Thirty young lads known as ‘Boys Company’ were recruited as pioneers of the Nigeria Military School Zaria in 1954; today, only two of them are still alive and one of them is Ibrahim Malgwi (IBM) Haruna, who left the Nigerian Army as a General 23 years after.
General IBM Haruna from Wuyaku in Garkida town in Gombi Local Government of Adamawa State later proceeded to the Regular Officers’ Special Training School in Teshi, Ghana, Mons Officers’ Cadet School, Aldershot in 1961 and upon graduation as a member of RMA 27 of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst United Kingdom. After, he enrolled at the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Blackdown in UK to qualify as Ordnance Officer before returning home to take Commanding positions in the Nigerian Army.
Born in Adamawa State, the son of a world war veteran in this interview with Sunday Sun spoke about the vision of the ‘Boys Company,’ military career, coup, life after retirement, birth of Arewa Consultative Forum, state of the nation, among other topical issues.
You are privileged to be among the 30 boys that opened the Nigeria Military School in Zaria in 1954, how was it and how many of you are still alive?
We were called the ‘Boys Company’ before it was later changed to the Nigeria Military School, and we were 30 in number from different parts of the country. All of us were aged 14 and not more. We were young, we were not matured, in fact, we were all coming from primary schools in barracks and mostly from the Nigerian Army created by the British colonialists for their own protection. As young as we were, we had fun and were conscious that we were been prepared for the Nigerianisation of the military like they were conscious preparing our political leaders for the country’s independence in 1960. Yes, out of the 30 boys, I am aware that it’s just remaining two of us that are still alive. The other mate is Emmanuel Ebije Ikwe, he rose to become the Chief of Air Staff, having transferred his service from the Army to the Air Force. He is from Otukpor in Benue State, he now runs a big religion organisation somewhere in Surulere, after we left the service, but the truth is that we are still in contact. We met last during one of the family engagements in Otukpor in Benue State. If you know, he is the senior brother of this popular musician, Bongos Ikwe of the Cockcrow at Dawn fame. Now, we hear about ourselves from third parties, but we still keep in touch and I’m sure whenever we meet, we will still play Golf together like we used to do even after we dropped the uniform.
Can you still recollect the memory of your first Commandant, W.U. Bassey who is Nigerian Army Number 1?
I knew W. U. Bassey before he became the Commandant. Who will not know him in the barracks? He even became known when he was following Ironsi. I knew him personally in Zaria. He was a Commander before. He made us to be aware of the bigger future before us and thought us in the military tradition of discipline and loyalty, later he was replaced.
General, I want you to shed light on coups by the military that were rampant before and after your left the Army?
What do you want me to say? What light do you want me to shed? I don’t know anything about what you are talking about. Come out straight and ask questions, don’t speculate.
Sir, what I’m saying is that some of your colleagues, or can we say your mates were involved in the January 15, 1966 coup?
What do you mean by that? What do you mean, that my mates planned coup, do you know the implication of what you are saying in the military? Look, that is very implicating, I was never in the know of any coup. For you to know, on the day of the first coup, I didn’t know about it, I didn’t even hear of it. The fact is that I was at the party in the morning that the coup broke out. I left the party organised by our Commander, Brigadier Maimalari, I was on my way to my quarters and before I reached, I heard it on radio. It was later that I heard about the people behind it.
But some, if not every one of them, are they not your mates?
Look, ask me questions that I can answer, I have told you that I don’t know anything about coup plotting. What I know is that some of the coup leaders are my mates by rank because then, I was a Major by rank, besides that I got to know about the coup after it was staged and it failed. But as a Commander of a unit under Col Largema, I have to take actions to secure the depot under my command, and that was what I did.
Where were you during the counter coup of July, six months after which was largely spearheaded by officers from the North?
Most of these officers are my course mates at training, but I was not in the show. Why because I was commanding a depot under the Brigade. In the morning of the coup, I was not in the country. In fact, I was in Europe with a delegation, which included the Quartermaster General of the Army Col. Keshi and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Actually, I heard about the counter coup just like any one that was not involved in the planning. We heard on radio when we were transiting from London to France. So, about all the coups in my military years, I don’t know anything about it. But even now, coup is no more fashionable. Coup plotters are like a thief who came and steal what is not theirs. It is to take power by force using guns. You came with weapons to dislodge someone and you took his position by force, that is why it is no more popular. Democracy is the in-thing, which every nation is embracing even with its imperfections. For us in Nigeria, I strongly believe that democracy has come to stay.
You are a Combatant, an Ordnance Officer, you were involved in the civil war, what are your memoires?
At the outbreak of the civil war, I was in Yaba Lagos as Chief Ordnance Officer, Nigerian Army and Ordnance Corps Commander and later transferred to Kaduna. Our major task, I mean the Ordnance corps, was to organise a back up for the police action which was to curtail the rebels. It was the sack of Benin, the capital of the Mid-West and the advancement of the rebels commanded by a Yoruba officer, Col. Banjo at Ore that we now have a real war at hand. Government has to rise to the occasion by the creation of military formations and commanders appointed to man them. My real involvement in the war was when I was redeployed to man the Rear Guard of the First Division commanded by the then Major Mohammed Shuwa. Part of my role was at the rear under him was the deployment of resources and men to strengthen the division and hold the ground. It was on record that the First Division made quick success of incursions into the Biafra territory with expectations that the war will not be prolonged, but the Second Division under Murtala Mohammed delayed to link up until they took over the command from him. No, that your story is inaccurate, yes I took over from Murtala, his troops have recorded major breakthroughs in taking Onitsha and crossing the River Niger, they have even taken over Awka, Abagana, and many grounds after Onitsha had been consolidated. I took over the command of the Division much more later.
Each time you hear about the passage of your contemporaries in the Army, what goes on in your mind and how do you feel?
I am a human being like you. How do you want me to feel when news of the death of my colleague reaches me? I feel that a part of me is gone, I feel a sense of loss like any other human being. I am human. Some died in active service serving their fatherland, they were commanding soldiers and they died in serving the nation like General Murtala, it was a personal loss because we were course mates at Sandhurst. For the death of General Shuwa, it was purely a murder case. Some hoodlums just walked into his sitting room and opened fire on him, that was pure murder and it was shocking to me. The recent one General Mobolaji Johnson, former Lagos State governor, indeed, the pioneering governor who after retirement was for many years chairman of Julius Berger. Bolaji Johnson’s death is a personal loss to me. We have been friends from military trainings in Ghana, it continued when he was Lagos State governor. Until his death, each time he comes to Abuja or I am in Lagos, we were always together, we played Golf together and retired home to play Scrabbles. His death was different from that of General Shuwa who was my guest in Lagos during the second coup.
You were the General Officer Commanding, GOC 1 Division, Nigerian Army Kaduna before your appointment as a Federal Commissioner as was called then, what are your experiences like?
I was appointed the Federal Commissioner for Information and Culture, it was during my tenure that Nigeria organised the second African cultural summit known as FESTAC, the Festival of Arts and Culture.
I was the hosting Minister and I handled the external planning while a Naval Officer, Commander O. Fingensi handled the internal arrangement. In all, it was a successful outing that Nigeria got commendations from all over the world.
Your records showed that at the time you left the Army, you were yet to reach the peak of your career as a soldier, what really happened?
Yes, I was not at my peak when I was asked to go, but I think the question should be directed at the person who wanted me out of the military. You know him, he is Obasanjo, I was only 23 years old in the Army when I was retired. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he has the power to do what he did. What surprised me was that I was with him two hours before the news of my retirement was broken to me and he never mentioned near it. I was not shocked because in the military, you can’t question the decision of your superior, so you just take it. There is arbitrariness in the military and you live with them. However, what pained me was that it was over the radio that the news was broken, meaning that I heard the news just like any one who listened or monitored the radio. That was how I was thrown out without prior notice and had to start a new life afresh. But as a Sandhurst trained combatant, I remained a lifetime General.