With defence minister’s advice, South West people must restrategise now to defend their land —Olajide, YCE leader
Dr Kunle Olajide is the Secretary-General of the Yoruba Coucl of Elders (YCE). In this interview by SAM NWAOKO, he speaks on a member of issues including the advice by the Minister of Defence that Nigerians should defend themselves against bandits and the menace of Fulani herdsmen across the country. Excerpts.
Sir, there are fears that the country may be dancing on the brink of a major armed conflict. Do you share the same fears?
Of course I share the fears. In fact, I am worried about what appears to be the sense of insensitivity on the part of our leaders. There are times I wonder whether somebody is in charge of this country and whether he happens to get all these pieces of information and if he is not, who is responsible for keeping him in the dark? So, I’m afraid and I am very frightened.
There are major security issues in the South West, blamed on Fulani herdsmen. Do you think the people should take to the advice by the Minister of Defence that they should defend themselves against these marauders?
What the Minister of Defence has said is to literally want to turn the South West into a war zone. I cannot understand the position of a man who is supposed to be in charge of defending the country, in the federal government to now call on individuals to go and defend themselves against armed criminals. That is total malady. It could be inferred that we are at the brink of war. In a civilised society, he would have been sanctioned. I’m surprised that the National Assembly has not called the attention of Mr. President to the position of the Minister of Defence. But for me, I think it is time we should go back to the basics. What are the basics in Nigeria? The basics are that we have different nations in Nigeria. The Yoruba nation must now begin to think of how we will start to interact under a Nigerian nation that has refused to ensure equity and fairness in its affairs. How can the Minister of Defence say that everyone should defend themselves in the face of armed conflict? For me it appears as if it is an abdication of responsibility. A minister of Defence is supposed to be in charge of the defence of the territorial integrity of Nigeria and life and property of the citizens of the country. If he throws up his arms in despair and say ‘everybody look go and defend yourself’, that means he is telling us that he is not able to defend us again. Everybody must by whatever means find a way to defend themselves. If you say that in a country where you know that it is unlawful to possess fire arms, it means you are instigating the citizens into disobeying the constitutional laws of the country. I am surprised that the National Assembly or the state Houses of Assembly have not raised the alarm; and even the governors who are members of the Council of State. So, it is frightening.
As things stand, it looks like we are helpless. How do we avoid another civil war sir?
We are not helpless. We have elected leaders here in the South West. They are the chief security officers and they receive funds for this assignment almost on a monthly basis; and we have youths here, educated enlightened youths roaming the streets in search of jobs. We have to reorganise our priorities, security must now be very paramount and take the pride of place over and above everything else. So, we must recruit these youths and enable them by law delivered by the respective state assemblies to comb our forests and protect our boundaries and when they see foreign elements, to apprehend them and deal with them according to the laws of Nigeria and if Nigeria is not prepared to deal with them, we deal with them according to our own tradition here. So, we cannot be helpless. So, I will just appeal to our state governors that we cannot appear to be as indifferent to these security threats as Mr. President. Our own people at this quarter here should just call a meeting of stakeholders so that we decide how we want to protect ourselves since the Minister of Defence has now given us a green light to go ahead and defend ourselves. That is my own humble opinion.
Governor Matawalle of Zamfara State has been a strong advocate of amnesty for bandits. What do you think of this approach, do you think it is right?
In the first instance, my understanding of bandits is that they are criminals and I don’t see the basis of granting amnesty to criminals who deliberately flout the laws with arms and ammunition killing innocent, law-abiding citizens. You grant amnesty in situations where, whether consciously or unconsciously, you have made mistakes or you have erred, like what happened in the Niger Delta. You are taking all the money spent by this country from that place and you are rendering them jobless and leaving them without water to drink and so on, and because the people are justifiably provoked, they took up arms not even against the country but against the expatriates coming to destroy their land. In such situation, yes they have breached the laws, you can grant them amnesty because they are justifiably angry. But not people who have not been offended or assaulted in any way, who just decided to take up arms and start terrorising, maiming and killing innocent, law-abiding citizens. You just go and be giving them amnesty, what type of amnesty do you want to give them? To me it is not acceptable but, like I said, if he believes that is his own way out of the problem in his own state, well, let him go about it the way he pleases. But for us, other states should determine what they think suits them the best. The federal government must make up its mind. If it wants each state to go its own way, then… and this is where I have a problem with the declaration of the Minister of Defence. What he is saying in effect is that let everybody go and defend himself in whatever way he understands and that the federal government has surrendered. So I don’t agree with granting bandits amnesty.
Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, who has taken it upon himself to be negotiating with the bandits, likened those bandits to the militants of the Niger Delta. Do you think he is right in this comparison?
He can never be right. We take about 90 per cent of the resources of Nigeria from the Niger Delta, and in the course of taking the resources that we use for all parts of this country, we spoil their land. We poison their water and they don’t have water to drink, and we poison their water to kill the fishes and their main source of livelihood is destroyed because they are traditionally fishermen. So you render them homeless and jobless and leave them hungry and naked. They are justifiably angry while the bandits have no reason to take up arms against Nigeria. The Niger Delta people have reasons to be angry and it is on the basis of that President Umaru Musa Ya’Adua thought that the most reasonable thing to do under the circumstance was to forgive these people – yes they have disobeyed Nigerian laws but Nigeria too has mistreated them – amnesty. How do you compare that to people who just wake up in the morning and decide that the quickest way to make money is to go and steal and plunder people’s land without any provocation? On what basis do you want to give them amnesty? You don’t encourage indiscipline and lawlessness. Giving bandits amnesty amounts to encouraging lawlessness. When they were not provoked in any way by the Nigerian state, you cannot compare the two. This is why I get extremely worried when Mr President invited all Africans to come into Nigeria and for me at that time I was angry at that call because as at that time, our people were jobless at home and the state of our security was bad. How do you now say everybody should come here? Why? To do what, to come and complicate our problems which they have done now? So, I am now very suspicious of the motives of our national leaders. That is my position.
Bauchi State governor too contended that the herdsmen that go about with AK47 rifles are justified too because, according to him, they use the guns to protect themselves when attacked by rustlers.
I watched him on the television and what he was saying was that the federal government was ineffective, inefficient and incompetent. That is what he has said. But we cannot because of that encourage blatant violation of Nigerian laws to the extent that anybody can carry fire arms, particularly criminals when law-abiding citizens are not allowed to carry arms. For me, that was completely reckless, irresponsible statement. If there was a law which says whoever that wants to carry firearms can go ahead and carry AK47, then it would be a different case. You are now saying that people should, in the face of Nigerian laws, violate the laws and carry firearms because they want to defend themselves? No, that is not acceptable. That is anarchyl coming from a state governor. There is no way you can defend that.
The Bauchi State governor said that Section 41 of the Nigerian constitution claims that all the land in the country belongs to the federal government and the people of Nigeria. That is clearly untrue. The Land Use Act claims that the land in each state belongs to the people of the state and the government of the state and it is held in trust for them by the state governor. It is not for the federal government. If the federal government in fact wants to mine the mineral resources that belong to the federal government, it must now write to take permission from the state governor. So it does not allow all Nigerians to move freely anywhere as claimed by the Bauchi governor. Moreover, the forest reserves in the western region of Nigeria are long term investment made, some of them before independence, by our forefathers. They made it first for forest reservation, secondly, to protect the environment for climatic reasons and thirdly, for monetary returns. So, they are investments, anybody cannot just walk in into the forests and claim that as a Nigerian he can be anywhere in Nigeria, as made by the Bauchi governor. The forests that are not government reserves belong to families of the Yoruba people in Yoruba land. So, there are no free lands anywhere. They belong to families and communities, you cannot just go there and start plundering the resources. So, for me, the claims by the Bauchi State governor are fallacious. They are not true. His defence that herders can carry arms are fallacious and I see it as an indictment of the federal government that is charged with the protection of the citizens of this country. In any case, the laws of Nigeria forbid any citizen from bearing firearms. So, for a lawfully elected governor of a state to now tell herdsmen to carry arms, for me is unfortunate and it is like the governor is promoting anarchical behaviours, which is not welcome in any constitutional democracy.
One new twist to the increasing banditry in the country is the abduction of school children. How do you view the incidents and how would you rate the response of the federal government so far?
I am sorry but I must ask openly: Do we really have a federal government? For me, I will be pointing fingers to my state governor and the other governors, particularly in the South West. They must sit down now, especially in the South West. May God forbid, but these same people may come here now in a few months’ time while we are thinking that it does not concern us. This was how we folded our arms when Boko Haram was invading the North East and North West and Abuja in those days and we thought it did not concern us. Now they are here in different guises – as bandits and kidnappers. For me our governors should now sit down and begin to anticipate; may God forbid, but before they begin to harass us because the federal government has failed. It was a school in Katsina State a few months ago, now it is Niger State; so we should get prepared. The Yoruba will say “Igi ganganran ma gun mi l’oju, a t’okere la ti n lo o” In other words, prevention is better than cure. In fact, attack is the best form of defence. As far as I am concerned, I don’t see the federal government here. They will go and negotiate with these people, give then N100million they will go spend part of the money to buy arms, then they will go to another part of the country and kidnap then you go and beg them again and give them money. It is a vicious cycle. So, we must make up our minds quickly what we want and how to protect ourselves here in the South West.
Last week, the Northern leaders issued a statement in which they accused the YCE of undermining national security by writing the United Nations on insecurity in the country. YCE wrote the UN and northern elders are angry. What is your view on this sir?
The first question we should ask the Northern elders is: Is there insecurity in Nigeria or not? In fact, insecurity in Nigeria has been heightening in the last five years. What has the federal government been doing to curb this insecurity that is enveloping the entire country? Then the next question: The world is a global village; we have citizens from all parts of the world, members of the United Nations, in Nigeria and the Nigerian government appears unconcerned to the ravaging insecurity. So, what is the crime of the YCE Europe and Canada branches to intimate the UN of the possible dangers that are likely to confront their own citizens too in Nigeria? Are expatriates not being kidnapped? An American was kidnapped and rescued in Nigeria sometime ago. Was this not so? So, for me, they are just being clannish because there is insecurity in Nigeria and in fact, the challenge is more in their zone but we are shouting because we don’t want to be invaded again. And the whole world must know. No country is an island on its own again. The world is a global village, people move up and down, so it is important that the federal government should be called to order by the international agencies. On one hand they take money and pay for development in Nigeria on the other hand, they are not prepared to protect all their citizens. You can see the paradox. So, for me, I think the Northern elders went off the line. They crossed the red line by saying that.
Nigerians are already looking beyond this administration. They are looking forward to 2023 to make amends through the polls and correct the mistakes they have made. What advice do you have for the people as some jostle for political offices, especially among your sons in Yorubaland?
My advice to those ones is that they should realise that it shall no longer be business as usual in Nigeria. In other words, the next leader of this country has to be somebody who is cerebral, who is competent, who has character and who is patriotic, not somebody who is completely detached from reality like what we have now. In fact, the greater part of my advice will go to the voters. They can see the state of the economy of the country now; and the state of security and so on. So, the next president of this country should be somebody who is up and about, who understands the issues, who is competent and who is well exposed and who knows that we are in a global village. If you seek my advice, this country has to be restructured to achieve a true federal state. We are a unitary state, we are living a lie. The constitution we are operating is completely a false document; it lied against itself from the very first sentence, according to Rotimi Williams. So, anybody who is patriotic in Nigeria now must seek to make sure we have a new constitution before the middle of next year. That is my own position.
Regarding the economy, the government is trying to make us understand that we are out of recession but that the economy remains weak. How do you see the economy sir?
Yes, we have the National Bureau of Statistics but the statistical data that we all throw around are not the reality of the Nigerian situation. About 75 per cent of the economy of Nigeria is in the informal sector. It is in the informal sector where you don’t have tax: market women, traders, artisans and so on, people that have money that is not in the banking sector. So, our data is not anything to be relied upon. Even the inflation rate that is put at about 17 per cent to me, is by far, an understatement. Inflation rate is by far much higher. So, for anybody to say we are getting out of recession and so on is fooling the entire citizenry. We are not in the production of anything. We don’t have power. How do you get out of recession in a country of over 200 million people with less than 5,000MW of electricity, then with the distribution system antiquated through poles and electric wires? So that is not the reality.
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