•Laments hubby’s mystery death in prison, withholding of his entitlements for 20 years over ‘phantom coup’
•‘l am retired, no gratuity, no pension; my children and l are suffering’
By Bashir Adefaka
It is not as if she does not look beautiful as she used to be when her hubby, an officer of the Nigerian Army Corps of Intelligence, was alive. But she hurts inside by the reality of the continuous absence of the bread winner of the family and without help from any quarters in the face of raising four children for the past 20 years since he died from the torture he received in prison.
What this reporter saw on Wednesday September 19, when he visited the Arigbanla Street, Orile-Agege, Lagos residence of the widow of the late former Special Assistant to the Minister of Communications during Abacha regime, Mrs Ruth Akinyode, was enough reason a woman, who has found herself in that condition, deserves to be listened to by a leader with listening ears and full of sympathy like President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mrs Akiyode, now 60, and 20 years since her husband died (December 1998) in prison, at the age of 42, wants Buhari to “please help look at our case, forgive, forget and pardon my husband, Lt. Col. Oluwole Oyebanji Akinyode (late); forgive, forget and pardon his boss, Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju; and forgive, forget and pardon his other colleague, Col. Jawando, for the sake of Allah, Megrima” (tears and cries).
In all honesty, this reporter does not like seeing women crying. When it happens, the whole problem becomes his. Unfortunately he does not have the power to solve the widow’s problem.
Only the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does. Mrs Akinyode’s level of suffering as a widow is mind-boggling as, aside the major support she got from the boss of her husband, General Olanrewaju, upon his and others’ release without her husband in 1999, has, for close to 20 years now, done all alone with what she earned as a teaching service staff member of Lagos State but now retired. Mrs Akinyode said, “Sir, my children and I have suffered.”
She ventilated the suffering of her family and, on behalf of the wives of all affected officers, pleaded for help. Her husband had been imprisoned by the Abacha military junta over the 1997 ‘phantom coup’ allegedly led by Lt General Oladipo Diya (ret.) and the late General Abdulkarim Adisa.
Excerpts of interview:
Madam is how old now?
I clocked 60 on January 19 this year. And that was when I retired from Lagos State Teaching Service.
But I hope Lagos State government is doing you well.
Well, no pension, no gratuity because they pay people due for gratuity in bulk and we don’t know when we will be due for payment.
So, you mean as a widow with children, you retired; no gratuity, no pension and that is happening in Lagos State?
But Lagos is not mentioned as among states that owe retirees’ gratuities and pensions. Why is yours like that?
Before now, when people retired, they may not get their gratuities until five years after. But when Governor Akinwumi Ambode came to office, people started collecting theirs on time.
Those who retired in 2015 collected their gratuities this year, three years after retirement. So, those of us who retired this year, we should be looking at three years from now to get our gratuities and then begin to earn pension.
But a woman who was the wife of a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian Army should not have problem whether her gratuity or pension is paid in retirement or not. What exactly is the problem?
Well, in my own case, there is nothing because my husband was killed in prison and, since he died, his gratuity has not been paid. He has not been pardoned not to talk that his gratuity and other entitlements will be paid. So, it has been a lot of challenge for me.
What about the family of your husband; no assistance from them?
My father in-law is late and my mother in-law is very, very old.
So, there has been no help from anywhere for you and your children?
No. Earlier, some well-meaning Nigerians rendered help and, when my husband’s boss, General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and the former Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, and others were released, General Olanrewaju did his best but, you know because of his own situation, don’t forget that he too was in this problem, he could not continue. And General Diya too at that time rendered some help but stopped after some time.
How many children do you have and how old were they when their father died?
We had four children together. My first child was 18, second about 13, third was about nine and the last born was six.
The last baby who was six at that time should be 26 years old now. How was their upbringing?
I trained them by myself through the grace of God and help of some well-wishers. My first born is now qualified as a medical doctor and he is managing in a local government health centre. The second one, after graduation and no job, decided not to seek paid employment but start some kind of export business. I saved some money which I gave to him to start the business but he has been through a lot of ups and downs such that, up till now, all he can do in Ibadan is rent a house jointly with a friend. And we hope that things will be better.
In a nutshell you still help. And what about the third born and the last?
The third one, because she couldn’t secure paid employment, has to begin to learn tailoring now. And the last born has just secured a contract job with a bank and is trying to find her feet.
And what are you into now in retirement because you should be living fine if you have been paid gratuity and pension is coming?
In my case, I am jobless as you can see. And, of course, I should feel better if I am paid my pension but the truth is that the pension is not there.
Before you cry to President Muhammadu Buhari, don’t forget that he is not the problem of your husband. Is that not so?
Yes. I know he is not the problem but as the number one citizen of the country who knew what the problem was, coup or no coup, and who had, in his own time in life, been a victim of problem of this nature, I am appealing to him, as a compassionate person, to please come to the aid of my husband’s family because I and my children are not living fine, we are suffering.
Also, I know that President Buhari has been magnanimous enough to make the almost impossible happen to some people recently, I mean by recognising June 12 and honouring the icon of June 12, the late Chief MKO Abiola, with the highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) and others, living or dead.
Because he has done that which many had thought would never be possible, I believe and would gratefully expect him to please use his good offices and his personality to pardon my husband, Lt. Col. Oluwole Oyebanji Akinyode, General Tajudeen Olanrewaju and Col. Jawando.
In what department of the Army did your husband serve last before his arrest and subsequent death in prison?
He was in the Int., that is, the Intelligence Corps but he was working as Special Assistant to the Minister of Communications, General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, when the problem that eventually consumed him in prison occurred and he was unable to return home with others that they went together.
Just like the family of General Olanrewaju had always pleaded long before now, she is also asking that the President, whose prerogative it is to carry out the pardon and restoration of benefits she is appealing for, should temper mercy with justice not only to her husband now in the grave but also to others allegedly involved in the ‘phantom coup’, saying, “I plead with you, Mr. President. I know you to be a man with the fear of God. The administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, before yours, decided to pardon General Oladipo Diya, who, in a magazine interview, confirmed that the problem of General Olanrewaju and my husband as well as Jawando was because of him, but left these other officers in the cold.
“President Buhari, I am appealing, on behalf of these officers still not pardoned and not paid their entitlements, and who do not even know that I am granting this media interview through which I have decided to reach out to you as a widow of a late Army officer, that you should please, for the sake of Almighty God, forgive, forget and pardon General Olanrewaju, Colonel Jawando (ret,) and my late husband, Lt. Col. Oluwole Akinyode, and pay them their gratuities and other entitlements on behalf of the Federal Government, so that we, their dependants, will live better life again.
“Please, that forgiving heart that informed what you did to Abiola, considering that the officer, who confessed to be the reason for the problem of these officers, was pardoned by your predecessor, Jonathan, without such privilege extended to them, our husbands, and because all of us, including even the family of General Olanrewaju, are suffering because of this problem; kindly look at our situation and show mercy towards us by pardoning the living and dead among them”.
From the foregoing, knowing President Buhari for who he is – compassionate personality – and considering him to be the husband of a woman whose concern is the Future Assured (FA) of women, particularly widows, and their helpless children, an issue like this should not be difficult for him to resolve.