By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor
Chief Audu Innocent Ogbeh, one-time Minister of Communications; former National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and now a chieftain of All Progressives Congress, APC, is a politician and an administrator.
In this interview, he bares his mind on the present security challenge in the country, what President Goodluck Jonathan must do, the on- going National Conference, among other salient issues. Excerpt.
What is your take on the present security challenge in the country?
When you go along the roads now, one begins to wonder if enough equipment are being given to the security agencies to do their work.
If you are driving in from Nyanya now, the gridlock is terrible. But there are no equipment in the hands of the soldiers or the police to check what you are carrying in the car.
They look at you, wave you or tell you to park. In these days of high level of electronics, is it impossible for every check point to have good enough equipment to detect whatever is in your car? Why don’t soldiers have them?
What is the use keeping these young men on the streets, in the rain and in the sun, asking them to do security when they have no equipment.
So are we serious about it? What can anybody do by just looking at you and the car when some of these people carry their guns in bags of millet and feeds as has been reported in many parts of the country. And what of the budgetfor security? Is it being released?
Secondly, how many of you have been at the airport recently in Abuja here? Do you notice any check before you board the flight as you cross that final place where you pay your toll? Shouldn’t we take serious measures or are we waiting for some disaster to happen first?
And three, the situation in Maiduguri, there are too many disturbing rumours and comments being made about people purported to be wearing army uniforms, being the ones carrying out some of the atrocities. One doesn’t really know now what to believe.
Is it that these boys in the Boko Haram have bought Army uniforms? Or what is happening, one doesn’t really understand.
And while we carry on, our country is becoming a laughing stock. We have deteriorated into a state of barbarism where people can go, carry little school girls and take away at night and we are still just wondering what next to do. I think it has reached a state where not only foreigners, but Nigerians will begin to lose confidence in their own country.
Fourthly, what about our neighbours. How much respect does Cameroon have for Nigeria now or Niger or Chad and what level of diplomacy are we deploying to talk to these people to make sure that these bandits don’t take refuge in their territory? If they have respect for Nigeria, they won’t try it.
I remember in 1983, when some Chadian trouble makers invaded Nigeria and killed a few soldiers, Gen. Buhari pursued them on the order of Shagari until he nearly seized them and it was then the US started panicking that we are implementing a Gadafi agenda. Not long ago, I was discussing with Gen. Buhari on this issue and he said he wanted to give them a bloody nose because they had no business entering Nigerian territory to cause trouble.
So when are we going to get tough? We are not a small country. And why should small neighbours do this to us or pretend not to notice what is going on? When are we going to take measures against them? These are the issues.
We are becoming a laughing stock of the world and this is very disturbing because for you the younger generation, if this trend continues, a day will come when our neighbours will walk in here and do what they like and go back in the guise of terrorists. They will seize parts of our territory in the guise of terrorists and we will be making speeches and doing nothing.
So, these are very worrying trends and one needs to join other Nigerians in bemoaning the tragedy of these girls, their parents, this country as a whole. I am saying that we’ve got to take more drastic steps than we are taking because a situation where invaders arrive and kill a hundred in Katsina, two hundred and fifteen in Benin Kebbi, kill in Kaduna, in Plateau, in Benue, in Nasarawa.
And in the case of Benue, a chemical was used on the village, killing 18 people and we all covered it in Fulani herdsmen. We think they are mercenaries being rented from our neighbours and from faraway places because some of them when they are caught are of Arab origin. What is going on? Who is declaring war on Nigeria? These are very worrying situations.
And as a people, we have got to realise that we are in grave danger and we will give the President any support he needs to take more serious measures and also for him to investigate his own armed forces and find out who is loyal.
He said so before that the military and his own government have been infiltrated. Has he found those who infiltrated it? He should use military intelligence to find out who is loyal and who is not. You can’t have a situation where the security forces have doubtful loyalty to the integrity of this country.
Since he said so, we urge him to find out exactly what is wrong and who is loyal and who is not, otherwise, the survival of this nation is in serious peril and it is not a matter to laugh over because we are in serious trouble.
We sympathize with the President, his government but we also urge him to take serious diplomatic steps with the Cameroons, Niger and Chad and all the neighbours, anybody who harbours criminals are enemies of Nigeria. Obviously, they know what is going on.
In the case of the abducted girls, the President has set up a fact finding committee, will it solve the problem?
I don’t really see what the committee can do. I don’t. What we need to hear from the principal of the school is the details of the girls, the names of the girls. They said some came to do an examination there, find out who was there at that time so we have that list.
What can the committee do to help find out who or where they are? You keep hearing of Sambisa forest. Of course now, it is a bit too late to take certain measures otherwise there are ways of dealing with forests. They should know. If a forest becomes a place, a hideout for bandits, there are ways of dealing with forests. Dry the forest up.
They can’t tell me they don’t know. We know they do or they should.
How precious is the forest that one Nigerian child should be living there, tortured and misused? What is in that forest? The half of Maiduguri, of Benue, of Borno is desert anyway.
If you dry the forest up, maybe a few land, farms or whatever there will perish but deal with the forest. But of course now, you cannot do because these young girls are there. It is amazing that we carry on as if we have no knowledge of what is available on this earth. It’s very disturbing. A forest can be dried up.
Are you in any way disturbed about the religious dimension this issue has taken?
You see, we are a very sentimental people and Nigeria is a very peculiar society. We rush to religion, to ethnicity to hide our weaknesses as a people. What is religious about this matter? Half of those girls and maybe a quarter are Christians to begin with. Suppose they were not Christians. Suppose they were Muslims, they are Nigerian children.
How can I say I am indifferent if something happens in Badagry and I sit here and say it doesn’t matter to me. It will reach you faster than you imagine. The country is in danger. Let nobody sit and believe that this thing can’t spread to the rest of the country later, it will. If these boys have their ways, they will go far because they are testing the ground.
So evil has a way of spreading faster than people imagine. It is very disturbing to see that we are always very quick to see religion, to see ethnicity, to see politics in everything. The country is in serious trouble.
With the last bomb blast that happened, do you think Abuja is safe?
I have my suspicion that some of these people are actually residents here and I would like to suggest this to the FCT minister. There are too many abandoned buildings in this town and nobody seems to have a record of their owners and people are living inside them. I am suggesting to the minister to set up a team or teams around the city in different zones, including your neighbouring states, Nasarawa and Niger, that goes around that every owner of an abandoned building should be called to report to site on a certain day and be told in clear terms to finish the house, secure it or government will knock it down or seize it. This is not time for sentiments. You may not have money now but secure the house and let us know who is living there. Maybe your guard, his wife and his children and no extra persons otherwise you lose the house.
We seize your house or knock it down because this is abode of criminals, that is where they make their bombs and those things. We can’t carry on as if we don’t know what to do, buildings have been standing and people move inside them.
It happened in Lagos not long ago and nothing happened till today. They said the building belongs to Bayelsa state government. Bandits were there, the locals were complaining to government and nobody did anything until they caught them as they were planning ahead to blow up 3rd mainland bridge but the matter is finished.
Let the FCT, the federal government and their neighbouring states do something. All abandoned buildings inhabited by unknown persons should either be seized or their owners be told to finish them up or sell them or government knocks them down as they have become security threat.
The PDP and the APC have been on each other’s necks over this security, do you think it is the right time to play politics?
Of course not. These are not political issues. Those who got blown at Nyanya were they politicians? What have that got to do with PDP or APC? People who get killed are usually the common persons. Why are politicians making speeches? The country is in great danger.Ofcourse we look for cheap things to do politics with and we are not dealing with the issues. I am not interested in the politicisation of this issue which includes the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
My advice to her is not to get too involved in this matter. Her husband is the President, she is not. The duty of the president is to be the chief public relations man in Nigeria and so certain things should be said only by him before you start causing confusion in the minds of the people.
From the President’s side, what do you think he should do now?
That is what I have been saying. Don’t keep soldiers at the check points if they don’t have the equipment to track what is in the car. Sometimes, they carry bomb even in the engine, not in the boot. One group of armed robbers were caught on Jos road with machine guns and so on, buried in the bonnet of the car. We must have the equipment to check these.
I was a Minister of Communication before and I know what is available. Overhead and below,there is an equipment that can track anything inside it. We don’t have them. Why keep soldiers there sweating away in their fatigue and boot, they can’t track anything?
So what we are saying is that we are not aware that people can pass with deadly things. If they just stand there and look at you, and say wait or pass you, it doesn’t work. We should get these tracking electronics please. And government should acquire many of them and have them distributed to wherever there are checkpoints.
One begins to wonder from observing what goes on if enough security equipment are given to security operatives to do their job.
If you are diving from Nyanya now
the traffic gridlock is terrible. But there is no equipment in the hands of the police to check what people are carrying. They look at you, wave you on or tell you to park. In these days of high level technology, is it impossible for every checkpoint to have good enough equipment to detect whatever there is in the car? Why don’t soldiers have them?
What is the use of keeping these young men in the rain and sun and asking them to do security when there is no equipment? So are we serious about it? Or is it just a matter of displaying apparent seriousness? What can anybody do by just looking at you and the car when some of these people carry their guns through millets bags?
What of the budget for security, is it being used or not? Also, do you notice any checkpoint at the airports before you board a flight as you cross that final place where you pay your toll? Shouldn’t we take serious measures there or should we wait for some disaster to happen first?
Look at the situation in Maiduguri. There are too many disturbing rumours and comments being made about people purportedly wearing army uniforms being the ones carrying out some of the atrocities. One doesn’t really know now what to believe. Is it that Boko Haram boys have bought army uniforms or what is happening?
Secondly there are these abandoned buildings everywhere and a time should come now when people living in certain areas should all be registered and known. Governance is a serious business. You see Cameroonians and Chadians wander in and all over the place because we mistake freedom for anarchy.
Do you buy the view that the state of emergency should be extended in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno
Has it made any difference? The issue is about strengthening of the security and actually probing the security machinery to know who is where and who is what; who is loyal and who is not loyal. Government has a duty and the capacity to do so because we cannot doubt our own security.
There are those who are of the opinion that maybe because it is happening down north and not in the south and the president is from the southern part of the country and that is why he is not bothered until recently when two bombs exploded in Nyanya
Well, there are all kinds of things and you cannot blame people in a state of anxiety to think anything. I don’t think, I shouldn’t think that the president of this country can afford to be indifferent, I don’t think so.But he must also do things to show greater anxiety.
How many times have an American President gone to Iraq and Afghanistan unannounced. As the commander-in-chief, you visit places. That is the risk you take as a commander-in-chief. You visit trouble spots. He should have gone to Chibok. That is dangerous but that is his job. That is the dangerous job of a President.
And if you don’t go there, people will say you don’t care. I don’t personally believe so.His work is to protect Nigeria and the constitution against danger.
So maybe speculators may say all kinds of things but I personally don’t think that is the point. People do say so though but I don’t think so because the President has much larger things to cover than where he comes from.Evil happens in one place and it can replicate itself faster in another place.
You said the President’s wife should stay away in this matter. Don’t you think she is going out because of perceived inaction of her husband from certain quarters?
I don’t want to judge her, but whatever the situation, a president’s wife should be an adviser. An adviser whispers, advisers don’t shout. It is a rule worldwide. A national security adviser doesn’t go about giving press conferences. He whispers to the President. He whispers to the Minister that he is advising,he whispers to the governor.
By whispering, I mean, you go to him and say, one, two, three, four because the duty of the president is to be the chief public relations man in Nigeria and certain things should be said only by him before you start causing confusion in the minds of the people.
Do you think this will lead to the split of this country if not nipped in the bud.
The issue is that people talk about it very glibly. Even if the country splits, evil won’t split. It permeates. Obviously, it will cause anxieties.When they devastate the North, they move south.
They are not going to need a visa to cross or permission to enter your state. They are anarchists. A fellow who will enter a church or a mosque and throw a bomb and tell you he is serving God is an anarchist. If God wants me to die, does he need your help?
Do you believe in God in the first place? If you do, then God hasn’t sent me to kill anybody or cut anybody’s throat. Whoever sends people to do that is the devil himself. So it could cause a lot of stress. I will also advise, some persons in the South might also feel that Northerners are causing trouble. I even heard that Boko Haram is designed to make the presidency of Jonathan unpopular.
That is not true. The first outing of Boko Haram was under Yar’adua in September 2009. Yar’Adua while at the airport going to Brazil ordered the army to deal with them. So I don’t think it is as simple as saying it was set up to embarrass the president.
I don’t think so. Maitasine happened under Shagari and Maizaki Zaki happened under Abacha. So these arguments don’t hold. Evil is incubating, driven by failures of the North over the years.
Has the North developed in inspite of its long control of power?
We have not developed well. Poverty is terrible here and I gave a warning 13 years ago on this same subject that the North was going to be the trouble spot of Nigeria because of what I saw. People said I didn’t know the north well.
They said I was panicking. I was being too intellectual. But we have it now. I could see it. There are too many shortcomings in the north. Apart from three or four states, governance in the north is very low, very poor compared to what you see going on in the south. Even for the same amounts of income, you see Southern states going much further and it is a sad story.
But about three or four states in the north are doing the same thing but for the rest, I don’t know frankly. Back to us in the North, we have to ask ourselves why is this happening here. Because my complaint about us in the North is that there is too much interest in politics and not too much interest in governance and development.
And talking seriously, they know what I am saying. There is too much politics. Everybody wants to be governor, senator or minister or president. But of what use is it? What difference has it made? We pursue it with such vigour ,sometimes with such venom. Are we building schools in Benue for instance? Are we building in Nasarawa here?
Have you seen any new school class room? Where is the money? Ekiti is doing 5 kilometers of asphalt tarred road in every local government. What is going on in other states? It is a long and very nasty network that is developing into a putrifying disaster because it begins from there and nothing is happening.
Take the Almajiri for instance, brilliant young children sent away from their parents to different places. These kids are not stupid. Some of these could produce the finest lawyers, doctors, engineers. But they lose the first 12-15 years of their lives.
The Koranic education happened in the evening after school. The kids went to two or three hours of quranic school in the neighborhood. Today you just dispatch a child from one state to another. They have no father or mother there. He lives in an uncompleted building, has his bathe in weeks.
He is hungry most of the time. So, he grows to hate himself and the society. He is easy to recruit to commit sin. Most of them have the highest form of malaria, cerebral malaria. Can’t we deal with it? Why should any child at the age of four to seven be roaming the streets with a bowl begging food?
With all these things, is there any hope for the country?
Of course there is hope because we must all get involved. The silence is treason now. If you have an opinion, air it, don’t leave it for government alone. We are all concerned. Anybody can get blown up. You don’t sit and watch a child blown in the air. That girl may never find a husband and will be miserable for life.
There is one young lady from the East. There are nine of them in the family. She is lying in Wuse hospital. She used to be the bread winner of the house. The husband and sisters said their rent is due and she is lying down there. They just go there and cry. We are trying to see what we can do for them. Why is this happening in your country. You go out in the morning to go and do some business and you get blown up. It is a sad story.