity?
As ADC, I was coordinating the activities of the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) as everybody that wanted to see him must pass through me.
The opportunity exposed me a lot, especially under the person of the standing of General Sani Abacha. He was a gentleman who was mostly misunderstood, he was not somebody who actually tied himself to a particular schedule and you could have problem of coordinating or predicting him in terms of his daily activities.
When there was a visitor, you had to listen to him/her and articulate if he/she had an important information because if you dismiss him/her and it turns out that he/she had important information, it was bad for you.
Therefore, that made me to develop additional sense of patience to listen and sieve out what was okay and put it down in writing and see the C-in-C and tell him who wanted to see him and left him to decide. That office exposed me a lot to meet people within and outside the country and it has also taught me to develop interpersonal relationship on how to interact with people.
Being the ADC to the late head of state must have been full of pressure. How did you handle it?
You are absolutely correct as the work was pressing and everybody and correspondences boiled down to my table. You cannot underestimate the enormous pressure and stress. If you look at my pictures then, you would see that I was winking my eyes every second trying to stay awake. My day started by 5am after morning prayers and ended the following day between 2 and 3am. I went to my office by 7am. With the chief of protocol we usually went and waited for the C-in-C to come out and escorted him to the office.
Some people preferred to see him in the house in the night after office hours. So after office hours, I would go to my family by 8pm and come back to the villa to facilitate those who were given appointment to see the C-in-C. When he came out, usually around 12am, I must be there and go in to tell him the people that wanted to see him. I would not close until those who came to see him were finished. I would then go back to my family in the morning.
I had my own visitors waiting too. In short I had just between two and two and a half hours sleep every day, that was the routine. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to work as ADC to General Sani Abacha.
Close aides of the General say he was misunderstood, is that the same with you?
He meant well for this country but the politics within the military tended to portray him differently. Before I worked with him, there was a general belief that he was a dreaded and feared person. However, I realised that he was simple but disciplined. He had an aura of respect, when people saw him, they felt intimidated. However, behind his hard look and dark glasses laid a gentle and humane individual who cared not only for his family and staff, but for the common man.
He was upright and didn’t like lies. When he died, people realised that he meant well for this country. His economic monetary policies are unsurpassed up to date as people make reference to his monetary policy that pegged the exchange rate of the naira to around 80 to 84 naira to a dollar. We have never had it so since his death.
Nowadays, there are reports of in-house wrangling over seniority between some aide de camps (ADCs) who are mostly police officers and chief security officers (CSOs) who are mostly from the Department of State Services (DSS). Was there any conflict between you and the CSO?
I was not aware of any during my time as the ADC, but even if there was I didn’t notice any up to the time I left. But eventually, I was told that there were some. Remember, it was a military regime and I was a lieutenant colonel and the CSO, Hamza Al-Mustapha, was a captain. There was no conflict at all, and he could not cross my path because of rank, different schedule and power.
There are many ongoing security problems nationwide, what is your take on that?
The issue of insecurity in Nigeria is disturbing and challenging. We all know that to secure the nation, you need to synergise the functions of some of the national assets that God endowed the country with and to harness and develop them with a very formidable armed forces and well trained and well funded police and other security agencies.
The National Security Adviser (NSA) should coordinate the activities of these security outfits and come out with a way forward and do what is needed to be done.
Boko Haram, IPOB, and Niger Delta militants target the youths who are by-products of political thuggery and the almighty corruption that this government is fighting. It is alleged that politicians who were given money for the development of their people diverted them to their own advantage and tomorrow during election they would give the youths to go and cause mayhem. Instead, these militants should challenge the governors and institutions like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on how much was given from the centre.
Endowed individuals and others should assist by way of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and this is why the youths in my community in Unguwan Shanu, Kaduna, bought a land and I built two blocks of classrooms for them which they named Asma’u Makarfi Secondary School and Ali Dogo Primary School.
Undergraduates should be taught entrepreneurship while in the university or post-secondary schools so that they can come out and start a venture without waiting for government. This will deny militants the opportunity to recruit followers. And I am happy with the government of President Muhammadu Buhari as he is tackling the issue of insurgency and corruption head long. The recent resurgence in the North East is lack of proper coordination and synergy with the military, police, NSCDC and the civil society. Soldiers conquer an area, flush out the elements and move forward, the police, NSCDC and NGOs and the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) should take over on reconstruction and resettlement of the internally displaced people (IDPs).
What is your opinion on the rising cases of kidnapping in Nigeria?
We still have to address unemployment. Unfortunately most of the youths are greedy as Nigeria is not the poorest country in Africa. Our neighbours are not as rich as we are but they live within their means. But in Nigeria, people tell you there is poverty, but they don’t care to know that you have to work before you get paid. That is why this government is calling on people to go back to the farm. People can form cooperatives to access loans. But the youths have an insatiable ambition to spend money, money that is beyond their reach. That is why they easily fall into easy traps. These people operate along major roads, especially the Abuja to Kaduna Expressway and some link roads. If you travel from here to Kaduna, you would see police vehicles, but they are stationary, they don’t move and if they have the logistics, they would say something different, they are not supposed to be stationary. There should be communication. They should have a special force to comb the bushes on both the left and right sides of the road.
The kidnappers have informants so we should revert to the old system of policing with Criminal Investigation Department (CIDS) personnel who would disguise and live in the communities along the roads to gather information. They should redeploy the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) on a six monthly basis in order to curtail familiarising with bad elements, as alleged by some people.
How and why did you venture into politics?
I never contemplated going into politics. I left service in 2010 and people from my constituency, Kano North Senatorial District, said why did I retire in my prime age, and I told them not to worry about my looks, that I had reached the mandatory 35 years in service and if I refused to retire voluntarily, they would retire me compulsorily. I said I had served and paid my due to Nigeria and I am okay. But they insisted that I contest for senate and I did. While the people of Kaduna Central, where I grew up, were demanding that I contest because I was qualified, and if I had contested in Kaduna, I would have won. I have learnt something from human beings. I commanded men in the military and I learnt a lot. There is a lot of deception in politics. I never promised them what I could never do. Senators and reps don’t have budgetary allocation to build roads; it is the duty of governors and chairmen. But you can give your help with the resources you have and that is what gave birth to constituency projects. Our local supporters don’t know the functions of a lawmaker.
Is any of your children pursuing a career in the military?
Fortunately or unfortunately none out of my five children of two boys and three girls is in the military. My first child went to the Nigerian Military School (NMS) Zaria. However, when I was posted as Defence Adviser to Pakistan and I was waiting for clearance, I visited him three times and all the time I didn’t see him the way I wanted to see him.
I didn’t find him in the school. Some children of “influential people” made arrangement for accommodation that was not designated as part of NMS and without my knowledge my son was always living with those students while he was in Form 2. I was shocked and I removed him and took him to Pakistan with me. His younger brother was admitted into NDA and he almost finished his first term, which is the difficult year. However, When he discovered that he was restricted and that he could not cope with the regimental order, he decided to leave and he knew that if a cadet was absent for 72 hours, his name would be struck out. He ran away and we found him and took him back. But the third time, he made sure we did not find him and when we found him, it was late and his name was on absent-without-leave (AWOL). But my grandchildren are very ambitious, they want to be members of the armed forces.
How do you relax now?
When I was the Defence Adviser in Pakistan I was introduced to golf and when I came back and was posted to the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) in Minna, I played. However, when I was posted to Lagos, I did not register to play in Ikoyi Club because I could not afford the half a million naira in those days and I became disinterested. With age now, I don’t indulge in rigorous exercise, but since doctors say one should move his body, I do endurance trekking for six kilometres or sometimes I mount my stationary bicycle until I sweat.
Is there anything of interest that you want to say on any national issue?
My advice in general to my colleagues in the military is that they should not rest on their oars as they have achieved a feat which actually redeemed our image compared to what happened two years ago before the advent of this government. Retired military officers, including those who are serving, were burying our heads in shame when we saw what was happening in the North East and we know very well that this is not the Nigerian Army and military that we knew. We were trained and we trained others.
We should consolidate on this fight against Boko Haram and take the fight to their doorsteps and not allow them to take new initiatives. I commend the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff and all those who have contributed to the security of our great nation. They are doing very well and may God continue to be their guide. – Culled from Daily Trust.