By Chioma Gabriel
Senator Tunde Ogbeha, the former Military Administrator of Akwa-Ibom and Bendel States respectively, retired from the military as a Brigadier_GeneralÂ in 1993. He was a democratically elected Senator representing Kogi West on the platform of People Democratic Party (PDP) in February 1999.
In this interview, Senator Tunde Ogbeha answers questions on several political issues and the state of the nation.
United States Secretary of State, Mrs Hilary Clinton visited Nigeria recently and gave a knock on our leadership. By her assessment, Nigeria hasÂ leadership crisis. Do you agree with her?
That is her personal assessment. But that is not saying that we donâ€™t have problems. We have problems but those problems are being sorted out. The issue of leadership is relative. Talking about leadership crisis is relative. We may have problems in certain areas of our leadership but I wonâ€™t call it leadership crisis. We donâ€™t have a leadership crisis.
We have a leader. We have leadership at all levels in this country and there is no crisis. Nobody is contesting the leadership of the President.
Those who attempted to contest the leadership ofÂ Nigeriaâ€™s president went to court and the issues were resolved by the court. So, there is no leadership crisis. But whether we have quality leadership or not is a different matter.
Would you say that we have quality leadership now?
Yes. But we know that democracy has its own problems and the leadership we have in place is grappling with those problems. There are areas where we are struggling with quality of leadership but there are areas where we have excelled.
But by and large, we have an average quality leadership, but we need more quality leadership to move Nigeria forward.
We are having problemsÂ of militias and religious fundamentalism in the Niger-Delta and the North respectively. It is believed such a problem would not crop up in a military regime.
That is not quite correct. Take for instance, the problem of Maitasine. The problem of maitasine in those days came up in the military era. We had all kinds of militancy both in the north and in the South.
The issue of militancy in the Niger-Delta has just came to the fore in the recent times. There has been the issue of agitationsÂ in the Niger-Delta for a long time.
You remember the issue ofÂ Isaac Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Kaiama declaration by Ijaw youths in the town of Kaiama onÂ 11th day of December 1998. That was not a civilian regime.
It is worse now because it was not addressed earlier, it was not addressed with the seriousness it deserved and it has been allowed over the years to develop into an octopus.
If it had been addressed seriously when it reared its ugly head, I donâ€™t think it would developed to what it is now. And politicians were also part of this development because politicians used those militants for their respective election purposes and when there was no need for them to use them again, they abandoned them and left in their hands the arms they supplied to them.
But in the north, the problem of Boko Haram is a new development. Some are even attributing it to politicians ahead 2011 general elections?
Well, I donâ€™t really know. The important thing is that for whatever reason they cropped up, something has to be seriously done to contend with it. What is important is to have the government and the intelligence agenciesÂ deal decidedly with these bunches of undesirable elements who are parading themselves in religious garments.
But you can see from the aftermath of Boko Harem mayhem in some parts of the north that it is not a movement that is very popular because Muslims rose up and condemned the movement and again that is what must have informed government to move against another sect that was growing in Niger State. I think we must have timely intelligence and intelligence that can move effectively to forestall the kind of incidence that happened in some parts of the north.
Would ascribe these problems toÂ flop in our security system?
Yes. I consider that a flop because we have intelligence but the intelligenceÂ was not used appropriately. So, it is a big flop.
We could see that in some parts of the world where they have good intelligence, they move in before any damage is done.
We can take an example from Australia, from Britain but I want to point out that sometimes, intelligence fail and that is why there were incidents of 9/11 in USA, the July attack in London.
The intelligence there failed. But as much as possible, we should not allow intelligence to fail. As soon as you receive intelligence reports, you serve it and use it appropriately and timely.
To what would you attribute the influx of illegal arms which are in the hands of wrong people. The other time, a plane load of arms and ammunition was arrested in Kano.
Well, that is failure in our system, either that our borders are porous and they are not in a position to control and check the influx of arms and I think that government should do something about that.
Government should ensure that our borders are so watertight and illegal arms donâ€™t find their waysÂ into the country to be used by any of these dangerous groups of people to wreck havoc in the system.
If some of these things happening in Nigeria today were to happen ten years ago, wonâ€™t you think the military would have staged a coup?
I donâ€™t think it is necessary at this time. Our environment is not favourable for any coup. Whether it was ten or twenty years ago, it is not favourable. It is not acceptable. I think the worst democratic government is better than a military government and I disagree absolutely with any form of military intervention. I am for democracy.
You are a member of PDP?
Are you comfortable the way the party is running Nigeria. General Jemibewon did say that PDP is corrupt. Do you agree with that?
I donâ€™t agree with that. That is his personal view and I donâ€™t agree with that. That is a blanket aspersion. Individually, I cannot speakÂ for every member ofÂ PDP or say they are 100% clean but to throw a blanket that PDP is corrupt or that politicians in the party are corrupt, I donâ€™t subscribe to that. I wont agree with whoever says that.
But would you say PDP has led Nigeria aright since 1999?
PDP has done well. The fact that we have had ten years of uninterrupted democracy is a feat by itself. It shows that the nation is moving. We have problems but Iâ€™m sure these problems are being addressed by the PDP government. I think averagely, one will say that PDP has done well. I do not accept that PDP isÂ corrupt as a political party.
It is believed that former President Obasanjo deliberately used some ex military officers turned politicians to run the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar out of PDP…
I am not in any position to comment on that because I donâ€™t know anything about that.
But you worked closely with OBJ and was loyal to him politically?
What do you mean?Â You have a President, your loyalty goes to the President. If Nigerians were not loyal to OBJ, he would not have ruled Nigeria for eight years. So, I donâ€™t understand your definition ofÂ loyalty. Iâ€™m a PDP member. The former President is a PDP member and the President of Nigeria and I donâ€™t know who else I would have been loyal to.
There are many aggrieved members of the PDP who believed they were used and later dumped.
I donâ€™t know about anybody being used and later dumped. Everybody has himself to speak for. I canâ€™t speak for somebody else.
ManyÂ left PDP because they didnâ€™t like the way things were going and they formed the Action Congress, AC, under which Atiku contested Presidential election in 2007. His later attemptÂ to reconcile with OBJÂ received some boos and as many predicted , that reconciliation did not work out?
It is a personal thing and Iâ€™m not in a position to comment on that.Â Left to me, it is good for people to reconcile themselves after a quarrel. They cannot be enemies for life. I think life is too short for people to hold others in contempt for a long time.
If there are problems, it is a good thing to reconcile either as a Christian or a Muslim. People should not live with grudges for a long time.
I donâ€™t know which religion you belong to but my religion preaches forgiveness at all times. We should forgive one another and reconcile ourselves if we disagree. We should not carry strains in our relationships as a permanent patch. We must always forgive ourselves.
Some IBB â€˜boysâ€™ ventured into politics in 1999, 2003 and 2007.How would you assess these â€˜boysâ€™ and their performance in politics?
Well, the media is the watch-dog. You should be able to tell which politicians are doing well and those that are not. To me, I think these politicians are doing well.
And an example of them is the senate president, David Mark, who has proved to be an asset to this nation in conducting the affairs of the senate. So, by and large, I think thatÂ military men turned politicians are doing well.
To what would you attribute the inability of JTF to solve the Niger-Delta problem? Some believe theÂ Nigeria military areÂ ill-trained or ill-equipped.
The problem in Niger Delta is not a conventional one. So, it is not something you have a clear-cut objective thatÂ you want to go and capture the militants there. Donâ€™t forget that you are dealing with Nigerians, you are dealing with your own people.
You must try as much as possibleÂ to use minimal force to ensure that you get results. The military was not sent to the Niger Delta to destroy or kill. They were sent to go and show their presence and ensure that peace returns to that area.
And for peace to return to that area, political solution is required and that is what Nigeria is trying to do.
Okay, amnesty was granted to militants andÂ notable ones amongst their leaders haveÂ accepted it.Â But kidnapping is still on and has even gone beyond Niger-Delta to other places. Last week, Nollywoodâ€™s Pete Edochie was kidnapped and ransom demanded. For how long would this continue?
You know these things cannot stop overnight. They have perfected a very bad act and it cannot be stopped overnight. It will take a while.
But what we should do is that our security agencies should be alert to try to forestall such things and I they should continue to try to forestall it until kidnapping will no longer be fashionable, will no longer be beneficial, will no longer be a past-time thing. With time, I believe that things will return to normal.
How would you assess President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s regime? Some Nigerians say that itâ€™s as if NigeriaÂ doesnâ€™t have a President?
President Yarâ€™ Adua is doing his best. I think he is very meticulous in the way he runs his administration. He does not rush to take a decision and when decisions are taken, they stand the test of time.
So, I think heâ€™s doing his best. And you must understand the temperament of Nigerians. They are not patient. They want quick results and that does not come easily because you have other contending parties to deal with.
But you do accept that things are deteriorating in Nigeria. Nothing seems to be working and itâ€™s as if all the government institutions are collapsing. Power is non-exist now. Then you talk about the bad roads and the general state of infrastructure…
But all these things are being addressed because you cannot say that these deteriorations are caused by this administration. They are inherited things and if you have to fix them, it would take a while. ThisÂ administration has told us what to expect in terms of Power by the end of this year and we will hold them to that promise of giving us about 6,000 mega watts. If they donâ€™t hit that target, then, we can say they have failed us in one of their promises.
Professor Wole Soyinka did say that Nigeria is heading towards becoming a failed state. Do you agree with him?
Those are his views. Not mine.
If you consider the issues he raised on the state of the nation and the collapse of infrastructure…
I donâ€™t want to base my assessment on another personâ€™s view. I have given you my own. He has the right to share his view and I wonâ€™t analyse it for him much as I expect he cannot analyse my own assessment on issues.
People are still talking about the Orkar Coup after several years and thereâ€™s a controversy about who killed U.K. Bello…
I am not a principal actor in the Orkar coup and so, I wouldnâ€™t know who did what. If you donâ€™t want anybody to talk about it, then, you donâ€™t bring it up.
The Orkar coup keeps coming up because the media keeps bringing it up but I donâ€™t know because Iâ€™m not a principal actor in the coup.
What is the way forward for Nigeria in the midstÂ of all her problems; we talked about infrastructure, security situation as regards Boko Haram and Niger-Delta?
For Nigeria to achieve development, peace must be achieved. As regarding Niger-Delta, there must be peace in the region for development to take effect and with the direction of the administration, I believe peace will be achieved and we can move forward.
What about the Boko Haram threats. They have threatened to….
Boko Haram is a security issue and I have said that government should address that issue. But I think what is most important is to educate each and everybody, particularly in that region on their various beliefs.
In the dailies, there were reports that they are threatening to come to the South – Lagos, Ibadan, South-East states and deal with the â€˜infidelsâ€™ in the regions.
That is a challenge to the federal government and the security forces and Iâ€™m sure they will address those issues accordingly.
So, what is happening to you politically?
Iâ€™m still in politics.
PDP tried to reconcile some aggrieved members of the party who left the party back to the fold. Would you say it is working out well?
Sometimes, peace moved are very slow and requires patience, tolerance and perseverance and Iâ€™m sure if those things are tackled with zeal, peace will be achieved eventually and Iâ€™m sureÂ they have been making progress in that regards.