A former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has said that he owed nobody apology for retiring politically exposed military officers during Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
He made the disclosure on Tuesday in Abuja during the public presentation of a book titled “The First Regular Combatant: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari,” authored by Haruna Poloma.
Mr. Maimalari was one of the military officers killed on the night of January 15, 1966 during the coup that brought Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power. He was the first regular combatant of the Nigerian Army.
Mr. Obasanjo paid tribute to Mr. Maimalari’s son, Abubakar, who was a former military administrator.
He explained why he compulsorily retired officers in 1999 including the younger Mr. Maimalari, a lieutenant colonel, stressing that he had held political positions that could engender fertile environment for the budding democracy to survive.
Mr. Obasanjo said he had no apology, but explanations to make.
“It is because it is necessary to stop the sort of thing that took the life of your father prematurely that I had to take decision that all those that have tasted of power that they should never have tasted of political offices while they were soldiers; that we should ease them out of the army so that we can have an army that will be completely free from political aberration”.
“And so far, since 1999, I think we seem to have got it right. Let us hope that we will continue to get it right and learn the right lessons that Nigeria has had enough sacrifices by those victims; that Nigeria deserves peace, unity and democracy.
And may the sacrifices of the life of Brig. Zak Maimalari be sufficient to give this country peace, development, unity and progress,” Mr. Obasanjo said.
The former president also expressed dissatisfaction with the military’s involvement in Nigeria’s political activities over the years, lamenting that Nigeria had witnessed enough bloodshed.
“The lesson we can learn is that we have had enough tragedy in this country; the Nigerian Army, particularly, has had the unfortunate situation where officers this country has spent a lot of money to train and who had been of great service to this country and to the Nigerian Army, had to be cut out in the prime of their life. Our lesson should be that this should never happen again,” he said.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who was represented by Sulaiman Adamu, Minister of Water Resources, said the Nigerian landscape had been disfigured by appalling examples of poor leadership and bad governance because the youth were misled into feeling that there was total absence of idealism and heroism in the country.
But with chronicles on exemplary Nigerians like Mr. Maimalari, who he described as a man that has carved a place for himself in history as if he lived for eternity, despite living for only 34 years, Mr. Osinbajo said history would be a useful tool in the propagation of good examples.
“Without a grounding in history, how do we know who we are, where we come from, and more importantly, as a people, where are we going?” he said.
The acting president had earlier blamed successive poor leadership in the country on the abolition of the study of History in schools.
He said it was the reason the present administration recovered “History from where it has been ignored for far too long and placed it back firmly in the school curriculum.”
A former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, also spoke at the event describing Mr. Maimalari as a selfless and courageous military officer.