…If warlords take over, president, govs, senators be first to go
…The president Nigeria needs in 2023
Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd, former military administrator of Akwa Ibom, and national chairman of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in this interview, speaks on worsening insecurity in the country, the president Nigeria needs in 2023, and the injustice against the Niger Delta among other issues.
By Chioma Onuegbu
On the factors fuelling insecurity, unrest and agitations in the country
There are so many factors. One is injustice. There is clear injustice in the country, and the moment there is injustice, it is difficult to tell somebody sit down and show commitment to your country. Injustice breeds unpatriotic ideas.
Any time there is a problem you a lot of people escalate it for different reasons. There is also unemployment. The unemployment ratio is very high. Unemployment in a literary manner can be described as hunger. Once people are hungry they cannot think right. There are people who are living in abject poverty in this country while others are living in stupendous wealth. When that situation occurs, it fuels insecurity.
We have deep traditional settings, many people owe more loyalty to ethnicity and religion than to Nigeria as a nation. All these puts together are the fuel that you require for insecurity. You will see somebody that is well educated when he starts talking what bothers him is his ethnic group and religion.
Also, the illiteracy level, especially in the North, is very high. The out -of-School children data is frightening. Most people without any formal education are unemployable, so it is very easy to recruit them into groups like Boko Haram because they are just available.
In a society where almost everybody has a payable job, they will not want to dump their job to join insurgent groups. There is also Almajiri issue up North. These are easy fuel for the insurgents. So, we must look at these issues. We should make sure those children go to school.
His take on how President Muhammadu Buhari is tackling these challenges especially insecurity
Whatever divide anybody is, it will be in our interest to tackle insecurity squarely. Anybody that thinks he can walk the path of insecurity in order to gain the advantage in Nigeria must be dumb, and wasting his time. Insecurity does not place anybody in an advantageous position.
What I am saying in effect is if they are saying for example that Boko Haram is a terrorist group, and the Nigeria government is not agreeing with that, I think there is something wrong. If the government did not agree and people are not dying, I will say well that is a fairy tale, let’s walk away. But people are dying. So, what is killing these people that are dying? Insurgents! It is that attitude that has brought us to where we are now.
When insurgency started, if we had agreed that this is a deadly virus; that these people could cause serious problem for us and tackled it, called a spade, a spade, and if they are terrorists, we say they are terrorists and tackle them fully, we would not be where we are today.
But we are living in denial. Boko Haram has now found a way to go with the Islamic States of West Africa, ISWA. Today, they are talking about ISIS, which means they are graduating. For those who wish that they could benefit from Boko Haram activities, it is getting out of control even for them.
And I have said this before: if you are in government and you are treating this thing with kid gloves then the probable thing that will happen is that everybody will now say, ‘let me look after myself.’ There are others that will say, ‘I will look after my family.’ Some will say, ‘I will look after my village, my state.’ That is when warlords will emerge.
If warlords emerge, whether you are the president, governor or senator, you will be the first to go. You think if ISIS takes over full control of Nigeria that the president, the governors would remain? They will not. A warlord cannot come and say ‘okay, you are a governor, or president, stay.’ Let them go and find out what happened in Somalia, Afghanistan, even Liberia.
So those who believe that by propagating insecurity they are safe are living in fool’s Paradise. If we want Nigeria to be a nation as it is I think we should come together in love and tackle this common problem.
What part of this country is secure today? Today we are seeing banditry in Zamfara. Before they were talking about cattle rustlers. And eventually, they will all come together. You can’t find Boko Haram attacking the person doing banditry in Zamfara and Katsina. In fact, recently I read that the bandits are even part of Boko Haram. How many herdsmen have Boko Haram shot dead? Have you heard that they are killing themselves?
So, reasonable Nigerians must not take such things for granted. Don’t think that because you are in Uyo, you are safe, that it is a Borno thing because eventually, it will come round. The sooner we work as a nation to stop it the better for us. If we don’t, we will be walking on the dark road.
On the advice of Christian elders that people should defend themselves against the attacks
I think it will be difficult for me to tell you don’t defend yourself. That is a natural thing. They are simply saying you can’t just sit there and be slaughtered. For instance, you cannot be walking on the road and somebody starts slapping you and you say because my friend told me not to retaliate and you continue walking. If somebody brings out a knife, even if it is to run, it is still part of defending yourself, you won’t go and stick out your neck for the person to cut, no.
However, I think those people are talking out of frustration because national security is not protecting them. And if it is not protecting them or not protecting them enough, without even saying it, that is the natural thing that will evolve. That is how anarchy starts. People will start defending themselves, and taking laws into their hands because the people that are supposed to give them security are not doing that.
Do you think Nigeria could benefit from closure of its borders?
I don’t think so. Closing the border is one aspect of maybe curbing insecurity but what we need is to monitor our borders. If you close the borders, people will find other ways of still crossing. So, monitor it. I think that it is what it should be. We have signed a protocol of free movement, particularly within the ECOWAS region. So to close the borders indefinitely is not the best way of tackling our economic issues.
Has PANDEF given up on pursuing the 16-point agenda?
Certainly not. We are still pursuing it. We are advocates, we will always talk about the 16-point agenda and we are still talking about it. Currently, we are printing a pamphlet reflecting what we think about restructuring, reflecting the 16-point agenda that has not been done. It is going to be in circulation. It is just like the report of the 2014 national conference, where you find the answers to almost every problem that is plaguing us now.
So we will do what we can to tell people that the 16-point agenda is in the interest of this country. You can remember that there was uproar in the Niger Delta region, and we talked to the young men who had given up and went into the creeks because their thinking was ‘if we cannot benefit from this oil, must we die from it? And so they started causing havoc. We spoke to them, and that is how the 16-point agenda came.
And when the country was in recession in 2016, the president called us, and we went. And about 100 stakeholders from the Niger Delta sat down, consulted and came up with those items. We said if you do these things there will be relative peace in the Niger Delta region. Some of those items don’t even require money but political goodwill, where you show that you care for the people. If we are not looking at it (16-point agenda) now for whatever reason, that doesn’t mean it is a dead project, because if we really want this country to continue as a nation, some of the answers to ensure that happens are there.
Nigerians have already started talking about the 2023 presidency. What kind of president do you wish for Nigeria in 2023?
I have been talking about putting Nigeria on the right foundation. The president that will come must take this country to nationhood. We are still operating just like ethnic nationalities that came together and we are not making much progress. I would want to see a Nigeria that is a nation.
With all the research that had been done, they have found out that Nigeria needs to be restructured. But the way it is now when you hear somebody being more loyal to his or her ethnic group and religion than to Nigeria, it is because the structure is not right.
We should shame the devil and do the right thing by restructuring this country. This time we are talking about people who are corrupt because everybody wants to steal from that common purse. If we have more areas eager to contribute to the common purse, Nigeria will be a better place, but they are not contributing, they are only sharing the cake.
So the next president that will come in must be somebody that has a mind to restructure this country so that everybody contributes, not one group or cabal lording it over the others. If we continue to do that, we will make no progress; we could scatter this country. So when the next president comes in, he or she should know that Nigerians are crying, and pity this country by restructuring it.
How would you react to the refusal of International Oil Companies (IOC’s) especially ExxonMobil to relocate their headquarters to the operational base?
The issue of the relocation of IOC’s was one of the items on the 16-point agenda that we took to Mr. President. And the Vice President came to Uyo during his tour of the Niger Delta states and promised that he was going to work so that the IOC’s would relocate. Personally, I did not believe what he was saying because I know that the people that will be against the relocation of the IOC’s the most will be Lagos.
They (IOC’s) are located in Lagos. They pay tax to Lagos State, their development is in Lagos State. If you move from Lagos to Lekki you will see all the development by Chevron, Mobil. Those things would have been done here in Ibeno, Eket, Warri, Sapele and all the oil-producing areas. So I didn’t expect him (Vice President) to do much about the IOC’s relocation.
We later met him on August 3 2017 and this issue of relocation of IOC’s came up again. It was Ibe Kachukwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum at that time that said they cannot relocate because of security, and we were unhappy with that. Mobil headquarters is not in Washington DC, it is in Ivan Texas. Chevron is in California, Elf and all the rest don’t go to Paris to establish their headquarters; they all stay in their operational headquarters. So Ibe Kachukwu was wrong to have talked about the issue of security. When these people came in the ’60s, Mobil was based here in Ibeno-Eket axis.
Why did they move to Lagos?
It was the administration of General Gowon that said because of the security of the foreigners during the civil war, they should move Lagos. How many years now since the civil war, and you are still quoting that as a reason?. The war was raging here then which everybody knew. So he (Gowon) now said the administrative staff should be in Lagos until after the war, but operationally they will still be here.
And today somebody is still quoting that as a reason the IOC’s cannot relocate. Are we still fighting the war? How come when they come to drill the oil here the issue of security is not there? Why are they not kidnapped at the point of drilling the oil? What are we talking about? Don’t they kidnap in Lagos, everywhere in the country? And the IOCs, when they want to dodge this issue, they will involve the NNPC.
Governor Udom Emmanuel is building a 21-storey building which is almost completed. So, if they now say they don’t have accommodation, we have accommodation.
The DPR proposes to build headquarters, worth billions in Abuja. They say they are a regulatory agency, why are they building it in Abuja? When Obasanjo came to office, one of the first things that he did was to relocate NIMASA and Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA from Abuja to Lagos.
When you go to Abuja today, you will see that building, built like a ship, it was meant for NIMASA and NPA, but President Obasanjo came and said there is no water in Abuja, go back to Lagos. And that building was already completed. So because Niger Delta people don’t have anybody to speak for them that is why DPR can now go to Abuja to build its headquarters; that is why the IOC’s can go and stay anywhere they like instead of their operational base. These are the things that make us unhappy.
They only come here to drill the gold and fly back to another place to enjoy it. Why would people not be unhappy? Let the world know that these are the issues.
I wish somebody could look at our Coat of Arms, we talked about peace and progress, nobody is talking about justice. When there is no justice how can you have peace?
You attracted some higher institutions to Akwa Ibom because of your passion for education. Today how would you assess the state of the education sector especially the universities?
Of course, it makes sense that any country that wants to develop must put money in the education sector. If Nigerians are saying the quality of what they have in the sector is not enough they have the right because when you really look at it more people are going to school now than it used to be. But look at those earlier universities in the country, the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), University of Nigeria Nsukka, the quality of what was there is not what you find in our universities today.
The infrastructure has decayed over time and there are more people that need education now. Go to the universities there are inadequate classrooms, no hostel accommodation, you will see space meant for three students being occupied by 10. Government has to play a very big part through policies that will encourage the private sector to invest in education without bringing down the quality in terms of standard.
However, the situation is that on one hand, the government agrees we need quality education, and on the other hand, they are bringing policies that discourage people. So, we have not done enough in education. The quality of education is very low. It is even worsened by the people that enter the universities with JAMB. You don’t go and give some states low cut-off point, and other high cut-off points. That disparity should not be there. In fact, it is wrong for anybody to say that some states are educationally backward. They should not classify some states as educationally disadvantaged.
I think it is simply a way of cheating, depriving others. I had an experience of that when I came to this state. When I came here there was no federal university, no federal college of education, or federal polytechnic, there was nothing. They said we are educationally advantaged, yet we had nothing.
And I asked how can they say we were educationally advantaged yet our children were looking for admission in places outside the state? Babangida heard my cry and the University of Uyo came. Again, we are not budgeting enough for education, we are not putting money in research because we don’t believe in research. If research has been encouraged, we would have been able to find a solution to a lot of problems plaguing us.