By Olalekan Bilesanmi
Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South), the Chairman, Senate Committee on Air Force, is a lawyer and pilot. In this interview, Na’Allah laments the deteriorating banditry and mass kidnappings in Nigeria and the seeming inability of security forces to stem the tide.
The Senate, particularly the leadership, which you are part of, is seen in many quarters, as a rubber stamp of the executive compared to the House of Reps or even the 8th National Assembly. The ex-service chiefs’ confirmation as ambassadors seems to confirm this position.
Your assessment is wrong. I am not part of the leadership. I am an ordinary senator. I only chair the Committee on Air Force. I am not part of the leadership of the Senate. So, I don’t have the competence to accept or deny that we are a rubber stamp since the allegation is to the leadership.
But if you want me to comment on the presentation of the ex-service chiefs as ambassador nominees before the Senate, I will reluctantly but forcefully tell you that the Senate has guiding principles and it is run by those principles and the nation’s Constitution.
The fact that the Senate, in one of its sessions, said the ex-service chiefs should be sacked, because of the insecurity in the country at the time they were heads of security agencies, does not in any way affect the criteria for confirming these people. There is a legal basis for every appointment. So, what the Senate at the confirmatory stage does is to look at the nominee, his C.V and then the law that gives the President the power to appoint him and see whether any of the provisions of that law has been infringed or not. If it has not been infringed, then the Senate will say yes. Don’t forget that every senator has sworn to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution, law and rules of the Senate.
He is strictly guided by these three provisions. The Senate may not like the person but the fact that it has to go by the criteria, it cannot refuse to confirm nominees. I will give an example. There was a letter from Mr. President for the confirmation of one nominee as Chairman of Fiscal Responsibility Commission. The Senate was not happy because there were no representatives from the six geo-political zones of the country.
Some senators were of the opinion that we should reject the nominees until other nominations were sent. I stood up and said, ‘I agree with you. I also agree that you can be bitter about this power of the President but is there anywhere in the Fiscal Responsibility Bill where it says that in the constitution of the body, the nominations must be done at once?’
The answer is no. I cautioned the Senate and gave my reasons. The Senate was swayed by that argument. The danger of allowing an elected official to operate outside the provisions of the Constitution and the law is serious. The whole idea about democracy is the ability of the citizen to be able to predict with some reasonably degree of certainty that this is what will happen to me under these circumstances.
Well, the feeling out there, going by the confirmation, is that failure can be rewarded once you are well connected…
I would have wished in the oath of office we took as senators that we uphold the Constitution, law, rules of the Senate and morals of the country. It is very difficult to put a measure in determining certain things that the public expects us to know. I will rather say that we cannot swim in the murky water of morality and begin to hide under that and do things we know is neither supported by the law nor the Constitution.
Banditry and kidnapping are twin crimes ravaging particularly the North. It has also been politicized and monetized. This explains the rise of the crimes.
I have privilege of working in the security circle of this country. In my little knowledge of tackling the issue of criminality, there is always a phrase, which is that the nature and character of a crime, to a large extent, will give the control strategy. What is the nature and character of kidnapping? You take people forcefully and against their wish and demand for money. To me, the way forward is to ensure that the money does not get to them.
What if the victims are killed?
They can’t kill everybody because when you give the money, they can still kill. So, if they do one or two kidnappings and the money does not get to them…they need the money. The money is the driving force. In the absence of the money, they won’t come out to kidnap and kill people. If we go to the second nature of people coming out with guns to kidnap people, this will lead to questions of where they stay. The funny thing today is that if you abuse the President on phone, you can be fished out. If you abuse a governor on phone, you can be fished out, even if you abuse some senators or highly privileged on phone, they can fish you out.
So, the question to ask is, if these people use phone to demand ransom and yet they can’t be fished out, then you should know that something is wrong. If a criminal uses phone to ask for ransom after kidnapping and even describe location where the money is to be taken and he cannot be fished out, then you know that problem is lack of commitment on the part of security agents.
Is the problem with security agents or with political leadership?
There is nothing like political leadership. Let us be honest and sincere. We have grown and used to doing things the wrong way, that we have become unable to understand what is right. I can with every degree of responsibility say that we are more of a lawless society than a society governed by the rule of law. People know that they can do a lot of things and get away with it. So you don’t even know the level of criminality you can commit and get away with it. It all depends on who you know. This is where we are as a nation. But if there is commitment that shows that the low, the high and the mighty cannot escape the net of the law, most of these things will be reversed.
How can this be done?
Through political will and commitment.
Is that will and commitment reflecting in this government?
I don’t know. All I know is that what is happening in Nigeria is unique. It can never happen in many other countries. Can you do what you are doing in Niger or Republic of Benin and get away with it? The answer is no.
Why it is possible in Nigeria? I will tell you. In Nigeria, the only person who is a criminal is a person without tribe or religion. Whether he is in office or out of office, if you have a tribe or religion and you commit an offence and you are to be tried under the laws of the land, the tribe will say ‘he is being tried because he is a Yoruba man?’
If you have a religion and you do something wrong even when everyone knows it is wrong, the religious people will say ‘he is being tried because he is a Christian or Muslim’. Unless you don’t have a religion or tribe, that is when you can be a criminal but when you know any of these people (religion, tribe), nothing can happen to you. Check, there is no country in the world that has the number of forums and associations we have in this country.
There is union and forum for anything and everything in this country all in a bid to provide protection for criminals. And until you reverse that, you cannot have a country you can successfully govern. It does not matter who is there, whether it is President Buhari or another person, no person can run any society without the enforcement of rule of law. So we need the commitment and the political will to get there.
This of course you know is lacking presently in the government.
I don’t want to say so because it is not my judgment. But I know in other climes where there is leadership, commitment, 1/10 of what is happening in Nigeria cannot happen in those countries. And I know that nobody can argue against this fact.
That lack of will and commitment is apparent among our governors. There is no unity among them, even among those within the same party. Some governors said openly that herders had to be compensated heavily while others believe that they cannot continue the century old practice and suggest ranching is the best way to go.
With the greatest respect, every reasonable Nigerian will tell you that we have one of the most defective leadership recruitment processes in the world. There are certain utterances that will come out of a governor and you doubt whether he is qualified to be a local government chairman or a councilor. Leadership is a serious issue.
The fact that you have camera or microphone around your mouth doesn’t mean you say everything that comes out of your mouth. The words of a leader mean a lot to the led; it can mislead or guide. But the expectation is that it will guide at all times.
So, when for political expedience, for scoring certain political goals, a leader comes out to make statement which he does not even believe in, then you know we have a problem with leadership recruitment process. More so when the leader believes that he should be loved by everyone. No, you should have people who hate you for who you are but have the majority who love you for who you are. That is leadership. I give you an example.
When 2015, immediately after the elections, I sat down in my sober reflection, I looked at the journey we were about to take and I looked at how fractured the country was at that time, I felt the responsibility of the government now would be to heal the fractures, unite the country and give a common goal to the country. And, I felt those who were aggrieved at that time could only express their grievances, rightly or wrongly, using the social media.
So, I said we could as a society temporarily put some checks on this social media issue. The entire country misunderstood me and came after me. But the Chief Justice of Nigeria who appeared in the public hearing of the bill clearly said that none of the provisions of that bill infringed any of the provisions of the Constitution. But you never wanted it. Where are we today? Has it succeeded in making the government popular?
What was the bill about, what were the aims?
That bill was to curtail irresponsible use of social media to further disunite this country and to give some consequences for deliberate falsehood intended for such situations. Every responsible society knows that we need that. But I can tell you, even the government said no. At that time, the government believed they could be popular; where are we today?
Boko Haram war is still raging, yet some soldiers, due to reported lack of welfare, ran away from their duty posts…
Any person who knows the recruitment process into the armed forces will know that it has never changed from 1960 to date. What has changed is that the people recruited, based on consideration other than the established procedure, are the ones causing problems. If you join the army to make money and you are then ask to go to war, what do you do? Your motive in the first place is to make money and maybe to wear uniform and harass everyone, drive against the traffic. But those who genuinely want to protect the country will be too happy to die in the line of service.
Is there no merit in the excuse?
You can fight for welfare within the system but for you to say that you are leaving the army because your welfare has not been taken care of, you mean those who are staying, you are better than them, or is it that there is discrimination between what you receive and what others receive? Let us just say that we have erred in bending the rules to have in the service people who ordinarily should not have been recruited in the first place, people whose commitment is in doubt, people whose loyalty to the nation is in doubt and then, they were there because they know Mr. A, or Mr. B. that is the answer to this question.
Given the massive support the APC received in 2015, its subsequent not too good showing in the 2019 general elections, do you honestly believe the party can still form government 2023, because it appears the party is no longer popular with the people anymore?
My opinion cannot be the aggregate opinion of the ordinary Nigerian on the street. You said that in the opinion of Nigerians the popularity of APC has gone down. I don’t want to tamper with those facts because they are yours. Then you now asked me to predict whether APC will be able to forum government in 2023 based on the circumstances of today. I think you are unfair to me in the sense that if the opinion you hold represents the true facts on ground, therein is the answer to your question.