A Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Accra, Prof Akinyemi Onigbinde, speaks with MUDIAGA AFFE on security challenges in Nigeria and a need to change the style of governance to achieve the best result, among other issues
Nigeria is today faced with myriads of problems ranging from insecurity to corruption, economic, religious intolerance, among others. How did we get to where we are?
It was cumulative because we cannot pin it to one administration or the other. But what I know is that Nigeria has never been properly governed in the real sense of governance. What we have had in terms of leadership were people who simply thought more of themselves without putting all their best in service. Whether during the military or civilian administration, we have those who see coming into power as a kind of adventure. So, it is all complex issues. Therefore, we cannot reduce it to a simple causal factor. It is multi-faceted but I had come to a kind of conclusion over time that Nigeria is like a huge party that you benefit when you know who is in charge of serving the food and drinks. In the same party where you are, while you are already taking the dessert some had yet to be served because they do not know who is in charge of the food and drinks. A nation is driven by a common strategic objective, but a situation where we do not have a consensus; we could trace it to the foundation of the country. We just found ourselves together and people agreed that we had been yoked with people that we do not have anything in common. There is, therefore, a clash of civilisation among the people that are supposed to be part of Nigeria.
So, invariably are you saying that our foundation was not well-laid?
It was not. To make use of the word ‘laid’ is to think that there was a kind of architectural plan after a survey. In the case of Nigeria, there was no survey, no architectural plan and nobody did any pegging and the rest of. People simply just went to a supposed site and started laying blocks without doing a foundation. If you recall why the then Southern and Northern protectorates were brought together, you will discover that it was simply for the administrative convenience of the British. The very incursion into the territory that makes up Nigeria was a mercantile thing. It was not as if we had anything in common. The goal was simply to make money and when it was no longer feasible they merged people.
But over the years, have there been attempts by our leaders to ensure that we embrace each other?
There had been a clash of civilization. Take the Niger-Delta region for instance. They hardly have people speaking with one voice simply because there was no prior discussion with them whether they wanted to be with one another. You agree to stay together based on certain strategic objectives. In their estimation that they had to be together, they agreed on a federal system of government which was manageable to the extent that the regions were self-accounting. You had the natural resources in your domain, all you needed to do was to tap it, but pay 50 per cent royalty to the Federal Government, and it is not shared back to the region. In terms of governance, the regions were in charge of local government and policing. There were healthy competitions and I think we would have been able to do much better given the regional nature and parliamentary system of government which was less costly.
So, do you think the deviation from the regional government structure is partly responsible for our current challenges?
It is, and unfortunately, those who now have the handle of the sword and have skewed so many things in their favour, and have ignored the federal structure by getting most of the resources to their part through irrational creation of local government areas, are resisting it. Regionalism and parliamentary system of government would have catapulted this country to some level where we would not be having this kind of narrative that we have today. As great as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was, he just only needed to win in Ikene to get into the parliament. Nobody needed to win so many states across the country because he wants to the President. In regionalism, you can enjoy economies of scale. For me, I think the only way to save this country is to restructure because we cannot keep on going like this. Imagine, a former of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, we were once sitting together when his security adviser came to tell him that they had removed the police commissioner in his state. The Inspector-General of Police did not even bother to inform him before he carried out that action. Again, I was also with him in 2010 when the Hausa/Fulani drivers blocked the Lagos-Ibadan expressway at the Ogere axis and he received a call directly from the then President, Umaru Yar’Adua asking him to leave them alone. It is that bad. We were all in this country when the Police removed Chris Ngige as governor of Anambra State, if not for the timely intervention of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. So, it is a huge joke and we just have to find another way to run this country.
The issue of insecurity has assumed a damning dimension in the country. Do you think the Federal Government is tackling it the right way?
Is there any security architecture that the Federal is actually following? I do not want to engage in a conspiracy theory. Before President Muhammadu Buhari came into power, things were not as they should be, but Buhari had a different notion of what the country would be like. You can take a trajectory of that if you can put in contest all he has been saying since he left power as a military Head of State. First, Buhari sees himself as a Fulani man and he has to do a lot of things to protect his Fulani people and he has Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna State Governor) to be part of it. It was in this country when a governor said that they went to be people who came to sack a town to stop killing them and that we now have a Fulani man as in place- they had to pay compensation. It is also in this country that people were being killed and we had a President who said that we should find a way to cooperate with your fellow man. It was also in this country where a President is giving so-called amnesty to terrorists and we have somewhere we are also being told of visa-on-arrival. Do not let us deceive ourselves, the whole thing is not meant for every African because the question you will ask is how many Africans are interested in coming to Nigeria. As a Senior Research Fellow, go to the universities you will find out that foreigners (Africans) are not coming for research here. We are the ones going out.
So, in your view what is the importance of the visa-on-arrival policy?
It is simply to get these Fulani people into the country. Which other Africans are entering Nigeria other than the Fulani? This is to create an easy entrance for those who cause problems for the country. Take the issue of the RUGA policy, if not because it was stepped down due to uproar, it would become a federal project. It does not require serious intelligence to know that this thing is there for an agenda. It is like the whole country has been opened to Fulani immigrants. Anybody who says he cannot see that in the Buhari’s governance template should return to the elementary school of Social Science 101.
As a way to assuage the rising wave of terrorist attacks the Federal Government recently initiated amnesty for Boko Haram terrorists, do you think it will work?
(cuts)…laughs. This question is laughable because the truth is that, Buhari sees these people as his people. How can you grant amnesty to people who have not even surrendered? These are people who have not accepted any form of negotiation and have been busy killing, raping and kidnapping your people and you say you grant them amnesty? It does not make any sense. Someone once compared this amnesty to the one granted the Niger Delta militants, no, they are two completely different scenarios. The Niger Delta arms struggle started as a kind of revolution that resulted from marginalisation which started a long while ago. They felt there was marginalisation, oil spillage, selling of oil blocs and so on without much care. Yes, the Niger Delta militants degenerated to the level of kidnapping and collection of ransom mainly from the European or other foreign nationals working in the region because they felt they were working for the Federal Government. They were not attacking any individual, they were not also attacking the military, and their shooting was more of the defensive and not about claiming territories. The then President, Umaru Yar’Adua felt that they held the economy of the Federal Government to a standstill that was why he called for negotiation and through some of the governors these people came to lay down their arms and they were granted amnesty. But how can anybody compare that with Boko Haram that came out with an agenda that they do not believe in the country but a territory where western education would not be practiced and in the name of fighting for that they would come to rape the people, kill, attack churches and everywhere without any plan to negotiate. When Buhari called for negotiation they said they were not ready and you are granting amnesty to them. It has become the case of the arrest today and released tomorrow.
Some of the so-called repentant Boko Haram terrorists were recently freed. Do you think this action will reduce the attacks?
It is a way of telling those who have been fighting that their efforts meant nothing. When you capture them, while you may not want to kill them, you might as well quarantine them in some places because it sometimes takes over 10 years to de-radicalise people. It does not make sense to say they have repented when the war is ongoing. How do you justify the repentance when you have those who were displaced from their homes and scattered all over the IDP camps in the North-West still struggling to survive, whereas you are making life more comfortable for those who were the cause of their tragedy? What kind of tragedy is that?
The ISWAP and other terrorist groups have been alleged to be working actively with the Boko Haram group. Do you think it is okay for Nigeria to seek external aid in terms of intervention?
Regrettably, those around us who help to keep our borders safe also share the same ideological inclination with the internal brooding thing. I still believe that while you may seek intelligence support from maybe the United States of America or European countries, you can see that they are fundamentally opposed to this Islamisation agenda and for that reason, we would need to be careful of the kind of help we are seeking. I also want to believe that with enough dedication and encouragement for our military, Boko Haram is not insurmountable. The military is not deploying maximum power. There is still something missing. Remember when a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen Azubuike Ihejirika (retd.) was moving forcefully against Boko Haram, they said it was an attack on the North. The late National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi, during ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s era knew what was happening. The truth is that we are yet to identify the enemies and the first law of revolutionary struggle is to identify the enemies. If you do not take care of the enemies from within, you can never win any revolutionary war. Nigeria needs to tackle those within that are aiding these people. They need local intelligence and sometimes if you need to wipe out a whole place to secure your environment you might do that to save humanity.
In terms of policing, how well is the central structure that we currently have in Nigeria helping us?
Policing is a local issue in every other part of the world. The universities abroad, for instance, have their policing system. Under the existing security system in Nigeria, policemen are not allowed to come on campus to make an arrest, but people do not know. They can only invite a suspect on campus after they have sought the approval of the Registrar. Those who are insisting on central control of police are using it to their advantage and I believe that the current federal police is even privatised. It has become a political weapon for those who have access to federal power. So, when people sometimes say the states are not matured enough to handle their police force I ask them to tell me if the so-called federal police are not Nigerians. Until we have states and local police, forget it, we cannot get it right.
So, are you saying the approach being taken by the South-West governors in the name of Amotekun is apt?
Amotekun as a concept has been long overdue. The Nigeria Police cannot police the vast territory of the hinterland because they do not go inside the bushes. About three years ago, the Ooni of Ife told me that there were no fewer than 3,000 herdsmen settlements in Ife bushes. No policeman will go there. So, Amotekun has been long overdue and I think that the shock to the Federal Government was that they never expected the South-West to come to that proposal in unity. They (Federal Government) were likely thinking that they (South-West governors) might be divided along party lines but when they saw it was even their federally-controlled party that was in majority and they had only one opposition, they bowed to that pressure.
Do you think it should be replicated in other regions to help tackle insecurity?
It should be, but I fear that I do not know if they can come together like the Yoruba who speak in one voice when they are faced with a common enemy. The Yoruba people can identify a common problem and line up behind it.
Do you think there are things our leaders are not doing right?
Today, the country is like a huge party. It is like we have common resources to share, there is no political class. Apart from what is beneficial to the politicians in power, show me one common agenda that they are pursuing. No matter what you say about Republicans and Democrats trying to control the White House, they are all agreed that America must not be exposed to foreign influence. We do not have that and we cannot have that (since) we do not have any country. Where is our educational plan? How can you explain a country where someone in Edo State will score 250 and will not be admitted into a unity school and someone from Zamfara will score 120 and will be admitted, it does not make sense. A government will sign an agreement with a union and will refuse to implement it year-in-year-out and have our colleges being shut down and nobody cares because they have their children in private schools and abroad. Go to our hospitals and see how valueless our lives have become in the hands of our leaders.
What lessons have we learnt since the emergence of the Fourth Republic and what areas do you think we would need to strengthen?
Our governance template has become one huge battlefield for the man with the biggest army. Therefore, the so-called political offices have become a theatre of investments to make money. That is why you will see someone today in party ‘A’ and if he does not get a ticket he switches to party ‘B’ just to be able to access the commonwealth. Tell me if someone spends about N2bn getting into power, would you say he is there for you or me? He is surely pursuing his agenda and until there is a way we can dismantle party offices and make it less attractive. If we want to maintain a bicameral legislature at the centre, I do not think why it has to be a full-time job because the civil servants are there to do the necessary administrative work. We may not be able to merge the states again because many of them are not viable, but I think we merge them into a region where the states will become administrative centres and we can reduce the bureaucracy to release necessary funds for infrastructure. We need to drastically reduce the cost of governance and change the architecture where politics will not be the next place to go. Today, you see someone without a school certificate who becomes a councillor and builds a block of flats. We have not learnt act of governance, we have only shifted investment base to the political arena. You cannot become governor, especially in the South-West these days without having N2bn to flush because the moment you announce yourself as an aspirant you will start spending money on people whose problems automatically become your responsibility. Look at the cost of election, it is by having a private army to out rig the other candidate, nobody plans to sell any agenda. That is why when a governor has been declared the winner after some tussle, the whole of the assembly members in that state change to the new party in power. Recall when President Shehu Shagari invited Obafemi Awolowo to the so-called national government in 1979, some of us who were privileged to witness the elders and after they had all talked, the substantial majority rejected the offer to join the national government and Awolowo told them that if they had accepted he would have ceased to be their leader. He said if we accept, which policies are we to pursue there. He said we had our four cardinal programmes which included free education, integrated health services, rural development, and food employment, but the party that is inviting us did not believe in free education, so, what would we be doing? We had ideologically backward states where nobody has any fundamentals in terms of pursuing governance. All we have is a 10-point agenda and seven-point agenda to the extent that you will have the same party in three different states that are not running the same programmes. It was not like that under the Second Republic. What was in Ondo, Oyo, and Ogun states at that time was what was happening in Lagos State because there was ideologically based party manifesto. So, there is absolutely nothing to take away from this Fourth Republic other than the fact that politics has become monetised and commercialised and this political power has become a source of wealth.
What is the solution?
The first way is the first principle of restructuring the country. Do not let us deceive ourselves, the country is running on extra time and whether we like it or not, something will give because we cannot continue like this. When the states become federating units, you now know that your governor is responsible for this and that. It is even an insult to our people when they say the Federal Government gives bailout to states. What the Federal Government is simply doing is to steal the regional resources and hand it back to the states as if they are doing them favour. Where is the oil coming from, is it at the centre? When we restructure, we can then talk about reducing the cost of governance. When we do that, we can now begin to see clearly what else is to be done. Again, get policing back to the states. People tell me the state government will use the police, I said it is not bad because we can have a balance of terror. Is the Federal Government not using the Police to attack its political opponents in other states?