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REMINISCENCES: I Joined Army To Commit Suicide – Tedheke



Prof Moses Tedheke

Prof Moses Tedheke in this interview with EMAMEH GABRIEL narrates his attempt to kill himself as teenager, a story that eventually changed his life.

How was your childhood?
I was born in Kwale, Umuyi Agbo, in the old Bendel State. My dad was collecting farm produce because that was his occupation. I was born into a peasant family. When I was six years old, my father took me to his aunty at Ozoro, the current capital of Osoko North Local Government, to go to school. But I wasn’t going to school, rather, I was playing pranks. I would go hide under agbalumor tree and be picking the fruits to eat. I recalled my father’s aunty had to take me to the headmaster for punishment.

I did not complete my primary education there before I went to Iyede Town and enrolled at St Peter’s Primary School, now Ekrovie Primary School. This time I was with my mother’s cousin. In 1957, I fell into a well during raining season. I was rescued but I don’t know how I was rescued. From there I went to stay with my uncle who was about six kilometres away from Iyede town where I finished my primary school.

What about life in the secondary school?
I did not attend secondary school.

I attended a secondary modern school, as it was called before. It wasn’t quite a secondary school but it was more like a middle school then in the north. It was a school introduced by the late Obafemi Awolowo. After that, my father did not think it wise to train me any further.

Why did your father take such a decision? Was it because you were not serious about your education?
No! I actually passed entrance examination for grammar school and then they invited me for interview but I did not go. Even at that, the school still said I could resume even if I did not take the interview. That tells you the level at which I passed the entrance examination.

From there, there was nothing I could do. I now travelled back to Warri where I was staying with someone who introduced me to one Lebanese oil supplying company. That time oil business started booming. I was helping him to supply things to the company. And then came the civil war in 1967 and I was enlisted into the army.

You were already engaged by a man supplying commodities to a Lebanese company as you said earlier, what must have informed your decision to join the army after the civil war started?

Like I said earlier, my father refused to send me to school. So I recalled when a relative came home during the war, he told me he was going to take me to go and join the army and when he was leaving, I followed him.
The day we were leaving, my father ran after us and asked where the man was taking me to, and I said nowhere.

However, I still smuggled myself to the North somehow through the help of somebody who helped me to find my way to Kaduna and from there to Kano where I was harboured by another person. All those that helpedkop through my journey from home, I didn’t know them.

Thus, in 1968, I got enlisted into the Nigerian Army in the heat of the civil war because my father refused to send me to school and I decided to do what I called involuntary suicide. I wanted to die at the warfront if it was possible.

But you are still alive today. What happened then?
Fortunately, I survived the war with bullet wounds.

What was your experience in the war while serving your country in the army as a young man?
After training they took us to Kaduna, where they called Artillery. From there they dispatched us to the warfront. Through Apapa, they took us in a ship to Calabar. From Calabar, we now got to Oron and from there we marched to take Port Harcourt. We were the force that took Port Harcourt. After then we started advancing towards Aba and through Oil Mill. We crossed through the Imo River too. I was the second person that crossed the Imo River with one Major that was drunk. You know we used to drink in the war but I hardly drank. Because he was drunk, he was able to cross and I boldly ran after him.

Then, the Biafran soldiers abandoned their bunker that was by the other side of the river and ran away. That was how we crossed the Imo River. From there we marched to Ibieri and we joined the 17 Brigade and we took Aba.
Then in the 17 brigade, I was attached to Air Defence. Our assignment was to be shooting down planes from Gabon and Fernado Po. I was now posted to Elele, Owerri front and we took Owerri. But then Biafra took over Owerri again. Let me add to, it. It was at Kwale in Ogoni that I took bullets while we were coming from Akwa Ibom, through Ikot Abasi.

I was still in service and during the war in Elele when I came in contact with my first wife who gave me two wonderful sons.

How was life after the war and how long did you serve in the army?
After the war? The change of the narrative should be credited to General AJ Kazir, who was then a Lieutenant At 3 Marine Commando Division Artillery. I recalled the day he came to the orderly room. I was then an Intelligence Clerk and he met me reading. So he asked me why was I reading a novel?

“Boy do you want to read?” I said, “Yes Sir”. He followed up with “What was the problem”. I replied, “I come to work in the morning and close by 4pm and that I am always detailed on duty.” He told me to buy a notebook and he wrote on that notebook: “This boy should not be detailed on duty for two years and should resume 8am and close 12noon daily….’’

So in 1970, the year I had my first son, I enrolled for my GCE with the Rapid Result College in London because I never had the opportunity to attend a normal secondary school here in Nigeria. By 1972, Capt. AJ Kazir informed me that there was pre-GCE class at Ilorin Army School of Education and asked me to vow that if I passed my GCE, he would make me a Lance Bombardier. And that was the rank I retired with in the Nigeria Army Artillery because he made me one.

By 1976, the year I had my second son, I had passed both my GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level through home studies and by 1977, I put in papers for retirement from the army because I felt that even at about 30 years old my future still needed proper education and wanted to better enhance myself no matter the financial obstacles. I was encouraged by Gen. TY Danjuma who said in Ibadan that any soldier who wanted to go for further studies could leave the army.

Then I already discovered that there was no life for me in the army. By 1978, I began my tertiary education at the University of Port Harcourt, the home of Mary Nwali, the mother of my first two sons. By 1982 I got Bsc in Political and Administrative Studies. I enrolled into the National Youth Services Corps (NYSC) between 1982 and 1983. I was admitted to the University of Jos for my Msc Political Economy and Development Studies in 1984 and I graduated in 1985. I tried to enrol for my Phd in the University of Jos, but there was nobody with the experience of the Nigerian Civil War to supervise me. So I was delayed.

The army called again in 1987 under Gen. Paul Tarfa as commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy. He was the officer who initiated the degree Programs in NDA. So at about 40 years after I got my first job and after my retirement from the army. I enrolled again for my PhD at the Bayero University in Kano by 1995 but Prof. Attahiru Jega went on fellowship to Sweden and after returning in 1996 could not supervise the civil War Project which most interested me. I tried to re-enrol again into BUK but my files could not be found.

Then Prof. A Ohwona of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Department of Political Science, advised me on his visit to the Academy to apply. I did. My PhD work started in 1999, then Suddenly Prof. A Ohwona was transferred to the Delta State University in Abraka and Prof. R. A Dunmoye now took over my supervision and by 2004 when I lost my dad, Mr. Oletukuvie Tedjeke, being the eldest son and with a lot of financial pressures I could not meet my schedules over my PhD work. Then Prof. R. A Dunmoye said I should come over that, must the death of my father end my ambition?” I rushed down to ABU to present my first four chapters and by 2007, 20years after I had my External PhD Defence.

Because of the delay with my PhD work and the emphasis later by Universities to make PhD a prerequisite for Senior Lecturer, I remained as Lecturer 1 for 16years. I was therefore promoted to a Senior Lecturer in 2008 at the age of about 60years old. Six Years after in 2013, I was Made An Associate Professor and today I am a professor. This journey that I started in 1970, I have achieved 48 years after.

Very inspiring a story indeed! You were never serious with your education as a child, at what point did you fell in love with books?
There was one teacher around 1958; I have actually forgotten his name. He was very good at Geography. I took after him. He made me love Geography right from Primary school. So when I got to modern school, I did well in the subject. In my London GCE, I made A in Geography. That was what encouraged me. It was indeed the trigger.

What about life after the military?
After my voluntary retirement like I said earlier, I finished my university programme in the University of Port Harcourt after which I went for my National Youth Service. I studied Political Economy. While in the university, there was a lecturer that took us on class analysis and I fell in love with the idea, and from there I joined the class of revolutional struggle. I am a revolutionalist and that is what I have impacted on my sons. While in the school, I took part in a movement then called Radical Students Movement- Movement for Progressive Nigeria. It was meant to transform Nigeria from capitalist society to a more germane society. I have been in some of these movements even after my university days. That was when I realised that God has chosen me to fight for the people and that I was destined to be a political man. It was one of the reasons that made me to identify with (President Muhammadu) Buhari because the man is radical to some level.

From a village boy who was not serious in school, to a soldier who wanted to have himself killed at the war front and now a professor impacting knowledge in the Nigeria Defence Academy, what actually inspired you?
I think it is destiny, faith, determination and confidence in oneself. Even when I was not serious during my primary school education, I was a little bit clever and at some point I became serious. When (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo introduced primary education in the 50s, we were the first people that started it in my place. I left as one of the best graduating pupils. In my category, I got the highest score. So I was outstanding. That was when I discovered myself, unfortunately my father refused to train me. It was because of that I took the decision to kill myself by joining the army during the war. Today I am still alive. It was during the service that I said to myself that those dreams I had about myself while growing up must be fulfilled. These are just the part of it, but in all, General A. J. Kazir played a significant part in the journey.

Any regrets you want to correct?
The only disappointment is that I have a lot to offer Nigeria but I have not found myself in the position to do that. I don’t regret anything maybe because Providence had smiled too much on me. I am so grateful to God. The only thing I can point out is when the mother of my first two sons left me. We started this journey together but she left me.

You teach in one of the most respected institutions in the country today, you were in the war and you came back alive and still found yourself in the same environment you left, though, as a teacher now, haven’t you offered enough?
There is lot we still have to offer as an individual in life. Nationalism and patriotism entail a lot. The desire to do more is limited by the environment we find ourselves today. We own the people the responsibility to build a better Nigeria.

You left the army and two of your sons are already commissioned after leaving the NDA, why did you approve their decisions?
Yes it is a good decision. Sometimes people called me to tell me that one of my sons, though not a soldier, is radical activist and they may kill him but I said to them, let them kill him. That is his part. But honestly, they can’t kill him for doing what is right. Now I have two sons from the second marriage both as officials in the army. I am good with that and I am a proud father of these wonderful intelligent gentlemen.

You speak mainly like a philosopher, who is your role model?
Hmmmm! Let me start: Fidel Castro, Chego Vera. In Nigeria, I have Aminu Kano.

Why did you choose these men among other great men in the world?
Because they are revolutionalists who wanted to establish new orders or societies. That is the courage I have because Africans have been so misled for too long. That is what I keep preaching to my students in the Defence Academy. It was the reason they wanted to sack me in 2006 because they didn’t want a counter view and I stand by what I think is right for the people. Today I remain firm in my philosophy of the African society. I don’t buy things in America or Europe; I always speak of the African continent because we have been left to lie low for too long and they have fooled us for too long. Let’s begin to look at our own issues our own way. We must not allow people to tell our narratives. My philosophy is guided by Marxism but not Eurocentric Marxism. It is the one that is now tailored to suit the interests of Pan Africanism.

Will you say all is well with the country, looking from where we are coming from since the return of Democracy in 1999?
All is not well with Nigeria. I have written a lot of papers about this, not even from 1999 but from 1960. Look at how other leaders in other parts of the world have been able to divert their economies from agricultural base to industrial nations. These are Third World countries like us who are now graduating into developed nations. Why is it that we have not been able to that? That is the failure of leadership in the country. Look at the National Assembly today, they are technically ignorant. We can be talking about the good old days when it was only exports of groundnut, exportation of cocoa, rubber and palm produce. What is good about the old days when you cannot transform these raw materials into finish products? If we couldn’t transform them to finished products, the old days were never good even till today. That is where the leadership must come in.

What do you advise then?
First of all, I will call for the disbandment of all these bodies like OPC, AREWA, IPOB and even the Niger Delta Militants, they are all rubbish. They may have good intention but agitation for division of Nigeria is wrong because the strength of a country is based on its size and population. We have to be nationalistic. We have to come back to nationalism just like what the likes of Zik, Awolowo and other prominent Nigerians then promoted. And today, the same people that betrayed the youth movement then are the same people holding sway today. We have been so corrupted that we have lost our sense of patriotism. Our education system is terribly poor. In fact the universities are terribly poor that they are out of shape. This is one big challenge that must be addressed to facilitate nation building.

In the 1925 memorandum of education that the British drafted, they said they wanted to make University of Ibadan an equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge. Today, is Ibadan which is modelled towards British engineering, British economy, British philosophy, and British culture and so on equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge? It is Ibadan which is the mother of University of Ife, University of Nigeria, Nsuka, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Benin, Lagos and others. Today we would have been manufacturing our own technologies. That shows that our universities are almost useless and that is the truth. I keep telling my students that we should be doing African World Economy which will make us to understand where we are in the economic progress of the continent. The key thing is that we have to restructure the educational system in the country and it should be tagged education for nation building. That is the real restructuring.

Are you a traditional man?
I believe in tradition and culture but we have no culture that is another thing. If I dressed in my Urobho attire, the cloth is manufactured in India, the singlet am wearing is manufactured in South Africa, the cap is manufactured in Belgium and the eyes glasses are made in Italy, the shoes are built in Spain and the only difference is me who is the Urobho man wearing all of these, then where is culture there? Not until we start doing things our way, we have no culture. In the whole country, there is no culture. Culture is production, culture is development and culture is everything about a people. That is the truth.

Do you drink?
I drink but not much. I drink traditional gin (Ogogoro) but because of my age, I don’t drink again.

I only participated in football when I was young but I got badly injured sometimes and that forced me out of playing. Since then, I am really scared to. But as an ex-soldier, I can still trek if the need arises.

Your best food?
I love banga soup and starch with fresh fish to go with.

If you have one wish to make in life, what would that be?
My wish? I am not rich today but if I would ask of anything, I wish if the means were there to establish a university with a difference.