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AS a military officer, General Martin Luther Agwai (rtd.) not only won many battles but he also rose to the zenith of that profession as Chief of Defence Staff before he retired in December, 2009. His exit from the military was seen as a worthy encore to a career he began as a commissioned officer of the Nigerian Armed Forces in 1972. Agwai's trajectory followed a defined pattern of excellence, patriotism, loyalty and a dignified commitment to certain principles which he says are non-negotiable in his private and public interventions.
And so, when he was picked by President Goodluck Jonathan to replace Dr. Christopher Kolade as the Chairman of the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), analysts believed he would bring his strength of character to bear on the activities of the body that was set up to manage the billions of dollars accruable to the Federal Government from the partial removal of subsidy of petroleum products. If anything could douse the tension generated by the controversial ‘voluntary resignation' of the highly-respected Kolade, it was the emergence of a tested and trusted Agwai, especially at a time when the public had started questioning the rationale behind setting up a programme that has done more on propaganda than truly impacting the lives of the unemployed.
Of course, he may not have operated in the private sector like Kolade, who was appointed as Nigeria's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Agwai came into the saddle with an intimidating resume. Born in November 8, 1948 in Kaduna to a Christian family, his leadership qualities became manifest when he was the President of the Fellowship of Christian Students of Government Secondary School, Zaria in 1967. The search for academic laurels took him to different institutions across the globe, including the Nigerian Command and Staff College, British Army Staff College, Camberley and United States Army Armor School. He also holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Public Administration with distinctions from the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) and National Defence University, Washington DC, where he obtained a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy. At the NDU, he distinguished himself as the first foreigner to win the Ambassadors Award for Excellence in Research and Writing.
Known for his strong advocacy for quality and accountable leadership, Agwai said in a recent interview that any leadership that is bereft of integrity ought to distance itself from public office. He said his experience over the years as Chief of Training and Operations of the Nigerian Armed Forces; Director of Military Training at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna; Nigerian Military Adviser in Harare, covering the whole of Southern Africa between 1993 1996; Directing Staff and Chief Instructor at the Command and Staff College Jaji Kaduna; Chief of Army Staff and subsequently the Chief of Defence Staff of the Nigerian Armed Forces, had given him the conviction to let his words be his bonds.
While acknowledging that such philosophy may be difficult to impose on a system that reeks of the vacuity of bureaucratic bottlenecks and needless meddlesomeness, Agwai vows: “I will never jump out to make any statement that is not coming from my heart. If I promise Nigerians, they are my words, and the day I cannot live by what I stand for, then integrity finishes in me, and the day I don't have integrity, I have no responsibility being in public office. Integrity is all about doing what you ought to do, not what you want to do.
“Some of the things you are talking now, not what people may want me to do, what my friends or relations may want me to do, but is that what I ought to do? If it's not what I ought to do, definitely God knows I will not do it. The day that the public ceases to trust you as a leader, the day that you give your word and you don't keep to it, your words are not your bond, then you know that you are finished as a leader."
Perhaps, this unwavering commitment to principle, more than anything else, was responsible for Agwai's unceremonious sack as the Chairman of SURE-P. For daring to be different in Nigeria's cloak and dagger politics characterised by hypocritical elements, Agwai is the latest victim of the frosty relationship between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his estranged political godson, Jonathan. Although the terse statement announcing his “immediate" removal was couched in the fine sophistry of officialdom, it was clear that Agwai's sack has nothing in common with Jonathan's desire to “continuously re-energise and reposition agencies of the Federal Government for optimal service delivery." With a few months to the end of his tenure and his full engagement in electioneering campaigns, the sacking of the head of an agency touted to have performed wonderfully well in the actualisation of the transformation agenda wouldn't have been the most paramount item on the President's table.
So, why was Agwai fired? In simple language, Agwai had to take the boot because he had the effrontery to dine with the President's enemy in the middle of an election in which the major presidential candidates run neck-to-neck. Agwai is the latest ‘sacrificial lamb' in the battle for political supremacy between Obasanjo and Jonathan. Since Obasanjo removed the gloves in his dodgy fight with Jonathan by shredding his membership card of the Peoples Democratic Party, it is clear that close associates of the President would have to treat him like a plague that must be avoided. Anything outside this would be tantamount to eating on the table of Jonathan's enemy. Unfortunately, Agwai committed that unforgivable sin. As long as The Presidency is concerned, Agwai's presence at Obasanjo's 78th birthday as guest speaker was not only undignified, his deployment of certain words in the paper titled, “Imperatives of a National Security framework for the development and progress of Nigeria," was ‘treasonable'. He has become a saboteur. He just had to go. His offence was simple: As an officer and a gentleman of the best stock in the military, he should have known that principles matter less as long you commit a large dose of hypocritical loyalty to the man in power. Instead, Agwai chose to attend an event peopled by key leaders of the opposition party and dared to philosophise about the imperatives for change!
Hear him: “In life, you find out that everything needs change, if that is what the community wants, what the people want, you must give it to them and as such, it becomes inevitable. You can have everything nice, but, if you don't have the right leadership to propel it, it cannot go anywhere. Integrity matters, doing what is good for the larger society, and not just what you want to do for a narrow society to please yourself.
“The military has to be transformed and this becomes necessary from the point of recruitment, training and assuming leadership role. Our forces that are trained, equipped to defend us are now in a strange field. We must have security sector reform because everyone that has anything to do with security must be re-branded for professionalism, efficiency and effectiveness. The military has nothing to do with politics and if we allow it, we will run into problems."
He may not have said anything different from what he had earlier highlighted as his personal beliefs, but those statements hurt the Presidency. He tugged at the nose of the man of power and he got a deadly kick in the groin. Agwai pushed Jonathan's patience to the limit. There appears to be an unwritten code within The Presidency which stipulates that certain words injure the sensibilities of the ruling PDP and its leader, the President. The word “change" is the most visible. When Obasanjo started dancing to the tune of change, he not only became a persona non grata but he became the President's number one enemy.
In fact, the President became so frustrated with Obasanjo's persistent fixation to change by all means possible that he made a derisive reference to people of Obasanjo's ilk as “motor park touts." In the Jonathan's political camp, change is an anathema to his transformation agenda. To display the seriousness attached to its abhorrence, the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan, had, at a party rally in Bayelsa State, canvassed the stoning of anyone that mutters the word.
For Agwai, it was time to go because he clearly violated that unwritten code. By insisting that change is an inevitable reality in human existence, he set himself up for a presidential bully. It was not just about how he said it but this is also about what The Presidency sees as the political implications behind making such a statement at an event in which Obasanjo was the chief host. He did not only theorise of change and the leadership question, Agwai equally demanded a paradigm shift in the operations of the military and the need to insulate it from politics. Against the backdrop of recent events in the country in which the military has clearly dabbled into politics with its statement on the Buhari certificate saga, it was very clear that Agwai's prognosis would draw the ire of the authorities.
Agwai's description of Obasanjo, a former Army General and military Head of State, as an inspiration to a generation of military officers, including people like him who come from the minority groups in the country, is seen as an affront on a Presidency that would do everything to consign the former leader of the PDP to the backwater of the country's history. The fact that chieftains of the opposition All Progressives Congress graced the occasion that was boycotted by leading members of the PDP made matters worse for Agwai who had expressed his gratitude for the opportunity offered him by Obasanjo.
As far as the wounded Commander-In-Chief is concerned, Agwai had overstayed his welcome at the SURE-P office and there could not have been a better time to cut him to size than now. And so, it suddenly dawned on his employers that that agency needs to be re-energised and repositioned for optimal service delivery which would also demand Agwai's vacation of his seat with “immediate effect."
Question is: Did Agwai consider the likely consequences of his action before accepting to deliver a lecture at Obasanjo's 78th birthday? No one can really say for sure if he did as he is yet to speak on the matter. One thing that stands out is Agwai's outspokenness on matters of leadership and integrity. For a man who says he should be held accountable for all his actions, it is not impossible that he had weighed the options and must have opted to voice out his frustrations even if he would end up as the latest victim of Nigeria's deadly political intrigues and permutations.
Source: Osun Defender