By Tina Akannam, Dutse
ALHAJI Sagir Mohammed, a Jigawa born former military intelligent officer, leader of defunct Arewa People congress (APC) and a stalwart of PDP, spoke with Vanguard over the lingering crisis in Niger/Delta and why amnesty will not solve the problem in the region: Excerpts:
SEVERAL efforts have been adopted by the federal government to stop the activities of Niger/Delta militants; do you think the amnesty offered by government will bring peace in the region?
All these talks and negotiations about amnesty by President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua are not the best options for the Niger-Delta militants. You can quote me; it will not work because the militant leaders are enjoying the loot of oil bunkery, they steal as well as hijack crude oil and sell them in orthodox market. They even auction our oil to get easy money in pursuit of their so-called struggle, which they are using to enrich themselves at the detriment of the innocent people in the region.
I hope the militants will not be under any illusion by the time the President will give matching order for the army to match finally on them. If it happens, they will see the fury of a robust army that has fought civil war and is still taking part in quelling internal security problems not only in Nigeria but in many African countries since 1963. Therefore I can confidently tell you that the whole idea of granting the militants amnesty is a waste of time, and posterity will prove me right some day.
So what should be the option if not amnesty?
I want to be realistic on this matter, the aim of granting the amnesty to the rebelling militants cannot be 100 percent successful. We expect that with the on-going negotiation about the amnesty, the militants would have surrendered by now, but instead some of them are still kidnapping and destroying oil pipes in the region, which is a clear evidence that not all of them are ready to accept the amnesty offer by the federal government.
There is no doubt that there are some militant leaders who will voluntarily surrender and relinquish their arms, but the hard core militants will not and those are the guys that are constantly blowing up the oil pipes, engaging in kidnapping, and by their pronouncements against Northerners residing in the region and even in the North, it seems that they are even ready for war.
But if they want war, they will be in for surprise because I am sure only a few of them know what is called war. Nigerian army has gone to war and all those who fought in the civil war are no longer in the army, and we have got a much more enlightened military with all the needed weaponry to fight any war.
In essence, all I am saying is that amnesty will not work, the only option is for the federal government to give a matching order to the Nigerian army to march on the Niger/Delta militants once and for all because they cannot continue to hold the entire nation to ransom. It is clear that all other options seemed to have been exhausted, the federal government and the citizens are running out of patienc and the international communities are feeling as if we donâ€™t have an army that can do the job once and for all.
What makes you feel the militants cannot engage the army in a full blown war?.
Why the Niger-Delta cannot withstand the final onslaught of the Nigerian military is the fact that their cause is not to promote ethnic nationalism, rather they are consumed by the desire to loot the wealth of the region and auction the oil in international illegal market. I can tell you that their so- called struggle is not about resource control, the struggle is about themselves maximizing stealing of our oil, amassing wealth and trying to dominate the Niger-Delta landscape by terror and terrorism, if not why are they kidnapping and asking for ransom?.
What do you have to say about the militants’ threat to fight the North, if federal government fails to heed to their demands?.
This is a threat to the corporate existence of the nation, not only to the North, and it should not be treated with kid gloves. What the militants are doing is only trying to bring unnecessary unrest in the nation because if they attack the North the entire country will be on fire.
The militants are not only threatening the economic well-being and the security of the region, they are threatening their political stability and above all they raised their stake higher by saying that they will attack the North and Northerners living within the region and more condemnable is the threat to come and attack us here in the North.
I find that comment absurd, but you see the threat is absolute thrash because the militants cannot even contemplate extending their activities to the North. Most of them only hear about the North through news reports and have never been to the area. They are illiterates within the confines of the Niger/Delta. Some of the militants were not born during the civil war so they donâ€™t know why the Nigerian army fought the most difficult war.
However, if they are serious about the threat it will only lead to nihilistic suicide because the North, despite the paramilitary, army and police, can within one month mobilise soldiers of up to 500,000, that is, if it comes to extreme hostility or declaration of war.
But right now, Nigeria is not talking about declaration of war, we are talking about quelling insurgency and gorilla activities within the confines of our domain. The noise the Niger/Delta militants are making to me is mere comics because Nigeria has got a restructured armed forces that is capable of not only quellling external aggression but can once and for all end the Niger/Delta conflagration.
The militants should understand that there is difference between some 20,000 militants having light weapons thinking that they can threaten the North and Nigeria . They must understand that the Nigerian army is a robust army and are inhibited by the position of the internal security doctrine. So what the military planners of the Niger/Delta should do is get an order to match on the militants with proportionate force.
I am not speaking as a Northerner, because some militants group want to fight the North, but as a Nigerian who is passionate about preserving the peaceful co-existence of this great nation. When the civil war ended, we believed and cherished the position of the federal government, which insisted on reconciliation and reconstruction, declaring that there was no victor or vanquish.
I will advise the militants to go and fight their leaders who are the real cause of poverty in the region, not the North.
In what ways are their leaders responsible for their problems?
What is the struggle all about if not because of the level of poverty in the oil rich region. From the statistics so far, their leaders got more money than any other part of this country, and if they have utilized the money judiciously, the level of under development and poverty in the region would have been minimal.
If what we see on pages of newspapers and televisions are true, then their leaders have not been fair to them. It means the leaders of the region are not straight forward and did not serve their people.
For instance between 1999 till date, leaders of the region received over N4.5trillion naira from the federal government.
In fact, there was a time when River State government got N600billion in one month from the federal government, that amount alone is more than the total federal allocation given to the entire North -West. Similarly, the total federal allocation given to Balyesa State alone is more than what North -Central states get.
From the facts I have all the former governors of region from 1999-2007 spent to the tune of almost N800billion. I will continue to blame former president Obasanjo,because he allowed all these in the oil rich region because he knew what the Niger /Delta governors were doing and yet he kept quiet. Unfortunately the only person that fell out of favour with him was former governor Alamieseigha as if he was the only governor looting the people’s wealth.
Every Nigerian knows that leaders in the area get 13percent as derivation fund from the total revenue, and the federal statutory allocation as well as funds from the Niger Delta Development Commission and the new Ministry of Niger Delta.
All these are measures taken by federal government to appease the people, therefore if all these monies are not utilised by their leaders, they should hold their leaders responsible for plundering their resources. Their leaders are living big while the region is improvised. It seems rather senseless for the militants to blame the North, when each region has its problems.
Are you accusing former president Obasanjo of being responsible for the militant activities ?
You know, I was always criticising former president Obasanjo because he did so many things wrong in this country. Quote me, the person who aggravated the problem of the Niger-Delta is Obasanjo.
You were a strong critic of Obasanjoâ€™s regime, today we have President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua in power and you seem satisfied with the administration when many Nigerians are saying he is too slow. How would you assess his administration in the last two years?.
You sound as if I am being tribalistic. That is not fair, all I was saying about Obasanjo were not out of sentiment, many things were going wrong and some people have to speak up. It took Obasanjo 8years to destroy so many things in this country and now Nigerians want President Yarâ€™Adua to repair them in 2years, it is not realistic. At least we all know what happened to our power sector during the last 8years when the National Assembly members probed the sector. How can Yarâ€™ Adua repair it in two years. It is not possible.
Anyway, I will say President Yarâ€™ Adua is not doing badly as some critics are saying, he is trying to implement his Seven-Points Agenda though it is becoming a mirage because a substantial damage has been done to the infrastructure, to power, security and the Niger-Delta. At least the man is trying his best to make sure that some of the agenda are actualised.
But I can tell you, for power, I doubt very much if they can actually get the promised 6000mega watts by December this year because right now only less than 2000mega watts is serving the entire nation. Almost all parts of this country is in darkness. Second, there are a lot of his ministers and advisers who are not interested in going on with the vision of the President, rather they are interested in giving contracts which has nothing to do with his Seven- Points Agenda.
That the President is slow, I donâ€™t think so, he is taking time to actualise his policies and we have started to see trickles of progress in the area of agriculture and policing, at least in security area he can be given 60percent. The police are now effective, and even in the Niger-Delta he is doing his best.
Are you saying the President should watch his back?
Thatâ€™s not what I mean because he has people who are watching him all over, all I am saying is some of his ministers and advisers are disloyal, they donâ€™t have the intellect, the capacity to sell the President and the few that have the intellect seem to be overwhelmed by the comfort of their offices and they do more talking on the pages of newspapers than trying to actualise the agenda of the government.
Recently, the new governor of Central Bank, when he went for Senate screening and was asked about the Seven-Points Agenda, said that if he were to advice the President he would advise him to reduce the agenda to two. I donâ€™t agree with him on that because these Seven-Points Agenda are interwoven.
Which one does he want the President to remove, is it security so that armed robbers will terrorise us? Is it power, even though Nigerians are used to darkness? Or is it to abandon the Niger-Delta.
You are from Jigawa State, when the state was being governed by an ANPP governor you were among the critics of the government then. What will you say about Governor Sule Lamido’s two years administration?.
Governor Lamido is an indefatigable leader, a visionary, who knows what to do to develop Jigawa State. Today, the civil service in Jigawa has been completely reformed. Without sentiment, the governor is developing the state at all levels, he is developing the state rural electrification, modernising the educational system and trying to interlink the entire Jigawa with one of the best road networks in the country.
Nevertheless, my advise to him is to make the state PDP to operate in unity because from what I am hearing there is some dichotomy between some party members and political office holders, which I feel is unhealthy politically for a state that has suffered so much.
The governor as a godfather to most politicians like me should devise ways to unite the PDP against the next election because the election is around the corner. The foot soldiers of the party in the state are feeling alienated and I advise the governor to quickly bring everybody on board so that he does not get distracted by these forces who have centrifugal tendencies.
You have assessed the performance of the governor of your state, how will you assess the performance of the governors of other states in the country?.
There are two governors who are my idols that any day they decide to run for presidency, I will not hesitate to support them. Apart from my governor, there is the governor of Lagos and Kano State governor.
Governor Ibrahim Shekarau has set for himself monumental tasks in Kano. Go around the state you will see the multiple dualisation of roads. He has also provided adequate water for more than 60percent of the people of Kano, he has enhanced the agricultural sector and trying to improve it. Even though the dams belong to the federal government, he is making maximum use of them to boost agriculture.
The health sector of the state is satisfactory but not to the level of infrastructure being put in place and there is limited corruption in the state.
He has the intellect, he is a governor with a vision, as I talk to you every where there is development except in Yankaba where I live, but I still respect him, and since he is developing every part, I know that it will get to my area..
Second, the governor of Lagos State is also an indefatigable leader. I can tell you his second term will be free from rancour and his opponents will not even challenge him, so there are only two governors that should be allowed to go for a second term in this country. These are the governors of Jigawa and Lagos states. As for governor of Kano, having exhausted his two terms, I will adv- ice him to go for the presidency, and I will support him even though I am not an ANPP man.
Do you think Governor Shekarau will have good chance under the ANPP,if he wants to contest for presidency?.
The problems with the political landscape of this country are the big political parties and the power of incumbency. They tend to consume other political parties. Therefore it is very difficult for any candidate from other smaller parties to compete with a candidate for the big party which is the PDP. The fact is with the geographical spread of PDP in this country, let me be realistic, it will be very difficult for anybody to win the entire South which includes the South-South and Western states.
I will suggest that if Shekarau intends to have a shot in the presidency, he should come to my party, the PDP, so that he can get the impact he wants politically because politics is about manpower, resources and people and the governor has got the people behind him.
If for instance, he decides to join the PDP in Kano, he will take over the party because there is no more opposition from the Kano PDP. there used to be.
Besides, the opposition has fizzled out naturally, and the inter-party rivalry in the party in Kano is so strong that they cannot produce even a minister from the party. I will advise Shekarau to as quickly as possible join the PDP because ANPP is dying.
Bauchi, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto who were ANPP states have now joined the PDP. It is not enough to carry such a banner with only three states out of 36 states.