Group Captain Salaudeen Adebola Latinwo (retd), 72, former military governor of Kwara State (1984-85) is a meticulous and detailed person. The retired Air Force officer, who was part of the first set of people to be recruited into the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in 1963 is thoroughly organised and acts with precision as we found out during a one hour no holds barred interview, last week when he spoke among others on the state of the nation, the kind of leader Nigeria needs now and why Nigerians must get it right at the polls. Excerpts:On the state of the nation
The country is in what can call a high equilibrium trap as its government can hardly meet its basic responsibility of providing security to its citizens. The essential social infrastructures are completely not available. There is unavailability of electricity and the educational system is collapsed. Lives of a great number of the population are traumatic and dysfunctional. Every warning indicator in the cockpit of the nation is flashing red and urgent decision needs to be taken fast in order to save the ship of the nation from sinking.
We must accept that the reason we have government is mainly the provision of security for lives and property, provision of social infrastructure and protection of the integrity of the party in power. This is not the case today in our nation.
The landscape is full of darkness and uncertainty, there are a number of conventional tale-tell signals that are physically present and apparent in the land today.
There are no roads, electricity, health care, water and education. There are increasing activities of insurgents and pipeline vandalization in the North and South respectively; social and economic problems mount in the face of state corruption and ineptitude. The masses are becoming more and more alienated, angry and bitter while the contending elites manipulate ethnic and religious cleavages in the struggle for power and deadly conflicts escalate in number and scale.
We need strong and effective legislation to hold all aspects of our lives together. And importantly is the enforcement of these laws. Our failure as a nation stems largely from our inability to use laws to design institutions that can withstand good and bad times. We cannot build institutions on the assumption that our leaders will not be tempted to abuse their powers.
Power of shared value
For the sake of our country’s future and our need to safeguard it from those who thought that today is more important than tomorrow, who said individuals could only succeed alone, who erected grand theories when what we require is simple and basic understanding, we need not abandon our freedom and autonomy.
We must begin to believe in the power of shared decisions. The way we shape our future must be more local for these shared decisions to be more responsive to communities’ needs. We must create a relationship between the people and their government, which is no longer one of client and provider but of person and community. For this to materialize we need stability and we need security which the government must stand up firmly to provide and ensure.
You painted a sorry state of Nigeria especially in terms of leadership. Are you saying from Independence, we have not had good leaders?
It depends on the kind of leadership you have at a particular time. We got our independence in 1960, since then government has been changed more than 15 times but then you have a leader who comes and says this is where we are, I am leaving now but I have moved you two steps further. Then another one comes, he says I am taking over from here, I will move you forward but unfortunately, he moves you back. Then the other man picks it again and says I will do this and that and is able to move you three steps. What we have had is going round and round that is why I think we need to have a national agenda. When you have a national agenda, if President A comes, he is going to implement the programme of the nation.
What is your take on the February 14 presidential polls?
I think the elections will be very interesting. We had primaries in both parties but that of the APC, to my mind was fair, refined, educative, enlightened. In APC, they all came out and said this is our man and that to me alone should make Nigerians realize that there must be something in this man (Buhari) that too many people don’t know about and these people have been able to associate themselves with him.
Buhari won the APC presidential primaries with a wide margin. I said to myself that these people have been able to see what some people do not see in General Buhari and this is a defining moment in this nation.
So we should take advantage of this and see whether we can collectively get this change they have been talking about because we cannot continue to go on like this. There are no values anymore and we are all aware of these problems of the North, South divide, ethno-religious crises, insurgency, etc, that are not settled. You cannot just push them aside and be dancing around, they will still be there and the greater the number, the more difficult it becomes.
I want to say that we as people are in a fragile situation and my deliberate broad definition of a fragile situation is one in which the boundaries and identity of our society, basic operations of the state, essential public services and the day-to-day security of citizens cannot be taken for granted.
President Jonathan as an incumbent president is running based on his belief about what he has done in the last six years or so of his administration and we can all see physically and feel the effects of his performance on our roads, hospitals, schools, the standard of living of an average Nigerian, the security system in the country, the performance of the Naira, corruption elimination process, employments for the teeming youths in the nation, etc. His scorecards are available for everyone to see and judge accordingly.
We can feel the effects of his clueless governance, deafening cacophonies of missing billions in the oil sector and the NNPC accounts, pension funds looting, oil bunkering, pipeline vandalization and kidnapping. So the question is do we continue like this or do we need change?
The candidacy of Buhari is about his disposition, character, integrity and known credibility. How he performed as head of state and petroleum minister, state military governor and Chairman of PTF under the Abacha regime. Undoubtedly, he is a firm and disciplined individual with commitment to the cause of our country, very resolute and steadfast. All these are the qualities that had carried him along over the years.
His firm, honest and disciplinarian traits will allow him to bring about the changes that are so much urgently required in the body polity of our nation – curbing corruption, insecurity and provision of essential social infrastructure and stabilizing the economy.
So, what kind of leaders do we need now?
We need a new leadership, authentic leaders in the administration of our great country. People of the highest integrity, honour, who are committed to building enduring organization, leaders who have the courage to build institutions and establishments to meet the needs of all stakeholders and who recognize the importance of services to the society.
On why he thinks Buhari, who appointed him as Kwara military administrator, is the leader Nigeria needs now.
The coup against Buhari regime is frequently inserted into a narrative of regret and nostalgia and loss. The significant problems that we faced cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. In his first coming as head of state, he introduced the War Against Indiscipline programme, environmental sanitation and various agricultural programme.
Time has come for some fresh thinking and we must take advantage of the moment and time for change. We can have democracy in this country or have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We definitely cannot have both. What makes us believe in a man is ultimately his “character”. Can we trust him? Is he reliable and credible? Is he a man of integrity? These are real qualities you look for in a man. And General Buhari has all these qualities.
As far as General Buhari’s candidacy is concerned, a lot of people believe his return is for revenge. Secondly, many people in Lagos are not happy with the way and manner he stopped the metro project that Alhaji Jakande started. Also, Buhari is considered to be an old man, he had made his mark; some feel this is the time for younger men to try their hands. What is your take on these allegations?
When you have a problems and a very serious problem like the one we have in Nigeria right now, you need somebody who has integrity to solve them. Looking at the campaigns, what are the real issues? The issues are security of the country, corruption, unemployment and non availability of infrastructure. These are the issues. The question is who can really address those issues among the candidates that we have?
Buhari is a man I believe very strongly can address these issues. On the issue of corruption, he has done it before.
I think we must be able to sit down together and ask ourselves what the real issues are. Do we want to be sentimental? If we look at it from that perception, framework and within the limit of our operation, who can save us from these immediate problems?
Buhari is just 72 years and he is agile. I don’t think age should be a barrier for somebody who wants to run for four or eight years, at least there are countries we have Presidents that are 80 or 90 years.
On allegation that he is going to revenge, he has already said it that he has forgiven all for the country to march forward.
What is he going to revenge? That somebody came and changed you? That process started in 1966, within that period, there has been seven or eight military coups. So for one to be looking for revenge depends on the way people go about it. When you do something frequently, personal commitment comes into it. Even though everybody says we want to save the nation, you will realise personal interest will come into it but I can tell you that majority of them are just serving personal interests.
His take on the Boko-Haram insurgency.
Unfortunately, through the system that we have going round and round we found ourselves along the line with the Boko Haram. This thing started with politicians taking these boys as personal security and as time went on, the boys began to see how much power and how much dependent these politicians were on them. So they began to feel ‘I have power and this politician cannot go out without me.’ So some of these boys saw power, influence and authority in it and that is how the whole thing came about. By that time, those people who brought them had no more control over them.
Insurgents or terrorists, secessionist group, criminal elements or drug elements that the government cannot properly or effectively deal with are described as non state fighters. The appearance of non state actors on the national and international scene has brought rapid growth or quasi-private armies and wild card military formations who consider armed conflict as legitimate business.
On the claim by some military men on CNN that government does not care about their welfare and they don’t have weapons to fight Boko Haram
The level of training you have and commitment matter in these things. And of course morale, it is a very important language in the military, it means you believe in what you are doing, you are encouraged to do it and if something happens to you, government will look after your family.
We never had this kind of problems and I am surprised when I read all these things in the papers. I think it is an eye opener and I think this is just telling us to wake up because this has showed that along the line, certain things are lacking and except you provide those things, nothing much can be done.
A situation where a military man says he has not gotten uniform is unbelievable. When I was in the military, they were giving us at least six sets of uniform and for combat vests, we were given four and you will have about 12 shoes and you can go back to stores where you can change all these things. That was the system during our time and it really showed that government was really looking after us and wanted us to actually do the job.
At 72 years, do you have any regret on how you were retired?
Initially I had pains. Why I had pains was because then, all I do is to dress in my uniform and get ready to fly an aircraft and the way we worked in the military is just like a family. We had an integrated family structure and that was all I know and suddenly, somebody came and said you are trying to bring down the government.
It was very painful and discomforting at first but later, I forgot all about it. The real issue was that we had to relocate the kids because it was affecting the morale of the children; their mates were calling them children of a coup plotter.
They came home everyday with tears in their eyes, it would take their mother about an hour to calm them down. We saw a lot of potential in them, they were very bright, so we relocated to United Kingdom.