Global Reportes Vienna
Written by Isa Sa’idu, Kaduna
Professor Ango Abdullahi, a Septuagenarian, is a former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, a former minister and the present spokesman of the Arewa Citizens Action for Change (ACAC), a group of northern elders. In this interview with Sunday Trust he x-rayed the problems facing the north - especially security challenges - their causes and proffered possible way out. Excerpts:What is your reaction to the recent bombings in Kaduna and Zaria as well as the heavy face-off that broke out in Damaturu, Yobe State between soldiers and gunmen?
As usual, it is an unfortunate situation that the security challenges in the country, particularly as we see them here in the north, are becoming more complex and more difficult and escalating rather than abating. This is the context that one can define the present situation, especially what happened in Zaria and Kaduna. May be one would say it is not totally unexpected because no progress has been made over the past few months in terms of what steps the government should take to bring this matter under control. Most recommendations from individuals or groups pleaded with government to take all necessary steps to engage in dialogue with this group. Most responsible public opinion and advice given to government are saying that government must take all measures by engaging this group in dialogue, which may eventually lead to the deflation of the violence.
What happened in Zaria and Kaduna is part of the larger crisis that we have here in the north; rather than what we used to have as isolated conflicts in Kaduna. Before the advent of Boko Haram, we had experienced crisis in Kaduna in various shapes and forms on the basis of ethno-religious disagreement.
One would like to make further observation that the reprisal attacks that were carried out were targeted on people of Kaduna while the bombings might have been carried out by the people who are not from Kaduna State. Then, why should the people of Kaduna State take the pain of reprisals. As we heard and saw, the reprisal attacks that took place in Kaduna, particularly at Gonin Gora, have taken us back to what we used to have before the advent of Boko Haram because they have localised something that is much bigger issue. If we are talking of security challenges that affect the whole country or the northern part of the country, people should try to understand it along that line rather than trying to isolate or localise it to their particular areas because this was what the reprisal attacks showed. That somebody in Kaduna for a reason of religion or any reason planted that bomb and that the people of Kaduna living close to that area should take the brunt.
This is unfortunate because rather than help calm nerves, this is likely going to irritate a lot of people and this is why, perhaps, Kaduna is still jittery today.
How do you see a statement credited to Boko Haram that these recent attacks in Kaduna, Zaria and Damaturu were reaction to government support for Christians at the expense of Muslims?
Well, Boko Haram has always made it clear that it is a religious sect with objective of bringing about Islamic rule in Nigeria or in some parts of it. They have said so. Though, I have not read the statement where they said the attacks were reaction to favourable treatment for Christians but all I know is that they had said that they were unfairly treated by the government vis-a-vis similar groups in the country. Therefore, their target is to attack government or government agencies or installations. This is the way I understand their stand, anyway.
Though, there are many allegations that a lot of these bombings were not carried out by the Boko Haram agents; that they are carried out by different people. In the course of various arrests that have been made after those attacks, a number of non-Muslims and even non-northerners were caught either by the people or the security agents. May be the accusation is why is governments not making pronouncement about the people they caught who are not Muslims or agents of Boko Haram but make so much noise on Boko Haram because it is an Islamic organisation. This is what, perhaps, they are trying to say.
One of the objectives of your group is to address this issue of Boko Haram and other challenges facing the North; are you making any progress in that regard?
In our submissions to the President, we showed concern about security challenges in the North, which are of three types; ethno-religious, which is the type we are seeing in Kaduna now, farmer-herdsman conflict, which is taking place in various parts of the North and indeed the Boko Haram itself. So, we commented on all these aspects of insecurity in our write up to Mr President and under each case, we tried to make specific recommendations in terms of how to go about abating them or reducing them to barest minimum. We made so many recommendations on all these three areas.
On the Boko Haram, nobody can tell you specifically who is Boko Haram. Despite the difficulty in identifying who is Boko Haram in the society, there have been other efforts through the people who the leadership of Boko Haram felt they can trust in bringing about dialogue with government. I think the first one that I know is the efforts of Dr Datti Ahmed. I think they gave him a mandate to engage in discussions with government under certain conditions and these conditions were breached and that was why Dr Datti withdrew from participating. Despite the fact that the government said they still wanted to pursue the dialogue and what we saw later was press statement on the papers and electronic media of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi being an intermediary between government and Boko Haram. But before we know it, the Boko Haram disclaimed the Sheikh that at no time had they instructed Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi to speak with government on their behalf, saying that may be he was speaking for another group not Boko Haram.
So, that is where we are. All we could say to government is that they should not relent in finding all the avenues in reaching out to this group and genuinely engage them in discussion that would lead to an end of this problem.
We also made other observations particularly on the activities of the JTF, specifically in some north-eastern states and especially Yobe and Borno. We drew the attention of government on the atrocities being perpetrated by the men of JTF in Maiduguri and other places in northeast, which did not measure in terms of their peacekeeping but rather measured with war being waged against people whom they cannot identity. They only feel that this is the breeding ground of Boko Haram, so, everyone is guilty. This certainly cannot promote trust and cooperation between the JTF and the community which they are supposed to assist. We also pointed out the various human rights abuses carried out by the men of the JTF and this have been recorded not only by the locals but by some international agencies based on the data they collected from hospitals and other places.
Did you receive any response from the government in regards to your submissions?
No, we did not, though they said our group would be invited for further discussions based on our submissions but up till now we did not hear from them.
Does this mean that the government is not willing to listen or is it nonchalance towards the issue?
No, I don’t think so. My interpretation of it is that since we submitted our report, a lot of things we have said in the report are being addressed. For example, we said that part of the problem is the failure of both state and federal governments to implement reports of panel of inquiries, judicial or administrative. Therefore, we suggested that the government should go back to these reports and see how their recommendations could help them understand what is going on then take measures to mitigate them. So, this White Paper of federal government, even if it is coincidental, has considered some of the things we asked government to do.
Being the federal government at the centre of the problems facing the North and the country, what do you think it should do that it has not done before?
Yes, the primary purpose of any government is to ensure peace in the territory under its jurisdiction. That is why it has all the necessary apparatus or agencies to ensure this territorial integrity, peace and security. If despite these, we have security challenges, it must be concluded that either the government agencies are not sufficient or the government agencies are not adequate. In this case, I think they are both because there are inadequate materials and manpower and there is under utilisation of various assets that the government had to use to ensure peace and security.
So, can we say that the government is weak as it cannot perform its primary responsibility?
Well, it is up to people to judge whether it is weakness on the part of the government or structural weakness or nonchalance or combination of all these. It is not me but people generally should be able to assess whether this failure has to do with the incompetence of the government or has to do with other factors. But most people would argue that the government is not competent and that is why it is not able to be on top of the situation. Competence here doesn’t necessary mean force. Competence means measures, various types of measures that the government can take in a proactive way to solve the problems. It is not the number of tanks, guns or policemen. There are so many ways of dealing with crisis situations but the greatest failure of government, in my view, is not being able to bring all stakeholders together because a country is more than a government. The country is a people and their interactions both with themselves and the government. You need the cooperation of these stakeholders to be able to achieve whatever direction that you want to go.
I gave an example of the problems the JTF is facing because the people see them as hostile to them and they are not ready to cooperate with them, which they vitally require for the success of the operations.
We made these observations in our submissions to the government that they should bring in all the stakeholders at the community; religious, tradition, political leadership and so on, to be able to have a total understanding of where we are and where we want to go. Without these, they cannot in isolation be able to get to the roots of these difficult problems.
Do you see President Jonathan’s trip to Brazil in the midst of these security problems as part of the nonchalance on issues at hand?
Well, this has happened many times in Nigeria. While Presidents of other countries cut short their critical meetings to attend to crucial local issues, in Nigeria they left crucial local problems for meetings abroad that they don’t have any impact to make. In countries where leadership is tied to trust and confidence of the people, this cannot happen. I don’t see somebody with this kind of crisis in his hands leaving his country to attend a meeting where he hardly has any role or input to make. Nigeria is a watcher in this kind of conferences because about 140 countries were attending, about 15,000 delegates were attending and so on. Nigeria, as far as we know, is nowhere near the influential countries of the world that take major decisions. We go there as observers or we go there on holidays.
The federal government White Paper recommended that politicians who formed militia groups as political thugs should be investigated, how do you think this can be achieved?
Well, it is a fair observation. Most of these governors before and during elections recruited what we call ‘Yan banga in this part of the country and these ‘Yan banga were given all sorts of names depending on the state. You always find these groups formed by politicians either as body guards or as aggressive groups to intimidate or terrorise opponents to either rig or win elections, as the case may be. So, this has been happening for a long time in this country and it is all over. If there are such groups in Borno, Yobe and Bauchi, I would not be surprised.
My reservation, however, is to say that it is ‘Yan Kalare, for example, that metamorphosed into Boko Haram, I doubt very much. They may find recruits from these militia groups.
Investigating the politicians forming militia groups is fair enough because it would help us stop violence during or after elections. It is possible to bring such politicians to order if rule of law should be adhered to. If there is a uniform application of rule of law, a lot of offences, including politically motivated offences, would be reduced. But in our situation there is hardly application of the rule of law.
The governors are supposed to be the custodians of the law but they are breaching the law in many respects not only through militia groups but even using legitimate security agencies against the society because they use the police to rig elections and in the course of rigging elections. They still use the police to kill innocent people. These are offences that are punishable and are not limited to one or two governors; it is all over the country. Political thuggery is there, the application of extra judicial decisions, including killing of people, is very pervasive, particularly at federal and state levels.
During the Obasanjo era, so many politicians were killed. They were not killed in Borno, Bauchi or Maiduguri. The Dekibos and co were all killed in the Niger Delta. The Bola Iges were all assassinated but where are the results of the investigations? There is this failure on the general application of the rule of law and this is why you are having people committing crimes with impunity at various levels; from the high to the low.
So, this investigations would not bring us to any meaningful positions unless there is general application of the rule of law on all Nigerians irrespective of the position they occupy. Take for example the level of corruption that is going on in the country, especially from 1999 to date. How many people are now in jail because they stole N10m, N100 million or N200 million or several billions? Take for example the case of the former governor of Delta State. In Nigeria, they were pretending that they had charged him to court on over 170 charges but all were dropped but he was convicted on a few, including the ones that were dropped here. So, you can see that there is a wide gap between pronouncing the existence of the rule of law and its actual application in terms of sanctions and punishment. Today in Nigeria there are so many offenders in offices and there are so many criminals moving freely. If you see any conviction today in Nigeria it is somebody who has stolen a goat not somebody who has broken into our treasury.
I don’t know whether you would agree with the view that Northern elders are only good in talking or drafting strategic positions but they are not good in taking concrete practical steps in addressing the problems of the region?
Yes, I agree absolutely. I am even writing on this subject now. The North must accept a large measure of blames for what is happening to it today at the political, social and economic fronts. For one major reason, Northerners in the position of responsibility since the demise of our founding fathers have continued to slide backwards in terms of honest and purposeful leadership, which our parents have given us in the old Northern region.
We are very good in conferences, seminars and so on where we call the names of our past leaders, the Sardaunas, Aminu Kanos, Tafawa Balewas, Tarkas and the rest of them but their honest leadership in the North, which brought us to position of respect all over the country have all disappeared. We are now more of talkers than actors and this I agree completely and until we change this attitude, our fortunes in the Nigerian arrangement would continue to elude us till God knows to what level in the years to come.
Do you have an insight on how this present situation of talking can be changed into action?
Well, it has to be by a deliberate decision of people. It is not some ghosts that would come to change the situation. We are good at meetings; we are good at articulating problems but we are not good at implementing these articulated decisions or recommendations or suggestions. When it comes to implementation of decisions, this is where our failure comes.
The blame is at both federal and lower levels, including the local governments. What I am saying is the north if leadership is concerned about the problem facing the region on the political, social and economic fronts and so on; then a lot of things that are on ground today would not be happening because the rate of corruption that is taking place, the resources of the country that were judiciously used by our founding fathers are now being wasted. For me a lot of these blames should be dumped at the door steps of Northerners who have found themselves in the positions of responsibilities at the federal, state and local government levels and they have failed to address the urgent needs of the people they represent.
Are you saying that the people of the North should rise up and say no to their leaders?
The people of the North are at various steps. The people of the North should know that they have problems and largely they appreciate that there are problems. The people of the North should identify their leaders and ask them questions as to why they have these problems, which the leaders cannot address.
If they get satisfactory answer, then of course they have got satisfactory answer but where they fail to get satisfactory answers as to why the problems were not addressed, the next question they ask their leader is what they are doing about the problems to bring a change in the region’s situation. They must explain how they would address the problems. When they fail to do so, of course, the people should query leaders on why they have failed. Then of course the people should decide on the punitive measures they should take against their leaders.
This may take rejecting them in election, preferably, because this is the only tool that is readily available to disengage bad leaders. There is another measure that is worse than this if the leaders fail to accept defeat in elections; then you end up with a situation where people would challenge the leaders directly like the famous quotation of the famous American President went; if you resist peaceful change, then you cannot avoid violent change. For me, these are some of the manifestations that are on ground now. Therefore, the leaders of the region have to really come together to address the problems that are facing the region.
It is obvious that the problems facing the North have led to the collapse of the region’s economy; do you foresee any negative consequences as a result of this?
What evidence do you want than what we have now? I have said that this insecurity we are experiencing is political rather than religious. There is again relationship between poverty and insecurity. Assuming there is no Boko Haram, Poverty alone can push people to commit crime. Poverty is precursor to many social ills. So, if for any reason this region is allowed to get poorer than what it is now, the consequence would be insecurity in various forms, whether it is robbery, kidnapping and so on.
This poverty has been brought about by abandoning of government’s major responsibilities. If you take the North for example, the major preoccupation of a Northerner in economic terms is agriculture. Ninety percent of Northerners and their livelihood are from agriculture but what is it being done to agriculture today by the federal or by the state governments to promote it as it was the case in my days. It was Northern farmer that built this country through his cotton, groundnut, ginger, soybeans, hide and skin and so on. I went to school free of charge. Zaria Native Authority, equivalent to present local governments, gave me free education from primary to university through earnings from agriculture, export, taxes and so on.
When the oil came, Northerners decided to abandon agriculture and were waiting to be allocated with oil revenue. Unfortunately, the oil revenue does not trickle down to the ordinary person. They were stolen in the name of subsidy and so on. It is very simple to find out why the North is poorer than it was.
Leadership, unfortunately, refused to address the core areas where Northern people live and die. In other words, agriculture as their first economic activity was neglected. Now, they cannot produce for a number of reasons.
So, they get poorer and fill the cities. When they come to the cities there is no employment and they are not educated and even those that are educated in the cities cannot find jobs. The industries, mostly agro-allied industries built by our parents because of our raw materials, were allowed to collapse because of the policies of government that sidelined agriculture. The policies were oppressive to agriculture. This is why I cannot see any new policies that can change the North, socially and economically until two particular areas are seriously addressed; education and agriculture.
Instead of Northerners to involve themselves in crimes because of harsh policies of government that make them poorer; don’t you think it is better if they can come together and force their leaders to reverse those policies?
In my view, Northerners have voiced out only that their votes were rigged. They voted against the party that brought so many problems to this country from 1999 to date but their votes didn’t count and the security agents are there to kill them or put them in prison or detention camps for trying to resist the oppressions of the rulers. They can only bring change through ballot or the kind of violence that is unfolding now. Northerners are being forced to come together either on negative or positive ways through these oppressive policies that make them poor daily.
For example, if the youths of Zaria decide to come together to farm; our soils now require fertilizers and the government makes no provision for fertilizers and there is no industry to produce fertilizers. Even if there are fertilizers, where would they get money to buy fertilizers since there are no credit facilities. The exits to sell their produce, like the marketing boards, at a good price are no more. For this, there is very little left for Northerners to do than either to group themselves to change the situation through the ballot box or to change the situation through other means than the ballot box.
But since the leaders always denied the votes of Northerners to count; don’t you think Northerners can only bring change through the other means?
This is the reason for post election violence. People tempted to think that post election violence started in 2011, this is absolute nonsense. Post election violence started in 1964 in Western Nigeria. Those of us associated with NPC working or studying in Lagos could travel from Victoria Island to the Airport without being stopped and set on fire. In 1983, Shagari’s government was toppled because of rigging. NPN wanted to rig Ondo State where Omoboriyo was rigged into office against the popular candidate fielded by UPN, which was the beginning of crisis in Ondo State, which eventually brought down the government of Shagari. Post election violence is a reaction by voters who feel they have been denied their decision to vote for a particular candidate or party.
Therefore, only God knows what would happen in 2015 if the election is rigged?
Only God knows; your guess is as good as mine.
Are the Northern governors doing enough to address the problems facing the region?
No, they are not. In fact, in my view not the view of my group, the Northern governors have been part of our problems. First of all, these governors were responsible for North being denied the presidency in 2011. It was the time for the North to produce the President based on the zoning agreement. The PDP’s constitution, which I was privileged to be participant in drafting, made Obasanjo to spend eight years; then under that agreement, the North should spend eight years. Of course, Umaru, after a bitter struggle with Obasanjo who wanted to continue, came on board. But when Umaru died, naturally the Vice President would take over. Common sense and due process governing the party’s constitution says that he should stop in 2011 for the North to carry on. We might not have achieved eight years but we might have five and a half or six years, as the case may be. Unfortunately, Obasanjo and Jonathan said they didn’t know about zoning; then it was clear that these people were dishonest.
What was expected then was for the Northern governors to insist that it is the turn of the North. But they went ahead to defeat the candidate of the North either within their own party or outside their party. The governors, politically, were largely responsible for the situation that the North found itself and of course, the policies that are emerging now and even since Obasanjo’s time have been anti-north. At their Northern governors forum they don’t seem to be coming up with policies for the development of the region. As members of National Economic Council, where the Vice President who is from the North chairs, they don’t challenge all these economic decisions that are anti-north; from budget to policies of trade, banking and finance. Take example the 25 mega banks; only half of one of the banks are owned by Northerners but the governors are there; in fact they were the ones who killed the Bank of the North. So, they were part of the problem, particularly in recent past, from 1999 to date.
One of the contending issues in Nigeria now is the issue of Islamising or Christianising Nigeria. Do you think it is possible to Islamise or Christianise Nigeria?
This is absolute rubbish. I attended three constitutional conferences; 1987, 1994 and 2005. There is no way if you want to keep the present Nigeria that you can have an official religion like Iran has and other countries. If you look at their situation it is substantially different from what we have in Nigeria. So, there is no way that one particular religion would be adopted as an official religion. This is why the constitution is clear that Nigeria is a multi-religious country and every religion should be accorded the space it requires for its adherents to exercise their religious freedom and rights. There is no way anybody can Islamise or Christianise Nigeria.
The patterns that you have seen, which rather than promote inter religious harmony, are seem to be pulling the religions. For example, the Shari’ah; Shari’ah is not binding on non-Muslims as it is everywhere. Even Muslims are not forced to go to an Alkali court let alone a non Muslim. So, it is mischief that is killing us. Take the example of Aregbesola where even official reports of the SSS said the governor is trying to Islamise his state, how ridiculous? I am glad that the paramount ruler of Oyo has written to the government saying that they should not mess them up because they have been living peacefully as Yorubas, irrespective of religion. They wanted to use the same tactics they used on the North by creating divisions on religion basis and they succeeded in weakening our political base in the North with tactics but the Yorubas are saying no.