What were Senate President, IGP doing at a sectional meeting in Kaduna? —Alaowei, N/Delta activist

Cleric E. Alaowei is the National President of the Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (CHURAC), which is based in the Niger Delta. He speaks with EBENEZER ADUROKIYA on the recent resolutions of Northern leaders as regards the ENDSARS protest and other issues.

 

There are issues around the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that are causing unease in the South South. What is your take on the group’s agitation and its method?

I heard the IPOB members killed some police and army personnel under the guise of EndSARS protest in Oyigbo, Rivers State. That is very wrong. I condemn such an inhuman act. They have no justification whatsoever to kill security personnel. I don’t think that is part of their genuine struggle for freedom. The good thing is that Governor Nyesome Wike has proscribed the organisation in that state. My only appeal is to the military to halt its ongoing assault due to the humanitarian crisis in that area. People are already crying of starvation and other inhuman treatments by the soldiers. I think the suffering masses are not the miscreants who carried out that dastardly act.

 

Northern leaders, at a recent meeting in Kaduna, accused promoters of the EndSARS protest of having the objective having regime change. What is your take on this?

The Northern leaders are not sincere about our corporate existence. For them to blame the EndSARS protest on separatists means that the Northern region is the biggest problem of the country. They tag every genuine struggle for the betterment of the country a threat towards breakup. What impudence! It is very wrong to call the recent protest a separatist movement. Even if some of the protesters called for Buhari’s resignation over his acute failure in leadership, I see nothing wrong in the protest. After all, they were very peaceful. That is a time-tested practice known all over the democratic world.

Nigeria is practising a constitutional democracy and so people are allowed by our constitution to peacefully express their minds. I am not surprised about Northern leaders saying the EndSARS protest was meant to dismember the country. That has always been their trademark. When the Southern nationalists called for the independence of Nigeria, they ignorantly opposed it. Today, they are benefiting more in an independent Nigeria than the South. Also, when the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and other pro-democracy movements canvassed for the return to civilian government, the same Northern leaders stood against it, declaring that the movements were sponsored by separatists. Again, the agitations for restructuring and resource control are seen as a ploy to break up the country. They behave as if Nigeria is the North’s property. No region can claim exclusive ownership of the country. Nigeria is a federation of ethnic groups. Thus, every component unit should be given freedom to express their mind.

If the youths say they are no longer comfortable with the sorry state of the country, what is wrong with that? In advanced climes, Buhari would have been asked to resign to allow competent hand to pilot the affairs of the people. We are gradually heading to the cliff due to Buhari’s crass ineptitude.

 

What is your view about their call for the censorship of the social media?

While I will support the government to take some decisive steps to cushion the effects of hate speech and fake news associated with the use of the social media, I think the Cyber Crime Act makes adequate provisions to regulate the social media. We don’t necessarily need the proposed hate speech laws before the National Assembly, which are even inconsistent with the constitution, to regulate the social media. What the government needs do is to strengthen the various institutions with regulatory functions to tackle the menace.

 

That meeting was attended by the Inspector General of Police and the Senate President. What can you say on this?

It is very wrong. The government of Buhari should separate itself from ethnic/regional leanings. The attendance of such a regional meeting by the IGP, the Minister of the FCT and that of Information, Culture and Tourism, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Deputy Speaker and other members of the National Assembly as well as the Senate President poses a great danger to our democracy. Is the North preparing to go to war with the South that they have to incorporate government’s structures to prosecute the war? Even the committees they set up have representatives from the Federal Government.

The Committee on Roles of Traditional Rulers has representatives from the Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly. Also, the Committee on Youth and Civil Societies has a representative from the IGP’s office.

The North cannot claim to love Nigeria more than the South. If Southern leaders agitate for restructuring or the youths protest against police brutality, how do these movements constitute a threat to our unity? Are these the reasons Buhari chose to make a lopsided security arrangement in the country against the known conventional practices and provisions of our constitution? I believe that the next meeting Northern leaders are to convene will have representatives from the military and other paramilitary organisations since the North is now synonymous with the Federal Government. I hope that some ethnic chauvinists in the central government and the fanatic Northern leaders are not trying to undermine our unity in diversity?

 

The police appear to be on ‘strike’. Have you noticed this?

I am very much concerned that the police are not coming out to work. They cannot shirk their duties because of the protest. They are being paid with the taxpayers’ money. If any of them refuses to resume their duties then the public service laws should be put in motion to declare their offices vacant. They are being guided by the public service laws and so absence from duty for a length of time should see offices being forfeited. I am happy that the Police Service Commission has already directed the abdicating officers to resume work. The IGP should also give a similar directive for the officers to resume fully. The country is not safe if the police are not at their duty posts.

 

There are crises all over the country and everyone is scared of a major conflagration. How do we escape this?

I share that thought, especially on the lukewarm disposition of the APC government at the centre towards governance. The position of the Northern leaders on the issues that border on our collective existence added insult to injury. We are really doomed with the way things are going. The solution is to restructure the country and devolve more powers to the states. Economic powers should be given to the states so that each state could develop itself with what it has. Competitive economy should be allowed among the federating units.

The present government at the centre should rejig the security architecture of the country. Its composition should conform to the Federal Character Act and the constitution. Buhari should be alive to his duties and address the myriads of our problems with active responses.

 

How do you assess the war against terrorism in Nigeria against the backdrop of the recent rescue of an American by the United States Army Special Forces on Nigerian soil?

The invasion of our sovereign state by the US Army Special Forces to rescue an American citizen that was kidnapped by bandits has exposed the anti-terrorism war of this government as being poorly fought. Buhari and his security chiefs are only playing to the gallery.

I think powerful forces within the government are making a business of the terrorism war. I cannot say our security agents are not capable of winning the war but the politicisation of the fight is a huge setback for them. A responsive government with such an embarrassing outpost will immediately rearrange its security formations in the aftermath of the American Seal’s successful operation on our soil.

 

Where do you stand on the issues of restructuring and resource control? Or do you also believe that separation is the way to go?

Buhari’s style of government is the reason why we are so divided. Every one of his actions is geared towards polarising the country along ethnic/religious lines, in accordance with his 97 percent/five per cent voters dichotomy. The way out is for Buhari to see the country as a single constituency. He should recompose his government and formulate policies in line with Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution and the Federal Character Act. The security apparatus should be immediately recomposed to reflect our federal structure.

 

Some people talk resource control, some talk restructuring, some talk separation, while others feel the country is just fine as it is. Where do you stand here?

Let us not confuse ourselves with the words ‘resource control’ and ‘restructuring’. Restructuring is the compound word. It simply means transfer more powers to the states. Many of the items in the Exclusive List should be transferred to the Concurrent Legislative List in the constitution. That is where resource control comes in. By restructuring, it also means that most of the economic powers exclusively controlled at the centre are to be vested in the states. In that case, the natural resources in Zamfara and those in Delta are to be harnessed and managed by these states. This will engender competitive economy as obtained in other federal-system governments across the globe.

With restructuring, the states will have some level of command of the security agencies, especially the police. That is where state police comes in. The present security arrangement cannot adequately secure the country. We need state police to effectively police our communities. That is the fulcrum of true federalism.

On the call for separation, to me, there is nothing like dismemberment of the country. It is only the failure of the government to restructure the country that will instigate such agitation. If we practise true federalism, as I explained earlier, I don’t think there is anybody who will like to leave the country. After all, the American constitution provides for breakup but no one wants to dismember the country simply because the structure of the government favours every component state. That is what we need in Nigeria to avert bloody disintegration.

For anybody to say nothing is wrong with the present setting in the country means such a person is only trying to be economical with the truth. All is not well with Nigeria. We are sitting on a time bomb which is fast ticking to explosion. We are treading on landmines that are waiting to explode at the slightest ignition. The way out is to balance the structural formation of the country. The recent nationwide EndSARS protest was a prelude to the danger lurking around. The government should be bold enough to avert this calamity by restructuring the country. For a quicker response to the demands for restructuring or true fiscal federalism, the report of the 2014 national dialogue should be implemented. I think that will go a long way in addressing our problems.

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