•Govt treating symptoms, ignoring cause of problems
•Govt lacks will to fix problems
•Time to implement confab report
•War, revolution, not the solution
•We need community, state police
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
General Zamani Lekwot was military governor of Rivers State from July 1975 to 1978 during the military administrations of Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo. He also served as Ambassador and High Commissioner to the Republics of Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and the Gambia.
Lekwot retired from the army in 1985. Following the violence that erupted between Muslims and Christians in Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area in Kaduna State in 1992 with many deaths, a tribunal set up by the Babangida administration sentenced Lekwot and 16 others to death for alleged complicity in the killings but the sentences were eventually reduced to a short incarceration.
He received a state pardon in December 1995. In this interview, Lekwot spoke on the security issues in Nigeria and why those talking about revolution should stop.
What is your take on some of the things happening around Nigeria today?
The problem we have in Nigeria today is lack of political will by the ruling party to do certain things. These problems are known but the powers that be have refused to look at the 2014 conference report which contains graphic solutions to some of the nation’s problems and yet, these problems are getting worse. They set up a committee to study the report of that conference but how far have they gone with the implementation?
So, clearly, government for whatever reason has not effectively addressed the causes of the problem. Treating the symptoms cannot bring solutions and that is what government has been doing. Many other Nigerians have expressed their own views and the causes of the nation’s problems must be addressed and that is the solution.
What exactly should the government do that it is not doing currently?
I have no access to the information that they have. I am not a magician but I know that when you see smoke somewhere, there must be fire. It must be traced to source and treated. Insecurity, unemployment, the minimum wage palaver must be treated. The causes of the problems should be addressed.
Before this time, things were not this bad. How did we get to this stage? You said the powers that be lack political will. What political will?
The causes of the problems have been neglected and that is what I’m saying. The people in power should sit up and do more than they are doing. The way things are shows what they are doing is not good enough. Certain issues must be worked out. They must involve all the strata of the society.
We read in the papers that an agreement has been struck in Zamfara State among the herders, the bandits and the communities. A meeting was called and all the warring parties expressed their views and up to 300 kidnapped people were released.
This shows the problems in Nigeria cannot be solved by government alone. Government must involve the communities on the question of insecurity. The traditional rulers, who are the custodians of what happens in the rural areas have to be involved because in the villages, everybody knows everybody.
The national conference report that I have been talking about recommended the creation of state/community police like state police and local government police. The Nigerian Police Force which officers are trained are still on the ground but they are ill-equipped.
Since there are many unemployed youths, the creation of state or local government police will get many youths involved. Lack of that will call for the vigilantes but the vigilantes are not trained, they are not equipped. So, there is a vacuum at that level and that is why the problem grows from bad to worse. Government knows what to do but the will to do it appears to be missing.
The national conference report is not perfect but it contains some key recommendations that will address some of the crucial issues bothering the country. If you refuse to look at it and you have no alternative solution, what does that mean? Indeed, many people have said what I’m saying and that is nothing new.
What you have said is genuine because things are really getting out of hand and we have started hearing about war or revolution…
War or revolution would cost more lives, cause more destruction or distrust. War or revolution in its strictest sense is not the way to go. We haven’t got to that level. We can avert all these talks and re- visit the 2014 conference report. The recommendations made there will solve some of our problems. I was a member of that conference and it’s report was based on previous conference reports.
You mean it reviewed the Abacha and Obasanjo conferences?
Yes. All these earlier conferences were put into consideration and in truth, no government can implement all the recommendations. All they should do is look at the reports and pick what they can implement vis-a-vis the problems facing us like insecurity. The armed forces are still on ground. They have been in the field for almost 10 years and in order to improve intelligence gathering and assessment, they should get the local people involved so that when information is received, it is processed and analysed and remedial action is taken before damage is done. One organisation cannot do it. It’s an all embracing thing. As I have said, the traditional rulers in the communities have a key role to play.
Won’t the involvement of other organisations be an indictment on the security agencies?
As a trained professional, I’m not indicting anybody and I’m telling the truth. They are still on ground. The security people including the armed forces act on information. Since the country is so large and they are still on the ground, they need information from the grassroots so that they can process it, analyse it and then plan what to do. The security people alone cannot do it. I’m not indicting anybody. I’m just stating the truth.
The idea of state police have been suggested severally but was shut down. One of the fears against it is that the state governors may hijack it for their selfish political interest…
The constitution should be amended to take care of that. Since the constitution is the law of the land, it should be amended to guard against abuse. We are all subject to the law and the law is not a respecter of persons. Now, people who are against state police have their own reasons but the truth is, if you don’t do it, how do you solve the problems? And since the country is large and vast, each area has a different challenge. So, we need the local people and state police.
The other thing is the unemployment issue. Every year, many graduates leave the universities and they have no jobs. Many industries have closed down and industries cannot work unless there is power. So, our problem has many dimensions. And the 2014 conference report has beautiful dimensions. At least, let the powers that be look at that report and take what they can implement. This is what we are saying. But some people are saying that because the ruling party did not take part in the conference, they have nothing to do with it. That is wrong. That report was produced by a conglomerate of dedicated Nigerian professionals, many of them, elderly statesmen who saw Nigeria from independence. That is why I said the solutions are known but the will to implement them is what is missing.
You talked about our power problems, industries shutting down and youth unemployment; who takes responsibility for these?
Who is running the show, is it not government? Government calls the shots. We have experts in the government and so, what is their problem and what is stopping them from making life comfortable for the citizens? Somebody has highlighted the fact that for many years, Nigeria has abandoned the five-year development plan. The rapid growth in population has created a situation whereby a lot of pressure is being put on infrastructure. So, objective planning is the answer after identifying the problems. Otherwise, we cannot just continue to look at the country sliding down the abyss. It’s not proper. Our children will not forgive us. So, get everybody involved.
What the government needs to do is to set up a committee to take a look at those recommendations and proffer a solution, send a bill to the national assembly, amend the constitution. For example, the question of devolution of powers should be embraced. Nigeria is running a centralised system which is contrary to the structure of the country. We should devolve power, transfer some of the functions to the states so that they can handle the problems as they arise according to their peculiarities. The federal government should now choose what it wants to do and supervise. Everything is centralised in Nigeria and that is not helping. If you look at other complex federations like India, the United states, Russia, Australia, Brazil, each area is being run according to its own peculiarities but sharing the work-load makes sense.
Now, every month, states go cap-in-hand to Abuja for their allocations whereas agriculture, our proud cultural heritage is crying for attention. Solid minerals which are in all states of the federation are unattended to. Why must it be so? We can’t run away from it. The report of the 2014 national conference is part of the answer. The ruling government can incorporate their ideas into it, change what they want to change and implement the recommendations. Something graphic must be done to stop the country from sliding.
Many people are averse to decentralisation of power because it will make the centre unattractive. Nigerians are power-conscious and consistently, there is this loud silence over the issue of decentralisation. Decentralisation of power is perhaps something only a revolution can do…
No, no, no. A revolution is out of it. Nobody will welcome revolution, nobody in his right senses will support revolution. In fact, revolution is confusing, where what is available may be destroyed or partly destroyed. There is no need for a revolution. We should address the cause of the problem and the symptoms will disappear. Now, devolution of power is the decentralisation of power and something different from the way we run the country.
Before independence, there was a way the regions were run. I’m not saying that we should go back to that but following the first coup, Decree No 34 was promulgated and everything was centralised. At that time yes, but today, the population has multiplied. The demand for goods and services has heightened. There are potentials in the states. Take solid minerals for instance. Solid minerals are located in the states for instance but to get a license for them, it has to come from Abuja, very far away. And the land owners in some places are driving prospective companies away because they were not consulted. So, we are running a complex federation. What is done should be based on down-to-earth consultation. Now, issues like defence, external affairs, internal affairs, customs and immigration, should be handled by the federal government. But as I have said, the states are waiting for cheques from Abuja except for Lagos and Rivers States . Other states look forward to internally generated revenue from the centre and this is in-deficient because the oil money will not last forever. We have to invest it in the locally available possibilities so that everybody will be involved. The experts know this. I’m not saying anything new.
When you talk about devolution of power, you are talking about restructuring which has been variously defined…
You are supporting what I have already said about 2014 national conference report. It treated what you are talking about. To create an extra state in the South-east is contained in the 2014 conference report.
The question of ranching or RUGA or colonies can be handled by the states because these people are located in the states. The question one should ask is how have they been living up till now? The live stock programme which is a federal government-initiated programme seems to make sense in order to transform the lifestyle of the local herders. The vice president has confirmed this is being coordinated by the ministry of agriculture and his office. What does it mean? Livestock Transportation programme should be a programme that will enhance the value of the cattle and the other livestock we have in the country and they are already on it. So, the national conference report contains recommendations in respect of it.
Now, the restructuring you are talking about is also in the national conference report. People should take a copy of the report and read it. Since the system is not working, we have to take a second look at it to find out why we derailed and we need to bring things back to shape.
You have a military background and it is believed Nigeria’s problem started with the first military coup and subsequent military interventions. Do you agree with that?
It is a fact. The truth is that the military as an organisation did not sit down and decide to overthrow the government. The coup was organised by a clique of some selfish officers who ended up killing some of their superiors and innocent civilians. Then, they were not put on trial, they were left. What happened was unfortunate including the subsequent killings. That was the beginning of the problems. The dissolution of the regions was equally wrong. There was no need to dissolve the regions and those officers did not consult anybody before doing what they did.
Infact, one Major Ademoyega mentioned in his book that students of the University of Ibadan planned a revolution and felt that the best way to do it was to use the military. So, they joined the army not for love but to use it to stage a revolution. Why We Struck, that was the title of the book by Major Ademoyega. So, they didn’t consult anybody. Shedding blood in the coup was wrong. What these misguided officers did also hurt the military as an establishment because once upon a time, we were one family. The British left a very good legacy and we were like brothers and issues of tribal and religious differences were not there. But those unfortunate killings drove a wage between our ranks. The rest they say is history.
Is that why there are no more senior Igbo officers in the army? Officers from The Middle Belt are gradually being kicked out also. How true are these allegations?
Well, it is a false allegation to say there are no more senior Igbo officers in the army. The selection for entry into the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA is based on the 36 states structure. As a former staff of the NDA, I knew this too well. So, I have no access to the data that led to the assumption you made and I cannot comment on that. But admission into the Nigerian Armed Forces either as officers or rank and file is based on the federal character. Every state capital is an examination centre. Admission or recruitment of the recruits for training also cuts across the whole country. Despite the problems, the military are still the best in terms of objectivity and outlook as far as federal character is concerned. Some problems have crippled in but the basic rules are the order of the day.
Why are security agencies unable to tackled issues of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping…
I have told you, they are still on ground. Lack of enough equipment is affecting them and secondly, the question of intelligence is a problem. Since they are still on the ground, they need information from the grass roots. So, there is a gap and that is why I suggested that traditional rulers must be involved in tackling insecurity so that if they have information on what is brewing, they can take pre-emptive measures. I wouldn’t say they have failed. They are trying their best but the right things must be done.
You talk about lack of enough equipment but much has been spent on tackling insecurity in Nigeria. Could it be true that the funds for the weaponry were being diverted as being alleged in some quarters?
I cannot comment on that because I left the service several years ago and I don’t have the facts now.
Recently, former President Obasanjo in his letter to Buhari alleged Islamisation and Fulanisation agenda…
I didn’t see his letter to Buhari, so I cannot comment on what I don’t know. I haven’t read that letter.
But you are one of the Christian Elders that wrote to the UK and UN that Christians are being maltreated in Nigeria?
Yes, I’m a member of the Christian Elders Forum but I can tell you the killings in Nigeria are across the board. It is not true that only Christians are being killed. The killings by the bandits or whoever are across the board. I cannot say more.