…Says there’s a lot of injustice in Nig breeding criminality
…Laments poverty, unemployment in the country
By Daud Olatunji
Chief Sarafa Tunji Isola, was a former Minister of Mines and Steel Development under late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua A former Senator, he had also served as Secretary to Ogun state Government after serving as Chairman of Abeokuta North Local Government among other appointments.
In this interview, he examined the rising wave of crimes in the country, especially kidnapping in the Southwest region and preferred suggestions on what should be done. He lamented that the rate of umemployment and povery in the country and challenged the government to rise to the ocassion.
South West Governors and other leaders held a security summit recently in Ibadan over insecurity in the region, as a stakeholder, what do you think about the summit?
Governors by the nature of their job are the Chief Security Officers of their states. Security is a bottom-up issue and given my experience when I was a council chairman, I used to hold every month, the peace and security meeting consisting of the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) in my local government area, the local government security chief of SSS, the representative of the brigade commander, the head of the immigrations, the representative of Nigeria Customs Service , the representatives of the traditional rulers in my local government, the most senior Imam, a Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) leader and three other community leaders of good standing in the society.
We always meet once in a month to appraise the security situation in Abeokuta North LGA. You can imagine if that is being replicated in 774 local governments areas in Nigeria once in a month. We processed credible intelligence and took proactive measures promptly. We had credible sources among the people while we also received sufficient and credible intelligence from the security agencies. Throughout my tenure, there was no major security issue.
The report of the monthly meetings were usually forwarded to the office of the governor. We usually took advice from the security chiefs, whether intra or inter-party conflicts. Proactive actions were usually taken just to neutralise the threat. It was about analysing the threat and making sure conflicts were resolved. We did that and within that context I believe that Governors as Chief Security Officers of their respective states, have first hand knowledge. It’s disheartening that whenever there is a problem in a local place, the person that gets blamed is the President but when it comes to the exercise of power against political opponents the governor then remembers he is the Chief Security Officer of the State.
Section 14 (b) of the Nigeria Constitution, clearly stated that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the citizenry. As a governor, you have a duty in the security and welfare of the state because that’s the primary duty of government. If you can’t do that one, then you don’t have any business being in government.
So, since the Constitution itself emphasises it, efforts must always be directed accordingly. Execution of projects and programmes can only take place in a secured environment, so, you have a primary responsibility to maintain security. The state security council in each state really has to meet regularly. In most cases, they don’t function effectively.
When you receive credible intelligence, you process and call a meeting monthly to take proactive measures. How many times are the states holding monthly security meetings? In most cases, it is firebrigade approach, whenever there is a problem they quickly summon a meeting, and in the next three months, you don’t hear anything. It’s a constitutional responsibility and for the state to be secured, at least once in a month, it’s better to meet and take proactive action rather than waiting for calamities to happen. When we talk of conflicts and security, as much as you get yourself involved in intra-state security issue, you should also be concerned in adjoining states because whatever happens in those states have consequences in your state.
What do you think is responsible for the failure of the government to tame the killer herdsmen ?
You see, that is one issue that is so complex and volatile, and unfortunately emotional. Security is not about emotion but fact. The issue of kidnapping is serious, except that you know me, if I dress like an Igbo man, and commit a crime somewhere, people will say one Igbo man has come to kill them here.
Those who know me will say it is Sarafa that dressed like Igbo so, we should really look at it more as the issue of herders and farmers clash. If you travel from Abeokuta to Ogere, you will see herdsmen on the road with their usual sticks, and maybe with a sword or cutlass. It can happen in other regions but since I have been traveling in this Southwest I have never seen herdsmen anywhere in the Southwest carrying guns, so, we must tell ourselves the whole truth. Those ones that are responsible for kidnapping should not be classified as herdsmen, they are criminals, and that’s the kernel of the issue. Once you fail to identify the problem, it will continue to grow. Criminals and criminality have no ethnic colouration, no religious colouration and no political colouration.
The main objective of criminals is to see crime as a business with a means to make profit or with a view to displaying peer ego – this person is doing it, I also want to do it better. I don’t agree with this classification of herdsmen kidnapping. For kidnapping to take place, there must be a syndicate. There is no Hamlet in Yorùbá land that does not have a Baale, it is either a Baale or a King or a traditional ruler of a town and on every inch of our land, wherever the herdsmen stayed, they are not being dropped by helicopter from above, somebody must have given them the place where they stay, somebody must have accommodated them.
On this issue of kidnapping, we should first look internally. I am not saying that Fulanis were not part of them, don’t get me wrong, but when people commit crime, it can be a joint business, the man from the village would meet his Baale to provide a place for them, they pay him. The man who will provide the geography of the place and the informant get paid.
The man who will study and know the targets that are profitable enough will also be paid and there is no area that is not being covered by a DPO, and every DPO has CIB men as covers. If we have criminals living in the same forest kidnapping for three, four or more months, then there is culpability. Security is a duty in the hands of everybody starting from the locals So, there is no tribe that has monopoly of criminality.
How will you advise the government on how to stem the rate of crime especially kidnapping?
This issue has to do with a lot of things. One, there is a social-economic dimension, there is poverty in the land, there is unemployment in the land. As far as those two are concerned, what are we doing as government to generate employment? Generation of employment is not as easy as asking you to come and queue to fill vacant positions in Government. Ogun State consists of over seven million people, how many can civil service and other parastatals absorb in terms of employment? They can’t even take five per cent.
The areas that we are supposed to look into is to reorganise our economic system. First of all, make Agriculture a priority, because, what stimulates production is effective demand. You start producing things that are needed, if you engage in Agriculture people must eat, and production would be sustainable. Unfortunately as at today, the food that you and I eat, we don’t even produce them. In Yorùbá land, the cattle you consume is not produced here, the goat you eat is not produced here, the tomatoes you eat are not produced here, the yam you eat is not produced here, and so on and so forth.
So, our government should make deliberate efforts to increase and stimulate Agricultural production which is expected to be the highest employer of labour. This can be done through various ways, better access to land, improved seedlings, improved technologies. Is it not still shameful that our farmers still make use of hoes and cutlasses? How many Agricultural engineers have we produced in the Southwest?
How many Agricultural institutes do we have? We even have an Agriculture University, but by now, we don’t have solar powered electrical Cutlass. With all the knowledge that we have, we should produce that. Improved technology will stimulate agricultural production and that’s why unfortunately, we are not attracting the younger population into farming, and that is why we as South West more than any other parts of the country face imminent food insecurity, which to me is more than other insecurity you talk about.
Secondly, the approach to reducing insecurity and kidnapping is multi-dimensional As at today there’s moral decadence and loss of societal values and fading cultural values. Parents are running from their responsibility. As far as most people are concerned they will go and look for money, send the child to school if he or she has a good grade they will celebrate. The moral issues that used to happen in those days when we had extended family system where children were brought up by so many aunties and brothers are no more. We have imbibed the western culture which is quite different from ours, so, there’s parental neglect which we have to improve upon.
In those days, I remember when you saw a policeman with a baton, you would run, but today people even tried to disarm policemen with AK-47 rifles. How do we also make sure that we mop up the weapons, not targeting innocent people who are using guns to defend themselves.
We know those that should not have many guns in their hands. I’m talking of long time solutions because there is long term and short term solutions. The short term, we can fix in six months but it will start again. There’s a lot of injustice in the land and injustice breeds criminality. A man has not committed any serious offence, he’s framed up and consequently jailed.
He would get to jail and mix up with all miscreants and by the time the person comes out from the prison, he will become a graduate robber. We also need prison reforms because by the time people are taken to prison, they should be reformed and that’s why people are more hardened when they come out of prisons.
We also need effective drug control. Many of these criminals at parades are sober because they commit crimes under the influence of alcohol. Most of these criminals cannot engage in criminality without being high, codine, tramadol and other hard drugs are what they used to induce, so, there must be drug control.
On the part of the wealthy people in the society, ostentatious display of wealth should be discouraged, somebody who has not eaten any meal since yesterday now see someone without any identifiable means of income displaying affluence, he will be tempted. The society should take time to do what we used to do in the past. Questionable wealthy people must not be accorded any status in the society. In those days, if you were rich and you didn’t have a good pedigree they would not offer you a chieftaincy title. Is it still the same? If people engage in crime and the society rejects them, there’s no way they are going to display illegal wealth. It will not even serve as motivation. Those are the issues that I think we should consider.
I have said that the herdsmen issue is farmers/ herdsmen clashes, for anybody to say Fulani are kidnapping people along the road, why will Fulani herdsmen come to your place and start raiding your people without a collaboration and connivance? The Federal government cannot do it alone and the Federal government should let the governors know the responsility they have by making sure that the security system in their various local areas are done through provision of credible intelligence, that’s number one.
Number two, the government of each state must serve as a coordinating organization among all the security agencies in their respective states – Police, DSS, Immigration, Customs, Army, NDLEA, NSCDC, Prisons, FRSC, etc.There must be a coordinated way of interaction and shared intelligence. It is the state government that can provide that, because these agencies report to their headquarters in Abuja and may not share intelligence sufficiently at the local level.
How was your experience like as minister?
When I was a minister, I did my best but, one thing that is important is that, the only person who can assess you is the president, because ministers, by the nature of the presidential system are just supporting the president. The only man that can assess your performance is the president and I got a commendation letter from late President Umaru Yar’adua.
I’ve taken time based on my experience and love for this country to write letters to the last set of ministers to congratulate and advise them because one problem you have when you’re appointed as a minister except if the president will organize one or two days retreat for you, nobody will give you the nitty-gritty of what is involved.The last time I wrote to all the ministers at the end of the day, some of them acknowledged it by sending letters of appreciation.
I told them the challenges they were going to have with the civil servants, the challenges they would have in the National Assembly, the challenges they would have with stakeholders of the ministry, the challenges of family, friends and well wishers, challenges of party leaders, who would be clamouring that they were the ones who worked on the election day.
I made them understand that what was important for them was objective setting, they must be focused in taking decision, they must navigate through wisdom, they must be determined, they must work hard. In fact the job of a minister is working for 24-hours because the challenges are so many and prayer is also important because they are all key elements. I always reminded them that the loyalty to the president and the nation are always important.
Did you have problems with the civil servants?
Before I became minister, I was a Special Assistant to a minister for four years in Abuja, I know the workings, I was secretary to Government in Ogun state, so, I related very well with the service. Before I was a minister, I worked at OGBC, another public institution, I lectured at Federal College of Education, Katsina, which is also a public institution.
A lot of people who did not have knowledge of the public service will run into problem because in a private institution you can fire the executive director but in public service, you cannot even sack a cleaner. If you come with the mindset of the private sector forgetting that objective of private sector is profit while the objective of public sector is service, you will have problem. All these challenges are there, I must tell you that I had a wonderful relationship with all these key sectors because of my antecedents. As an elected chairman in 1997, when I got to the Senate, I found some of my colleagues there which made me feel at home.
When I was chairman of chairmen in Ogun State, Ekweremadu was the chairman of chairmen in Enugu State, Sidi Ali was chairman of chairmen in FCT, we had them like that. When I was even SA, we had SA forum and some of these SA also ended up in the National Assembly like Bala Muhammed, who was SA to the Minister of Aviation. So, when you have these relationships built, you are in a friendly environment.
How do you think ministers’ performance could be measured?
Performance of a minister can be measured by the President because he is the Chief Executive of the nation, he is the one who assigned the portfolio to you, he has his reasons for assigning portfolio to you but, I know that Ministers are usually assessed on two issues; one is performance in the Ministry, two is Integrity. Performance in the ministry is how have you been able to deliver the deliverables.
When I was a minister, I had 80 per cent budget implementation performance, I wouldn’t want to say it was the best that time, but, it was one of the best, and it was almost 84 per cent before I left in October of that year, that’s what I mean by leadership. Before the budget was approved, I had my procurement plan ready, any day the budget was signed.
On the issue of integrity, as a leader you have moral obligation, there are certain things that you must not put your hands in. I want to thank God that since the years I have been into public service, I have not been subjected to any enquiry talkless of being investigated for any case of misdemeanor.