Rear Admiral Samuel Ilesanmi Alade (Rtd) who is the Balogun of Akure Land, recently launched his book ‘The Making of a Million Smiles-Reflections on Rwanda’s Rise from the Ashes.’’He speaks to DAVID TARKAA on motivation for the book.
You recently launched a book about your experience in the Rwandan war, what inspired you?
I was in Rwanda as a young military observer working with United Nations from 1994 to 1995. At that time, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda was in place. We were in Rwanda at that time to monitor the implementation of the Cease-fire agreement and the ‘Arusha’ peace accord that was struck as a result of the political crisis in Rwanda
There was this political problem between the Tutsi that was the minority and Hutu that was the majority group in Rwanda. A lot of people don’t understand that there is another tribe in Rwanda. There are three tribes in Rwanda but the Hutu being the major one constituted about 80-85 percent of the population at that time and the remaining 15 percent was shared between the Tutsis and Twas. While I was there as a very young officer (Lieutenant Commander) I got interested in what was going on. I recall that I was taking pictures and notes hoping that I will use those pictures and notes to enrich my personal library. But later in life, I realised that here in Nigeria, I have not seen anybody that has written specifically on the genocide in Rwanda.
So I decided to put my experience in print so that people can learn a few lessons and of course it is my modest contribution to knowledge. I decided to write the book at this time because of the similarity in what happened in Rwanda then and what is happening in Nigeria today. What really led to the crisis in Rwanda, particularly the genocide, was ethnic problem. The problem between the Hutu and the Tutsis. But a lot of people don’t know that the problem didn’t just start overnight. It started a long time ago in their history. The problem had always been between the Hutu and Tutsi. At one time, a group will rule and at another time, another group will rule, then compounded by the colonial master’s involvement and complications in the political affairs of that country.
Rwanda as a very small country, you probably would not expect such a thing to happen but because of the animosity in the land especially between the Hutu and Tutsi, it was amazing that they went out killing themselves. I felt that other countries have a lot of lessons to learn from that and looking at Rwanda today, it has moved from that stupid genocide time to a glorious time where everybody is now rushing there. Everybody now wants to visit Rwanda to see the magic that is going on in terms of economic emancipation and economic transformation of that country. This actually motivated me to write the book- “The Making of a Million Smiles: Reflections on Rwanda’s Rise from the Ashes”
What specifically, can Nigeria do to avoid the Rwandan experience?
Well, even in the book I suggested things that we can do. First of all, we have to do away with ethnic dichotomy. Nigerians must see themselves as one, we should stop divisive coloration of our existence by saying this one is Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo. When a Nigerian is filing a form today, even government forms, you will still see provisions like what is your tribe, what is your religion. All these things should be done away with; rather we should say, are you a Nigerian or not then you tick, a Nigerian is a Nigerian not minding what part. In Rwanda today, nobody wants to know if you are a Hutu,Tutsi or Twa. If you get there and ask, they will quickly tell you there is no Tutsi or Hutu or Twa, we are all Rwandans. So that is the level of reconciliation they have gotten to. We must also do away with politicising our speeches, in this case, we must stop hate speeches and we must stop propagating evil in the name of political advancement.
What are the lessons you think Nigeria can draw from that genocide?
Yes, I have drawn about seven lessons in my book, Rwanda has gotten to a point where people are now rushing there because of what they have been able to do for themselves. One big lesson I think we should learn is the need to shun hate speeches, negative propaganda and tribal dichotomy including fake news. We have to do away with them and that is exactly what Rwanda has done. They no longer do any of those and those are the things that led to the genocide but they have moved on by stopping all of that. We should do that in our country.
The second lesson is that we should embrace collective engagement which is very instrumental to transformation and development. Rwanda has embraced this and I think if we are able to do that we will be happy for it.
Rwanda has also developed some solutions to galvanise the thoughts of the citizens and I think we should do that too.
We should decentralise our policies making mechanisms. We should involve our citizens in the policy making process because that is the only way I think they can take ownership of such policies. If one participates in a particular policy-making process, he or she as an individual will like to see a positive implementation of such policy. But in a situation where a group of people sit down and dump a policy on the people, of course the people will not take ownership. In fact because of our ethnic dichotomy in our country today, some people might just say it is just one particular tribe, say Hausa/Fulani, that is making policy and why should we obey it, Yoruba people are the ones making policy why should I obey it or Igbo people, Itsekiri people and the rest. So, if all of those dichotomies are not there, I think it is going to be better for our country.
Another lesson is that in Rwanda, they have decided to go back to the old where traditional institutions partake in the policy-making process. They respect the traditional institutions because these are the people that are closer to the people. If they are involved in governance, the people will be better carried along.
Another point is that Rwanda has invested heavily in human capital development. They have sent their people to various advanced countries to learn. Even up till now, they are doing it and that is the same thing China has been doing since the end of World War 2. They have been sending Chinese people to places to learn their technology and culture. Go to America today, you will see Chinese everywhere learning Engineering and they are taking it back to their country and developing it. That is why you see China is almost overrunning the world in terms of economic and technological innovation/exports. Look at a country like Singapore that does not have natural resources as such but they have developed human capital to the extent that they now import so many things and export back. The same with Germany; Germany is known for heavy engineering today not because they have steel but it is because they have well developed brains. They import steel from India and around the world and they use it, piece it together and export back to them. That is why their economy is strong.
Another point is that a country must have a very clear vision of where she is going, not just having a vision. The vision must be clear and the citizens must participate in drawing up such a vision because any vision for a particular country must take into consideration, first, the national interest and that national interest must be clearly defined. So in Rwanda, they have tried to fashion achievable vision for the country and they are following it.
And of course, accountability and transparency, you can’t beat Rwanda to it. That is issue of good governance, corruption and transparency. I’m not saying what happened in the past, accountability in public office and transparency in governance is almost 100 percent in Rwanda. I think a country like Nigeria should learn from that.
Also there is need for a unified national identity. We should see ourselves as one people, there should not be such questions like where are you from. A Nigerian should not be asking another Nigerian, where are you from. This is terrible. All of this supports division. We should have a unified national identity whereby a Nigerian is a Nigerian anywhere.
We as Nigerians have a very strong affinity to religion and ethnicity, so how can we do away with that?
Yes, we can achieve this by downplaying those two variables. First, you have to ask yourself, ethnicity and religion, how do they contribute to development and economic development? To me, they don’t contribute anything positively; rather, the two factors move us away from development because of their sensitivities and for all you know, our elites have used these two variables to their political advantage and at the end of the day, it stands to divide us than unify us. There is nothing that is difficult. It just takes one good person, one good leader, one concerned leader that wants Nigeria to move forward to make it a constitutional issue, to just make the pronouncement that henceforth, this is not going to happen and the government should first erase it from its policy. It is doable.
Who are those agents you think will champion this course?
Well, I can identify three agents, first is government, second is traditional institutions and the third is education.
The military is now deeply involved in internal security and there are allegations of abuses and clashes with the civil populace. How can that be averted?
I want to first of all correct the impression that military involvement in internal security is illegal and does not happen in other climes. The military gets involved in internal security duties all over the world. Meanwhile, our discussion is expected to focus on the book I wrote not our security issues, as it were. Anyway, one of the problems of Rwanda was false propagation of information. Information that incite the society. When the Hutu government was turning the population against the Tutsi minority that were agitating to come back to their country, some parts of the media helped in propagating that falsehood. I recall they were calling them cockroaches, that some cockroaches are coming to attack, so kill any cockroach you see. The cockroach syndrome was actually referring to the Tutsi and they also referred to them as foreign invaders but they actually belong to the country. Unfortunately some parts of the press, for example, Radio milcolene and Kigali News helped to propagate that false news thereby implanting hatred amongst the people and the larger population was now seeing the Tutsis as cockroaches. That is why it was so bloody, because of the mentality at that time, we must be sure of what we want to say. If the military is involved in what we call internal security duties, one cannot say it is not happening in other countries or places. I know of countries that have similar security issues and the military is handling such.
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