Professor Salisu Shehu is the Deputy Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). In this interview, Shehu speaks on Nigeria at 57 and other issues.
By Bashir Adefaka
At 57 years, why do you think Nigeria continues to have issues?
There are still agitations essentially because the country has not achieved the desired level of development and prosperity that will support institutions in spite of abundant resources, both natural and human, that we have. So, with this problem of underdevelopment, people are generally poor and there is lack of contentment. If people are contented and you have basic services, these agitations would not have been.
Even if one says the champions of the agitations are the elites for their selfish interests, the bottom line is that the elites have found a fertile ground at the grassroots. They have found the teeming masses as useful tools for the agitations because the masses are angry in view of the fact that the system is not working. And the nation is not working because there is systemic decay.
You just said there is a systemic decay, which makes Nigerian system not functioning well. We have always blamed the problems of this country on leadership. With the ‘change regime’ in place since 2015, can we still blame the problems of the country on leadership? And, on the systemic decay, is it still that the sitting government is not doing anything about it?
The problem of leadership will always be seen as one of the problems of this
country. When we talk of leadership, we are not talking of a single person but we are talking of a collection of people at the helm of affairs. A government even in a small country of less than one million people cannot be run by one person, talk less of a government of a country of close to 200 million people.
So, when you talk of leadership, especially in a democratic and a presidential system like this, it is made up of three arms and three tiers of government. Talking of three arms of government, there is the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. And then you have the Federal Government, the state government and the local government as the three tiers.
Even though you have one single person up there that is upright morally and he is a man of integrity, he can only do certain things within his own ability and capability. But then, if the other arms of government that are supposed to complement the efforts of the executive are working at cross purposes, then there is leadership crisis. So, by leadership, all people that have certain forms of authority, whether executive, legislative or judicial, must be ready for the ‘change’ and must be in tune with the drive for ‘change’.
If this condition is not there, you will definitely have leadership crisis. Leadership also boils down to people that have authority within the civil service like permanent secretaries and directors in ministries and parastatals. When these people are corrupt and they don’t support the fight against corruption and they don’t support the drive for change, you are bound to have leadership crisis.
So, leadership is not about one person. I recognise the fact that one man at the helm of affairs can make a difference. But he can only make a difference to a certain extent like, for example, with this fight against corruption, all the major leakages in the resources of the country have been blocked. But, as you all know, there is still corruption in the ministries and parastatals. The only thing is that the major leakages through which Nigerian money is stolen in monumental quantities have been blocked. But there is still a lot of corruption going on. And as long as you have corruption in the system, people would continue to agitate.
Do you therefore agree with people who see the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) agitation from the standpoint of bad leadership? And what would be your reaction to the South East governors’ proscription of IPOB, the army’s classification and the court’s verdict on IPOB as a terrorist organization?
Let me begin with the second question. The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has already expressed its support for the proscription and the labelling of IPOB as a terrorist organization because that is what it is. The governors and the army have done the right thing and we support and commend their efforts. We also support the efforts of the northern governors who visited the south-East and had a meeting with their counterparts in the zone over the issue.
We say these are commendable efforts from the side of the South East governors and other governors that proactively acted against the activities of IPOB. However, the fact that the emergence of IPOB is a symptom or consequence of systemic decay is not in doubt. Then, it is consequence of decay in the Nigerian security system. This (systemic) decay is manifested in a number of ways.
The first way is the fact that the security system is porous because it is influenced and pervaded by fraud and corruption at all levels. So, any security threat can emerge and thrive because of the porous nature of the security system. Each and every security agency has its nature and magnitude of corruption and fraud. Except that the one by the police is the only one that is so manifest, and it is so manifest because the police are the most exposed of the security organisation; the police are the closest security organisation to the people.
But how has corruption in the security system played a role in the problem at hand?
It is so because corruption in the security system is one aspect of systemic decay. Another aspect of the systemic decay is the security system which gives room for the emergence of criminal organizations like IPOB, Boko Haram and these militants.
Then you have the lack of cooperation and synergy and lack of networking among the different security organizations. Our security organizations are supposed to operate through information, intelligence sharing, networking and all that. Now as a result of the systemic decay, which is due to corruption and vested interests, the security organizations in Nigeria usually work at cross-purposes.
That is one way. The other way, they hoard information that they are supposed to share with their fellow or sister agencies. As a result, the information that may be required by the police to act may be hoarded by the DSS. And the military intelligence may have information that it will not share with other organizations. So, you find that there is lack of synergy, lack of networking and therefore that the agencies may be operating either at cross-purposes or at different frequencies.
But don’t you think this could be as a result of lack of trust?
Yes, lack of trust is one of it and then there is problem of vested interests.
Vested interests because, maybe some persons out there in one organisation is favourably disposed, because of certain ulterior motive, to the agitation of one particular group, either because of nepotism or because he or she must have been given some money, and for that reason, he would not necessarily release the information that is required even when it comes to the level of investigation so that the real truth behind certain things cannot be unearthed.
The third aspect of the systemic decay in the security system is the shielding of criminals because money has changed hands or because the criminals belong to one’s own faith or because they belong to one’s own ethnic group. These are manifestations and aspects of the systemic decay in our security system which can make all the agitations and criminality that have posed a threat to our national security to be happening. Then there is the proliferation of weapons and armoury in the hands of criminals and different people in the country and these things are being moved around in different.
And who knows how many and what quantities have been able to pass through because of the porous nature of the security system? Can’t you see the arms that have been seized by the Customs for which some officers have been indicted? And you find this kind of people in the police, the military, the SSS who are ready to mortgage the security of the country because they have received money or because they sympathise with the criminals one way or the other.
When the Buhari administration deployed troops in the North-East against Boko Haram, nobody in the North raised any dust. But when Operation Python Dance II troops were deployed in the South-East to curb the secessionist threats, there were cries of injustice, which shows that we are all not on the page on the efforts to rid Nigeria of threats to the nation. As a northerner, what comes to your mind when you see this happening?
Honestly I think it is not completely true that some people are saying they don’t like the deployment of the military in the South-East. In actual fact, there was a forum of Borno people which cried out against the state of emergency imposed on the state during former President Jonathan’s time and that was because the state of emergence was not yielding any fruit. Yes, there was state of emergency but soldiers were running away and dropping their weapons for Boko Haram to pick.
Perhaps one would say the south easterners acted the way they did because they have more experience about the effects of the militarization of the area, especially from the experience they had during the civil war. And therefore they must be jittery when the military deployed and, which, especially, was why they came out and collectively proscribed IPOB. But then, in my own view, the Federal Government should not handle the matter with levity and that is why it should not rush into evacuating the military from the region until they are very sure that everything is fully under control. In essence, government should not rush into withdrawing the military from the region.
On a final note, His Eminence the Sultan, once said Nigeria had been well structured but that each region should work hard to develop itself with the resources it has. Do you really see any form of sincerity based on national interest in the current agitation for restructuring and, whatever your answer, is restructuring really the way to go? Advise the sitting government and the people of Nigeria.
I think the fundamental problem of this country is lack of good governance. I see this issue of restructuring as purely an elites’ interest, just like the agitation for state creation. When you create a state, you are just providing an opportunity for the elites of that particular area to go and hold on to power and keep on operating and squandering the resources of that particular area and leaving the people in abject poverty. The usual cry from the authorities is that there is no money in this country and that there is lack of resources.
If you take out two things, you will know that the lot of the common man will improve, whether we restructure or we don’t. These two things are, one, if people in government will reduce their extravagant lifestyle, things will improve.
If you go to the Government House in any state, you will see the extravagant lifestyle of the governors and their families and their hangers-on at the expense of the children of the common man sitting on the floor to study in school. And if the funds devoted to the extravagant lifestyle are cut down by 70 per cent, the people in government can still be very comfortable.
That 70 per cent be used to improve the lot of the common man.The second issue is looting; if it can be stopped, there will be a great deal of improvement in this country. But if there is no good governance, even if you restructure, the elites will keep on mismanaging the resources and the common man will continue to bear the brunt.