North, not liability to Nigeria, we have resources like other regions –Ndume

THE PUNCH Newspaper

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, who is also representing the Borno South Senatorial District, Senator Ali Ndume, speaks with SUNDAY ABORISADE on the state of the nation and the way forward

Three meetings of the National Security Council have been held in the last one month, what is your reaction to this and do you think there is hope for any improvement in the security situation?

This is a good development since the government has now shown seriousness and concern about the deteriorating security situation in the country. We hope that it will bring out result. I strongly believe that the armed forces of Nigeria in collaboration with other security agencies in the country have competent and well-trained personnel that can do the job of providing adequate security in Nigeria.

The only challenge they have is that they don’t have the required equipment, arms and ammunition to work with. Once the government gives the security agencies what they need to do the job, I am very confident that they will do it. We are hopeful that since the President has taken charge of the situation, as the commander-in-chief, by holding meetings personally and directly with the service chiefs and other heads of the security agencies in the country, the situation will improve. In those days, it was a different ball game.

You will hear that service chiefs were holding meetings with the Chief of Staff, or that they were having meetings with the National Security Adviser or the Minister of Defence but now the President has taken full charge because of the seriousness of the problem. I hope we will soon start seeing the results. However, the solution is to equip the security agencies and give them the operational funds they need, in fact, they should be paid upfront. That is to say, what the soldiers need in June for instance, should have been provided in January. This is such that when we are in June, they would have the money for the allowances of the personnel or the troops on the ground.

Sometimes, we go to the field on oversight and we discover that the ration and duty allowances of those that are on ground are not being paid as of when due. That is the truth of the matter. The appropriate agencies of government should ensure timely payment of the soldiers in order to boost their morale.

What is your committee doing to address the constant loss of soldiers during confrontations with Boko Haram insurgents?
About a week ago, a group of Boko Haram insurgents tried to infiltrate Maiduguri main town through the Mulai side but the armed forces responded promptly; they neutralised and repelled the insurgents. Most of the insurgents were killed. Apart from the joint operation of the armed forces, the police also played a very significant role in collaboration with the Civilian JTF. I understand that the Nigeria Air Force personnel were also there on time. If this type of responses and reactions by the armed forces are sustained, definitely, the insurgents, although very stubborn, would have a rethink when planning an attack. They will know that if they attempt to come in, they will not go out alive. I commend the gallant display of our soldiers, police and the Civilian JTF so far despite the delay in the payment of their allowances. What we are doing as a committee is to talk to the appropriate authorities to do the needful as and when due. We are also appealing to Nigerians to always support our armed forces because security is everybody’s business.

We could support them morally in order to lift their morale. We should encourage our citizens who are sacrificing their lives to defend the country from insurgents. Our youths are still out there, desirous of being enrolled into the Nigerian armed forces and other security agencies as well as paramilitary agencies. However, how many of them wish to be posted to Sambisa Forest to fight the Boko Haram terrorists and get paid just N500,000 as salary in a month?

So, you can imagine! The boys on the ground at the war front are paid less than that and they are still there doing their jobs. So, we really need to appreciate and encourage them. During the just concluded Eid-el-Fitr celebrations, I donated 21 cows to the Army in the various formations in my area to enable them to celebrate Sallah. I purposely did this to show them that I and other citizens of like minds appreciate what they are doing and the report I received from all the formations was encouraging. Just one cow to a battalion for instance appears small but they said it was not the size of the gift but the spirit behind the gift.

Even though it was very expensive buying 21 cows at once, I was very happy with what I did. What I see each time I visit the troops is that they are exhibiting the highest level of patriotism. As such, when they complain about their conditions, I feel terribly bad. I am, therefore, surprised that many respected senior citizens, who are beneficiaries of the system across the country, are calling for secession; they do not have the idea of what these young Nigerians are doing to protect our country. The political class especially are sowing the seed of discord.

The soldiers don’t see themselves as Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Kanuri or any other tribes in Nigeria; they see themselves as one Nigeria. When a Yoruba man called Lamidi was to be transferred from Gwoza as the commander, my people protested to me because they believed so much in his ability to ensure their safety from the Boko Haram insurgents. This is somebody he would spend his own money to buy education materials to teach children in his battalion.

The Brigade Commander who was earlier transferred is from Katsina State and he stayed in Gwoza for three years. When they transferred him, our people protested also. Right now, the Brigade Commander that is putting his life on the line there is from the eastern part of the country and he is doing his best. But the politicians are busy talking about the Eastern Security Network, the Oduduwa Republic and Amotekun. I meet regularly men from the South-South region in Gwoza who are sacrificing their lives but Nigerians still don’t appreciate them; their dues are not paid, they are not well fed, they are not given the necessary tools yet they are patriotic. We are lucky to have those men on the ground.

What specific advice are you giving the authorities?
The authorities should take security matters seriously. That is it. The President has risen to the occasion but that is not enough. As far as I am concerned, the government should leave everything and concentrate on this problem of insecurity. That means that, even if they are to stop paying us and use the money for security purposes, I don’t mind.

Are you saying that government should stop paying the salaries of National Assembly members and divert the money to take care of the military and other security outfits?

It is not too much to stop paying us if the essence is to use the money to secure Nigeria. I am not talking about the salaries of the politicians alone, but the salaries of everybody. Okay, which do you prefer? Is it your freedom to move around freely without fear or your salary that you will be spending in fear? Won’t you sacrifice your salary to have adequate security? Let us be honest. If you know that you cannot come to this place to conduct this interview safely, won’t you gladly offer to release your salary to enjoy security? Even when there is no security problem, some people are being owed salaries yet they did not stop working. Besides, what work are we even doing now that many people are working from home? The government is still paying people for staying at home. The government should stop paying salaries and address the whole issue of insecurity. If there is no money, stop paying salaries and other allowances and use the money to protect the citizens. The second thing is that if we can borrow money to build railways and other infrastructure, why can’t we borrow to protect the people? If you are sourcing money from somewhere to tackle the COVID- 19 pandemic, why can’t you source money also to fight the insecurity too? Insecurity is dangerous than COVID- 19. Security should be the main priority of the government at the moment.

You are advocating more funding for the military but how about the problem of corruption within the system? There are allegations of monies released to the Army but diverted for other purposes. How is your committee fighting corruption in the Nigerian Army?

Nigerians must fight corruption collectively. The issue of corruption is not only in the Army or within the security agencies alone. It is more elsewhere than even in the two. Once you are caught in the Army, they will court martial you. In the Army, they don’t waste the time. In the police, they will take you to the guardroom and get you disciplined. It is not so in other sectors. The issue of corruption is everywhere and needs to be addressed squarely. There is corruption in the system because it appears it has been legalised; our government failed to enact and domicile the Unexplained Wealth Act whereby you get punished for living above your means. The anti-corruption agencies should seize properties that their owners can’t give account of how they acquired them.

The southern governors met last week in Asaba and came up with some resolutions including restructuring and banning of open grazing as a means of tackling insecurity and other socio-economic challenges confronting Nigeria. What is your reaction to this?

As far as I am concerned, this blame game will not solve the problem. Governors are the chief security officers of their states, so, why are they talking about the President without talking about themselves? The governors are deviating from the matter. The problem is not about open grazing. The problem is insecurity. Don’t combine the two. Most of the security problems confronting Nigeria are not in the forests. That is another phase of the security challenge we have in Nigeria. We have four different types of security challenges. We have insurgency in the North-East, while the Indigenous People of Biafra, through the Eastern Security Network, is causing insecurity in the South East; there is also banditry in the North-West. It is only in the North-Central that we have issues of farmers-herders clashes.
There are fewer problems in the South-West except for the clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and the Yoruba farmers as well as the agitators for the Yoruba nation. Similarly, in the South-South, they are trying to instigate the avengers but the area is peaceful so far. The issue of insecurity is unique to each zone. The police are demoralised because their formations are being attacked indiscriminately and their personnel are being killed, the morale is dead. It is very unfortunate. That is why I said we should leave every other thing and concentrate on security. Every Nigerian has a role to play. We should not concentrate only on the President, we should play our roles too. Until Nigerians consider insecurity as their own, we may not see its end. We should give out information to the appropriate security agencies.

What is your take on the regional approach to tackling insecurity?

It is not the solution because insecurity is not peculiar to a particular region. It is across the country. Insecurity has no colour. If a country is secure, it is secure. You already know what will happen if we ask the governors to be in control of security in their states. Fighting insecurity must be central, we have a central government. If we are saying everybody should go their different ways because we are not of the same tribe, that is a different issue. Those advocating for regional police have not thought of the repercussions. I believe that we should address a common problem jointly and centrally.

What is your take on the issue of restructuring which the governors are also advocating?

I don’t have any problem with the restructuring that they are talking about, whether it is about devolution of power or resource control. It is okay with me. My take on it is that we should make use of the institutions on the ground to address our problems. We have the National Assembly and other institutions in place. I don’t believe that we should bring in strange people to administer the system because they are not elected. Why do we make a noise all the time? Is it because you have access to the media always? You can’t be called a leader simply because you make a noise in the media. Nobody voted for you. If we are talking of restructuring, state police, devolution of power or resource control as the solution to our problems, let us allow the people who were democratically elected to discuss it on behalf of the people they represent.

You cannot take away the power of the National Assembly and appropriate it to yourself because you are not elected. Some of these people talking on the pages of the newspapers don’t even know the road to their villages again. I know quite a number of them that could not win elections. That means his people do not trust him enough to give him power. These are the same people that are talking big. This is because journalists patronise them. I expect journalists to ask the noise makers who they represent before granting them interviews.

So, how do you expect them to play their roles to contribute towards finding solutions to the problems confronting Nigeria?
The opportunity has presented itself for them through the ongoing attempt by the National Assembly to amend the constitution. They should look at the nation’s constitution and look at areas that should be amended and defend their memoranda before the various panels that would be in their neighbourhood across the country on the 26th and 27th of May this year for the zonal public hearing on the review of the constitution. They can present the amendments they want so that they can reflect what the citizens want. People should go to the various centres already chosen for the public hearing and say what they wanted.

They can even call for the scrapping of the Senate and the House of Representatives, they are free. The constitution can be changed through that channel. In order to satisfy some noisemakers in the past who call for a national conference, the government would grant their request, give them accommodation, vehicles and logistics but they will still ask for an extension of time which would be granted. They will write a report but at the end of the day, where is the report? The problem would then be how to place the document legally. There is no way it would be implemented because there is no provision for it in the constitution. So, they are just beating around the bush and refused to address the problem. The National Assembly is there to be asked to do what Nigerians wanted. If they want a brand new constitution, the National Assembly will produce one. The procedure is there.

Is it possible for the National Assembly to produce a brand new constitution?

Of course yes! When you amend everything in the constitution, has it not become brand new? The constitution conference does not limit the number of amendments you could make. You can start the amendment from Section 1 to the end and take it to the states for adoption. Then we have a new constitution.

Many Nigerians still do not think that the ongoing amendment to the constitution will solve the problem of marginalisation. For instance, they believe that the Hausa/Fulani are dominating the political structure while other tribes are crying foul. For instance, the Igbo believe that they have never been president of Nigeria since……

(Cuts in) But you know that is not true. The first President of Nigeria was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Go and read the history of Nigeria. You will discover that if people should be apportioning blames, the Igbo or people from the South-East should be blamed for what is happening now because they played a prominent role in the structure that we have today in Nigeria under the great Zik of Africa, may his soul rest in peace. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was talking about restructuring ab-initio and up till now, the Yoruba are toeing that line. The North was advocating for the unity of Nigeria.

They wanted a united Nigeria. Up till now, the northerners are toeing that line. Let me tell you, everybody will survive even if we restructure Nigeria. For me, and for an average Nigerian, what is the big deal about restructuring? Nothing! When you are talking about people being cheated despite what they are bringing to the table, who is a liability to another? We get what we need in the North from the South. Similarly, the South gets what it needs from the North. That is how we stay. Nobody is a liability to another.
The people of Niger Republic, a country of desert, are surviving, very proudly. In fact, they are more secure than Nigeria these days. This is the same thing with Cameroun. When you talk about oil, 90 per cent of the resources we depend on to survive in Nigeria is coming from the South-South geopolitical zone, yet the people there are not talking about dividing the country. They are also not worried about who is spending the money realised from oil sales. In fact, the South-South people are only crying that the oil derivation accruing to them should be more than the current 13 per cent they are getting.

They have never demanded the restructuring of Nigeria. Yet they are the hens that are laying the golden egg. It is only Ondo State that has an oil producing area in the South-West, and in the South-East, it is only Abia State that has an oil producing area. So, where did you get that idea that the Igbo are being cheated? Even now, oil has been found in other areas of the country now. There is crude oil in Sokoto, the only thing is that its exploitation has not started. In fact, if you go to some places like Zamfara, you don’t need machines to dig the ground before you will start bringing out gold. If you go to Borno, there is oil and gas in the Chad basin. If you go to the Gongola basin too, there is oil there. It has also been confirmed that there is oil in Bauchi.

So, what are you talking about? We in the North are not a liability to other regions at all. When people describe us as a liability, I feel disgusted. It is only in the North that you will come and find all the tribes working in government offices. Can you find a northerner doing a white collar job in the South? They only go to the South to provide services that are needed. They will go there to become security guards, shoe makers or roasted meat sellers. They are there, doing menial jobs. So, how are we taking over their jobs? In my state, the Secretary to the Government of Borno State at a point was a Yoruba man. Also, at one point, the Chief Judge of Borno State was an Igbo man called Kalu. All these happened in the 1980s. When people were even talking about tribes, they would mention Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo. How about me? I do not come from any of the major tribes and nobody is talking about it. The dominant group dominates us but they are in the minority. They are the problem of Nigeria. If we divide Nigeria, where will I go?


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