Yes! Saro-wiwa deserved to die

2010-01-20
THE SUN Newspaper- Emmanuel Adeyemi


Major Paul Olusola Okutimo, now a retired Brigadier General was the Commandant of the dreaded Rivers State Internal Security Task Force between 1993 and 1996. The task force was principally established to curtail the Ogoni crisis in which essayist and an environmental crusader, Ken Saro Wiwa was leading under the auspices of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP)

Okutimo was to later arrest Saro Wiwa and others for allegedly having hand in the killing of the ‘Ogoni Four’. They were later sentenced to death by hanging by a tribunal. Saro Wiwa and seven others were the first to be hanged. The death sentence generated world wide condemnation which forced the Abacha administration to put on hold, the assassinations of others.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Sun Okutimo who said since the incident over 15years ago, he had refused to speak to the media on the issue. But he opened up recently and defended Abacha’s administration for eliminating the renowned playwright and eight others. His words “No, No, Ken deserved to die, if you were to be the President of the Republic of Nigeria, you will know, Ken had to die he had to be eliminated at that time.”
He also suggested that Nigeria should revert to the parliamentary system, using the six geo-political entities created as six regions in the country. He also spoke on other sundry issues
Excerpts:

Background
My name is Brig-Gen. Paul Olusola Okutimo. I hail from Yagba East Local Government from a village call Ogbom in Kogi State. I enrolled into the military in 1973. After 35 meritorious years, I retired as a Brigadier –General. Since then, I first of all tried to acclimatise myself with my immediate society. This made me to spend a whole year to understand the nature of whom I left behind 35years ago. That’s where I got the courage to inject myself into politics for the emancipation of my people. To support my community, local government and state to be fully represented at the federal level. After reaching my zenith in my chosen career, I have to learn politics from A,B,C and I am coming up gradually.

Amnesty granted to Niger Delta militants
Amnesty of President Umaru Yar’adua is a welcome idea. It is another way of solving the Niger Delta’s problems. It is not a permanent solution, it is a temporary solution by my experience. Do you know why I say that? I have served in the army to bring about conflict resolution in a situation that produced militants after my departure. If there was a follow up to what I achieved, there would not have been any opportunity for militancy to sprint up again, but people assumed that what I did was a child’s play. The people of Ogoni themselves even appreciated my efforts with the way I carried out my job there to the extent that I was given a chieftaincy title. I mean the entire Ogoni community came together to award that title. They said what their children could not do, I came and I did it well for them.
Allegations that I killed many people

Yeah, that was what brought about the Oputa Panel. Many years after the Ogoni crisis, there was the establishment of Human Right Violation Commission headed by Justice Oputa, I think Bola Ige being the Attorney General then was fed up with the way and manner my name was associated with mass killings.
They raised 27 lawyers led by Femi Falana against me and I went to the panel myself without any legal counsel. When Oputa saw me, he said, “Colonel, where is your lawyer?” I told him: “I don’t have any lawyer, I don’t need any lawyer.” He said “in a situation like this, you don’t have a lawyer?” I told him, “I have all the exhibits here to present to defend myself.”

The man was perplexed, and said, “did you know that there are 23,000 petitions written against you, for arson, raping, mass killings?” I told him, “My Lord, there is no action I have taken in Ogoniland without documentation. In all, I know the number of people that died as a result of my operation. I have reasons for any death recorded both from my side i.e the troops and the civil side.”

If there was mass killing in Ogoniland, where is the mass grave dug and where were the people buried? If you say they were thrown into the creek, with the nature of propaganda that was going round, there should be photographs of the people. Knowing the kind of person Ken-Saro Wiwa was, he would have photographed all the creeks where corpses were floating to show the world.
But there was no picture, no any mass grave. Nothing whatsoever to indicate that I killed even three people and buried them in a grave. I then asked Justice Oputa, that if there was anything for anybody in Ogoniland to show I have killed two or three people in a day, such person should come out and show us where I did so. Fortunately nobody could came out.

In fact, I want to tell you that after my three years commitment of the conflict resolution in Ogoniland, I was to go and people didn’t want me to go. This is how I made nonsense of all the 27 lawyers raised against me and the 23,000 petitions.
Another surprise package I want to give to you. We were to move into Ogoni land, and Saro Wiwa went to tell Ogoni community that they should not sell water to us. They should not sell food, nothing edible to us. That they should not allow us access to any place, for accommodation and they should not be friendly with us.
Meanwhile, we had occupied a certain area in Ogoniland. Little did they know that, a soldier that is placed in defence of an area is a deterrent to the enemy. They didn’t know that, for us to be in Ogoniland, we were defending the entire Ogoniland. When I discovered that we were given order to patrol only and not to shoot, it cost us at least about 12 soldiers in patrolling without shooting. In the military that I was trained, there was no course that I have been taught that, I must not defend myself.

I gave a unilateral order without contacting my commander who was Brig Gen Tadeus Asseh (now retired) he was Brigade Commander. I went to him that this order that was given to us from the headquarters that we should patrol a dangerous area like Ogoni where they were shooting and killing our people and we could not defend ourselves. I, Major Okutimo cannot bear it anywhere. In courses I have attended to make myself a professional soldier, there was no place that was against self defence in turbulent situation like that. I told him I wanted to be changed as the task force commander. He said he would clear with army headquarters. Before he could do so, the bureaucracy was there, and it seemed nobody wanted to listen I went back, and I unilaterally withdrew my troops, about 725men, both soldiers, Navy, Air force, and mobile police. I withdrew all of them from Ogoniland without telling anybody. I just brought them by 2am and I dispatched everybody and I marched to my commander and told him. We lost enough men, and we could not continue like this anymore. If we continue like this, at the end of the day, I’m going to be court marshalled for bad operation. I said, “sir, with due respect these boys have to go. I have done my best as an individual and the spirits of the 12 dead troops are haunting me.” So we left Ogoni.

It was when we left Ogoni enmass, then Ogoni people became conscious of our significance in their land. Places like Andomi, Asa area, Onne and so many areas they had offended descended on them (particularly the Andomis) and devastated the land. They did not even spare plantain everything living and non-living including animals were macheted and set ablaze. They were destroying Ogoni day in, day out.

I was in the barracks and Ken Saro Wiwa for the first time, came to my house, begging me on his kneel for several minutes, that I should go back to Ogoniland. I told him, I have the power to withdraw soldiers, I don’t have the power to redeploy, he should go and meet my commander. He went to my commander and pleaded with him. My commander said, look Ken, but the voice the whole world was hearing from you was that we were destroying you, burning your houses, killing your people.

Now, you are begging us to go back to Ogoni again, even when you said they should not sell anything to us. On our way out, you ambushed us. Now we say we are tired in staying in your land, and you are coming to beg us, then something is wrong with you.
Ken said no, that he had accepted his fault. That the situation now is that his people are on his neck that the soldiers should come back. That they are killing his people destroying all economic trees. That if he should just find a way of bringing these soldiers back.

Then my commander now sent him to the divisional headquarters, I think he met Gen Victor Malu. You know he is a frank General. He does not hide his feelings. People normally criticize him as emotional, he is not emotional, he is always frank. Malu told Ken that he was a hypocrite. That he was the one blackmailing soldiers and coming to beg for soldiers to return, then something must be wrong. He shunned Ken that he had no power to return the soldiers.
That he had to go to the army headquarters. Before Ken could do this, the killings and destructions continued. He had to go with serious tears to the Army headquarters where he met the then Chief of Army Staff, Major Gen Chris Alli. He later gave final order that Ogoni is part of Nigeria, like their property and their people, that their enemies are devastating them.

If Alli were to be another person, he would have referred Ken to the Commander-in-Chief, who was Gen Sani Abacha. You would have imagined what could have happened, but I think aided with God’s mercy, he just sent the signal that we should redeploy. Between the time we withdrew and the time the signal for redeployment came, it lasted for 10days. The 10days were occupied by the enemies and so every single soul in Ogoni land fled away.

Before I could gather my men together it took me another two days. I had only about 500 of my men, they advised me to go. It was then I went on air to announce, that it was my responsibility to take care of security in Ogoniland, and if anybody had trespassed and were there without authority, for any reason, that I would consider any act of arson there, as an attack on my men. This frightened their enemies who left before we arrived. It was when we went back that we enjoyed the fraternity of Ogoni people. We could go to market to buy food, they now gave us water, plantain etc.

My Relationship with Ken Saro Wiwa
My relationship with Ken was in three parts. First, before Ken ever met me, he had made up his mind that I was a monster. Without seeing me, even talking to me, he had made up his mind that, I was a dragon, a viper, a rapist. The task force which I was heading then became an object of serious verbal attack. Ken would not come to me, but he would go behind to instigate youths to attack us, kill our men.

The second phase was when we left Ogoniland and we came back. You know he did the running (when he knew our importance) to comeback. I reminded him, look this is the vampire, the blood sucker, the killer, you called me. Have I now become a saint overnight? I said there was something wrong with him. Go back to the world and tell them, that my occupation of your place you painted it badly. Tell the same world you had a wrong perception about me and the task force. He pleaded and said that would be later. But after becoming friends, he now attempted to use us to deal with those that were antagonizing his authority as the leader of MOSOP. I told him that the maturity of my career bearing traversed that type of attitude whereby I would be partisan. That mine was to maintain law and order. That if anyone was found to undermine the law, we arrest him release him to the police for interrogation and prosecution.

The third phase of our relation was the murder of the Ogoni four. Before the murder, there had been meetings by Ken and some cohorts of his camp. They said these four people were enemies of their progress and nick name them ‘vultures’. You see the code names for vulture the way we understand it, is that they stood to be eliminated anytime. There was a kind of Kangaroo meetings organized, deceptive kind of meetings, with an undertone to eliminate those 4 called vulture and Albert Barde, Kobani and the other two walked differently and ignorantly into the meeting and they were killed. It was then the issue of restoration of law and order translated into another order of conflict resolution. The four of them met in their Oba conference hall who they call “Gbenemini Gokana. It was when they were holding that conference that Ken militants ambushed these people not up to 500 metre to that area. Remember one of the slaughtered four was SSG for eight years, and two serving commissioners.

At the Oba palace, they arrested the four Ogoni leaders and slaughtered them. Saro Wiwa went through that place before the killing not quite two hours. It was taken that by the time he was walking round that village that time, he was coordinating that killing action. That was the story I came by.
Now, come face to face with our responsibility, what is the role of the military? To defenced the territorial integrity, lives and property of Nigerian citizens. If we are there and we are patrolling for peace and a crime against the state was committed, we are the people that must arrest those who committed the grievous crime. The first person to be arrested must be Saro Wiwa, and I gave orders that he should be arrested immediately. Even the order of arrest had not come from anywhere I knew by my training, when that order would come it might be too late. He was arrested and kept in my security protection.

Before I could ask of Ledun mittee, he had already come to me because he had confidence in me and he knew as the vice-president of MOSOP, there was no need to look for him in that instance before he reported. The following day we arrested about 50. Within four weeks, we arrested 300. As we were arresting, we were given them to police for screening. At the end of the day, we arrested about 2000. We later screened them to 300, then to 30. By thorough investigations, we knew that the 30 physically took part in the killing of the Ogori four except, Ken, Mittee and Kobani. The rest, they took party physically, took part in the killing or giving the order or write the instruction.

A tribunal was set up, headed by Justice Auta from Adamawa State. The only survival of that 30 who was not sentenced to death was Mittee. Ken and seven others were the first to be hanged to death. They were divided into three batches for killing to serve as a lesson to other militants. But after killing Ken and seven others, there was a world wide cry condemning the act. Abacha could not continue the killing of others.

The statement Ken Saro Wiwa made last
Well, I don’t know I was not physically there. I think about a month to his hanging when I knew then direction the case would take, I left Ogoni. At that time, I didn’t want to continue in Ogoni would take, pleaded with my Commander to post me to another state since I had completed the assignment given to me. I was posted to Minna thereafter. It was about three weeks later, my boys that I left behind took over and were briefing me on phone
Did I not think government used that as a smokescreen to eliminate Ken because of his criticism?
No, No, Ken deserved to die. If you were to be the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you will know. Ken had to die, he had to be eliminated at that time.

Why did I say so?
I said so because if there is no smoke, there will be no fire, No sane government will allow one rascal to pull it down. He was painting us bad giving the country bad image. You know Ken was a powerful writer, the western world listened more to him than the government of the day. What you are seeing now that militants have taken over all over Niger Delta was initiated by Ken. From Ogoni militant nucleus, he was spreading it to the Niger Delta to Akwa Ibom and all thise places. He was preaching about why there must be another nation aside Nigeria. With his principle and concepts, that Niger Delta should not be part of Nigeria. Eventually these people caved in to his propaganda and took arms against us. They would tell the western world it was a peaceful demonstration, but that was not true.

But don’t you think it was Isaac Boro that started the agitation?
Yes Isaac Boro died during the Civil war. But my brother, let me tell you, in situation like this I tried to have a balanced view. The Act of 1959 was not good enough to protect the people that occupy the oil rich areas. I was in Ogoni in 1993, they enacted law the in 1959 that says for every palm tree that was fell, the oil explorer must pay three pence to the owner. Every plantain that was removed they would pay three pence. If you quantify the value of three pence in 1959 and three pence in 1993, you will discovered that the government has failed to review what I can call justice in the interest of its citizens. Government discovered more oil fields of lands and they destroyed more economic trees.

They pay nothing because nobody is ready to take 3 kobo for removing their property and economic trees. In fact, I want to tell you categorically,oil companies hid under the constitution that Federal Government refused to update or review to perpetrate havoc in Ogoniland. If you look at the level of devastation they caused and the large scale destructions of their crops, you pity Ogoni people. When I was before Oputa Panel. I told them if I Gen Paul Okutimo were to be a son of Ogoniland, I will do what the Ogoni youths do except the killing of the Ogoni four.

Honestly I don’t see anything wrong in their agitation. The only crime they have committed is the killing of Ogori four. That was more reason I complied not shooting those youths, because I cannot have a fatherland and it’s subjected to destruction, the way oil companies were destroying Ogoniland and fold my arm. I saw all myself.
So it means Ken Saro wiwa was justified in his agitation?
He was very very, I mean highly justified fighting the cause of Ogoni. His only crime was he overblew the whole thing. He was enjoying the propaganda and the results of the propaganda that he was making against government around the world.

Any regrets in Life?
No, No, the army is a career I enjoyed so much, I participated in five international operations. I was in Lebanon, separating wars between Israel and Palestinian. I was in Angola, standing between government of Santos and that of Jonas Savimbi. I was in Liberia, I was in Israel and in Ogoniland. I am one of the fewest Nigerian soldiers as an officer that can boast of going through five international operations. All these operations except Ogoni, I had medals of excellence, but Ogoni gave me a chieftaincy title.

I made bold to say that in this country today, it is only my nature of operations and my personality and by my conduct of operation that have entered an internet or website like goggle, yahoo. Up till two months ago my activities in the military were still being updated. What stands me out is the application of native intelligence in whatever I do.

However, I am not saying I am an angel. People who do not come to investigate me by way of interviewing me as you are doing, just write anything against me. What you read in the website may not be completely be the true reflection of my person. For that purpose, I am writing a book to balance those subjective views, for the purpose of generation unborn who may open a research work over my activities in the army when I am no longer there. I started the book three years ago. I’m likely to finish in the next two years and its going to be launched with funfair

 

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