Elder statesman and Chairman of the Northern Elders’ Forum, Prof Ango Abdullahi, who is also a former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, tells OLALEYE ALUKO about the worsening state of insecurity in the North, the zoning and power rotation arrangement between the North and South, among other issues.
The Presidency has blamed some traditional rulers for the worsening state of insecurity especially banditry in the North, do you agree with that assertion?
Are traditional rulers in charge of Nigeria’s soldiers, police and other security agencies? Why are monarchs being accused of not being able to stop banditry and other security problems? It is just a clear indication of the failure which I referred to in the statement I issued some days ago. For a long time now, we have been calling them out so that the masses will realise that this is a failed government; and we didn’t hide it before now. We said so and we gave reasons why we talked and insisted that this (Muhammadu) Buhari’s government did not worth re-electing. But Nigerians re-elected it and, as such, I don’t see why they should be complaining now. So I don’t know what the problem is. They (the government) have to find scapegoats. They have to find people to blame for failing to do their work. If you look at the constitution, traditional rulers are not meant to be in charge of our security. Are they? We know those who the chief security officers are and what instruments they have in their hands. Traditional rulers are not listed as officers under the constitution of this country. They can probably be asked for advice; and even on that, it is only on matters bordering on traditional issues. In my statement on Sunday, my points were very straightforward and I think there is no doubt.
Do you think state governors from other regions of the country should also set up a regional or community policing outfit like the Amotekun in the South-West?
If you read the law, state governors are loosely referred to as the chief security officers of their states. If you go into the nitty-gritty of who actually does security works, won’t you refer to the police and the army? The Police Commissioner in a state will not take instruction from the governor without referring to the Inspector-General of Police. So, it is really not the state governor that is effectively in charge of security matters in the state. Therefore, it is still the Police High Command that is responsible. As far as I am concerned, it is a loose talk to say that somebody is in charge of security – whether at the state or local government levels – when he is really not in command or in charge of the security apparatus in the state. On it (Amotekun), what have they (the governors) done? This is something that is always pronounced on paper. But we know that when the chips are down, those who are officially supposed to handle insecurity are the police. In fact, what perhaps they (the governors) are saying is that they are willing to assist the security agencies operating in their states in as many ways as possible. But they cannot with the current situation take over the duties of the army, police and so on. No, they cannot. It will just lead to more complications in the way things are being run in this country.
President Buhari is from the North-West where insecurity is currently on the rise, have you sought an audience with him on this issue of rising banditry and related killings?
Buhari is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; he is not the President of Daura; he is not the President of Katsina State. He is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with all the state security apparatus directly under his command. So, where he comes from is totally irrelevant to the discussion. The responsibility to secure every citizen from every part of the country rests on him. So, the question of the sentiments of his birthplace and so on does not arise at all. And in fact, if it had gone the other way, it would show he paid special attention to the areas of his birthplace. Why should you pay particular attention to your areas instead of every part of Nigeria that you are supposed to be presiding over? So all these excuses and arguments are not what the public should be paying attention to. The President is supposed to take advice from every Nigerian. He is supposed to listen to Nigerians. The fact that you are in Lagos does not mean you cannot give advice on Daura or on the North. Every Nigerian has the right or privilege of giving advice on matters relating to the Nigerian state. I think what is happening now, on the contrary, is an indication that the system is breaking down, if it has not already broken down.
Some persons have suggested that governors of the states affected by banditry should engage in dialogue with the bandits. Do you think bandits are persons of reason that can be brought to a negotiation table?
Doesn’t that offend our collective sensibility? This means that the government has been overwhelmed by criminals. And this is to the extent that a governor or somebody else in that position will call criminals to a conference in terms of ensuring security, and with conditions given to him by these criminals? Thus, this is a confirmation that things are already out of control. Where do you find it in the world? Where? Where do you see a state calling criminals to a conference or a dialogue? And they are giving you conditions that you are accepting. This then means that you have given up on your responsibilities to secure your areas.
The military are currently conducting several land and air bombardments in the North. Do you think previous and current military operations in these crisis areas have achieved anything?
Well, I don’t know because I am not in the military and they do not report to me; so I don’t know. But the government itself said it had defeated the Boko Haram terrorists. You journalists are supposed to be taking them up on this. You are supposed to put them on their toes. They claimed that they had defeated the Boko Haram and secured the areas that were formerly under the control of insurgents.
Do you think there is any problem with our present military architecture that it appears they cannot tackle insecurity?
I don’t need to answer that question at all. What we have on the ground is that we have security forces and they have responsibilities for our security and for the country. You don’t need Ango Abdullahi for you to conclude whether they are ineffective or not. You should be able to judge whether they have been effective or not. You should be able to judge whether their claims are correct or not. If the government say, “yes”, the country is secure; then why are we having all these security problems everywhere now? So, it is up to you to conclude based on your investigations. In my statement, I noted that the masses are angry and fed up. Already, there are protests in some parts of the country and what we are saying is that the protests should be as peaceful as possible, in as much as the people have a right to protest.
In July 2019, NEF made a call to Fulani herdsmen to return home with their cattle because they were not safe in the southern part of the country. Have they started returning or have you changed your stance?
Our advice to them was conditional. When there was so much noise in the areas where they were operating with many notable indigenes calling on them to quit, we asked them to appeal to the leadership of these areas that they wanted to live in peace in the communities. We also told them that if this became impossible, rather than stay and engage in conflicts, they should move to areas where they felt relatively safe. You should remember that the reaction of the government then was that who was I to advise the Fulani to move from one part of the country to another one. But we know that Nigerians should be at peace wherever they are. Whenever the Igbo’s movement from the North to their region was being debated, we were reminded that Nigerians should earn their livelihoods wherever they are. So we thought that the Fulani should be able to earn their livelihoods from every part of Nigeria. But I think the matter has been laid to rest since last year.
Aside from banditry, there seems to be a resurgence of the Boko Haram violence in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states; do you think the government has lost this war?
This is something that you should be reporting on. You should be the one to tell me.
The Presidency has hit back at NEF and at your person, saying you are a general without soldiers and that you have no credible membership or hold on the North; how do you react to this?
Yes, the government has described me as a general without troops. I replied them on Monday that Ango Abdullahi indeed has millions of Nigerians as his troops; Nigerians who acknowledge that this government has failed to secure the country. The Federal Government is in charge of the security apparatus of this country. I have no apparatus but from what Nigerians are saying in the newspapers, radio and everywhere, there is a total failure in terms of security in this country. Incidentally, the general who is supposed to be commanding the country’s armed troops must have been the one who failed – not Ango Abdullahi. This is the least of the responsibility that we can offer to the Nigerian people. We see and say things the way they are and this is what we have been doing at NEF in the past 10 years that we have been in existence; we don’t engage in sycophancy or praise-singing. If somebody is contending with what we are saying, then he should come out with counter-facts so that we can argue in the public space.
The Presidency also claimed that Nigerians could see how the government was tackling insecurity; do you think there is anything wrong with their method?
If there is security, why are Nigerians complaining about insecurity? If we are complaining about banditry, killings, and burning of villages by unknown gunmen, then there is insecurity. And this was why I issued the statement on this topic last week. Last week’s statement was not the first one which the media man in Aso Rock (Femi Adesina) would be responding to that Ango Abdulllahi is a general without troops. Millions of Nigerians acknowledge already that the country is suffering from insecurity. I am sure he (Adesina) will also think of the general who has troops and controls the nation’s security apparatus and yet we (citizens) are insecure. We are saying there is insecurity in the country and this is the consensus among Nigerians. Many Nigerians believe that Nigeria is insecure. It is not about Ango Abdullahi.
What is your take on the recent shooting incident in Aso Villa following a disagreement between some presidential aides and the Aide-de-Camp to the First Lady, Aisha Buhari?
Believe me, I just heard this from you. Unfortunately, this may not sound fair but I don’t watch Nigerian televisions. I get African and Nigerian news from other sources.
What signals are there for Nigeria if the President appears not to have a good grasp of his family affairs?
You can extrapolate that, it is not for me to extrapolate. I am only concerned about the official level of operation in our Presidency. I don’t want to get involved in family affairs.
There are insinuations that Buhari is not in charge of his government and unnamed members of a cabal are calling the shot. What would you say about this?
Well, I don’t know whether we have had a new election since 2019. All I know is that Buhari is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He took his oath of office on May 29, 2019. And I don’t know who else is in charge of Nigeria except Buhari. So, the buck stops on his table and I don’t want excuses at all. I don’t accept excuses.
Most of the political parties believe in zoning and power rotation. Going by this arrangement, another region is expected to produce the next President by 2023? Do you agree with this arrangement?
No! I was part of it in 1998 and 1999; but now I don’t believe in it again. I don’t believe in it and I say that Nigerians should find the best material that will run the country for them, irrespective of whether he is Ijaw, Hausa, Kanuri, Efik or whatever. This is my new thinking now. I think we have tried this zoning and it appears that it has failed. It has created more problems for us. I gave an interview recently where I said that there were some changes we have to make and be looking out for. Of course, this (zoning) is political, it is not even constitutional.
We should move away from the presidential system of government to parliamentary system. This is because the presidential system that we have tried for almost 40 years now has not worked; the parliamentary system was adopted for only five years and we abandoned it without any reason. We didn’t give any reason why it was less efficient or less effective than the presidential system that we now run. Presidential system is too expensive for a poor country and this is responsible for the corruption, incompetence and lack of accountability in Nigeria. So, let us go back to parliamentary system of government. I am one of those who would vote for a parliamentary system of government in a referendum, if there is a referendum tomorrow for a change of system from presidential to parliamentary.
Some people believe Nigeria cannot make progress with its current structure and that it needs to restructure, but it is also believed that the North doesn’t want it. Why is the North opposed to it?
What is restructuring? You have to give me the content of the restructuring with the details of the restructuring the country requires. Is it the political system it operates vis-à-vis the system it operated before independence or after independence? And for me, this country really was working before independence with the regions. The regions were virtually independent. Each region had a constitution – northern, southern and western; this is the region we inherited from the British and we used it for only four or five years. For me, if we had kept these regional structures (because they were working for us), we would have been better. The Western Region was doing very well with free education without oil money. The Northern and Eastern regions had their trades too. But now, we have got into what you called presidential system of government and you have billions coming from petroleum. But where are the services, schools, universities, health services and security despite the billions of dollars coming in from the oil sector? So, what I am saying is that the basic structure you want to change is the basis for restructuring. And this is it – go back to the parliamentary system and you will see a lot of differences between this present system which is unaccountable, full of indiscipline and corruption. But the government does not want to change – each governor thinks he should be a governor forever in his state. We can be five regions but the structures will be working better-schools, amenities, hospitals, and other places will be working well. So, we need to go back to that political structure because the political structure we have now (the presidential system of government) is not working. And the simple challenge we have for everyone who is talking about restructuring is that we need to have a referendum and make a decision to return. This is where we should go. We should not waste time talking about an imaginary restructuring.