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Amnesty alone won’t solve militancy in Niger-Delta

By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Major General Ibrahim Haruna is  the  chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. He was the
Federal Commissioner for Information in the Murtala Muhammed era and  was the General Officer Commanding (GOC), Two Division of the Army during the civil war.

He was  reportedly instrumental in the Asaba massacre where a lot of people were killed during the war but  he later told the Oputa panel on Human Rights that the massacre was motivated by the sense of duty to protect the unity of the country.

He has always been vocal on issues relating to national unity and in this interview, he answers questions on the  military intervention  in democracy; unity of Nigeria and constitution review amongst other issues.
Excerpts.

Nigeria’s political history has not been anything to write home about. We are 49 years and that has not reflected in the way things are running in Nigeria. Why?

You cannot get to  the destination that you are going if you are not determined to travel to that place by taking the appropriate route that will take you there.

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If we are not where we are supposed to be as a nation, it is because we have not set out to be there. I think we are where we are because this is where we have traveled to. So far, we have traveled to the level where we are able to preserve our sovereignty as a nation and as a member of comity of international nations. What I’m saying is that we have preserved our Nigerianess but what we are worried about is the content and quality of this Nigerian nation.

There are people who don’t believe that we ought to be one nation. And we have made sacrifices over the years so that the nation of Nigeria can be built with a definite destination where the leaders can lead them to.

When we talk about our leaders, we fail to appreciate that there are leaders without national vision or destination. There are leaders whose vision of leadership is their being able to attain ethnic supremacy or geo-political  supremacy.

But I think we are getting to where we can say that we are all members of humanity that can be said to be Nigerians and belong to the international civilised development and therefore we are beginning to signify that we measure our journey and destination.

As at now, we can say that we have set a programme for Vision 2020, the millennium development goal and we hope to face the challenges that will take us there. We’d recall that we have  an economic development plan immediately after the civil war and those plans were rolled over but again, all the super structures that we built, like the airports, the refineries, the pipelines and so many other strategic infrastructures that we built are now in decay and we are stagnated and we have lost our momentum for those political and economic developments. So, the opportunity now is a challenge to the new leadership .

How well we do things will depend on how well we achieve the doctrines of democracy, good governance and also how we organised our economy because fundamentally, the economy should set the tune and democracy should set the parametres of  the choices that are made by the politicians to the electorates.

Really, I don’t know how much more you want me to say but Nigeria has to be congratulated. At least we still have the embodiment of a position in which crises can be cut off and be resolved from within.

We have had the challenges of  the  military intervening  in the oil-rich Niger Delta and the government is setting the resolutions of that. We have had the problems of corruption and the pervert management of the banking institution and government is also handling that. We are at the cross road of privatisation and government is equally handling that. So, the challenges are being faced and we hope we succeed.

After the civil war, there was a mapped out programme for development and re-uniting Nigeria. Why is it that even at the present time, we don’t have a united Nigeria per se?

We have a federation and how united we are has a lot of meanings because we are a federation. We have the local government, the state government and the federal government. We have different cultures within these segments and that is a challenge.

But we have a constitution binding us as a nation, we are developing and one can say, so far so good. If we are not one Nigeria, by now, we would have been a group of small nations and that would not have united out frontiers as being one Nigeria has done.

Why do you think we are having problems with our democracy? Many think the military should be blamed for that?

I don’t agree that the military is responsible for Nigeria’s democratic woes. Military regime is different from democracy and that has not affected the way Nigeria is running. Military intervention was due to the problems in democracy and not the other way round. In every situation the military intervened in the affairs of Nigeria, it has always been for good and not for bad.

We had problems with democracy in Nigeria before the military intervened. Military intervention provided a cure to the democratic problems we had in Nigeria in the early years of our nationhood. We did what we thought was best for this country and since democracy has been re-established, we should try and develop it and in the process, we should have a review of the constitution and the review of the electoral process.
So, nobody should blame the miliary for Nigeria’s woes?

No you cannot because if not for military intervention, there would have been no Nigeria today. Nigeria would have torn apart and we would have been little, little countries occupying the space that we call Nigeria today.

So, the military is not our problem. Our problem is developing a viable country under democratic rule and an efficient economy to keep people employed and have better life.

You spoke about corruption being one of our challenges…

Yes

But it seems Nigeria is soft-peddling on the anti-corruption crusade as some of top-shots indicted for corruption are walking the streets free. As it is, Ribadu who was the hunter is now the hunted…

It’s you journalists that create heroes and that way you create problems for Nigeria. The  many people you have talked about are being supported and idolised by the press. But the rule of law is the rule of law. If an indicted person is still walking the streets, it is because the law allows him to be on the streets. You may think somebody is a criminal or a thief but until the law says so, that person is a free man. It is not that the anti-corruption crusade is not on but the rule of law still prevails.

The new CBN chief has started the sanitisation of banks and there is  controversy about the way he is going about it? What do you think?

What I said earlier is that the banks as many of our institutions are battling the problem of corruption but the system is taking care of it. The EFCC and the ICPC are all doing their work according to the law. So, we should give them chance to do their work like in every country that is looked upon as an icon if civilisation. We should let the law take its course.

Do you think the CBN governor is doing things the right way?

In democracy, people have the right to say what they think and anybody in the public eye is criticised but just as some people are criticising him, some are applauding him as a hero. Or would we prefer that this country runs down because there is no liquidity to support the banking institution or that he should not perform his duties as the CBN governor with powers given to him by law?

Of course, there are loopholes to the acts of lawlessness just as there are beneficiaries too. So, some people are benefitting even as some people are crying but somebody has to do what he has to do according to law.

But if anybody feels he is not in order with what he is doing, they should charge him to court. If you want my personal opinion, I will tell you that Sanusi Lamido is doing the right thing.

You spoke about Vision 2020 as a way of bringing Nigeria’s economy to the global standard, how would that be achieved?

Vision 2020 can be achieved by the act of the government, private sector and we individuals. Actually,  it is intended to make us a better country in terms of dispensing better welfare to the people. If the government brings out its plan from year to year and the government reduces its budget from year to year and it is implemented in good faith, we will get there.

We have heard of Vision 2010 in the time of General Abacha which never became…

Abacha’s time was a time of authoritarian military rule. The programme then was a military programme and when he left, Nigeria entered the process of democratisation. So, they are not the same programme. The other was to be attained by military rule while  this one is a civilian dispensation.

Why is federal character not working in Nigeria?

Are you passing judgement on the way federal character is being run? What is the problem with that? What the constitution says is that we should reflect federal character in the governance of various  federal institutions in the country and without statistics, we cannot pass any judgement. That the government has some bias about certain institutions does not mean we do not have federal character.

President Yar’ Adua has been accused of bias in certain appointments he made in certain institutions in that regard…

Anybody who feels President Yar’ Adua is not doing well in that regard should go for a declaration in the court. They may not enforce it because it is not part of their passable law but if they want a declaration, they can go to court for a declaration.

Do you subscribe to the allegation that he favours the north more than the south in his appointments?

That’s a biased accusation. Was there not a president before him? Has Yar’Adua put Nigerians in positions they are not qualified for? He has the mandate to rule and should select those who will do his job for him. If we don’t trust him, then, let’s impeach him.

I believe Yar’ Adua is doing the job he has been asked to do and we should not throw judgement upon him. The most important thing is for him to select the right people for the job. If he has selected anybody who is not qualified to do a job, it would be a different thing but appointees to key positions in government pass through screening exercises after which they are certified fit.

How would you assess Yar’ Adua’s  administratiion so far?

Excellent.

It is being alleged that he is trying to achieve what his predecessor could not by way of term elongation…
What Obasanjo allegedly tried to achieve was attempting to perpetuate himself as the president of this country by changing the constitution like Niger Republic has done and that he imposed privatisation on us without taking care of the human angle of it which has left many unemployed and many infrastructures decayed and many factories  closed.

There must be a plan in effecting reforms for privatisation , reforms in democracy and consolidation of these reforms must have a shape and the way to go about that  is to ensure  the human angle is taken care of  but there is so much corruption in privatisation anyway. So, it has not really taken off.

What should be done to resuscitate these collapsed infrastructures so that reforms could become effective because as it is, the entire system is collapsing?

We still have a system but the economic modem of privatisation which is to get the private sector into the economy has led people into corrupt enrichment.People are amassing wealth from public funds. It is not the system that has collapsed. It is the ethical conduct by which it is being operated.

The refineries that were built are not working, they are not serviced, they are not put in work and yet the same Nigerians who have money are building and operating refineries abroad. We have the oil, we have the gas, so, why can’t we have at least two or three refineries working in Nigeria?

The collapse of refineries and other infrastructures is believed to be part of the reasons for militancy in the Niger Delta region. Now, do you think the amnesty granted militants is the solution to the problem of militancy in that region?

The problem of militancy in the Niger Delta has various dimensions. You can blame lack of development in the area on the leadership. You  can also blame leadership for not using the funds allocated to them for development.

You can say that well, they wanted more money and that the degradation of the environment could be blamed on the leadership but militancy that is criminal has a different challenge. There are reasons why they became criminals.

There are reasons why they were allowed to continue operation in any way.
The position of things which is both economic and political has become the challenge for the political leadership.

It’s not a simple thing and so one should not think that that the collapse of the  refineries brought about  militancy or caused them to go haywire. It is part of it but it is also part of the legacy of Yar’ Adua’s inheritance and he’s been working towards resolving it. Lobbying has always worked whether it is democracy, economy or development because it takes time to make the laws.

But when the laws are made and people abide by them, they should see development. Like now, it is left to the legislative to pass the comprehensive law on gas and oil.

So, would you say that granting them amnesty is the answer?

Amnesty is not the answer to the militancy because militancy is part of the problems in the country. Amnesty is a part of the solution. Amnesty alone cannot be  the solution to the problem. It is a means to the solution.

You know when the militants surrendered their arms, there was so much raz-mataz as if to say this has finally ended…

There is no way amnesty alone would solve the problem. Besides amnesty, government has other plans in place or is putting in place to get these repentant militants employable if they are not employable, to get them acquire skills.

Meanwhile, it is not only rehabilitation that government is planning.There is also a plan by government to bring about development in the place.

It’s a continuous process  because you cannot bring development in a day, neither can you train a man in a day. It takes time to acquire knowledge and so, after amnesty, other things will follow and gradually, the entire problem would be eradicated.

It  took time for the North to
suddenly remember Ahmadu Bello and raise funds for his Foundation. How do you see the idea?
The idea is laudable and Sir Ahmadu Bello is recognised as one of the  founding fathers of the Nigerian nation.

That he’s being immortalised now instead of earlier should not be an issue as far as I’m concerned.
Nigerian politicians are given to a do or die kind of politics. The year  2011 is approaching, what advice do you have for them?

I hope that we would have a hitch-free election in 2011 and not a do-or-die affair. My wish is that we re-define all those flaws associated with the conduct of the previous elections and then have credible elections come 2011.

The national assembly has started receiving memoranda on constitution review. What areas of the constitution would you like to be amended?

I have extended my views to the national assembly through a memorandum. There are many issues in the constitution that needs harmonising and tackling and I cannot quote them section by section now but it is something the parliament should take care of and I have made these areas known to them.

Do you think we can ever have a  free and fair election as we did in 1993?

Those who made the 1993 elections such a free and fair election should also try to make the 2011 election better than we have had before. What we should do is that we should have the attitude to accept that  credible elections are possible in Nigeria.

So, if  we endeavour to have a free and fair election, we could have it because in a do-or-die election, only the anointed can get elected and the ordinary man would be dis-enfranchised and that way we would continue to have  problems.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.