By Henry Ojelu
Mr. Hannibal Uwaifo is the President of, Africa Bar Association, AfBA. In this interview, he speaks on the precarious security situation in the country and what government must do to avoid anarchy.
Do you think the Federal Government has the capacity to tackle the current state of insecurity in the country?
Judging by what we have on ground presently and the politics being played, the underfunding of our conventional forces, politics in our security agencies perpetuated by politicians, religious and ethnic bigots in the present government, I am of the opinion that the Nigerian government does not have what it takes to handle the current security and economic challenges which have become a dangerous monster.
More crimes have been added to terrorist activities and the government has not shown the will and capacity to hold those responsible for these atrocities to account for their crimes. There is a need to restructure the security agencies and apparatus in this country. We need to have state police and we need to have community policing.
US Secretary of State, Blinken in a virtual meeting with President Buhari last month suggested that certain social and economic injustices were partly responsible for rising cases of insecurity in the country. What is your take on his view?
The injustices in Nigeria are legendary and we can see them everywhere from lopsided federal structure, to appointments, placing unqualified ethnic and religious friends and relations in sensitive positions, and expropriation of the natural resources belonging to the different regions. We also have a faulty federation that requires restructuring.
Violations of the rule of law, interference in the Legislature and Judiciary, Police brutality, massive corruption, the injustice of the highest order are threatening Nigeria and can lead to the total breakdown of law and order. The agitations ranging from the call for autonomous regional governments, resource control, restructuring, and outright cessation are very dangerous but instead of tackling the hues and cries arising from bad governance, nepotism, religious bigotry, favoritism, and crass corruption in the government in power and their cohorts reign.
They continue to believe that things will remain the same forever as they will keep organising fraudulent elections to keep themselves and their cronies in power by hook or crook. Unfortunately, the international community can see what is happening and so there is no hiding place for these individuals who managed to find themselves in a position of authority. Despite the glaring injustice and the need to make reforms by reviewing the constitution and making it a document that can protect all the component parts of the country, we are hearing all manner of absurd blame games from government officials while the president is keeping sealed lips.
This is very unfortunate. As of today, one can confidently say that the Federal Government does not control security in this country, especially in the states and communities. Why the government and the National Assembly cannot come together to amend the constitution and give states and the communities power and the tool to deal with the security situation as it is in every federal state is a mystery. Instead, allocations are being shared and wasted on irrelevant projects. Therefore, I am not surprised the US Secretary of State gave that response to President Buhari. The government should look inwards. The time has come for the restructuring of this country to create a true federalist state that can guarantee the rights and security of every component part. We are just living in the past and the government is playing with fire because the agitations will not go; instead, the country will continue to descend gradually into the precipice.
Late Chadian President, Idriss Deby was a major force in the fight against insurgency in the Sahel region. How do you think his demise will affect that fight?
While I may not agree with the policies and governance strategies of the late Chadian president, Idriss Derby, no one can fault his commitment to fighting the evil of jihadists and terrorists threatening Chad and the West African sub-region especially the Sahel. I am very impressed with his level of commitment and the fact that he paid the ultimate price. Not much can be said about his neighbours beyond rhetorics and meaningless communique. He will be remembered for good and I urge other African leaders to emulate his role in this battle.
The West African sub-region will miss him and there is no doubt that his exit will affect the fight against terrorism in the sub-region and in Africa. I believe that those who have taken over from him will understand that continuing with the war in the mood of the late president will be in the interest of not only Chad but of Africa. So I expect other Heads of State especially within the ECOWAS region and the Sahel to put heads together and form a coherent and single policy towards dealing with this menace which is becoming a monster that may consume the continent if we are tardy about it.
The US Government recently turned down Nigeria’s request to relocate AFRICOM from Germany to Africa. Are there any consequences in the US position especially in the fight against insecurity in the West African sub-region?
I understand the US and Nigeria’s position and several other African countries but the issue is what is the policy of Nigeria towards terrorism and insecurity? To my mind, the country is running a dysfunctional national government with dysfunctional and incoherent policies on security and terrorism. The Nigerian government does not have any position on the very terrible and embarrassing security situation in the country.
As the killing spree and destruction of communities with the attendant human displacements and catastrophe continue, the Nigerian government is running from pillar to post, blaming imaginary enemies, making questionable appointments while refusing to call killer herdsmen and bandits by their real name, which is terrorists. The government’s inability to take a position is creating more confusion in the country.
The government’s image has been permanently dented that no one can take anything from the Nigerian government seriously. The US, on the other hand, has a stable government, its policies towards terrorism are very clear, unambiguous, and decisive. The US policies towards security in Africa is also clear. While the US wants a secure Africa, it will not help oppressive and inept governments clean up their mess. I think the US Africa Command is good in Germany and can respond from there. It has its command post in Malawi. The Nigerian request is superfluous and as usual, ill-advised and got the desired response.
If you were in a position to advise government, what solutions will you proffer to the security challenges in the country?
My advice to the Nigerian government is for them to be sincere and see governance as a God-given duty, not as an opportunity to lord it over, exert revenge, or play high-wired politics. Those in government should not see it as an opportunity to put their friends and family members in all cadre of government to have an advantage over other ethnic or religious groups. They should stop deceiving themselves and the citizens, stop the maneuverings and manipulation of government policies and plans. Above all, the Federal Government should restructure the country and decentralize security.
Why do you think governors are reluctant to grant the judiciary autonomy and what is the way out? The JUSUN strike is painful and disruptive to our activities as lawyers but I support it 100 percent. I do not know why some governors are against it because I have not asked any of them. I however believe that those against it are doing so for selfish reasons. The Nigerian mentality of grabbing power and controlling all resources and then dispensing at their whims and fancies is a big problem.
They also want to have a hold on the judiciary knowing the awesome powers they wield. However, they forget that an independent, vibrant and fearless judiciary is the crown of democracy and the rule of law. It ensures that the democratic state functions seamlessly by the prompt settlement of disputes between government and government, the government and the citizens, and between citizens and citizens.
What is your take on the issue of restructuring, social and economic injustices, and unity of Nigeria?
The time to restructure the governance structure of this country has come. We must devolve more powers to the states, local governments, and communities. We must restructure and decentralize policing. We must end the quota system and respect the sensibilities of nationalities that make up Nigeria and stop all forms of religious bigotry, favouritism, and ethnicity in public office. The 100 percent expropriation of natural resources from those that God gave them to must be reviewed to attain a united prosperous Nigeria.
What role is AfBA playing to uphold justice and enforcement of rule of law in Africa presently under your leadership?
Since I took office in 2016, it has been my cardinal duty to promote the rule of law, good governance, and democracy across the African continent. My team and I have gone beyond rhetorics and actually taking on governments and institutions across the continent on the very important issue of rule of law which is the only way African states can survive and be prosperous. The rule of law ensures a vibrant and fearless judiciary, a responsible and responsive parliament, and an accountable executive arm of government.
The rule of law ensures that all are equal before the law, upholds strong institutions, and provides for individual rights, social and economic development, and prosperity. The rule of law ensures a responsible, fearless, and upright press, guarantees their freedom, and gives meaning to all constitutional provisions. Unfortunately, this rule of law is still in short supply in Africa. It is still threatened in several countries including Nigeria despite our efforts.
The African Bar Association has continued to react anywhere the rule of law is threatened with some measure of success. You probably are aware of our reactions and positive actions to the irresponsible disobedience of Ecowas Court judgment and rulings by Cape Verde. We shall continue to intervene anywhere the rule of law is threatened.