Wisdom Osagiede Ogbeowemwenkon Osemwende is a retired officer who served in the United States (US) Army for over 29 years. Born and bred in Benin City, Wisdom rose to the rank of colonel in the world’s strongest military before retiring. But in retirement, Osagiede says he is not tired as he wants to lead Nigeria if elected the President in 2023.
In this interview, the retired colonel explains his mission to Nigerians, explaining how he thinks this venture is possible for a Nigerian who has spent most of his working life abroad.
He also speaks on why insecurity persists in Nigeria despite efforts by Service Chiefs to contain terrorists, bandits and kidnappers.
Retired Colonel Wisdom M. Osagiede Ogbeowemwenkon Osemwende isn’t a person substantially known to Nigerians? Who is he?
I grew up in Lagos where I went to primary school. I later went to secondary school in Benin City. After I travelled abroad, I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business, Master’s of Arts in Mass Communication and I will finish my PhD in Public Policy and Administration in March 2022.
I spent the bulk of my working years in the US military. In fact, I got into the US military in 1987 and retired in 2016. During my time there, I journeyed across the field with countless leadership positions and operations across the world. Some of my most significant assignments in the US military were the expeditions in Iraq and my trips to several places around the world for humanitarian services.
I also joined in the efforts to rebuild Iraq after the war. I worked in the US diplomatic missions in Uganda, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I was the first US officer to train the National Emergency Management Agency, known as NEMA in Nigeria when I was with the US Africa Command in Germany. I trained senior Nigerian military officers and senior civilian executives on disaster relief and pandemic response. As a civil affairs officer within the US military, I travelled across the world providing social services to populations.
These trips took me to orphanages and highly needy communities. I piloted the project for a network of Non-Governmental Organizations that converged on Iraq for post-war development efforts. I trained Iraqis on local governance.
You have lived most of your working life abroad – how much of Nigerian do you know?
I have virtually lived all my working life abroad like you mentioned. However, I have always been actively present in Nigeria, as far as everything is concerned. Since I relocated, I have kept in touch with my country by visiting Nigeria every single year. I do not only travel home annually, I also make trips to different parts of Nigeria during my visit home. Nigerians know me, I have friends everywhere in the country and I have family here.
I read Nigerian papers regularly, listen to Nigerian news on the radio and watch it on TV. I am abreast with the happenings in my country. Most importantly, I have always been involved in the development of Nigeria and have made frantic contributions to the social and economic growth of the country.
I personally provide support to many families by way of paying school fees and the provision of some basic needs. I have always donated working tools to hard-working individuals to help grow their businesses, especially at the subsistence level.
For how long have you nursed the ambition of running for President in Nigeria?
As a little boy growing up quite close to my father, he emphasized the importance of education. He never failed to do so. My father was a civil servant in the colonial era. This probably explains why he was an unrepentant lover of education.
He would explain to me that with a sound background in education, I could easily become the number one executive officer in Nigeria. This encouragement stemmed from my interest in governance which I expressed each time I saw a member of the Nigerian government riding across the city. I soon noticed myself not only becoming familiar with these people but also nursing the ambition of getting into a position of leadership someday. However, it is after I had served in other capacities and retired that I decided to run for office for the first time.
Nigeria has a history of being run by military leaders – first, what is your take on having uniform people in power?
The military is not designed to rule or be in power. Its responsibility is to protect the territorial integrity of the country against enemy forces, both internally and externally. That does not, however, mean leaders who have military backgrounds are incompetent. Rather, military personnel have a strong foundation in administration.
The United States military is a great example of excellence in administration. If there is one thing I have benefitted more from the US military, it is good administration. While we are still serving, we are not meant to run for political office and get in power, even with great administrative skills. So, having retired from the military with these skills, I think the right place to exercise them is at the helm of the Nigerian administration.
In your own understanding, how would you describe Nigeria 50 years after independence?
Fifty years after independence, Nigeria still has a long way to go. The country has made frantic efforts in every area of life, including democracy. The fact that Nigeria can organize and run elections where the people elect their leaders and life moves on is a great achievement.
That Nigeria is the biggest economy on the continent is a fact we cannot take for granted. That we can point at some great road infrastructure and modern bridges is something to be proud of. In the past three decades, Nigeria has produced an amazing number of intellectuals, thanks to the country’s enviable universities.
That should make every Nigerian a happy man. With a film industry that has helped to employ Nigerians and standing tall as the second employment sector, one can only raise their thump up. I can go on and on.
However, Nigeria has not had the score we would have expected since gaining independence. We still have development issues such as poor farms to market roads, inadequate health infrastructure, poor maintenance culture and lack of classrooms and other learning materials in our schools. Socially, Nigeria still swims in poverty, unemployment, diseases and many other things I will be addressing in my campaign.
These issues you have raised, and perhaps more, have been highlighted by every presidential hopeful over the years. Yet, victorious ones have come to power, governed, and left without properly solving them. Why do you think there is stagnation?
The refusal to share notes is the root cause of stagnation. By that, I mean successive governments have preferred to start things all over and only implement their plans rather than continuing from where their predecessors ended.
When you operate that way, you are indirectly rubbishing some good works already done. It is not everything about a previous administration that is bad. Governance and development are continuous – you simply continue from where your predecessor ended and your successor will go on from where you stopped.
Isn’t it one country, made up of one person, with one dream? America and other great nations believe strongly in the system of sharing notes – you explain what you have done, where you ended and hand over the tools for me to continue. I can start implementing my plans when I would have completed the work you didn’t complete at the time you were leaving. That is how a country should be run.
You have declared your intention to contest for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023. Do you have the financial muscle?
Not yet! I will declare that soon, but for now, I would want to say God will provide the finances required to take up and complete this journey. At this juncture, I can confidently say I’m the most experienced aspirant in the race based on my experience in international interactions through the United States government.
On which platform do you want to actualize your aspiration, and have you registered as a member of the party?
I would like to contest under the All Progressives Congress, APC, which is currently in power. I am joining APC because of the party’s stability. Also, the party has been noted for bringing forth the necessary change that Nigeria had longed for. APC has righted the wrongs of the past and that inspires me a great deal.
What do you say about the mode of selecting parties’ candidates, direct or indirect primaries?
It’s difficult to monitor direct primaries, unlike the indirect. I’m however very comfortable with direct primaries because everyone takes part in the process. It is more democratic.
How do you assess the defence & security situation of Nigeria against the backdrop of the fact that our Service Chiefs are one year old in office?
The security situation in Nigeria, from every indication, is a great concern of the current administration. The Chief of the Defense Staff, General Irabor, is a man of great honour – a gentlemen and hard worker. He is a defence professional I have trailed him since the days of Boko Haram. He put up a great performance in north-eastern Nigeria.
I must applaud his good work and commitment to see the security situation of the country improve tremendously by the day. By the way, I would retain him when I get in the office. Nigeria is vast and to have the country’s security under total control requires much work.
However, what I would say with sincerity is that there is still much work to be done. The Nigerian military deserves far more than what it currently has. There is need for great motivation in terms of salaries and welfare package. That means pay rise needs to be an urgent assignment for the next administration.
Secondly, the military in Nigeria needs to be equipped with up-to-date working tools. Thirdly, Nigeria needs a properly trained military, ready to deploy within 24 hours. Also, a high degree of discipline needs to be buttressed in the ranks of the military, plus other reforms. To achieve these, the military budget needs to be handsome. My years of experience in the world’s most advanced and equipped military give me the audacity to make reforms in Nigeria.
Nigeria is faced with insecurity problems with Boko Haram, banditry, kidnappers holding sway in different parts of the country. As a retired United States military officer, what is your advice to the Federal Government?
The Federal Government should modernize the military and security agencies. This can be done by recruiting more personnel as the strength of every military is also the number of men and women in the force. The military should be restructured. Also, by providing adequate and more strategic training, the men in uniform could handle these crises in a more apt manner. The Nigerian military should be furnished with state-of-the-art equipment. It would certainly perform better with an improved welfare package. The security budget also needs to be inflated.
The Federal Government recently acquired the American made Tucano fighter jets. Do you think this can change the tide of the war?
I’m quite familiar with the Tucano which is also known as A-29. It uses a turbo engine. It flies low and aims at its target. It can operate two missions – as a fighter jet and conducting reconnaissance operations. The Tucano is excellent on rough terrains. You know, Tucano can only provide the results if the soldiers using it are adequately trained. So, Nigerian soldiers need to be trained to the extent whereby a private soldier can request air support from the mission station and the former will not be referred to the higher headquarters. In the U.S, a private soldier can request air support during combat operations and get it within five minutes at the grid coordinate.
Tell us about the Nigeria Police and your vision.
A country with a strong internal security setup is a successful country. The Nigeria Police, I would say, are far more advanced than those of other countries in Africa, but it is not where it should be today. There is a dire need for a lot of improvement. First, the Nigeria Police need pay rise as a matter of urgency.
Most of the problems that have pinned this corps to the ground stemmed from inadequate pay. The police should not appear as a beggarly corps. It is not only a respectable profession, but officers are men and women who should feel proud to protect the citizens of their country. For them to function properly, they need to be motivated with a better welfare package. Also, and most importantly, I will abolish the barracks and implement community policing. That is my vision for the Nigeria Police.
Nigeria’s economy has been reliant on the petroleum sector for a while. Is that where your heart beats more?
Surprising no! My focus will be agriculture.
Nigeria has not exploited this sector sufficiently, whereas it is potentially the country’s economic solution. We need to get back to the farms and produce food and cash crops. Nigeria has the soil, and we can cultivate crops that can be exported with a comfortable return on investment for the country’s economy.
We will embark on mechanized agriculture as well and provide financial and material support to farmers. My administration will encourage the South-East region to get fully involved in manufacturing agricultural machinery.
Tell us about your plans to improve the health sector.
We will start by working assiduously on health infrastructure. We will set up health centers in most villages across the country. There will be centralized clinics for small communities. The existing infrastructure will be improved upon. My administration will introduce a well-organized and affordable health insurance policy across Nigeria.
There will be free medical treatment for Nigerians who cannot afford it. I will leverage this from my experience in the United States.
Nigeria, just like other African countries, is made up of different ethnic groups. It is not all the time that these groups interact peacefully. In fact, the country has witnessed some ethnic clashes in the past, some of which have been bloody. What is your provision for ethnic division?
First, I will organize a high-level summit for leaders of the three major tribes in Nigeria, the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Hausa and Fulani. Discussions at this summit will focus on ways they can live together convivially. My administration will encourage patriotism and let people know they are Nigerians and only belong to Nigeria.
They must have the country at heart. It is by loving each other that they will love Nigeria. We want Nigerians to see themselves as Nigerians and not as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausas and Fulani.
What will be your major areas of focus if elected President?
I will be very strong on defense and security. I plan to organize an economic and security summit with the United States government if elected. At this summit, we will request the United States’ help in modernizing livestock which will be beneficial to the Fulani. This would replace the nomadic way of grazing that appears to cause a lot of security problems.
This and many more I would do with the US will improve and strengthen the relationship between both countries. Every Nigeria shall be free to move about and carry out their duties. This can only happen when there is total security.
To that effect, security will be my major focus. I will face security head-on and make it difficult for intruders to beat the system. To fight against terrorism, I will erect a wall along Nigerian borders. There will only be a one-way in and a one-way out of Nigeria. This, I believe, will make things difficult for terrorists who move out of the country, train, and return to wreak havoc. Rest assured that Boko Haram will cease to exist once I get in office. My inspiration here is General Collin Powell’s war doctrine which will be forced on terrorists and bandits.
You can refer to my July 14, 2013 interview with Vanguard newspaper. I will pay very close attention to defence. I will be very involved in the defence of Nigeria. My administration will combat poverty by introducing programs that will eliminate suffering. We will also focus on education by providing free schooling at the primary and secondary levels. Identification of Nigerians is primordial, so we will ensure that everyone has an ID card.
We will support those who cannot afford it. Meanwhile, we will create a national database for identification cards where biometric fingerprints will help us detect criminals.
BY GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE
Vanguard News Nigeria