Banditry in Niger: Government has failed the people —Ex-lawmaker

Senator David Umaru, immediate past senator, representing Niger East Senatorial District in the seventh and eighth National Assembly and erstwhile chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary/Human Rights and Legal Matters, speaks with ADELOWO OLADIPO on his political career and politics of Niger State, banditry problem and other forms of criminality ravaging the state.

 

What have you have been doing since you lost your appeal at the Supreme Court to Senator Mohammed Sani Musa?

You are asking me about my private life. Is that not an invasion of my privacy?  Well, for me, politics and or public service is not and cannot be a career. I was a legal practitioner and a businessman before I ventured into politics which eventually led me to the Senate. I have since gone back to those vocations. Being in the Senate was just a privilege to serve the public and not a place of permanent sojourn. I am satisfied that while there, I served my constituents diligently and since that infamous Supreme Court judgment, I have moved on with my life, busier than ever in my legal practice and business.

In fact, I now have the opportunity to do a lot of other things that I never had time for, like reading, writing, playing flute and saxophone. I must tell you that I have never had any dull moment in my life.

 

You are from Shiroro Local Government; have you not been affected by the activities of the bandits?

The activities of the bandits have affected me in several profound ways. As I speak to you, my Kaure village has been sacked by the bandits. In fact, there is hardly any community in the Lakpma area of the local government that has not been plundered several times over and it is the same story in all the affected local government areas in the state. However, while one is engaged in efforts to ameliorate the multifarious problems and sufferings of the people, unfortunately, one has not seen any deliberate strategy or effort by government to stem the tide of banditry. What one hears are contradictory and incoherent statements credited to the governor with no action, just mere rhetorics. It seems the governor and his government are are simply not bothered about the plight of the people as could be seen in the penultimate press statement that was released by the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the state governor. It was indicated there in that  the governor had said he was going to take the fight to the bandits and in addition he was going to consult with the governors of the North-Central states (a forum of which he is the chairman) to reinforce his war efforts against the bandits.

But up till today, nothing has happened. The next statement that was released by the same CPS, which was  the last one, had the governor saying that he was fed up with the heightened activities of the bandits because despite the amnesty granted them, their activities had  increased and that the bandits did not keep to the terms of the amnesty. This is contradictory. In the initial statement the governor had promised to take the fight to the bandits and now he is telling the people of Niger of an opaque amnesty arrangement. The citizens were neither informed of the outcome of his meeting with the North-Central governors, nor did they see any fight being taken to the bandits. On the contrary, what the people have seen is upsurge in the banditry attacks- heightened both in intensity and coverage. The conclusion one could draw from these inconsistent statements is that the governor is giving the citizens the impression that his government does not have any idea of what to do to stem the tide of armed banditry in affected parts of the state or simply doesn’t care.

 

How would you have dealt with the banditry issue, in line with the resolution of the North-Central governors?

Well, it is high time the governor realised that he was neither elected by the forum of the governors of the North-Central states nor Northern Governors’ Forum, but by the people of Niger state to whom he remains accountable. As far as I am concerned, these bodies are not known in the 1999 Constitution. Therefore, these forums have nothing to do with the security challenges of Niger State. Niger people expect their security challenges to be solved by their governor and not any forum, especially as the constitution has enjoined that the security and welfare of citizens is the primary responsibility of government. If the governor is unable to provide security and welfare to our people and is only hoping to find solution in a governors’ forum, which is not forthcoming, then he has lost it. He has indeed failed in performing his primary responsibility to the people that elected him and in consequence has lost every moral justification to remain in office. The governor, being the chief security officer of the state, cannot consign this most important responsibility to any forum.

So, what I am trying to say essentially is that he has failed to protect the lives and properties of the people of Shiroro, Rafi, Munya, part of Paikoro local government areas and other parts of the state.

Sometimes, these leaders forget that they are accountable, if not to man, but to God Almighty. They have an obligation under municipal as well as international human rights laws to protect lives and properties of their citizens whose right to life has been guaranteed by constitution as well as international law. Therefore, leaders who either through acts of commission or omission deliberately fail to protect lives and properties of their citizens could be held accountable for crimes against humanity, even when they are out of office. These people whose lives were wasted have rights which are enforceable, as these are crimes against humanity.

So, no one should think that because he holds office today, he can do what he likes. Yes, one can do what one likes, but the people too have rights which are enforceable.

 

Now, what do you think the government should do for the families of people who were killed by the bandits?

They must protect the people because these are innocent citizens who have a right to life as a fundamental human rights guaranteed by the constitution and African Charter of Government must provide them adequate security to protect their lives as guaranteed so that they can live a happy and decent lives and pursue their daily activities without any fear of molestation or death. This is a right and not a privilege and this is the contract they have with the government. Additionally, government must quickly rehabilitate all the victims of the banditry. If government could grant amnesty to criminals and in addition pay them money, then the victims of these crimes must be compensated and fully rehabilitated.

 

What is your advice to the people whose lives are being wasted by the bandits in the state?

Well, what do I tell a suffering and traumatised people? What can I tell a people who have lost everything – their loved ones, their possessions, houses, farmlands, cattle, food reserves, everything… even their villages. I will tell them not to despair but to increase their demand for protection. It is their right to have their lives and properties protected. Indeed, it is a fundamental human right that the government is duty bound to protect by the constitution. I will also say to them, don’t despair. Everything that has a beginning surely has an end.  They should remain strongly united and pray that God brings a quick end to this calamity. Finally, I will tell them to hold the government fully accountable for the monumental loss of lives and properties occasioned by its failure to offer them security and welfare.

 

If the opportunity presents itself like in the past, will you run for the governorship seat of the state?

Well, my Bible tells me not to worry about tomorrow because it is not in our hands. So, I cannot tell you anything in that respect. I simply don’t know. Tomorrow belongs to the Almighty. He charts our course.

 

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