Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe believes the lingering security challenges across the country could cease if the country is restructured in such a way that dependence on the centre is drastically reduced. In this interview with AZIMAZI MOMOH JIMOH in Abuja, he said the resort to regional security outfits is a vote of no confidence in the current central security network.
What do you think is responsible for the lingering insecurity in the country and how can it be best addressed?
I guess any Nigerian that is not very worried about the spate of insecurity and the very dangerous dimensions it is taking today, is not patriotic. We are very worried. In fact, we, the Southeast caucus in the National Assembly, met recently to look at the issues.
The reason we are this worried is because we had earlier been raising concerns about the matter of insecurity at the point it was even largely in the Northeast. We shouted and said this was going to spread if not rooted out quickly; we said it was in the interest of the country to quickly address it.
Just like cancer, it has metamorphosed; it has grown and has moved from the Northeast to the Northwest, devastated part of the North Central, crept into the Southwest and it is creeping into the Southeast and we have heard the agitation from the South-South.
We are seeing a situation where every part of Nigeria is under turmoil and there is no way you can have development and growth in those types of situations. What is the point doing a road from Abuja to Kaduna and nobody is going to be using it, as everybody will be using the train to avoid being kidnapped on the road or being killed?x
So, we have this very serious problem and we continue to put our thoughts across to the governments, that they should up their game, because it is obvious that the security forces are falling short of the standard we are expecting them to operate.
There is this notion that the security forces are beleaguered, this and that. What do we do? Do we just give up? If we give up, we would have bandits across the country and there will no longer be a country.
I read an article the other day, titled, ‘The road to Somalia,’ where you have sections of a country being controlled by armed bandits with the leader at the centre; it means there is no central government anymore. How can we degenerate to this level? When we were pointing out that where we were going would lead us to a very bad place and we were shouted down and the government engaged in all kinds of propaganda and continually placed the blame on the previous government and we knew that a time would come when there would be no more blame to shift.
On the floor of the Senate, I said those who live by propaganda will have to suffer the consequences of it, and the chicken has come home to roost now.
What specifically do you think can be done?
So, part of this big problem that you see today is nothing but an affirmation of the fears we already expressed, for which we were all being seriously harassed and all that. Be that as it may, what is more important today is how do we deal with this situation? How do we tackle this very serious problem? For you to tackle the problem, you start from the source.
What I mean by starting from the source is this the former acting chairman of PDP, Kawu Baraje, had made a revelation during his 70th birthday, where he said people were imported into this country to help remove the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan and that at the point when it was happening, they also warned those who were doing that that what there were doing may have consequences that they may not be able to handle.
So, we had an influx of all manners of people into this country today and because of the fact that those in authority today were the ones that brought them in, they didn’t have the moral courage to dislodge them out of the country. It has just continued and it has grown just like cancer.
The governor of Zamfara State has given some statistics, where he said the bandits are up to 35,000. Some countries don’t even have an army of up to 35,000 people and these are the so-called bandits operating in major areas around the northwest. What about those in the northeast? What about those in the Southwest?x
Things are getting bad because the government itself has politicised security and turned around to blame it on you. We have seen the consequences of that decision; wrong decision and wrong analysis of the problem, and the problem is multifaceted.
The issue of the allegation made by Baraje is something that ought to push stakeholders to put pressure on the Federal Government to institute a commission of inquiry.
Are you surprised that most of these civil society organisations (CSOs) and the legislature have not done enough?
I think everybody is doing what they want to do; I think what we have seen is a situation where people have become indifferent. We have a culture of indifference and impunity by the government, and that is the reason you don’t see people coming to talk about it, to demand that we should enquire into it.
Is it that it is not true? We have not seen anyone coming out to say what this man said is not true, which means elements in this government are part of it. That is what has brought us to where we are today and that is very disheartening.
We are in a crisis situation. In several parts of the country, you cannot go to the farm. In the food basket of the country, which is the Middle Belt, there is a concerted effort to take over their lands and wipe them out. So, we see these and we all know this and the Federal Government continues to turn a blind eye to ongoing problems within and around us. There is just this blind assumption that things will get better. Things won’t get better on their own; you must be the one to make them better.
We also read reports from somewhere in the Northwest, Zamfara or Katsina, that people are made to pay to the so-called bandits to go to their farms. If you are a farmer and you have to pay to go to the farm, the alternative is to leave that place. We even hear that at a point, they had to pay to go and harvest their crops. How can a normal person live that way?
So, we are going to be having food crises, we are going to be having balance of payment pressures on us, because we have to import food and do so many things. We did not envisage as a country that we would be in such dire straight; we are really in very difficult situation.x
Some people have argued that if the structure of Nigeria is revisited in such a way that more security powers are given to the states, so that governors who are now ordinary chief security officers are given more teeth to bite, it would solve the problem. Do you reason along that line and do you see the possibility of such happening in the constitution amendment process?
I think ultimately, what we need is beyond just the security; it is a restructuring of our polity in a wholesome manner to reduce the dependence on the centre and give each constituents part of this country the ability to be able to actually determine their own fate in certain ways. I think that will help. That is part of what you see from the Niger Delta, Middle Belt, from the Afenifere’s side, from the Ohanaeze side and from all these groupings. They have only one consistent narrative, which is that the structure we are operating at the moment is not a structure that will guarantee the survival of this country, and therefore needs to be looked into.
Whoever that is benefitting from this flawed situation finds it very difficult to change and will resist it, but it is an inevitability that will also eventually meet all of us. It is just inevitable. We cannot continue this way, running this type of lop-sided system we are operating at the moment, a system where merit is accorded very low preference. There is no way it can work. It is not a structure that will guarantee the survival of this country and therefore needs to be revisited.
All you continue to have is a boiling pot with the cover that will continue to an extent that the whole steam will blow up the cover. What patriots do is, when you do your analysis, you see that where we are going is not a very viable place, and you make corrections. That is what normally happens. I think we should just continue to call for a little bit more patriotism from those who are running this country.
People have described the resort to regional security outfits as a way of voicing out frustrations that may not really work at the end of the day. Do you share this view?
No, I don’t! I think at the end of the day, one of the very basic laws of nature is self-help. You see, government at its very ordinary meaning is that you donate part of your own self-status of a human being to an entity called government that should have a monopoly of violence. But when you now have non-state actors holding sway and the government is seemingly incapable of stemming such tide, resort to self-help will always be axiomatic. People would always want to do that; that is what you are seeing.
In fact, what I see is, not that it is not going to work, I see it more like a vote of no confidence in the central security network and architecture that we have. If you are the chief executive, what you need to now do is go back to the drawing board and see how to resolve this type of vote of no confidence?
Your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be at a crossroad regarding zoning the presidency to any part of the country ahead of 2023. The last time, the ticket was given to the North, so some people are agitating that it should be the turn of the South, while others argue that the issue of zoning should not even be part of the consideration. What’s your take on this?
In a democracy, everybody has a right to hold opinions. I do not believe that my party, the PDP, will wittingly shoot itself in the foot. All that is going on today is that there is a concerted effort by the failed All Progressives Congress (APC) people to push the PDP into taking a decision on that issue, so that they can see how to repair the tattered image they already have.
What is the policy of APC? If you ask, they will tell you, ‘oh, there is no zoning in constitution.’ What does that mean? If there is no zoning in their constitution, why did they have a vice president that is from the South? They should have put everything in the North then and go to do an election. We heard their caretaker committee has also postponed their convention to a later time, just waiting for PDP. So, you don’t play to what your opposition wants you to do. I believe that at the appropriate time, the PDP will do what is in the best interest of Nigeria, and that is also to make sure that all these factors are taken into proper consideration.
In the report that was done by the Bala Muhammed Committee, there was also a recognition within that report that two zones in Nigeria- the Southeast and the Northeast- have also not been able to take a shot at the presidency, which means it has also recognised the deficiencies. But then, when all those things are taken into consideration and the considerations are done, which must and will be done, as the time gets nearer.
People that are interest will go around and meet up, then it will be very clear to everybody. But what I know is this that PDP will take what is in the best interest of Nigeria, giving where we are today with the government of APC. You could see that the government we have presently has lost it.
Another serious issue on ground is the economy and the rising cost of living. Where do you think we can go from here?
There is a concept in economics that talks about a situation where people live in continuous poverty. We are now in continual poverty, continual decline in all the economic indices. If we continue with the policy that we are operating today and combined with a very serious insecurity, these would naturally lead us downward more than we can imagine.
It needs people who understand economics and we are saying that in the midst of all these, incredible corruption is going on. On the floor of the Senate, we continue to get all those reports every time. Not only do you need people that can manage insecurity, you also need economic managers and so the question has always been, what is the government doing to put people to work.
What the government has been doing is to take the easy way out, and that is this ‘Trader Money,’ under which they give people N5000, N10000. Of course, what the person does immediately is to take care of his immediate needs. If his immediate need is food, he buys food; if it is medicine, he buys medicine. So, it doesn’t even help them.
The essential thing is that somebody must be able to create something. You must be able to generate wealth in some way from the little to the very large. Until that is done, until people are put to work, what else do you expect everybody else to do?x
We see a situation where somebody comes out of school and there is no job to do. I got one very pathetic one and the person says, ‘12 years out of school, I have not been able to do anything and I have parents who struggled to put me through school still having to carry me.’ Do you understand? It is so pathetic everywhere. You will not produce what you don’t have.
So, if you have poor economic sense as a person, you will also not understand. If you have not been able to have a business where you can meet payroll, how will you be able to know what people go through? You will owe them because you don’t know about it. I think at the end of the day, our situation continue to look very bleak and the only way is when this present crop of our country managers are voted out of office and people who understand how to run an economy come in to make sure they can repair the damage that has been done.
Do you see that happening?
I think we have given the APC enough rope to hang themselves and the entire country knows; they can no longer pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.
Do you see that in the face of the loopholes we have in our electoral system?
Well, the Electoral Act is being looked at now; I do not see why it cannot happen. We are also looking at the election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). They are all upping their stakes. From the elections that have been held since the House of Representatives election in Nasarawa, all the way down to the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, you can see that there is serious improvement in the electoral management.
So, I think there is that possibility that the area that has been sacked by Boko Haram, without people living there, will still bring you one million votes. You know that cannot be legitimate votes.x