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MasterwebNews 8/1/17: Nigeria`s secessionists should learn from South Sudan -General Agwai (rtd)

MasterwebNews 8/1/17: Nigeria`s secessionists should learn from South Sudan -General Agwai (rtd)

[ Masterweb Reports: Hir Joseph & Lami Sadiq report ] - The first commander of the United Nations/African Union (UN/AU) combined peacekeeping mission in Darfur, General Martin Luther Agwai (retired), has advised proponents of Nigeria’s breakup to take a look at South Sudan. In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Agwai said the civil war rocking the new country should serve as a mirror for secessionists.

 

Soon after you landed in Dafur, South Sudan, the BBC quoted you as telling the people of the troubled country that you were not there to compel peace on them but to work with them for peace. Where did you derive this inspiration?
 
In conflict resolution you apply force. In conflict and war you force and defeat the person. And the person has nothing to do but to accept what you want. In conflict, there is the enemy to defeat. But peace is when you and I sit together and talk. Sometimes, when two of us are fighting, we need a third person to come in to broker peace; to mediate between us to resolve problems. As long as we are not ready to compromise and mediate, we will never have peace. Therefore, the term I have always used is peace resolution, not conflict resolution.  
 
Would you see your statement as a prediction of what happened afterwards: the break-up, and by extension, the new country, South Sudan starting a civil war soon after the secession? 
 
When we hear people in this country say they want to break away, we laugh because we know it is not the solution to the problem. Let me tell you, if you are breaking away because you are a minority and the majority is lording it over you, at the end of the day, one of the minority zones will now become a majority; you will never have an end to it. 
 
That’s why I told one of the newspapers during an interview in Kaduna that I won’t support the argument for the creation of another state for Southern Kaduna. It will never end their problem. If you know why Kaduna should be broken into two states, then we can sit down and see how we can use the situation to our advantage and remain together. 
 
With all sincerity, are you saying that with 36 states, Nigeria is more peaceful than when we had four regions? Has the creation of several states solved our problems? It has even aggravated our problems. The truth is that some of us, the elite, see break-up as an opportunity to achieve political relevance and become senators, governors, commissioners, etc. It is not for the interest of the people. 
 
There is no problem in this world that doesn’t have a solution. You can only say there is no solution if you are not determined to solve the problem. People do a lot of things ignorantly. So the thing is to sit down, trash out your differences, talk about it and move on. 
 
In this country, if we had sat down and honestly discussed our problems and removed all those things that are stopping us from moving forward, we would have gone far beyond where we are today. This is a very rich and blessed country. Honestly, if Nigerians knew what God has given us and we harnessed and used it positively, we would be a force to be reckoned with in the world, not only in Africa.  A Hausa proverb states that if there is a crack in your wall, the lizard can come in. So because we allow cracks in our wall, external people will find them, get in and expand their own interests and divide us the more. How many people want to see a strong Nigeria? Not many. Nigerians should understand that we will be better off in collective security than individual and sectional security.  
 
It was reported that you had 26,000 peacekeepers under you in Darfur, the largest ever in peacekeeping operations. How were you able to handle such enormous responsibility? 
 
Again, what we should understand is that we are talking about peacekeeping, but we are using more and more arms.  I don’t believe in that. There has to be confidence building among people, not fear. There is a limit to fear. If you are stronger than the other person you will kill him and dominate. And as long as you dominate, the person will look to fight back to regain what he has lost so that he can be at par with you or dominate you. I do not believe that might is right, and that is part of the challenges we are having - we believe that the more you arm yourself and you can demolish and destroy the other person, the more you become stronger and whatsoever you want to do is right. That is not possible, especially with the level of information technology and social media in the world today. 
 
I still believe that an all-inclusive way of approaching our problems - dialoguing to understand, respecting other people’s rights so that they also respect yours, eliminating or reducing the degree of ignorance among people and finding a meaningful way of living in peace with everybody - will reduce most of the conflicts bedevilling this country.  And you have to invest on those who are to maintain the peace, such as the security forces. But they must also be answerable and accountable to the taxpayer. They should be held accountable for any wrong they do. It is the same thing with the judiciary, executive and legislature. If we live collectively, honestly, this world will be a beautiful place. 
 
Recently, you predicted a worse security situation in the country if the factors that forced people to carry arms against others are not addressed. How would such a situation affect our already overstretched military?
 
It will leave our military and other security agencies in a very difficult situation. They are going to be overstretched the more. And the mistake we are making is that we are looking at these crises with the mentality of conflict resolution. It should be peace resolution, not conflict. In Nigeria today, most security organs are becoming more armed, and we think that is the solution. It is not. This is because the more the security forces are armed, the more the warlords who are creating rivalry will be armed. So, what we will always have is clashes by armed people. But when you start talking about peace resolution, you are sure of removing conflict out of it to create confidence and close ungovernable space. 
 
Those who know how the Boko Haram insurgency started have said that the current faceoff between the government and Shiites movement is the making of another group of insurgents in the country. Considering justice as a critical factor in peace resolution, what is the best way to handle the crisis?
 
One of our challenges in nationhood is that people seek convenience when some cry out about a wrong somewhere. Some people feel it is okay or that time will solve the problem. And when time does not solve the problem it becomes a bigger issue; then we start getting worried. We know the reasons behind Bako Haram insurgency and the issues around the Shiites movement. The Shiites did not start today in Nigeria. Anything happening today was there before, but what have we done about it? There are other movements in the country, and what are we doing about them? We have to nip them in the bud.
 
I will always say that government at every level should not be afraid to dialogue with groups of people to find out what is wrong. I am not saying that government should negotiate, they should dialogue. But government should not dialogue out of fear. When you dialogue with groups and discover what the problem is, you take charge of it. You don’t allow such a problem to get out of hand. Once you allow it to get out of hand it becomes war and you start creating no-go areas, ungovernable space or rivalry with the government. That’s why we have what we have today.
 
Recently, Governor Nasir el-Rufai came under heavy criticism for saying that, to avoid reprisals, his administration was negotiating compensation for Fulani herdsmen who lost their cattle to attacks. The governor reportedly said he was acting on the recommendation of the security committee, which you headed. What informed such a controversial recommendation?
 
I have heard such rumour; but my report is open. What the committee recommended was for the government to dialogue and compensate all the aggrieved parties, not an aggrieved party. If the Kaduna State government cannot do it alone, it should appeal to the federal government and international organisations for assistance. So, if the government of Kaduna State has paid one group and quoted our report, I feel that is partial. 
 
However, I don’t believe it is true. But if it is true, it is not our recommendation. Also, we said in our report that you cannot take away problems in the new dispensation of things, with the social media and mobile phones in people’s hands. You cannot say that one area is creating problems. For example, we found out and reported that the crisis that led to the killings in 2011 did not start from Southern Kaduna. Records are there to prove that. It was when indigenes of Southern Kaduna started receiving phone calls from their brothers and crying over the phones that emotions and perceptions were whipped and we got to the level we got to. So, if there is going to be dialogue it should include everybody. If there is going to be compensation it should also include everybody. 
 
Our report even went further to say that in the interim, government can talk about grazing reserves, but in the long run, ranching is the solution to the problem. We should bear in mind that because cattle are increasing, the owners of the cattle are also increasing. In the same vein, farmers are increasing and the quest for farmlands is increasing. But the land itself is constant, it does not increase. And if you want to have a proper mechanised and profitable farming, you need a land of over 100,000 hectares. Everybody is trying to use the land; hence we cannot continue to graze from place to place.
 
Look at South Africa and Zimbabwe; they have more cattle than what we have here. But they don’t have problems because they are now ranching. But this cannot happen now. We understood that in our committee findings and recommended that it should be a long term project so that government can start sensitizing people about the way forward through ranching. And with today’s sophistication, how can we dismiss the fact that some people will carry arms as they move about? 
 
I want to say with all sincerity that there was no place in our report where we said that government should dialogue and compensate the herdsmen only. I don’t know if the government is saying that it has started following our recommendation and the first phase is to start with the herdsmen before coming to the other people.
 
You retired from active service eight years ago, how have you been adjusting to life in retirement?
 
I want to thank the Almighty God. Adjustment has never been a problem for me because I have been a very lucky person. Apart from those who became heads of state, I think in the upper part of northern Nigeria, I am the first person who wore every rank, from second lieutenant to a four-star general. I thank God that I have been basically physically and emotionally well. I am working very hard to become spiritually well. I am also thankful to the government and people of Nigeria for educating and giving me the privilege to hold all the offices I held. I was privileged to be a deputy force commander in a UN peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone. I am happy that I was part of the group that got the Sierra Leone issues resolved. 
 
They have been having elections till today. I am also proud and grateful to have served at the United Nations headquarters as their deputy military adviser. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to head the army in my country. That is what anybody who joins the army prays for. To crown it up I was able to head the armed forces: the army, air force and navy as chief of defence staff. I thank God that when we created the first hybrid force in the world, that is the AU and UN force working together, I was the first commander of that group. That also exposed me to so many other things. That is why I am able to adjust very easily in my retirement life. 
 
Frankly speaking, I have hardly had time to rest. This is because I have been called upon by the UN, AU and other organisations to serve as mentor and presenter for leadership courses for those who will serve in the UN and AU as peacekeepers and pacemakers. 
 
As I speak to you today, the African Leadership Centre of the Kings College, London, has appointed me as a visiting professor.  I go there to discuss about leadership in Africa, peace building and peacemaking. That is where we learnt that the world should stop focusing on conflict resolution but peace resolution. As long as we focus on peace, peace does not go with guns and bombs, but conflict goes with guns and bombs. Few companies and organisations have invited me. I am also a director in some boards and organisations. I thank God that my hands are full. 
 
In retirement you are still busy. Do you have the time to pursue other passions? 
 
Unfortunately, two passions I had in the past have been left unfulfilled because of other engagements after retirement. I remember Isha Sesay of the CNN asking the same question when she interviewed me in 2009, just before my retirement. She asked what I would do after leaving the peacekeeping force as commander in Darfur and going into retirement. I said I would go to my farm. I love rearing chickens and cattle. I said I could get my animals to obey me even if human beings did not obey me while in service. She laughed and said I would not be allowed to remain in the farm. The truth is that I wanted to go to the farm. I had acquired a land for that purpose, but I never had the time because people and organisations keep demanding for my time and services. And I believe you should share your experiences and let people build on what you have. Because of that, I have really not been able to have that passion fulfilled.
 
My second passion is to pursue and pay the debt I owe humanity. I believe I owe humanity a lot. I remember that was the promise I made to President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan when I met him last before leaving Sudan as a force commander in Darfur. He said he hoped I would write my experiences, and I said I would. But I have not written my experiences. I have not even written a biography or commissioned someone to do an autobiography for me. But I think I owe the society and people the duty to tell my own story - what I understand and what I have been able to achieve, by the grace of God - so that they can build on it. People should also be given the opportunity to criticise me and find a better way of doing things. Those are the two things I have not been able to achieve, and I hope that God, in his infinite mercy, would allow me to accomplish them before I move to the next world.
 
Are you considering a political career as has been the trend among retired generals?
 
 A documentary was run on me in 2009 when I was leaving the Army. The reporter asked a similar question and I told him I had no interest in an elective office. But again, you can’t rule out everything in life because the world itself is very dynamic, so many things can happen to change you. I cannot rule out the possibility completely. Let’s be honest, I may not want it, but if my people insist that it is me they want to do the job, I can’t run away. 
 
But on my own, I have not got that thought. I thank God for pushing me up to the zenith of the career he gave me. I learnt a lot of things and I will be willing to use them for the development of humanity. Honestly, what I said in 2009 still stands. I am not interested in politics at the level of running to the Senate, but I can help those in the Senate. I can discuss with them and share my experiences. But if at the end the people want me to execute and exercise my experiences, then I would have no option. 
 
Do you have any regrets? 
 
In my career, there were some things I wish I had done differently. But that will be left for history. By the grace of God, I will come up with my memoirs, and I pray they would come out very clearly.  
 
There are a lot of high points in my career. That I participated in peacekeeping was one of them. This is so because I had always wished to be part of peacekeeping. Funny enough, I never took part in peacekeeping until I became a major-general. That is very rare. I had lost hope, then I found myself in Sierra Leone as a deputy force commander. And God knows I contributed my quota with all sense of humility to what happened in Sierra Leone at the time. I introduced what is called hotspot disarmament; and that fast-tracked the peace process in that country. 
 
Another high point was becoming the Chief of Army Staff. I was very grateful to God for taking me to that level in my career. With all sense of humility and sincerity, I came up with the programme of transformation of the Nigerian Army. I was the first person to talk about such transformation. In 2004, I told them that the way we would fight would be different. I said the Army should be prepared to go to the battlefield. And I put the nucleus before I left; some were followed and some were not. That’s why I said I had regrets. I feel I didn’t sell the programme out properly. If I had sold it out properly, people would have bought it. I did my best.  
 
Check a paper I wrote in the National Defence College, then known as National War College. I wrote on “Irregular Forces Defeating Regular Forces:  A Lesson for Nigeria.” That was in 1994 when I was a student in the college. In 2004, I said the battlefield and the training of officers and men would change. People can say we have a lot of people to join the army, but how about the training? It takes years to make a pure professional. There are evidences; all we need to do is to study them properly. We know some of them but we sweep them under the carpet. Until we bring them from under the carpet and address them squarely, we will remain where we are. If we don’t, they will pursue us and we will keep running away from them. This is because the security forces can always give you a stable environment; that is all. To keep the peace and move the peace is the job of political leadership, not military leadership. 
 
*Photo Caption - General Martin Luther Agwai (rtd)