Northern youths coming down South are of fighting age, very alert —Bozimo, former Police Affairs minister

Chief Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, a lawyer, is a former Minister of Police Affairs. The octogenarian Ijaw leader who is a member of the socio-cultural group, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), speaks with EBENEZER ADUROKIYA on the state of the nation.

 

What is your impression of the country concerning COVID-19, vis-a-vis the problem of the Almajirai and hunger in the land?

We have had it as a nation. In those days, when we were much younger, things were good. These are difficult times. It is very hopeless. That notwithstanding, we must find a way to rationalise it. First of all, I believe that we must be a people of faith; we must be children of God and pray very hard otherwise I don’t know what will happen to us. I believe that our God, Christ Jesus, pull us through these.

I don’t believe that COVID-19 is an imagination of some people. I think it is real. It will take some time before scientists can study this thing and rationalise it. I wonder if it is nature’s way of plotting against itself. If you look at it, it helps us to endure everything. I am an old man going to 82. I believe in God and I pray hard. We should do what we can do.

 

It is believed that COVID-19 is more devastating for the aged like you. How have you been protecting yourself?

Truthfully, what I do is to look for local remedy. We used to prepare pawpaw leaf for its medicinal properties in those days. I use some of that. I also make sure that I take my medications as an old man. You must watch all of that, especially old people with medical challenges. COVID-19 is worse for older people and, of course, you don’t want your children to die before you. Perhaps COVID-19 is nature’s way of reordering things, if I can be philosophical about it. I know that one thing that will come out of this is medical tourism whereby we travel all round the world spending huge sums of money, whereas every zone of this country needs hospitals with good doctors and specialists and all kinds of facilities, including ventilators. It will be fine. We know that even our president travelled abroad for medical treatment.

These are some of the challenges we are facing as a nation. We need a wake up.

 

In spite of the interstate lockdown, some northern youths, mostly Almajirai, are flooding southern states and the police have been blamed for negligence and compromise. As a former Minister of Police Affairs, what will you say on this?

As you know, the country is under-policed. Statistics show that we have about 400,000 policemen across the nation. It is a big joke. As of the time I was minister, we were about 150 million. I know that our policemen are very active but it is disappointing that the country is now under-policed. The number of police personnel should be increased and the government should train these personnel and enhance their welfare. You don’t expect people to behave rationally when they are desperate. When there is no food in the house, for instance, what do you expect them to do?

I don’t believe that the Almajirai are running down south. Why would they abandon their Quranic schools and come down South? Why on earth would they be running to the south? I believe that there is a plot behind it. Perhaps speculations that there is a plot for surprise attacks on southerners are true. I am not buying this Almajirai story. Many of these people you see come out of the lorries are not very young; some of them are of fighting ages, very alert. They carry all sorts of backpacks. Some governments are turning these lorries back and that is commendable. We can’t just sit back and relax.

 

What would you advise the rest of the southern governors to do? Should they go the way of the South-West who set up Amotekun?

Of course, I have advised them on this in several publications. It is time to do that. We have no choice. I read recently that my governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, was planning to do some security arrangement, apart from the general one being proposed by the South-South region. That must be the way forward. If you want peace, you prepare for war. If you want security, you must be prepared. I am very proud of the southern governors, especially those in the South-West. We have always worked together with these governors on making sure that there is always light and a way in a nation that is overwhelmed by darkness.

 

The question of restructuring is still on the front burner and many believe that if it is carried out, a number of issues bordering insecurity would be addressed. What is your thought on this?

I am a proponent of restructuring. The Ijaw nation and our national leader, Chief Edwin Clark, have always stood by that. Everybody preaches that restructuring is the way forward. The South-East, South-West and the Middle Belt do, too. Majority of the zones in this country support restructuring. Even el-Rufai, my young former colleague, chaired a committee that supported it.

All political elements against restructuring are only out to feather their own nests. The truth of the matter is that not restructuring will kill us. During this COVID-19, whether you like it or not, restructuring is staring us in the face. You don’t need anybody to tell you that things are working for our common good. A lot of people can now see that we can’t do without restructuring. With the kind of insecurity happening in the country, the state police idea has come to stay. All we need is for the state police to oversee security in sections of the nation while the federal police focus on national issues as we have in the United States. Nobody will be able to stop restructuring when the time comes.

 

If you were the Inspector-General of Police, how would you handle the menace of kidnappers and herdsmen across the country?

Policing is not an easy thing. If you are the head of the police, you must make sure that things are on the ground. I already said that with the kind of manpower shortage we have in the police, we are just kidding ourselves. In a population of 200 million, you have just 400,000 police personnel, yet every public officer and big businessman want to have policemen attached to them! As a minister, I can tell you that I did not have any policeman attached to me. You have all these policemen taken over by business interests, public officers, retired and unretired politicians, how many police personnel are left to do their essential duty for all Nigerians?

This is the problem. So, if I were in the position, I would scrap all arrangements whereby policemen are assigned to public officers and big men. This happened in my time, too; you give out orders and nobody obeys you. Money will continue to talk, people will continue to spend money on the leadership and all that and everybody will turn a blind eye. That is the crucial issue. Until we are able to increase the number of policemen and make sure policemen are assigned to their rightful duty posts, until they are well trained, well kitted, all of these will continue.

The police are overwhelmed. That is the truth. You know there is poverty in the land and some of them will be offered money to allow vehicles to pass. What kind of a nation can go on with indiscipline? Unless we restructure, unless the security agencies are organised into little groups that can police smaller groups, smaller areas, we can’t achieve much.

  

As an elder statesman, what would you advise the president to do for Nigeria to endure as an indivisible entity?

I say that we must restructure. Lots of suggestions were made in the 2014 national conference report. We should be bold enough to consider them. President Muhammadu Buhari can lobby the National Assembly on the direction to go. He commands a lot of respect in the National Assembly. I would have thought that he would seize the opportunity to do that which we need to do.

We have been floating for too long. A lot of answers are in the 2014 national conference report but nobody has the courage to take them on and put a final stop to these things. I think he has a rare opportunity. He should rearrange the structure. He cannot do it alone but he commands a lot of respect in the National Assembly. Even in state assemblies, the APC is strong. They can do it. They can pass laws and restructure this country. The PANDEF, to which I belong, has always said that unless we restructure, we go nowhere. It is obvious that we cannot go on the way we are going. We are rudderless. We are just like a boat in the ocean without any direction, with the wind just tossing us around. We cannot go on like that because this country has so much potential and we are so dynamic. Take ‘NEPA’ for example, it is a big joke. We have had ‘NEPA’ for donkey years and the light is still not there. I spend N12,000 on diesel to light up my house every night. We can’t go on like this. Many national structures are grounded. We have a lot of men of goodwill that are ready to work for this country. We have a lot of brilliant, young people. We should have a leadership that will understand this and give the young ones a chance. Lots of national infrastructures are in a mess. COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to start afresh. Let us be prepared to move the nation forward. Restructuring for the younger generation is my honest view.

 

About a week ago, the Yoruba nation and Biafra were admitted into the UNPO. What do you make of that? And what is the plan of the Pan Niger Delta Forum?

We applaud it, of course. Our own plans are being kept close to our chests for now. You know the South-South is quite complex. We have the Ogonis, Ibibios, Ikwerre, Andonis, Calabaris, Urhobos, Itsekiris and Ijaws, who are the strongest and fiercest of people. It is a complex zone in this country. But the Ijaws cannot just get up and begin to ask others to toe their line. So, as to what is going on, the Ijaws are talking. PANDEF is talking. Everybody is talking. But I think it is a very healthy development. Nobody wants force. Biafra people already admitted that they don’t want to do anything by force. We don’t want to do anything by force. If they would not allow the Biafrans to go, they should meet their demands. Ditto the South-West’s and the South-South’s. Life is full of changes, it cannot be stagnant.

 

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