By Nwafor Sunday
Laurreta Onochie is a Delta State-born Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Social Media. She gave her thoughts concerning issues bothering on security, family value system with details that the lack of it contributed to the problems of extremism or terrorism that the nation has on its hands.
She did not end the 45-minute interview conducted with Vanguard Newspaper in her Presidency’s office Friday February 14, 2020 until she stated what she described as embittered opposition’s contribution to insecurity in the country, insisting on why her boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, will never interfere in the jobs of legislature and the judiciary and concluded that she had no other person to blame for APC’s loss in Bayelsa State governorship election by Supreme Court verdict than the APC itself. Excerpts:
Members of the public are fed with conflicting reports about the state of security in the country, which requires us to act by finding out the truth to bail them out of their state of confusion. Are things truly getting out of hands for the government, talking of security situation in the country?
I will say to you that we have a major issue in our nation, and it is not only in Nigeria. That issue has surfaced over the last decade and it has to do with fake news, misinformation and hate speeches. These issues are across the world as it stands now. In our nation, the opposition and those who felt that they lost out of power in 2015 are maximally using it to confuse the Nigerian people.
In terms of security, there is no way you can compare where we are now, security wise, to where we were in 2015. It is not possible. Boko Haram had already started getting into Bayelsa State. They already bombed a bridge in that state. They got to the South East. They got to Lagos. In Abuja here, people did not go to Church. They did not go to Mosque. People did not celebrate Christmas.
When you now moved to the interior, the North East, children did not go to school for years. Many children did not know where their parents were and many parents did not know where their children were, because this thing would happen while children were in school and everybody would run helter skelter.
Our soldiers were not equipped. Our soldiers, who were sent to commit suicide at the hands of Boko Haram before the advent of President Muhammadu Buhari, used to buy bullets. They used to buy guns to go to war because they were not equipped. The morale was low. That was where we were. We saw (was it in Kaduna or Kano?) where a police officer used ordinary hands to detonate bomb and it blew him to pieces.
I mean, today, we are miles away from where we used to be in 2015.
But we still hear the story that our soldiers are being killed daily….?
It is exaggeration. It is a lie from the pit of hell and we know where the pit of hell is. That is the PDP.
Okay, I saw a video where….?
Fake video! Total fake! It is misinformation, fake news that is coming out, then hate mongering and scare mongering. They are making the people afraid by using fake information. They will just come and say, “Oh, do you know that at Gwagwalada they killed ten people?” Meanwhile nobody was killed. They say, “Boko Haram has been seen in Enugu State”, no Boko Haram in Enugu.
Those are the kind of things they use to frighten people and so, our people, because we are not raised to ask questions and to accept whatever the authorities, people who are higher than us, say whether it is in the media or wherever. So, we just open the Facebook and we see that “a goat has given birth to three girls.” We do not ask questions. We just scream and say, “Lagbaja, come and see what I have seen.” Lagbaja tells Caroline he says, “Caroline, come and see” and it begins to go and then we believe.
Many times, some of the stories we believe are so ridiculous that we begin to wonder what happened to us. But come to talk of it, what happened to us that we do not think? What happened to us that we do not ask questions? Things that you know can never happen, many of us will believe. That is what the opposition are leveraging on, because they are getting information that is not correct, they put it to them and then our people just swallow it.
So, no matter how effective the government media is, because what we push out are facts and figures, they are not fabulous stories, they are not fantastic, they do not attract. But those fantastic and fabulous lies are the unusual, they are very attractive to the human mind, so, our people just swallow it. There are still a lot of people who ask questions to say, “How can?” “It is not possible” and so on and so forth.
Yet we are dealing with guerilla warfare. And in guerilla warfare you do not know where your enemy is. You do not know what he has. You do not know who is funding him. But in 2020, I think, we can try to find out who is funding them.
For real? Because this is a very vital aspect that will interest many Nigerians who are supporters of this government. Do you mean that 2020 will be the year that sponsors of insecurity agents in Nigeria will be found out?
Yes, we can do that. If we really want to do that we can do it. You do not know where they meet because you do not know their location. You do not know people they are related to. You do not know their plans. The National Assembly has a role to play in this by making some laws. There are certain laws that were not in place, when these things began to happen.
Take for instance, almost every house in the United Kingdom has small garden at the back of it. Not all but most of them, and so you are entitled to having a certain quantity of fertilizer for your garden to grow flours and small crops that you plant.
But there again, what we normally call fertilizer is used to manufacture bombs. So, what happened was that they made a law. If somebody comes to store and buys a certain quantity of fertilizer that is more than what a garden would require, they would sell it to you, quite alright, you pay with your card; cashless economy, and as soon as you leave, the store keeper will call the police and give them the information that, “This person has just purchased this certain amount of fertilizer”, and the police would mount surveillance at his door. He will not know.
They will not just go and drag him and say, “Bring that fertilizer”. No. That is no 21st century policing. They will just mount surveillance at his door to watch people who go into his house and people who come out of the house and determine whether they could see him digging, working in the garden and they see him using the fertilizer and then they will say, “Yes. He probably needs it and only buys in excess to use some and keep some for future use.” So they will let him go and they will not harass him. He won’t even know he was under surveillance.
But if they watch him and he doesn’t use the fertilizer and then they see strange men and women coming in and out of his house, when he leaves at some point, they will use their own key to unlock the house and then put surveillance cameras and they are watching everything inside the house and they watching all the conversations. So, they know which people are brought into the plan, they know where they live and they know the day they are going to strike and they know who is manufacturing the bomb. And if they are manufacturing it in the house, they know everything because they now have the cameras. After all, people will not know that there are cameras in there.
After that, the day they set to hit their targets, maybe they are six and they assign the operations at six points to themselves and they normally do it concurrently, remember police is watching them, they haven’t got to grab them. No, no, no. They just allow them and that is modern policing. The morning of the day they are supposed to go and hit their assigned targets, they normally say 7am because work starts at 9 and so between 7.30 and 9 o’clock is considered peak period. That is when you have a lot of people in the busses, all going to work. So, when they now say 6.30 we will leave home for the bus station and the police had listened. By 4am there are different detachments of police officers at the doors of all these people, respectively, knocking at their doors at the same time and they say, “Open the door, police”.
If you are called, you won’t have time because if they just knock and you don’t open the door on time, they have what they use, they pull down the door, grab you and they catch you gwagwako, as my people say, (laughs).
They catch you gwagwako that is red handed before you call others to warn them. Others are getting the same treatment and they gather everybody in those houses both women and men. As for the children, they call social services to come and carry them. But for women and men, they gather them and they are all taken to the police station, in different rooms where they are separately interrogated. And after interrogating them, the police people now meet to compare notes: what did this one say? What did that one say? And they will get all the information they require because each of them doesn’t know what the other says.
Because their arrest was so sudden?
Yes. The arrest caught them unaware. After that they will release the ones they thought were just in the house and didn’t know what their husbands or wives were planning. But the others, they will now come to the news. They won’t bring them out but will just show on the television pictures of door being broken and say, “We have arrested so, so, so and so” and they will announce it by 7 o’clock news.
And then after that, they lock them up and sit throughout the daywith their lawyers and prosecutors. The next day they are in court because, they have been building the cases becausepolice people have been watching them for a longer time.
How do we bring that to how we do it here?
It is not what we do here. We have to be more technologically wise because, surveillance is about technology, not about beating people. No. You don’t have a right to beat anybody. Nobody has the right to do that. Actually in UK, ordinary citizen will slap the police and that police will dodge or wipe it away. You won’t dare slap back. For what? You are a public servant. That is your master, even though he is a criminal, he is still your master.
Which now takes me to what you said about the need by National Assembly here in Nigeria to make law to strengthen the fight against terrorism or extremism…?
(Cuts in) They need to make laws to support the fight against insurgencies. They need to look at existing laws because, I don’t think we have laws that punish people, who have been charged for terrorism. Maybe we just charge them with one flimsy thing and then we sentence them and after few years we set them free. It’s unacceptable!
Anybody who tries to take another’s life or who tries to terrorise our nation, that person should be locked away for years.
For years and not sentenced to death?
For years. I don’t believe in death sentence. The person should not be killed. Even if he has killed somebody, he should live in solitary confinement for the rest of his life with hard labour so that others will use him as a pointer to say, “Remember, see what happened to Lagbaja, he’s been there for 35 years.” That is what scares people. When you kill somebody, he is forgotten and that is why corruption is now back in Ghana.
But how will it work that way in our system where any new government, which comes in, sets him free?
No. The law should take care of that. Any such person who has been sentenced should not be set free by any new government. That is why there is corruption now in Ghana. After they killed people many years ago, during the time of Jerry Rawlings. That time I wasn’t as old as this, but I said no, “this is not the right thing”. Somebody close to me said, “No, let them kill them” and I said corruption would be back. Corruption is full head-on now in Ghana. Even before I returned to Nigeria, some Ghanaian journalists I was had as friends(in the UK) were complaining and one of them was telling me, “Oh my God, the corruption in Ghana now is high”.
Because if those people that were killed are still alive in jail till today, that is going to 40 years now, adults who saw it would remember that these people who did this thing are still in jail. But now, most people have forgotten and corruption began to trickle in and nothing happens to those ones. If they didn’t execute those of the old, then somebody will say, “Ha! Lagbaja did it and this was what happened to him.”But the other ones had died and so people don’t have them as point of reference. If they were still around and are going round from school to school teaching children, “You see, I have been in jail for 30 years because of corruption.”, that is how they do in UK and they use them to sensitize the populace.
I have moved round the length and breadth of this country and have seen some of the roots of terrorism that we have. I have seen the root to be that of extremism and I have seen Muslim extremists, I do not want to mention Christian extremists…..? No, no, no. There are Christian extremists and I have seen them.
When you now say the National Assembly should make laws to support the fight against terrorism, I think if they do not consider it a duty at this time, the executive should generate a bill to this effect and ensure terrorism breeding through the universities be curbed because, somebody will send his children to university and lecturers are seen to be leaders of radical group that radicalize, negatively indoctrinate, brainwash and instigate them against the parent. Can’t that be achieved?
You see, our problems in Nigeria are multifaceted. You just mentioned that somebody would send his children to university and then they would go on there and radicalize the children. Let me start from here that children don’t go to university. Adults go to university. But in Nigeria we send children to university, children that have not been well brought up by parents, children that were raised by houseboys and house girls, children that were not looked after because we are busy running helter skelter looking for money, children that have no love of their parents, we rush them through primary school, rush them through secondary school and we rush them to university whereas, our system of education says 6-3-3-4.
Six means if a child starts primary school at 6, that means he will spend six years to finish at 12. The first one is 12. Then another six years in secondary school, that is 18. That means we should enter university at 18. As at that time they are well grounded. They are well formed. They are adults that can withstand anybody that tries to tell them differently from the foundation that they have at home. If there is solid foundation at home, there is just no way you can radicalize anybody.
I give example with my own children. How are you going to radicalize them? How? I poured myself into them. Their father poured himself into them. We lived for them. We raised them properly and in the way they should be raised. We showed them love and we allowed them to follow their educational pursuits according to their age. They didn’t go to secondary school until they were 12. They didn’t go to university until they were 18. As at that time they were already adult! Young adult! So, what are you going to do? That is it.
The homes, too, are responsible for the problems. They failed out nation. That was what I have just said because we didn’t raise our children. We didn’t have proper relationship with our children. We left the maids and house boys to run our homes because we were busy with business. We didn’t spend time with the children so they couldn’t remember how mummy and daddy used to relate with and bring them up; “Go and read your Bible, go and read your Qur’an and do your homework, go to your mummy, go to your daddy.” That was how we raised most children in Nigeria.
And so, that was how our family values collapsed in Nigeria?
So when these children, who are 16 years old or sometimes 15 in Nigeria, are rushed into university, they get there, other mates who are stronger than them in character will now impose some of their twisted ideas on them and they can’t resist it because, nobody has ever told them differently. Their parents were not there for them. They lived in the same house with their parents but they were not there for them. So, peer pressure caught up with them. My children when they were growing up, when they saw things like that, they would call me and would just laugh it out and say, “Oh, mummy, if you see what I saw today,” and so on and so forth. We would sit down and discuss it, they would tell me their own opinion, which aligned with my own. So, how would you radicalize them?
At this point let us discuss the politics of change as preached by your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), your government and attitude of your party members towards change and the opposition criticizing your party thinking you influence every democratic process e.g. the judiciary. Ironically, we also have situation where your party members criticize your boss, who is Leader of their Party, President Muhammadu Buhari for not influencing the judiciary which they blame for the losing of Bayelsa State governorship seat to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Why would you think, for instance, that APC members would criticize the party’s government of change for losing states to the opposition?
I will tell you that with the opposition, like you said they criticize us for being in power, it is because that is all they know; power. They just want to hold the power and so, when another person has now taken it, they are not finding it funny. It is expected.
Opposition in civilized nation is not antagonistic towards the government because, the government belongs to the people. The opposition also belongs to the people. Consequently the opposition and the government are meant to work together for the benefit of the generality of the people. Opposition is meant not to criticize everything the government does. It is supposed to applaud the government when it does well and criticize it when it doesn’t do well. That would keep the government on its toes. That would make the government say, “Okay, these people said we have done well, so now that they say we haven’t done well, we must listen.”
But when you become an opposition that criticizes, saying that everything is bad, bad, bad, bad, which one do we change? Should we stop giving TraderMoni to the traders because opposition says it is bad? Do we now stop building roads because opposition says it is bad? Should we stop the rail infrastructure that is springing up across the country because the opposition says it is bad? Do we now stop the anti-corruption war because the opposition says it is bad? They need to streamline their ways of opposition. They need to say, “Okay, you have done well here but in this particular area, you haven’t done well.” Yes, the government would say, “Okay, they acknowledged that we have done well here, let us look into the area that they have complained about.” You then have the two of them now synergizing and working together for the benefit of the members of the society they all represent. But we have a very bitter, angry ad envious opposition here in Nigeria.
Have you tried to find out what the opposition want?
They don’t want anything. They don’t want anything for the traders. They don’t want anything for the people of Nigeria. They just want to have power so that they can share money for themselves. It is selfish and it is self-centred. It is egocentric. That is what it’s all about.
So that’s how they are and that’s how they treated Nigerians for many years. The opposition shared money that was made to buy arms to defend Nigerians. They shared money that was made to build roads. They shared money that was made to build bridges, hospitals, amnesty programme, all, they shared the money made for providing those things to benefit the people for their own benefit. They used it to establish private businesses. That’s what they did.
Back to why they are embittered, so now that this government is looking towards the ordinary people, of course, you don’t expect them to be happy. They are not happy at all and, of course some of them are refunding some of that money that they stole.
But the opposition appears to be getting across to the people who are now saying that it should have even been better that corruption is allowed so that money will be in circulation and that it is because of anti-corruption they are hungry. How about that?
They are not hungry because I saw hunger in the United Kingdom, where people would wait until evening to go to places like Tesco to ask for food that would expire the next day to go and pick to eat, and you know the shops would not sell them anymore. I once housed a family of four: husband, wife and their two children. I housed them in my house for few months because both of them lost their jobs and they had nowhere to live. They had no home, no jobs, no food, nothing. I took them in.
That is where you talk about suffering. That is hunger. We don’t see it happen in this country. Things are not as bad as that in Nigeria.
All the money they talk about that was flowing during PDP era, how did that affect our hospitals? How did that affect our schools, our roads, infrastructure that was supposed to make better the lives of ordinary Nigerians? Yes, they took the money and then, don’t you know how many people died because they couldn’t afford to go to the hospital? Don’t you know how many people died on our roads every day because the roads were abandoned and the money shared?
The money was not circulating. It was only circulating at the top. If you did not have anybody in government, the money didn’t get to you. If you didn’t have anyone who won contracts and who was not going to do the contracts and who was going to share the money, the money didn’t get to you. Did the money get to you? Did anybody give you the money?
No ma. I got nothing of such because I would never be in search of such money…
I wasn’t given because I didn’t have anybody at the top. So, what are we talking about? Now Nigerians are learning to cut their coat according to their cloth not even according to their size. If I have one yard and I need at least three or four yards to sew a small gown, whereas I have only one yard, then I will use that only one yard to sew for my granddaughter, instead.
So people are now sewing according to the cloth they have. People are organizing weddings, very small wedding, small burial, people are cutting down on ostentatious living. People, who have money, are going to Obudu Cattle Rash instead of flying overseas for holidays. People are eating Nigerian rice instead of importing foreign dead rice.
You know, life is easier now, it’s getting better, it’s getting fresher. If it is hard now, it would get hard because what we are trying to do is trying to pull Nigeria out of the habit of ostentatious living. Doing things you don’t need, we are trying to pull Nigeria out of it. We were used to borrowing money to fund luxurious lives. You know how many people that borrowed money from banks that wouldn’t pay back and AMCON is after them? Many of them spent the money on ostentatious living. So that is coming to a stop.
But in all of these, the people whom I am most disappointed in, are the people who have professed to say that they are change agents. Change means we can no longer do things the way we used to do because the definition of madness is that you continue to do the same thing over and over again and you want a different result or a different outcome. You can’t have a different outcome when you keep doing the same thing. (Using a diary on her desk to illustrate) If I keep doing this and I don’t want to see the pink colour again, I will continue seeing it because I am doing it the same way. But if I truly don’t want to see it again I just seize. So we must change the way we do things.
But there comes people who say they are progressives and they keep attacking the President, who is a core democrat, a President that has come with a nation full of change, ideas to effect change from the former ways of doing things, we keep criticizing him that he is not interfering in the National Assembly, that he is not interfering in the Judiciary. Excuse me, the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive are three different arms of government and they are independent though they work for the benefit of the country.
So, there is just no way we cannot applaud our President for the current situation in Bayelsa. If nobody applauds him, I say to him (lifting her fist in praise) Ranka Daidai Sir. That is what I say to him. I say, “Baba, Ranka Daidai” because, what he has done is unprecedented. Today (Friday February 14, 2020) on a national television, Channels TV to be precise, it was announced that the results of previous elections in this country cannot be properly collated. You can’t find them together in INEC, Independent National Electoral Commission. But the ones for 2019, the first election President Muhammadu Buhari ordered in this our nation, you can easily go online and you see everything. Come on, let’s say, “This man, thank you.”
Now, a lot of our people who say they are progressives are saying the judgment the Supreme Court has given should have taken it anchor on past precedents. How? These past ones were based on faulty ground; judgments that were bought at a corrupt Supreme Court, why now are we asking that this Supreme Court that is passing judgment according to the law that they should now falter standing on judgments that were passed in the past, which were influenced by past leaders?
Our President will not influence judgments of any court because, he knows that, that is unfair, that is injustice and that is ungodly. And our President is a very fair man, he’s a very just man and is a very godly man. So, he will not interfere.
We should be hiding our faces in shame because if the screening organ of our party did its job thoroughly, we wouldn’t be where we are. If they didn’t look the other way, and we know how Nigerians look the other way, somebody should have raised an alarm in that committee to say, “Look, this man has five different names.” And then they would have found somebody else for David Lyonas running mate in the last Bayelsa State governorship election.
But I am saddened and very angry at the way we have treated that young man because, he is the victim here. He was at the field yesterday (Thursday February 13) rehearsing how he would sworn-in as the governor of Bayelsa State. He probably had drawn the list of his commissioners that would serve with him. His children were already hoping to begin life as children of a governor. His wife was getting ready to become the First Lady of Bayelsa State. He was out there rehearsing and then, we pulled the carpet off his feet. That is traumatic.
That is psychologically damaging both for this man, his children, his wife, his entire family and even for his supporters. That is a traumatic experience we have passed this man. How is he going to recover? All of these passed on to him just because, as a party, we did not do things properly.
And when somebody raised after the election that, “This man has five different identities”, that should have rung a bell and he should have been asked to resign.
Would it not be too late at that point?
I don’t know if it could have worked but if I was in charge, I would made sure he resigned for another person to take his place. So, all these things happening, the victim in all of them is not APC, All Progressives Congress. Chief David Lyon, his family, his supporters and the people of Bayelsa who voted for him are the victims. And who is to blame? I blame APC.