By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Chief Mike Ozekhome, an accomplished lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is one of the country’s foremost advocates of civil rights. In this exclusive interview, Ozekhome who is currently a delegate to the ongoing National Conference bares his mind on his experience in the hands of kidnappers, the issues at the conference among others. Excerpts:
How may you assess the conference so far?
My assessment of the conference is that so far, it has been a very laudable, huge success, more successful than many cynical and pessimistic Nigerians ever thought it could be.
Some people called it a mere talk shop that will not achieve anything. Some thought it was a presidential talk shop set to achieve certain ends by president Goodluck Jonathan.
There are great Nigerians at this conference; some of the very best you can expect from Nigeria, indeed the first eleven that you can ever get in any congress, in any parliament, in any National Assembly because most of them will never lend themselves to any election for any reason.
Some of them are septuagenarians. Some octogenarians. Some are near nonagenarians. Some of them are youths, the youngest amongst us, barely 24 years old. Some of them are living with disabilities, physically challenged. Some blind. Some lame.
Many of them are market women. Many of them are retired civil servants, elder states men, retired military, police personnel, business gurus that drive the society.
There is no way you would have gotten this first 11 Nigerians to conglomerate in one place if you were talking about having a National Assembly. It was not going to be possible at all.
But many are saying that this first 11 you say caused most of the problems of this country?
Very well. It takes a monkey to catch a monkey. In fact, it would have been a horrendous tragedy if those Nigerians believed to have caused the present problems were also not called upon to come and help us fix the problems.
It would have been a contradiction. You say a person caused a problem then you want to solve the problem.
Why don’t you call the person who you have accused of causing that problem to come and help solve it and many of our elder statesmen here have actually confessed even the military generals have confessed to say yes, we are part and parcel of the problems we are having today. But we are here to help find a solution.
You had an awful experience last year in the hands of kidnappers. Do you think that having state police would help to reduce criminality in the country?
Yes, it is going to help in no small measure. For example, the kidnappers who kidnapped me, I didn’t hear them speak my language. I didn’t even hear them speak Edo language. They were speaking other languages.
Perhaps, if we had state police that were manning that road and the kidnappers were aware that the people within that periphery will understand these languages, they probably would think otherwise.
When a crime is about to be committed, the locals who for now are derogatorily called vigilante groups are those who will understand the nuances, the predilection, idiosyncrasies, cultures and languages, dialects, religion, the behavioral tendencies even the body language of the people and they will be best to nib that crime in the bud before it forms.
They will blow the whistle immediately and the security agencies will swoop on them. Take for example, if you post an indigene of Iviuekwe, near Agenegbode in Esako East local government of Edo state, where I was born, you post a man like that to Chibok to go and confront Boko Haram in Sambisa forest, he will need up to three months to even get used to the terrain, to even know how to go from Gwoza to Chibok, from there to Sambisa forest because he is not from that area.
He does not understand the local language and if even a crime is being planned, he will only hear them speaking either Hausa or Fulani or the local language.
Therefore, it is the local people that can best handle their own affairs because they know the father, grand and great grand father of the policeman who is on patrol on the road and if he wants to collect bribe from the person, he will tell, look I am going to report you to your father or uncle.
We are not saying that state or community police will totally wipe out crime, there is no where in the world that crime does not exist. Nobody is looking at a society where there is no crime at all but we are looking at a society where crime will be so minimized that everyone can sleep with his two eyes closed.
We need ethnic revolution in Nigeria to move away from where we are now, where wealth no matter how it comes is celebrated by 419ers, Kidnappers, murderers, Otokotos, high way robbers, armed robbers, by government thieves. And some people are decorated with national honors.
They are made to sit in the front pews in churches and front row of mosques and they are decorated with chieftaincy titles, with honorary doctorate degrees.
For as long as we continue to celebrate wealth without minding the source of that wealth; but for how long are we going to have these problems?
In your own estimation, has the government been effective in the fight against terrorism?
My assessment of the government of the day is that it is doing its best within its present knowledge of terror and insurgency. Nigeria has never had serious terror, insurgency experience before. We have always had people who just demonstrate. So, when a bomb detonated at the parade ground in Abuja, everybody was shocked. Nigerians never prepared for terror. So, I think that Nigeria should support the government. Terror is not a picnic. All of us need to put our hands on deck. We should all put our hands together to fight terror, insurgency, kidnapping in Nigeria.
Aren’t you exonerating the government as many Nigerians say has failed in that direction?
I am not exonerating the government. It is a very delicate situation when you have to balance human rights, civil rights of the people and tackling insurgency.
When Obasnjo went Odi and Zaki Ibiam, we blamed him. He was trying to fight what we regarded as terror. But people petitioned that this was genocide.
So, we must balance it in a way that attacking terror in these three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, you do not end up killing innocent citizens. It is a delicate balance. I am not in anyway exonerating the government.
Government itself should sit up, provide the most modern gadgets for espionage, for fighting terror. They should know now that terror is real.
They should not rob their hands and throw it in helplessness. They should now get up and fight terror the way it should be fought, ruthlessly.