Says Northern governors have failed their people
Nnamdi Kanu a thorn in the flesh of the Igbo; My worries for them
Disagrees with Obsanjo on Islamisation agenda, says he legalised the Sharia
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Senator Roland Owie, former Chief Whip of the Senate,came into the saddle in 1999 to represent Edo South constituency of Edo State, Nigeria at the start of the Nigerian Fourth Republic. In this encounter, he answers questions on the security issues in Nigeria, but disagrees that President Buhari has Islamisation and Fulanisation agenda. Rather, he thinks the President’s state, Katsina State is more under the bondage of bandits and kidnappers than other states and blames lack of compassion on the part of state governors and the federal government for the menace of bandits and general insecurity across Nigeria.He spoke in Benin City.
Nigeria seems overwhelmed by the quantum of insecurity it has been confronting. There have been killings, kidnappings, banditry, herdsmen menace. What is wrong?
What you are seeing today is a build-up of irresponsible governance at the state level for years. If you look at the north, nine local governments in Katsina have been taken over by bandits. A number of people from Katsina are now moving to Niger Republic to buy houses and these kidnappers are from Katsina, they are not foreigners. The governor of Katsina is in trouble. What is happening there is a pile-up of mis-governance over the years. I went to school in the north and these youths are largely uneducated. That is why I said its many years of failure of government that caused it. If you go to the north, these kidnappings are happening largely in Katsina, Kaduna, Niger states, Borno, Yobe and these are the main areas and if you look at it, the governments of these states in the past twenty years have been highly ineffective and they refused to develop their people. So, the people have taken to banditry as a way of life. As I talk to you, most of the governors of these states are resident in Abuja or outside the country
In Borno, Boko Haram has taken over two local government areas and these Boko Haram insurgents are not foreigners. Most of them are indigenes of the state. So, the state governments over the years have done nothing for 20 years to improve the lot of the people. There’s so much poverty. You find a man with four wives or more and thirty-children and when they go to bed by 7pm, the fathers and the wives don’t give a damn where their children are, whereas, as old as you are today, your parents and other relations still call you to find out where you are and what is happening to you. It is not so with many in the north. People are in the streets. The north is paying the price of neglecting proper upbringing and education of their children.
In Benin, Edo State around the Catheral, you see beggars from the north with babies in their hands. So, its poor governance by governors that is causing the problem.
Then, when you look at what is happening in the south, the kidnappings you see in the south are mostly done by the herdsmen and some local miscreants. And here, in the south east, south south, south west, you will see the youths, even graduates willing to take to doing menial jobs to survive which doesn’t happen in the north. The youth in the south struggle more because they are more educated.
So, the kidnappings you see in the south east, south south, south west are mostly by herdsmen combined by miscreants in the system who kidnap and these miscreants kidnap and blame the herdsmen. Again, not all the herdsmen kidnap. But I tell you, we from the south have educated our people and they have learnt to survive.
Another thing that is worrisome is what our governors do with security votes. You’d find a state governor that collects N500 million or more as security votes every month and these governors will sit down in their homes, watch television in the evening; they would see a man or woman needing N5million to go to India or Saudi Arabia for treatment but they do nothing to help. They will switch off their television and go to sleep and I tell you, hell is waiting for them. If the N500 million security vote is well used, it can be used to employ and pay a lot of unemployed youths every month. So, what I’m telling you is that the governors are to be blamed for kidnappings in the states. Look at Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa, you can see that these kidnappings are not rampant in these states, like in Niger, Kaduna, Yobe and other places I mentioned earlier. Unless the governors change their attitude, these kidnappings would not abate.
In the south, the kind of kidnappings used to be militants kidnapping oil workers, or political thugs kidnapping opponents of politicians but nowadays, kidnappings are across board. They kidnap both the poor and the rich for ransom, they kidnap innocent travellers and take them inside the bush and the trend is spreading. What will you attribute the current trend to?
Do you know the kidnappings that were done in the Niger Delta, immediately this good president that never lasted, that is Shehu Musa Yar’Ádua came on board, he brought peace to that area and our people downed their weapons. Then our own son came as president. That is Goodluck Jonathan. Do you know that as we are talking today, the East-West Road is not completed. It was abandoned. If this road had been completed, the whole south west, south east and south south would have been enjoying it. It’s been twenty years of civilian administration and nobody is talking about that road and then, we had our son that became president for 6½ years. And immediately he became president, he was surrounded by sycophants. The only real person he had was the Late Oronto Douglas and E.K. Clark who was outside. The rest were sycophants looking for what to eat. Look at what is happening in NDDC. It would just award contracts and the contractors would abandon the contracts after collecting the money. There is no single project by the NDDC in the south south that is completed today. They are permanently abandoned. Will you blame that president for the ineffectiveness of NDDC?
Many people think that changing the security chiefs could resolve the problem of insecurity. What do you think?
The truth is that Mr. President is not making himself available to the people. The service chiefs have people on the ground working for them. But has Mr. President tried to find out what these people on the ground are going through? Has he been able to find out why the morale of the troops on the ground is very low? The other day, two solders were arrested in a vehicle with N400 million. It was reported and today, nobody hears about it. Is the money meant for the welfare of these soldiers being used for it? The truth is that security chiefs are not in tune with their people downstairs. Are they paying the allowances of these young soldiers? They have young families they left at home and even as they are on the ground fighting, the families need their attention and when you are not paying them, do you expect them to be dedicated in their services to the nation? The truth is that when a man is in charge of the affairs of a state, he needs to have another method of monitoring the monitor. The president must have a way of reaching out to the men in the field. If he was doing that, things wouldn’t be the way they are. Or why is it that for over twelve years, we have been fighting Boko Haram and have not been able to defeat them? Instead, they are getting stronger and capturing more local governments in Borno State. The morale of the soldiers on ground is very low. They are the ones that die and the President is not being told the truth about what is going on. And the President should at least have his own intelligence on what is happening on the ground, because out there, nothing is happening. The fight against Boko Haram is not total. It is not what it should be. The poor boys are there. Their morale is gone because many of their colleagues are dead and they are not being motivated through welfare, intelligence and superior equipment. They are lacking in these areas and the President doesn’t know.
Former President Obasanjo accused President Buhari of Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda. Do you think he’s right?
Until I passed through Katsina recently, I would have perhaps agreed with Obasanjo but after being in Katsina, that is the President’s state, I know otherwise. Or is Buhari trying to Islamise Katsina? There is no peace in Katsina. Let me tell you, the insurgency in Katsina State is worse than in any other state in the north. Can you imagine what is happening in Zamfara? That one is a total failure of governance. A governor of a state should have compassion but what these governors lack is compassion. And if Mr. President doesn’t have compassion and those around him don’t care, then, there will be problem. That is why what we see all over is chaos and Katsina where the president comes from is more in chaos than any other northern state.
The governors in some states in the north just went there to play and so, their states are reaping what they sowed. How can you bear hundreds of children and not train them? Jonathan came and established almajiri schools but the schools were jettisoned. There are drug abuses all over the north and these are part of the problems Nigeria is battling today.
All these bandits we talk about are under influence. Now, a northern governor recently met with bandits terrorising his state and in a few days, another will go into the bush to meet with the bandits. Now, why are they not arresting them? They know their parents, they know where they are and they know who they are. Mr. President the other day said the military should go after them but nobody is arresting these people. They are doing nothing and that means there is an ulterior motive. The governors are now meeting with bandits and negotiating with them instead of arresting them.
There were allegations that repentant insurgents and bandits were conscripted into the army and the police. Is that true?
Really, I can’t speak on that because I don’t have evidence. I heard that too but could not confirm it. Lets talk about the governors knowing the bandits but doing nothing about them. The Katsina State governor met with bandits but did not arrest them, rather he negotiated with them and snapped photos with them and they are giving conditions to stop doing what they are doing. That means that kidnappers and bandits are the ones in charge in the north.
Do you perceive a conflict between the constitution and the Sharia law as alleged by Association of Christian Elders
I must confess that members of that committee including my uncle Solomon Asemota are very respected. The truth is, it was Obasanjo that legalised Sharia. I was in the Senate then. That was when that former governor Sani Yerima that later came to the Senate went and married a 13-year-old girl. There is so much sycophancy going on. I met one of them in the senate then consuming 14 bottles of Stout and when I asked him about Sharia, he said, my brother, na we, we. That was hypocrisy. So, the truth is that Obasanjo allowed the Sharia.
Now, my take on what the Christian leaders wrote about Sharia and the constitutions running pari-pasu is not completely as it seems. We have customary laws and customary courts in the south. You cannot take me to a court that I am not under its jurisdiction. For instance, when I was in ABU, some of our students were arrested and when they took them to a Sharia court, they said they were Christians and they were transferred to another court. At least, those courts run pari-pasu. As they have customary courts in the South, so also they have Sharia courts in the north.
Look at Katsina, nine local governments have been taken over by bandits. What we are seeing generally is a failure of governance. And those surrounding the President are lying to him, they are not telling him the truth.
You equated the Sharia with customary law, but here, we have the CJN and key legal institutions being dominated by Sharia lawyers. Does that pose any danger to the secular legal system in Nigeria?
These judges have been in the system and have been in the courts and rose through the ranks. At least, let the Nigeria Bar Association explain this to Nigerians. The CJN was not a carpenter or cattle-rearer just brought from outside. He was in the system and if we now say he doesn’t have the necessary qualifications, let the NBA explain that to us. They shouldn’t hide their failure. I’m a professional teacher. Nobody can just come in from outside to head the Nigerian Union of Teachers. A cattle rearer cannot head a union of professional teachers if he had not been a teacher. Law is a legal profession and NBA should be able to explain to Nigerians if indeed the constitution is running parallel with the Sharia. They should tell us how the CJN rose to become what he became.
Across ethnic groups, there are groups of elders. The Igbo have Ohanaeze, the Yoruba have Afenifere and there is Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in the South-South. Why haven’t these groups gone to meet the President on the issue of insecurity and offer some advice?
I am a very senior member of PANDEF and as soon as Mr. President came aboard, we met with him at the Villa and we gave him a fifteen-point agenda that will help curtail insurgency and militancy in the South South. I was in that delegation. He was happy. But I can tell you as at today that none of the points we raised in the 15-point agenda has been implemented. There is a joint meeting between PANDEF, Afenifere, Middle-Belt and others. But when you see that a number of our elders are purchasable, it weakens you. Look at Kogi State. Nigerians are aware that for 47 months, salaries have not been paid because the governor is not doing well. Kogi has the same boundary with Edo and we know that nothing is happening there. And not too long ago, I saw traditional rulers from Kogi at the Villa, talking on behalf of Bello. I shook my head. In Benin Kingdom in those days, such traditional rulers would have been shot. You can see why most of them are sell-outs. They represent their pockets and money. And you can see what has happened . The governor was nominated for a second term in in office. It happens here in Benin too. Some politicians would come around the market to campaign and the women will chase them away but when it was time for election, these same women will be collecting N500 recharge cards and be voting for them. Some will be collecting N1,000 and be voting for them. If the people of Kogi allow a man who is owing them 47 months salary to come back and rule them, then, they shouldn’t complain.
Bad governance is pushing the people to the streets. There is a new awakening, a kind of revolution and people taking laws into their hands. Politicians are now being harassed publicly and on social media. See what they did to Ekweremadu
The truth is that there are a lot of idle people who always follow the band-wagon without being informed. You find youths in Nigeria today collecting money to even demonstrate against their fathers and mothers. We knew that Ekweremadu was one of those that fought for the bail of Nnamdi Kanu and for Ekweremadu to be disgraced is like disgracing the entire Igbo nation. There is no state in Nigeria today that you will not find the Igbos. After the indigenous people, the second in number is the Igbo. My worries for Igbos is that when it is time for them to go and register for voters cards, they rarely do so and they rarely get their PVCs. They will pursue money so much that they don’t care which government is controlling them. They are independent and hard-working and hardly deceive people; if you do business with them, you won’t regret but when it comes to governance, they are not getting it right and there are these young ones that have become fraudsters. I tell you, the Igbos are the Jews of this nation. This Nnamdi Kanu, its unfortunate that he has become the thorn in flesh of the Igbos in Nigeria but certainly, judgement will come very soon because you can’t sell your tribe for your personal benefit. Which work is he doing? Is he working? Is he lecturing or is he a driver? What he is doing now is business and he is using IPOB to pursue his private interests.
Recently, the issue of war started resonating and Nigerians started talking about war. Will Nigeria survive another war?
Those who are asking for war have not even seen war. This country Nigeria, by the grace of God, will not see war again. When Sodom and Gomorrah were about to be destroyed, when God was asked if he sees 100 good people, will He destroy the city, He said no; Abraham asked of 50, God said He would not destroy the city. At the end of the day, God could not even see one person that could make Him not to destroy Sodom. What happened was that three years to that time, there was no new born child in Sodom and Gomorrah. In Nigeria, there is no day that at least, 800 new babies were not born and because of them, Nigeria will be saved.
Secondly, those who saw war will never want to see war again. The only unfortunate thing is that there is no year that 90% of Nigeria universities will not record fraud. I’ve been a lecturer and and a Registrar and I can tell you that the Nigerian Students Union is full of fraud. There is hardly any Nigerian students union where financial fraud is not reported. If these ones are the ones we are banking on, then, there will be problems.
Nigeria is getting more divided along ethnic lines. Will Nigeria ever be one again?
It is becoming more obvious now under this administration because of the lopsided nature of appointments. When Shehu Shagari was President of Nigeria, there was no problem, until Buhari came and became Head of State. So, what we are seeing today has to do with Buhari. When IBB came, Nigeria was not divided along ethnic lines. There was peace and unity. When Abdulsalami came, there was peace and unity. Even as terrible as Abacha was, there was no division along ethnic and religious lines. History is even vindicating Abacha now. And when Obasanjo came, there was no division across tribal lines. He built a chapel and a mosque in the Villa.
Yar’Ádua came at the time there was problem in Niger Delta and he brought peace in the area. Jonathan came and there was no problem. It was when this regime came that ethnicity and religiosity became so wide.
Is there peace in Edo State now between the former governor and the current one?
The current governor was empowered and brought in by the former governor, Adams Oshiomhole. So, whatever they have between them is not for anybody to interfere. The man has made his bed the way he wants to lie on it. The ordinary people in Edo know that the former governor supported Godwin Obaseki and he shouldn’t have made the problem he has with Oshiomhole a public matter. They should have resolved it within themselves.
So, have they reconciled now?
I don’t know. I don’t really know. But I see governance is going on and we in Edo are happy and we are watching them and awaiting the dividends of democracy. I heard they have settled and I hope they have settled. It is like an issue of husband and wife. When you put your mouth too much in their matter, the day they will settle, they will use you to settle. So, we are careful and we are praying for them to settle.
How would you advise that the issues of dissent concerning El Zakzaky, IPOB or banditry be settled?
The government should abide by the rule of law because anything outside it is a jungle. How can you proscribe IPOB, an organisation that has not killed one single person and does not carry arms and leave out the dangerous ones and negotiate with them? It is not by mistake that we have the judiciary and the legislature. If they say that ‘A’ is free, he should be freed. If government doesn’t agree, they should go on appeal. But when the court frees someone, that person should be freed. So, let the government obey court rules.
Do you perceive an end to the problem of insecurity in Nigeria?
Part of the ways to curb insecurity in Nigeria is to ensure that local government councils in Nigeria are independent and get their allocations direct from the federal government. In addition, allocation to local government areas from the federal accounts should be increased by 10 percent.
Under Abacha, LGAs in Nigeria were independent and there were a lot of improvements on the economic and living standards of our people. Security issues are at the grassroots and not in the air. The councils can appoint bush guards and local vigilantes at community levels and arm them. The bandits will have no hiding places. But now, what can local government administrations do when governors sit on the councils’ allocations?