Senator David Umaru, the immediate past lawmaker representing Niger East Senatorial District in the National Assembly and erstwhile Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary/Human Rights and Legal Matters. He speaks with ADELOWO OLADIPO on the armed banditry ravaging five local government areas of the state, among other issues.
WHAT you have been doing in your private life since you lost your appeal at the Supreme Court against the incumbent senator?
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 that vocation. Being in the Senate was just a privileged opportunity to serve the public and not a place of permanent sojourn. I am satisfied that while I was there, I served my constituents diligently. And since that infamous Supreme Court judgment, I have moved on with my life. I have been 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, including my legal practice, my hobbies which include 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 Area, are you in any way affected by the activities of criminals and bandits in the area?
The activities of the bandits have affected me in several profound ways. In fact, as I speak to you, my Kaure Village has been sacked by the bandits. There is hardly any community in the Lakpma area of the local government area 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 this tide of banditry. What one hears are contradictory and incoherent statements credited to the governor with no action; just mere rhetoric.
It seems the governor and his government are either clueless or are simply not bothered about the plight of the people as could be seen in the first press statement that was released by the Chief Press Secretary 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 (of which he is the chairman of the forum) to reinforce his war efforts against the bandits, but up till today, nothing has happened. The next statement that was released by the same Chief Press Secretary (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 rather than abate. He also said the bandits have not kept to the terms of the amnesty. This is contradictory.
In the initial statement, the governor had promised to take the fight to the bandits, but now he is telling the people of an opaque amnesty arrangement. The people were neither informed of the outcome of his meeting with the North-Central governors nor did we see any fight being taken to the bandits. On the contrary, what the people have seen is a heightened 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 people the impression that his government does not have any idea on what to do to stem the tide of armed banditry in the affected parts of the state or simply doesn’t care.
What do you think should be done?
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, they have nothing to do with the security challenges of Niger State. The 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 woefully to protect the lives and property of the people of Shiroro, Rafi, Munya, part of Paikoro local government areas and other parts of the state.
To what can you ascribe the failure you talked about?
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 property of their citizens whose right to life has been guaranteed by the constitution as well as international law. Therefore, leaders who, either through acts of commission or omission, deliberately fail to protect lives and property of their citizens could be held accountable for crimes against humanity, even when they are out of office. As we have seen this happen elsewhere, leaders in Nigeria should not think that this cannot happen to them too, especially when they deliberately allow lives to be wasted. These people whose lives were wasted have rights which are enforceable for 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.
What do you think the government should do for the people whose lives are affected by the activities of the bandits?
They must protect the people because these are innocent citizens who have a right to life as a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution and the African Charter. Government must provide them adequate security to protect their lives as guaranteed so that they can live a happy and decent life and pursue their daily activities without any fear of molestation or death. This is a right and not a privilege and this is the contact 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 totally rehabilitated.
What is your advice to the people in the face of the pervading banditry?
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 only tell them not to despair but to increase their demands for protection. It is their right to have their lives and property 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 for 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 property occasioned by its failure to offer them security and welfare.
What will you do differently if you are given the ticket of your party and you have the opportunity to contest, once again, for the governorship position of your 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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