STATE OF THE NATION: Nigerians will fight back one day —Bolaji Akinyemi

Professor Bolaji Akinyemi is an elder statesman and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was among about 400 wisemen and women who gathered to made far-reaching recommendations at the end of the 2014 National Conference. In this interview with BOLA BADMUS, he speaks on the state of insecurity, the clamour for state police, among other issues. Excerpts:


As an elder statesman, what is your assessment of the state of the nation?

I don’t think that there is anything new that I can say.  All the important voices in the land have spoken, the Sultan, Wole Soyinka, the churches, Sheikh Gumi, the newspapers, whether front page or their editorials. They have all drawn attention to their uneasiness about the state of the nation, what in one word is the insecurity in the country. The surprising thing is that even the president has expressed his own uneasiness, his own concern. Governors have spoken. So, really it takes a deaf man to say that he doesn’t know what is hailing the country. It’s all there for everybody to see it and for those who can’t see it to hear.

The insecurity in the country used to be restricted to the northern part of the country. But we have started having it in southern party now and the South-West is seriously battling it now to the extent that people are expressing serious concern. Let us have your word on it, especially with regards to Fulani herdsmen kidnapping, raping, maiming, among others, in the region.

Well, you see we need to have clarity about the causes of the insecurity. There are those that I would regard as having a criminal element and those that I would regard as having joined the criminals and the political elements are those that I would regard as political.

Cattle rustling, the stealing of cows from the owners, that is basically a criminal element; that’s a criminal issue and the measure that would then apply would be different and would be localised because really rustling is localised in the north and in Zamfara area.

Now, those whose cattle or whose cows have been stolen and reduced to state of poverty, some, not all of them have then lapped into kidnapping along Kaduna/Abuja axis. So, that’s again criminality arising from the loss of their cows. Of course, there are kidnappers who, like burglars, see it as a past- time. They haven’t lost any cows, but they have no jobs and that’s what they do. So, those who lost their cows have just joined them because they see that’s the easy way to make their money. Again, how you would tackle that would again be another tale.

Then you have the conflict between the cow herders and farmers arising from economic issues. You know changes in climate, drought, etc. That’s an economic issue, which, again, the measures you would put in place to tackle that will always be different from the measures you would put in place to tackle the issue of cow rustling.

As an illustration, if you could import grass on a short-term basis, the cows don’t have to go into anybody’s farmlands. You supply the grass to them. Again, I would repeat as a short term basis.

A long-term measure would be for you to actually plant grass so that you don’t need to import every year. There would then be constant supply of bales of dry grass for the cows. Whereas one of the measures you could use in dealing with cow rustling is to make the security more available so people don’t steal people’s cows. And also one of the measures you can put in place to tackle kidnapping is to make sure security is available.

Now, I am stressing this because I served on the committee to review electoral laws, the Uwais Panel put together to review electoral laws and we came to the conclusion. It was one of our recommendations that Nigeria should adopt United Nations recommendations on ratio of police to civilians. So, we didn’t go round to do it ourselves so that somebody would not say what is their expertise? What do they know? We just adopted what UNESCO experts have recommended. We have about 400,000 policemen. The UN said we need 1.3million policemen. So, look at that shortfall. It means we don’t have enough security personnel to even enforce our laws. That’s why I then said obviously, you have to go in for massive recruitment, not all this 10,000 a year thing that they are doing. It has proved inadequate. If you have 1.3million policemen, you would have enough to stop rustling of people’s cows and stop kidnapping along Abuja/Kaduna road.

Then fourthly is the one that is political, purely political. One doesn’t need to beat about the bush, talking about Ruga or whatever you call it. They cannot import a foreign population and you then go and take over people’s land and settle there. This is not America in the days of Wild Wild West in America when they killed all the Indians and took over their land because they believed the land belonged to nobody, even when they saw the Indians were in occupation, they killed them all. They cannot do that in Nigeria. If you [pointing to the reporter] go to your village and you see an empty plot of land and all of a sudden  you start building on it, Kabiyesi would call you, or some people would say they don’t know what’s happening and they would call you, and ask what do you think you are doing? And then you say to them but I come from this village and I noticed nothing was on it. They would tell you every single plot of land in this village has an owner. It belongs to a family not even an individual, generations in that family, so you can’t just come and do anything you like, not to now talk about you now come and find that people had planted cocoa, or put fish farm in place and then you say you are taking it over. You cannot. That is not our culture; that is not our tradition.

So, there is a political element to that. It is also, of course, criminal in the sense that you are taking what doesn’t belong to you. But the political nature of it is what has led to all cries in the land, because the consequence of it is that you reconfigure if you allow it to happen, you reconfigure the ethnic configuration of the country.


In what way?

Now, I started off with if at the beginning. If you bring people who are not even Nigerians into Nigeria and you allow them or you sponsor them to settle in other people’s land and you are saying in what way? Now, I don’t know where you come from. But let us assume you are Ijebu and all of a sudden, you take 200 Ijebu people to my town in Ijesaland, are you not reconfiguring the ethnic configuration of my town, because all of a sudden, I am not talking of one or two or three or four people coming because that happens all the time, but I am talking about a massive population shift? That is asking for trouble; that’s really what has sparked of all these exclamations of concern about insecurity. People would react and the reaction then leads to what? Ethnic cleansing? There are accusations of ethnic cleansing. You should know that ethnic reconfiguration is a form of ethnic cleansing. You know this is Africa. We have those they call original owners of the land, that is what is unique about Africa and also surprisingly about Europe. What do you think has led to upswing, right wing in Europe? Is it not influx of immigrants from the Mediterranean into Europe? And even in the Mediterranean area, there is a swing to the right because of influx of immigrants, they say from Africa. Now the way they have reacted is voting in, even in countries like Scandinavian, Sweden, Norway that were so liberal minded before now, there is a swing towards the right and if it is only that, at the least, you wouldn’t lose too much sleep. But there is now violence as evidence of the push back against the immigrants. So, that’s what you are going to get in Nigeria if a stop is not put to things like that. It is not just Ruga.  Ruga was just going to be a manifestation of this re-jiggling, reshuffling of population. You can’t have it.

The policies they then have to put in place against politically driven migration is to bear in mind that they cannot design policies that do not take into cognisance people’s peculiarities. Land ownership is a peculiarity of each area. It’s a peculiarity and you know what? To let you know how the capability of land to spark of danger, land is so important to every community in the world. That’s why we have places called England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Ijesaland, Ijebuland. People attach to the land, culture is attached to the land, family is attached to the land. So, you have to bear that in mind when you are designing policy. The government can’t just sit in Abuja and design one policy for the entire country without taking into consideration the kind of pushback it is going to get if people find that policy to be antagonistic to their culture.


Some have accused the Fulani tribe of nursing the perception that the entire landmass in the country belongs to them and, therefore, they should find a way to take it over. Is that playing out with the high level of insecurity coming mainly through them?

Well, there have to be sufficient pushback to let them know that, that can’t be the case. It is as simple as that. Maybe they thought it is ours and that phenomenon you just described was ignored because people think it’s unthinkable, impossible, it cannot happen. You come now and say somebody’s land is your own, it is not possible. But now that we are seeing that and maybe really that’s what they have in mind, then there has to be concerted effort to disabuse their mind that “na their baba own the land and not just anybody.” The land is not fallow, it’s not vacant. There may be nothing on it, but people know, they would tell you go two miles down and you will find one kolanut tree, that is where my father’s land ends. If you go down that way and you go about three miles, you will find a cocoa tree that is the other corner of the land, people know, but nothing may be on it.


Recently, there was a Yoruba summit and after that, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar called a parley which was shunned by the Afenifere, the Southern and Middle-Belt leaders, among others. Would you say those gatherings to find solutions to the problems made any headway in their quest for solutions?

Well, those were not the only ones. There was one in Owuland, in Abeokuta by Ebora Owu [former President Olusegun Obasanjo] himself, and there were other meetings.


But people would say they have not seen anything on ground yet. 

It’s not when you plant a tree that you see the tree germinate. The one that I was involved in or that I attended, the Minna one, was an opportunity for face to face, eyeball to eyeball exchange of views. I would say that was the first time I would meet a representative of Miyetti Allah, because I think there were some of them also who were at the national conference. But Minna was the first one where issues involving the activities of the Miyetti Allah were on the front burner and nobody held back, whether the Miyetti Allah or those of us who regard ourselves as the victims of the migration issue. We spoke our minds and people were left in no doubt as to how strongly we felt about that issue. You need to have clarity about your objective, about what you want and what you don’t want. It’s an achievement in itself in term of conflict resolution because more often than not, you would then have I didn’t know or I didn’t say that.

One or two people were confronted about statements that were supposed to have been made and they denied, saying they were misquoted. It doesn’t mean that you had agreement, but you had clarity.

And when people then go back home, I mean it would be like: what did you say? We haven’t seen it. What did you come back with? Well, I think that opposition is strong against what we are trying to do, but I made sure they understood our own position. So, I think the conference is a step forward, dialoguing. You cannot underestimate dialoguing, which is not a sign of weakness and dialoguing is not an end in itself. So, don’t get me wrong. Dialoguing, as I said, can lead to clarity of issue, lead to appeasement or war if at the end of the day, you know it’s so clear that there cannot be any meeting of the mind, there is going to be a showdown.

Then you have a war not because you haven’t tried any of the alternatives. War is not the first choice of sanction when you have conflict but appeasement is not also the ultimate purpose of dialoguing, no. Dialoguing is a process.


When this first started, some people and even government itself was saying that enemies were behind  it…

Which enemy?


They said those who don’t want Buhari to succeed are behind insecurity in the land so that they make the government look like it is not performing at all. But since the thing has continued, can we still continue to blame the government for this insecurity?

I have been in government before. There would always be people who want to please the president by not telling him the truth, by telling him “we know them; they are our enemies. What do you expect?” Even when the views are coming from people of goodwill, people who are telling him the truth to enable him to succeed, who are trying to point to him that he is being misled, and don’t want him to let the issue get out of hand. You can see the Boko Haram thing, for a long time, there were people who refused to admit that it was an issue. Instead, they continue to say it was President Goodluck Jonathan’s fault, that it was Jonathan who designed it to destabilise the North.

Common, even when it was so clear, they were still in self-denial. Well, you can see it is not only Boko Haram now, but there are other issues, or there are other centres of insecurity all over the country. Is that being done by enemies of government?

y advice to government and even when I was in government, I spoke truth to government. When there is an issue, be honest with yourself in looking for causes of the issue, genuine and honest causes of the issue. I never buy into “our enemies are behind it.” Sure, the enemies of government may be behind it, so does it mean you are going to ignore it? No. You will ignore it to your own detriment and we could see it from what happened to Boko Haram. We could see it from Boko Haram to cattle rustling. It happened in Zamfara and became a clash now between farmesr and herders and so on. It has now escalated to kidnapping and banditry. In fact, ransom has become business of the day, overtaking contracts. At least in contracts, you need to bribe people to get the contracts and to get the money, but with kidnapping and banditry, they pay you, you don’t need to bribe anybody.


Earlier, you said the country would need about 1.3milion policemen but we have right now just 400,000, so on this issue of insecurity, concerned Nigerians have made pleas that President Buhari should re-jig his service chiefs and appoint new ones. What do you think about more policemen for the country and the service chiefs?

They are his service chiefs. If he says he is happy with them, he would live with the consequences.

In the case of the police, and that’s why I said that those figures were not ours figures, they were figures of the United Nation’s experts, so you can’t read politics into it. But you can also play politics with its implementation if you don’t stop this habit of recruiting policemen from my town and sending them to your town where they don’t know the nooks and crannies and corners of your town. They don’t know the criminal elements; they don’t know those who are the trouble makers. They are just trained and they are dumping them, so what can they do?

From 1976 or 1977 at least when I became aware of the issue, they have always been this approach of you keep 75per cent of rank and file policemen in their locality and then you could mix the official corp.


Are they still doing that now?

No, each time the government says okay that’s what we would do, the police would implement it and then two years down the road, they would go back. So, what we have right now where you post people to area where they don’t have any clue about, the people wouldn’t even interest them. Whereas if the people are from your village, I mean if the policemen posted to your village are from your village, it has certain advantage, bribery would go down because they are from there- “omo ilu ni.” The inspector would come and people would say but you are from here, why are you allowing this? Why are you stretching the people by setting up road block so that you can collect money? So incidence of bribery and corruption would go down.

Two, you would trust them with information. Look, some people are gathering at Oke Mapo and we don’t know who they are. And so the element of bonding between security forces and people would be strengthened, but I don’t know what is going to happen.

The last time the president said okay, there should be an increase and that they should recruit 20,000 more people. In the National Assembly, they came up with this regulation that they should evenly be distributed among local governments in Nigeria. You and I know that already that the distribution of local governments is a contentious issue because people feel that various heads of state had favoured their areas in terms of number of local governments. If there are crimes in Lagos, Kano, Abuja, shouldn’t they have more police than places where there are very little crimes? Everybody knows everybody there, and so there is very little crime rate. But no we are playing politics with it. And the funny thing there is that after you now recruited from that local government instead of placing them there, you now take them to your favourite places where they can make money.


If you are talking about the number of policemen not being enough, and some are now talking about state police, do you also believe that we can have state police or even local government police in the country?

I think the time is ripe for both local government and state police. I still have my reservation, but the time is ripe. Whatever difficulty we would run into as part of its implementation, we just have to face those difficulties and tackle them because people have talked about the governors using them against their political opponents and there is viciousness in Nigerian politics, let us not deny that. You saw what happened during the last election in River State, but then the federal police would still be there and let us not under estimate the ability of people to fight back if it comes to that.

Maybe we’ve been spoon feeding people for too long in this country, treating them like children, then the people would fight back and then you would know that there is a limit to which government can actually oppress people when they start to fight back. I mean Nigerians are not that unique, people fight back in the rest of the world. You have heard of the Arab Spring, was that not fighting back? You see what is happening in Hong Kong, is that not fighting back? You’ve heard of ‘Operation Wetie,’ it was within this very country.

I am not calling our people goat, when you push a goat against the wall, goat is the most docile of all animals, but if you now push it against the wall, it would turn round and fight you.


The governors are said not to be doing enough and some people even ask, what are they even spending their security votes on? But we also know that in our constitution, even though they are addressed as chief security officers, it is not so in practice. What is your view on this?

You’ve provided the answer to the conundrum that they are chief security officers, which is what they are called, but they cannot issue order. The Supreme Court has said they can issue lawful instruction to the police commissioners, but the police commissioner knows who posts him, he knows who his bosses are. Governors cannot stop the commissioner of police being posted out of his state if the people say he is too close to the governor, so the police commissioner knows on which side of his bread is buttered. Let us stop playing on words; the governors are not really in charge of security, that is not to say there is no abuse of the security votes. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if 80per cent of equipment which the police is using at the state level is provided by the state government and not by the Federal Government. But how they are then used is another thing.

You know you could buy armoured police carriers, bring them into the country with licence, the following month, if you hand them over to the police, the IGP could order that the equipment should be sent to another state and the commissioner would have to obey unless the governor imports them legally and warehouses them so that even if the IG says to the commissioner of police, transfer those items, he would say “Oga, the governor didn’t hand them over to me so they are still under the control of the governor. I mean there is still that confusion in our constitution, there are a few areas of confusion in our constitution that really need to be straightened out and we tried to do that at the national conference.


Now, talking about the National Conference, do you think all the recommendations or some of the recommendations could be a way out for the country?

Of course, or else we wouldn’t have recommended if we didn’t feel they were a way out. But they have no force of law and that I admit. And a wise president would have looked at those recommendations, maybe set up an in-house committee to go through them.


But there was this el-Rufai Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

El-Rufai did his own on behalf of his party. Have the recommendations being implemented?


Why do you have confidence that the recommendations  of the Confab if implemented would help Nigeria out of its problems?

There were over 400 delegates from all over the country who were in Abuja for the conference and all recommendations were unanimously adopted. So, surely I must have confidence in the veracity of the recommendations and of their utility in tackling problems that the country has found itself in.

Look, take them, debate them at the National Assembly so that you have another layer of wisdom, but don’t just dump it. You don’t just dump the report.


Why do you think Buhari dump the report?

Ask him why he did that and ask Jonathan why did he not implement the part he could implement.


But Jonathan said it was submitted very close to the elections.

Excuse me. So?


That people were preparing for elections.

When we submitted the report, we divided it into three parts. Part one that can be implemented by the president alone using executive powers.

Part II contains aspect that can be implemented by the combination of the president and the National Assembly, that is legislation. Part III is the part that needs constitutional amendments, that involves the president, the National Assembly and the state Assemblies. So, we divided it into three parts, why didn’t Jonathan just take the one that the president can do using executive powers? Why?


Do you still have confidence in the judiciary in respect of happenings with respect to some of its pronouncements in lately, particularly in the Osun State governorship election?

You see interpretation by the Supreme Court or by any court when you can challenge it at the end of the day is the opinion of the judge . And unless that interpretation is so manifestly atrocious, interpretation always gives room for manoeuvre because the Supreme Court that did that thing in Osun State governorship case also did the Zamfara case. And I spoke to a few SANs who have provided justification for what the Supreme Court did in the Osun case.

It was in the opinion of some people that the Supreme Court should have asked that the case be allowed to go back to the tribunal for fresh trial to commence instead of predicating their judgment on technical issue.

I raised that issue and I was told that it is time bound and that if they ask another tribunal to go and do it, there is no way that tribunal would be able to finish the case within the number of days that the constitution has laid down.


Do you think the new ministers can deliver the goods for the country?

I was reading in the paper that the president said he was going to give what is called target to his ministers. So, let’s watch. I can’t say more than that. ‘Adie ba lokun, ara o rokun, ara o ro adie!’