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Post-amnesty dialogue will move N-Delta forward —Gen Azazi

*On Jos : Allegation against the army can be investigated

By Ben Agande , Abuja

Since he retired from the army after occupying the position of the Chief of the Defence Staff, CDS, General Owoye Andrew Azazi has been enjoying his peace away from public glare.
But, in this interview, Azazi speaks on the amnesty offered Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government, the performance of the Niger Delta governors and the Jos crisis.
Excerpts:

You were involved in some of the dialogues that culminated in the granting of amnesty to Niger Delta militants. What is your assessment?

The amnesty was a good thing that the president did. The general observation is that beyond the pronouncement and the initial effort, it has not translated to concrete action. There are several issues that need to be handled. Some people have looked at quick-win solution but I believe what we need now is long term solution because, most times, quick-win solution does not work. I have always canvassed that the key issue in the environment is poverty. How do you address that so that employed youths would direct their energy to something else and not militancy? That is the challenge that must be tackled.

Recently, there were attacks on some oil installations in the Niger Delta. Is this an indication that the amnesty has failed?
I cannot sincerely give a concrete answer because I am not part of the government; I am not part of the militants, so I don’t know the agreement that was reached. But there have been complaints by those brought to the camp that their stipends have not been paid to them. That gives the impression that the efforts have not been progressing. Personally I believe that you can only pay the stipend for so long. What is important is for the militants to be gainfully employed so that they can be useful to themselves. It is not about giving them stipends. I believe that the post-amnesty dialogue being organised by Vanguard Newspapers would bring out some of the missing links and we will move forward.

But people have argued that some of the militants are unemployable because of their level of education.
There is nobody in life that is unemployable. If you think he does not have a skill, you can train him to acquire a skill. Policing the pipelines is not the only thing that they can do. There should be economic empowerment. It is important that the militants are reintegrated into their environment. Pipeline monitoring is one option, after all they know the environment.  But it is important for us not to get the wrong impression that every militant is uneducated. I have seen medical doctors, engineers and doctorate degree holders.

The basic thing is, how do we ensure that we engage them for the benefit of the society? For somebody who is not educated, what do you do to make him useful to the society? These are issues that we must tackle urgently.

In other societies where they have had armed struggles, the combatants are integrated into the national army when there is truce. Do you think it can be done in Nigeria too?
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo made an effort when he was president, to see if there could be special recruitment for the Niger Delta states. Of course it was successful in some states while in other states it was not. Certain parts of Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta States did not have enough candidates. The complaint then was that “if we join the army, this is the amount of money we are going to get. But if we are trained to work in the oil companies, we will earn more than four times the amount we will earn.  So why not train us to work in the oil companies?”

In any environment, people must get involved in activities that would keep them employed. The military is not the only solution. Everybody in Nigeria has a place in the military, so there is a limit to what can be done for the Niger Delta in this regard.

A non-government organisation hosted a conference two weeks ago in Netherlands where key stakeholders in Niger Delta alleged that going by the body language of some of the governors from the region, it appears they are not fully in support of the amnesty programme of the Federal Government.

Sometimes government would have good intentions but they may not be very clear about how those good intentions would be implemented. If there is any governor whose body language demonstrates that he is not in support of the amnesty, there should be a way of addressing such issue. Every governor should be interested in peace in his state and has to ensure that people are gainfully employed. I have not got a complaint about somebody’s wrong body language but if there is something like that, I think it should be investigated.

As a stakeholder from the region, do you think that the governors of the Niger Delta states are doing enough to check the poverty level in the region?
If the governors of the Niger Delta states are doing enough, we will not be having a dialogue on amnesty. The basic thing is that there are still inconsistencies and it appears that the amnesty programme is stalled. I believe a lot needs to be done to collate what is being done at the state and federal levels in order to move forward.

How would you assess the role of the armed forces in the light of recent political developments in the country and the deployment of troops to receive the president when he returned from Saudi Arabia?

If the military were not loyal to the civil authority, the Chief of the Army Staff would not have come out to say “I don’t want civilian to encouraging the army to take over”. I think the army has done well.

On the argument about deployment of troops to the airport, the army has said what it needs to say. If the acting president was informed about the deployment which was a very simple routine duty, I don’t think you could fault that. The integrity of the armed forces is not in doubt.

Some critics have argued that the zeal and passion with which President Umaru Yar’Adua was pursuing the amnesty issue appear to have waned. Do you think so?

From what I read in the newspapers, when the president took ill, money meant for the stipends for the militants was not coming out as it should. I do not see that as one person not pursuing the amnesty matter seriously. It is not good for us to speculate.

Do you think the call for the withdrawal of the Joint Task Force from the Niger Delta is appropriate now?

Is there any sort of insecurity in that environment that demands the presence of troops? And beyond that, there is supposed to be a regular military presence in that environment beyond the JTF. We are supposed to have a battalion in Yenagoa, Nembe and Bomadi. I don’t know where you could withdraw the military from the Niger Delta. Even when I was in service, we said that there is no way the soldiers would be withdrawn totally. We said government should withdraw the soldiers to specific areas because if there are problems with security, the soldiers could be used. But the issue is, are we sure that we have completely addressed the security problems to the extent that we can withdraw the soldiers? These are the relevant issues that must be discussed at the post-amnesty dialogue.

When generals retire from the army in Nigeria, they join politics. What is your case?

Why will somebody rise to my position and not bother about what happens in his country? That does not mean that I have to be a politician to bother about what happens in my country. Whatever I do, I must be concerned about what happens in my country and that does not necessarily mean active politics.

What is your reaction to the recurring crisis in Jos?
That shows that there are issues that have not been addressed. The Hausas, Fulanis and Beroms had lived together very peacefully in that same Jos years ago. Like some people have said, these are economic and political problems and not religious. There is no Nigerian Muslim who does not have a close Christian friend and there is no Nigerian Christian who does not have a close Muslim friend. I believe that the government should find a way of dealing with the problems.

I think our intelligence gathering system must also be very efficient. Violence does not solve problems. What happened few days ago, if the security was able to determine when arms were gathered and people were being moved from one place to another, it would have been averted.

The neutrality of members of the army deployed to Jos has been questioned. As a former army chief, do you envisage the possibility of the army being partial?
I was not in Jos when it happened but I want to believe that the military at any time would want to be neutral. I do not have any reason to believe otherwise but if there is an accusation of that nature, I think there should be an investigation.

Like you rightly said, you have risen to a position in Nigeria whereby you should be interested in what is happening in the country. Are you worried about the continued absence of the president?
I believe the politicians are capable of taking care of that problem. The civil society should be interested in what happens in the country. Between them, the executive and the legislature should be able to find a solution to the problem. They all belong to a political party and the party should give direction.

Do you see the removal of the National Security Adviser as an indictment?
Nobody holds an appointment for ever. I don’t know why he was removed but I know that everybody holds an appointment for a time and you bow out gallantly.


Disclaimer

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