We need a national dialogue on how we want to live together in Nigeria —Ihonvbere, APC lawmaker

WE are faced with issues of urgent national importance, including insecurity across the country, prompting clarion calls from elder statesmen and Nigerians on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency on security. What is your take on this?

For me, there is no doubt in the fact that there is a very serious security challenge facing Nigerians and the government and the president have to be seen both in terms of perception and action to be dealing with it squarely. Second, they must put a plan before Nigerians that we can follow with timelines, so that we can say okay in this first three months, these are the things we should be seeing to know that we are engaging the issue of security. The third challenge is that we must recognise that security is more effective when it is owned by the people themselves. So, the government and the security agencies must also engage security experts on how to, so to speak, devolve, democratise the handling of the security issues; bringing communities, community leaders, religious leaders together and throwing these challenges to them because they are the immediate victims.

All the big men in Abuja live in secured places; many of them have treated cars. They travel by air; they avoid their communities when there is insecurity and send their aides there. It is the people themselves who are the victims. So, we must throw it to them, both in terms of strategy in terms of financing, organisation, leadership and make them realise it is a national challenge and we all must join hands to see how we can deal with it. If we do that, I think there will be a change in the narrative.

It is in those days we used to think security is only for experts or a few people in government. Bringing in the people, their constituencies and communities does not mean that the leadership of the security agencies will prove to us that, yes, we are taking this matter more seriously and urgently. We must also engage in some comparative experiences with other countries that have dealt with terrorists, insurgency and organised criminal gangs. How did they deal with these? You know the wheel has been vented; we only need to improve on it. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. So, we cannot do this in isolation anymore without surrendering our sovereignty. Those countries that we know have genuine interests in helping Nigeria overcome these issues we should engage them. There are international organisations that have expertise in gathering information globally on dealing with issues of terrorism. We have to consult them and bring them on board and our own people must drop the arrogance of authority and be willing to learn and admit their own limitations. This is because, admitting our limitation is the first step to strength. You know what I cannot do, you can do it, please how did you do it? At least, if you put all of these together, the narrative will change somehow. Of course the issue of better motivation for our troops, their equipment, better training, and all of these are all part of the total package in dealing with the issue of insecurity. You can declare an emergency, but if you do not do these things, the emergency will just be emergency in name; you may even give the security agencies an opportunity to even complicate issues the more by making life more complex for civilians who ought to be allies in dealing with these. These bandits don’t live in space; they live in the communities; they pass through a route. People see them, and where they hide. But in Nigeria people are always afraid to provide information because of what we know to be the traditional consequences. That is the narrative we need to change to let people know that if they give any information, they will be protected. There are even the whistle blowers we projected at some point there were problems. A few people blew the whistle and those they blew it against know they did it. So, there is no harm in a short term measure, putting a whistle blower policy into security issues. It has been done in other countries before. If you provide us information that leads to the apprehension and conviction of so and so person, you will get so and so reward. I think that is cheaper than even having to pay with human lives. I think it is a multi-faceted approach that I recommend. While the military are doing their own fighting, the DSS is doing underground work, but the DSS has to do even a lot more in trying to penetrate some of those groups.

 

How do you think we can deal with the issues of our porous borders, considering the claims that those involved in herdsmen-farmers clashes are not the traditional Fulanis, but migrant Fulanis?

If it is the truth that these are foreigners who come here pretended to be herdsmen, is it the foreigners we wanted to give land to in Ruga settlement? That is the question that I cannot answer. The regular Fulanis have always done their jobs peacefully and nobody harasses them and they harass nobody. People have weaponised them to begin to do what they are doing. We have to address that issue. If these are foreigners, know where they are coming from because they didn’t fly into Nigeria. They came through the borders. So, let’s take a second look at the borders. Is it an issue of corruption? Is it an issue of collusion?  Is it insufficient personnel? Do they require more training or weapons? Do we need more sanctions against those who are supposed to do the job who are not doing it? Then, do we need to now approach the neighbouring countries?

I think Nigeria is too big to be throwing up its arms in the air to say these are foreigners, they come from Libya, or whichever country they come from. We know the countries, we know the leadership there. If there are countries where there is no leadership there then we know what to do to protect our borders and protect our people.

 

One other problem that came to mind as you were talking is politicising appointments on tribal lines. Do you think this will lead us anywhere really?

It will not. The problem in Nigeria is that we have successfully de-ideologise the educational system. So, people are no longer thinking on the ideological terms. They are thinking out a straight jacketed modes and they are also thinking more on the money they will make from whatever they are studying unlike in the 60s, 70s and even very early in the 80s. The point I am making here is this: that I come from a particular ethnic group and because of that I am appointed into a position does not necessarily mean that ethnic group will be the most to benefit from my new position. After all, if you go to Owu where former President Olusegun Obasanjo comes from, there are jobless homeless people there. We must have the courage to address the question: why do Nigerians keep sticking to ethnicity? It is because of the failure of the State, they think about their regular survival? People spend money to send their children to school and when they graduate, there are no jobs for them to do. People come here [his office in Abuja] everyday. They say I should bring letter from Reps. I know it is not true; nobody will ask you to bring letter from a Rep member. They just want to package their application, but it still does not get them the job.

We need to build the systems of transparency and accountability. That is what we are not yet emphasising. Second is that if you look at what are the basic things a citizen requires to enable him or her transfer loyalties from the ethnic group, the village group to the State, security, protection basic human needs which they are ready to pay for, ability to access health care, quality health care not the one you go and they poison you using expired drugs or fake drugs. Your house is on fire, you are able to pick a phone and call fire service and they come. They put out the fire and then send you a bill later. It is not always free, they are ready to pay. There are robbers in your house, you call the police and they come. They will not say there is no fuel in their vehicles or the tyres are bad or they don’t have enough weapons. The point is that there are certain basic requirements in the society that citizens are ready to pay for if they can access them.

So, we must sit down and have a conversation on a national question: How do we want to live together and under what terms and conditions? How do we want to structure this federation to make it really respond to the needs of Nigerians? So for me, I do not think it is that Nigerians are bad people. No. We have been in this country and we see Nigerians obey the law, comply with regulations, behave themselves, queue up to board buses, rotate their turns in places, go to the post office and queue to buy stamps. So, what happened to this country? We have better technology, which should make life easier. But life is becoming tougher for Nigerians, everything we do has to be by contract and that has to be thoroughly inflated. People start to build a runway at the Abuja airport at the cost of building a whole airport in other country and nothing happened to those people. So, when a citizen does not see justice being done and see people who are above the law and who make the money and live a good life, they say why should they subject themselves to penury and disease and hunger? So, the foundation for social justice is the foundation of loyalty, patriotism and commitment to the survival of the State. We must interrogate that issue because we cannot take it for granted.

 

How do you see the public outcry that the current war against corruption is selective? Can we really say we are sincere about this corruption fight?

A selective fight is better than no fight at all. And those they are selecting, very few of them have come out to say it is a lie and that they are being witch-hunted. I think I indentify with this government. I score the fight against corruption very high. It could get up to excellent if we spread the drag-net as wide as possible. If those who are known to be corrupt, not just by perception, but by clear evidence, are not being in the frontline of being appointed to offices. If proper scrutiny is put into those who manage the resources and if we also focus on the private sector, because the private sector is even more corrupt than the public sector. The private sector corrupts the public sector.

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